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1634: The Wars for the Rhine: Chapter Thirteen
Last updated: Saturday, November 12, 2016 06:30 EST
September 2, 1634
In the early morning foggy drizzle Melchior had no chance of getting a good view of the situation from the road following the top of the river bank. The old toll-tower, where the town wall reached the Rhine, rose squat and solid out of the mist. Hesse’s attempt to take Bonn with a surprise attack not supported by artillery had been a daring maneuver — quite in the style of Duke Wilhelm’s mentor, Gustavus Adolphus — and one with a fair chance of succeeding even now after the first rush had been stopped. Presumably the town’s cannons had now been moved along the walls to cover the occupied tower, but reducing it to rubble would be impossible without damaging the wall too.
Melchior stopped to consider his options. No one seemed to be around outside the walls at the moment, but using the gate by the toll-tower would expose him to fire from above, so he turned the horse inland towards the next gate. It was sure to be occupied with defenders ready to fire along the walls to keep more Hessians from reaching the toll-tower gate, but if he came slowly and openly they were unlikely to fire on sight.
“Ho, the gate!” Melchior called as soon as he could see the second tower.
“Yeah, who goes?”
“General Melchior von Hatzfeldt returning from Vienna. My cousin-in-law, Commander Wickradt, can vouch for me. But hurry, please, I’m feeling a bit exposed.”
In the white-washed guards-room at the base of the gate-tower, Melchior was offered a breakfast of hot beer, rye-bread and cheese by the distant relative of his sister Lucie’s late husband. Commander Wickradt had been a siege specialist in the Dutch army before returning to his hometown to take command of Bonn’s defenses. Bonn had always played second fiddle to Cologne, but when the archbishops of Cologne near the end of the thirteenth century had been thrown out of Cologne and forbidden to enter except to fulfill their clerical duties, they had settled in Bonn. Here they had built the walls and fortifications, and generally given the small provincial backwater town some importance. Where Cologne was an important free city in its own right ,and ruled entirely by its council, Bonn belonged to and depended on the archbishops — and the town’s council usually did what they were told.
The archbishops had always maintained their own guards. Sometimes just the Palace Guard and an escort for their travels, sometimes an actual private army, but always something separate from the town’s defenses and taking their orders directly from the archbishop. During the last few years, as the war had come closer and closer, Commander Wickradt had taken personal control of the town’s militias, and started training as many of the town’s citizens as he could. The archbishop — and his guards — had sneered at that: bumpkins waving around cutlery, pretending to be soldiers. But when the archbishop’s mercenary regiments had tried to bully their surroundings, it had been the men trained by Wickradt, who had stepped in and beaten up the worst offenders; proving that being lofty cavalry was no protection against cudgels in a dark alley.
In the flickering torch-light on this particular morning Commander Wickradt looked every one of his sixty-some years, and despite keeping the mood light while Melchior was eating with humorous tales about “his” people’s ability to defend themselves against their rough mercenary “guests,” the old man was obviously deeply worried.
“My thanks for your hospitality, Wickradt, “said Melchior, refusing the offer for another serving, “but I think we better move on to more serious matter. Or are you waiting for someone?”
“The mayor, Herr Oberstadt, should be along shortly, but there’s no reason to wait with the military information. A few people have crossed the river in fishing boats and one of them, Karl Mittelfeld, is an old friend of mine. He used to be a musketeer until an infected wound gave him a limp. From what he and the other fishermen told me, the Hessians have brought four or five regiments of cavalry and at least a few companies of mounted infantry with muskets; say two or three thousand in all. It could be more, but people don’t tend to underestimate the size of an attacking force. No sign of their artillery.”
“The cannons are coming later.” Melchior looked blankly at the wall trying to recall what information he had on the Hessian army. “A few years ago, Hesse could field ten to twelve thousand soldiers including around three thousand cavalry. So it’s not the entire Hessian army — at least not yet or at least not around Beuel — but it could be most or all of his cavalry.”
“Cavalry are not my specialty, Herr General, but if Hesse had been hiring heavily I would have heard. And I haven’t.” Wickradt kept his eyes at the younger man. The Hatzfeldts were one of the most prominent families in the area, and while Melchior wasn’t as famous a general as Wallenstein and Tilly, he was by far the most reputable military leader presently west of Bavaria. “Any ideas about the bigger picture? Should we expect the Swedes too?”
