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Title: A Handbook of the Boer War - With General Map of South Africa and 18 Sketch Maps and Plans
Author: Gale and Polden, Limited, - To be updated
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A HANDBOOK OF THE BOER WAR

With General Map of South Africa
and 18 Sketch Maps
and Plans


GALE AND POLDEN LIMITED

LONDON AND ALDERSHOT

1910

BUTLER & TANNER

THE SELWOOD PRINTING WORKS

FROME AND LONDON



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                    PAGE

I  PROLEGOMENA                               1

  I  The Roundheads of South Africa          1

  II  Patriotism, Duty and Discipline       19

  III  War considered as a Branch of Sport  26

II  THE NATAL WEDGE                         36

III  DEUS EX MACHINA NO. I                  51

IV  KIMBERLEY AND THE SIEGE OF RHODES       82

V  A TRAGEDY OF ERRORS                      96

VI  MORE TUGELA TROUBLES                   116

VII  LADYSMITH AT BAY                      138

VIII  DEUS EX MACHINA NO. 2                156

IX  ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS                  193

X  BADEN-POWELL AND THE SIEGE OF MAFEKING  212

XI  BLOEMFONTEIN TO PRETORIA               229

XII  THE NEW COLONY                        247

XIII  NEC CELER NEC AUDAX                  262

XIV  THE TAMING OF THE TRANSVAAL           273

XV  THE RECURRENCES OF DE WET              294

XVI  LORD KITCHENER AT WORK                311

XVII  THE MECHANICAL PHASE                 345

  I  Orange River Colony                   345

  II  Eastern Transvaal                    354

  III  Western Transvaal                   357

  IV  Cape Colony                          363

XVIII  THE END                             365

COMMANDERS OF DIVISIONS AND BRIGADES       368

INDEX OF PERSONS AND PLACES                369



SKETCH MAPS AND PLANS[1]

                                           PAGE

Northern Natal                              50

Modder River and Magersfontein              59

Stormberg                                   65

Colenso                                     70

Spion Kop and Vaalkrantz                    98

Spion Kop                                  104

Final Advance on Ladysmith                 128

Siege of Ladysmith                         139

Riet and Modder Drifts                     161

Paardeberg                                 172

Poplar Grove and Driefontein               185

Sannah's Post                              199

Magaliesberg District                      240

Diamond Hill                               243

Brandwater Basin                           257

Orange Free State                          260

Southern Transvaal                         292

Noitgedacht Nek                            319

General Map of South Africa--at the beginning.

[Footnote 1: The thanks of the Author are due to the Army Council for
permission to copy the maps and plans in the Official History of the
War, and to L.S. Amery, Esq., for permission to copy the plans in the
fifth volume of the _Times_ History of the War.]



PREFATORY NOTE


The author has endeavoured in this Handbook to compile, for the use of
students and others, a general account of the various phases of the Boer
War of 1899-1902, in which he served for twenty-six months.

With some exceptions, every statement of fact relating to the military
operations may be verified in one or more of the following
publications--

    The "Times" History of the War;

    The War Office Official History of the War;

    The Minutes of Evidence taken before the Royal Commission of
    Inquiry into the War.

To the two Histories, which have been but recently completed, the Author
is much indebted. Other authorities have, however, been consulted.

The Sketch Maps and Plans of certain areas and battlefields are only
intended to give, by means of a few hachures, contours, and form-lines,
a general impression of topographical features.

The Author has from time to time in the course of the narrative
indicated what he believes to have been the chief causes of the
prolongation of the War:--

    The inefficacy of modern Tactics as a means of dealing with
    partisan warfare;

    The moral reinforcement derived from a confident belief in the
    justice of a cause, by which the enemy was continually
    encouraged to persevere;

    The reluctance of the British leaders to fight costly battles;

    The constitutional inability of the British Officer to take War
    seriously;

    The waste of British horses due to inexpert Horsemastership.

May, 1910.



CHAPTER I

Prolegomena

I. THE ROUNDHEADS OF SOUTH AFRICA


History often reproduces without reference to nationality some
particular human type or class which becomes active and predominant for
a time, and fades away when its task is finished. It is, however, not
utterly lost, for the germ of it lies dormant yet ready to re-appear
when the exigencies of the moment recall it. The reserve forces of human
nature are inexhaustible and inextinguishable.

It is probable that few of the Boers had ever heard of Oliver Cromwell,
or that his life and times had ever been studied in the South African
Republics, and had influenced the Boer action; yet the affinity of the
South African burghers of the XIXth century with the Puritans and the
Roundheads of the XVIIth is striking. It was not so much a parallelism
of aims and hopes, for the struggle in England was political and not
national as in South Africa, as of temperament, character, and method.
There was hardly an individuity in the Boers of the War which might not
have been found in the followers of Cromwell. Like these they were
fanatically but sincerely religious, and their unabashed and fearless
adherence to their beliefs and their open observance of the outward
forms of religion exposed them to the same cruel and baseless charge of
hypocrisy. Just as the aristocratic followers of Charles I had jeered at
the Roundheads, so did every thoughtless officer and newspaper
correspondent jeer at the psalm-singing and the prayer meetings in the
laagers. The Boers had the courage of their religious opinions, and were
not ashamed to proclaim them in the face of man. The Bible was the only
book they knew, and they guided themselves according to their lights by
its precepts. In opposing the English they believed that they were
resisting the enemies of the Almighty. Like the Puritans they honestly
thought that certain passages in the Holy Scriptures applied to them as
the Chosen People, and that they were assured of Divine Protection; and
if they erred in their exegesis their delusion at least deserves
respect. Yet all the while the Old Testament was the volume they chiefly
studied, and if they quoted the New Testament they sometimes modified
the context to their own advantage.

Each Puritan movement has derived its strength not so much from its
abstract merit as from the intense personal conviction felt by each unit
engaged in it, that the righteousness of the cause was unassailable. The
Puritan never wavered in philosophic doubt. No misgivings disturbed his
soul, and he pursued his object with all the strength of his body.

The Puritan stir in the reign of Charles I was a revival, almost a
continuation, of the half political, half religious activity which in
the previous century had effected the Reformation. The Boer movement in
South Africa, which sprang up after a germination lasting three
generations, was brought about by a recrudescence of the spirit which
made the Boers of the Netherlands rise against Alva and the Spanish
domination in the XVIth century.

In the XVIIth century the Boers of the Netherlands, made a voluntary
settlement in South Africa, and there under the Southern Cross they were
joined by French Puritans, who had fought under Condé and who left their
country after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and also by some
persecuted sectaries from Piedmont. The two stocks, although one was of
Teutonic and the other of Celtic origin, easily came together, and under
the pressure of common interests and common dangers were consolidated
and vulcanized: and if in the previous generation the English Pilgrim
Fathers of the _Mayflower_ had directed their course to the south
instead of to the west, and had cast anchor off the shore of that
distant region of Good Hope, it is probable that a mighty nation would
have been founded in South Africa.

Cromwell as the military leader of the Commonwealth Boers is, at least
in England where the military art has not been scientifically studied,
one of the suppressed characters of history. His political achievements,
as is perhaps natural in a community which courts the voter and despises
the soldier, have put out of sight the means by which he mainly won
them; namely his genius as a cavalry and partisan commander. An
ungainly, narrow-minded, bigoted, bucolic squireen of Huntingdon,
lacking in every quality which we are accustomed to associate with a
cavalry officer, inaugurated an era in the history of Mounted Troops.
His methods are studied on the Continent, and the German Staff has
recently discovered that he was the first leader to use cavalry as a
screen to hide the movements of the main body. Yet there is no evidence
that he ever studied the military art, and he did not become a soldier
until he had reached his fourth decade. In the Royalist Army opposed to
him were soldiers by profession and experience; officers and men who had
been under Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years' War; for in the XVIIth
century the services of aliens were in request on the Continent, and at
one time no less than eighty-seven senior officers of British
nationality were serving in the Swedish Army, then the most renowned in
Europe. Yet Cromwell with his "Eastern Association," his Ironsides, his
yeomen and raw levies, beat the Royalist Army, officered from the same
class which is still believed to possess the monopoly of the aptitude
for leading men in war, by exercising the homely qualities of energy,
self-control, endurance, and practical common sense applied instantly to
the occasion of the moment.

The lessons to be learnt from Cromwell's campaigns have been thus
epitomized by General Baden-Powell:--"There is one thing that ought not
to escape the attention of students, namely the success that attended
Cromwell's method of rallying his troops whenever they got dispersed.
When things looked bad, as they did on one or two occasions, when some
of his cavalry were defeated and the rest scattered, he never lost heart
and his men never lost heart; they knew they had to rally again and
attack somewhere else. Very often the enemy were deceived by that,
thinking that the Roundheads were scattered and broken up, and took no
further notice of him until they suddenly found him attacking from quite
a new direction. That was the secret of his success on many occasions,
and one that has its lesson to-day, just as it had in those days--that
when all seems pretty bad and you are scattered and broken, keep up a
good heart and get together again and have another go." With scarcely
the change of a word these remarks will account for the prolongation of
the war for two years after the occupation of the Boer capitals.

The Boer leaders, like their great prototype Cromwell, owed much of
their success to their novel and skilful use of mounted troops. The
European conception of the functions of mounted troops had been
stereotyped for some time; Cavalry screens an advancing army, prevents
the enemy observing its dispositions, acts as its eyes and ears; and so
forth. It is true that Great Britain had already for at least a
generation employed Mounted Infantry in colonial wars; but the
innovation had never been approved of on the Continent, where it was
regarded as a cheap and inefficient British substitute for Cavalry.

Yet the famous postscript "unmounted men preferred,"[2] which was
affixed to the acceptance of the help proffered by the Australian
Colonies, shows that at first the power of mounted troops acting not as
the eyes and ears of an army, but as a mobile and supple "mailed fist,"
was not understood. In ten weeks, however, the tune changed, and it was
"preference given to mounted contingents."

When the grand operations were over, the enemy's chief towns occupied,
and the lines of communication fairly secure, the necessity for mounted
troops became still more apparent. The Boers saw that it was useless for
them to campaign at large. They took to _guerilla_, and restricted
themselves generally to independent horse raids against which foot
troops were powerless. Gradually the proportion of horses to men in the
British columns rose, until practically all the combatants were mounted,
and at last the Cromwellian principle that the best military weapon is a
man on a horse was fully accepted.

The military qualities of the Boers, like those of Cromwell's men, were
useful but not showy. They came by instinct and not by acquisition, and
they cannot be sufficiently accounted for as the outcome of experience
in the pursuit of game on the veld. They were neutralized partially by
characteristics the reverse of military. The Boers were not remarkable
for personal courage. If there had been in the Boer Army a decoration
corresponding to the Victoria Cross it would have been rarely won or at
least rarely earned. There is scarcely an instance of an individual feat
of arms or act of devotion performed by a Burgher. On the few occasions
when the Boers were charged by cavalry they became paralysed with
terror. They were incapable of submitting themselves to discipline, and
difficult to command in large numbers. They could not be made to
understand that prompt action, which possibly might not be the best
under the circumstances, was preferable to wasting time in discussing a
better with the field cornets. They were subject to panics and, for the
time, easily disheartened: and their sense of duty was not conspicuous.
The principles of strategy were unknown to them, their tactics were
crude, and with the exception of a very few who had fought in 1881, they
were without experience of the realities of war.[3]

If in the month of September, 1899, an impartial military critic in a
foreign Ministry of War had been directed to draw up an appreciation of
the situation and to forecast the course of the impending struggle, he
would probably have expressed himself somewhat as follows:--

"An Army of 100,000 men is the utmost that Great Britain will be able to
place in the field in South Africa, for the Indian and Colonial drafts
must be provided for, and the Militia and other Auxiliary Forces, which
are not of much account, are tethered to the country; but it will be
sufficient for the purpose. Although the military system of Great
Britain is hopelessly behind the times, she has always done wonders with
her boomerangs, bows and arrows, and flint instruments. That Army will
be fairly well furnished with modern weapons and equipment, and the
excellent personality of the soldier will compensate to a great extent
for incapacity in the Staff and superior officers. With this Army she
will have to meet a brave but undisciplined opponent whose numbers
cannot be estimated. Even if the Free Staters are included it is
improbable that more than 100,000 men can be put into the field. These
have had no military training, their leaders will be unprofessional
officers who will be unable to make good use of the munitions of War
which the two Republics have been strangely allowed to import through
British ports and to accumulate in large quantities. If the burghers of
the Orange Free State throw in their lot with the Transvaalers, which is
improbable as they have no quarrel with Great Britain, the numbers
opposed to her will certainly be augmented, but the task before her will
be greatly simplified. Instead of having to send one portion of her Army
by way of Natal to effect a junction in the Transvaal, with the other
portion working northwards through Kimberley and Mafeking, a campaign
which would involve two long and vulnerable lines of communication, she
will be able to strike at once through the heart of the Free State and
will advance without much difficulty to Johannesburg and Pretoria. The
hardest part of her task will be the passage of the Vaal, where a great
battle will be fought, and the capture of Pretoria, which is reported to
be well fortified. With Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria and the
railways in the possession of Great Britain, the opposition will
collapse in a very few weeks, for no nation has ever been able to carry
on a struggle when its chief towns and means of communication are in the
enemy's possession."

This hypothetical appreciation probably represents the general opinion
current both at home and abroad during the period immediately preceding
the outbreak of the War; but it proved to be mistaken from the first.
The Free Staters joined the Transvaalers and the allied forces assumed
the offensive over a wide area without delay. Kimberley and Mafeking
were threatened on the west, and on the east the Boers poured into
Natal, upon which they had for sixty years looked with the aggrieved and
greedy eyes of a dog from whom a bone, to which he believes he is
entitled, has been recovered.

