1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 16

1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 16:


In the event, they didn’t get into trouble for being tardy, because when they finally arrived at the huge army camp outside of Magdeburg, the divisions had been mobilized and were already starting to march toward the Saxon border. In the confusion that inevitably accompanied the movements of twenty-five thousand men and almost that many horses and oxen — not to mention the APCs, which only numbered a handful but threw up a lot of dust — Jeff and Jimmy could easily claim that they had been somewhere else doing some necessary if vaguely defined tasks. They were still close enough to being teenagers that lying to authority figures came easily, smoothly, effortlessly, with nary a seam of untruth to be found poking through the tissue of falsehoods.

Not many seams, anyway. But it didn’t matter, because the only person who asked them anything was a cook attached to the 2nd Division who mistook them for quartermasters and demanded to know when the flour would be delivered to the mobile kitchen he was in charge of. Jimmy was a little aggrieved, because the insignia on their uniforms — which included some decorations for fighting off pirates in the English Channel and sinking a whole damn Spanish warship during the siege of Amsterdam, for Pete’s sake! — should have made it clear to any dimwit that they were real by-God fighting men.

But Jeff took it in good humor. Unlike Jimmy, who’d spent almost his entire army career as a technical specialist, Jeff had a much wider experience with military matters. Cooks were cooks, it didn’t matter whether they were army or civilian. They didn’t give a damn about anything except their kitchens. He’d worked as a busboy and dishwasher at a restaurant in Fairmont one summer, and had come away from the experience firmly convinced that all professional cooks were either drunks, lunatics, or disguised aliens. It was best to just ignore their foibles.

So, they reached Mike Stearns’ headquarters with no hassles, not even from the staff officers. Stearns and his staff were mounted already, with the HQ tent being packed up in wagons.

All Mike himself said was “Hi, boys. Where you been?” before he went back to making sure he had his horse under control.

Which, he did. Jeff thought it was a little unfair, the way people like Stearns seemed to be good at anything they turned their hand to. Jeff himself, despite what was now years of experience, still didn’t really get along with horses that well. Even his wife told him he rode a horse like a sack of potatoes.


So, he was relieved when his brigade commander told him that he was assigning Jeff to an infantry battalion.

The relief lasted about two seconds. That was the approximate lapse of time between the end of the sentence wherein Brigadier Schuster informed Jeff he was now an infantryman and the next sentence:

“I am placing you in command of the 12th Battalion.”

“What?” Jeff managed not to cast his eyes about wildly. But he was pretty sure they were as big as saucers and had a sort of feverish quality to them. “But — but –”

Schuster nodded solemnly. “Yes, I know you are only a captain and would normally serve on the staff of the battalion commander, or be in command of an infantry company. But Major Kruger was badly injured in a horse fall just two days ago and I simply don’t have anyone else to replace him.” His heavy face now looked glum instead of simply solemn. “There is always a shortage of experienced and qualified officers for this army. Because of the CoC business, you understand. So you will have to manage.”

For a moment, Jeff wondered if there was a trace of malice in the brigadier’s tone. He knew that a lot of the professional down-time officers in the USE army resented the pressures that often fell upon them due to the political attitudes of the enlisted men. A majority of the soldiers in the USE army had been recruited by the Committees of Correspondence. By no means all of those recruits were what you could fairly call “CoC men,” to be sure. But there was no denying that the radical political views of the CoCs were very influential in the lower ranks of the army. Some of the army’s officers had joined because they shared that idealism — a fair number, in fact — but most of the officers had the traditional motives of professional soldiers. Whether or not their own political views were conservative didn’t really matter. Those soldiers under CoC influence tended to have attitudes on certain matters of discipline that pretty much drove any regular officer half-nuts.

Not on the battlefield, though. Whatever else aggravated professional officers about the enlisted ranks of the USE army, their willingness and ability to fight was not one of them.

After a moment, Jeff decided that Schuster wasn’t being motivated by resentment. He really was just strapped for men.