“I am almost completely certain that the main armies of the USE are fully occupied northeast and southeast of here.” Melchior dipped a finger in his beer and started drawing a map of wet lines on the table. “Ingolstadt has fallen, and the USE border with Bavaria now follows the Danube. I passed close enough to be certain that General Horn has not moved in this direction. Nor have any major units left Frankfurt to travel down the Rhine. Gustavus Adolphus must still need most of his army in the northeast, but might have been able to spare a few units or even some American specialists. When I left Cologne, Hesse was stuck around Remscheid with the Bergian forces between him and Cologne, and the army of Essen between him and the Rhine. Are there any news from that area?”
“No. As of the day before yesterday there were no movements along the Rhine, and no reports of attacks on the Bergian fortifications. With De Geer and Essen firmly in possession of Düsseldorf, I suppose it would make sense for Hesse to try expanding westward and take Cologne. And I’m quite aware that he could easily have moved his cavalry. But he cannot hope to take Cologne or even Bonn without artillery to break the walls. And where would that be coming from?”
“My guess would be down the Rhine from Frankfurt.” Melchior continued drawing wet lines on the table. “There really are three routes Hesse could take. The first is up the Fulda River from Kassel, and down the Rhine from Frankfurt, thus hitting Bonn on the way to Cologne. Number two is west through Berg or Mark to the Rhine and going upstream to hit Cologne first. And the third is up the Eder valley and down the Sieg to take Bonn. Which we know he used for at least some of the cavalry now on this side of the river. Option number one make sense for any cannons he might have left behind when moving into Berg. That would be much easier than dragging them across the mountains. Option number two would need a deal with De Geer, but when I left for Vienna the rumors in Cologne were quite insistent that Archbishop Ferdinand played a role in that mess with Duke Wolfgang and the French raid this spring, so such an alliance is far from unlikely. That reminds me: has Wolfgang’s widow been found?”
“It is known that Felix Gruyard brought her to the archbishop’s palace here in Bonn, and that she gave birth to a living son, but no one has seen either her or the baby since the birth. The archbishop’s people searched for her into Berg, but found nothing. I have my own ideas about what happened, and think she is safe and with friends.”
“Hm, poor girl. I took a cousin of hers prisoner at Augsburg a couple of years ago — nice young man and an excellent card player. The Zweibrücken family is heavily inter-married with the royal family of Sweden, and I suppose she could be part of the reason Hesse is here. Somebody in Vienna mentioned him trying to become the baby’s guardian.” Melchior frowned. “Do you think you could find her if necessary?”
“Probably, but you might have to swear to her your personal protection from the archbishop as well as from Hesse. Your cousin, Dame Anna is here in Bonn. She is a friend of Irmgard Eigenhaus, the midwife. Paying a visit to the dames might be a good place to start.”
“I see. I’ve got a letter to Anna from her brother, Wolf, who is now my second-in-command. I had planned to visit her anyway. And Archduke Ferdinand told me to do what I could to keep Jülich-Berg as well as the Archdiocese of Cologne under Catholic control.” Melchior frowned and re-drew the drying lines on the table. “But back to the military situation: Hesse used the Eder-Sieg route for his cavalry, but their presence here might be mainly to ensure that the cannons can get down safely from Frankfurt to Cologne. Bonn isn’t that important in the overall picture. I haven’t seen any signs of infantry coming from Frankfurt, but they could be following the cavalry on the Eder-Sieg route or coming via Essen. Do you know who is actually leading the Hessian cavalry?”
“It’s said to be Wilhelm of Hesse in person, but that’s not verified. Could be one of his generals, probably von Uslar.” Wickradt frowned at the wet lines on the table. “You don’t think Hesse is just trying to remove Archbishop Ferdinand before the archbishop does whatever he hired those mercenaries for? We had mail from Cologne yesterday, and they are not expecting an attack. You cannot move infantry around in complete secrecy.”
“Stopping the archbishop is probably a part of it. And if Hesse isn’t bringing his infantry, he might settle for that and a tribute. But taking Cologne is his most likely goal. What do you have to oppose him with here in Bonn?”
