The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter XII. The Passage of the Lech
For the next two months the Green Brigade remained quietly at Maintz, a welcome rest after their arduous labours. The town was very gay, and every house was occupied either by troops or by the nobles and visitors from all parts of Northern Europe. Banquets and balls were of nightly occurrence; and a stranger who arrived in the gay city would not have dreamt that a terrible campaign had just been concluded, and that another to the full as arduous was about to commence.
During this interval of rest the damages which the campaign had effected in the armour and accoutrements of men and officers were repaired, the deep dents effected by sword, pike, and bullet were hammered out, the rust removed, and the stains of blood and bivouac obliterated; fresh doublets and jerkins were served out from the ample stores captured from the enemy, and the army looked as gay and brilliant as when it first landed in North Germany.
Malcolm spent much of his spare time with the Count and Countess of Mansfeld, who, irrespective of their gratitude for the assistance he had rendered them in time of need, had taken a strong liking to the young Scotchman.
"You are becoming quite a court gallant, Graheme," one of his comrades said at a court ball where Malcolm had been enjoying himself greatly, having, thanks to the Countess of Mansfeld, no lack of partners, while many of the officers were forced to look on without taking part in the dancing, the number of ladies being altogether insufficient to furnish partners to the throng of officers, Swedish, German, and Scottish. Beyond the scarf and feathers which showed the brigade to which officers belonged, there was, even when in arms, but slight attempt at uniformity in their attire, still less so when off duty. The scene at these balls was therefore gay in the extreme, the gallants being all attired in silk, satin, or velvet of brilliant colours slashed with white or some contrasting hue. The tailors at Maintz had had a busy time of it, for in so rapid a campaign much baggage had been necessarily lost, and many of the officers required an entirely new outfit before they could take part in the court festivities.
There was, however, no lack of money, for the booty and treasure captured had been immense, and each officer having received a fixed share, they were well able to renew their wardrobes. Some fresh reinforcements arrived during their stay here, and the vacancies which battle and disease had made in the ranks were filled up.
But although the Green Brigade did not march from Maintz till the 5th of March, 1632, the whole army did not enjoy so long a rest. In February Gustavus despatched three hundred of Ramsay's regiment under Lieutenant Colonel George Douglas against the town of Creutzenach, together with a small party of English volunteers under Lord Craven. Forty-seven of the men were killed while opening the trenches, but the next day they stormed one of the gates and drove the garrison, which was composed of six hundred Walloons and Burgundians, out of the town into the castle of Kausemberg, which commanded it. Its position was extremely strong, its walls and bastions rising one behind another, and their aspect was so formidable that they were popularly known as the "Devil's Works." From these the garrison opened a very heavy fire into the town, killing many of the Scots. Douglas, however, gave them but short respite, for gathering his men he attacked the castle and carried bastion after bastion by storm until the whole were taken.
About the same time the important town of Ulm on the Danube opened its gates to the Swedes, and Sir Patrick Ruthven was appointed commandant with 1200 Swedes as garrison, Colonel Munro with two companies of musketeers marched to Coblentz and aided Otto Louis the Rhinegrave, who with a brigade of twenty troops of horse was expecting to be attacked by 10,000 Spaniards and Walloons from Spires. Four regiments of Spanish horse attacked the Rhinegrave's quarters, but were charged so furiously by four troops of Swedish dragoons under Captain Hume that 300 of them were killed and the Elector of Nassau taken prisoner; after this the Spaniards retired beyond the Moselle.
In other parts of Germany the generals of Gustavus were equally successful. General Horn defeated the Imperialists at Heidelberg and Heilbronn. General Lowenhausen scoured all the shores of the Baltic, and compelled Colonel Graham, a Scotch soldier in the Imperial service, to surrender the Hanse town of Wismar. Graham marched out with his garrison, 3000 strong, with the honours of war en route for Silesia, but having, contrary to terms, spiked the cannon, plundered the shipping, and slain a Swedish lieutenant, Lowenhausen pursued him, and in the battle which ensued 500 of Graham's men were slain and the colonel himself with 2000 taken prisoner.