“Uh… Sir. You know I don’t have much actual battlefield experience — infantry battles, I mean, if you want somebody to blow up a warship I’m your man — and none at all commanding more than a squad. I’m not sure…”

“You’ll do fine, Captain Higgins. The 12th is a good battalion with good companies. And the commander of your regiment is Colonel Friedrich Eichelberger, who is a superb officer.”


Schuster shook his head firmly. “The decision is made, Captain. I discussed the matter with General Stearns himself, and he concurred in my decision. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the officers of your battalion immediately. The campaign is already underway. We should reach the Saxon border within four days, possibly even three.” He cleared his throat. “Whatever might be their other failings, our soldiers march quite well.”


It took Jeff until sundown to find his battalion. Somehow or other, it had managed to get shuffled out of its officially allotted place in the marching order.

At least the battalion was ahead of place, not behind. Apparently they were eager-beavers instead of shirkers. Under most circumstances, he would have thought that a positive trait. Under these… he wasn’t sure. Bad enough some idiot brigadier had placed a twenty-three-year-old captain with an oddball military resume in charge of a whole battalion, after consulting with a top commander who apparently had the IQ of a turnip. (At a rough count, he’d silently cursed Mike Stearns at least five hundred times that afternoon.) To add to his misery, it seemed that his new battalion was full of vim and vigor and would have absurdly unrealistic expectations of their new commanding officer.


His fears proved too great and too little.

Too great, in that the 12th battalion turned out to be a veritable CoC hotbed. Every non-commissioned officer, it seemed, as well as half the grunts, were hardcore activists from Magdeburg.

Given that Jeff was married to the woman who was generally viewed as the quintessence of the CoC spirit, his appointment as the battalion’s new commander was very highly regarded by the enlisted men.

And that was the bad news too, of course. “Absurdly unrealistic expectations” was putting it mildly.

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19 Responses to 1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 16

  1. observerbg says:

    “… he rode a horse like a sack of potatoes.” may not match the farming experience of Gretchen or other XVII century Germans. Could “a sack of turnip” be more colloquial?

    Of course, a lot of American idioms have been used and potatoes are not rare or considered poisonous after ROF.

  2. robert says:

    @1 Indeed. Potatoes are native to the Andean region of S. America. By the 17th century I am sure that they had been introduced into Europe, but I doubt that colloquial usage, like the sack of potatoes comment, was prevalent. It is amazing how fast introduced food plants spread throughout the world in an era of foot, horse and sail transport.

  3. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Potatoes were known about in Germany of this time but weren’t considered human food.

    However, I think it is safe to say that Gretchen would use the American expression.

  4. There is someplace a short story about making potato chips.

    The heroes – I believe the guilty parties in this section, blandly asked iirc Gretchen’s mother about where they could find some, and were attacked with the nearest lethal weapon — a broom, iirc. In period, potatoes allegedly were known, and were viewed as a human food — an aphrodisiac. Teenage boys asking for…well, as you can see the guilty parties are somehow still alive.

    However, was period sackcloth close enough to ours that the heroes’ illustrious equestrian skills would have been so described?

  5. ronzo says:

    Jeff and Eddie made potatoes popular in germany. There’s story in ring of fire where they break the stigma associated with them by making potato chips and serving them at the first Christmas celebration after the ROF.

  6. papertiger says:

    Does he get an adjutant? Is he any good?
    “Here’s to Bloody War or a Sickly Season,”

  7. Seth says:

    I do wonder what Wallenstein is doing. Especially since, if my vague memories of the period are correct, Silesia is part of Bohemia. If so, then Saxony is surrounded on three sides, and if the Poles decide to come west to help they’re going to be going through Bohemian land to do it.

    On the Ottoman front, there’s one other target the Ottomans could be going after, and frankly a much more valuable one than Austria: Venice. They did it historically in the 1660s; the long war that drew in the Austrians and ended so disastrously in 1699 with the loss of Hungary began with the invasion of Crete. Here, everyone to the north of the Ottomans is going to be busy with the last phase of the War of German Unification, and the rest of Italy is a giant mess thanks to that crazy Spanish cardinal. Venice would stand completely alone, and the Ottomans have enough historical forewarning to not shirk on the navy this time. Aside from the immediate benefit of expunging the last opposition to Ottoman maritime hegemony in the Eastern Med, Venetian territory would actually be much easier to hold than anything in Austria. Not Venice itself, or the Italian terra firma, but its remaining Greek possessions and Dalmatia can both be easily supplied by sea were the Ottomans to take them.