“If you are right about the cannons coming from Frankfurt, then our cannons on the river-walls could sink any boat trying to pass in the daytime. Sailing the Rhine at night is extremely dangerous, but can be done with a local pilot.” Wickradt smiled. “I’m fairly certain Karl and his friends don’t live entirely on what they catch fishing.”
Melchior shook his head. “Sailing the Rhine past Bonn at night is something much too chancy to base your artillery movement on.”
“Well, you’re the expert on field-maneuvers. Outside the town the situation is that the archbishop’s regiment at Beuel is completely gone, and with them the lieutenant-colonel given the overall interim command while the four colonels were up-river doing something with Felix Gruyard.”
Melchior interrupted. “The archbishop’s torturer went with Irish Butler and the others? And the overall commander was across the river in Beuel?”
“Yes and yes. And while I’m glad not to have that Lorrainian creep Gruyard around polluting the wells, things might have gone better if those mercenary colonels had stayed.”
“Possibly, but go on.”
“When the Hessians took Beuel, they went straight to the ferry and continued the attack across the Rhine. They failed to take more than the old toll-tower, but there’s an arsenal in there, and a frontal assault would in my opinion not just be costly, I think it would fail completely. Those walls and gates are strong. Reducing the tower to rubble with the wall-cannons might turn out to be necessary, but it would seriously weaken the wall, leaving a hole in the defenses. And if we can just stall things for a few weeks, we’ll starve them out.” Wickradt sighed. “The archbishop’s other three regiments were supposed to patrol the river brink, to prevent more Hessians from crossing. But last night, when the rain started, the Hessians managed to get several barge-loads of musketeers across the Rhine before anybody noticed — or at least before anybody reported it. When the news reached the mercenary camp, two lieutenant-colonels couldn’t be found, one was so drunk he was incoherent, and the rest started quarreling. Eventually just one squadron went, only to return in panic, shouting that the Hessian cavalry were across and right on their heels.”
“Any idea if that was true?” asked Melchior.
“None. The only Hessians I have seen are in the tower. But the panic spread. The mercenaries struck their camp during the night, and most moved west. Judging from what was left behind, it was not entirely an orderly maneuver. Also around midnight the archbishop packed his guards and left town. He is taking direct command of his mercenary regiments from a field headquarters until Butler and the others return. With your brother as his interim general-in-charge.”
“What! Is Hermann here?”
“Oh no, your brother Franz, the prince-bishop of Würzburg.”
“Franz? Impossible. He has only the bits of military training our father insisted on. He cannot lead an army.”
“Be as it might. The label “General von Hatzfeldt” commands quite a lot of respect.”
“Oh, God, poor Franz. The archbishop must be totally out of his mind.”
“In my opinion the archbishop still hopes to put you in charge, Herr General.” The entrance of the portly mayor had gone unnoticed by Melchior. “Of course, I rather hope to do the same. Only for my town rather than for the mercenaries. I’m not qualified to judge the archbishop’s sanity of mind, but I am definitely sure I do not want my town sacked and burned. Nor do I want its people starved to death by a siege.”
The mayor sat down carefully on the low stool and continued talking. “The Hessians appear to have come without cannons, so the archbishop claims the city is safe. But even if they don’t get siege weapons build or brought, they could still starve us out. We have stores for some months, but not for all winter.”
“The cannons are coming, probably down from Frankfurt,” said Melchior absently. “I overheard a scout last night at the Inn of the Black Goat. And I don’t think Hesse is willing to wait for Bonn if he has his sight set on Cologne. What’s the military situation inside the town, Wickradt?”
“My guard is up to three hundred men, including reserves and artillerists, all well trained and equipped. The council agreed to the expenses when Mainz fell to the Protestants. The militias all have guns, and know how to use them. The old militia also follows orders fairly well,” Commander Wickradt stopped and grinned. “But the new part has some problems. They are women.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Yes. They heard the story of the American woman shooting Wallenstein at the Alte Veste. Do you remember Frau Benedicte Eigenhaus? She trounced your stepmother, Margaretha, over that affair with the Neumarkt property in Cologne. About a year ago Frau Benedicte headed a delegation to insist that the strongest women in town should also be taught to shoot. I wouldn’t want to do anything complicated with the Little Dears, but to put them on a wall and tell them to fire at an enemy on the outside should be safe enough. They have even set up a rather efficient shooting method. Somebody told someone about the musketeer’s system of “one man fire, while one man load” in alternating rows, so the Little Dears have paired off and one sits down and loads both guns while the other stands up and fires them. Once the shooter gets a sore shoulder, they’ll change. They can actually manage a quite respectable rate of fire that way. If I had enough guns I would have dragged in some of the weaker women just as extra loaders.”
