1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 102:
Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz was not, with his many years of experience, often wrong. Much mistaken in his youth, occasionally wide of the mark in his middle years. Now, ripe in experience, being wrong was something of an unusual feeling.
In this instance, a somewhat nauseating one. The proper action, the correct action, when advancing against scattered and disorganized defenses, was to secure each strong point against the possibility of action against the flanks or rear and press on. A barricade held by twenty men could be pinned in place by fifty, while the remaining thousands took alternate routes. Barricades across main streets only prevented the passage of cavalry; infantrymen could readily pass through alleyways and side streets at only moderate hazard. There was a price in disorganization of the main body, of course, although that could readily be remedied at some point short of the ultimate objective. And Sanchez felt he must perforce allow that the troops leading this assault were at least above the ordinary quality and would be unlikely to make too much of a muddle of complicated maneuvers.
Such, at least, was the received wisdom of the profession of arms. Other orders seemed to have been given. Alternate routes were being found, but only after time was taken to organize serious assaults on each barricade. It was as if a special effort was being made to either make the main force bleed, enrage them, as a picador would, or they were being deliberately advanced slowly to some other purpose. The three barricades whose fall Sanchez had watched had not taken long to succumb. A small volley of arquebus fire did nothing to check the advance of pikes and sword-and-buckler men, supported by muskets. There were few of the older, clumsier weapons in evidence on the attacking side, further bolstering Sanchez' view that these were, if not elites, troops of quality. A few losses were taken each time in making the defenders leap down from their makeshift ramparts and run for hiding-places. The defenders, in their turn, were dying, and effort was being expended on chasing as many down as possible.
It was, from any conventional point of view, folly. The tactic was dispersing large bands of men, roused to the attack, throughout the city. While sack and rapine was an accepted if regrettable part of warfare, most commanders sought to do all they could to prevent it save as a punishment for futile resistance. On those occasions it was ordered. Here, it appeared that whoever was giving the orders was attempting to provoke atrocity without being seen to give the order.
But why? Borja's pretext had long since vanished. It would have been trivial to leave word at Ostia to prevent the march. Doubtless the defenders of Ostia, such as they were, expected the fleet that was arriving to sail straight back once they learned of the calmed situation in Rome. Had, in all likelihood, looked forward to the profit in revictualling those ships.
It was a conundrum indeed. A further insight came as he rode past the Colosseum. The advancing army had passed to the west of the Palatine, staying close to the river. Rather than attempt to guess their route through that district so as to maintain scouting contact with them, Sanchez passed around the east and north sides along the wider streets, urging his mount into a trot. Only the officers of that army were mounted, and that advantage of mobility was there to be used. Having thus moved away from the line of advance of the invaders, Sanchez noticed no less than four parties of armed men, moving with determination and clear purpose. The smallest, at a rough count, of thirty men, all musketeers.
Sanchez could not swear that he had seen no such parties splitting from the main column, although in order to be ranging so far ahead as they were some of them must surely have sprinted through the streets, a practice no soldier with even the slightest experience of fighting in a town would wish to indulge in. Or, for that matter, any soldier out of sight of senior officers would indulge in on a warm day in full battle gear. As a great likelihood, therefore, parties of soldiers had been force-marched ahead of even the rapid advance of the main body and had entered the city from other directions. To what purpose? Raiding and harrying in the rear of the pitiful defenses of Rome was at best a waste of effort. That left—
He was passing Trajan's column when he saw the disturbance outside the Palazzo Colonna. A cloud of gunsmoke, the sight of figures within it. The sound was barely distinguishable amid the bells and the general sound of fighting elsewhere, although the smoke was thickening rapidly. Several of those small parties seemed to be busy about something there.
So, particular targets, then? Sanchez turned left and bade his horse pick up the pace slightly. A more rapid trot. He considered taking a sharp right and establishing whether the embassy had been a target, but discarded the notion. There was nothing there worth anyone's concern and, indeed, it would be better to wait until whatever was happening there was complete, that a more detailed picture could be gleaned from the evidence left behind. He would pick over the wreckage at his leisure before leaving the city.
He skirted the trouble at the Palazzo Colonna—doubtless a family that boasted so many generals would need no aid in its defense—and maintained the rapid pace. It would be hard to select a bridge that was not likely defended, uncomfortably close to a likely focus of trouble, or denied him by the need to cross the path of the invading army. That was scarcely more than trivial—boldness and a simple polite request to make way would see him through, letting all assume he was simply some officer about official business, but would be an unwanted delay.
However, the ponte Ripetta proved easy of access. The Palazzo Borghese, the nearest place by the river at that point, was thus far unmolested. There were no guards, no barricades and thus far no invading forces using it. It was, of course, out of the direct path of the invaders, although it provided a useful route into either side's rear. The Ripetta itself was also the scene of no activity, although Sanchez had half expected to see troops being landed there.
Suspicion was awarded the tribute of proof when he neared the north side of the Borgo. The place gave the appearance of recently having experienced a brief, but heavy, rain of soldiers, perhaps sixty all told, circling the small block of buildings that was home to Frank's place, but remaining out of view of the front, which told its own story. The street looked scorched, and there was a heavy smell of lamp smoke in the breezeless air. Most of the soldiers were musketeers, well-found ones at that. A few pikes and partisans were in evidence, and a leavening of back-swords largely in the hands of obvious officers. Sanchez elected to go no closer than he had to. He reined in his horse behind a sergeant, who was leaning on his partisan, watching the front of Frank's place from a safe position down the street, and waiting for something to happen.
"Which of the targets is this?" he inquired, refining his tones to his best hidalgo sneer.
The sergeant straightened and turned with commendable swiftness. "The revolutionaries, Senor. The witches from the future. They have defenses, senor, and we are waiting for more men before we assault. They opened fire without warning, and have burning oil to throw down. If the senor will wait a moment, I will inform the captain—"
"No, no, my good man." Sanchez waved the offer aside. It was helpful that the man was a Spaniard, though. While habits of deference to the hidalgo varied widely, in a military context a hidalgo manner usually said officer to most troops. Someone from another country might be more critically minded. Sanchez prefaced his remark with a chilly glare along the street at the knots of soldiers watching and waiting as the sergeant had been. "I am in the correct place, it seems. We may have the use of some small field pieces, perhaps powder for blasting breaches, if the ground is suitable. I shall make a survey of the buildings and their yards."
He smiled, as if sharing a small confidence with an inferior. "Thus obtaining the benefit of cool shade while my subalterns sweat over gun-carriages."
"Very good, senor," said the sergeant, smiling and nodding in deference.
Sanchez was even able to tip the man a piece of eight to find him a horse-holder while he went inside to find Frank's emergency escape route.