General Ottentodt was moving up the Elbe carrying all before him with a force of 14,000 men, among whom were five battalions of Scots and one of English. This force cleared the whole duchy of Mecklenburg, capturing all the towns and fortresses in rapid succession. Sir Patrick Ruthven advanced along the shores of Lake Constance, driving the Imperialists before him into the Tyrol. Magdeburg was captured by General Banner, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel reduced all Fulda-Paderborn and the adjacent districts, the Elector of Saxony overran Bohemia, and Sir Alexander Leslie threatened the Imperialists in Lower Saxony.
Thus the campaign of 1632 opened under the most favourable auspices. The Green Brigade marched on the 5th of March to Aschaffenburg, a distance of more than thirty miles, a fact which speaks volumes for the physique and endurance of the troops, for this would in the present day be considered an extremely long march for troops, and the weight of the helmet and armour, musket and accoutrements, of the troops of those days was fully double that now carried by European soldiers. Here they were reviewed by the king.
By the 10th the whole army, 23,000 strong, were collected at Weinsheim and advanced towards Bavaria, driving before them the Imperialists under the Count de Bucquio. The Chancellor Oxenstiern had been left by the king with a strong force to guard his conquests on the Rhine.
No sooner had the king marched than the Spaniards again crossed the Moselle. The chancellor and the Duke of Weimar advanced against them. The Dutch troops, who formed the first line of the chancellor's army, were unable to stand the charge of the Spanish and fled in utter confusion; but the Scottish regiment of Sir Roderick Leslie, who had succeeded Sir John Hamilton on his resignation, and the battalion of Sir John Ruthven, charged the Spaniards with levelled pikes so furiously that these in turn were broken and driven off the field.
On the 26th of March Gustavus arrived before the important town and fortress of Donauworth, being joined on the same day by the Laird of Foulis with his two regiments of horse and foot. Donauworth is the key to Swabia; it stands on the Danube, and was a strongly fortified place, its defences being further covered by fortifications upon a lofty eminence close by, named the Schellemberg. It was held by the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg with two thousand five hundred men. The country round Donauworth is fertile and hilly, and Gustavus at once seized a height which commanded the place. The Bavarians were at work upon entrenchments here as the Swedes advanced, but were forced to fall back into the town. From the foot of the hill a suburb extended to the gates of the city. This was at once occupied by five hundred musketeers, who took up their post in the houses along the main road in readiness to repel a sortie should the garrison attempt one; while the force on the hillside worked all night, and by daybreak on the 27th had completed and armed a twenty gun battery.
In this was placed a strong body of infantry under Captain Semple, a Scotchman. As this battery commanded the walls of the town, and flanked the bridge across the Danube, the position of the defenders was now seriously menaced, but the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg refused the demand of Gustavus to surrender. The battery now opened fire, first demolishing a large stone building by the river occupied by a force of Imperialists, and then directing its fire upon the city gates.
The cannonade continued after nightfall, but in the darkness a body of Imperialist horsemen under Colonel Cronenberg dashed out at full speed through the gate, cut a passage through the musketeers in the suburb, galloped up the hill, and fell upon the infantry and artillery in the battery. So furious was their charge that the greater part of the defenders of the battery were cut down. The guns were spiked, and the cavalry, having accomplished their purpose, charged down the hill, cut their way through the suburb, and regained the town.
This gallant exploit deranged the plans of the Swedes. Gustavus reconnoitred the town accompanied by Sir John Hepburn, and by the advice of that officer decided upon a fresh plan of operations. Hepburn pointed out to him that by taking possession of the angle formed by the confluence of the Wermitz and Danube to the west of the town the bridge crossing from Donauworth into Bavaria would be completely commanded, and the garrison would be cut off from all hope of escape and of receiving relief from Bavaria.
