1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 25

Chapter 13

Outside Bonn

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.”