SOME STRATAGEMS

John marches with the army against the Turks–Helps the
commander-in-chief out of a dilemma–The signal message with
torches–“At the alarum, sally you”–John’s dummy battalions of
matchlock men deceive the enemy–Baron Kissel attacks the Turkish army
and routs it with great slaughter–The campaign in Transylvania–Alba
Regalis is attacked–John devises a scheme for entering the city–His
“fiery dragons” work havoc within the walls–The place is taken by
assault after a fierce fight–Sixty thousand Moslems advance to retake
it–John is promoted.

John Smith’s brief experiences in Holland had merely served to whet
his appetite for soldiering. He was now in a fair way to see fighting
of the hardest kind. The year 1601 was drawing to a close. It had
been distinguished by constant conflict of the fiercest description
between the Christian and Turkish armies, with the advantage on the
whole on the side of the latter. The Turks had ravaged Hungary, had
recently taken the important stronghold of Caniza, and were threatening
Ober-Limbach. Lord Ebersberg was despatched to the defence of that
place with a small force, whilst Baron Kissel followed as soon as
possible with an additional body of ten thousand men, including the
Earl of Meldritch’s regiment.

The Baron arrived to find that, although Ebersberg had contrived to
enter the town, its investment was now completed by an army of twenty
thousand Turks, which effectually shut out the intended reinforcement.
The situation was extremely critical, for Ober-Limbach is but a few
miles to the north of Caniza, whence a force of the enemy might issue
at any time and attack the Baron in the rear. Prompt action was
absolutely necessary, but how to act was difficult to decide upon.
To retreat would be to abandon the town and its garrison to certain
capture. To openly attack a strongly posted army of twice his strength
appeared too hazardous for consideration by the commander. However,
something had to be done, and that right quickly, so it was determined
to make an assault under cover of night when the advantage of numbers
would be somewhat lessened. Indeed, if the co-operation of the garrison
could be secured under such circumstances, the chances of success would
be considerable. But how to communicate with Lord Ebersberg was beyond
Baron Kissel’s conception, for it was practically impossible to pass
through the Turkish lines.

These matters were discussed in a council of the principal officers,
and when he returned to his tent the Earl of Meldritch explained the
situation to the young ensign who was upon his staff and of whose good
sense and knowledge he began to entertain a high estimate. When John
understood the dilemma in which the Commander-in-Chief was placed, he
expressed a belief that he could convey a message to Lord Ebersberg,
provided it was short and simple. To the astonished Earl he related his
conversation with the German general on the subject of signalling which
had not yet found a place in the tactics of European armies. John had
no doubt that Lord Ebersberg would remember the simple code of signals
which he had suggested to him, since he had shown a keen interest in
the matter. The Earl immediately informed the Commander-in-Chief of his
young subordinate’s idea, and the Baron wrote a message which was, if
possible, to be transmitted to the garrison.

As soon as darkness had set in, John, accompanied by the principal
officers of the army, who were of course deeply interested in the
trial, made his way to the top of a hill which overlooked the town. He
was supplied with a number of torches by means of which he proposed
to send to Lord Ebersberg the following despatch: “Tomorrow at night
I will charge on the east; at the alarum sally you. Kissel.” As a
first step, which would answer to the “call up” signal of modern
heliographers, three lighted torches were fixed at equal distances
apart and left exposed, awaiting the answer from the other end to
indicate that the signal was understood and that the receivers were
on the alert to take the message. The minutes lengthened into a
quarter-hour, into a half, and at length a full hour had slowly dragged
by without any sign from the garrison. The torches burnt low and the
disappointed officers turned to leave the spot. A captain laughed
derisively, but was sternly checked by the Earl of Meldritch.

“The fault is not with the lad,” he said. “He hath done his part but I
fear the essay goes for nought.”

“Nay,” replied John promptly, “Lord Ebersberg hath not seen my lights,
else he would have understood. Yonder sentries be dullards. The next
relief may bring one of sharper wit and the general will surely make
the round of the ramparts before he seeks his couch. I keep my torches
burning though it be through the night.”

With that he set up three fresh lights and folded his arms with an air
of quiet determination.

The young soldier’s confidence infected his colonel and though the
others departed hopeless of the experiment, the Earl remained with
John. They had not long to wait for a reward of their patience. Hardly
had the party of doubters reached the bottom of the hill when three
torches set in a row appeared upon the ramparts of the besieged town.
They were surely in answer to his signal, but in order to be certain
John lowered his lights. The others were immediately lowered and again
set up in response to a similar action on his part. He now proceeded to
send the message in German which was the native language of the general
and the tongue in which he had conversed with John.

