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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter One

       Last updated: Friday, October 15, 2010 21:12 EDT




November, 1635

The dark, broad seas

Tetschen, near the border between Saxony and Bohemia

    The view from Freiherr von Thun’s small castle was magnificent. Set on a rocky knoll right above the quays of Tetschen, called De(c(ín by the Czech locals, the old castle not only dominated the river Elbe, but provided a fine view to the north. The building had been designed more as a customs and toll stop, rather than being a fortification built with combat in mind. Its old-fashioned curtain walls were ill-suited to receive artillery fire of any kind. Still, its few guns covered the riverfront from bank to bank and they could be expanded by leaving behind some of the Third Division’s artillery.

    For the purpose Mike Stearns had in mind — possible purpose, he cautioned himself — Tetschen was better than any other place the Third Division had passed through since they entered the low range of mountains that separated the Bohemian and Saxon plains. Those mountains were called the Erzgebirge in German and Krušné hory in Czech.

    Tetschen had three things to recommend it:

    First, it was obviously the best bottleneck to thwart an army trying to enter Bohemia from the north or Saxony from the south.

    The Erzgebirge were not tall mountains. The two highest peaks, Klínovec and Fichtelberg, were only four thousand feet high. The terrain resembled a scaled-down version of Mike’s familiar Appalachia. It was nothing like the Alps or the Carpathians, much less the Rockies. Moreover, Klínovec and Fichtelberg were quite a ways to the west. Here, in the eastern part of the mountain range, the terrain was much lower. The Third Division’s engineers had told Mike that the altitude of Tetschen itself was only four hundred and fifty feet above sea level.

    Still, as low as they might be, the Erzgebirge were mountains. Not much of an obstacle for a small hiking party, true enough. But for a division of soldiers numbering over ten thousand men, they were well-nigh impassable. By now, the soldiers were hardened and veteran marchers and could probably manage the task as an abstract muscular exercise. But what would they eat and drink? Small mountains streams are fine for half a dozen hikers; for regiments and battalions, they are a laughable water source. While American technology had been able to upgrade many of the weapons used by the USE’s army, its logistical methods were still largely those of the seventeenth century. That meant supply wagons drawn by horses and oxen — who needed even more in the way of food and water than soldiers did.

    Armies could only pass through even low mountains by following what few natural routes existed. In this eastern portion of the Erzgebirge, that meant following the Elbe, the same river that was dominated by Tetschen here.

    Tetschen’s second great advantage was that it was a relatively large town. Not a city, certainly. But it was very far from a country village, too. It was large enough to provide a base for a regiment, without requiring constant foraging in the countryside. “Foraging” being military-speak for requisitioning supplies by methods which were often nothing more than legalized plunder. Given that the lands said regiment would be plundering were Czech lands ruled by the very same Wallenstein that Mike and his Third Division had been sent to support, that could get very dicey, very quickly.

    But with a town the size of Tetschen, Mike was pretty sure that one of his regiments would be able to get its supplies without overly aggravating the area’s residents. That was especially true of the regiment he had in mind for the task.

    Finally, Tetschen was very close to Dresden. As the crow flies, probably not more than thirty miles. Mike wasn’t sure yet — he wasn’t sure at all, actually — but that might turn out to be critical.

    As his eyes roamed across the landscape below, yet a fourth advantage to Tetschen came to his mind. There was enough flat land down there to build an airstrip. Nothing fancy, but it would be good enough for one of Jesse Wood’s Belles or Gustavs. That might prove quite handy in the future.

    “Yes,” he murmured to himself. “Here.”

    He smiled, then, thinking of the reactions he’d get from his staff officers and the newest and youngest colonel in his division.



   In the event, it was the experienced staff officers who raised the objections and the young new colonel who kept his mouth shut.

   “But what’s the point, sir?” asked Anthony Leebrick. His tone of voice was not quite peevish, but awfully close to it. “There’s no chance at all that the Austrians will attack Bohemia from the north.”

   “I understand that,” said Mike. “But Holk and his army are still out there somewhere. They’ve attacked Bohemia before, you know.”

   Leebrick almost choked. While he struggled to regain his composure, Colonel Christopher Long spoke up. “The most recent information we have places Holk’s forces near Breslau, General Stearns. If he was going to invade Bohemia from there, he’d most likely strike through Trutnov rather than marching all the way back through Saxony to come down the Elbe.”

   Long used the German name for the city, Breslau, instead of the Polish name Wroclaw. That reflected no particular anti-Polish bias on his part, simply a linguistic preference. He was as fluent in German as he was in his native English, and had only a smattering of Polish.