“That explain some remarks I overheard from the Palace Guard just before I left for Vienna.” Melchior kept making drawings on the table with a wet finger, now of what he remembered of the wall and fortifications around Bonn. “But how many guns do you have? And what about cannons?”
“The gun situation is good: almost one thousand new, good quality muskets. There are also a few hundred older — but working — guns in the arsenals, and some militia men prefer their own. The wall-cannons are the old ones, except for the river-wall.” Wickradt frowned. “The old ones will keep battering rams from the gates, and might take out a badly placed enemy artillery bastion, but they are far too slow in adjustment to stand any chance of hitting mounted or marching men.”
“What about balls and pikes?”
“Lots of balls and gunpowder for everything, but only my guards have much in the way of swords. The militia’s men have cudgels, pikes and staffs according to preference. The Little Dears?” Wickradt shrugged, “I haven’t tried to do anything. They might in fact be better off not looking too war-like if it comes to fighting in the streets.”
“So for all practical purpose: getting in without cannons would be very costly for the Hessians, and Duke Wilhelm is not one to spend his men unnecessarily. But once their cannons get here, only the archbishop’s cavalry can keep them from pounding this tower, while they get in through the toll-tower gate. How much have you done with barricades in the streets?”
“Nothing so far, but wagons are ready to be rolled into the area in front of the toll-tower. The slope towards the river should make them roll in place without exposing my men to fire from above. But I still want to retake that bloody toll-tower.” Wickradt banged his mug into the table. “Once the Hessians get inside the walls it’ll be a bloodbath. For us and for them. No matter how much we slow them. And to depend on the archbishop and those mercenary to keep the cannons away? Forget it. They’ll fuck up even if they try.”
“I would very much prefer not to rely on that cavalry myself,” said the mayor, “and the rest of the council agrees. We were rather hoping you would be willing to help us avoid that necessity, Herr General.”
“In what way, Mayor Oberstadt? Commander Wickradt has far more expertise in town defenses than I have, and I do not carry an army in my pocket. My own regiments are still in Linz, and getting them here could not be done in less than two month. I may decide to do what the archbishop wanted, and go take command of his regiments. But they are not well trained and the Hessians appear to outnumber them. Sooner or later the Hessians will still come to your gates.”
“We realize that, Herr General, and the council and guilds have spent the entire night debating what we should do. We were still in session when the news of your arrival came to the Town Hall, and a quick agreement was reached to place the matter fully in your hands.”
“Yes, Herr General, according to our best lawyers, the archbishop has abandoned the town in face of an enemy, and withdrawn his soldiers and protection. He gave no orders about what we are to do before he left. And so the council — and citizens and guards — are not breaking any oaths or committing treason by choosing you to do whatever you can for us. As long as a single enemy soldier is within the area controlled by the Council of Bonn, you are empowered to use all our resources and make any negotiations you want. The papers are being written at the Hall.” The Mayor folded his hands over his velvet-glad stomach and smiled at Melchior, while Wickradt broke in to a slightly hysteric laughter.
Melchior closed his mouth. This was not expected! He wanted to find Franz and get him away from the archbishop. Melchior could then take charge of those damned mercenary regiments, and gather as many more fighters as possible to harass the Hessians until Wolf could bring his regiments to the west. But Bonn? Bonn had been where they went for fun and fairs all his childhood. If he was right about Hesse trying to conquer this entire stretch of the Rhine, Bonn didn’t stand a chance. And if they chose to trust him like that, he couldn’t just turn his back and leave. Damned!
A guard came to wave Wickradt out, and Melchior scowled at the smiling Mayor. “And what if I choose to negotiate a surrender? Or to have Bonn join the USE?”
