Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Friday, December 3, 2010 06:37 EST



Poznán, Poland

    The grand hetman of Poland and Lithuania finished studying the enemy lines beyond the city’s fortifications. From his expression, Lukasz Opalinski thought he wasn’t very happy with what he saw. Not so much because of the enemy’s lines, but because of his own. Poznán had begun the process of renovating its walls with the modern trace italienne design, but had not finished it when the USE launched its invasion of Poland. As usual, funds had been short and erratic. King Wladyslaw IV was a spendthrift and the Sejm was feckless.

    Stanislaw Koniecpolski turned away, shaking his head. “Lucky for us the Swedish bastards are pre-occupied with their own affairs for the moment.”

    Lukasz decided that gave him the opening he’d been waiting for. “As it happens, I just got a letter from Jozef yesterday. He thinks –”

    The grand hetman waved a massive hand. “I know what my nephew th-thinks, young Opalinski.” Koniecpolski suffered from stuttering, if he wasn’t careful. “My letter from him arrived the day before yest-terday. I am willing to wa-wager that if we matched the t-two letters, they’re word-for-word alm-most the same.”

    The stuttering was much worse than usual. That was partly an indication of the grand hetman’s anxiety, and partly — so Lukasz liked to think, anyway — because Koniecpolski had developed a great deal of trust in his young new adjutant. He was less careful about his speech impediment in the presence of close friends, relatives and associates.

    The grant hetman tightened his lips and took a slow, deep breath. That was his method for bringing the stuttering under control. It usually worked, as it did this time.

    “I might even agree with Jozef,” Koniecpolski continued. “But it’s not my decision, something which Wojtowicz tends to overlook.”

    Overlook wasn’t really the right word. Lukasz had had many long political discussions with Jozef Wojtowicz over the past two years. The grand hetman’s bastard nephew was disgusted with the state of Poland’s political affairs. Actually, he’d been fed up with them since he was fourteen years old. But his experience as the grand hetman’s spy in Grantville and later as the head of Koniecpolski’s espionage apparatus in the USE had brought that teenage semi-inchoate discontent into sharp focus. The reason Jozef kept urging courses of action on his powerful uncle was not because he “overlooked” the legal formalities but because he no longer cared much about them and had no confidence at all in either the king or in the Sejm.

    Neither did Lukasz, for that matter. He wasn’t prepared to go so far as his older brother Krzysztof, who had become an outright revolutionary and was off somewhere in the Ruthenian lands agitating for the overthrow of Poland’s monarchy and aristocracy. Like Jozef Wojtowicz, Lukasz was still seeking a way to reform the government of the Polish and Lithuanian commonwealth.

    But he was growing less and less sanguine about the prospects for doing so, as each month passed. He’d come to the point where he’d even prefer some sort of outright autocracy, if the autocrat was competent and decisive and would cut the Gordian knot of Polish and Lithuanian politics. He knew Jozef had come to that same conclusion months earlier.

    There was only one realistic candidate for the position of Poland and Lithuania’s dictator, however, and that was the man Lukasz was standing beside this very moment. Unfortunately — at least, under these circumstances — Grand Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski was a staunch adherent to legality. Whatever he thought of the Sejm or the king, he kept to himself. And while the grand hetman was quite willing to extend his authority as far as the legal parameters allowed, he was not willing to go an inch beyond those limits.

    He never had been, and Lukasz was now certain he never would be. Poland’s top military commander might have a supple mind on the battlefield or when it came to military affairs, but he was rigid when it came to Poland’s laws and political traditions. Had he still been a young man, perhaps that might be subject to change. But Stanislaw Koniecpolski was now in his forties. Early forties, true, but forties nonetheless. Not many very successful men were willing, at that age, to call into question their basic political and social attitudes. The grand hetman was no exception.

    Lukasz decided there wasn’t any point in pursuing the matter. Koniecpolski would just get irritated. So, he let his eyes drift toward the fieldworks being put up by the army now besieging Poznán.

    It was probably the best army in the world, leaving aside cavalry. The USE regular army’s first and second divisions, under the command of Lennart Torstensson. The third division was somewhere in Bohemia, according to Jozef’s reports. The American Mike Stearns was in command of that division.

    The soldiers in those lines outside Poznán were not the polyglot mercenaries you found in the ranks of most European armies in the seventeenth century. Nor were many of them noblemen, as was true of the Polish military. The enlisted men were mostly Germans and almost all were commoners, volunteers driven more by ideological than pecuniary motives. They had the best military equipment in the world, thanks to the Americans, and the training to use it.