   “Leaving that aside,” chimed in the third of Mike’s staff officers, Colonel Ulbrecht Duerr, “I think the chance of Holk attacking Bohemia under the current circumstances is about as likely as a lady’s lap dog deciding to attack a bear. The time he assaulted Prague was after Wallenstein had taken his army out to meet the Austrians and Holk thought the city was undefended.” He barked a sarcastic laugh. “And then look what happened! The sorry bastard was driven off by fucking Jews and university students. Do you really think he’s now going to challenge Wallenstein himself — not to mention our division?”

   Long’s geographical reasoning was impeccable, Duerr’s assessment of Holk’s state of mind was dead on the money, and Mike had considerable sympathy for Anthony Leebrick’s exasperation with his commanding general’s lapse into lunacy. But he was still going to stick to his decision, so the only suitable tactic was inscrutable generalissimo-ness.

   “Gentlemen, my mind is made up. I appreciate your advice, but the decision stands and there’s no point thrashing it over again.”

   They’d been meeting in one of the rooms on the upper floor of Tetschen’s largest tavern. As was de rigeur in seventeenth-century warfare, Mike had requisitioned the tavern for his temporary headquarters — which, of course, would now become the more-or-less permanent headquarters of the regiment he was planning to leave behind after the rest of the Third Division resumed its march to Prague.

   Up till now, the tavern-keeper had been quite happy with the situation. Mike still had enough USE dollars in the division’s coffers to pay in cash. The man would probably be a lot less happy once Mike left and the regiment staying behind explained the new financial arrangements.

   Mike swiveled in his chair to look at that regiment’s commander. Unlike the three staff officers, who were sitting at the table with Mike, Colonel Jeff Higgins had chosen to perch himself atop a small side table by the door. The arrangement struck Mike as a bit on the chancy side. Higgins was a big man and that side table looked awfully rickety.

   “I’m leaving Captain Bartley and his newly-formed Exchange Corps here with you, Jeff. I figure this is as good a time and place as any to see if his ideas will really work.”

   Higgins didn’t look particularly thrilled at the news, but he made no protest. He’d barely said a word since the meeting began and Mike announced his decision to leave Higgins and his Hangman Regiment here in Tetschen.

   “Any questions, Colonel?” he asked.

   Higgins chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds. “I assume Engler and his flying artillery company are still attached to my regiment?”

   “Yes. You can figure that’s now a pretty permanent situation.”

   Jeff nodded. “All right. But I’d like some regular artillery as well. Assuming Holk does come ravening up the Elbe” — he said that with a completely straight face; Mike was impressed as well as amused — “having two or three culverins would be handy. Holk will be using flat-bottom barges to haul his supplies, just as we are. Thorsten’s volley guns are great against cavalry but they won’t do squat to sink a boat.” He chewed on his lip for another two or three seconds. “I wouldn’t mind some more mortars, either.”

   Mike looked to Duerr, who served as what an up-time American army would have called the division’s G-1 officer, in charge of personnel. “Can we spare anyone, Ulbrecht?”

   Unlike the two English staff officers, who were all but rolling their eyes at the absurdity of the whole conversation — culverins to sink non-existent barges, for the love of God, as if the division couldn’t find better use for the artillery pieces! — Duerr’s expression was placid. He was quite a bit older than Long and Leebrick, and had seen plenty of idiotic command decisions in his long career. You just had to be philosophical about it. Generals were like women. Handy to have around, as a rule, and occasionally delightful; but also given to peculiar moods and whimsies.

   “Not too hard,” he said. “We’ve kept up our recruiting even on the march. Having a reputation helps — ha! — which we certainly do after Zwenkau and Zielona Góra. So we’re back up to strength and then some. Still short of cavalry, of course.”

   That was pretty much a given. Cavalrymen couldn’t be trained quickly, the way infantrymen and artillerymen could. In the nature of things, in the seventeenth century, most people who already had the horsemanship skills to serve in cavalry units came from the nobility. The lower nobility, as a rule — what Germans called the Niederadel as opposed to the much smaller Hochadel class comprised mostly of dukes and counts. But such men still considered themselves part of the aristocracy and most of them were not friendly to the Stearns administration that had governed the USE since its formation.

   So, the USE army had always found it difficult to enlist as many cavalrymen as they would have liked. The new nation’s army made up for it by having what they considered the continent’s best infantry and artillery.