The plan being approved, Hepburn drew off his brigade with its artillery, and marching five miles up the Danube crossed the river at the bridge of Hassfurt, and descended the opposite bank until he faced Donauworth. He reached his position at midnight, and placed his cannon so as to command the whole length of the bridge, and then posted his musketeers in the gardens and houses of a suburb on the river, so that their crossfire also swept it.
The pikemen were drawn up close to the artillery at the head of the bridge. Quietly as these movements were performed the garrison took the alarm, and towards morning the duke, finding his retreat intercepted, sallied out at the head of eight hundred musketeers to cut his way through; but as the column advanced upon the bridge the Green Brigade opened fire, the leaden hail of their musketeers smote the column on both sides, while the cannon ploughed lanes through it from end to end. So great was the destruction that the Bavarians retreated in confusion back into the town again, leaving the bridge strewn with their dead.
Alone the gallant Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg charged through the hail of fire across the bridge, fell upon the pikemen sword in hand, and cutting his way through them rode away, leaving his garrison to their fate. The roar of artillery informed Gustavus what was going on, and he immediately opened fire against the other side of the town and led his men to the assault of the gate.
The instant the Scotch had recovered from their surprise at the desperate feat performed by the duke, Hepburn, calling them together, placed himself at their head and led them across the bridge. The panic stricken fugitives had omitted to close the gate, and the Scotch at once entered the town. Here the garrison resisted desperately; their pikemen barred the streets, and from every window and roof their musketeers poured their fire upon the advancing column.
The day was breaking now, and the roar of battle in the city mingled with that at the gates, where the Swedes were in vain striving to effect an entrance. Gradually the Scotch won their way forward; 500 of the Bavarians were killed, in addition to 400 who had fallen on the bridge. The rest now attempted to fly. Great numbers were drowned in the Danube, and the remainder were taken prisoners. The streets were encumbered by the heavily laden baggage wagons, and a vast amount of booty fell into the hands of the Scotch, who thus became masters of the town before Gustavus and his Swedes had succeeded in carrying the gate.
The king now entered the town, and as soon as order was restored Hepburn's brigade recrossed the Danube and threw up a strong work on the other side of the bridge; for Tilly was on the Lech, but seven miles distant, and might at any moment return. He had just struck a severe blow at Marshal Horn, who had recently taken Bamberg. His force, 9000 strong, had been scattered to put down a rising of the country people, when Tilly with 16,000 fell upon them.
A column under Bauditzen was attacked and defeated, and Tilly's horsemen pursued them hotly to the bridge leading to the town. Marshal Horn threw a barricade across this and defended it until nightfall. Tilly had then fallen back before the advance of Gustavus to a very strong position on the Lech. This was an extremely rapid river, difficult to cross and easily defensible. Tilly had broken down the bridges, and was prepared to dispute till the last the further advance of the Swedes. He placed his army between Rain, where the Lech falls into the Danube, and Augsburg, a distance of sixteen miles -- all the assailable points being strongly occupied, with small bodies of cavalry in the intervals to give warning of the approach of the enemy. He had been joined by Maximilian of Bavaria, and his force amounted to 40,000 men.
Gustavus gave his army four days' rest at Donauworth, and then advanced with 32,000 men against the Lech. His dragoons, who had been pushed forward, had found the bridges destroyed. He first attempted to repair that at Rain, but the fire of the artillery and musketry was so heavy that he was forced to abandon the idea. He then made a careful reconnaissance of the river, whose course was winding and erratic.
Finding that at every point at which a crossing could be easily effected Tilly's batteries and troops commanded the position, he determined to make his attack at a point where the river made a sharp bend in the form of a semicircle, of which he occupied the outer edge. He encamped the bulk of his army at the village of Nordheim, a short distance in the rear, and erected three powerful batteries mounting seventy-two guns. One of these faced the centre of the loop, the others were placed opposite the sides.