    The Ottomans also do have an interest in Baghdad and the rest of Mesopotamia, assuming that they have quietly read their future histories: oil. That alone makes Mesopotamia worth taking and holding, completely aside from the fact that the Zagros mountains make a fairly good eastern border.

    In general, the most interesting thing the Ottomans could do would be to rebuild their status as a naval power. Continued access to and control over trade, especially in the Indian Ocean, is ultimately more important than holding onto Hungary (which was frankly too far away from the Ottoman heartland and too difficult to get to to be held indefinitely, and not really valuable enough to be worth the effort of holding).

  8. robert says:

    @7 Seth. But the major seagoing trade was about to shift from the Med to the Atlantic in our time-line, as the Spanish treasure fleets and N. American colonies became lots more important. So if the Ottomans have been reading AND understanding the Grantville histories they would have decided to ignore trying to gain hegemony in the Mediterranean and certainly would have shifted their attention south and east, as you said, to the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Peninsular, Mesopotamia, the “Spice islands” and possibly the Horn of Africa. Would they then be running into the British and Dutch trading companies? Eric doesn’t say.

  9. Bara says:

    @8 Robert The Ottomans getting a jump and digging the Suez Canal? I believe there were Arab texts dealing with building complex waterworks let alone what they could get from Grantville; they certainly had the firm control of the territory through which it would be dug and the manpower to build. Control of the sea lanes in the Eastern Mediterranean would be the last critical element needed.

  10. Summertime says:

    I am interested in what will happen in the Americas under the new circumstances. Who was there in the 1630s, and how many of them? Spanish and Portuguese were in South America, Spanish were in Central America, Mexico, and above Mexico, plus Florida. Were the French in Louisiana yet, or were the Spanish there? I think the French were in Canada then. English were all along the eastern seaboard, and going inland. Were the Dutch still in New Amsterdam/New York? Anyway, the eastern seaboard was mostly English. Is it possible that the English colonists, plus the others, would object strongly to being turned over to the French, stage a revolt and declare independence 140 years early? With access to Grantville history books they would know what had happened in the former universe. Could they band together, form a government, and have the military strength to defeat the French, as they later did the British? If they could do this they could later route the Spanish from Florida and the southwest, and would probably not need to buy the Louisiana Purchase from France. That war the British and French had would not happen and the Acadians would not be sent to Louisiana. What help could Grantville and the USE give to this process, war supplies, or advisors?Well, the speculation on this coul go on and on. Will future 16** books touch on it? I wonder.

  11. robert says:

    @9 Stearns has already caused the French to decide to scour Florida by planting false info that gold was found there. It was a disease infested, swampy mess. He expected the French to become bogged down there and not get involved in Canada and the great Louisiana Territory.
    Spain and Portugal (Brazil) had already invested much of South and Central America, but something has been going on along the north coast of South America in a serial in the Gazettes.
    New Amsterdam was founded by the Dutch around 1614, so they were there when the Ring of Fire happened. In 1674, by the Treaty of Westminster, the Dutch ceded it to the English.
    Plymouth Colony was founded by the English in 1620, so they were also there at the time of The Ring of Fire.
    Virginia Colony existed from about 1607-8 until the Revolution. So they were also there by the time of The Ring of Fire.
    Now I recollect that in an earlier book, England ceded all of its colonies to the French, when France, England, and Denmark ganged up on the Dutch and the USE.
    France ruled over a large part of North America from about 1699 until the French and Indian War, in which they lost Canada, and the Louisiana Purchase, when they sold the rest. So even though they were searching for the Northwest Passage, they never were able to establish a successful colony in N. America until nearly the 18th century (except for Hispaniola).

  12. frei says:


    With this Union of Kalmar, I’d expect to see Sweden trying to control Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (Queen Elizabeth Islands)… and there’s the Swedish colony that’s supposed to go into the Cheasapeake

    The English colonies aren’t big enough to survive a pair of French ships with soldiers embarked. Roanoke was lost not half a century ago. Jamestown is only a quarter century old.

