1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 26

Melchior shook his head. “Sailing the Rhine past Bonn at night is something much too chancy to base your artillery movement on.”

“Well, you’re the expert on field-maneuvers. Outside the town the situation is that the archbishop’s regiment at Beuel is completely gone, and with them the lieutenant-colonel given the overall interim command while the four colonels were up-river doing something with Felix Gruyard.”

Melchior interrupted. “The archbishop’s torturer went with Irish Butler and the others? And the overall commander was across the river in Beuel?”

“Yes and yes. And while I’m glad not to have that Lorrainian creep Gruyard around polluting the wells, things might have gone better if those mercenary colonels had stayed.”

“Possibly, but go on.”

“When the Hessians took Beuel, they went straight to the ferry and continued the attack across the Rhine. They failed to take more than the old toll-tower, but there’s an arsenal in there, and a frontal assault would in my opinion not just be costly, I think it would fail completely. Those walls and gates are strong. Reducing the tower to rubble with the wall-cannons might turn out to be necessary, but it would seriously weaken the wall, leaving a hole in the defenses. And if we can just stall things for a few weeks, we’ll starve them out.” Wickradt sighed. “The archbishop’s other three regiments were supposed to patrol the river brink, to prevent more Hessians from crossing. But last night, when the rain started, the Hessians managed to get several barge-loads of musketeers across the Rhine before anybody noticed — or at least before anybody reported it. When the news reached the mercenary camp, two lieutenant-colonels couldn’t be found, one was so drunk he was incoherent, and the rest started quarreling. Eventually just one squadron went, only to return in panic, shouting that the Hessian cavalry were across and right on their heels.”

“Any idea if that was true?” asked Melchior.

“None. The only Hessians I have seen are in the tower. But the panic spread. The mercenaries struck their camp during the night, and most moved west. Judging from what was left behind, it was not entirely an orderly maneuver. Also around midnight the archbishop packed his guards and left town. He is taking direct command of his mercenary regiments from a field headquarters until Butler and the others return. With your brother as his interim general-in-charge.”

“What! Is Hermann here?”

“Oh no, your brother Franz, the prince-bishop of Würzburg.”

“Franz? Impossible. He has only the bits of military training our father insisted on. He cannot lead an army.”

“Be as it might. The label “General von Hatzfeldt” commands quite a lot of respect.”

“Oh, God, poor Franz. The archbishop must be totally out of his mind.”

“In my opinion the archbishop still hopes to put you in charge, Herr General.” The entrance of the portly mayor had gone unnoticed by Melchior. “Of course, I rather hope to do the same. Only for my town rather than for the mercenaries. I’m not qualified to judge the archbishop’s sanity of mind, but I am definitely sure I do not want my town sacked and burned. Nor do I want its people starved to death by a siege.”

The mayor sat down carefully on the low stool and continued talking. “The Hessians appear to have come without cannons, so the archbishop claims the city is safe. But even if they don’t get siege weapons build or brought, they could still starve us out. We have stores for some months, but not for all winter.”

“The cannons are coming, probably down from Frankfurt,” said Melchior absently. “I overheard a scout last night at the Inn of the Black Goat. And I don’t think Hesse is willing to wait for Bonn if he has his sight set on Cologne. What’s the military situation inside the town, Wickradt?”

“My guard is up to three hundred men, including reserves and artillerists, all well trained and equipped. The council agreed to the expenses when Mainz fell to the Protestants. The militias all have guns, and know how to use them. The old militia also follows orders fairly well,” Commander Wickradt stopped and grinned. “But the new part has some problems. They are women.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Yes. They heard the story of the American woman shooting Wallenstein at the Alte Veste. Do you remember Frau Benedicte Eigenhaus? She trounced your stepmother, Margaretha, over that affair with the Neumarkt property in Cologne. About a year ago Frau Benedicte headed a delegation to insist that the strongest women in town should also be taught to shoot. I wouldn’t want to do anything complicated with the Little Dears, but to put them on a wall and tell them to fire at an enemy on the outside should be safe enough. They have even set up a rather efficient shooting method. Somebody told someone about the musketeer’s system of “one man fire, while one man load” in alternating rows, so the Little Dears have paired off and one sits down and loads both guns while the other stands up and fires them. Once the shooter gets a sore shoulder, they’ll change. They can actually manage a quite respectable rate of fire that way. If I had enough guns I would have dragged in some of the weaker women just as extra loaders.”

