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Chapter 52

Mike decided to take out the field guns first. His confidence as a military commander had grown enough that he didn't wait to check with Frank. The Spaniards, in the manner of the day, were moving the artillery into position ahead of the infantry. Smoothbore cannons firing round shot needed a flat trajectory to be effective in a field battle. There was no way to do that with a mass of infantry standing in front of them. Mike understood the logic, but he still found the idea vaguely absurd.

"Talk about being exposed," he muttered. He lowered the binoculars.

"Orders, chief?" asked his radio operator.

Mike grinned. "I'm never going to get used to that expression coming from you, Gayle." He extended his hand and took the radio.

"Harry, this is Mike. Move out the APCs. Take Route 4 and then turn south onto Route 26. The Spanish are positioning the field guns east of the road. You can cut right between the artillery and the infantry."

Harry Lefferts' voice crackled out of the radio. "What about the cavalry?"

"We'll worry about them later. Frank can hold his ground easily enough, even if he doesn't use the M-60. We've got a chance to nail the artillery right now."

Lefferts' response, like the entire exchange, was sadly lacking in military protocol.

"Gotcha. Will do, chief."

In the distance, coming from the grove northwest of that stretch of Eisenach's walls, Mike could hear the sound of the APC engines firing up.

His grin came back. "And I'll sure as hell never get used to it coming from Harry."

Gayle matched the grin. "Why not? Ain't you just the proper budding little Na-po-lee-own?"

"Give me a break," snorted Mike. "The day I become a military genius is the day hell freezes over." He handed the radio back to Gayle. "Call Frank and tell him about the change in plans. I want to go talk to Alex."

Gayle nodded. Mike turned away from the redoubt's wall and hurried toward the stairs leading to the compound below. By the time he reached the level ground where the cavalry was waiting, taking the wide stone steps two at a time, Mackay and Lennox were trotting forward to meet him.

After Mike explained the new situation, Alex grimaced. Lennox scowled. Mike found it hard not to laugh. The Scotsmens' expression combined varying amounts of amusement and exasperation.

On the part of Lennox, mostly exasperation. "Soft-hearted Americans," he grumbled. "Ye'd do better—"

"Enough," commanded Mackay. "General Stearns is in command."

Lennox subsided, but it was plain enough that he was not a happy man. Mike decided to explain.

"I realize we'd have a better chance of smashing the whole army if I waited. But our first responsibility is to ensure the safety of Eisenach. Without those guns, the Spaniards don't have a chance in hell of breaching the walls."

Lennox refrained from making the obvious rejoinder. They don't have a chance in hell anyway. Alex tugged at his beard. "I assume, then, that you'll be wanting us to chivvy the bastards after the APCs rip up the guns?"

Mike nodded. Alex's beard tugging grew vigorous. "And are you still determined . . . ?"

"Yes," came Mike's firm reply. "Drive 'em toward the Wartburg, Alex. And don't expose your men more than you need to. I want to keep our casualties as low as possible."

It was plain enough from his expression that the young Scottish officer was not happy with Mike's plan. But he refrained from argument. Alexander Mackay most definitely did not think Mike Stearns was a "military genius," but he also believed firmly in the principle of command.

A moment later, Mackay and Lennox were starting to issue orders to the cavalry. Within seconds, the marshaling area was a beehive of activity. The packed earth was rapidly chewed up still further by a multitude of stamping hooves.

The Eisenach militiamen staffing the gates were the only foot soldiers in the area. But they were able to start working the gate mechanisms from within the protection of the stone gatehouse. Mike was out in the open. He scampered back toward the stairs and started climbing them—again, two steps at a time. Being on foot in an area where a thousand horsemen were moving their chargers into position was not anywhere he wanted to be. Squash. Oops. Sorry 'bout that.

Once he was back at the redoubt wall, Gayle offered him the radio again. He cocked an eye. "Problems?"

"No," replied Gayle. "Except Frank told me to tell you that you're a soft-hearted wimp."

Mike smiled. He brought the binoculars back up to his eyes. "Yeah, I know," he murmured. "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it."

As he studied the Spanish tercios beyond the walls of Eisenach, Mike's smile faded. There were six tercios in that army—approximately twelve thousand men, he estimated—along with two thousand cuirassiers positioned on either flank. It was not a huge army, by the standards of the day, but it was sizeable. Big enough to have turned the farmland across which they marched into barren devastation. Mike could see the burning farmhouses in their wake. Fortunately, the inhabitants had long since taken refuge within Eisenach's walls. But the destruction was still savage enough.

The Spanish infantry was 500 yards away. The Spanish commander had brought his infantry to a halt just short of the road, while he moved his artillery into position across it. Clearly enough, he intended to begin his attack on Eisenach with a cannonade.