The letters of the alphabet were indicated in a very simple manner and
on the principle that is employed at this day in heliographing or in
signalling with lamps. Two of the standing lights were extinguished.
The letters were made by alternately showing and hiding a torch a
certain number of times to the left or right of the standing light.
Dividing the alphabet into two parts from A to L and from M to Z, a
torch shown once to the left would mean A; to the right M. A torch
alternately exhibited and hidden to the left of the standing light
three times would signify C. The same thing on the right would be read
as O and so on. The end of a word was marked by showing three lights
and the receivers indicated that they had read it successfully by
holding up one torch. At the conclusion three torches set up by the
receiving party as originally, signified that they had fully understood
the message.

The despatch went through without a hitch, and it was with proud
satisfaction that John saw the three final lights displayed telling
that his important task had been accomplished with perfect success.
The Earl of Meldritch expressed his delight in no measured terms as
they hurried to the tent of Baron Kissel to apprise him of the happy
conclusion of the experiment. The news soon spread through the camp,
and whilst it made John Smith’s name known to the army, it inspirited
the troops with the prospect of support from their beleaguered comrades
in the morrow’s attack.

Whilst the communication with Lord Ebersberg had greatly improved the
situation, it left Baron Kissel still seriously anxious with regard to
the issue. Even counting the garrison, the Christians would be inferior
in numbers to the enemy who were, moreover, strongly entrenched. Scouts
had ascertained that the Turkish army maintained a complete cordon of
outposts at night, so that there was little prospect of taking their
main body by surprise.

The morning after the affair of the torches, the Commander-in-Chief and
his staff stood upon an eminence commanding the scene of the conflict
and discussed plans for the attack. John was present in attendance upon
the Earl of Meldritch and overheard enough of the remarks to realize
that the generals were far from confident of success. In fact, Baron
Kissel was anything but an enterprising commander, and his timidity
naturally infected the officers under him. Young as he was, John had a
considerable knowledge of military tactics but, which was more to the
purpose, he possessed the eye and the instinct of a born soldier. As
he gazed across the ground occupied by the Turkish army, to the town
beyond, these qualities enabled him to estimate the position and the
possibilities of strategy with surer judgment than even the veterans
beside him. He noted that the river Raab divided the Ottoman force into
two equal bodies and he realized that the key to success in the coming
action lay in keeping these apart. Before the party returned to camp
he had formed a plan which he imparted to his colonel at the first
opportunity.

The flint-lock had not yet come into use. Foot soldiers went into
action carrying their cumbersome guns with a piece of resin-soaked
rope attached to the stock. This was called a “match,” being used to
ignite the powder in the pan. It burned slowly, and of course could be
replenished at will. John’s plan was to counterfeit several regiments
of men standing with matchlocks ready to fire. The Earl heartily
approved the suggestion, as did Baron Kissel, and placed the necessary
men and material at the disposal of the young ensign. John stretched
between posts a number of lengths of rope at about the height of a
man’s waist. Along these he tied, at intervals of two feet, “matches”
similar to those which have been described. As soon as darkness set
in these were lighted and each contrivance was carried out by two
men and set up in the plain of Eisenberg, which lay to the west of
Ober-Limbach. To the Turks the long lines of flickering lights must
have looked like companies and regiments of soldiers marching and
taking up position.

Whilst this stratagem was being carried out Baron Kissel advanced his
entire force of ten thousand men against that portion of the Turkish
army that lay on the east bank of the river. Upon these they charged
vigorously, and at the same time Lord Ebersberg, with his garrison
of five thousand, attacked them in flank. The Turks thus assailed on
two sides and being unable in the darkness to ascertain the strength
of the enemy, fell into confusion and were slaughtered with ease. The
other portion of the Ottoman army, confronted as it imagined itself
to be by a strong force, had not dared to move from its position and
stood alarmed and irresolute until Baron Kissel fell upon its rear
after having completely routed the former body. The Moslems offered no
resistance but fled panic-stricken into the night, leaving their camp
and thousands of killed and wounded in the hands of the victors.

