1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 02
“You — you miserable cruds.” Angrily, the young lieutenant pointed at the wagon’s undercarriage. “What in the name of — of — whatever — is wrong with you? Can’t you see that the axle is broken? If you keep forcing the horses you’ll lame one of them. You have to lift the dam — blasted thing out of the ditch.”
The lieutenant was being a bit unfair — and certainly too harsh. It was true that the crew of the volley gun which was the focus of his displeasure had somehow managed to run their gun carriage into a ditch and had then broken the axle while trying to get it out. But they were almost brand new recruits, not one of Engler’s experienced crews. Judging from the way they were handling the poor horses, all of them were town youngsters to boot.
Thorsten’s rank was brand spanking new and he was still trying to adjust to his new status and position. General Stearns had only informed him three days before the march began that he’d succeeded in persuading the Powers-That-Be in the army’s headquarters in Magdeburg — translation: he’d done an end run around the brass and gotten the emperor’s ear directly — to assign the newest flying artillery company — just graduated from training camp, oh joy — to Stearns’ Third Division instead of sending it to Torstensson’s forces outside Poznań. (What possible use is flying artillery in a siege, after all?)
In his wisdom, Stearns had then decided to detach Engler’s flying artillery company from the Hangman Regiment and put Engler in charge of all the Third Division’s flying artillery units. That being one very experienced veteran company — his — and the newly arrived pack of mewling infants who seemed to have trouble telling one end of a volley gun from the other and one end of a horse from the other.
Where had they trained them? At sea? On fishing boats?
There was one — minor — positive note. Thorsten had given all the new officers a lecture on the subject of avoiding undue coarseness in dealing with enlisted men. He was pleased to see that the lieutenant was doing his best to follow the guidelines.
“Yes, you heard me, you — you — soldiers and I use the term broadly. Lift the carriage out of the ditch. No, no, no — after you unload the volley gun, you — you –”
The words trailed off, partly from exhaustion — not physical but mental. Spiritual, almost.
To make things perfect, Stearns had decided to call the new formation a “squadron” — the only squadron in the USE Army — and had promoted Engler to the rank of lieutenant colonel. The promotion was itself problematic. In part because he’d been leapfrogged over a number of majors at least some of whom were bound to be resentful. More importantly — Thorsten didn’t really care what envious thoughts might be infecting the odd officer here and there — because the rank of lieutenant colonel did not officially exist in the USE Army.
True, Jeff Higgins, the commanding officer of the Hangman Regiment, held the rank as well.
That made two of them. In the entire army. Marvelous. Should the military hierarchy — translation: pack of wretched bureaucrats who’d put the most hidebound theologian to shame when it came to dogmatic enforcement of regulations — eventually decide to disqualify Thorsten’s service on the grounds that he held no recognized rank, then should he be discharged due to injuries received he’d have neither a pension nor a valid disability claim.
Fine for Higgins to face such a plight. He was now a rich man thanks to the vagaries of the new stock market. Engler, on the other hand, was just a farmer with no farm whose betrothed had the income of a social worker — which was almost as mediocre in this universe as the one she’d come from.
One of the members of the gun crew slipped as they struggled to lift the carriage out of the ditch. Not surprising, really — it had rained the day before and the soil was still rather muddy. Thorsten was inclined to be charitable about the matter even if one of the wheels hadn’t broken as a result. The carriage was now effectively ruined.
The lieutenant was not so inclined.
“You — you — you — ”
Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Higgins, on the other hand, was in a fairly good mood. A bit to his surprise — certainly to his pleasure — his new adjutant Manfred Blecher was proving to be every bit as competent as Eric Krenz, who’d formerly held the post.
Not as much fun, true — not nearly as much fun, being honest. Blecher wasn’t exactly a dour fellow but no one would ever mistake him for the life of the party. But Jeff would gladly settle for competence. He was by now accustomed to running an entire regiment, but it was still a task that was made much easier by having an energetic and intelligent staff, even if it was only a staff of three people: Blecher, who served as what the navy would call an executive officer, and Rudi Bayer and Ulrich Leitner. They were, respectively, in charge of personnel and logistics.
The weather was nice, too. There weren’t but a few clouds in the sky and almost no wind. That probably meant there wouldn’t be any rain today, which would give the soil a chance to dry out from the rains of the past week. Thankfully, those hadn’t been particularly heavy.
Jeff could remember a time — a bit vaguely now, almost five years after the Ring of Fire — when he’d had accurate weather forecasts readily available on what amounted to a moment’s notice. But he didn’t really think much about that, any more. The seventeenth century was what it was, and all things considered he wasn’t a bit sorry to be in the here and now. His wife Gretchen was enough to make up for everything he’d left behind — and then some.
He would admit to occasionally missing Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They did have ice cream now, true. But it was a long way short of Cherry Garcia.
Best of all, on this first day of what was shaping up to be a fairly brutal campaign — nobody took Bavarian armies lightly in the here and now — Jeff finally had a cavalry force he had a lot of confidence in.
Cavalry had always been the biggest weakness of the new USE Army, and of the Third Division in particular. A very high percentage of cavalrymen came from the nobility and most noblemen weren’t any too fond of the new political dispensation. Not in general — and certainly not when it came to the person of Mike Stearns, whom they blamed more than anyone.
So, they’d had to make do with what they could scrape up. But here again, as with the beefed-up flying artillery, Stearns’ stature with Gustav II Adolf since the Saxon and Polish campaigns the year before and the Battle of Ostra in February had paid dividends. He’d been able to persuade the emperor to free up some of the cavalry assigned to Torstensson’s two divisions at Poznań and send them to join the Third Division in the Bavarian campaign.
Jeff would have been glad to get any experienced cavalry force. But to put the cherry on the cake, the emperor had sent them Alex Mackay and his unit of Scots horsemen. After Mackay had recovered from the wound he’d gotten in Scotland from would-be assassins, he’d rejoined the Swedish army and participated in the invasion of Poland the year before.
Now, he and his men had swapped uniforms and were part of the USE army’s Third Division. They were out there patrolling ahead, making sure there weren’t any Bavarians lurking about intending to commit mischief. Jeff figured they’d all be able to sleep easy for a few nights.
Not many, of course. War was what it was also.