The ground on the Swedish bank of the river was higher than that facing it; and when the Swedish batteries opened they so completely swept the ground inclosed by the curve of the river that the Imperialists could not advance across it, and were compelled to remain behind a rivulet called the Ach, a short distance in the rear of the Lech. They brought up their artillery, however, and replied to the cannonade of the Swedes.
For four days the artillery duel continued, and while it was going on a considerable number of troops were at work in the village of Oberndorf, which lay in a declivity near the river, hidden from the sight of the Imperialists, constructing a bridge. For that purpose a number of strong wooden trestles of various heights and with feet of unequal length for standing in the bed of the river were prepared, together with a quantity of piles to be driven in among and beside them to enable them to resist the force of the current.
On the night of the fourth day the king caused a number of fires to be lighted near the river, fed with green wood and damp straw. A favourable wind blew the smoke towards the enemy, and thus concealed the ground from them. At daybreak on the 5th of April, a thousand picked men crossed the river in two boats, and having reached the other side at once proceeded to throw up intrenchments to cover the head of the bridge, while at the same time the workmen began to place the trestles in position.
As soon as day broke Tilly became aware of what was being done, and two batteries opened fire upon the work at the head of the bridge and against the bridge itself; but the low and swampy nature of the ground on the Imperialist side of the river prevented his placing the batteries in a position from which they could command the works, and their fire proved ineffective in preventing the construction of the bridge. Seeing this, Tilly at once commenced preparations for arresting the further advance of the Swedes.
To reach his position they would be obliged to cross the swampy ground exposed to the fire of his troops, and to render their progress still more difficult he proceeded to cut down large trees, lopping and sharpening their branches to form a chevaux-de-frise before his troops. All the morning a heavy cannonade was kept up on both sides, but by noon the bridge was completed and the advance guard of the Swedes, led by Colonels Wrandel and Gassion, advanced across it. As the other brigades were following, Tilly directed General Altringer to lead his cavalry against them.
Altringer led his troops round the end of the marsh and charged with great bravery down upon the Swedes. These, however, had time to form up, and a tremendous fire of musketry was poured into the Imperialist horse, while the round shot from the three Swedish batteries ploughed their ranks in front and on both flanks. Under such circumstances, although fighting with reckless bravery, the Imperialist cavalry were repulsed. Altringer, however, rallied them and led them back again to the charge, but a cannonball grazed his temple and he was carried senseless from the field. His men, shaken by the tremendous fire and deprived of their leader, fell back in confusion.
Tilly at once placed himself at the head of a chosen body of troops and advanced to the attack, fighting with the ardour and bravery which always distinguished him. He was short in stature and remarkable for his ugliness as well as his bravery. Lean and spare in figure, he had hollow cheeks, a long nose, a broad wrinkled forehead, heavy moustaches, and a sharp pointed chin. He had from his boyhood been fighting against the Protestants. He had learned the art of war under the cruel and pitiless Spanish general Alva in the Netherlands, of which country he was a native, and had afterwards fought against them in Bavaria, in Bohemia, and the Palatinate, and had served in Hungary against the Turks.
Until he met Gustavus at Breitenfeld he had never known a reverse. A bigoted Catholic, he had never hesitated at any act of cruelty which might benefit the cause for which he fought, or strike terror into the Protestants; and the singularity of his costume and the ugliness of his appearance heightened the terror which his deeds inspired among them. When not in armour his costume was modelled upon that of the Duke of Alva, consisting of a slashed doublet of green silk, with an enormously wide-brimmed and high conical hat adorned with a large red ostrich feather. In his girdle he carried a long dagger and a Toledo sword of immense length. His personal bravery was famous, and never did he fight more gallantly than when he led his veterans to the attack of the Swedes.
For twenty minutes a furious hand to hand conflict raged, and the result was still uncertain when a shot from a falconet struck Tilly on the knee and shattered the bone, and the old general fell insensible to the ground. He was carried off the field, and his troops, now without a leader, gave way, the movement being hastened by two bodies of Swedish horse, who, eager for action, swam their horses across the river and threatened to cut off the retreat. By this time evening was at hand. The Swedes had secured the passage of the river, but the Imperialist army still held its intrenched position in the wood behind the Lech. Gustavus brought the rest of his army across and halted for the night.
