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Friday, November 18, 1633
A couple days later, Leutnant Keller was running Fuchs Company through firing drills.
Firing drill is really repetitive, Andreas Strauss thought. Rather like making barrels. Worse, it was dry firing—no one was going to let a leutnant burn through gunpowder on his own. So the men were shouting bang when they pulled the trigger. The bangs were noticeably less enthusiastic than they had been at first.
"First rank! Present!" Keller ordered.
The first rank—First, Fourth, and Seventh Squads—was already kneeling. They leveled their muskets.
Thirty men shouted, "Bang!"
"Reload! Second rank! Present!"
The first rank began going through the motions of pulling a cartridge from their cartridge boxes, biting off one end, priming, and loading. Meanwhile the second rank leveled their weapons.
"Reload! Third rank! Present!"
Andreas and the rest of the third rank had one additional step to their drill—literally. Each stepped up right behind a second ranker, close enough to physically close the second ranker's cartridge box if its weighted flap hadn't already done so. If a spark from the pan fell into an open cartridge box and caught, it couldn't fire a musket ball. But it could flash the paper cartridges and set a soldier's clothing on fire. And if that happened, it wouldn't be just a case of one wounded man; everyone next to him would scatter, opening a hole straight through the company.
Andreas's rank leveled their muskets.
"Reload! First rank! Present!"
Leutnant Keller ran them through the cycle twice more before adding something new.
"First rank, stand! Open order . . . arms!"
The men at both ends of the formation stepped sideways, and then the next, until the company took up twice its normal width with an empty slot between each man.
Keller centered himself in front of the company. "We are going to fire while advancing. This technique is used to push a weaker enemy force back with continuous fire. Never use it against an enemy force that's capable of charging because it spreads us out too much to stop them.
"First rank! Present! Fire!"
"Third rank! Ten steps forward!"
Chaos ensued. Andreas Strauss and about half of the third rank tried to march forward through the gaps and collided with the half of second rank that hadn't been paying close enough attention. Where third rankers did get through the gaps, some of them began counting ten steps from their initial position while others counted from where they passed the first rank.
Several men scrambled into what they thought were the correct positions.
"Nein!" Leutnant Keller shouted. "Go back where you were!"
He walked into the middle of the company. "Look, I'm not interested in yelling at you for screwing up. But I do want to see what happened. Most of it was because you weren't paying attention when I ordered third rank to advance instead of second. Now this . . ." Keller pointed at a completely tangled part of the line. "This was more. Very slowly you men walk backwards to where you started from."
The soldiers started moving backwards.
"Freeze!" Keller snapped. "Right there! And there." He stabbed a finger at two men. "When you advance forward through a formation, always pass on the left. When you went right, you stepped in front of the man who was supposed to be there. This time, third rank will advance first, and everyone will pass on the left.
"Third rank! Ten steps forward!"
This time, the third rank made it into position without incident.
"Present! Fire! Second rank! Ten steps forward!"
Fuchs Company cycled through twice.
"Close ranks!" Leutnant Keller ordered. Second and third ranks simply closed up on first rank. "Again! Open order . . . arms! Company will fire while advancing! Third rank! Ten steps forward!"
Third rank marched forward.
"Halt! What is this?" Erster Leutnant Kohl strode up. "This is completely wrong! Keller, close up those ranks immediately! You try this in combat, and cavalry will ride you down! Second rank, step up and fill those gaps at once!"
Way to screw it up, Strauss thought to himself.
Some men moved. More did not.
"I told you to move!" Kohl screamed in a fury.
Second rank moved forward into the gaps in first rank.
"Form column! You first ten men on the right, step forward. Now the next ten."
What a flaming disaster this will be, Strauss realized.
Kohl marched them off to the barracks. Hauptmann Arentz met them there.
"First Squad, enter," he directed.
Every other men in the front two ranks stepped out of formation. The captain just watched for a moment.
"Second Squad, enter."
The remainder of the first two ranks entered.
Third Squad was the seventh rank.
Arentz waved his officers over. Strauss missed what they said as Sixth Squad went to dinner. He didn't miss the fact that there was quite a bit of muttering in the ranks during dinner. He also noticed Bohm pulling Spitzer and Heiliger aside. A little while later, Spitzer returned.
"Bauer, Strauss, give me a hand with the fire."
As he tossed wood in the Franklin stove, Strauss muttered, "Nicely done, Spitzer."
"Eh, hopefully the men aren't paying too much attention to us," Spitzer returned. "Hauptmann Arentz knows what happened with the formation," he said, his tone just official enough that Strauss figured he was speaking for Feldwebel Bohm. "Remind your men that Leutnant Keller was teaching us firing by rank while advancing against a small, scattered force while Erster Leutnant Kohl was concerned with maintaining a tight formation in the face of a cavalry attack. Quietly let them know that Leutnant Keller set up firing while advancing correctly. Or at least he set it up like the Grantville regiments do it. It's one of those things where there's more than one way to make it work, but we are going to do it the way Leutnant Keller showed us."
"Makes sense to me," Bauer said.
"Me, too," Strauss agreed.
"Good. Tell your men, and then meet out front to march to chosen man school."
The ten chosen men marched past a few gaggles. Strauss heard at least one man tell his buddy, "See, Fuchs Company marched. We should have, too."
Inside they found Drill Sergeant Thomas, a Scotsman, and the old soldier who had addressed the regiments . . . was that just two days ago? Strauss wondered. It seemed like a long time ago.
"Seats, men," Thomas directed. "Corporal MacLeod is going to translate. I'm not sure I've got the German for everything that needs to be said tonight, and I want to make sure you understand."
He paused for MacLeod to translate.
"I think you've probably all heard soldiers talk about what war is like. And obviously you've all lived through the last fifteen years of war. But tonight I want to make sure that you hear at least once what effect it has on you as a soldier."
Must be serious, Strauss realized.
"I was a twenty-year man in the United States Army. I was airborne, which means I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. I had a bad landing in a practice jump, screwed up my knee. Ended up having to retire at twenty years. I'd've liked to stay in a while longer. Sometimes my knee hurts, and I really miss the up-time painkillers."
Strauss nodded to himself. That is why he limps.
"But compared to a lot of guys, I'm doing just fine. I was lucky; they could fix me up up-time. A lot of injuries we could fix up-time we probably can't fix now, at least not as well. There are some other injuries you need to know about, the mental ones."
Drill Sergeant Thomas spoke quietly but clearly, each word distinct.
"Just like war breaks some people's bodies, it breaks some people's minds. We used to say some people couldn't handle it. We used to call them malingerers or shell-shocked. But then our doctors realized that sometimes there was damage to the brain and sometimes there was psychological damage."
Strauss heard an English word he definitely didn't know. Then MacLeod translated, ". . . sometimes there was damage to the soul."
Huh. Never thought about it that way, Strauss mused. It seems to make sense, though.
Thomas concluded. "I'd like you to listen to Sergeant Miller very carefully."