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In Pursuit of Glory.
I've been toying with writing some historically minded stories for a while, so here is one - the story of a young officer on the battlefields of Europe.
August 1, 1759 - Minden, Westphalia.
300 Yards. That was all that separated Thomas Horne, the new Lieutenant, Third Company, of the 12th Regiment of Foot from the French line, and the distance was shrinking with every step the mass of scarlet-coated soldiers he was in took.
He felt out of place. He should be further along the line, at the head of a platoon, not a company. ‘Shortage of Officers’ the Major had called it, and Thomas was the only Lieutenant out of his Company to have seen action. He’d have liked a week to get used to it, but battle was joined shortly after being given what was a heavy burden for a lowly Lieutenant.
They couldn’t halt their advance – they were at the head of the army – and what an army it was – British, Prussian and Hanoverian troops under the command of a German Prince – all advancing towards the white-coated French soldiers before them.
200 Yards. They were within range of the French muskets now, but they wouldn’t fire until they could be sure of hitting the enemy. Only a fool would fire at this range. It was at this moment that the front rank of Horne’s company levelled their muskets, bayonets forward, in anticipation of their first volley.
Thomas looked along the line. There were plenty of officers out in front, closely followed by the colours, and the musicians, playing a steady tune for the soldiers to march to. In this case, it was Lilliburlero, a favourite among the men. Thomas had trouble settling his stomach, his uneasiness growing with every step towards the French. He suppressed it, as every good Officer and Gentleman should. It didn’t do to show weakness in front of the men, he’d been told.
150 Yards. Thomas could make out the faces of the first two ranks of Frenchmen, their officers safely behind them. Then the French opened fire. A deadly volley of lead shot flew towards the advancing soldiers, cutting into them with deadly force. Men screamed as they were hit, as they saw their comrades cut down by the hail of fire. The French continued to fire by rank, until the Allied force halted.
What was left of Thomas’ company formed up behind him, in three ranks. He did a quick survey, and a little more than half of his men had survived this far. He was doing well, he thought – he’d not been hit, and now he could move away from the fire, so that his men could return fire.
“Company! Present!” He barked at them, raising his voice over the noise made by the fire of both sides. As one, the company raised their muskets, bringing them up to their shoulders, and cocking the hammer, waiting for the next command.
“Company! Fire!” He shouted, bringing his sword down at the same time as the command. As he did so, the men under his command fired, making the French pay, in some small measure, for their own volleys.
Thomas had to hope that the volley had done enough – it was their only chance to fire before charging into the mass of French soldiers only a short distance in front of them. His men had already fixed bayonets prior to their advance – Thomas just hoped that they would prove deadlier than those of the French in what was certain to be a bloody melee.
Ordering the charge, and raising his sword, the company charged furiously, their bayonets gleaming in the thick smoke, accompanied by the battle cries of over a hundred men. So thick was the smoke that he almost didn’t see the musket butt swinging towards him before it was too late. It connected with his abdomen, taking the wind out of him, but not before a quick thrust of his blade dealt with his assailant.
He looked around. The rest of the Regiment had engaged at the same time, and the battle had devolved into hundreds of smaller battles as infantrymen fought hand-to-hand in the furore. In the distance he could see a French officer, a Captain, fighting an English Officer, a Lieutenant, from Thomas’ own Regiment. The fight could barely be called such. The French captain seemed to merely play with the poor young officer, whose blade was no match for his opponent. The Frenchman had had enough, swatting aside the Lieutenant’s blade and sealing his fate. Thomas was enraged, and resolved to make the Officer pay. His own skills with a blade had been well-practiced, having been taught by his Uncle, a Colonel in the Army further north.
He didn’t need to catch the Frenchman’s attention. He had seen him, and they approached each other cautiously, swords drawn, ready to fight, both men barely conscious of the battle raging all around them.