“That explain some remarks I overheard from the Palace Guard just before I left for Vienna.” Melchior kept making drawings on the table with a wet finger, now of what he remembered of the wall and fortifications around Bonn. “But how many guns do you have? And what about cannons?”

“The gun situation is good: almost one thousand new, good quality muskets. There are also a few hundred older — but working — guns in the arsenals, and some militia men prefer their own. The wall-cannons are the old ones, except for the river-wall.” Wickradt frowned. “The old ones will keep battering rams from the gates, and might take out a badly placed enemy artillery bastion, but they are far too slow in adjustment to stand any chance of hitting mounted or marching men.”

“What about balls and pikes?”

“Lots of balls and gunpowder for everything, but only my guards have much in the way of swords. The militia’s men have cudgels, pikes and staffs according to preference. The Little Dears?” Wickradt shrugged, “I haven’t tried to do anything. They might in fact be better off not looking too war-like if it comes to fighting in the streets.”

“So for all practical purpose: getting in without cannons would be very costly for the Hessians, and Duke Wilhelm is not one to spend his men unnecessarily. But once their cannons get here, only the archbishop’s cavalry can keep them from pounding this tower, while they get in through the toll-tower gate. How much have you done with barricades in the streets?”

“Nothing so far, but wagons are ready to be rolled into the area in front of the toll-tower. The slope towards the river should make them roll in place without exposing my men to fire from above. But I still want to retake that bloody toll-tower.” Wickradt banged his mug into the table. “Once the Hessians get inside the walls it’ll be a bloodbath. For us and for them. No matter how much we slow them. And to depend on the archbishop and those mercenary to keep the cannons away? Forget it. They’ll fuck up even if they try.”

“I would very much prefer not to rely on that cavalry myself,” said the mayor, “and the rest of the council agrees. We were rather hoping you would be willing to help us avoid that necessity, Herr General.”

“In what way, Mayor Oberstadt? Commander Wickradt has far more expertise in town defenses than I have, and I do not carry an army in my pocket. My own regiments are still in Linz, and getting them here could not be done in less than two month. I may decide to do what the archbishop wanted, and go take command of his regiments. But they are not well trained and the Hessians appear to outnumber them. Sooner or later the Hessians will still come to your gates.”

“We realize that, Herr General, and the council and guilds have spent the entire night debating what we should do. We were still in session when the news of your arrival came to the Town Hall, and a quick agreement was reached to place the matter fully in your hands.”


“Yes, Herr General, according to our best lawyers, the archbishop has abandoned the town in face of an enemy, and withdrawn his soldiers and protection. He gave no orders about what we are to do before he left. And so the council — and citizens and guards — are not breaking any oaths or committing treason by choosing you to do whatever you can for us. As long as a single enemy soldier is within the area controlled by the Council of Bonn, you are empowered to use all our resources and make any negotiations you want. The papers are being written at the Hall.” The Mayor folded his hands over his velvet-glad stomach and smiled at Melchior, while Wickradt broke in to a slightly hysteric laughter.

Melchior closed his mouth. This was not expected! He wanted to find Franz and get him away from the archbishop. Melchior could then take charge of those damned mercenary regiments, and gather as many more fighters as possible to harass the Hessians until Wolf could bring his regiments to the west. But Bonn? Bonn had been where they went for fun and fairs all his childhood. If he was right about Hesse trying to conquer this entire stretch of the Rhine, Bonn didn’t stand a chance. And if they chose to trust him like that, he couldn’t just turn his back and leave. Damned!

A guard came to wave Wickradt out, and Melchior scowled at the smiling Mayor. “And what if I choose to negotiate a surrender? Or to have Bonn join the USE?”