A large quantity of provisions and other necessities were found in the
Turkish camp and removed to the town. Thus furnished and reinforced
by two thousand picked soldiers from Kissel’s command, the place was
in good condition to withstand further attack, and so the Baron left
it, proceeding north to Kerment. John Smith’s share in this important
engagement was not overlooked. The Earl of Meldritch publicly declared
himself proud of his young protege and secured for him the command of
two hundred and fifty horse in his own regiment. Thus before he had
reached his twenty-second year John had earned a captaincy and the
respectful regard of his superior officers.

Winter brought about a temporary cessation of hostilities and on their
resumption, early the next year, a reorganization of the Imperial army
was made. Three great divisions were formed: One, under the Archduke
Matthias and the Duc de Mercœur, to operate in Lower Hungary; the
second, under Archduke Ferdinand and the Duke of Mantua, to retake
Caniza; and the third, under Generals Gonzago and Busca, for service
in Transylvania. The regiment of the Earl of Meldritch was assigned to
duty with the first division and attached to the corps commanded by
the Duc de Mercœur. Thus strangely enough our hero found himself after
all serving under the very leader to whom the trickster De Preau had
promised to conduct him.

With an army of thirty thousand, one-third of whom were Frenchmen,
the Duc addressed himself to the capture of the stronghold of
Stuhlweissenburg, which was then called Alba Regalis. The fortifications
and natural defences of the place rendered it well-nigh impregnable. It
was held by a strong and determined force that bravely repelled attacks
and frequently sallied forth to give battle to the besiegers. The
Christian army can not be said to have made any progress towards taking
the place when John gave another exhibition of the fertility of his mind
and devised a plan which led to the fall of the town.

The young cavalry captain made frequent circuits of the walls studying
the fortifications and the various points of attack. He found that a
direct assault could not be made at any point with hope of success,
save, perhaps, one. Here the defence was lax owing to the fact that
a morass, which extended for some distance from the wall, seemed to
preclude the possibility of approach. Testing this quagmire under cover
of darkness, John found that it was not so deep but that a few hundred
men laden with stones and logs of wood could in a short while fill in
sufficient to make a pathway across it. But they would necessarily have
to work by daylight, and the next thing was to devise a scheme by which
the attention of the garrison could be diverted from them long enough
to allow of the accomplishment of the object.

The bomb-shell had not yet been devised, but somewhere in his extensive
reading John had gathered the idea of such a missile. He set to work
to make what he called a “fiery dragon” and constructed a sling to
send it on its way. At the first attempt the thing worked to his
satisfaction. He then detailed to the Earl of Meldritch his plan for
taking the city by stratagem. The Duc de Mercœur having consented to
the scheme–the more readily since he had heard of John’s previous
exploits–preparations for putting it into effect were pushed with
haste, for just at this time news was received of a strong relieving
force which was on the march for Alba Regalis.

Fifty bombs were manufactured under John’s directions, and, together
with the slings, were conveyed to a side of the town remote from that
on which the attack was to be made. Meanwhile the Earl of Rosworme had
gathered a force of picked men to make the assault and five hundred
others with large baskets filled with material to be dumped into the
morass. This body assembled in eager expectation of the diversion which
the English captain promised to create.

John had selected one of the most crowded quarters of the city for the
destination of his “fiery dragons” and he let them loose in the market
hour when the crowd would be greatest. One after another, with flaming
tails, they pursued their hissing flight over the ramparts and, as
they struck the ground, burst, scattering death on every side. The air
was immediately filled with the cries of the affrighted Turks who fled
from the spot and the groans of those who lay wounded and dying. But by
the time the stock of bombs had become exhausted the townspeople and
garrison were hurrying to the spot from every direction to put out the
flames which had broken forth in several places and threatened to sweep
the city.

Whilst the defenders were thus engaged with the fire that spread
rapidly in the strong wind, the Earl of Rosworme’s party completed
their causeway without interruption and his fighting men gained within
the walls and opened one of the gates before they were discovered.
The besieging army poured into the doomed town and a fearful carnage
ensued. The Turks fought like demons and neither asked nor received
quarter. Hardly a man of the garrison escaped. A last remnant of five
hundred made a stand before the palace with the Turkish commander in
their midst. He counselled them not to surrender and himself determined
to die fighting. His men were cut down one after another and he,
sorely wounded, was about to be slain by the infuriated soldiers, when
the Earl of Meldritch rescued him and made him prisoner despite his
protests.

Alba Regalis, one of the most valued strongholds of the Turks, was
in the possession of the Christian army but sixty thousand Moslems,
determined to retake it, were approaching by rapid marches.