    The Dutch should be trying to gobble up more to expand the Dutch West Indies… and probably build up Nieu Nederlands … say by going to Lake Ontario early? Take up the triangle – Erie Canal, along the shore and St.Lawrence River to the Richelieu River, down to Lake Champlain, down the Hudson

    If someone (uptimer) goes to China or Korea… we might see colonization on the west coast start up also…

  13. laclongquan says:

    All the English possession has been sold to France so King Charles can have money to hold on to the reign. France dispatch a large portion of their army to North America to garrison the new possessions and open up new towns, as well as capture Netherland’s lands. British colonizers sign in with Richelieu. Not sure about Spanish colonies.

  14. robert says:

    @13 I doubt that Spain will give up its source of New World gold and Brazil has become important, both economically and emotionally, to the Portugese.

    My guess is that either Cromwell or disease or insanity will destroy Charles’ reign and that the Dutch will fight to save their colonies in N. America and the Caribbean.

  15. ronzo says:

    The USE and Sweden, need to aggressively build up their merchant fleets and take advantage of supremacy of the navy, They have a significant jump in army technology but they are so far ahead in naval technology with plenty additional know how that no one will be able to effectively stand against them for thirty or forty years. The north and south american colonies where very much dependent on aid from their european homelands during this period. So let the other powers send manpower and resources in that direction until The issue is settled in europe then use the navy and blockades to settle the score in americas.

  16. Summertime says:

    With a newly declared ruler in the Netherlands, approved by the USE, I agree that the Dutch will play a stronger role, both in Europe and the New World. It appears from mentions in various stories that France is not too stable at this point, and perhaps not able to muster the military forces to rule effectively over the English colonies in America, even though the English King gave them over to France. Also, it appears that the English King is not too stable and his reign might be overturned in some manner. Then the new ruler in England might reclaim the American colonies. Someone mentioned possible Asian interest in the American West Coast. That has been the subject of many an alternate history tale. Also, when did Russia go into Alaska? I seem to remember that they came down into California, too. If they read the Grantville history books they may make a stronger effort to take over the whole West Coast from the Gulf of California to the Arctic. All that gold and oil, good harbors, and other resources would be tempting. In fact, nations all over the world will be reevaluating narrowly lost opportunities in light of new information.

  17. laclongquan says:

    Currently Sweden and CPE got 2 very good fleets under Simson and one Swedish admiral. But to translate that into good and big merchant fleets take time, resources (to build ships), demand/supply (the investors have both sellers and buyers), sea ports, and national inclination. It’s no conciendence that not every seacoasted nations got good merchant fleet, you know.

    As to blockade Americas, do recall how well it worked in our original timeline. Not very, no? Sea blockade inconvenienced the besiegers, but can not destroy it, due to the lack of ground troops.

  18. ronzo says:

    The Merchant marine should be made a national imperitive and helped along by tax breaks etc. As for the ships of the period attemtping to blockade the americas yeah it probably wouldn’t be that effective. But the USE navy will be alot more capable of pulling it off effectively against anything anyone will be able to build for a good long time. There speed, gunnery power and range advantages are only going to get steeper for quite awhile. Not to mention Simpson will very much understand the point counter point of anything the adversarial navies will able to come up with and increase the edge. Theres no way a spanish treasure galleon is going to be able to out run a USE timberclad and anything more modern that Simpson will be putting together as the industrial base gets stronger. By the time Anyone has paddle wheel by steam the USE will have the propeller and shortly there after they will have diesel. By the time the enemy has some like muzzle loading rifled cannons and carronades the USE will be using breech loading rifled guns with some kind of recoil recuperator etc. So I think what will come out those two developments will be a diesel powered gun boats that will have incredible stand off attack capability compared to whats out there. That would mean that a very small amount of ships and a float plane or two could interdict anything. Cut off or or even partially cut off spain specifically from american gold and their war machine and political clout will be limited quite a bit.

  19. cka2nd says:

    @4 The potato chip story was in the first Ring of Fire anthology.

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