To Natal, in 1824, had come a handful of British pioneers. From Chaka,
the King of the Zulus, they obtained a grant of land upon the coast, and
after eleven years they endeavoured without success to induce the
British Government to recognize the settlement, which in course of time
became the City of Durban, as a Colony to which, in honour of the
Princess heiress presumptive to the Throne of Great Britain, they
proposed to give the name Victoria; and they were thus the first to
associate her with the Empire, which, in spite of reluctant politicians
who did their best to restrict it, was destined to expand marvellously
during her reign.

The Natal settlement was frowned on by the Imperial Government, who even
confiscated a little ship which the pioneers had toilfully fitted out
and which was bringing envoys from the King of the Zulus to the King of
England, on the plea that it was unregistered and that it came from a
foreign port. In 1828 Chaka, who was not unfavourably disposed towards
the Durban pioneers, was murdered by his brother Dingaan, who succeeded
him as King of the Zulus. It is said that his last words to Dingaan
were, "You think that you will rule the land when I am gone, but I see
the white men coming, and they will be your masters."

His words were prophetically true, but there were two races of white men
hovering over Natal; and the Great King of the Zulus, a tribe held in
little account before his time, but which had under his leadership
absorbed or exterminated almost every other tribe from Pondoland to
Delagoa Bay, was no longer with them to choose between the rivals to his
own ends and advantage; and Dingaan inherited the cruelty without the
ability or the statecraft of his brother, the Napoleon of South Africa.

Of all the races of Europe the Low Germans of Holland seemed the least
likely to contract the migratory habit. The Hollander of the present
day, popularly but incorrectly called a Dutchman, is home-staying and
home-loving. The compact, well-cared-for, well-ordered homestead,
village, and town communities of the Netherlands are inconsistent with a
roving disposition, and yet the Hollanders of South Africa furnished the
most conspicuous example of Nomadism in modern times.

It may have been that the ordeal of Alva and the subsequent disturbance
of the Thirty Years' War had constitutionally unsettled the Hollanders
to such a degree that their descendants, emancipated from European
ideas, became prone to restlessness, for in a generation or two they
began to trek; or perhaps the magic of the spacious veld, with its clear
sky and the mountains and flat-topped kopjes sharply defined on the
horizon, irresistibly lured them on. In the land they had quitted the
air was dense with moisture; scarcely a hill was to be seen; they were
hemmed in by sluggish rivers and by the sea, which leaned heavily
against the dykes and threw its spray angrily down on to the reclaimed
pastures which had been stolen from it.

The original Dutch settlement at the Cape was made by a Company of
Amsterdam merchants for the refreshment and refitting of their ships
engaged in trade with the East. The Company was a harsh and extortionate
master, who paid little attention to the needs and the welfare of the
settlement, which was regarded merely as a place of call. The
discontented colonists began to leave the seacoast and trekked inwards,
where the heavy hands of the cordially detested representatives of the
Company could not reach them. Its rule came to an end in 1795, when, at
the request of Holland, Great Britain took over the Colony in order to
prevent it falling into the hands of France. It was restored at the
Peace of Amiens, but in a few years again came into the possession of
Great Britain.

The Colonies of the Empire were at that time administered by a Branch of
the War Office which regarded the Cape settlement much in the same light
as it had been regarded by the Dutch Company, as a necessary but
troublesome depôt on the way to the East; and had the Overland Route and
the Suez Canal been available a generation earlier it would probably
have been abandoned.

The Boers hoped that their new masters, who at least were not an
association of Amsterdam merchants absorbed in their ledgers, would
treat them with more sympathy and consideration. But the only serious
colonial problem with which British politicians had up to that time been
called upon to deal was in North America, and they had disastrously
failed in their attempt to solve it. They were without experience in the
management of white plantations, they shirked the future and looked only
to the "ignorant present," and their policy in South Africa was based
upon two principles: that on no account must the boundaries of the
Empire be enlarged and new responsibilities incurred, and that in all
quarrels between white man and black man the presumption was that the
white man was in the wrong.

The Great Trek of 1836-7 was brought about by the emancipation of the
slaves and by the refusal or inability of the Government to protect the
farmers against the raids of the "Kaffir"[4] tribes on the border. There
is no doubt that enslaved Hottentots, Bushmen, and even Malays who had
been with the knowledge of the authorities imported from Madagascar and
Malacca, were often ill-treated by individual slave-owners; but the
Boers resented the charge of wholesale cruelty which was made against
them, and the favour and patronage bestowed upon native tribes.
Moreover, although the slave-owners were entitled to compensation for
the loss of their helots, the fund was administered in London, with the
result that a considerable proportion of the already inadequate sum was
retained in the hands of agents.

The object of the Great Trek was deliverance from the harsh and hostile
jurisdiction of the British Government, and the setting up of a new and
independent Boer community in Natal, which was reported to be a promised
land flowing with milk and honey. The Boers proposed to shake themselves
free from the Egyptian and to occupy Canaan.

The _voortrekkers_, among whom was the boy Paul Kruger, slowly passed
away towards the north and crossed the Orange River. Moshesh, the chief
of the Basutos, watched curiously from his mountains the trains of
wagons strung out on the veld, but refrained from molesting the
emigrants. Not so Moselekatse,[5] a chief who had formerly broken away
from Chaka and had set himself up beyond the Vaal, and who subsequently
founded the Matabele Kingdom in which he was succeeded by his son
Lobengula. He swooped down upon the advanced parties, who defended
themselves with success and afterwards chastised him in his own country,
in which, hidden from his eyes, lay the gold-bearing reefs of
Johannesburg.

Meanwhile the British Government had forged a useless and clumsy weapon
for the coercion of its "erring and misguided" subjects. It was held by
the lawyers that the trekkers could not at will and by the simple
process of migration throw off their allegiance to the Crown of England,
and a declaratory Act was passed under which all British subjects south
of Latitude 25, whether within or without the colony, could be arrested
and punished.

The Boer scouts discovered passes over the Drakensberg which gave them a
readier access than they had expected into Natal. It had not recovered
from the devastations of Chaka and was thinly inhabited. Settlements
were made near the banks of the Tugela, while Piet Retief, after a brief
visit to Durban, went on to negotiate with Dingaan at the royal kraal of
Umgungundhlovu in Zululand. He was received with some cordiality, but
accused of participating in a recent cattle raid. Retief, to show his
good faith, offered to catch the robber, a chief named Sikunyela, whose
kraal was a hundred miles away. He found Sikunyela, who greatly admired
the glistening rings of a pair of handcuffs shown him by the slim
Dutchman, and who was even persuaded that they would be a becoming
ornament to a native chief. He tried them on, but a more intimate
acquaintance with the use of handcuffs induced him to surrender the
cattle he had stolen from Dingaan, the King of the Zulus.

Again Retief with a hundred followers waited upon Dingaan at
Umgungundhlovu, and after military displays on each side received from
him a grant of the same land which Chaka had already given to the
British pioneers of Durban. Next day the Boers were received in farewell
audience by Dingaan, by whose orders they were treacherously surrounded
and led out to the place of execution, a hill of mimosas outside the
royal kraal, where they were put to death.

There remained the defenceless plantations on the Tugela. Before the
news of the massacre could reach them, and while they were hourly
expecting the return of Retief, Dingaan's impis swooped down upon them
from Zululand. At the cost of the lives of 600 men, women, and children,
the tribes were driven back, and the little town of Weenen, the "place
of weeping," remains to mark the spot.

Soon other parties of emigrants came in from beyond the Drakensberg, and
in 1838 an expedition under Potgieter failed to punish Dingaan for his
treachery. Nor did an attempt to help the emigrants made by the British
settlers at Durban meet with success. A small force of Natal natives
under an Englishman named Biggar was greatly out-numbered at the mouth
of the Tugela and perished almost to a man. Dingaan retaliated by
sending an impi to Durban, which he held for a few days; the settlers
taking refuge on board a ship in the Bay.

The Boers were disheartened and many of them trekked back to the veld
beyond the Drakensberg passes, which is now the Orange River Colony.
Their position in face of Dingaan seemed hopeless; but in November,
1838, there came out of the Cape Colony one Pretorius. He had heard of
their distress, and he organized a force of 500 men, with whom, on
December 16, he successfully encountered Dingaan's army and slew 3,000
of his warriors at the Blood River, an affluent of the Buffalo. Dingaan
fled and the column marched on to Umgungundhlovu, where Retief's
mouldering body was found on the hill of mimosas, and on it the deed of
grant of land at Durban. Pretorius was ambushed by Zulus disguised as
cattle, crawling on all fours and wearing ox hides; but he escaped with
slight loss, and returned to the Tugela. "Dingaan's Day," December 16,
is kept by the Boers as a festival of thanksgiving and rejoicing.

Soon a new complication beset the harassed emigrants. In December, 1838,
the British Government, anxious to stop the wars between the Boers and
the natives and to exclude the former from the sea, sent one hundred
soldiers to Durban and issued a proclamation in which the Boers were
declared to be British subjects who had unlawfully occupied Natal, and
who were morally responsible for all the blood that had been shed. They
protested against the imputation and against the military occupation of
Durban, but took no active steps to resent the affront.

When twelve months had passed without hostilities between Boer and
native, the British Government withdrew its hundred warriors from Durban
and tacitly handed over Natal to the emigrant Boers. Hardly had the
little transport _Vectis_ catted her anchor when the Republic of Natalia
was proclaimed and its flag run up on the staff of the forsaken British
Camp on Durban Bay.

But the dog-in-the-manger policy of neither incorporating Natal in the
British Empire nor frankly allowing the Boers to occupy it could not be
indefinitely maintained. Each present difficulty wriggled out of made
the future more embarrassing. Soon, as might have been anticipated, the
Boers were again in trouble with the natives. Panda, the father of
Cetchwayo, whose impis forty years after washed their spears in the
blood of 800 British soldiers at Isandhlwana, broke away from his
brother Dingaan, taking with him into Natal many thousand Zulus who were
awaiting an opportunity of shaking themselves free from the tyranny and
cruelty of Dingaan. Panda made overtures to the Boers and was gladly
received as an ally, and with his help Dingaan was finally crushed and
driven into Swaziland, where, in the hands of a hostile tribe, he
perished miserably by torture.

The emigrants were now favourably situated in Natal. They had
established an equitable if not a legal claim to it; Dingaan was out of
the way; and the British Government seemed indisposed to inter-meddle.
But the fatal and grotesque alliance with Panda, which culminated in his
installation as King of the Zulus by Pretorius in 1840, and which was
entirely inconsistent with the attitude hitherto assumed towards the
natives, was the undoing of the trekkers of 1836.

Panda's men as native auxiliaries eager to avenge themselves on the
common enemy Dingaan were all very well in their way. Most of them,
however, belonged to Natal and joined him in the hope of recovering the
tribal lands from which they had been evicted by Chaka and to which they
had a better right than the trekkers.

The Boers now began to reap the harvest of the Panda alliance. They
regarded the new arrivals as intruders, refused to acknowledge their
claims, and finally in August, 1841, decreed their expulsion from Natal.
The location chosen for their settlement was a district in Pondoland in
the possession of a chief under British protection, who already had had
occasion to lodge at Capetown a complaint against the Boers.

The British Government now found it necessary to intervene again in
Natal. A military occupation was announced by proclamation in December,
1841, and 240 men, under the command of an infantry captain named Smith,
were sent up to Durban to give effect to it.

When Smith, after a difficult march along the coast, reached his
destination on May 4, 1842, he pitched his camp on the flat which forms
the base of one of the promontories enclosing the Bay. He at once
lowered the Republican flag flying over the block-house at the Point,
and soon found that 1,500 Boers were occupying Congella on the shore of
the Bay. An attempt to surprise them by night failed disastrously;
Smith's force was reduced to half its strength, and the block-house was
captured by Pretorius.

Smith was now besieged in his camp, and the nearest help that could come
to him was at Grahamstown, five hundred miles away. Thither a gallant
civilian named King, who was one of the pioneers, rode in ten days; and
on June 25, when the little garrison was in extremity, it was relieved
by sea. Pretorius withdrew into the interior, and the Volksraad at
Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the Republic of Natalia, voted the
submission of the Boers. Pending a final settlement it was allowed to
remain in authority over the settlers, but the district around Durban
Bay was at once taken over as British territory. In May, 1843, a year
after the landing of Smith, the Republic of Natalia passed away and
Natal was proclaimed a British Colony.

The final settlement did not come for some time. The Volksraad was
abolished, but the claims of the Boers to the lands upon which they had
squatted were liberally considered. They were, however, dissatisfied
because the rights of Panda's men were also regarded, and many trekked
away across the Drakensberg. Those who remained protested that their
lives and property were insecure in the presence of the natives, and
Pretorius was deputed to go and lay their grievances before the British
Governor at the Cape.

The ill success of his mission provoked him to reprisals, and he
proceeded to stir up trouble in the Orange River Sovereignty, which had
recently been formally proclaimed British Territory. If not actively
loyal it was peaceably disposed until the arrival of Pretorius, who soon
drove out the British Resident and the little garrison of Bloemfontein
and set them on the run as far as Colesberg in the Cape Colony. He was
defeated at Boomplatz in August, 1848, by Sir Harry Smith, a veteran of
the Peninsular War, and British authority was for a time reestablished
over the Sovereignty. The Colonial Office soon however tired of the new
possession and gladly scuttled out in 1854 in order to avoid the task of
reaping the harvest of a clumsy and grotesque policy, which it had
formulated a few years before, of hemming in the _voortrekkers_, who had
settled north of the Orange River, with a barrier of native states set
up for the purpose on the east and west; and which now threatened to
involve it in a quarrel which naturally arose between Moshesh, the
Basuto chief, and the emigrants whom he had been appointed to restrain.

