Continuing the narrative of events leading to the intervention of the Emperor of Trockenbeeren-Auslese and the Herzog von Rechburg in the tumultuous affairs of the Bishopric of Ulrichstein.
The brief parley about the town gates having ended, Colonel Freiherr von Smallhausen set about recalling the citizens of Zerbst by force to at least its political - if not spiritual - loyalty to Bishop Cornelius. Having glimpsed through the town gates that the barricade in the street beyond left no room to deploy his half-battery masked by an infantry company, von Smallhausen left the Musketeer Company of the Guard facing the main street, and swung right with the Grenadier Company and the guns. He directed the Hussars to make a wider sweep to seek out a side street down which they might attack.
The Marshal-General of Zerbst - the title Ritter von Rancke had awarded himself as military leader of the uprising - had already made his preparations. His motley army comprised nearly 1300 townsmen and local countryfolk, armed with whatever implements of war came to hand. He had managed to arm most of them with some form of firearm, and divided the rabble into seven companies, each of which he placed at a barricade. All five streets leading into the town Plaza were thus stopped up, the two remaining companies barricading flanking side streets the further to inconvenience an attacker.
The Colonel's attack, however, began well. Swinging right, he quickly encountered one of the flank barricades. In the brisk exchange of musketry that ensued, the townsmen were little protected by their flimsy defences. Though losing a few men (1 figure) and willing to carry on the fight, the Grenadiers fell back under orders, unmasking the guns that had deployed betimes. Six-pounder roundshot swiftly reduced the barricade to matchwood, its defenders shattered in equal measure. The whole company disappeared in the maelstrom.
The reduction of this first barricade was not in time, however, to forestall the Hussars attack upon the Plaza barricade that was von Smallhausen's next objective.
Reaching a sidestreet leading direct to that barricade, the Major commanding - one Eugen Lustbucket - at once ordered the charge. Flimsy the barricade was, yet it was a formidable obstacle for light horse charging in deep column down a narrow pave worn slippery by years of traffic.
The townsmen defended with vigour. The hussars broke against the barrier, lost perhaps two-score troopers whilst inflicting half that number of loss upon the defenders...
... and fled as best they might from the town.
The one possible benefit from the Hussars' fatal impetuosity was that the Grenadiers had reduced the first barricade without interference from the rebels. Now they were able to advance. Meanwhile, the gun battery was directed to the street down which the Hussars had just charged.
At the same time, by way of distraction, but also in the hope of breeching an important Plaza barrier, the Musketeers of the Guard were ordered to attack from the town gates.
The point-blank range mutual massacre that ensued appalled both sides. The slight protection of the barricade somewhat offset the regulars' superior musketry, but both sides found the fire too hot to endure for long. Within minutes, the defenders fell back dismayed from their barricade, less than half the company remaining. But the Musketeers were in no shape to exploit their success. Equally decimated, they, too, pulled back. Von Rancke was quick to pull another company over to man the abandoned defences.
So far, things were not going as Col von Smallhausen had hoped. But he still had his Grenadiers and artillery in hand, advancing upon the barricade that had been the scene of the Hussars' defeat.
Very soon the guns deployed, albeit under a popping musketry, and opened fire. At once their superb practice created chaos among the defenders.
Quickly reduced to a third of their original strength, the defenders fell back in their turn. Hastily, von Rancke brought up a reserve company to replace it. He just had to risk leaving another of his barricades undefended.
Too late. The Guards Colonel had been awiating just this chance. Leading forward his Grenadiers he met the townsmen rushing to the defence. The scrimmage swarmed over the upturned wagons in thrust of bayonet and swing of butt, and burst through the reserve company.
As the shaken townsmen staggered back under the relentless close assault, the Grenadiers stormed into the Plaza.
That did it. The irruption of Col von Smallhausen and his 100-odd remaining Grenadiers into the midst of the defending garrison was enough to precipitate a panic. Regular troops might yet have rallied and evicted the Smallhausen's tiny army once and for good, but with four out of seven companies destroyed or fleeing, von Rancke was unable to stem the general exodus.
Colonel Freiherr von Smallhausen had his victory. The butcher's bill had come out in his favour, but even he was appalled at the price to be paid for the Rule of Law. Of 660 men, just 420 remained with the colours at the close of the action. On the other hand, out of 1300 citizens, near on a third remained after the rest had fled to be patched up or buried. The Hussars showed willing to pursue the fugitives into the countryside. The Colonel vetoed that action, merely ordering them to establish a Martial Law.
Costly as it was, however, it resolved little in the short term, and nothing for the long. For the moment the town was pacified - cowed, rather - and within a week the Colonel was on his way back to Ulrichsburg, leaving only the Musketeer Company to maintain the Bishop's Peace. But the staunch defence of Zerbst grew in popular legend into a modern Thermopylae; Ritter von Rancke became something of a hero, and the resentment against Bishop Cornelius grew the more bitter as the cold months of want approached.
The rallying cry 'the Barricades of Zerbst' suddenly inflamed a worse and more widespread uprising. The countryfolk flocked to the banner of Ritter von Rancke, though a few sober heads observed the conspicuous absence from the ranks the merchant class that was sponsoring the revolt. But the smaller men had their own objectives: land reform for the peasants; work and income for the towns' 'Shirtless'.
The Guard Musketeers were unceremoniously shown the gates of Zerbst, and barely made it back to Ulrichstein unmolested. The Rebels were hastily organising an army, and there were indications that a treasonous correspondence with the Herzogtum von Rechburg had been entered into by the notables of the northern towns. This defiance of the Bishop's authority was clearly beyond the capability of the Bishopric's army to redress. In haste, the Bishop thrust into the hands of his Special Envoy, the Englishman Sir Eccleston Muggins, an urgent missive. Its destination: Schnitzel; its addressee: the Emperor.
One of the joys of campaigning can be the smaller actions that crop up. The action at Zerbst comprised:
The Diocesan Guard:Colonel v. Smallhausen - 1 figure
Grenadier Company of the Guard - 9 figures (10 including the Colonel)
Musketeer Company of the Guard - 10 figures
Hussar Squadron of the Guard - 9 figures
Section/Artillery of the Guard - 4 figures and 1 gun
The whole (33 figures and 1 gun) represented 660 officers and men plus 3 guns.
Zerbst Militia:Ritter v. Rancke 'Marshal-General of Zerbst' - 1 figure
'Staff' - 1 figure represented by a drummer
7 Militia Companies each with 9 figures
Total: 65 figures (1300).