"I'm getting too old for this shit." Anse Hatfield swung off his horse, the dull pains in his back and legs reminding him that camping rough and riding all day was a young man's game. He waved to Sergeant Albrecht. "Hold off making camp. Now that we've finally caught up with the Army, I'll go see where they want us."
Following General Torstensson's army on the march from Hamburg had seemed like an interesting assignment. Then he discovered that when the Swede moved an army, it really moved. They were better than twenty miles ahead of the TacRail company sent to support them. Not surprising when TacRail laid track at two miles a day and Torstensson moved his army a good twenty miles in the same period. The roads behind the army had been a mad house. Companies of troops and batteries of artillery were all moving forward, all trying to get into position.
Finally they stopped just outside a little town called Ahrensbök. Anse's surveyors hadn't kept up really; only the fact that they were all mounted and the army had stopped allowed them to make contact.
Anse had to ask directions twice, but he found the command post. He spotted Cameron Hinshaw setting up his radio on the back side of a small knoll. "Hey, Cameron. How's it going, and where do I report in? My people need a place to sleep tonight where no one will roll a cannon over their tents."
Hinshaw looked up and grinned. "Bit of a cluster fuck, ain't it? We been running the legs off of the infantry, and they're still coming in. Where you camp is up to Colonel Jackson and I guess he's who you should report to. I doubt you'll get much sleep though. Even if no one rolls a cannon over you."
"Whoa, Bubba. Last time I looked Frank Jackson was a general. When did this happen?"
Hinshaw glanced around. "You know Torstensson is in charge?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"Well, Torstensson wanted Jackson on his staff, but as a colonel. So General Jackson is now Colonel Jackson in the USE army, but he's still a general for Thuringia-Franconia."
Anse smiled. He always thought Frank Jackson was getting too big for his britches with that general business. He was going to enjoy this. Frank Jackson was standing with a group of officers at the top of the knoll. Anse nodded goodbye to Hinshaw and walked over.
He gave his best parade ground salute. "Chief Warrant Officer Hatfield reporting in with a party of eleven, Colonel. We are surveying the route for your TacRail support, Colonel. If it pleases the Colonel, we will camp with the army tonight and head back to deliver our survey." Anse was proud of working colonel into his report three times.
Before Jackson could answer one of the other officers turned. Anse recognized General Torstensson and snapped to attention.
"TacRail? You don't have one of your trains with you, do you? That would be too much to hope for."
"No, sir. We're just surveying the route. The railhead is about twenty-two miles back. It'll be at least a week before they can get a line here, maybe ten days. However, the telegraph line should be here tomorrow or the day after and we have a line clear back to Hamburg."
"Oh, well. We fight with what we have. And we fight tomorrow morning." Torstensson turned away.
Anse didn't realize he was just standing and gawking until Colonel Jackson caught his attention by saying, "You picked a hell of a time to show up, Hatfield. We've got a battle to fight."
"Where do you want my men?"
Jackson was getting a harassed look on his face. "Get your men over with the organ guns, put them under Len Straley and come back here."
The organ guns were bound to be in the thick of any battle. And Anse knew Len. Anse didn't think he'd want eleven strangers added to his command just before a fight. Before Anse could make a fool of himself by protesting one of the other officers turned and smiled. It was Nils Ivarsson, who had been on that darn trip to Suhl with him. "Colonel Jackson, if I may, I would like to have Herr Hatfield's party as part of my force. Since my troops are skirmishers, his people would be a positive addition. While with the organ guns they might have problems of coordinating." Nils pointed. "We are out on the left flank."
Colonel Jackson stood and pondered. "Very well, Captain. Mr. Hatfield and his party will be attached to your troops for the next few days. And, Hatfield, don't screw up. I want to see you after the battle."
Ivarsson waved to Anse and they walked back toward the radio. "Congratulations on your promotion, Captain," Anse said. "I was surprised to see you."
"General Kagg thought I needed some time with the troops to further my military career. Besides, where better to be than directly under Torstensson's eye when I do my deeds of glory?"
Anse looked up and saw Nils was grinning. Anse didn't like that grin. Nils was sometimes devious, very devious. "What do you need me to do?"
"Do? I want you and your men in my line. I was short a lieutenant, now I have you. I'll bring your people up to a half-company with some of my extra men. Don't worry, I have a good sergeant for you, and I'll put you right beside me in the line. I've seen you in action and I know you can do this."
Anse thought those organ guns were starting to look good. "Well, I have to warn you my people include a couple of untried kids. So don't expect too much. It's just a surveying party with a couple of linemen to string telegraph wire. That better be a damn good sergeant."
"Not a problem. I have some of the best trained men in the army. I recruited a number of Jaegers while we were in Suhl and we all have the new rifles. More importantly, Linkersdorf is a very good sergeant and a Jaeger himself."
Sergeant Albrecht had the men resting under some trees, and the horses were placidly chomping the grain in their nose bags. Anse had the thought, once again, that it was great to be working with professionals. Udo Albrecht was only twenty-five, but he had been a soldier for years before joining TacRail. "Sergeant, this is Captain Ivarsson, and we're joining up with his people. The French have been caught."