    A sound from above drew his eyes to the sky. One of the USE’s airplanes had arrived, taking advantage of the recent good weather. It would probably drop a few bombs on the city’s walls, which wouldn’t do any real damage except to morale. But the blasted things gave Torstensson superb reconnaissance, so long as the weather was good. Polish armies could no longer maneuver as they were accustomed to doing, using the speed of their powerful cavalry to confuse their opponents. In good weather, they were always under observation; in bad weather, slowed by the weather itself. They were reduced to fighting what amounted to an infantry war, something which the USE army excelled at and they did not.

    One siege after another. A Dutch style of war, not a Polish one.



    Yet, the same thing that gave the USE’s army so much of its strength could also be its Achilles’ heel. Those soldiers out there were heavily influenced by the radical Committees of Correspondence. Given the recent political developments in the USE, there was a very real chance that they might mutiny and turn their guns against their own rulers rather than Poland and Lithuania.

    But they would be far less likely to mutiny so long as they were fighting a war. Their commander Torstensson was popular with his soldiers and could probably maintain discipline — provided the war continued and his army remained in Poland, and provided that his civilian superiors were not so reckless as to try to use his regular army divisions against the USE’s own population.

    That was exactly why Jozef Wojtowicz was urging his uncle to make peace with the USE. If necessary to get that peace, even give up the territory that Gustav Adolf had already seized before he was so severely wounded at Lake Bledno that his chancellor Oxenstierna was now managing Sweden’s affairs. Those territories were only marginally Polish to begin with. Most of the population of most of the towns the USE had seized were German, not Polish.

    So let the USE have them — and let Oxenstierna try to deal with an angry army coming back home, most of whose soldiers despised him and weren’t much fonder of the USE’s own prime minister. In all likelihood, the USE would dissolve into civil war.

    Such a war wouldn’t last forever, of course. It was possible that the victor, whoever that might be, would then want to resume the USE’s aggression against Poland. But they’d have been weakened and, more important, Poland and Lithuania would have gained the time it needed to modernize its own military. The commonwealth didn’t have the industrial base the USE possessed, but it wasn’t backward and primitive Muscovy, either. With time, effort and determination, they could build a military capable of meeting the USE’s on more or less equal terms.

    But as always, the king and the Sejm were being pig-headed.

    The damned Swedes had invaded — again!

    To arms! To arms! No surrender, no retreat, no compromise!

    And never mind that the king would continue to be a wastrel, showering money on his whores instead of his soldiers. Never mind that the Sejm would be miserly with its money and profligate with its factionalism. Never mind that the great magnates would keep their powerful private armies at home to fend off rivals instead of sending them to the front. Never mind that the szlachta would guard their petty privileges far more assiduously than they would guard the commonwealth’s national interests.

    Lukasz sighed, gave the plane circling overhead an angry glance, and turned away to follow the grand hetman.



    Less than a mile away, Lieutenant General Lennart Torstensson lowered his eyeglasses. The up-time binoculars had been given to him by Mike Stearns after the Magdeburg Crisis which followed the battle of Wismar. Stearns had given no specific reason for the gift, but Lennart was sure it was in appreciation for his restraint during that episode. Had he followed the advice of most of his subordinates — and just about every nobleman residing in the city at the time — there’d have been a bloodbath; which, in turn, would have precipitated a far greater political crisis. Instead, he’d kept his troops in their barracks and let Stearns and his associates settle things down with almost no violence at all.

    That same conduct on his part had gotten him a far greater gift than a pair of binoculars from his monarch. Gustav Adolf had valued Lennart for his military abilities for some time already. But it wasn’t until he saw how Torstensson handled the Magdeburg Crisis that the Swedish king gave him his full political confidence. Lennart’s greatest military triumph had been the battle of Ahrensbök, but he never would have been leading the army that won that great victory if he hadn’t already shown Gustav Adolf he could be trusted with a fully independent command.

    Still, modest though they might be in some terms, he treasured the binoculars. Not so much for the ability to see so well at a distance, but because in some indefinable way they made it easier for Torstensson to accept what he saw and make decisions based on it. A down-time eyeglass left things… murkier.

    As murky as the orders he kept getting from Prime Minister Wettin, which he suspected were really coming from the chancellor of Sweden. As he slid the binoculars into their case, Torstensson’s jaw tightened. The respect and admiration he had long felt for Axel Oxenstierna was slipping away from him; as each week passed, more and more rapidly — and even more rapidly, his respect for Wilhelm Wettin.

