1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 46

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 46

If the 1st Brigade collapsed, Mike’s whole battle plan went up in smoke. He’d have no choice but to bring the rest of his division back across the Isar in the hope that he could keep von Taupadel and Higgins and their men from being slaughtered. Whether he could do that in time…

Was another gamble, and one with fairly long odds against success. That was the reason he’d decided to stay at the ford on the Isar just downstream of Moosburg, while he sent the 3rd Brigade and most of the 2nd Brigade up the river to find the ford that Colonel Engler was holding for them. Mike was keeping the Gray Adder regiment with him, to provide cover for the 1st Brigade if they needed to retreat from Moosburg and cross over the Isar.

That would leave the entire Third Division strung out for miles along the banks of the Isar, from the ford below Moosburg to the ford between Moosburg and Freising. Strategically that would leave him with a mess, since he’d be on the wrong side of the river for an assault on Munich. But if the 1st Brigade was broken at Moosburg he’d have a much more pressing tactical mess on his hands, and the fact that most of his forces would now be across the river from Piccolomini’s army would put them in a good defensive position. With Heinrich Schmidt coming south with the SoTF National Guard, Mike was sure that Piccolomini wouldn’t risk making an assault on the Third Division across the river. He’d just withdraw up the north bank of the Isar and take up defensive positions at Freising or somewhere south of there.

So Mike wasn’t likely to face a disaster no matter what happened. But if his plans failed, he’d have led his army into a pointless and brutal killing field due to his own over-confidence. Jimmy Andersen and hundreds of other soldiers would wind up in graves whose headstones might as well read Here lies a good man, killed because his commanding general was a cocksure jackass.

Maybe the worst of it was that Mike might kill hundreds more of his men because he was still gambling like a cocksure jackass.

He’d know by nightfall, one way or the other.

Bavaria, on the Isar river between Moosburg and Freising

Thorsten Engler didn’t think he’d ever in his life felt quite as much relief as he did while watching Colonel Amsel’s Dietrich Regiment coming across the bridge onto the north bank of the Isar. Within minutes, the infantrymen were taking positions behind the fieldworks that the flying artillery had hurriedly set up.

And, naturally, complaining bitterly that the fieldworks were just the sort of ramshackle crap that you’d expect lazy and pampered artillerymen to set up, while the infantry set about correcting all that was wrong, subtracting all that was useless, and adding almost everything that would actually do any good if it came to a real fight.

Very satisfying for them it was, no doubt — and the flying artillery couldn’t have cared less. Insults from infantrymen were of no more moment than mist in the morning or the chattering of tiny rodents. Who cared?

What Thorsten did care about was that by the time the Dietrich Regiment had taken positions and the Lynx Regiment began coming across, there was no longer any realistic prospect that the Bavarians could overwhelm the flying artillery even if they did finally arrive in force. Which —

They still hadn’t. In fact, so far as Thorsten could determine, the Bavarians remained completely unaware that the Third Division had — in almost the literal sense of the term — stolen a march on them.


That blissful ignorance — blissful for the Third Division, at any rate — ended a little after noon. Alex Mackay, accompanied by a small party of his cavalrymen, came cantering across a field toward the new fieldworks. By the time he arrived, both Thorsten and Brigadiers Derrflinger and Schuster had ridden out to meet him.

“They finally spotted us,” Mackay reported, twisting in his saddle and gesturing to the rear with his hat. He did so in the effortless manner of someone who’d been riding horses since he was a boy and had been a cavalryman his entire adult life.

“We encountered a Bavarian cavalry patrol about half a mile back. There was no clash, though. Clearly enough they’d already spotted your fieldworks. As soon as they saw us they took off. They’ll be giving a report to Piccolomini within the hour.”

“All good things come to an end,” said Thorsten. His tone was philosophical, however. By then, the Lynx Regiment had extended the fieldworks further down the Isar in both directions, a good half of the Yellow Marten regiment had crossed the bridge and the White Horse Regiment had arrived and was waiting its turn.

They’d be waiting for a while, though, because the field artillery units were also arriving and Derfflinger and Schuster were both determined to get them across the Isar as soon as the Yellow Marten finished its crossing.

Derfflinger took off his hat. He did so neither to point with it nor to give his head some respite — the temperature was quite pleasant that day — but to swat away some insects. The advantage to riding a horse was that it rested a man’s legs; the disadvantage was that the great beasts invariably attracted pests.

“It looks as if the general’s gamble will pay off,” he said. “Between you and me and the flies, I had some doubts for a while there.”

“Never a dull day in the Third Division,” said Schuster agreeably. The statement was patently ridiculous — the Third Division had as many days of tedium and routine as armies always did. But all four men gathered there just north of the Isar understood the sentiment.

