War—especially when successfully prosecuted—can be a drug. If one is not careful it can intoxicate common sense, incubate hubris, and lessen the political inhibitions that otherwise sustain the good order of international society. Some officers are vulnerable to its addictive elements of excitement and danger. Rulers and politicians too often find it beguiling for its all-to-often hallucinatory promises of ever-greater wealth and power.
Over the years the sight and sound of far too many soldiers dying on far too many battlefields had largely inoculated me against the vice. This was not so, however, in the case of my princely ruler Maximilian, the Margrave of Lützelhard. The victories we had won against the aggression of Grand Duke Rudolphus of Dautenstein had, it seems, served to feed his growing political ambitions. Rather than withdraw from the enemy’s capital laden with rightful reparations and our common border adjusted in our favour, Margraf Maximilian had decided to reject Imperial mediation and fully annex our former neighbour as the first province of a new Groß-Lützelhard.
It was all very Prussian of us—except that we were hardly Prussians.
As might be expected, the Margrave’s rash ambition soon alarmed many of the neighbouring principalities, and even the distant Emperor himself. Grand Duke Rudolphus, who might have otherwise been the disliked and weakened ruler of a much-reduced Dautenstein, instead found himself offered unaccustomed support. Thus he established himself in exile over the border in the small Dutchy of Zufluchtsort, and there set about rebuilding his army as a precursor to retaking his former territories. I more than suspected that his war chest was filled with Imperial gold, and that the ranks of his rapidly growing force included not a few troops contributed by his new allies.
As if this situation was not bad enough, back in Lützelhard the Margrave’s scheming political advisors competed among themselves to flatter his ego, feed his desire for greater power, and aggravate his paranoia. In particular, the ever-scheming Minister of Defence, Ritter von Rumsfeldt, won the Maargrave’s misplaced confidence and convinced him to present Zufluchtsort with a threat and ultimatum: should the Dutchy continue to provide sanctuary to the exiled ruler and army of Dautenstein, military action would be forthcoming.
The deadline came and passed without response. A few hours later, I received my orders. We were to cross the border into Zufluchtsort, seek out the exiled forces of Dautenstein, and destroy them.
As we approached the border, we could see a small contingent of Zufluchtsort border guards at the zollamt, checking documents and levying taxes upon the various merchants that passed this way.
We could also see a formidable force of Dautenstein and Zufluchtsort troops awaiting us, under the command once again of the artful General Alan von Scheunen. Clearly they had accurately predicted Margrave Maximilian’s reckless intervention.
I ordered my troops to advance. The 1st and 2nd Infantrie-Regiment Markgraf Maximilian von Lützelhard would move towards the crossroads, supported by a battery of the Schwerefeldartillerie-Battalion Gräfin Alexandra and screened by skirmish line of the Dunkelwald Jägers.
Not surprisingly, the merchants, pedlars, and peasants who were waiting to the cross the border scattered with their wagons and wares as the rencounter began. With marksmanship skills honed by years of hunting in the forests, the Jägers began to take a toll upon the enemy’s forces from a distance.
Two more artillery batteries were deployed to the right flank of my main force.
While the Grenadier-Battalion d’Urfé advanced on the right.
My cavalry—four squadrons of Hussars, plus the Heavy Dragoons of the Reiter-Regiment—were ordered to concentrate against the enemy’s left flank. One battalion of the 3rd Infantrie-Regiment Markgraf Maximilian von Lützelhard and a battery of guns accompanied them to consolidate any breakthrough.
My hope was that the cavalry would drive their counterparts from the field, and clear the low hill that was intended the anchor the flank of the enemy force. The infantry and artillery would then occupy this, and pour enfilading fire into the enemy formations below.
At first, my plans progressed well. The Dragoons fought with the enemy’s horse as the Hussars charged up the hill, catching a battery of artillery and battalion of Grenadiers as they deployed. In fierce fighting the guns were overrun, and the infantry broken.
In retrospect, however, it is clear that I had empowered this attack on my right by denuding the left of adequate forces. The enemy’s cavalry bore down on the Grenadiers with singular determination, charging them as they deployed into line and before my own men could even fire off a first volley. The Grenadiers suffered grievously, and would eventually break.
I hurriedly dispatched my reserve—the remaining battalion of the 3rd Infantrie-Regiment Markgraf Maximilian von Lützelhard—to buttress the left flank as the Grenadiers ran to the rear. A squadron of Hussars was also recalled from the right flank and ordered to reinforce the left.
In the center, the two armies traded murderous volleys of fire. Many brave soldiers fell on both sides.
My artillerymen, however, were not up to their usual standard this day. At first I suspected they had spent too much time downing draughts of ale and too little practicing their military arts. However, some of the officers later noted the very poor quality of their gunpowder, which they blamed on corrupt officials and war profiteers. Was it possible that my valiant soldiers had been stabbed in the back by conniving civilians?
Pressed heavily, my troops began to fall back. The Jagers once more formed a skirmish line to cover them. Lucky roundshot from an enemy battery destroyed our guns in the centre.
While one of the enemy’s regiment’s began to falter too, von Scheunen quickly sent forward his reserves. As they had throughout this campaign my Jägers fought tenaciously, daring to approach remarkably close to the enemy artillery.
On the left flank, a squadron of Zufluchtsort Lancers charged the 2nd battalion, 3rd Infantrie-Regiment Markgraf Maximilian von Lützelhard. The horsemen were cut down with musket fire and bayonet and thereafter retired from the field in disarray.
On the right flank, where I had enjoyed such initial success, the enemy cavalry counterattacked my Hussars, driving them from the hill that they had captured only a short time before.
As I reviewed our position, it was clear that this day victory was not within our grasp. I gave the order for a general retreat.
We began our withdrawal, covered by the Jägers.
In retrospect, I had waited a little too long. Enemy cavalry charged two of the guns before they could limber, and took the gunners prisoner. Despite being harried by the enemy’s horse, the rest of my troops successfully withdrew
All told, I had lost more than half my cavalry today, a battalion of infantry, and all but one of my batteries of artillery—perhaps 2,000 men in total. My opponent had lost perhaps half that.
Grand Duke Rudolphus, accompanied by the victorious General von Scheunen his Zufluchtsortian counterpart, crossed the border back into Dautenstein in triumph. “This will teach those verdammt pig-herders a lesson,” he was later said to have proclaimed. “Next, we will liberate our beloved capital from their porcine stench and Google-Deutsch accents. And when that is finished, we will pay Margrave Maximilian himself a visit!”
Our “war of choice” had become a bitter war of survival.