1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 44

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 44

All of the soldiers were mounted as well. Some would ride on the carriage horses, others would accompany the wagons carrying the ammunition and equipment, and still others including all the officers would ride their own individual mounts. In short, the squadron was much more mobile than an infantry unit.

But they were still hauling gun carriages and wagons around — and even a light gun carriage drawn by only two horses is an awkward way to conduct forward reconnaissance. Not to mention that if they ran into an enemy cavalry unit without some warning they’d still be trying to set up their guns when the enemy started sabering them down.

So Thorsten wanted cavalrymen — defined as: one man on one horse with at least one weapon he could bring immediately to hand — to be scouting ahead of him. Well ahead of him. Half a mile, a mile — better yet, two miles.


And then, as it turned out, they could have dispensed with the cavalry screen altogether. By sundown they’d found the second ford they needed right where Captain Finck had said it would be, about seven miles upstream on the Isar. Roughly halfway between Moosburg and Freising.

They hadn’t encountered a single Bavarian soldier along the way. Not one. Not a sign of one. It was by then obvious that General Stearns’ counter-move was something the Bavarian commander Piccolomini had simply never considered. As so many commanders before him had done in the long history of war, Piccolomini had assumed that his opponent would do the same thing he would do.

Engler hadn’t discussed the general’s plans with him, but by now he’d come to know Mike Stearns fairly well. One of the things he recalled was Stearns telling him that mercenaries usually had predictable faults.

“They’re too conservative by nature,” he’d said. “Or let’s say they’re too conservative because of their economic position. War is a trade for them, not something they do because of ideals — or because of hatreds and bigotries, for that matter. I don’t think they’re even conscious of it, most of the time, but they’re always guided one way or another by a consideration of profit or loss. What do we gain or lose — not for our cause, but for us? And if the answer is, not enough for the potential loss we might suffer, they simply won’t do it. And what’s even more important, I think, is that they’ll assume — also without even thinking about it — that their enemy won’t do it either.”

The ineffable grin had come, then. “Whereas I damn well might.”

Thorsten didn’t have enough experience yet himself to decide if Stearns was right or wrong in general. But today, at least, he’d been right.


As an added bonus, soon after they began setting up their positions, Captain Finck himself and his Marine unit appeared. Materialized, as it were, out of nowhere.

“We saw you coming,” Finck explained to Engler and Mackay. He pointed to a small wood perhaps four hundred yards away. “We weren’t sure who you were at first, so we hid out there.”

Mackay and Engler looked at the grove, then looked at Finck, then looked at the western horizon where the sun had just disappeared, then at each other.

“We’ve been here setting up our camp for at least two hours,” mused Mackay. “Two hours of hard, unrelenting labor.”

“While you, expert scouts — ‘special forces’ they call you, if I am not mistaken,” Thorsten pondered, “couldn’t manage to determine who we were and cross a few hundred yards — that’s what? a quarter of a mile? don’t you have to prove you can run to the moon and back in fifteen minutes to qualify for your unit? — until the sun was setting and we have to retire for the night.”

Finck smiled at them. “We just got orders on the radio from General Stearns. At the crack of dawn — no, even before then — we have to be heading upriver again. He wants us to scout Freising to see how quickly and easily Piccolomini might be able to fortify it. So we’ll have to retire early — now, in fact. Good luck, gentlemen.”

He nodded toward the northwest, where the sound of occasional gunfire could still be heard.

“For what it’s worth,” Finck said, “the fighting mostly died away by mid-afternoon. We couldn’t actually see anything, since at this point the Amper’s at least two miles north of where we are. But all the indications are that Piccolomi and von Taupadel are squared off against each other, with von Taupadel anchored in Moosburg. This is just a guess, of course, but I’d say that right about now the Bavarian commander is a grumpy man.”

Bavaria, village of Haag an der Amper

Captain Finck was wrong. Ottavio Piccolomini wasn’t grumpy, he was worried. Everything today had gone the way he’d planned, for the most part. The resistance of the enemy had been more ferocious that he’d hoped for, but he wasn’t thrown off his stride by it. He’d already known from the reports he’d read and interviews he’d done of men who’d fought the Third Division that whatever else Michael Stearns might be as a military commander, he was certainly tenacious.

Bavarian casualties had been higher than he’d wanted — quite a bit, actually — but not ruinous. The enemy’s had certainly been worse. The ground that Piccolomini and his soldiers had crossed as they drove the invaders back into Moosburg had been littered with corpses, mostly enemy corpses. There’d been so many of them in some places that he’d ordered his soldiers to pile them up in stacks. They’d have to bury them in mass graves once the fighting was over.