The mayor stopped smiling. “We trust you to make the best of a very bad situation, Herr General. On our own we face either a conquest or a surrender without negotiations. You are the one person here that Hesse is sure to take seriously. Everybody else would just get the terms dictated, but if you stand for Bonn, you’d be listened to. By Hesse and by the USE.” He signed. “We do not like this, Herr General, but last night — after the archbishop left with his soldiers but before we knew you had returned — the council and guilds majority were in favor of applying for membership of the USE. Either as a free town or as part of a province. The Committee of Correspondence is not very vocal in Bonn, but they are here and claim to be able to make the necessary contacts in Mainz. They’ll wait for your orders before leaving; just tell us what you want.”
“Very well.” Melchior took a deep breath and nodded. “I accept the task. I’ll write letters for the USE and for my brothers. Please have two couriers ready aside from the person from the CoC. I’ll see Commander Wickradt about the rest.”
“Certainly, Herr General, and thank you.” The Mayor rose and bowed deeply. “Just … There might be one small limit to your power here in Bonn. Please don’t call the Women’s Militia “The Little Dears” within the hearing of any female; the consequences would be entirely beyond the council’s control.”
“Ah, General von Hatzfeldt.” Commander Wickradt was standing just beyond the iron-bound tower gate with the sun reflecting from his helmet and breast-plate. “There is some news about the mercenary colonels.”
“Excellent. Please walk with me, Commander, I’m staying for a while and would like to see the toll-tower for myself.” Melchior breathed deeply of the fresh air and looked up at the still hazy sun. The rain clouds from last night were gone and the mist had just been the usual morning mist hanging over the river. Both good and bad. It would make the couriers more visible, but also give earlier warning if the Hessians started moving in on the town.
“So you accepted the council’s offer?” said Wickradt in a much lower voice, as they walked between the half-timbered houses toward the river, their boots making small splashes in the rain puddles.
“Yes, and I’ll be sending off letters as soon as we have spoken. Please leave the western gate open until the couriers have left, but keep men standing by to close immediately if any large parties approach.” Melchior looked around at the wet cobbles sparkling in the sun. He had been a professional soldier for almost twenty years, and had been on the winning as well as losing sides of several sieges. But Bonn was so much a part of his childhood that the thought of blood running over these cobblestones made him feel sick.
“That is already done, General, and they’ll also close the gate if mists gather again to obscure the view of the approach. This time of year that’s entirely possible.” Wickradt had to stretch his shorter legs to keep up with Melchior. “The news I just had were that Butler, MacDonald and Deveroux rode in through the western gate this morning, and left again less than an hour later going west. Felix Gruyard was with them. No sign of Geraldin. Also, the scouts I sent out earlier have returned to tell that the Hessians are crossing near Vesseling, and the road via Bruhl to Cologne is still open.”
“All good, but if Geraldin turns up I’d like to see him.” Melchior stopped before turning into the open area before the toll-tower gate. “How much do they fire from the toll-tower?”
“Not much, I went to the gate yesterday under truce to ask for their surrender. They refused, but we reached an agreement. Neither side sets fires until the town is actually attacked, and they can empty their slop-bucket safely over the outside wall in return for not deliberately targeting civilians. They are native Hessians, well disciplined, and prepared to just hold on until the rest of their force get here. I refused them food and extra water, but offered to let any wounded into care in the town. They replied that none of them were hit in the balls and none were catamites, so they preferred to stay away from Felix Gruyard and the archbishop’s dungeons. I had to admit that I could not guarantee their safety.”
“Very well.” Melchior removed his hat and briefly scanned the tower by leaning round the corner. “No frontal attack on that, and reducing it to rubble only if negotiations fail. Let your wagons roll in to block as much of the gate as possible, and barricade all the streets just out of range. Where else might they attack? I remember the north wall missing some towers.”
“If they can breach the north wall on the middle, they cannot be reached with cannons while entering town. But I’ve concentrated as many cannons there as I dared, so getting close would cost any attackers dearly. The west walls are good, and I’m sure we can beat anything they send at the river walls.”
“Good. Letters next, and I’ll need a place to sleep.”