Pretorius retired across the Vaal where he joined Potgieter, who, after
the failure of his attack on Dingaan in 1838, had gone into
Moselekatse's country and had driven him beyond the Limpopo. A Republic
was set up beyond the Vaal which the British Government recognized as
independent in the Zand River Convention of 1852.

Such is in brief the story of the Boers' claim to Natal. They considered
it to be their lawful heritage out of which they had been jockeyed, and
in October, 1899, they seemed to have a chance of recovering it. They
boasted that they would not only win back Pietermaritzburg, which was
named after two leaders of the Great Trek, Pieter Retief and Gert
Maritz, but that they would establish themselves on the shores of the
Indian Ocean. It was not the vainglorious gasconade of a swashbuckler.
Four months after October 11, 1899, when the Boer ultimatum expired, the
British Army was still engaged in endeavouring to drive out the Boers
from British territory, and hardly a rifle had been discharged in the
enemy's country.

Napoleon was in the habit of impressing upon his officers the necessity
of studying past campaigns, both modern and ancient; but those who
anticipated confidently that the Boer War would soon be brought to a
successful close by the British Army were led into their error by the
history of past campaigns. There was, however, one campaign, the War of
Independence in North America, which the discerning might have
recognized as an analogous struggle; but it was overlooked, and the
history of the great European conflicts was established as the leading
authority. The occupation of the populous places and the control of the
means of access to them, which seemed to present few difficulties, meant
the end of the war and the subsequent negotiations as to the amount of
the indemnity or other penalty to be paid by the defeated.

But not only were the necessary preliminary successes deferred far
beyond the expected time of their accomplishment--Bloemfontein was not
occupied until five months, nor Pretoria until eight months had rolled
by since that October dawn when the Boers crossed the frontier into
Natal--but the prospect of the end of the War soon began to recede into
the perspective of infinity: and even now, after an interval of some
years since the peace of Vereeniging, when, like the proportions of some
huge edifice which can be truly comprehended only by the observer who
views it from a distance, the various incidents and phases of the War
begin to assume their relative importance, the difficulty of discovering
some guiding principle which shall reconcile the Great Boer War with
other wars is as great as ever.

Sometimes a cause can be found _a posteriori_ by groping in the dim and
deceptive light cast by an effect: or a process of exhaustion and
elimination may be set up in which the qualities common to each side are
cancelled and the result attributed to the credit balance which will
appear under one of the accounts. We saw for some months a gallant and
well equipped if somewhat amorphous British Army impotently
endeavouring, though in superior numbers, to make headway against an
aggregation of Boer commandos, and checked at various points on an arc
drawn wholly in British territory and extending in a circuit of over 500
miles from Ladysmith in Northern Natal through Stormberg and Colesberg
to Kimberley and Mafeking; and at each extremity of the arc was a
besieged city. Was the military art as taught in Europe founded upon
error, or had the British Army been negligently instructed in it?

Yet no European troops had had so much recent experience of active
service. We had lately fought in the Soudan, in East and West Africa, in
Burmah and on the North-West frontier of India; there was in fact hardly
a year in the preceding decade in which the portals of the temple of a
British Janus would have been closed. Moreover, our fighting had not
been against trained soldiers, but against enemies who like the Boers
were undisciplined, collectively if not individually brave men
patriotically defending their own country. We therefore entered the
arena with experience which no other European Army possessed.



II. PATRIOTISM, DUTY, AND DISCIPLINE.


Many hard things have been said of Patriotism.[6] Dr. Johnson's
definition is well known, and more recently it has been styled the
sublimest form of Selfishness. These, however, are not definitions but
rather criticisms of certain phases of Patriotism, which is closely
allied to Family Affection and, like that sentiment, originates in the
helplessness and the egotism of the Individual.

The weak infant clings to his mother for sustenance, comfort and
protection, and the tender care which is bestowed upon him while his
body and his mind are developing fosters the notion of the subjective
importance of the human unit. Human nature is so constituted that the
Individual is disposed to over-estimate his own consequence and to
regard his own surroundings as superior to the surroundings of all other
persons, and therefore more worthy of recognition, encouragement, and
admiration. As the Child grows in years this sentiment is gradually and
unconsciously modified, but it is never wholly eradicated. The inward
emotion aroused in his heart by parental solicitude becomes partially
altruistic and outward and is transmuted into Gratitude and Love.

The Child emerges into Youth and thence into Manhood, and the area of
his immediate environment is enlarged. He needs further succour and
assistance, and the Family Community to which he belongs and which
nurtured and watched over his early years can no longer supply his
requirements. He is in want of new fellowships and must strengthen
himself by joining various bodies and associations. With these he
incorporates himself more or less and his friendly attitude towards them
for his own good is a development of the primitive Family Affection. In
the case of a class, a social, or professional community the sentiment
is termed _Esprit de Corps_;[7] in view of recognized civil institutions
by which he perceives that he benefits, it is Loyalty; while with
respect to the Fatherland it is Patriotism, which denotes the adherence
of the helpless individual Ego to the Supreme Community. Patriotism,
like Family Affection, is a growth and culture of the idea of Self. It
is the expression of the Individual's thanks for the support,
countenance, protection, and other moral and material advantages claimed
by him from the Supreme Community, to which in return he readily attorns
with respect and admiration. He is, however, patriotic because with
unconscious egotism he regards his Country as part of himself rather
than himself as part of his Country. Even the act of a man who
sacrifices his life for the good of his country may not be wholly
unselfish, for some natures are so constituted that they can discount
the future and be gratified by the prospective award of posthumous
honour. There can, however, be no doubt that Patriotism, though possibly
of not very noble origin, is a sentiment beneficial both to the
community and the individual, and is therefore worthy of encouragement.
Happily, those cold heights of philosophy on which every man is loved as
a brother and every nationality held in equal honour and esteem are
unattainable by human nature; for without the stimulus of Patriotism
National Life would be impracticable.[8] It's chief defect is that like
most of the emotions it is sometimes hasty and unreasoning.

Such, it is believed, is briefly the history of Patriotism, and the
theory is supported by the fact that the British soldier is not
patriotic by nature. It is not his fault. The class from which he is
usually drawn has unhappily less reason for respecting and admiring the
Supreme Community than any other class, for it participates fully in the
distresses and meagerly in the successes and good fortune of the Nation,
from which, though not actually unpatriotic, it stands sullenly aloof.
It can hardly be denied that the power and prosperity of Great Britain
have favourably affected the position of the upper and middle classes to
a greater degree than they have ameliorated the condition of the lower
classes, and it is therefore not surprising that the latter seem to take
little or no pride in their nationality, and sometimes even act
perversely in opposition to its interests.

The private soldier has never been taught to think about his country.
The education which he may have received at the Board School is not
calculated to arouse in him a feeling of national pride which is
non-existent in his home life. The display of the National Flag, which
flutters over so many distant lands, is discouraged in the primary
schools of Great Britain as tending to "flag-worship." In the United
States, on the other hand, the Stars and Stripes are hoisted in every
school yard. No systematic effort is made to interest the children of
the operative classes in Greater Britain. India and the Colonies are
facts in geography troublesome to learn and easy to forget. The history
of the British Empire is sterilized before it is imparted to them. They
are not taught to realize that the happiness and prosperity of a large
proportion of the inhabitants of the world are dependent upon the moods
of the population of a small group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and
that in the ballot-boxes of Great Britain are cast the fortunes of many
millions of their fellow-creatures.

Foreigners have remarked that the minstrelsy of Great Britain is
singularly devoid of patriotic songs. The British soldier has no
"Star-Spangled Banner" or "Wacht am Rhein" to sing on the line of march
or in the bivouac, but only the last comic or sentimental ditty which he
may have heard at the Garrison Music Hall before embarking on active
service. The National Anthem is not a patriotic song but a prayer for
Divine Protection for the Sovereign, to which have been appended some
inappropriate stanzas now rarely heard; while "Rule, Britannia!" might
have been composed for the gasconading swashbuckler of an extravaganza.

It would therefore be surprising if the recruit joined the Army with a
highly pitched conception of the work he has undertaken. Destitution; or
trouble about a woman, or with his own people, or with the police; or
the mysterious magnetism of an adventurous life rather than the desire
to serve his country, has induced him to enlist. An existing or
prospective War always keeps the recruiting sergeant busy, but the
object of a War is a matter of indifference to the recruit. Most of our
wars have been waged for political reasons which he cannot understand.
Apart from the difficulties of language and of unaccustomed
environments, he would as readily serve in any other Army in which the
pay was as liberal and the restraint of discipline not more irksome. How
is it, then, that lacking the stimulus of Patriotism through no fault of
his own and being, in fact, a mercenary, he becomes an excellent
soldier; perhaps, next to the Turk, the best in Europe?

The answer seems to be that he soon acquires a high sense of Duty. Duty
may be defined as the necessity to do something for one's own or for the
general good which is not naturally pleasurable or agreeable or
instinctively desired. In the trite proverb it is contrasted with and
takes precedence of Pleasure. As a motive for action it stands on a
higher plane than Patriotism.

The alchemic process by which the indifferent, unemotional, and
sometimes unintelligent recruit is transmuted into the precious metal of
the soldier who wins battles seems to be somewhat as follows: Of his own
volition he has taken on a certain job and his dogged pride or obstinacy
will not allow him to be beaten by it, however little enthusiasm it may
arouse in him and however distasteful it may be to him at first. He
offers no "ca' canny" service, but plods on and does his best in his own
way. The lack of the enthusiastic temperament does not seriously retard
the progress of his military education, and without much ado he becomes
a stolid dependable unit of the Army. He is not carried away by success
nor unduly depressed by failure. His instincts tell him that they are
the accidents of Duty.

It has been noticed that the word Glory and its derivatives[9] rarely
appear in the accounts of the action of the British Army on service,
except in a War Correspondent's letter or telegram. No reference is made
in reports, orders or despatches to the so-called "glorious" incidents
of a soldier's life in time of war. He is commended for his endurance,
his tenacity and his matter-of-fact acceptance of the vicissitudes of
war as "part of the day's work." The truest Glory is the conscientious
performance of Duty.

If through the incompetence or neglect of his leaders he is called upon
to sacrifice himself, he sacrifices himself without a murmur. If he is
compelled to keep himself alive on scanty rations of horseflesh and to
wet his parched lips with the trickle of a dwindled and tainted spruit,
he believes that his officers have done their best for him. He is
ordered to fall in upon the deck of a burning troopship and to stand at
attention while Death inspects the ranks. He is besieged in a hill fort
on the Indian frontier by a horde of fanatics eager to kill or to
mutilate him. He lies wounded on the field of battle from which, after
an indecisive engagement, each combatant has retired; and there,
scorched by the mid-day sun and starved by the cold of the night, and
perhaps also in danger of being burnt alive by a veld fire, he waits
without water for the armistice which shall bring up the ambulances. He
returns to his own land where he soon finds that he is not of much
account. After a great war there may be a period of evanescent
patronage; or a deed of Dargai, Rorke's Drift, or Balaklava may have
temporarily thrilled the audience into Music Hall enthusiasm; but he is
not greatly impressed, and stoically reflects that like the battle, the
starvation, and the Field Hospital it is "all in the day's work" and
will soon pass away.

There has probably never been a struggle in which the private soldier
more fully earned the gratitude of his country than in the South African
War. The most unfriendly critics in the foreign staff offices have paid
tribute to the excellence of the British soldier: sometimes, however,
sneering at him as a mercenary, whom, by a curious perversion of the
probabilities, they profess to think unlikely to be as efficient as
their own conscripts who are forced into military service; but they
never hold him responsible for the ill-success of the war. Throughout
their criticisms there lurks a feeling of pained astonishment that the
British "mercenary" proves himself to be as good or even a better
soldier than the continental conscript, coupled with a comfortable
conviction that Discipline is not well maintained in the British Army.

The final cause of Discipline is the efficient use of arms on the field
of battle. Discipline is the result of an irksome educational process by
which a man is taught to submit his wishes, his instincts, and, to a
great extent, his personal liberty to the control of one who may be his
inferior morally, mentally, and physically. It has also been cynically
defined as the art of making a man more afraid of his own officers than
of the enemy. Its function seems to be the formation of certain military
qualities which Patriotism and the Sense of Duty are by themselves
believed incapable of creating. It has always been considered an
essential part of a soldier's training; but this view, though probably
correct, is not confirmed by the South African War, in which an
undisciplined force held its own for some years against greatly superior
numbers of disciplined men.

The ideal Army, patriotic, full of the sense of Duty, and perfect in
discipline, would be invincible; but such an Army has never yet been
seen. A deficiency of one or two of these qualities may be made up for
by a fuller measure of the others. The history of each war will seem to
indicate for a time the proportions in which the qualities should be
blended, which is the essential, and whether any one of them can be
omitted; but the inferences thus drawn from one war will probably be
found misleading in the next war.