The Imperialist position was tremendously strong, being unassailable on the right and covered in the front by the marshy ground. It could still have been defended with every prospect of success by a determined general, but the two best Imperialist commanders were hors de combat, and Maximilian of Bavaria, the nominal generalissimo, had no military experience. The army, too, was disheartened by the first success of the Swedes and by the loss of the general whom they regarded as well nigh invincible.
Tilly had now recovered his senses, but was suffering intense agony from his wound, and on being consulted by Maximilian he advised him to fall back, as the destruction of his army would leave the whole country open to the Swedes.
The Imperialists accordingly evacuated their position and fell back in good order during the night on Neuberg, and then to Ingolstadt. Rain and Neuberg were occupied the next day by the Swedes. Gustavus despatched Marshal Horn to follow the retreating enemy to Ingolstadt, and he himself with the rest of his army marched up the Lech to Augsburg, which was held by Colonel Breda with four thousand five hundred men.
The Imperialists had broken down the bridge, but Gustavus immediately built two others, one above and the other below the city, and summoned it to surrender. Breda, hearing that Tilly was dying, Altringer severely wounded, and that no help was to be expected from Maximilian, considered it hopeless to resist, and surrendered the town, which Gustavus, attended by the titular King of Bohemia and many other princes, entered in triumph on the following day, April 14th. The capture of Augsburg was hailed with peculiar satisfaction, as the city was regarded as the birthplace of the Reformation in Germany. Leaving a garrison there the king retraced his steps along the Lech to Neuberg, and marched thence to join Marshal Horn in front of Ingolstadt.
This town was one of the strongest places in Germany and had never been captured. It was now held by a formidable garrison, and the Imperialist army covered it on the north. Tilly had implored Maximilian to defend it and Ratisbon at all hazards, as their possession was a bar to the further advance of Gustavus.
The king arrived before it on the 19th, and on the following day advanced to reconnoitre it closely. The gunners of the town, seeing a number of officers approaching, fired, and with so good an aim that a cannonball carried off the hindquarters of the horse the king was riding. A cry of alarm and consternation burst from the officers, but their delight was great when the king rose to his feet, covered with dust and blood indeed, but otherwise unhurt.
On the following day a cannonball carried off the head of the Margrave of Baden-Durlach, and on the same day Tilly expired. With his last breath he urged Maximilian never to break his alliance with the emperor, and to appoint Colonel Cratz, an officer of great courage and ability, to the command of his army.
Gustavus remained eight days before Ingolstadt, and then, finding that the reduction of the place could not be effected without the loss of much valuable time, he raised the siege. On his march he took possession of Landshut and forced it to pay a ransom of 100,000 thalers and to receive a garrison, and then continued his way to Munich.
The Bavarian capital surrendered without a blow on the 17th of May. Gustavus made a triumphal entry into the town, where he obtained possession of a vast quantity of treasure and stores. Here he remained some little time reducing the country round and capturing many cities and fortresses. The Green Brigade had suffered severely at Ingolstadt. On the evening of the 19th of April the king, expecting a sally, had ordered Hepburn to post the brigade on some high ground near the gate and the soldiers remained under arms the whole night.
The glow of their matches enabled the enemy to fire with precision, and a heavy cannonade was poured upon them throughout the whole night. Three hundred men were killed as they stood, Munro losing twelve men by one shot; but the brigade stood their ground unflinchingly, and remained until morning in steady line in readiness to repel any sortie of the enemy.
The army suffered greatly on the march from the Lech to Ingolstadt, and thence to Munich, from the attacks of the country people, who were excited against them by the priests. Every straggler who fell into their hands was murdered with horrible cruelty, the hands and feet being cut off, and other savage mutilations being performed upon them, in revenge for which the Swedes and Scots shot all the Bavarians who fell into their hands, and burned two hundred towns and villages.