That road ran north to south, just west of the city. It was now officially designated as U.S. Route 26. Route 4, the road along which Harry was now leading the ten APCs, intersected Route 26 about two miles to the north. The Americans, following their own traditions, had insisted on giving a proper nomenclature to all the roads in the new United States—which now included all of southern Thuringia from Eisenach to Gera. The native Germans thought the custom was bizarre, but they went along without complaint. Compared to everything else about the Americans, numbering roads was small potatoes. And the Germans had noticed that roads which were given "official status" were invariably widened and properly graded. Graveled, too, more often than not. So the farmers were happy enough with the change. Easier on their carts and draft animals.

"Soft-hearted," mused Mike, speaking to himself. "No, Frank, not really. It's just that I know the cost of being anything else."

He lowered the binoculars and turned his head to the northeast. Not more than three seconds later, he saw the first of Harry's APCs thunder from behind the low hill which had hidden their approach.

"God, I'm sick of this," he muttered.

Gayle misunderstand his frown. "Something wrong with the APCs?"

"No, Gayle," Mike replied softly. "Nothing at all. Harry'll rip right through 'em." He glanced at her. "That's what I'm worried about."

It was Gayle's turn to frown. Clearly enough, she didn't understand.

And that's what I'm worried about the most, thought Mike. He brought the binoculars back to his eyes, focusing on Harry's blitzkrieg attack. Give it a few years. Cortez and Pizarro, coming up. Hidalgos true and pure.


"Fire!" shrieked Lefferts, riding in the armored cab of the lead APC. His words, carried over the CBs to all the APCs coming behind, produced an instant eruption. On both sides of the armored coal trucks, the rifles poking through the slits began firing. Most of those weapons were bolt-action or lever-action, but a goodly number were semiautomatics. The rate of fire which they produced fell far short of automatic weapons, but it still came as an incredible shock to the Spanish soldiers gawking at the APCs.

The U.S. soldiers on the right side of the trucks, facing the Spanish infantry, were simply trying to fire as many rounds as rapidly as possible. Aiming was a moot point. The front ranks of the tercios were less than thirty yards from the road. At that range, firing into a mass of tightly packed men, almost every round hit a target.

The soldiers on the left side of the trucks, facing the field guns, did take the time to aim. They needed to kill the gunners and the rammers, who were individual targets rather than a mass. But since the range was just as short—shorter, in the case of the bigger guns—aiming was not difficult.

The voice of the radio operator in the rearmost APC came over the CB in Harry's vehicle. "We're into the zone!" she cried.

Harry immediately issued new orders. "Stop the column!"

The drivers of the ten APCs braked to a halt. All of the vehicles were now "in the zone"—positioned right in the middle of the Spanish army, with clear lines of fire on both sides. The APCs were facing south on Route 26. The Spanish infantry was now separated from the artillery by the armored coal trucks. Now that the vehicles were no longer moving, the rifle fire intensified and became more accurate.

The result was a one-sided slaughter. Several of the tercios managed to get off coordinated arquebus volleys, but the gesture was futile. Even at point-blank range, the thick steel of the APCs was impervious to slow-moving round shot. The Spaniards might as well have been throwing pebbles.

The tires were somewhat more vulnerable, but not much. Few of the Spanish bullets hit the tires, anyway, and those only did so by accident. The Spaniards had no experience with American vehicles at all—most of the soldiers were still gawking with confusion—and never thought to shoot for the tires. Even the few bullets which did strike the tires caused no real damage. Coal truck tires were not, to put it mildly, fragile and delicate; and, again, the slow-moving round shot of seventeenth-century firearms was poorly equipped to rupture them.

There was one American fatality. By sheer bad luck, a bullet came through one of the firing slits and hit the man positioned there. He died instantly, his head shattered by the .80-caliber round.

The damage wreaked by the U.S. soldiers, on the other hand, was horrendous. Within a minute, those artillerymen who had not been shot down were sprinting away from the guns, seeking nothing more than refuge in the distant woods. Seconds later, the soldiers on that side of the trucks stopped firing. There were simply no more targets available.

On the other side of the APCs, the firing continued. By their nature, tercios were so tightly packed that it was impossible for men in the front ranks to simply run away. The soldiers standing behind them formed an impassable barrier. Moreover, these were Spanish pikemen and arquebusiers. Spanish infantry were universally acknowledged as the best in Europe. Even by the standards of the time, those men were ferociously courageous. Stand your ground and take it was as ingrained in them as their native tongue.

Three of the tercios even managed to launch pike charges. Stumbling over corpses, the Spaniards leveled their fifteen-foot spears and lunged onto the road.

