1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 43

Under a different commander, Ulbrecht Duerr would probably have been reduced to a gibbering fit by now. But one thing he’d learned as the months went by was that Stearns’ aggressiveness worked in large part because he’d forged his army in that same mold. Simply put, the Third Division of the army of the United States of Europe had the best morale of any army Duerr had ever served in. It was a fighting morale, too, not just the good cheer of a unit whose officers did well by them in garrison duty.

What it all came down to were two things:

Could Derfflinger and Schuster, with the flying artillery to shield them against cavalry, make it across the Isar and back across a few miles downstream before the Bavarians clearly understood what was happening?

Duerr thought the answer was…. Probably, yes.

The Third Division was a marching army. They’d been able to outmarch every enemy force they’d faced. They couldn’t outpace cavalry, of course, but they didn’t fear cavalry. Not with the flying artillery to shield them — and, by now, after Ahrensbök and Ostra, the soldiers of the Third Division considered Colonel Engler something of a modern day reincarnation of the medieval heroes in the Dietrich von Bern legends. Dragon? Coming up, roasted on a platter. Enemy cavalry? You want that parboiled or fried?

Second question: Could von Taupadel and the Hangman hold Piccolomini’s army on the north bank of the Amper? For long enough — which Duerr estimated would take the rest of today, all of tomorrow and at least part of Friday. Call it two days. That was a long time for a battle to continue. On the positive side, they could slowly withdraw to Moosburg — in fact, that was no doubt what von Taupadel was already doing. It was hard for an army to break off contact with an enemy that seemed to be in retreat. Of course, on the negative side, it was also hard for an army trying to pull back not to disintegrate and begin a full-scale rout.

Which was no doubt the reason — Duerr was guessing, but he was sure he was right — that von Taupadel would move his three regiments forward and let the Hangman fall back into a reserve position. They needed the rest — and very few soldiers in the Third Division would be willing to risk annoying the Hangman by trying to scamper away from the fighting. That was likely to be lot riskier than dealing with sorry Bavarians.

The answer to that question wasn’t even probably. Ulbrecht was quite sure that part of Stearns’ plan would work. Especially with Higgins as the anchor. In a very different sort of way than Thorsten Engler, the Hangman’s commander had developed a potent reputation as well, among the soldiers of the Third Division.

Thorsten Engler’s reputation was flashy and dramatic. The man himself would have been astonished to learn that he had that reputation, but indeed he did. And why not? He’d wooed and won one of the fabled Americanesses, captured not one but two top enemy commanders at Ahrensbök, been made an imperial count by the emperor himself — and had personally decapitated the Swedish troll Báner at Ostra. (Using the term “personally” with some poetic license. The head-removal had actually been done by some of his volley guns — but he had given the order to fire.)

There was nothing flashy and dramatic about Higgins. He was a big man, true — quite a bit bigger than Thorsten Engler — but he was the sort of large fellow who was always running to fat, especially when he wasn’t on campaign. His belly tended to hang over his belt, his heels tended to wear out the cuffs of his trousers, and without his spectacles he was half-blind. He was in fact as well as in his appearance a studious man; more likely when he was relaxing to have his nose in a book than in a stein of beer.

But he had that one critical quality, in a commander. The worse the fighting became, the more desperate the battle, the calmer he grew. He was a steady man at all times; steadier, the less steady everything around him became. A rock in rapids; a calm place in a storm.

His men rather adored him, actually. “The DM,” they called him behind his back, referring to an obscure Americanism that Duerr had never been able to make any sense of. But it didn’t matter, because he understood the humor — and more importantly, the superb morale — when they said that “when the DM smiles, it’s already too late.” That was always good for a round of chuckles; sometimes, outright laughter.

And there was this, too. Higgins had one other critical quality, for the commander of a regiment that considered itself the elite regiment in the whole of the Third Division — which, by now, considered itself the elite division of the whole USE army.

He was Gretchen Richter’s husband. The Hangman had an even higher percentage of CoC recruits than the Third Division as a whole — which had a third again as many CoC recruits than the army’s average. Prestige, indeed.

New CoC recruits to the Hangman, after their first encounter with the regiment’s commander, were prone to say: What does Gretchen see in him, anyway? To which the response was invariably: Stick around and you’ll find out.

With Higgins anchoring the Hangman and the Hangman anchoring the 1st Brigade and the 1st Brigade anchoring the entire plan…

Ulbrecht Duerr was in a very good mood, he realized. Amazingly good, given that the morning had begun with a near-disaster brought on by an overly-confident and too-aggressive commander who now proposed to correct his error by being even more confident and aggressive.

Ulbrecht Duerr had been born in Münster, the son of a baker. As a boy he’d been somewhat awed by the nobility’s august status. As an old professional soldier who’d encountered dozens of noblemen professionally, he didn’t have much use for dukes either. There were some exceptions — Duerr was quite partial to Duke George of Brunswick — but Maximilian of Bavaria was not one of them.

Bavaria, the Isar river

About two miles northeast of Moosburg

For the last stretch of the work, Thorsten Engler had relented and used some of his own flying artillerymen to finish the corduroy road, allowing Mackay’s cavalry to get some rest. He hadn’t done that from the goodness of his heart, though. He wanted cavalry — rested, alert cavalry — to be scouting ahead for him when he and his squadron moved toward their next fording place.

The term “flying artillery” that was generally used to refer to his squadron was another piece of poetic license. It was true that because the volley guns were so light, they didn’t need many horses to haul them around. Two was enough, four was plenty, and the six that were normally used were simply so that replacements would be available if — no, when; it was inevitable on a campaign — some of the horses were killed or lamed.