1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 01

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught

By Eric Flint


April, 1636

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for?

Chapter 1

Regensburg, Upper Palatinate

The march from Regensburg was supposed to have begun at dawn — and so it did, in a manner of speaking. The cavalry patrols had actually passed through the city’s gates before sunrise. Right on schedule.

But now that he’d been a general for almost a year, Mike Stearns had learned that military time schedules bore precious little resemblance to what he’d considered “punctuality” in those innocent days when he’d been a civilian. In this, as in so many things, Carl von Clausewitz’s old dictum applied. Perhaps better to say, the future dictum, since the man wouldn’t even be born for another century and a half, and then in a different universe.

By now, Mike had memorized the damn thing: Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.

He knew Clausewitz’s axiom as well as he knew Murphy’s Law — which applied to military matters even more stringently than it did to the affairs of civilians.

Civilians. Those happy-go-lucky, carefree, insouciant folk in whose ranks Mike could vaguely remember himself being counted once. Back in those halcyon days when he’d been a coal miner worried about nothing more substantial than methane explosions and roof falls. Or the prime minister of a nation, whose frets over issues of war and peace, prosperity and poverty, and the schemes and plots of traitors and malcontents had never troubled what he remembered as blissful sleep.

Pfah. Tell a cabinet member to do something, be it never so problematic and ticklish, and the task would get done — started upon, at least — within the hour.

Tell an army to do something as simple and straightforward as walk out of a town — just walk, no running required — and move on down the road — fifteen miles, maybe twenty; no more — and you’d be lucky if the ass end of the army made it through the gates by noon. The camp followers coming behind wouldn’t manage the feat until mid-afternoon.

He could also remember a time when he’d intended to eradicate the pernicious seventeenth century military custom of having camp followers in the first place. He’d been brought up as a stout American lad, watching John Wayne movies. You never saw a mob of camp followers trailing after John Wayne, did you? Sands of Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, The Fighting Seabees — not a camp follower anywhere in sight. Not even in his civil war movie, The Horse Soldiers. For that matter, not even in the movie where he’d portrayed the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, The Conqueror, although Mike wasn’t entirely sure about that. The film had been such a turkey that he’d stopped watching it halfway through. It was possible that a stray camp follower might have wandered across the stage toward the end.

Not likely, though. And it wasn’t just the movies. Mike had served a three-year stint in the United States Army. That would be the army of the United States of America, long before the Ring of Fire happened.

Did the U.S. Army have camp followers? Not unless you counted the families living on a military base — but that wasn’t really the same thing at all. When American soldiers went on campaign back up-time, their families stayed behind. They sure as hell didn’t trail after the soldiers like a gigantic caravan.

Caravan? It was more like a circus train without rails. All that was missing were elephants and a carousel.

“I’d think you’d have become accustomed to this by now, General.”

Turning in the saddle, Mike saw that his aide Christopher Long had come up behind him and was now almost alongside.

“I think a grin like that on an adjutant’s face when addressing his commanding officer is probably a court-martial offense,” Mike said. He wondered if he sounded as sour as he felt. “I still have the occasional daydream about a lightning offensive. We even had a name for it where and when I came from: Blitzkrieg.

By then, his other aide, Ulbrecht Duerr, had ridden up in time to hear his last sentence.

“‘Blitzkrieg,’ is it? Lightning war. Ha! No wonder those stupid German descendants of ours lost most of their wars. Went charging out without proper consideration of what it takes to keep the supplies coming.”

He now looked at Long. “Have you noticed, Christopher, that our commander is always disgruntled at the beginning of a campaign?”

Long smiled. “Oh, yes. I’ve come to expect it.”

Mike was about to make some retort but…

Was it true? What he really that predictable?

He thought back on previous campaigns.

Well, maybe. After the first one, anyway. Well. After the first day of the first one.

“Remind me again why I don’t ban all camp followers,” he said.

“First, because the men would probably mutiny,” said Duerr. The cheery tone in which he said that was surely a court-martial offense. Court-martialable? Mike wasn’t sure of the proper usage — which just went to show he was still a civilian at heart. Carefree, happy-go-lucky…

“We’d have to hope they’d mutiny,” added Long, “because if they didn’t, they’d soon enough start dying of hunger or exhaustion or disease — or any combination thereof.”

“On account of there’d be no one to feed them or keep their clothing reasonably clean,” Duerr continued, still sounding cheery.

“Or tuck them in at night and sing them lullabies,” Mike grumbled.

“This sort of bitterness really doesn’t suit a man as young as you are, General. Look at me! Much older than you, I am — not to mention properly scarred in a soldierly manner.”

He held up a crooked forefinger, which hadn’t healed quite properly after being broken at the Battle of Ostra outside Dresden. Duerr had several scars on his body which were actually more impressive, but they were covered by his uniform — and besides, he was inordinately proud of this one. He’d defeated an enemy cavalryman in hand-to-hand combat even though his injury had forced him to fight left-handed.

Mike had had his own adventures in that battle, and quite splendid ones at that. He’d had two horses shot out from under him. Not one — two. But he’d come out of it quite unscarred, at least bodily.

Whether he’d come out of it unscarred mentally as well…

Too soon to know, he thought. He didn’t think he’d developed PTSD so far, if “developed” was the proper term to use. He’d have to ask Maureen Grady the next time he saw her. She ran the Department of Social Services and was probably — no, almost certainly — the best psychologist in the world.

Having settled that issue to his momentary satisfaction, he went back to grousing about what really bothered him on this sunny day in April of 1636.

“Is it really too much to expect an army to move faster than an old lady with a walker?”

“Is a ‘walker’ something like a cane?” asked Christopher Long. “If so, the answer is ‘yes.’ A competent crone can out-hobble any army in the world.”

“Taken as a whole,” Duerr qualified. “A detached cavalry unit could certainly run her down. Flying artillery also.”


Had he cross-checked that last assertion with the commander of the Third Division’s flying artillery, Duerr would have gotten an argument. Lieutenant Colonel Thorsten Engler, normally a calm and phlegmatic officer, was having as close to an apoplectic fit as such a man could manage. He was even swearing a little. At least, by Thorsten Engler values of swearing.

Only under his breath, though. The actual swearing was being done by a lieutenant whom Thorsten was observing, since it would have been inappropriate for the commanding officer to deal with the problem directly.