Friday, April 12, 2024

Sur la Route¹ ...

"How is the arm, Sir?"

The lieutenant, who had his injured arm in a sling, glared at his sergeant, "Still bloody hurts, Sarge. That whiskey tasted better than it felt."

"Did you have the regimental surgeon take a look at it?"

"Yes, it's probably why it hurts. He cleaned the wound and wasn't real gentle about it. Called me an idiot for not coming in right away."

"Did he not understand that we were a bit, ya know, busy?"

The lieutenant grinned, then a shadow crossed his face.

"I hated burying Guns out here, no marker, nothing to mark his passing. Nothing to mark his time here on earth. Did he have family?"

"No, he was an enfant de troupe². His father died on campaign when he was thirteen, he never really knew his mother, she died when he was an infant. He was in the army his whole life, knew nothing outside of it. He's on the regimental rolls, that's how he'll be remembered."

"I think we should have put up a marker ..."

"Sir, we invaded this country, if we lose, do you think the inhabitants won't desecrate his grave?"

The lieutenant shook his head, "I know, Sergeant, I know."

The colonel snapped his glass shut, shaking his head in disgust.

"Why is my brigade just sitting here, watching the enemy?"

The division commander understood his subordinate's frustration. The man's brigade had fought well, though it had been roughly handled by the enemy. How could he make the man see that there was more to war than what he could see before him?

"Because the Corps commander wishes it, Colonel. That's all you and I really need to know. While the enemy forces across the way have been drawn down to a minimum, some of them must remain to keep an eye on us. The main fight won't be here, while this road does lead to the capital, it goes through some very inhospitable terrain. Your job here is important, though it doesn't seem like it."

The colonel huffed, "I understand that, Sir, but I don't have to like it."

"No, you do not." the Corps commander said, with a certain degree of ice in his voice.

"I have plenty of battalion commanders, Colonel. Many of them will rise no further, you, on the other hand, have proven you can handle a brigade in combat. Whether or not you advance beyond that remains to be seen."

The colonel's face turned pale, "Sir? Have I not done all that is required of me?"

"You have. You are not a junior officer anymore, surely you must be able to see the bigger picture, the situation beyond your brigade?"

"It's hard, Sir, I take my boys into action, I see them suffer and die. Then we fall back, only to do it over and over again on some other field, in some other battle. Where does it end?"

"When you die, Colonel, only then."

The Corps commander looked across the way, "Ah, finally, they are pulling back their guns, all I see are a few troops of cavalry."

The colonel, feeling somewhat foolish, had to ask, "Unless you have another mission for us, Sir, I'll keep my men here until daybreak. After that, where will you want us?"

The general nodded, then turned to an aide, who handed him a map. Pointing to the map, he said, "When you are satisfied that the enemy is truly gone, march to join us here."

The colonel nodded, "As you wish, my General."

The sergeant turned and watched as another troop of cavalry joined the rear guard behind them. He was glad to be moving away from this place, they had done their jobs. Of course, the cost was too high, as it always was.

"Ah, shit," one of the men in the ranks muttered when the first drops of rain fell.

The sergeant thought to say something, then realized that the troops were going to bitch about anything and everything whether he liked it or not. Though it had been a while, he remembered when he was a private himself, he had been known throughout the regiment as a first-class complainer. Ah well, I guess we all "grow up" some day.


He turned, "What is it, Gaston?"

"Where are we going?"

A reasonable question, the sergeant thought, one for which he had no answer.

"Wherever the boss wants us to go, that's where. When he tells me, I'll let you know," he grinned as he said that.

One of the other soldiers quipped, "What? You don't know everything, Sergeant?"

"Far from it, lad, far from it. Now shut up and march. I have the feeling the boss will be making war with our legs tonight, the more distance we can cover, the happier he'll be."

Most of the men near him groaned, though they were used to this, they still didn't like it.

"Would you rather the enemy surrenders to us because we're in his rear? Eating his food, enjoying the fat of his countryside? Or would you prefer to slug it out at musket range?"

No one had an answer to that!

¹ On the road ...
² A "child of the regiment," (literally "child of the troop"). Born to a camp follower or perhaps even the wife of a soldier, raised in the army, sometimes in barracks, often in the field. Many of these boys were orphaned at an early age and became drummers or musicians in the regiments their forebears had been in. Later, when of age, they would be soldiers themselves. The army was the only life they knew.


  1. I never thought about someone born in an army like that, their whole existence could be that.... there are a lot of different paths through life.

    1. It was fairly common back in those days.

    2. They had to do something. At least they had a 'home' of sorts rather than living in an orphanage or work house or something. Running powder, carrying supplies, doing odd jobs, taking care of stuff while the men rested. Lots of room in an army or navy for semi to non-combatants in a unit.

      But it came with risks. Like in "Henry V" when the French swung around the English and attacked the baggage train and killed 'the boys.'

    3. The men seldom got a chance to "rest," especially in the army. If they weren't on campaign, they were drilling, mending gear, eating, or sleeping. The children of the regiment were often in school, the regimental commander was really raising sergeants, they were taught their letters and arithmetic, also how to be a soldier. They had to earn their keep.

  2. Like to see the comments if you wrote about a camp follower Sarge, might open a few eyes a bit wider.

    1. That's a fine idea. Or a cook's.

    2. Cooks? They didn't have those in the wayback, each squad/mess cooked their own rations.

    3. An officer might have a retinue of servants depending on time and location, including a designated cook. Or not, depending.

    4. Most unusual in the Napoleonic era below division level. Napoléon had an elaborate headquarters from which he ran the army and France. There was usually something to nosh on, the Emperor wanted the messengers coming and going to be fed, not to mention the swirl of staff officers, state employees, and all the other hangers on.

      Of course, armies like the Russian and Austrian were more "regal." Lots of staff pukes, lots of minor princelings and dukes, especially in the Russian service.

      Both Napoléon and Wellington wanted their armies "lean and mean" ready to march at a moment's notice, no long baggage train under those guys, just the essentials!

  3. "though they were used to this, they still didn't like it."

    Life in a nutshell.

  4. Harder days are always coming.

    1. Like the SEALs say, the only easy day was yesterday.


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