    He could accept Oxenstierna’s near-fanatical devotion to aristocratic interests, and could accept Wettin’s pre-occupation with political tactics at the expense of strategic vision. Grudgingly, but he could accept them.

    What he could not accept was their willingness to use his soldiers as pawns in their game; their willingness to throw away lives — a great number of lives — purely for the sake of advancing their factional interests. That was what was draining away his respect, and stoking his growing anger.



    “No,” he said, speaking aloud but only to himself. His nearest aide was standing ten feet away, not close enough to hear the softly growled word.

    He was not going to order a mass assault on Poznán’s walls. Those defenses might not be up to the standards of a completed star fort, bristling with a full complement of bastions and ravelins and hornworks and crownworks, but neither were they — to use terms from Wettin’s last radio message — “hopelessly antiquated” and “medieval.”

    Even if they had been, such an assault would still be a bloody, bloody business. Stanislaw Koniecpolski was in personal command of Poznán’s defending army and he had at least ten thousand hussars at his disposal. Polish hussars might be primarily known for their prowess as heavy cavalry, but they were tough bastards under any circumstances and in any situation.

    As it was, a direct mass assault would be futile as well as bloody. It would take months before Torstensson’s artillery had done enough damage to Poznán’s defenses to make any such assault feasible in realistic military terms.

    Wettin might or might not know that himself. He had some military experience, but nothing like the experience of his younger brother Bernhard, who was an accomplished general in his own right.

    As was Oxenstierna, who most certainly did know the price Torstensson’s army would pay for such an assault. Knew — and wanted the assault for that very reason. Oxenstierna was afraid of the USE’s army, because he couldn’t trust its soldiers to obey orders when he launched the counter-revolution he was so obviously preparing. So, he’d sent Stearns and his Third Division down to Bohemia and was keeping Torstensson and the other two divisions in Poland.

    The orders were officially coming from Wettin, of course, since Oxenstierna had no legal authority over Lennart’s forces. He was Sweden’s chancellor, not the USE’s. But Torstensson was quite sure that Oxenstierna’s was the driving will in Berlin.

    To hell with them. Lennart was fond of that up-time expression, even if some Lutheran pastors thought it perilously close to outright blasphemy. Wettin and Oxenstierna could send as many scolding messages as they wanted. They couldn’t force him to do their bidding unless they relieved him from command — and that would be far too risky.

    What if he refused? Indeed, what if he led his army back into the Germanies and went knocking on Berlin’s gates?

    Who would stop him? Torstensson’s two divisions were as numerous as the Swedish mercenary forces the chancellor had at his disposal in Berlin, far better equipped, and far better trained. They were veterans, too, and their morale would be splendid if Torstensson led them against Oxenstierna and Wettin.

    As it happened, Lennart had no intention of doing any such thing. Until the situation with Gustav Adolf became clarified, he would remain strictly within legal bounds. But Oxenstierna couldn’t be sure of that.

    Even if he were, what then? The discipline that held the First and Second Division in check was shaky already. If the chancellor removed Torstensson and replaced him with a new commander, there was a very real chance — a likelihood, in fact, in Lennart’s own estimation — that the army would mutiny and march on Berlin anyway.

    True, they’d be easier to defeat if their leadership was informal and hastily assembled, than if they still had Torstensson in command. But not that much easier. At the very least, they’d bleed Oxenstierna’s forces badly — right at the moment he needed them most to deal with an increasingly restive populace.

    No. Oxenstierna and Wettin would growl and scold and complain — possibly even shriek with fury, from time to time — but they wouldn’t do any more than that. Torstensson’s men would stay in the trenches. They’d suffer badly anyway, as soldiers always did in winter sieges. But there wouldn’t be the butcher’s bill that a mass assault would produce.

    He glanced at the sun, which was nearing the horizon. Nothing more to be done this day. There wouldn’t be much to do, beyond routine, for many days to come.



    Later that night, after supper, Torstensson retired to his quarters in the tavern of a village he’d seized not far from Poznán. Before going to bed, he lit a lantern and began resumed reading the book that had arrived from Amsterdam earlier that week.

    Political Methods and the Laws of Nations, by Alessandro Scaglia. The book was one of a very limited edition, intended only for private circulation. Lennart had received it as a gift from the author himself, with a hand-written flowery dedication and signature on the frontispiece.

    He was a little more than halfway through, and found the book quite absorbing.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image