1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 23

Chapter 12

Rhine Valley, southern side, between Koblenz and Bonn

September 1, 1634

It was pitch-black and pouring rain by the time Melchior reached the Inn of the Black Goat just outside Godesberg. He had planned to spend the night in Bonn before continuing to Cologne in the morning, but the clouds had gathered on the long desolate stretch of cliffs between Uberwinter and Godesberg, and the resulting darkness had forced him to slow down. By now everybody would be asleep, but Andrew the Scott, the innkeeper, had made enough money out of the four Hatzfeldt brothers over the years that he would not mind Melchior stabling his horse and dossing down in the hay himself. No chance of the mountain bacon and the hot whiskey posset that were the Goat’s specialties, but — as any old campaigner — Melchior kept a bit of food in his saddlebags. That would have to do for tonight.

“Wen d’you tink di cannens gonna get hir?” The singing Swedish accent of the question made Melchior freeze just before turning into the cobbled stable yard.

“No idea. Faster than if we’d tried to lug them over those damned mountains.”

“Those wiren’t mountains,” the Swedish voice chuckled, “just little hills with a few little hillsides. Berg is so much easier to move in than Sweden. River valleys everywhere. Up the Eder and down the Sieg. And once you’re all the way up, it’s easy downhill all the way. Just as with a woman.”

Letting the laughter cover any noise he and the horse made on the wet gravel, Melchior backed away and turned the horse. Eder and Sieg? Those rivers led northeast to Kassel, the capital of Hesse-Kassel. Duke Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel had been moving his armies around in the mountains of Berg all summer, obviously trying to grab as much as he could, while the problems left by Duke Wolfgang’s death were still unsolved. But when Melchior had left for Vienna, the man had been safely stuck at Remscheid up near Düsseldorf. So what would soldiers coming from Kassel be doing this far south and on this side of the Rhine? And were they Hessians or the main USE army?

As far as Melchior knew, those regiments of the main USE army not in the east at Ingolstadt were far north near the Baltic. Of course a single Swede didn’t mean that it was the USE army — Melchior knew quite well that he had a few Swedes in his own regiments — and it could just be that Hesse had hired a few extra regiments to break the deadlock at Remscheid by attacking the Jülich-Berg army from the south. On the other hand Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne had been trying to stir up something in Fulda, which was inside the area occupied by the USE. Twenty years of campaigning made it perfectly clear to Melchior that he needed more information before proceeding with his journey.

Andrew the Scot had acquired the Black Goat by marrying the daughter of the old owner, Nicholaus, and old Nic had now retired to a one-room stone cottage a bit down the road from the inn. A major reason for the Goat’s popularity had always been the cheap-for-the-quality of their spirits, and the old man’s contacts with smugglers — and heaven knows what else — had always ensured that he knew everybody and everything that went on along the Rhine. Old Nic would not take kindly to being woken, but if an army came to Bonn, it was almost certain that Cologne was their ultimate target, and with Melchior’s family living there, he’d brave the old reprobate to get that information right now.

* * *

As Melchior approached the cottage he saw squat, old Nic taking a leak from the doorway. He didn’t seem overly surprised to have Melchior pop out of the rain, just told him to take the horse to the empty wood-shed and throw the blanket there over it.

Inside the cottage the toothless old man kept the lamps out, but stirred the coals in the fireplace, making his shadow dance weirdly on the rough wall. “Sit down, boy. On y’way t’Bonn or from’t?”

“I’m on my way to Bonn, Nic, but just what has happened?” Melchior folded his long legs to sit on the low stool beside the fireplace.

“Hessian cavalry. Surprise attack at dawn this morning. Came down Sieg and went through them archbishop’s mercenaries at Beuel like a knife through hot butter. Got some men across t’Rhine on t’ferry and took that old toll-tower.” Nic spat into the fire. “Them ropes on this side’s cut, and t’ferry sunk. They’ll come across sooner or later, never-you-fear, but it’s not that easy without t’ropes to guide.”

The four mercenary regiments Archbishop Ferdinand had hired as part of his plans were led by the Irish colonel Butler and three of his friends. Although their equipment had looked good, Melchior had no confidence in their ability to fight as a unit. He knew all four men from Wallenstein’s army where they had been his peers and colleagues; neither of the four was incompetent, but they also had no sense of responsibility towards their men. Even Melchior’s usually very easygoing cousin, Wolf, loathed their carelessness with the lives of their own men.  Melchior had always tried to make his men as good a fighting unit as possible, not just to win but also to survive and become even better and more efficient fighters in the next battle. Butler and those like him believed that they could always hire new men to fill out the ranks, and make the princes pay for their hire. That veterans fought better than novices was of much less importance, especially since those who didn’t survive the battle couldn’t claim a share in the loot.

Aside from the two thousand or so cavalry the archbishop had only his personal guard, but in Melchior’s estimate that should be enough to stop anything the Hessians could ferry across the Rhine — providing of course that the troops were properly lead and nobody lost their head and panicked. However, if the Hessians managed to gain a beachhead, and hold it for long enough to land cannons, then the situation would be entirely different.

The “normal” method of conquering a fortified town was to send cavalry to stop all traffic in and out, while the artillery slowly moved into position to shoot holes in the walls. Then infantry would attack through the holes to open the gates for the cavalry, and finally there would be fighting in the streets until the town surrendered. If the walls were very thick or the town’s population big compared to the attacking army, a prolonged siege might weaken the town by starvation.