The charges had no chance of destroying the APCs, of course. That would have required grenades, which the Spanish soldiers did not carry. But the pikemen might still have disabled the vehicles as effective military instruments, by the crude but simple expedient of sticking pikes into the firing slits and forcing the U.S. riflemen to retreat against the opposite walls.

But they never got that far. As soon as the first ranks of the tercios stepped onto the road, the Claymore mines positioned along the sides of the APCs erupted. A hail of cannister and shrapnel literally wiped them off the road. In an instant, hundreds of men were dead and dying.

That stunning blow was too much, even for Spanish soldiers. The men who survived stumbled back. By now, the pikemen and arquebusiers behind them had begun to retreat, leaving space for the front ranks to follow. Within two minutes, chased along by continuous rifle fire, the entire Spanish infantry was in headlong retreat.

When Mackay's cavalry sallied from Eisenach, the retreat became a rout. The Spanish cuirassiers, as brave as the foot soldiers, launched a countercharge. But the effort was futile. As soon as the Spanish cavalry emerged in clear view, Frank ordered his infantrymen to open fire. Those U.S. soldiers were stationed in rifle pits and behind palisades a hundred yards in front of Eisenach's walls. They were firing at exposed horsemen from a range of two hundred yards. Before the lead elements of the Spanish cavalry could reach Mackay's oncoming charge, they had already been bled badly.

Mackay hit them like a hammer. Although Mackay's forces were still technically part of the Swedish army, they were for all practical purposes the U.S. cavalry—and had been equipped accordingly. Most of his horsemen—the big majority of whom were now Germans, not Scots—had been equipped with an American revolver or automatic pistol. Matched against the wheel locks and sabers of the Spanish cavalry, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The Spanish cuirassiers were shattered within less than three minutes. The survivors raced away, stunned by the firepower they had encountered.

Mackay could have given pursuit, which would have produced yet more carnage. But he held back his forces. He had his doubts about Mike's battle plan, but he was too well trained to break discipline.

Fifteen minutes after the APCs opened fire, the Battle of Eisenach was over. The broken Spanish tercios and their cavalry escorts were retreating in complete disorder. While Mackay and his men chivvied them toward the distant Wartburg, the U.S. soldiers in the APCs dismounted and took possession of the Spanish field guns. Before another fifteen minutes had passed, the gates of Eisenach were wide open and hundreds of conscripted farmers were starting to hitch up the captured cannons and haul them into the city.

The Spanish commander, meanwhile, had managed to bring a semblance of discipline back to his army. It did not take him long to reach the obvious conclusion. They had been half-destroyed in a field battle. It was time to seek shelter within fortifications.


Where else? The ancient castle called the Wartburg was in plain view, perched atop a hill to the south. The Spaniards had already taken possession of it, in fact. On the march in toward Eisenach, cavalry units had investigated the castle and found it deserted. The Spanish commander had been dumbfounded at the news. Were these Americans utterly insane, not to garrison the strongest fortress in the region? But he was more than happy to take advantage of his enemy's stupidity.


Through his binoculars, Mike studied the retreat of the Spanish army until he was satisfied that they were definitely making for the Wartburg. By the time he finally lowered the eyepieces, Greg Ferrara and the leaders of his special artillery unit were gathered around him on the redoubt.

"We're a go?" asked Ferrara.

Mike nodded. "They should be forted up by nightfall. We'll start the special effects at midnight. Come dawn, we'll start lobbing the bombs."

That announcement produced instant frowns on the three young faces peering at him. Larry Wild, Jimmy Andersen and Eddie Cantrell, plain to see, were not pleased.

Hell hath no fury like a wargamer scorned.

"No," Mike said. "I am not starting the bombardment until daybreak."

"We should take advantage of darkness," complained Jimmy. "Create more confusion."

Mike forced down his scowl. But he couldn't restrain the sigh. Is there anything in the world as bloodthirsty as a kid?

"That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid, Jimmy," he said forcefully. He pointed to the retreating Spanish army with the hand still holding the binoculars. "Those men may just be so many toy soldiers to you, but they're not to me. They're people, dammit!"

The three youngsters flinched from the genuine anger in Mike's voice. Mike drove home his point. "It's going to be bad enough as it is. At the very least, I want to make sure that men trying to surrender can do it. Not get destroyed simply because they couldn't find their way out of a castle in pitch darkness. Do you understand?"

There was no response, beyond sulkiness. Chagrin, mixed with frustration.

"Get going, boys," commanded Ferrara. The three youngsters scampered off the redoubt with great eagerness.

Mike muttered something. Ferrara cocked at eye at him. "What did you say?"

Mike shook his head. "Never mind."

Ferrara left, then. Mike stared at the Wartburg. The grim castle seemed to return his gaze with its own baleful glare.

"Hidalgos true and pure," he muttered again. "There has got to be a better way."



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