The inference to be drawn from the South African War seems to be that
the value of those military qualities which are created by Discipline
and training has been over-rated, and that a passionate bigoted belief
in the justice of a cause is a more potent factor in the making of a
soldier. Even if every allowance be made for the strategical advantages
possessed by the Boers, of fighting in their own land on interior lines
in a sparsely populated country peculiarly adopted for _guerilla_, it is
difficult to account for their success if the tests by which the
efficiency of a European army is measured are applied to them. It may be
that war has hitherto been regarded too exclusively as a statical and
dynamical problem and that the moral element has been overlooked. It
certainly was overlooked in South Africa; for the war which Lord Roberts
in October, 1900, believed was practically at an end had in fact then
run little more than one-third of its course.



III. WAR CONSIDERED AS A BRANCH OF SPORT


The astonishment, distress, chagrin and bewilderment caused by want of
success, "regrettable incidents," and disasters, sometimes found
consolation during the South African War in the foolish remark--The
Germans would have done no better. What the German Army, which had not
been actively employed for twenty-eight years, might have accomplished
under the same conditions is a matter for sterile speculation which has
little bearing on the case. But the German Army certainly had not been
accustomed to look upon War as a branch of Sport or Athletics.

Owing in all probability to the happy fact in History that England has
not been invaded and over-run by a foreign army since the time of
William the Conqueror--an episode which had in the end an excellent
influence on the national life--she has never taken the military art
seriously. She alone, thanks to the protection of Providence, has never
been compelled to fight on her own fields for her existence as a nation;
she alone knows nothing even by tradition handed down from distant
generations of the appearance of an alien soldier on her shores.[10]
Some of her wars, as for example the successful struggle by which the
Napoleonic domination was broken up, have been fought for the purpose of
safe-guarding her independence, but they were not popular with the
people at large, whose short sight did not permit them to see that a
defensive war may have to be fought beyond the seas; and they had little
or no effect in evoking a patriotic military spirit. Napoleon's gibe
that the English were a nation of shopkeepers was not unasked for, and
is still seasonable.

On the other hand there are hundreds of thousands of persons on the
Continent of Europe who have seen, or who are the near descendants of
those who have seen, their fatherland ravaged; their homes destroyed;
their relations, friends, and neighbours slaughtered in the defence; the
tree of the national life maimed; and the full cup of the horrors of war
drained to its dregs.

To them the prospect of an invasion is not a remote contingency to be
considered and provided for at leisure after academical discussion, but
a real and instant danger from which only universal service, to which
fortunately for themselves they submit without much demur, as it could
not be enforced upon a reluctant community, can preserve them.

The possibility of invasion is the dominant anxiety of the land-frontier
nations.[11] Across the frontier they can see the conscripts drilling
who almost at a moment's notice may be marching in to attack them. Their
armies are not sent on interesting little expeditions to restrain a
too-militant tribe of hill-men or to patrol the distant marches of a
magnificent Empire, but must stand at attention generation after
generation, year after year, maintaining the featureless routine of
military life. None of the Romance of War that falls to the lot of the
British soldier--the service among strange Easterns in Asia, the
building up of a new imperial province in South Africa, the constant
change of scene along the posts which form a girdle round the world from
Hongkong to Jamaica--falls also to the lot of the continental conscript,
for whom there is only the dull waiting for the critical moment.

The land-frontier nations alone are aware of the reality of the Terror
of War; it is a Thing overshadowing and, apart from every other thing in
their world, which must not, cannot be expelled from their thoughts. The
objects that meet the eye on all sides speak of War; the railway
vehicles marked with the number of men and horses conveyable, the noble
war memorials, the officers constantly in uniform, the crowds of
soldiers in the streets, the military bearing and precision of even the
civilian servants of the State; while upon the ears falls the sound,
which is in most cases a lingering echo of the roar of war, of alien
tongues spoken within the frontier, or of the tongue of the Fatherland
spoken in exile without it.

On the other hand, Peace is believed to be permanently settled upon the
shore of the silver streak which encloses the British Isles. The war
monuments are scanty and not a few of them are grotesque; the soldier
and his work are thrust into the background, and his uniform is so often
a hindrance to him that on certain occasions he is permitted to appear
in plain clothes, that is to disguise himself as a civilian; and this
concession is officially termed a "privilege." The red tunic of the
soldier, like the red rays of the spectrum which cannot be brought into
focus with the other colours, fails to make a sharp impression upon the
British retina, but projects an ill-defined image seen through a medium
of doubt and indifference.

The nation looks upon the Army much as the individual looks upon the
Policeman, as a necessary institution, but one rather to be avoided and
kept in its place when its services are not actually in requisition.
Little interest is taken in its difficulties, its merits, and its
opportunities. It is regarded not as an indispensable protection, but
rather as an expensive result of possessions in all parts of the world,
and when the peace of these is in danger of being broken, the cry too
often belated goes up: Send for the Soldiers. Probably nothing less than
an actual landing of foreign troops or the scare of it so tremendous as
to drive the nation into the opposite and equally dangerous extreme of
consternation and panic will be necessary to shake its belief, that the
white cliffs of Albion are immune to an invasion in force.

The nightmare of Militarism by which so many worthy persons are
fanatically obsessed obscures the dangers against which Militarism is an
insurance. Now Militarism is not in itself a desirable thing, and the
developments and accidents of it upon the Continent of Europe are often
not only irksome and absurd but also irreconcilable with the existence
of a healthy feeling of self-respect in the non-military sections of the
community, who are taught to regard themselves as an inferior caste; but
with all its shortcomings it promotes the moral as well as the physical
strength of a nation. It calls up some of the nobler qualities of human
nature; self-control, self-reliance, endurance, and altruism or the
devotion of Self to the good of the community; and not the least of its
merits is that it corrects and restrains the dreary materialism of the
Labour and Socialist movements.

The shy and distant bearing of the British nation and its persistent
refusal to regard the Army as part of itself, in conjunction with the
growing national passion for Sport and Athletics, fostered the idea that
War itself must be a branch of them. From time immemorial the military
had been eyed with suspicion by the country, which professed to believe
that its liberties were in greater danger from its own soldiers than
from the soldiers of a foreign power, and which for a long time withheld
from its rulers the right of having a standing army. Gradually and with
great reluctance it was convinced of the necessity of a permanent force,
not so much for home defence as for the performance of the police duties
of an Empire. As the Empire grew year by year, these duties became more
onerous and responsible, but the Army itself was not taken seriously. It
was confessedly too weak to engage in a European campaign, and the Navy
was considered to be sufficient to protect the country against invasion.

The duties of the Army abroad were generally interesting and exciting
but they did not call for the exercise of the military art with great
precision, as the opponents which it was called upon to face were rarely
experts, and there was a comfortable belief that the bravery and
endurance of the British soldier would outweigh deficiencies in other
military qualities.[12]

The War-as-a-Sport idea was also encouraged by the opinion still stoutly
held by many persons that a good sportsman is necessarily a good
soldier, and that the qualities which ensure success in Athletics or
Sport make also for success in War: but this is true of certain of them
only. In so far as Athletics and Sport tend to manliness, self-reliance,
good comradeship, endurance of bodily hardship, and contempt of danger,
they are no doubt an excellent preparatory school for War. But there is
one quality without the possession of which no man is held to be a good
sportsman, and that is the acceptance of defeat or non-success with
equanimity and good-humour as "part of the game." Without this quality
Athletics and Sport would, in fact, become impossible.

In the soldier, however, this temperament is a dangerous gift. It led to
reverses, captures, loss of convoys and other "regrettable incidents"
being regarded with stoical composure as "part of the game"; and the
victims were condoled with on their "shocking bad luck." It would have
been difficult to discern from the bearing and demeanour of the typical
officer whether he was at the moment a prisoner of war in the Model
School at Pretoria, or had just taken part in the magnificent cavalry
charge by which Kimberley was relieved. The former plight did not
greatly depress him, nor did the latter phase of military life greatly
elate him. It is probable that the War would have been brought to a
successful close at a much earlier date if throughout the British Army
and especially among the officers hearty disgust and indignation at the
failures of the first few months had taken the place of a light-hearted
accommodation to circumstances. The companions of Ulysses may

          With a frolic welcome take
  The thunder and the sunshine,

but it is not War.

The British officer played at war in South Africa much in the same way
that he hunted or played cricket or polo at home. He enjoyed the sport
and the game, did his best for his own side, and rejoiced if he was
successful, but was not greatly disturbed when he lost. A dictum
attributed to the Duke of Wellington says that the Battle of Waterloo
was won upon the Playing Fields at Eton. It would not be so very far
from the truth to say that the guns at Sannah's Post were captured on
the polo-ground at Hurlingham; that Magersfontein was lost at Lord's;
that Spionkop was evacuated at Sandown; and that the war lingered on for
thirty-two months in the Quorn and Pytchley coverts.

The sporting view of War was recognized and confirmed in Army Orders and
official reports, in which the words "bag," "drive," "stop," and some
other sporting terms not infrequently appeared. No one would reasonably
object to the judicious and illuminating use of metaphor, but there are
metaphors which impair the dignity of a cause and degrade it in the eyes
of those whose duty is to maintain that cause. When the advance of a
British Division at a critical period in the operations is frivolously
termed a "drive," and when the men extended at ten paces' interval over
a wide front are called "beaters," it is natural that the leaders should
look upon their work as analogous to the duties of a gamekeeper; and
when an artillery officer is instructed to "pitch his shells well up,"
he is encouraged to regard failure as no worse than the loss of a
cricket-match.

It was at least to be expected that in the use, care, and management of
horses upon which the success of a campaign, in which mounted men formed
an unusually large proportion of the troops engaged, so much depended,
the sporting instincts of the British officer would have made him
particularly efficient; yet the evidence given by General officers
before the Royal Commission showed that it was otherwise. They are
practically unanimous in the opinion that all branches of the mounted
troops were inefficient, except the artillery, whose work so far as
horses are concerned is akin to that of the skilful but unsporting farm
teamster or wagoner.

A nation greatly addicted to Sport, Games, and Athletics is a nation
lacking in that earnestness of moral purpose which should be its chief
strength for War. Amusements are regarded not as "recreation" or means
of refreshing and re-invigorating the mind and body for the duties of
life by a temporary change of occupation, but as the main objective of
existence.

A retrospect into history will show that the most efficient armies were
those in which the sporting instinct was non-existent. The armies which
in modern times have most satisfactorily performed the duties for which
armies are raised were those of Gustavus Adolphus, Napoleon, Moltke, and
Oyama. Each of these was the most perfect military instrument of its
day, and their exploits have never been surpassed. Yet neither the
Swedes, the French, the Germans, nor the Japanese were addicted to
Athletics or Sport. Their manly instincts were exercised, to the great
advantage of their countries, in skill at arms and in the Military
Art.[13]

The cult of Sport and Athletics sets up false ideals and lowers the
intellectual standard. Thousands of loafers, idlers, and work skirkers
live upon the anticipations or recollections of out-door sports when not
actually present at them, and are ready to spend their last shilling at
the turnstile of the ground on which a handful of football gladiators
are at play: and are more exasperated by the defeat of the team which
they patronise in a Cup Tie match than they would be by the loss of a
battle by the British Army. There is this to be said for the working
classes, that in youth, if not longer, they in general endure a hard and
strenuous life, and at least in their school years they cannot indulge a
passion for amusement; whereas the class from which the officers of the
British Army are drawn is encouraged on the other hand to indulge it
from childhood. Owing to the prominence given in the Public Schools and
Universities to games and athletics and to the esteem in which
proficiency in these is held, youths of the upper middle and upper
classes are dumped upon the world not humbly but arrogantly ignorant of
almost everything necessary to qualify them to take their proper place
in the community. They have subsisted in a rarefied intellectual
atmosphere, and to fit themselves for any profession for which they may
have an inclination they have to be forced or "crammed" in a saturated
atmosphere by which they are congested. The result is that "young
officers now join the service with a very fair idea of cricket and
football, bridge, and even motor-driving; but with no education in
patriotism; no real acquaintance with the history or geography of their
own or other countries; unable to write English concisely, or even
grammatically;[14] unaccustomed to read general information for
themselves other than under the headings of the _Daily Mail_; unable to
talk a foreign language; and with no knowledge of the sciences which are
of military use."[15] To this may be added the fact that these young
dullards, the supply of whom is dwindling, are, on joining the service,
encouraged and accepted rather with reference to their sporting and
social qualities than to their military capacity.

England, as a sporting, athletic, and game-loving nation, has of late
years suffered many rebuffs. By the United States she has been taught
the scientific method of riding racehorses, and also of sailing yachts;
she has been defeated in polo by a Transatlantic team; her selected
representative horsemen are unsuccessful in the International Military
Tournaments; she cannot defeat Australia on the cricket field; a Belgian
crew holds its own at Henley. If these rebuffs tend to abate the mania
for watching the performances of a handsome but not particularly
intelligent quadruped, and for studying the various methods of imparting
motion to a Ball and to show the vanity of the passion for sports and
games when indulged to excess, they will have served their purpose. The
nation, disgusted at its want of success in its favourite pursuits, may
perhaps turn its manhood to the noblest pursuit of all, the defence of
the Fatherland; and then it will not be the betting and football news
that has to be blacked out of the daily papers in the free libraries,
but the bi-weekly military gazettes, the reports from the military
stations and the Special Correspondents' letters from Salisbury Plain
during the manoeuvres.

Notes:

[Footnote 2: In justice to the War Office it should be stated that this
was inserted at the instance of Sir Redvers Buller, who believed that he
would be able to raise in South Africa a sufficient force of mounted
troops.]

[Footnote 3: B. Viljoen in his "Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War"
frequently complains of the insubordination, the malingering, and the
cowardice of his followers, and of the incompetence of his superior
officers.]

