The bitter cold and and long nights of February slid into March.
The hour of sunset, which seemed pegged to late afternoon started moving later in the day by measurable amounts each day.
Daytime highs rose above freezing and snow was replaced by re-frozen slush which was treacherous and seemed designed to reach up and twist unsuspecting ankles.
Then the re-frozen slush slumped and flattened into refrozen puddles, then glare ice.
The "thaw" each day lasted longer and the unwary found themselves with soaked trousers as the sun set. Nothing is more wickedly cold than damp clothing and sub-freezing temperatures.
Unless it is mud-caked clothing and sub-freezing temperatures which were featured the next week.
Mud gummed up everything. It got into food. It froze in gun carriages. It made boots weigh eight pounds each.
The West Branch of the Red Cedar river overflowed as did Doan Creek on the western border of the Buffer Zone.
Quinn was confronted with a tactical issue and a sociatal issue.
The tactical issue involved temporary bridges across Doan Creek. One bridge had been left un-demoed in the last campaign and all Buffer-Zone resupply had been done across that bridge.
Benicio's intelligence still indicated that Washtenaw County would attack in the last half of April. That one bridge was the Buffer-Zone's Achilles Heal. Severing that bridge would deal a near-certain, fatal blow to the defense. Not only would it slit the throat of any resupply efforts but it would strangle the tactical advantage of being able to fluidly avoid over-powering thrusts from the enemy.
The enemy could corner and destroy the Buffer-Zone resistance. The numbers favored the enemy by a factor of 10-to-1. The defense needed to be able to "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee".
Two additional high-capacity bridges were erected across Doan Creek. One to more effectively service the north end of the Buffer-Zone and the other the south end. The thinking was to spread out the that even if the defenders overwhelmed one end of the Buffer-Zone, the other bridge(s) could continue to support the resistance on the other end.
The zones immediately west of the high-capacity bridges were invested with fixed mortar positions and hardened defenses. The invaders might push the defenders off the east shore of Doan Creek but they would pay hell trying to cross the bridges.
The other demolished bridges were replaced with pontoon bridges. The best source of pontoons were from pontoon boats. The boat super-structure was removed down to the decking. The boats were lined up abreast and two-by-six framing was run across them from bank-to-bank.
Each boat had a nominal cargo load of 1650 pounds and the framing spread the load across three boats. Essentially, a single draft horse could pull a two-thousand pound wagon across the bridge without issue or three squads (plus gear) could be crossing the bridge at a time.
Quartermasters who were managing loads restricted pallets to a maximum of 1500 pounds. They came up with a system where the pallets were broken into three classes: Type I: Less than 500 pounds, Type II: between 500-and-1000 pounds and Type III: 1000-to-1500 pounds. Even if the truck-and-trailer combination had far more capacity, loads were restricted to three Type I pallets or one Type I and one Type II or a single Type III.
There are times when the needs of future operational flexibility outweigh minor increases in efficiency.
Pallet loads of mortar shells started showing up on both sides of Doan Creek. The only thing notable about the shells is that they had black paint on the tips. The shells were still the Air-Fuel variant since that is what was tooled up for production.
When asked, the Lieutenants brushed off questions by sharing that the black-tips had slightly improved range.
Within days, the information had filtered back to Ann Arbor. The tacticians planning the invasion processed the information and made adjustments.
David Greene and his fellow deserters had been unanimous in their assessment of Capiche mortars. "Maximum range of 660 yards and doctrine dictated placement 400 yards from expected target to allow changes in azimuth."
The planners thought they were being generous when they estimated the new "improved" range to be 1000 yards and the doctrine for emplacement to be 700 yards. The information had little effect on their plans. It merely delayed the leap-frog of mortar teams that were slated to invest just east of the Red Cedar before the mechanized surge into, and through the Buffer-Zone.
Based on past experience, the military planners expected the indigenous defense forces to be little more than a speed-bump.
The social issue Quinn had to deal with involved land grants.
The former Livingston County forces who made up the bulk of the Buffer-Zone defense had signed on because they had been promised a new start. They had been promised land, a house and a working well.
Enough land to raise a family.
A sound house to keep them out of the weather.
And a well with safe drinking water.
Spring was coming and even the least agriculturally minded knew they should be doing SOMETHING to put in a crop. And here they were slogging in the mud preparing for an invasion half did not expect to come.
The other half were almost certain that they were going to be steam-rollered. Unlike Livingston County, the Buffer-Zone was almost devoid of mechanical transportation. The infrastructure was as vaporous and as mobile as fog.
Corndog, as Quinn was known to most of the former Livingston County forces, spent most of his hours among the ranks. He heard their concerns. He knew the men needed some reality-anchor or they would desert at the sound of the first shot.
Dysen had a solution.