1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 34
Jeff never had time to contemplate the strange beauty of armies maneuvering into battle. He was neither a top-hat general who could lounge around on a saddle and let his flunkies handle everything nor an experienced volley gun battery commander who’d been through a big battle before and could afford to let his mind wander.
No, he was a fledgling battalion commander in charge of four hundred men, most of whom were even younger and greener than he was.
Well. Younger, anyway. Maybe not greener. At least half of them were veterans of Ahrensbok. Jeff didn’t know if that made him feel better or worse.
And he was just a pitiful captain, to boot. A battalion was supposed to be commanded by a major. A dinky little captain was just supposed to take care of a hundred men in a company.
Jeff could have handled that easily enough, he though. Well. Handled it, anyway. But he was finding that running a battalion was downright nerve-wracking when the fireworks were probably going to start within an hour.
Fortunately, Eric Krenz turned out to be a very good adjutant. That was army speak for right-hand man. What the Navy called an executive officer, if Jeff had the protocol straight.
Jeff was a little surprised, actually. Krenz made so many wisecracks and disparaging remarks about all matters military that Jeff hadn’t expected much from him once the shooting started. He’d figured Eric would hold his own well enough. But he hadn’t expected him to be the very helpful and quick-thinking officer he was turning out to be.
Thankfully, the worst was over. Sure, there was still the actual battle to go though. But they were in position now and Jeff thought he had everybody pretty well set.
The bugles started up again. That always startled Jeff, for an instant. He still thought there was something a little ridiculous about using Stone Age musical instruments — okay, Bronze Age — to signal soldiers on a battlefield. They did have radios, after all. Admittedly, given the rather small scale dimensions of a seventeenth century battlefield, a commander could probably signal more of his soldiers quickly with a bugle than with radio calls. Still, it was…
The signal itself finally registered on Jeff. Right oblique, MARCH.
Jeff’s mouth fell open. They were already in position — a damn good position, too, with a little rise ahead of them that could give them a bit of cover once the shooting started — already set up, ready to go, everything set —
And some damn fool of a —
Jeff looked around quickly. He’d been about to blame Eichelberger but all three regiments in the brigade were moving out. What sort of an idiot brigadier –?
Belatedly, it dawned on Jeff that the bugle call had specified a divisional move. He couldn’t see the other brigades from his position because there were just too many men and horses and artillery pieces and wagons in the way. But he could look behind him.
Sure enough, the divisional commander was coming himself, trotting forward with his staff officers.
That would be Major General Michael Stearns. The newbie. And, apparently, the glory hound. For sure and certain, the fucking idiot.
“General Stearns, this is unwise,” said Colonel Long.
“I concur,” said Anthony Leebrick. “There’s no need — not this early in a battle — for you to come forward and place yourself in harm’s way. Should the situation take a bad turn, of course –”
“Pappenheim behaved this way quite regularly. Probably still does. It’s amazing the fucker isn’t dead yet.” That was Ulbrecht Duerr’s contribution.
“Gentlemen, leave it alone,” said Mike. “It probably is stupid. I’m not at all sure this whole maneuver isn’t stupid. But what I know for sure is that there’s no way I’m sending my men out there without going with them. I just can’t do it.”
Long and Leebrick fell silent. But their tight lips indicated their professional disapproval.
Duerr chuckled, on the other hand. “Pappenheim’s soldiers adore the bastard, you know.”
Lennart Torstensson watched from a distance as Stearns’ Third Division moved obliquely forward. That was the entire right wing of his army, now detaching itself in what would appear to be a clumsy flanking maneuver.
“What is Stearns doing?” hissed one of his aides. The colonel pointed. “Look! He’s going out himself!”
So he was. Lennart could see Stearns and his little group of staff officers trotting past the battalions as they moved slowly forward. Stearns had taken off his hat and was waving it about. Very cheerfully, it seemed. Lennart knew the man and was quite sure Stearns was accompanying the hat-waving with equally cheerful remarks. The man might be a novice general, but he was a practiced and superb politician.
Even from the distance Torstensson could hear the Third Division cheering.
This had not been part of the plan. There was no reason for Stearns to do this. As soon as the trap was sprung Torstensson was going to throw everything he had at the enemy. That including the five APCs, although he suspected it would be the volley gun batteries who’d do most of the damage. Since Ahrensbök, Lennart had a lot of confidence in his flying artillery.
All Stearns’ division had to do, once the enemy attacked, was simply hunker down and fend off the Saxons until the rest of the army came up and broke them. There was no place in all that and certainly no need for the division’s commanding general to be gallivanting about on a horse near the front.
No, at the front. Stearns and his officers had now passed the lead battalion and were trotted slightly ahead of them.
“What is he doing?” repeated the aide.
But Torstensson knew. His monarch had predicted this would happen. The essence of it, at least, if not the specific details.
“I know that man,” Gustav Adolf had told Lennart, some weeks ago. “He’s a lot like me, you know, in some ways.”
So it seemed. Lennart took off his hat and gave the general in the distance a little tip of recognition.