[Footnote 4: "Kaffir" is an Arabic word meaning one who does not believe
in the religion of Mahomet. It was introduced into South Africa by the
Portuguese and subsequently applied to the tribes living on the N.E. of
the Cape Colony.]

[Footnote 5: Zilikat's Nek in the Magaliesberg is named after him.]

[Footnote 6: In its crudest and least admirable form Patriotism may be
expressed in the terms of an equation--

  One Englishman=Two Aliens.]

[Footnote 7: _Esprit de Corps_ in the British Army is the predilection
of the individual for the unit in which he is serving. It creates a
healthy rivalry which, on the whole, makes for efficiency; but its
effects are sometimes unfortunate. A distinguished regiment was accused
of misbehaviour in one of the battles of the advance on Bloemfontein.
The charge was unfounded, but some of its hasty partisans, with the idea
of removing the reproach as far as possible from Self and forgetful that
the honour of the British Army is not contained in water-tight
compartments, endeavoured to transfer the imputation to another regiment
in the same brigade.]

[Footnote 8: The citizens of a Republic are usually more patriotic than
the subjects of a Monarchy. This may be accounted for by the fact that a
Republic is usually a new nation or a nation that has made a fresh start
and has not had time to get tired of itself.]

[Footnote 9: Lord Roberts once used the word "glorious."]

[Footnote 10: Except the French raid at Fishguard in 1797.]

[Footnote 11: The Franco-German War cost France £600,000,000 exclusive
of the loss from suspension of business and commerce.]

[Footnote 12: The attaché of a Great Power noticed in the South African
War an aversion to the tedious duties of outposts and reconnaissance,
and he remarks that "it is often openly stated by British officers that
it is better to get now and then into a really tight place by the
neglect of these duties than to have to endure the constant irksomeness
which they entail."]

[Footnote 13: Apart from the question of the relative importance of the
two services, it can hardly be denied that the British Naval Officer is
an asset more valuable to his country than his brother in the Army. The
social side of his character may be more rugged and less acceptable, but
as a rule he has had neither the time nor the inclination to fritter
away his manhood in sporting pursuits which do not make for proficiency
in his profession, and he therefore excels in it; in spite of trying
conditions which do not exist in any other calling, for with some
rhetorical exaggeration it may be said that in the lower ranks he is an
abject slave, in the higher an irresponsible despot.]

[Footnote 14: To the various courses, ranging from Balloons to
Economics, which are open to British Officers, might be added a course
in English Grammar and Composition, for the instruction of staff
officers and others who may have to formulate battle orders and despatch
important telegrams on active service. The art of composing a clear,
terse, and unambiguous order or telegraphic message is not studied in
the Army. Not a few telegrams of vital importance in the South African
War were composed by impressionist staff officers who lightly assumed
that what was present in their own minds must necessarily also be
present in the mind of the recipient. The author particularly remembers
a certain telegram from a staff officer of a column, in which it was
impossible to discover from the context whether the word "they" in the
concluding paragraph referred to British Columns or to Boer Commandos
previously mentioned.]

[Footnote 15: Major-General Baden-Powell, in _Cavalry Journal_, April.]



CHAPTER II

The Natal Wedge

[Sidenote: Map p. 50]


The northern section of Natal before the war[16] roughly assumed the
shape of a wedge driven in between the Transvaal and the Orange Free
State. The Drakensberg Range on the one side and the Buffalo River on
the other formed the cleaving surfaces, Majuba and Laing's Nek were the
cutting edge, and the base was the Tugela River.

In mechanics a wedge is an instrument which can be usefully employed
only under favourable circumstances. It has many disadvantages. It is
easily jammed. The driving power at the base must be considerable; much
of the force is absorbed by the friction on the surfaces; the progress
made is very slow; and if the surfaces encounter a more tenacious
material they will be perforated. A wedge is intended chiefly for
cleavage and disruption when less clumsy methods are not at hand.

The defects of a wedge as a mechanical power at once became apparent to
the British force which occupied Natal when war became inevitable. The
cutting edge was inaccessible and liable to injury which could not be
easily repaired; much trouble was anticipated from the presence of Boer
commandos in contact with the surfaces; the base did not appear to be
sufficiently well designed to receive the impact of the propelling
force; and there were grave doubts as to the soundness of the material
of which an important section of the wedge, namely Ladysmith, was
constructed.

It was therefore proposed by the military authorities that the Natal
wedge should not be used as an instrument in the war. To this the civil
government at Pietermaritzburg strongly objected on account of the evil
moral effect which the abandonment of a considerable proportion of the
Colony to the enemy would exercise upon the general situation in South
Africa, and of the loss of prestige which the evacuation would entail in
the minds of the natives, who numbered three-quarters of a million.
Under pressure from the Colonial Office, and against its own judgment,
the Army of Natal set itself to work upon the Wedge.

The mistake soon became manifest, although the artisans did their best.
The Wedge was not an effective instrument; its cutting edge was never in
operation; and in a very few weeks it was hewn into a mangled, cumbrous
and irregular mass, which could neither be advanced nor withdrawn and
which for nearly five months led a precarious and unhappy existence. Its
distress necessitated the recasting of the plan of the South African
campaign and a pernicious "moral effect" was not avoided. One British
Army besieged in an open town surrounded by heights, while another was
lying impotent upon the banks of the Tugela, eighteen miles distant, was
the result of a few weeks' work with the Natal Wedge, which had been
forced by the civilian strategists into the reluctant hands of the
troops.[17]

When Sir George White arrived in Natal on October 7 he found Sir W. Tenn
Symons carrying out the wedge policy of the Colonial Government. Part of
the latter's force was at Ladysmith and part was protecting the
collieries in the Dundee district. It was his intention to advance
northwards to Newcastle as soon as he was reinforced by the contingent
on its way from India, the full strength of which had not arrived at
Durban. The position at Dundee was strategically defective, as it was
exposed to a raid from the Transvaal border only twelve miles distant,
and it was actually further from the Orange Free State than Ladysmith.
Its defects as a tactical position were still more obvious as it was
commanded by hills.

Such, in a few words, was the situation with which White was called upon
to deal. He had two courses before turn; he could accommodate himself to
it or he could endeavour to modify it. He attempted the latter, and
failing he recurred to the former. He saw at once the insecurity of
Symons' detached force, but being unable to convince the Natal
Government of the necessity of withdrawing it he reluctantly allowed it
to remain.

Soon the Boer plan of campaign, which aimed at the isolation of the
British Troops in the wedge, began to unroll itself. Fourteen thousand
Transvaalers under Joubert, who had first tested the cutting edge by
sending a coal truck through the tunnel at Laing's Nek and who suspected
an ambush when he found it clear, were moving south on Newcastle, while
six thousand Free Staters under Martin Prinsloo were pouring through the
Drakensberg passes west of Ladysmith. The Natal Government now began to
feel uneasy about the safety of the colonial capital and even of Durban;
and informed White that undue importance had been attached to the
occupation of Dundee and that its retention was no longer desirable.
Thus in little more than a week White's original objection was
reconsidered and upheld. But again he allowed his better judgment to be
over-borne. Symons, whom he instructed to withdraw southwards unless he
felt his position to be absolutely secure, was at his own urgent request
allowed to remain. Next day, October 19, Elandslaagte, on the railway
between Ladysmith and Dundee, was occupied by a Boer commando, and it
was reported that 4,000 burghers were ready to cross the Buffalo River
at Jager's Drift during the night.

Symons' camp was pitched about a mile west of Dundee which lay between
it and Talana and Lennox Hills, which commanded the town from the east.
Some hours before sunrise on October 20 a British picket on Talana was
attacked. The incident was reported to Head Quarters, where it was not
deemed to be of much importance and the routine duties of the morning
were not interrupted. The artillery horses had been taken down as usual
to water, and some companies had even fallen in for skirmishing drill,
when the curtain of the morning mist upon the higher ground was raised
to the first scene in the Natal drama. The eastward hills, looming up
darkly into the brightening sky, were seen to be occupied in force by
the enemy under L. Meyer, and soon his shells were falling among the
tents.

The troops in camp, though taken by surprise, pulled themselves together
with admirable promptitude. The Boer guns were soon silenced, the
figures of men silhouetted along the sky line vanished, and the infantry
was ordered out to clear the hill. It was a formidable and dangerous
task, but it was facilitated by some of the features of the ground.
There was a dry river bed in which the troops could be formed up for
attack, and, half a mile beyond, a farmhouse and a plantation afforded
some cover; while a donga on the left at right angles to the river bed
apparently offered a covered way up the hill to the crest. In the
plantation occurred the first calamity of the war. Symons, who had come
up impatiently from the lower ground to hurry up the assault, which he
thought was being unnecessarily delayed, was mortally wounded. Three
days later he paid with his life for his adherence to a forward policy
in tactics as well as in strategy; and the command devolved upon Yule.

The donga on the left was found to be useless, as it led nowhere; and
the advance was made directly from the plantation towards a wall running
along the foot of the hill. Here a long halt was made in order to
reorganize the attack, and when the word was given the men pressed
forward and threw-themselves upon the rough front of the acclivity after
a rush across an open slope. The crest was attained and carried without
much difficulty; for all but a few stalwarts had quitted it when they
saw the British bayonets pricking upwards towards their hold.

It seemed now that the victory was won, but an unfortunate mistake
postponed it. The two field batteries on the plain, which had ceased
fire before the final infantry rush, changed position and came under a
heavy fire from the Boers who were still in possession of a section of
the Talana ridge. The light was bad and the guns re-opened upon the
crest line in the belief that the whole of it was still occupied by the
enemy. The practice was excellent, and in a brief space both sides were
driven off the hill by the shrapnel. A subsequent attempt to take it was
successful. The result of the battle, which lasted from sunrise until 2
p.m., might have been reversed but for the inaction of the main Boer
force posted on Lennox Hill under L. Meyer, and of another force on
Impati under Erasmus, who, though he could hear the noise of battle
pealing through the mist which lay upon the hill, abstained from
intervening.

The whole Boer force was now in full retreat along the line by which it
had advanced so silently the night before, and Yule ordered the two
field batteries up to the nek between Talana and Lennox to pound the
retreating burghers as they slowly trekked towards the Buffalo River;
but again an unfortunate misapprehension intervened. The officer in
command, being under the impression that an armistice asked for by Meyer
two hours before had been granted, refrained from opening fire and the
Boers escaped untouched. A serious misadventure marred the success of
the day. The 18th Hussars, who at the commencement of the action
received orders to hold themselves in readiness to advance when occasion
offers, soon appeared to the restless general to be losing their
opportunity, and were hustled into activity. They charged in various
directions and even made some prisoners; but one squadron lost its way
and was captured in an attempt to ride round Impati by a detachment of
Erasmus' force at a farm where it had taken refuge.

The fight for Talana Hill encouraged each belligerent. In England it was
received as an indication of the early and successful termination of the
struggle. The Boers regarded it as a reconnaissance in force from which
they had returned with slight loss, and they could boast that they had
reaped the first fruits of the harvest of war; a squadron of British
cavalry which, with the commanding officer of the regiment, was at once
dispatched into captivity at Pretoria, where its arrival was accepted as
a proof of a great Boer victory in Natal.

Talana Hill regarded as an isolated event in the Natal campaign was a
distinctly successful encounter, the credit of which is due entirely to
the infantry engaged in it. Twice the artillery blundered, and the
cavalry was inoperative. The extent of the loss suffered by the Natal
Field Force in the death of Symons must always be a matter for
speculation. But it is at least probable that if he had survived to take
part in the subsequent operations, his ardent, impetuous, Prince Rupert
like temperament would have beneficially impregnated with greater
audacity the stolid and ponderous tactics and strategy of the Natal
campaign.

The unreality of the Talana Hill victory soon became apparent. The
threat of Erasmus sitting on Impati still impended, and Yule moved his
camp next day to a site which he believed to be out of range. But in the
meantime Erasmus awoke from his trance and, on the afternoon of October
21, opened fire with a six-inch gun,[18] and again Yule was compelled to
shift his camp. He had already asked for reinforcements, but White was
unable to spare them, and recommended him to fall back upon Ladysmith.
Next day Yule was encouraged by the news of a British success at
Elandslaagte; and with the object of intercepting the Boers who were
reported to be retreating on Newcastle, he endeavoured to seize Glencoe,
but Erasmus on Impati forbade the movement.

Shortly before midnight on October 19, Kock, a Free Stater who commanded
a force chiefly composed of foreign auxiliaries and who was working
southwards from Newcastle, sent on an advanced party to swoop down upon
the railway between Ladysmith and Glencoe, and Elandslaagte station was
seized. Early next morning Kock came in with his main body. White at
first made no serious attempt to clear the line beyond sending out a
reconnoitring force which he soon recalled, as he was reluctant to
employ troops away from the immediate neighbourhood of Ladysmith, which
had been already threatened on the N.W. by Free State commandos.

The news however of Yule's success at Talana changed the situation and
seemed to justify a more forward policy; and early in the morning of
October 21 French was sent out to re-occupy Elandslaagte and repair the
line. Although he succeeded in driving the enemy out of the railway
station and in holding it for a very brief period, he found himself
outclassed in artillery and too weak to stand up to the Boers, and
withdrew a few miles southward; at the same time asking White to
reinforce him. It was reported that Kock expected shortly to be
reinforced.

The main Boer position was on the northern limb of a horseshoe
arrangement of kopjes which develops close to the railway station and
swings round southwards and westwards, at an elevation generally about
300 feet above the normal level of the ground. Two posts were also held
north of the railway. The southern limb of the horseshoe was lightly
held, and against it French, without waiting for the arrival of all his
reinforcements, moved with his mounted troops, and easily cleared it.
Here he was joined by the Manchester Regiment, one of the battalions of
the brigade of infantry sent out by White under the command of Ian
Hamilton, and established himself on the left flank of the Boer position
on the two kopjes on the northern limb of the horseshoe.