“Let us walk to the Town Hall.” Wickradt looked sideways at Melchior as they crossed the gutter to walk on the big flat stones set along the middle of the road. “Is there any chance of getting your own regiments here?”
“Not in time.” Melchior looked at the older man walking beside him and decided to be a bit more forthcoming. “I had some both personal and political problems in Vienna last winter, and was given furlough this summer to visit my family and make an evaluation of the military situation in western Germany for the emperor. I went back to report when it became obvious that Archbishop Ferdinand was about to stir things up along this part of the Rhine, but Bavaria is in chaos and the Habsburgs are waiting for the old emperor to die, so no one was willing to interfere.”
“How about the emperor’s heir, Archduke Ferdinand? Couldn’t he do something?”
“Could, yes, but there’s a long way from Austria to Cologne, and at the moment Duke Maximilian of Bavaria is likely to believe that any military movement in this direction is an attack on him. He is already seeing an enemy conspiracy every time somebody sneezes.” Melchior smiled wryly. “At the moment I’m under oath to the old emperor as an imperial count, but only on retainer as a general, while some of my men are hired by me and other by the Holy Roman Empire. I tried to get permission to bring my personal regiments to the west, but in the end I had to accept waiting for the new emperor to take command. My plans must then depend on his plans. If Hesse is still around when the old emperor dies, Wolf, my second-in-command and cousin, should be able to bring my men here. They’ll probably have to move either through Bavaria or along its southern border. Once they get here, we can try to hold as much of this part of the Rhine as possible.” Melchior stopped and lifted his hat in greeting to a vaguely familiar old woman dropping into a curtsy as he passed.
“And if Hesse has conquered Cologne and Bonn? Could your men take them back?” Wickradt looked grim.
“Not on our own. At least not unless we can get the population to rise against Hesse.” Melchior answered. “On the other hand, if Hesse succeeds before Wolf can get here it would leave the Holy Roman Empire fenced in behind Bavaria and entirely dependent on Italy and France. So even if the new emperor would prefer to keep his troops in the East, he might still find it necessary to send them.”
“Even with Bavaria unstable?” Wickradt lifted an eyebrow.
“It would not be an easy choice.” Melchior frowned. “When I left Vienna I didn’t expect to do more here than placate whoever the archbishop had managed to upset, and keep things calm until reinforcements could arrive. Still, Archduke Ferdinand gave me quite a lot of power to counter whatever the archbishop was up to, including plenipotentiary powers to negotiate on the emperor’s behalf in matters concerning the interests of the HRE west of Bavaria. Hesse’s attack across the Rhine came as a complete surprise to me. It makes sense for him to expand his new province into Berg, but any attempt on Cologne I would have expected to come from the south, and Rheinland-Pfalz is simply too divided to do that right now.” Melchior smiled and bowed to another woman curtsying to him before continuing. “I suppose I could take the archbishop’s mercenary regiments and try to stop him by military means — certainly most of my colleagues would do so — but there isn’t much chance I’d be able to succeed. And from the emperor’s point of view a Cologne with a negotiated membership of the USE is very much preferable to a Cologne conquered by Hesse.”
“So you’ll try negotiations.” Wickradt nodded to himself. “Sensible thing to do. With Hesse or above his head?”
“Above, if I can manage it. Gustavus Adolphus must have permitted — or at least accepted — Hesse’s plans.” Melchior stopped and looked at Wickradt. “If you are right about the Jülich-Berg heir being here in Bonn that might enable me to stop Gustavus Adolphus from openly backing Hesse. The baby’s aunt is Gustavus Adolphus’s sister Katharina, and he is said to be most fond of her. And the second most powerful man in the USE is Mike Stearns, an American. My brother Heinrich has been dealing with the Americans in Mainz for the past two years, and my friend, Father Johannes, has lived among them for longer. They have told me that the Americans know the value of a willing ally — or at least semi-willing one — over a conquered area.”
Wickradt scowled. “So all we have to do is keep Hesse at bay, until we get the negotiations opened? Well, we’ll do our best. May I spread the news about you talking charge of the town? There have been a few reports of looters already, and I expect your name would squelch that again.”
“Sure, but do put up a gibbet and don’t expect me to walk on water too.” Melchior slapped his hat against his leather trousers and started composing letters while he walked.
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