Halle, Elbe River, French-occupied Prussia
February 11th, 1837
Benoit Dumont, Sergent of the Armée de la République, puffed into his hands as his breath created a misty cloud that drifted into the air. He rubbed his hands warmed by a pair of wool gloves and picked up his Delvigne Fusil modèle 1826 gently. The sergent traced his hands over the old rifle's cool, wooden stock, his eyes scanning the rifle for any imperfections. After a few minutes, he nodded his head and shouldered his firearm as thousands of French soldiers wandered about carrying out their daily tasks.
Dumont turned to see his friend and comrade, Caporal Felix Renou, run towards him with a smile on his face. Felix was wearing a dark blue coat with grey trousers like the other soldiers of the French Republican Army. A large, square cap stood on his head and two, red stripes marked his rank on his coat's sleeve. The sergent smiled involuntarily at his friend's bright attitude and carefully placed his rifle on the ground before greeting Felix, "How are you doing caporal?"
Felix took a deep breath of air before answering, "I'm doing fine. It's a bit chilly, but nothing too unmanageable."
"Good, because this weather should not slow down our advance. We are the finest that France has to offer, unlike those mobs in the Garde Nationale." Dumont answered with a tight smile, "Is the squad ready for the patrol?"
"Yes, sergent; that's why I'm here."
"Let's get going then. If the men don't have anything to do, they'll wander off and cause a ruckus."
The two soldiers assembled the dozen or so men in their squad and marched through the streets of Halle. Despite being hundreds of kilometers into enemy territory, their uniforms were clean and spotless. All of them carried the standard-issued Delvigne Gun, except Caporal Renou. As the team's designated sharpshooter, the caporal carried the newest and finest rifle made by France: the Fusil modèle 1836. While the squad moved loosely towards the outskirts of the small German town, a few civilians turned away from the marching French soldiers. A few women pointedly hid their baskets and belongings behind their backs, with one of them even moving her children behind her. Dumont noticed their actions from the corner of his eyes and turned to the others, "Pick up the pace; the faster we get this done, the faster we return for dinner."
As the squad exited the town and moved towards a forested area near the Elbe River, the sergent's stomach growled loudly, prompting a few snorts from the men. Dumont glared at his soldiers but maintained an impassive face as he led his soldiers forward. His thoughts involuntarily drifted to the thoughts of warm food cooked by his wife as he rubbed his stomach silently.
"Why are we patrolling here again?" Soldat de 2nde classe Jean Perrot grumbled under his breath. "We have dozens of regiments on the riverfront, and this forest is on our side of the river."
"To make sure that there aren't any infiltrators lurking in the woods and to secure our position until spring," Caporal Renou replied instantly, raising an eyebrow to his subordinate.
"That’s highly doubtful. They're too afraid to fight us on the battlefield, not after Bamberg. They wouldn’t dare to attack us when we have them fully surrounded...”
"It's also to make sure that we don't slack off. We need to be on alert and ready for battle at any time."
"They could just let us train with our guns instead of making us carry out useless patrols...”
Dumont sighed, "Soldat, shut your mouth while we patrol. Otherwise, I'm revoking your dinner privileges."
That shut the grumbling soldier up quickly. Any disgruntled expressions that were evident on the other French soldiers' faces disappeared in an instant, with some of them now looking horrified at the mere thought of losing a meal.
As the squad moved through the woods slowly and meticulously, Dumont recalled Soldat Perrot's words in his mind. The soldat was right; there wasn't any point in all these patrols. If anything, these patrols were to give the men tasks to carry out. The Elbe River's western parts were completely secured by the Armee de République, with no enemies in sight in any direction. The only reason they were entrenched along the Elbe was due to the freezing winter and the logistical complications from being far away from France. That was why the civilians were afraid of them; they had to get their supplies somewhere, especially since the French military had to supply and feed over 300,000 men away from their home territory.
He had heard rumors from his superiors that the closest Prussian and Austrian Armies were in Dresden, which was another hundred kilometers from their current position. There were a few hostile regiments that methodically targetted and harassed the advancing French armies. Still, the main brunt of the Coalition forces, led by that damned Clausewitz, remained one step ahead of the Armee de République and avoided confrontations at all costs. Even worse, the occupation was taking a toll on the French soldiers, as they lacked food and supplies due to the immense number of soldiers and Guardsmen in the occupied territories.
Dumont sincerely hoped it didn't, though; they were already struggling to feed the massive French Army in Germany, adding more soldiers would only worsen the crisis.
After carrying out their routine sweep of the forest, the squad trudged back to Halle. Caporal Renou walked beside his superior and whispered in a low voice, "What are we doing here anyway? Shouldn't we be defending Hanover, not chasing around a cat's tail in Germany?"
"I'm not an officer, caporal. But I'm sure that we'll catch up to the Prussians and the Austrians soon enough. We just need to wait until spring, and then we can destroy our enemies and go back home."
"They've been running from us for half a year now!"
"Then they should be tired from all the running soon," Sergent Dumont answered dismissively, "We defeated them twice before; we'll beat them again. And the more territory we occupy, the more their governments will tire and eventually sue for peace."
The caporal did not notice Dumont staring at the ground blankly and shifting his grip on his rifle. Instead, the younger man nodded with an uneasy smile, "I sure hope so."
When they returned, they were handed half a loaf of bread each for dinner and given new orders: cross the river and raid the two small villages called Dieskau and Dölbau with their regiment and three other regiments.
Unfortunately, the French soldiers quickly discovered during their raid that Chancellor Metternich was stripping his side of the Elbe River clean of any useful supplies...