The other two battalions, the Devonshire Regiment and the Gordon
Highlanders, simultaneously came into position, the former for a frontal
attack, and the latter as a reserve acting in the interval between the
Manchesters and the Devons; while the artillery advanced between the two
limbs and shelled the enemy's position on the kopjes. The artillery
preparation enjoined by the regulations had, however, to be curtailed
owing to the approach of night, but not before the two Boer guns on the
southern kopje were silenced; and then the main attack was delivered.

The Boers on the kopjes were reinforced by a body of German auxiliaries
under Schiel, who had been driven out of a position north of the railway
by the cavalry acting on the left and who circled round to the main
position, but the reinforcement did not avail them. Hardly pressed on
their left, they were unable to withstand the frontal charge of the
Devons led by Hamilton in person. The guns were captured and the
position occupied at sunset. By this time most of the Boers were in
retreat and their tracks were made devious by the cavalry, which so long
as light remained harried them hither and thither.

Suddenly a white flag was seen fluttering near the laager between the
kopjes. There is no reason to believe that it was treacherously raised,
but it compelled Hamilton to order the Cease Fire. Yet at once half a
hundred Boers started up and rushed as a forlorn hope upon the crest: a
remnant of stalwarts, who even succeeded in firing a round or two from
the guns which had just been taken from them. There was a moment or two
of doubt and bewilderment, but Hamilton with the help of a few junior
officers rallied the waverers, and earned the Victoria Cross, which on
account of his high military rank was withheld from him; the guns were
recovered, the laager rushed, and the tactical victory was complete.

Elandslaagte was as unreal a victory as Talana. The troops had not
rested many hours in their bivouacs on the ridge before they received
orders to return without delay to Ladysmith, which was still threatened
from the west by the Free State commandos; and by noon on October 22 not
only had Elandslaagte been hurriedly evacuated, but stores, ammunition
and even some prisoners had been left behind in the scuttle. Next day it
passed without effort into the possession of a small body of Free
Staters, who were astonished to find it abandoned.

Meanwhile Yule after the failure of his movement on Glencoe found his
position insecure and reluctantly resolved to retire on Ladysmith,
although it entailed leaving not only his supplies and ammunition but
also his wounded behind him. The victory of Talana had indeed been won
but the victors were exhausted by it and unfit to stand up to Erasmus on
Impati. It became necessary for Yule to disappear immediately and
stealthily.

On October 23 soon after midnight the maimed and harassed force slipped
quietly away and trudged wearily to the south. When the mist rolling
aside next morning disclosed the evacuation the Transvaalers on Impati
occupied the town almost simultaneously with the reoccupation of
Elandslaagte by their allies the Free Staters; and thus the battlefields
of two British victories were redeemed by the defeated. It is no
reproach to Yule that military necessity compelled him to leave behind
the wounded of Talana Hill. The death of Symons on October 23 was a
pathetic episode of the Natal Campaign. He passed away of his mortal
wound while the Boers were looting the camp in which he was lying and
wondering, in the rare intervals of conscious thought, why the troops
whom he had led so gallantly had been taken from him; and for half a
year his grave lay lonely in the enemy's country before another British
soldier could stand beside it.

The retreat of Yule's force was effected without more trouble than that
which was caused by the nature of the country and the alternations of
the climate. Van Tonder's Pass--a difficult defile which would have been
impassable under opposition--was crossed, and a sudden spate on the
Waschbank river only temporarily checked the retirement. A column was
sent out from Ladysmith by White to check the Free Staters who had
re-occupied Elandslaagte and to prevent them falling on Yule, and on
October 24 they were engaged with success at Rietfontein. The sound of
the artillery in this action was audible to Yule on the Waschbank, but
he was unable to account for it.

On the afternoon of October 25 Yule was within one day's march of
Ladysmith. He proposed to halt for the night; but suddenly a patrol from
a column sent out by White to help him in appeared, and he received
orders to press forward to Ladysmith.

The exhausted men resumed their march, and the misery of that night's
journey was probably never exceeded during any subsequent movement in
the war. Sodden, hungry, weary, disheartened; men and transport animals
inextricably intermingled; the column plodded onwards in the rain and
the night. A halt at daylight next morning brought in some of the
stragglers and gave a little rest to those who were still in the ranks;
and by mid-day the men of Talana Hill had trudged into Ladysmith.

The urgency of the immediate resumption of the march had arisen from
White's anxiety for the safety of Yule's force. Rietfontein had indeed,
like Talana and Elandslaagte, been a tactically successful engagement
and had similarly been followed by a retreat; but Yule was exposed to an
attack by Erasmus, to whom he had given the slip at Dundee during the
night of October 22 and who was known to be endeavouring to overtake
him. Erasmus was believed to be acting from the direction of
Elandslaagte; but fortunately for Yule his movements were not
judiciously directed and his information was imperfect.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 139.]

All the detached members of the Natal Wedge had now been driven in and
the reconnaissances sent out by White on October 27 and the following
days showed that the Boers had lost no time in pressing on to Ladysmith.
The Transvaalers were apparently in force N.E. of the town on a section
of the arc in which Lombard's Kop, Long Hill, and Pepworth Hill were the
chief physical features; the Free Staters were approaching from the N.W.
and a small force of them under A.P. Cronje was already in touch with
the Transvaalers; their main body, however, seemed to be making for the
Tugela in order to isolate Ladysmith from the south. On October 29 White
assumed the offensive with the greater part of his command, and
endeavoured to cut through the still unconsolidated investing line and
to thwart the co-operation of the allies.

The general idea was that an infantry brigade, supported on its right
flank by cavalry acting towards Lombard's Kop, should attack the enemy,
who was presumed to be in force on Long Hill and Pepworth Hill. On the
left flank of the attack a column would endeavour to pass through the
Boer line, and having seized Nicholson's Nek due north of Ladysmith
would either close it against the retreating enemy or hold it as a post
through which a mounted force could debouch in pursuit on to the more
practicable ground beyond.

Some difficulty in drawing and loading up ammunition delayed the start
of the column, which under the command of Carleton was to secure the
left flank of the operations; and fearing that daylight on October 30
would find his vulnerable force still on the march he determined soon
after midnight to halt short of Nicholson's Nek, from which he was then
two miles distant. He had succeeded in passing through the enemy's
picket line, and was perhaps not justified in discontinuing his advance,
although his instructions were to take Nicholson's Nek only "if
possible." But an error of judgment made by a commanding officer on a
dark night in a strange country acting under instructions which left him
a free hand must not be judged severely, and had it not been for a
disaster which could not be foreseen, he would probably have been
commended for his prudence.

Kainguba Hill, which rises on the left of the road to Nicholson's Nek,
seemed to offer a suitable stage on the journey and towards it the
column was diverted. While the men were climbing the steep and stony
hillside a panic suddenly seized the transport mules. It may have been a
spontaneous emotion, or it may have originated in an alarm raised by the
Boers who were holding the crest. The animals stampeded down the slope,
and carrying with them not only the reserve ammunition but also the
signalling equipment, the water carts, and the component parts of the
mountain artillery, charged through the rear of the column. The timely
exertions of the officers checked the general scare that was imminent;
and with the exception of a few score of infantry men and gunners the
column reached the summit before daybreak, having lost almost everything
needed for a successful occupation of it.

Misfortune continued relentlessly to pursue the column. A position was
taken up on the hill on the supposition that it could only be attacked
from the south, but at daylight C. de Wet, who here came upon the stage
which afterwards he often filled so effectively, threatened it from the
north with a Free State commando. A gesture made by an officer in order
to attract attention was interpreted as a signal to retire; another
officer thinking that his company was left alone on the summit, though
it was in fact within seventy yards of an occupied sangar, raised the
white flag; and almost at the same moment a bugle sounded the Cease
Fire. Neither the white flag nor the bugle call was authorized by
Carleton; but a glance at the situation showed him that they could not
be repudiated and after a gallant struggle to maintain an indefensible
position he surrendered. Nearly a thousand men were led away into
captivity.

The main infantry attack was made by a force of five battalions with six
field batteries under the command of Grimwood. He marched out of
Ladysmith soon after midnight, but had not covered half the distance to
the point of attack when an unfortunate incident deprived him of all his
artillery and of two of his battalions. The guns marching in the centre
of the column and acting under orders which were not communicated to
Grimwood, diverged to the right and were followed by the two battalions
in rear; and the absence of nearly half the force was not discovered by
him until daybreak, and after he had taken up the position assigned
south of Long Hill. Daybreak also revealed the fact that Long Hill which
was assumed to be the Boer left was not occupied, and that Long Tom from
Impati had been emplaced on Pepworth Hill. The cavalry brigade under
French upon whom Grimwood relied to protect his right flank was two
miles away in his rear; and finding himself attacked on that flank
instead of from the front he was compelled to swing round and almost
reverse his front. Thus far the general scheme of attack had signally
failed. Carleton on the left had not reached Nicholson's Nek and was in
trouble; Grimwood with nearly half of his command gone astray, and
having discovered that the enemy's left was not on Long Hill but on
Lombard's Kop, had to improvise a scheme of his own; while French
instead of conforming to Grimwood was compelling Grimwood to conform to
him. At 8 a.m. Grimwood was suffering severely from artillery fire, and
French whose cavalry now prolonged Grimwood's line southwards was with
difficulty holding his own. The enemy, whom the general idea destined to
be outflanked and rolled up towards the north and pursued by mounted
troops issuing from Nicholson's Nek, was instead attacking vigorously
from Lombard's Kop on the east and seemed likely to outflank White; the
infantry reserves under Ian Hamilton were almost expended; and the
British artillery was unable to silence the Boer guns.

All through the forenoon Ladysmith and the little garrison left behind
for its defence was the target of Long Tom on Pepworth Hill. The
fugitives from Kainguba brought in disheartening reports and the Boers
seemed to be threatening from the north. W. Knox, a Horse Artillery
officer who had been left in command, anticipated an attack which he had
little chance of meeting successfully with the scanty force at his
disposal and sent an urgent message to White, who at noon ordered the
battle to be broken off and the troops to retire to Ladysmith.

The retreat was effected in confusion. Grimwood's force was the first to
be withdrawn and was saved from disaster by the gallant stand made by
two field batteries as it crossed the level ground. The cavalry
scampered home in Grimwood's track. A dramatic episode brought the
battle of Lombard's Kop to a close. Just as the baffled troops were
entering Ladysmith a battery of naval guns, which had arrived from
Durban that morning and had gone immediately into action, succeeded in
silencing Long Tom and some other guns on Pepworth Hill, nearly four
miles distant. In the evening Joubert sent in a flag of truce to White
to announce Carleton's surrender.

The Natal Wedge disappeared in the smoke of the battle of Lombard's Kop
and was never again heard of as an instrument in the Natal campaign. The
Boers filled the gaps in the investing line without difficulty, and on
November 2 the Siege of Ladysmith began. The last man to leave the town
was French, who went forth to win honour on distant fields.

Notes:

[Footnote 16: In 1902 the Vryheid and Utrecht districts of the Transvaal
were annexed to Natal and the wedge disappeared.]

[Footnote 17: They were indeed authorized as early as October 18 to
throw it aside but by that time they were committed to its use.]

[Footnote 18: "Long Tom," which was afterwards sent to Ladysmith and
subsequently to bombard Rhodes in Kimberley.]

[Illustration: Sketch map of Northern Natal.]



CHAPTER III

Deus Ex Machina No. I


The arrival of Sir Redvers Buller at Cape Town on October 31, 1899, the
morrow of the battle of Lombard's Kop, encouraged the despondent at home
and in Cape Colony.[19] Twenty years previously he had distinguished
himself in the command of a Boer contingent which served with the
British Army during the Zulu campaign; and it was doubtless from the
experience then gained that he formed the opinion that the war which he
was now called upon to direct, could be brought to a successful
conclusion only "by the actual conquest of every man in the field: a
task doubly difficult owing to the extreme mobility of the enemy."

In his first telegram to Lord Lansdowne he described the situation as
one of "extreme gravity."

White, with five-sixths of the British Troops in South Africa, was shut
up in Ladysmith; a month at least must elapse before the Expeditionary
Force, which the British Government had on September 22 decided to send
out, would be able to take the field; Mafeking was besieged; the diamond
men of Kimberley, like a passionate child interned in a dark room, were
screaming for release; Sir Alfred Milner was pleading that the defence
of the Cape Peninsula, an area of a few thousand square miles as far
removed from the front as Marseilles is from Berlin, must be first
attended to; President Steyn had overcome his scruples and was sending
Free State commandos across the Orange River into the Cape Colony at
Bethulie and Norval's Pont; the disaffected colonials were restive; and
the fall of Ladysmith, which seemed probable, would lay Natal open from
the Tugela to the Indian Ocean.

It was a dismal outlook; but Buller, after a few days' review of the
situation, was able to report that in his opinion the opposition would
probably collapse when Kimberley and Ladysmith were relieved. His
optimism at Capetown was destined soon to be superseded by pessimism on
the Tugela. He compared himself to a man who, having a busy day before
him, has overslept himself. The original plan of campaign, a march on
Pretoria through the Free State, had necessarily to be postponed; and
the important railway junctions at Naauwpoort and Stormberg were too
weakly held and too liable to investment by the Free State commandos
which had crossed the Orange to justify their retention, and the little
garrisons were withdrawn. To Gatacre and French, who had just escaped
from Ladysmith, was assigned the duty of holding the centre, while Lord
Methuen advanced to the relief of Kimberley.