Yes, everything had gone well this day. Not as well as he’d hoped, certainly; not even as well as he’d planned. But Piccolomini was too experienced a soldier to be surprised by that. War was what it was: at bottom, chaos and ruin. You could hardly expect it to fall into neat lines and rows.

Seated at the same table in the same tavern that he was all but certain his counterpart had occupied earlier that day, Piccolomini looked around. He finally realized what was worrying him.

The place was too neat. There was almost no litter. The door to the tavern had been smashed aside at one point, probably by an impatient officer who’d gotten jammed in the doorway when the door closed on him unexpectedly. But someone had taken the time to repair it before they evacuated the place.

Not much of a repair; just a piece of leather nailed in place. But why bother at all?

“Do you have any further orders, General?” asked one of his adjutants.

Piccolomini gazed at the repaired door for another second or two. “No,” he said. “Just be ready to move out tomorrow morning. Early. I want to launch our first assault on Moosburg as soon as the sun’s up.”


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13 Responses to 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 44

  1. David J. Hutchinson says:

    I am not a general (but I have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express (old TV commercial joke)), but what Mike is doing is hideously dangerous. He has deliberately divided his command in the face of a numerically superior (or at least equal) enemy force, and put a river in between his forces. If his enemy figures it out in time, he can be destroyed in detail.

    It reminds me a bit of 2nd Manassas (Bull Run: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Battle_of_Bull_Run) where Lee held the Union Army with part of his forces while marshaling a major flank attack…but even Lee didn’t interpose a river!

    Still, Mike has the D-Day mindset on his side: “No one would do such a mad thing.”

    He’ll probably win this fight, but one of these days that aggression is going to get him in deep trouble (this book?) who knows. It is going to slow his progress, armies that get get bloodied like Third Division is don’t move on the next day too often.

    We shall see.

    • David J. Hutchinson says:

      And while I’m thinking about it, why haven’t they run into Piccolomini’s supply train (I doubt he would have taken everything he had across the river) or more importantly, his Camp followers?

    • Andy says:

      Mike certainly needs to get taken down a notch. Maybe the Piccolomini just had a glimpse or hunch in the right direction.

      On the other hand this is “The Ottoman Onslaught”, not “The Bavarian Onslaught”, so all this business has to be over quite soon.

      • Tweeky says:

        I’m wondering we’ll see any fighting with Ottoman units before the book is published?

      • Jeff Ehlers says:

        I am reminded of what President Lincoln said about General Grant during the Civil War.

        I can’t help but think that Stearns is being set up to be a much more politically savvy Grant.

        • Cobbler says:

          “I am reminded of what President Lincoln said about General Grant during the Civil War.”

          The only thing that comes to mind happened when Grant’s rivals complained that the man was a drunkard. Lincoln said, “Find out what Grant is drinking and send my other generals a case.”

          I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jeff had in mind.

          • Jeff Ehlers says:

            Look up “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

            Incidentally, Grant almost lost the battle at Shiloh due to being incautious and advancing too far forward, leaving himself open to a surprise Confederate attack, but managed to turn things around and win the day.

            • Cobbler says:

              Thanks, Jeff.

              Much the same reply, actually.

            • David J. Hutchinson says:

              Which led to another Grant quote I’m fond of, and which could apply to Mike (and perhaps Gustavus too).

              At the end of the first day of Shiloh, Grant had been driven back 5 miles, lost over a quarter of his army, and was barely hanging on to the Ford he desperately needed.

              He met up with Sherman, who was then one of his division commanders, and Sherman said “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

              Grant looked back and said:

              “Yes. Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”

    • Kris Overstreet says:

      Chancellorsville might be a better comparison. Or possibly, from the Revolution, the battle of Brandywine, with Stearns taking the place of General William Howe. Unfortunately for Piccolomini, I doubt he’s lucky enough to get to play Washington’s role.

      In any case, dividing one’s force in the face of the enemy is indeed dangerous, but lack of imagination, urgency and daring are each just as dangerous. Put together, they are outright perilous. The Bavarians are fighting a straight frontal assault without verifying the presence of all known enemy units, and without keeping their flanks secured. They’re focused solely on straight ahead. That’s begging for disaster.

      Fortune favors the bold. – Thucydides

  2. Richard H says:

    Am I reading this right that Piccolomini just arrived at Mike’s former HQ and discovered it empty? There can’t be too many buildings that look like command posts with smashed doors around here.

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