    Duerr liked to suck on a pipe instead of chewing a lip, when he was pondering something. Mike found it annoying, not because tobacco smoke irritated him particularly but because Ulbrecht was not smoking. Very rarely did he actually fill his pipe with tobacco and light it up. Instead, he just sucked — and sucked and sucked and sucked — on an empty pipe.

    So be it. Mike had found good staff officers to be a lot like computer geeks. Handy to have around, as a rule, and occasionally indispensable; but also given to gross personal habits.

    “I’ll strip one of the new artillery companies from the Teutoburg Regiment. That’ll give Higgins four guns, which ought to be plenty. And we can strip a couple of the heavy weapons units from them as well, which will provide him with the additional mortars he wants.”

    Leebrick made a face. “Brigadier von Taupadel is going to raise bloody hell. Not to mention Leoš Hlavacek! That’s his regiment you’re proposing to skin. It won’t help any that he ranks Higgins.”

    Unlike every other regimental commander in the Third Division, Jeff was a lieutenant colonel instead of a colonel. He was the only lieutenant colonel in the entire USE army, in fact. The title was not officially recognized in the army’s table of organization. Mike Stearns had created it as a brevet rank when he set up the Hangman Regiment — which was also not part of the T/O.

    Officially, the USE army had a very clear and simple structure:

    Each division consisted of nine thousand men commanded by a major general.

    Each division had three brigades of three thousand men, commanded by a brigadier.

    Each brigade had three regiments of one thousand men, commanded by a colonel.

    Each regiment had two infantry battalions of four hundred men, commanded by a major, and an artillery company of two hundred men usually commanded by a captain.

    Finally, the infantry battalions were composed of four companies of one hundred men, commanded by a captain. A company consisted of three platoons of thirty men commanded by a second lieutenant, and a heavy weapons unit of ten men commanded by a sergeant. The company’s first lieutenant usually served its captain as his executive officer.

    Such was the neat theory reflected in the official table of organization. Mike was pretty sure the ink hadn’t dried yet before reality began to diverge from theory.

    To begin with, the T/O didn’t include cavalry forces at all. Officially, all cavalry forces were under the direct command of the army’s commanding officer — that was Lieutenant General Lennart Torstensson — and he assigned the units to whichever divisions he chose in whatever manner he saw fit. Right now, for instance, Mike’s Third Division had only one cavalry regiment assigned to it. Torstensson didn’t think he needed more than that, since he’d be operating in the fairly constrained terrain of Bohemia and (if open hostilities broke out with Austria) the even more constrained terrain around Linz. Torstensson wanted to keep his cavalry concentrated against the Poles, in the more open terrain of northern Germany and Poland.

    Secondly, almost as soon as they were formed the various major units of the army began changing. To give one example, Mike’s Third Division had ten regiments instead of nine. The oddball was Jeff Higgins’ Hangman Regiment, which Mike had created to maintain discipline in the division after some units ran amok following the capture of the Polish town of S'wiebodzin.

    Jeff’s division was an oddball in more ways than one. Instead of having the usual artillery company — which the artillerymen themselves invariably and stubbornly insisted on calling a “battery” and to hell with what the T/O said — he’d had Captain Thorsten Engler’s flying artillery unit attached instead. Like the cavalry, the flying artillery were not part of the table of organization of the divisions, but were under Torstensson’s direct authority.

    Now, he’d have most of a regular artillery unit attached to his regiment as well — which would make it grossly oversized according to the T/O. Jeff’s sergeants had been assiduously recruiting ever since Zielona Góra had given the Hangman the reputation of being the division’s toughest regiment as well as the one which would be disciplining any miscreants. As a result, most of the regiment’s companies were oversized also, with an average of one hundred and twenty men instead of the neat one hundred stipulated by the army’s powers-that-be. Jeff and all of his officers were firmly of the opinion that the bigger the gun, the better, so most of that added personnel had been assigned to heavy weapons units. Jeff had been able to provide them with the heavy weapons they needed because he now had a close relationship with David Bartley; who, despite being the youngest quartermaster officer in the division, was easily its smartest.

    And now, he’d be adding still more heavy weapons units to his regiment, swiped from Hlavacek’s Teutoberg Regiment. So what? Jeff saw nothing wrong with hauling coal to Newcastle, and Hlavacek would make up the loss soon enough through recruitment. Unlike most armies in the here and now, the USE army regularly met its payroll. There were always men willing to sign up, even leaving aside the ones — most of them, actually — who joined for ideological reasons.

    Jeff didn’t have much sympathy for Hlavacek, anyway, since he didn’t like the sour Czech mercenary officer. Still, there was no percentage in rubbing salt into the wounds of another regiment.

    So all he said was: “Okay.”

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