It was, however, the situation in Natal which gave the most anxiety to
Buller. The Free State commandos which had been seen passing Ladysmith
shortly before the investment were now at Colenso, having driven back to
Estcourt the small British force which was all that was left to stem the
tide of an invasion. The Free Staters, fortunately, were not active and
delayed to avail themselves of the opportunity. When at length, after
eleven days of inertia, L. Botha persuaded Joubert to undertake an
offensive movement south of the Tugela, it had passed away, as Estcourt
had in the meantime been reinforced by troops from England under the
command of Hildyard.

Encouraged by the capture of an armoured train at Chieveley, Joubert
advanced south in two bodies, one on each side of Estcourt, and seized
the railway at Highlands, thus cutting off Hildyard's communication with
Pietermaritzburg; and Hildyard having no cavalry was unable to touch
him. The raid, which for a time seemed dangerous, was however soon
checked by troops coming up from the south under Barton, and Joubert
found himself pressed between two forces each as strong as his own.
After an action at Willow Grange, which each side claimed as a victory,
Joubert, fearing lest he should be cut off, retired unpursued, against
the wishes of the more pushful and energetic Botha, who was in favour of
an advance on Pietermaritzburg.

The alarms and excursions of October and November were the cause of the
dissolution of a military apparatus which had been put together at home
with much care and thought, and which had never yet been seen in
warfare. Its designers and constructors were proud of it and they looked
forward with confidence to its successful working. The apparatus was the
British Army Corps. It was taken to pieces as soon as it reached South
Africa; but fortunately the ties, ligaments, and braces which held it
together yielded to slight pressure and little difficulty was
experienced in resolving it into its constituent elements. The more
important of these were despatched to Natal and the rest were
distributed over the western and central commands.

Buller, perhaps leaving the pessimistic atmosphere of Capetown with
relief, went by sea to Durban, the defence of which was entrusted to the
Royal Navy, and reached Pietermaritzburg on November 25. By this time
the situation had improved all along the line, and it seemed that it
might still be possible to resume the original plan of a central advance
on Bloemfontein and Pretoria as soon as Ladysmith was relieved. The Boer
raid towards southern Natal which caused so much consternation had been
easily foiled and British troops were now at Frere.

Buller, soon after his arrival in Natal, found himself in command of a
force of 19,000 men with whom to tackle about 21,000 Boers under the
command of L. Botha. Joubert was invalided after the unsuccessful
Estcourt raid, and the change was, from the enemy's point of view, for
the better. The new Head Commandant was a more strenuous and active
leader than his predecessor.

Little was known of the topography of the country in which Buller was
about to operate. It had never been systematically surveyed, and the
existing maps had been constructed for agricultural rather than for
campaigning purposes, and could not be trusted. The Tugela formed the
ditch of a natural fortress covering Ladysmith. On its left bank rose an
almost continuous ridge or rampart from which the easy open ground on
the right bank could be watched for miles, and reconnaissances kept at a
distance.

Reconnaissances were, however, not needed to prove to Buller that
Colenso, where the railway passed up into the Tugela ridge, was immune
to a frontal attack, and that Ladysmith must be relieved by a turning
movement. Two alternatives offered themselves. The advance might be made
through Weenen and across the Tugela some distance below Colenso, and
thence to Elandslaagte, where the Boer line of communication with the
Transvaal might be cut; but to Ladysmith this was a circuitous route. It
also would necessitate the traversing of a rough bush country, into
which Buller was reluctant to throw raw troops just off the transports
who had not yet heard the sounds of war.

He therefore decided upon a westerly flank march by way of Potgieter's
Drift, twenty miles west of Colenso; and once on the left bank of the
Tugela he would be within a day's march of Ladysmith and the railway
into the Free State. White was heliographically consulted, and all the
arrangements for an advance on December 11 were made. The force had even
been set in motion when certain disturbing news came out of the west.
Gatacre had suffered a reverse at Stormberg, and simultaneously Methuen
had been roughly handled at Magersfontein, and was unable to continue
his march on Kimberley.

The strategic timidity of Buller and his curious habit of allowing
himself to be influenced by psychological probabilities were at once
apparent. The anticipated moral effect of these successes upon the enemy
swayed him back to the plan which a day or two previously he had
rejected as impracticable. The plan of a flank march by way of
Potgieter's Drift was thrown aside. It might have been justifiable in
the presence of a dispirited enemy; but now the burghers on the Tugela
had been suddenly encouraged by news of victories won on two widely
separated scenes of action and were no doubt anxious to rival the
exploits of their comrades far away.[20] The flank march would expose
the army to the danger of being cut off by a quickened and revived foe,
and Buller determined not to run the risk. On December 12 he ordered an
advance on Colenso.

The course of the war in the western and central scenes of action up to
the time of the two defeats which caused Buller to revise the plan of
campaign for Natal must now be traced.

[Sidenote: Map p. 260.]

The force of nearly 10,000 men under Lord Methuen detailed by Buller for
the relief of Kimberley, advanced from De Aar and Orange River Bridge
along the railway. At Belmont a body of Free Staters under Jacob
Prinsloo was found strongly posted on the heights east of the line, and
although reinforced by Delarey from Kimberley, it was unable to hold to
its positions, and was compelled to retreat eastwards on November 23.

Prinsloo withdrew with his Free Staters across the border, but was
persuaded by Delarey, who had fallen back on Graspan about eight miles
N.E. of Belmont, to rejoin him; and a favourable position was occupied
on a group of kopjes astride the railway, where on November 25 another
battle was fought, in which the Naval Brigade suffered a loss of nearly
half its strength. The enemy, though driven back, retreated in good
order, as at Belmont two days previously, there being no cavalry
available for effective pursuit. Methuen pushed on to Witkoplaagte.

The Boers were greatly discouraged by Belmont and Graspan, where, as at
Talana and Elandslaagte, they had been ejected from strong kopje
positions chosen by themselves. The moral was not lost upon Delarey, who
determined to try whether a better stand could not be made in a river
position, and selected the junction of the Modder and the Riet for the
experiment. His idea was not so much to dispute the passage of the river
as to use the deep channels as covered ways and as natural trenches from
which the plain could be grazed by rifle fire. The Modder after
approaching the Riet changes its direction abruptly three tunes above
the junction, enclosing a diamond-shaped area which provided the Boers
with a ready-made perimeter camp.

[Sidenote: Map. p. 59.]

Methuen, thinking that the enemy would as before select the good kopje
position which offered itself on Spytfontein halfway to Kimberley,
determined to diverge from the railway with the greater part of his army
and circling through Jacobsdaal, Brown's Drift and Abon's Dam to attack
Spytfontein in flank, where he had little doubt that he would find the
Boers in position; but Modder River, which he was inclined to believe
was only held as an advanced post, must first be taken. Delarey had been
joined by P. Cronje, who unperceived by Methuen's cavalry came in with a
body of Transvaalers from Mafeking, and was in occupation of the loop
between the rivers.

At sunrise on November 28 Methuen advanced from his camp at Witkoplaagte
six miles south of the river. The fight began under misapprehensions on
each side. Methuen believed that only the river bank above the railway
bridge was held in force; while he was credited by his opponents with
the intention of crossing the Riet River by Bosnian's Drift of which he
did not know the existence.

Everything promised well for Delarey and Cronje, but they made little
use of their opportunities. Methuen fought in the dark, and whenever the
Fog of War lifted, found that the situation had changed. He attacked the
Modder as the opening move of his flank march on a mythical position on
Spytfontein and suddenly discovered before him, not a mere advanced post
to be checked or masked, but an enemy holding a well-entrenched and
defended front several miles in length. The maps at his disposal did not
shew the extraordinary windings of the two rivers over part of the area
on which he was engaged, and some of the reaches were only discovered
when they tripped up the advancing troops. The result of a hard day's
work, in which Methuen was wounded, was the capture of Rosmead, a
village on the right bank below the railway bridge. The troops of the
right attack did not succeed in crossing the river, and an attempt to
work up the right bank from Rosmead failed. What effect the battle would
have upon the situation, and whether on the whole it had been a success
for Methuen, were not apparent at nightfall. The question was answered
next morning when it was found that the Boers had retired to Jacobsdaal.
Next day the British troops took up a position north of the river.

So far, the Kimberley relief force had done its work well. The obstacles
in its way at Belmont, Graspan, and Modder River had been thrust aside,
and it was now within two easy marches of its destination. It seemed
therefore that in three days at the most, allowing one day for another
battle, it would be reported to Buller as having finished its task: and
had the necessity been urgent the relief could no doubt have been
effected within that time. Kimberley, however, appeared able to take
care of itself for a few weeks, and Methuen halted for twelve days at
Modder River in order to receive supplies and reinforcements, and to
strengthen his slender and vulnerable line of communication with the
south. He still believed that the Boers would make their next stand at
Spytfontein.

The Boers remained but a few days at Jacobsdaal. After a council of war
at which Cronje declared himself in favour of remaining there as a
menace to the British line of communication which would attract Methuen
to the town, a movement which Methuen himself had had in mind; while
Delarey advocated the taking up of a position between the Modder River
and Kimberley; the plan of the latter was adopted and the Boer forces
trekked northwards to Spytfontein. They found, however, that between
Spytfontein and the river, the Magersfontein group of kopjes would
afford excellent positions to Methuen from which Spytfontein could be
attacked.

During Methuen's halt at Modder River Delarey and Cronje received
considerable reinforcements. From Natal, from the Basuto border, and
from Kimberley, commandos were summoned to Spytfontein. That position
was, however, for the reason just stated, insecure; and on the December
4 the Magersfontein position was taken up and prepared for defence by
Delarey. A low arc stretching from the position towards the Modder was
discovered, from which a flanking fire could be poured in upon a frontal
attack.

With an unerring instinct which was more useful to him than most of the
knowledge he could have acquired in a European Staff College, and with
an originality which if it had been displayed by a young British officer
in an examination for promotion would probably have injured that
officer's prospects, Delarey dug his trenches not at the foot of the
hill but in sinuous lines some little way in advance of it, by which he
gained the power of meeting an attack with grazing or skimming fire, and
which also removed the firing line from physical features on which the
British guns could be laid. It is said that he manned the works on the
slope with burghers firing black powder so as to draw the enemy's fire
away from the trenches in which only smokeless powder was used.

[Illustration: Modder River and Magersfontein.]

Methuen obtained little information during his halt at Modder River. The
country was so much intersected by the wire fences of the farms that
cavalry scouting was difficult. He decided to make a direct frontal
attack upon Magersfontein on December 11 after a bombardment on the
previous evening; and here, as at Colenso, the text-book preliminary
shrapnel practice put the enemy on the alert and did no harm. It greatly
encouraged the burghers in their trenches. Only three men were touched
by the projectiles hurled by the naval, howitzer, field, and horse
batteries; and an impending infantry advance was clearly indicated. To
the Highland Brigade under Wauchope, who had joined the command since
the Modder River battle, was entrusted the execution of the night
attack. He does not appear to have altogether approved of Methuen's
scheme; but with the same dogged valour which he displayed many years
before when he threw himself upon the Gladstonian political
Magersfontein in Midlothian, he incorporated himself in it.

At 1 a.m. on December 12 in a storm of rain and thunder the Brigade in
mass of quarter-columns marched out of its bivouac, guided by a staff
officer's compass which the lightning and the rain soon made unreliable.
The objective point was the southern edge of the Magersfontein Ridge,
about three miles distant. The progress made over the rough and
encumbered veld was slow, and it was difficult to judge in the darkness
how much ground had really been covered. Wauchope either underestimated
the distance made good or, as is more probable, did not expect to find
the enemy entrenched in advance of the foot of the hill, and the error
cost him his life and the lives of many other gallant Highlanders.
Afraid lest dawn should find his Brigade too far away from the position
to rush it, he hesitated to deploy, and when at last he was about to
give the order, a further delay was caused by a line of thorn bushes.
The Brigade passed through or avoided the obstruction and was at the
halt on the point of changing formation when the Boers in the advanced
trenches, which had been so stealthily excavated that no one in the
British Army seems to have been aware of their existence, received the
alarm and opened fire. Possibly the situation might have been saved if
an order to charge had been given at once, and the Highlanders had heard
the skirl of the pipes; but Wauchope had at the first shot rushed
forward impetuously towards the flashing Mausers. With his life he
measured the unknown distance to the trenches, and at the supreme moment
his Highlanders lost their leader and knew not whom to follow.

The sudden stroke of the impact falling upon men of dissimilar
temperament reacted on them diversely. The majority absorbed it by
throwing themselves upon the ground on which they stood; others recoiled
mechanically upon the companies in rear; while to not a few it was a
stimulus which projected them into the jaws of death gaping before them
in the dim light. A mixed body, hardly exceeding the strength of three
companies, pushed on in obedience to the last words that fell from
Wauchope's lips, to reinforce the right; and succeeded in wriggling
round the eastward flank of the enemy's advanced trenches and in
shattering a foreign contingent in the Boer service which was holding
the gap of level ground between the low arc and the Magersfontein Ridge.
The little force of progressives came under the fire of the British guns
which opened upon the ridge at daybreak, but a remnant under Wilson
drove a keen-edged but slender wedge into the curve of the Boer
position, and was favourably placed to storm the ridge. A few score of
Highlanders were now fingering the key with which it seemed possible to
unlock the sluice gates and allow the flood waters of war to overwhelm
the foe. But War is a game of chance. The key was snatched away and the
issue of the day reversed by a man who had lost his way.