Thomas studied the man carefully. A typical French Officer – well-dressed, in an immaculate white and gold uniform, with an air of imperiousness about him. A stark contrast to the muddy Lieutenant facing him. The Frenchman bowed slightly, before thrusting his blade rapidly, narrowly missing Thomas’ side, and reaching past his defence.
The clang of metal sounded as both blades met sharply, before being withdrawn just as quickly. The two blades circled each other, dancing in their owner’s hands. A cut to the left was parried effortlessly, a thrust towards a torso deflected with ease. Both men could see it would be a difficult fight. Whoever could keep their concentration would surely prevail.
Concentration is a difficult thing to come by on a battlefield, and the Artillery shell that exploded near the two men almost sealed Thomas’s fate. He saw the blade’s thrust too late, but managed to manoeuvre his body to prevent serious damage. His left arm was bleeding severely, and as he clutched at it, the French Captain stepped back, prematurely celebrating his victory.
This is the moment, Thomas. He saw past his pain, at least momentarily, and lunged towards the boasting Frenchman, who had not anticipated the attack. The tip of Thomas’ sword pressed into the Captain’s tunic, but not piercing flesh.
“Your Surrender, Captain?” Thomas asked, pressing his sword into his tunic. Clearly aware of the danger to himself, and surveying the now dwindling number of white-coated soldiers still standing, and with a sigh, the Captain grabbed his sword by the blade, offering the Lieutenant the hilt.
The Lieutenant took the offered blade, and bowed to his new prisoner, before handing him over to some of his men, who had gathered to see the surrender. The battle, it seemed, was over. Those Frenchmen still standing were in full retreat, routed by the combined British-German Forces.
After the battle, Thomas learned how costly it had been. Nearly 3,000 killed or missing – a small portion of an army of 42,000 men, but a high price nonetheless. It had been even costlier for the French, he’d gathered. His own Regiment had fared well, however with only a few hundred killed or wounded – mostly from his own company, which had, in his eyes, fought valiantly.
And Thomas was assured a portion of the glory of victory. Not many Lieutenants can lead a company into battle, and survive to take a French officer and his men prisoner.
It was as he decided to take a walk about the camp that he met his comrade, and friend, John Gates, a fellow Lieutenant in the same Regiment.
“Hot work today, wasn’t it Thomas? How’s that arm of yours?” He asked, as he approached, a snuff box in one hand, and a handkerchief in the other. John was an stereotypical English officer – the son of a noble family, heir to land and fortune, with parents rich enough to buy him a commission in a regiment of his choosing. But instead of the Guards, he’d chosen his home regiment, preferring to get a taste of proper soldiering.
“It’s better, thank you, John. The surgeon recommended light duties for a few weeks.” His arm had been sewn and bandaged, a instead of acute pain, there was merely a dull throb.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem, Tom. Last I heard, the Marquis de Contades’ staff had trouble keeping up with his retreat!” He said as he took a pinch of snuff, followed by a large sneeze. “And I hear that one of our lieutenants is to be elevated to the rank of Captain, for their gallant actions on the field” He sounded positively envious at this. John Gates was a fine soldier, but his valour was often outshone by his comrade.
“Who is it, John?” Thomas asked only out of interest. Promotions for actions during battle were rare – most promotions were given to those with the coin, and family to back them up. “Why it’s you, you damn fool! The Company needs a Captain, and, given your actions today, Lieutenant Colonel Wood has decided to offer you permanant command of the company”
The words sunk in. He’d been a Lieutenant only because his Uncle wanted his nephew to serve in the Army, and he’d expected to stay a lieutenant – his family had no means to purchase a commission as Captain, and he'd not expected, even in his wildest dreams, that he could advance so quickly in two years, having barely a crown to his name. His father, and Uncle would be overjoyed when he wrote to them.
But that at that moment, he didn’t care. A whole new world had just opened up to him, a world he had dreamed of joining for a long time.
Astor has requested a fanfic review for this thread.
Last edited by Astor; 01-08-2009 at 08:05 PM.
Reason: made promotion detail more accurate.