Thursday, February 2, 2023

Cold Day in Hell

The Picket
Jean Baptiste Edouard Detaille
The captain rode down the line until he got to the 2nd Squadron, spotting the commander of the unit he rode closer.

"Phillipe, I need you to send a patrol down this track, the map seems to show some sort of village there."

"Do you trust that map, Major?" Lieutenant Phillipe Valleur grinned as he asked the question.

"About as much as I'd trust myself alone with the Colonel's wife." Major Adolphe Reille said this quietly so that only the Lieutenant would hear, but he could see from the smirk on the trumpeter's face that he had failed.

It seemed that everyone in the regiment knew about the Colonel's wife, except perhaps the Colonel himself. She was ten years younger than her husband and very loose with her favors.

"You can wipe that smirk off your face, Petit." Valleur said with a grin. As he turned back he saw that the Major was rather red in the face.

"This wind is brutal, isn't it Sir?"

Major Reille blinked rapidly, nodded, then said, "Ahem ... Well yes, yes it is. Now about the patrol, send no more than ten men. Scout this area, I feel it in my bones, the Russians are not that far off."

Valleur snapped a salute and said, "It will be done."

As Reille turned his mount to go, Valleur was already directing Maréchal des logis Chef¹ Charlet to put the patrol together. Though tempted to go with them, he knew that his job was leading the squadron. He had only been commissioned a year ago, this was his first campaign in command. He'd been scolded more than once to leave sergeant things to the sergeants. As the brigade commander had said to him not that long ago, "Damn it, Valleur, you should know better! You used to be a sergeant, would you want your lieutenant running everything?"

Thinking back to his old lieutenant, killed in action at Jena, he had had to agree with the brigade commander, his lieutenant had been a promising young officer. If he had left things to his sergeants, he would probably still be alive.

Cavalier² François Heinze shivered and pulled the collar of his pelisse tighter, it was cold and getting colder as he rode down the dirt track. He was the lead man in the patrol and had to admit, it was more than just the cold that was making him shiver.

He checked the lock on his carbine, fortunately it wasn't snowing so he felt confident that the powder in the pan of his weapon was still dry. He pulled the cock back all the way and brought his weapon up. The first hut appeared deserted, but there were a lot of tracks in the old snow.

He reined in his mount, he swore he had seen something move in the next hut. He dropped the reins and held his carbine with both hands, aimed at the suspicious hut.

Within seconds the rest of the patrol had fanned out, weapons at the ready. He heard a horse directly behind him, followed by the voice of Charlet.

"What is it lad? See something?"

"Oui, movement behind that window in the second hut."

Charlet looked, he could see what appeared to be a curtain behind the broken glass of a window. He thought it odd that a peasant's hut would have glass windows.

Charlet whistled. He saw Brigadier Dupont dismount with his section and move forward towards the collection of huts, from what he could tell there were three, a fourth lay in ruins, burned down from the look of it, not that long ago.

"Cover that window, boy. If you see something, shoot it."

Heinze swallowed, his throat was very dry, then nodded as he aimed more carefully at the window.

Just then a party of horsemen, four men, burst from behind the far hut. Another man ran from the hut Heinze was watching. Without thinking, he shot the man.

One of the horsemen, cossacks Heinze thought, turned in the saddle and fired a round at the dismounted hussars, one of whom crumpled immediately, the others all returned fire.

Four dead cossacks and three dead horses later and the patrol had a prisoner.

Valleur looked up as the patrol returned, he could see a man tied to his saddle, a hussar, one of his men. Another, tightly bound and mounted on a cossack pony, rode behind Charlet.

"Trouble?" Valleur asked as he lit his pipe.

Charlet shook his head angrily, "Just a little, Sir. We surprised a party of cossacks ransacking what was apparently a hunting camp. They tried to run, we killed four, they killed one."

Valleur sighed and asked, "Who is it?"

"Lahaye, one of the cossacks got off a lucky shot. We tried to patch him up but he died. There was nothing we could do."

"Merde," Valleur shook his head and spat on the ground. "Does the prisoner speak French?"

"If he does, he's not letting on. Is Lieutenant Niedźwiecki around, I'll take the prisoner to him."

Valleur pointed towards a small copse of trees, "The Colonel has his staff there, Niedźwiecki should be with them."

Charlet nodded, as he went to take the prisoner to the Polish officer attached to the regiment, Valleur's voice stopped him.

"Luck, Pierre. Lahaye's ran out, perhaps tomorrow it may be me, or may be you, whose luck fails him. Every man's time comes, whether he's ready or not. All a man can do is his duty."

Charlet nodded, "Yes, I guess you're right. My instincts tell me we're in for a battle. Those cossacks we encountered couldn't have been far from their main army."

"You're instincts are good. Brigade is drawing up orders. From what I hear, the army is approaching someplace called Eylau, or some bizarre Prussian name like that. We're to join the screen in front of VII Corps. Old Augereau is itching for a fight and it appears as if the Russians are going to give him one."

"Turn over the prisoner, then get your men ready. I assume we'll be moving before first light."

Charlet looked up at the sky, gray and foreboding, snow was beginning to fall.

"You know, Sir, I don't believe Hell is hot. No, not at all, it must be cold, as cold as this place."

Valleur stomped his feet, "I won't argue that with you, Pierre."

¹ Cavalry equivalent of a sergeant major.
² Cavalry equivalent of a private.


  1. I, for one, am very happy that the muse has kicked into gear.

  2. Well done! You have the knack for putting your audience in the scene.

    Great choice of picture. I spent a couple of minutes just staring at it, thinking about how you can be freezing and too bloody hot and sweaty at the same time.

  3. Kudos for this unexpected addition Sarge........... :)

  4. The yarn spinning has resumed! HUZZAH!
    The Viking version of Hell is eternal cold.

  5. Crusty Old TV Tech here. URA! Musie has awaken from her long torpor, and whispered sweet nothings in Sarge's ear! Cossacks and Hussars, stimulating stuff for a gray, dreary, rainy, cold February morn. Donkey shine!

  6. Hey! How'd you get that painting of me on Merlot surveying the property done and posted so fast? Day 4 of cooped up in the house. But, Water is dripping off the icicles and the ice on the pickup windshield is coming loose. So....Maybe a run somewhere today, anywhere. As the song goes "Gotta get out of this place!".
    All that having been said. I think you've got a good start on a story here, Sarge. Keep up the good work.

    1. I thought I saw Beans lurking about. Silly Floridian! Didn't bring a coat. He should defrost by the Weekend.

    2. Beans had enough of frozen cold in December of 1989. Went from 78 and rainy to 19 and frozen in 6-8 hours. So cold my paycheck could not be delivered in Gainesville because our runway was iced over, so it had to be dropped off in Jacksonville and driven via UPS. And never ever ever have a waterbed without supplemental power. Brrrr.

      And use a cloak, with 4-5 tunics on, leggings and trews. Maybe wear a gambeson, too.

    3. 78 to 19? No thanks. saw something similar in Colorado once. Went from "What a nice day" to "Dear Lord it's cold" in the space of 30 minutes.

      I feel you.

  7. It's no coincidence that Dante's last circle of Hell was cold. While Owen opined, "I died in Hell—they called it Passchendaele", Eylau might well be among the honorable mentions for that title.

  8. I saw this entry, and thought you were originally writing about the recent weather this week. Nicely done!


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