Bavaria, on the north bank of the Amper river

Just west of Moosburg

“You’re certain, captain?” Piccolomini demanded. “Absolutely certain?”

The cavalry officer nodded firmly. “We got a very good look at them, General. We were there for at least five minutes before their cavalry patrol spotted us.” He nodded toward the slip of paper in Piccolomini’s hand. “I made those notes right there on the spot, sir. There’s a lot of guesswork, I grant you, but I’m positive about the essence of the report. The enemy has several thousand men on the north bank of the Isar.

He gestured toward the southwest. “About three, maybe four miles that way, sir. Not too far from the village of Langenbach.”

Piccolomini squinted in the direction the man was pointing. The narrowed eyes weren’t due to sunlight, of which precious little made its way into the interior of the tavern, but to thought.

Not much thought, however. It was now quite obvious what Stearns had done. He’d trusted in the forces he’d left in Moosburg to hold the Bavarian army at bay while he made a forced march, forded two rivers — or rather, forded the Isar in both directions — in order to place most of his troops across Piccolomini’s line of retreat.

The maneuver was bold to the point of being foolhardy. Piccolomini would never have even considered it, himself.

But… blind luck or not, the maneuver had succeeded in its purpose. Piccolomini now had no choice but to retreat south of Freising — and he’d have to do so in a forced march himself, in order to skirt the forces Stearns had gotten across the river.

Grimly, he contemplated his options. They were… not good. After fighting hard for two days, his men had suffered a lot of casualties. Not as many as the Third Division — although today’s fighting had evened the score quite a bit, since the Bavarians had been the ones fighting on the offensive. But between those losses and the rigors of a forced march which would last at least two days, Piccolomini knew perfectly well that his men wouldn’t be able to fight another battle a few days from now at Freising.

They might be “able,” but they certainly wouldn’t be willing. His men were all mercenaries and they’d be disgruntled. Already were disgruntled, he didn’t doubt. Piccolomini could and certainly would claim that he’d won a tactical victory here at Zolling. But mercenaries didn’t care much about such ways of scoring victories and losses. They’d fought — fought hard — and bled a lot, and a number of them had died. And what did they have to show for it?

Nothing beyond a march back to Munich, the same city they’d marched out of just a few days before. They’d be sullen, and Duke Maximilian — whose temper was always unpredictable these days — might very well discharge Piccolomini before they even reached Bavaria’s capital.

So be it. Piccolomini had probably burned his bridges with the Austrians when he’d accepted Maximilian’s offer, but there was still Spain. With all the turmoil their cardinal-now-pope Borja had stirred up in Italy, there were bound to be employment opportunities.

Perhaps France, though… With this new King Gaston on the throne and what looked like a possible civil war in the making…

“What are your orders, General?”

Pulling himself out of his ruminations, Piccolomini looked around and saw that most of his adjutants had gathered around by now. He tossed the slip of paper onto the table in the middle of the tavern.

“We have to retreat. Back to Munich. Make sure the ford we’ve used is well-defended. I doubt if the USE forces in Moosburg will make a sally, but it’s always possible. Once we’re back across the Amper –”


On his way out of the tavern, Piccolomini stopped for a moment to study the leather strip someone had used to repair the door.

Then, shook his head. “He just got lucky, that’s all,” he muttered to himself, and went to find his horse.

Wondering, all the while, whether he really believed it.


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6 Responses to 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 46

  1. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Luck implies the fortuitous workings of chance, and while it might be unkind to Piccolomini, the only ‘luck’ Mike Stearns had was that Piccolomini ‘knew’ Stearns was on the defensive and wouldn’t have time to look for ways to hit back unexpectedly, so he didn’t keep a serious eye out for the unlikelihood of Stearns trying to cut his line of retreat.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      There’s a certain amount of possible luck in knowing where the fords were, in the movement not being spotted earlier, in the weather cooperating, and in the holding force being able to hold for long enough.

      In fact, Sterns had plenty of scouts looking for fords, so that wasn’t really luck, and the holding force he had picked because he was fairly sure it could hold long enough. So the only luck was in the second crossing not being spotted in time for someone to block it (and in Piccolomini not choosing to picket the crossings in his rear and apparently not bringing his baggage train to the party).

      But if you want to insist that Sterns is a lucky amateur then this really doesn’t disprove the contention.

      • Jeff Ehlers says:

        I’m assuming you meant you, plural, because I certainly wasn’t trying to say that.

        • Cobbler says:

          Napoleon said “It is better to be lucky than good.”

          Mike’s role in the battle of Zwenkau gave him a reputation; he’s a foolish beginner who was saved by good luck. Mike’s luck is that his opposite numbers consistently underestimate him. “He’s been lucky so far, but that can’t last.” It’s worth a battalion to him, that reputation.

          Eventually some tactician will read Mike well enough. And set a third-division trap.

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