1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 32
From atop the closest thing his scouts could find to a hill — it was really just a hillock, a slight rise in the landscape — Hans Georg von Arnim studied the surroundings. And, just as Eric Krenz had done, mused on the fact that in another universe the king of Sweden had died in battle not far from this very place.
Exactly where, no one knew. The up-time accounts referred to “the battle of Lutzen,” but provided few details. The battle hadn’t taken place in the town itself but in some field nearby. There was supposed to have been a monument erected where Gustav Adolf died, but of course that did not exist in the world on this side of the Ring of Fire.
Von Arnim himself had once been in Swedish service, for several years. That had been two decades back, not long after Gustav Adolf ascended the throne. The new Swedish king had been seventeen years old at the time. He was only nineteen when Arnim came into his employ.
That had been a long time ago. Two decades. Two decades during which von Arnim, like most professional soldiers of the time, had served many employers. Having been born in Brandenburger Land, naturally enough he’d begun his military career as a soldier for the duchy of Prussia. That had been before Prussia was absorbed by Brandenburg. He’d had to leave hastily due to a duel, which was how he’d wound up on the Swedish payroll.
From there, he’d fought for the Poles for a time. In 1624, Wallenstein — then a general for the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II — had hired him. Just a few years later, the Austrian emperor sent an army to support the Polish king Sigismund III against the Swedes. Arnim had been one of the commanders of those forces.
So, on June 17, 1629, he’d faced Gustav Adolf at the battle of Trzciana. His Polish allies had been commanded by Stanislaw Koniecpolski. That had been a ferocious battle, which ended with a slight advantage for the Poles and imperials. But the Austrian troops had mutinied when the Poles failed to pay them, and von Arnim had wound up leaving imperial service in disgust and going to work for the Elector of Saxony.
Two years later, in one of the twists that were so common in the Thirty Years War, von Arnim had wound up fighting alongside Gustav Adolf again, when he met Tilly at the battle of Breitenfeld. That had been a great victory for the Swedish king, but the Saxon troops had been ignominiously routed early in the battle.
However, von Arnim himself had not been blamed for the fiasco. It would have been hard to do so, since the Elector John George had been present on that battlefield himself and had been one of the first to flee. So von Arnim had remained in Saxon service.
Today, he was regretting it. For the past four years, the Elector of Saxony had generally refused to listen to von Arnim’s advice. That was true with matters both large and small.
With regard to the largest, John George had ignored von Arnim’s advice when the Ostend War broke out. Von Arnim had been confident that Gustav Adolf would eventually emerge triumphant, and thus it would be folly not to support him as Saxony was required to do by the provisions of the agreement which had set up the Confederated Principalities of Europe.
But the Elector had chosen to do otherwise. He’d been resentful for years at Gustav Adolf’s pre-eminence among the Protestant nations and principalities of Europe, and John George was unfortunately prone to being sullen and stubborn. His legal argument was based on a differing interpretation of the relevant provisions of the CPE agreement, but von Arnim was sure that the Elector’s real motive was profoundly irrational. He felt he’d been dragooned against his will into the CPE by Gustav Adolf’s bullying — which was true enough, of course — and now with the Ostend War he saw a chance to get out and regain his independence.
In purely legal terms, John George’s position was probably as valid as Gustav Adolf’s. Those provisions were not what anyone would call a model of clarity. But regardless of the letter of the agreement, John George was certainly breaking its spirit — and the king of Sweden was just as certain to become furious over the issue. Politics and the law were related but ultimately quite different realms. If Gustav Adolf did triumph over the Ostenders, as von Arnim thought he would and John George insisted he wouldn’t, the repercussions on Saxony would be severe.
So it had proved. Once again, Hans Georg von Arnim would face the forces of Gustav Adolf on a battlefield.
Not Gustav Adolf himself, though. Saxon spies had said the Swedish king was taking his own forces north to do battle with Brandenburg. More importantly, since von Arnim had no great confidence in the Elector’s espionage apparatus, the Poles said the same. It had become clear to von Arnim that Koniecpolski had a very capable spy network in the USE.
Unfortunately, Koniecpolski would be absent from the coming battle. The Polish Sejm was still squabbling over whether or not to come to the aid of Saxony and Brandenburg. King Wladyslaw IV wanted to do so, but without the Sejm’s agreement Koniecpolski would not move. And the king was not foolish enough to think his will could over-ride that of the Grand Hetman of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
So, there was only a token Polish force here. Cold-bloodedly, von Arnim intended to order them into the thick of the battle. They’d probably suffer terrible casualties. If von Arnim managed to fend off the USE army — he had no real hope of defeating them — and could prolong the war, then the bloodshed by those young Polish hussars might be enough to tip the scale in the Sejm. Their commander was an Opalinski. If all went well, he might be killed himself.
“You watch,” grumbled Lubomir Adamczyk. “That Saxon bastard’s going to get us all killed.”
Lukasz Opalinski glanced at the young hussar riding next to him. “He’s Prussian, actually.”
Adamczyk sneered. “What’s the difference? They’re all Lutherans.”
Lukasz thought most Brandenburgers were Calvinists, although he wasn’t sure what von Arnim’s own beliefs were. But there was no point discussing that with Lubomir. Like most hussars, Adamczyk’s range of knowledge and interests was limited. It certainly didn’t include delving into the fine distinctions between Protestant sects. Why bother? None of them were Catholic and thus all of them were damned. Question closed.
When it came to military matters, on the other hand, Lubomir was no dimwit. Opalinski thought his assessment of the current situation was quite accurate. Von Arnim would try to get them killed. A number of them, anyway.
Allowing for perhaps excessive ruthlessness, though, Lukasz didn’t really blame him that much. The Saxon Elector had placed his army commander in an exceedingly difficult position. Von Arnim, with no significant advantage in numbers, had to face the same army that had recently crushed the French at Ahrensbök. Even allowing that the reputation of the French army had probably been overblown, no one really doubted that it had still been superior to the Saxon army. It was just a fact that the only significant feat of arms of Saxony’s forces in recent times had been their ignominious routing at Breitenfeld, less than four years earlier.
Von Arnim had only two factors in his favor. The first was that one of Torstensson’s three top lieutenants was the American Mike Stearns. However capable Stearns might have been a political leader, he had no significant military experience. Von Arnim would surely concentrate his attack on Stearns’ units. If, by doing so, he could at least achieve a stalemate at this coming battle…
…and if the small Polish contingent which had come to join him should happen to suffer sadly severe casualties in the doing…
…especially if one of those casualties was from the very influential Opalinski family…
Well, then. Who could say? Perhaps the notoriously temperamental Polish Sejm might cease its bickering and unite furiously in the cause of avenging their wrongs.
No, Lukasz didn’t much blame the Saxon commander. On the other hand, he had no intention of obliging him, either.
He leaned in his saddle toward Adamczyk. “Remember. We’re mostly just here to observe.”
Lubomir made a face. “On a battlefield, that’s a lot easier said than done.”
Looking across the field at the Saxon army as it came into position, Thorsten Engler felt nervous. Unusually so, he thought. He couldn’t remember feeling this nervous when the battle of Ahrensbök began.
But at Ahrensbok he’d just been a non-commissioned officer in charge of a single volley gun battery. Today, he was a captain in charge of an entire company.
No, it was worse than that. Thanks to the whim of a princess, he was now the Imperial Count of Narnia. A silly title, but it had apparently been enough to draw the attention of the division commander, General Stearns.
And so, Thorsten Engler had been brought into the subtle plans of Stearns and his own commander, General Torstensson, where most officers had not. And so, he’d learned of the trap they hoped to lay for the Saxon commander, von Arnim.
Traps require bait, of course. And so, Thorsten had discovered his role in the coming battle.
Not as bait, though. Oh, no, it was much worse than that. He was the fellow — a child-princess’ fantasy of a fairy-tale count — who had to go charging in and rescue the bait after the trap had been sprung and the monster had it in his teeth.
One thing had not changed from Ahrensbok, though. Before they began, battles were magnificent. Things of beauty, you could even say. At no other time and place in the world could you see so many men moving together in such immense formations. And all of it to music, too. (Admittedly, the instrumentation was limited. Bugles, fifes and drums only.) It was as if the battlefield was an gigantic stage and an enormous ballet was about to begin.