In the absence of Delarey, who was absent at Kimberley, P. Cronje was in
chief command of the Boer forces. His Head-Quarters were at Brown's
Drift on the Modder, six miles from the key of the position on
Magersfontein. The sound of the bombardment notified him that an
infantry attack was imminent, and he hurried off to make the final
arrangements for meeting it. These he seems to have completed to his
satisfaction, and he rested for an hour or two, rising soon after
midnight. In the darkness and rain he lost his way on the unfamiliar
ground. But chance found him at daybreak close to the gap which Wilson's
little band of Highlanders had hewn in his line, and their promising
advance was effectually repressed, as they were simultaneously fired on
by Cronje's escort on their front and by a commando which had come up on
their right rear.

Daylight found the shattered and dismembered Highland Brigade lying in
patches upon the veld, with their leader dead before their eyes;
themselves unable to advance or retreat, conspicuous, hungry, thirsty,
and soon to be scorched by the midsummer sun at the zenith; and there
they lay for eight hours. Only the shells of the artillery, which from
daylight onwards played upon the trenches and partially mastered the
fire from them, saved the Highland Brigade from destruction.

The Guards' Brigade under Colvile was in the first instance detailed as
the reserve of the Highland Brigade, but the repulse of the latter and
the probability that it would sooner or later be compelled to retreat
gave the former a definite objective, the low arc held by the left of
the Boer line. In marching on this the wire fence which was the boundary
between British territory and the Orange Free State was crossed, and the
Guards' Brigade had the honour of being the first body of troops to go
into action in the enemy's country. Colvile held his own, but although
he was unable to occupy the arc he screened the right flank of the
Highlanders. On their left a weak Brigade under Pole-Carew was drawn up
astride the railway, and thus apparently the firing line, which had been
so hardly pressed during so many weary hours, was secure on either
flank. But Pole-Carew was paralysed by the variety of the duties which
had been assigned to him, and was unable to operate offensively on the
enemy's right. His original orders were to act as camp guard and to
demonstrate northwards in support of the Highland Brigade; and
subsequently he seems to have been instructed to hold himself in
readiness to cross over to support the Guards' attack on the enemy's
left, with the result that his Brigade was never seriously engaged.

The interval between the Highlanders' right facing the trenches and the
Guards' left had never been effectively closed and early in the
afternoon the Boers renewed their attacks upon it, and threatened to
enfilade the line. Hughes-Hallett, who after the death of Wauchope
succeeded to the command of the Highland Brigade and to whom Methuen had
sent orders to hold on until nightfall, asked Colvile in vain to support
him and at last was compelled to throw back his right. Methuen's orders
were unfortunately known only to Hughes-Hallett and the movement was
interpreted as an order from the brigadier for a general retirement. The
wave of retreat beginning on the right passed rapidly down the line, and
soon all but a few score of men who held on gallantly as long as there
was light were streaming back in confusion to the field batteries in
rear. Even the shelter of the guns did not wholly avail them for
protection, for they were shelled while rallying by the Boer guns which
had been strangely silent during the battle; and the retreat was
continued to the bivouac ground which so many more of them, now lying on
the veld, had quitted seventeen hours before. The battle was lost.

It is probable that if the work had been more evenly distributed the
result might have been, at least, less disastrous. An intolerable strain
was put upon one Brigade which it was unable to bear. The Highlanders
were blundered into action, then abandoned to their fate for many hours,
and finally withdrawn by a misunderstanding. The inequality of the tasks
set to the various columns is strikingly shown in the return of
casualties. To the total of 948 killed and wounded the Highland Brigade
contributed no less than 752. Two of its battalions lost 37 per cent of
their strength; while the losses of the Division were but 7 per cent.

Methuen's expectations that as at Modder River after the fight of
November 28 so also at Magersfontein the Boers would evacuate their
positions during the night were not realized. Next day he retired to the
Modder River Camp, where he received orders from Buller either to attack
Cronje again or to fall back upon the Orange River; but at the instance
of Forestier-Walker, who was in command of the Lines of Communication,
the orders were cancelled and Methuen was allowed to remain.

Magersfontein of itself would probably have sufficed to disarrange the
plans of Duller in Natal, but coming a few hours after a serious rebuff
in the centre, of which the story must now be told, it loomed fearfully
on his near horizon. Soon after he landed at Capetown he ordered the
weak and vulnerable detachments at Naauwpoort and Stormberg to be
withdrawn to De Aar and Queenstown. The movement opened to the enemy the
gates of access to a district in the Cape Colony teeming with Dutch
disaffection. The Free Staters, however, did not avail themselves of the
opportunity with alacrity, as they were more or less committed to
defensive action within their own territory; and a fortnight elapsed
before Colesberg was occupied by a force under the command of a
Transvaaler named Schoeman, who on November 1 had crossed the Orange
River at Norval's Pont. A few days later the Colesberg district was
formally annexed by proclamation to the Orange Free State and the
transfer of allegiance was enthusiastically approved by a public meeting
held at Colesberg on November 14. This action not only brought the
inhabitants under the commando law of the adjacent Republic by which a
form of conscription was enforced, but also overcame the scruples of the
Free Staters who could still maintain that they were only engaged in
defending their own territory. Simultaneously Du Plooy with a commando
which had crossed at Bethulie annexed the Burghersdorp district; while
Olivier with a force mainly composed of colonial rebels took over on
behalf of the Free State all that remained of the border districts of
Cape Colony as far as Basutoland. By the end of November the easy
process of annexation by proclamation had augmented the territory of the
Orange Free State by about 7,000 square miles; and then almost as an
afterthought the burghers occupied the important strategic post of
Stormberg Junction.

To meet and if possible to thrust back these intrusions French was sent
to the Naauwpoort and Gatacre to the Stormberg district. Buller soon
found it necessary to order Naauwpoort to be re-occupied, as that town
would have afforded a useful base to the enemy from which the main line
of railway could be raided in the neighbourhood of De Aar. French
arrived at Naauwpoort on November 20 and was for some weeks engaged in
protecting the lines and in checking rebellion.

[Illustration: Stormberg.]

The little force of half a battalion of infantry which evacuated
Stormberg withdrew to Queenstown, where Gatacre arrived on November 18.
He intended to march on Stormberg as soon as he had collected a
sufficient force; his own Division, which he had brought out from
England, having been diverted to Natal. He soon advanced to Putterskraal
near Sterkstroom and about thirty miles from Stormberg, the occupation
of which by the enemy on November 25 prevented co-operation between him
and French at Naauwpoort.

Meanwhile rebellion was spreading, and owing to the dilatory
proclamation of Martial Law by the Cape Government, always reluctant to
take action which might wound the susceptibilities of the Dutch
population, it had assumed a formidable aspect. Buller was uneasy, and
although at first he had cautioned Gatacre to be careful he now
suggested his closing with the enemy.

On December 7, by which time considerable reinforcements had come in,
Gatacre felt himself strong enough to tackle Olivier at Stormberg. His
plan was to take his column by train as far as Molteno, whence a night
march of about eight miles would bring it into position for attacking
the Boer laager. The use of the railway would not only enable him to
strike more suddenly and with a greater chance of taking Olivier by
surprise but would also economise the strength of his force, a portion
of which having left the transports only a few days previously was not
yet in hard condition. The force with which he proposed to take
Stormberg amounted to 2,600 men, who detrained at Molteno soon after
sunset on December 9. Gatacre calculated that after a march of about six
hours he would be able to rush the position before dawn.

The Boers, to the number of 1,700 men, were in occupation of the
Kissieberg ridge, and of a nek which runs westward from its southern end
towards a higher hill overhanging Stormberg Junction called Rooi Kop.
Gatacre had originally intended to attack the Boer position frontally,
but the reports which he received on arrival at Molteno determined him
to turn it. The change of plan was not made known to all the troops,
with the result that the ambulance and ammunition wagons left the town
by the Stormberg road instead of by the Steynsburg road, along which the
rest of the column was marching to the new objective. No trustworthy
maps were available, and the enterprise was dependent for its success
upon the knowledge and fidelity of a sergeant of police and a few native
constables who acted as guides and who professed to know "every inch of
the way."

Soon after midnight, however, Gatacre's suspicions were aroused by the
sudden appearance of a railway which ought not to have been there, and
it was discovered that the guides had a mile or two back missed a path
on which the column should have diverged to the right. They assured him,
however, that they had chosen a better road and that he was now less
than 3,000 yards from the Boer position. He therefore halted the column
for an hour's rest, and hoped for the best.

When the march was resumed another railway was almost immediately
encountered. It was in fact the colliery line which had been crossed
before the halt and which here curves almost to the extent of a
semicircle; but Gatacre believed that he had come upon the main line to
Steynsburg and judged that he was now N.W. of the Boer position; while
many of the officers in the rear of the column, unaware of the change of
plan, imagined that they were approaching it from the S.E. along the
Stormberg road originally selected for the advance on which the
ambulance and ammunition wagons had already gone astray.

The direction of the march was now almost reversed, owing to Gatacre's
misapprehension of his position; and at dawn the column unknown to
itself reached certain cross roads on Van Zyl's farm which had been
fixed upon as the point from which the attack should be delivered; but
the locality was not recognized by the staff, and the guides, who seem
to have misunderstood the object of the march, conducted the column
still deeper into the valley beneath the Kissieberg ridge.

Suddenly a shot from the heights startled the errant and plodding
column. The Boers had indeed been taken by surprise, but were at once on
the alert and the crest line was soon occupied. The column marching in
fours halted and turned to the right and, except the leading companies
of Irish Rifles, which were formed to the front in order to seize a
detached hill at the end of the ridge, sprang up the slope, but were
soon baffled by the irregular tiers of krantzes or rock walls on the
hill side. The artillery diverged to the left, losing one gun in the
donga which ran down the valley, and took post on the detached hill from
which the Kissieberg ridge could be shelled. The companies of Irish
Rifles, after seizing this hill, passed along the nek which joined it to
the ridge and almost won the crest line.

Meanwhile the Northumberland Fusiliers and the remaining companies of
the Irish Rifles found the task of mounting the encumbered slope beyond
their powers, and were soon ordered to fall back into the valley. The
artillery noticed the movement, and in order to cover the retreat opened
upon Kissieberg; not perceiving in the eastern dazzle of the sun about
to rise above the sky line that some of the infantry who had not heard
the order to retire were still clinging to the darkened westward
hillside, and these were shelled by their own guns.

Gatacre, confident of an easy success, had thrown all his infantry into
the firing line, and had no reserves to fall back upon to support the
companies of the Irish Rifles which were still holding their own on the
left flank of the attack. As soon as the troops had crossed the valley
to reform on the opposite ridge a new entanglement beset them.

A commando under E.R. Grobler and Steenkamp, chiefly composed of rebels,
which had been sent by Olivier on the previous day to stir up trouble in
the district, was halted for the night a few miles out on the Steynsburg
road. The sound of the firing quickly called it to attention, and a
position which seriously threatened Gatacre's line of retreat was
quickly seized. The commando, however, was handled with little judgment
or energy, and was soon checked by the field guns which had been
withdrawn from the detached hill near the Kissieberg ridge to cover the
retreat of the infantry; and which at one time were firing trail to
trail, some still engaging Olivier on Kissieberg while others were
shelling Grobler.

The raid on Stormberg had manifestly failed and Gatacre ordered a
retreat to Molteno. Thither the weary, dispirited column trudged all
through the forenoon of December 10. A gun was abandoned on the way, and
even the wagon in which the breech block had been secreted fell also
into the enemy's hands. But this was a comparatively insignificant loss.
It was soon discovered that nearly a third of the infantry was absent.
When the troops were withdrawn from the attack on Kissieberg not a few
of them remained in the donga or under the krantzes on the hill side,
while others appear to have held on to the ridge. By some extraordinary
neglect or default nearly 600 men were left to their fate. No one seems
to have missed them at the time and they were made prisoners of war
without an effort to extricate them.

In less than two hours all the fighting except the little affair with
Grobler was over. On neither side were the casualties of killed and
wounded heavy. No British officer was killed and of the eight who were
wounded four had been struck by shells not fired by the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Stonmberg on December 10, followed by Magersfontein on December 13,
brought about Colenso on December 15. The latter was Buller's attempt to
retrieve the former mishaps.

A naturally strong position on the left bank of the Tugela had by the
efforts of the Boers during the previous three weeks been almost
perfectly secured. They showed, however, some hesitation with regard to
Hlangwhane, a detached hill on the right bank from which the Tugela line
could be enfiladed. It was a somewhat precarious position as it was
accessible from the left bank only by two bridle drifts. It had been
originally held by the Boers, but the garrison was withdrawn when
Barton's Brigade appeared at Chieveley; and now all Botha's persistence,
and even a reference to Kruger and Joubert at Pretoria, were required to
induce the burghers to re-occupy it on December 15. From the south
Hlangwhane, though separated from the Colenso kopjes by the river,
appears to be an integral continuation of them.

[Illustration: Colenso Battlefield.]

The enemy's general idea was a defensive occupation of the Colenso
position, although Botha, with characteristic spirit, proposed to send a
commando across the river to face the British on the open. The
initiative, always a disadvantage when attacking an enemy strongly
posted and entrenched, was thus imposed upon Buller. It was not doubted
that he would be compelled to make a frontal attack on Colenso and in
this the Boers showed the more correct appreciation of the situation.
Botha hoped to lure Buller on and was prepared even to allow him to
cross the river; and having crushed him to act upon the British flanks,
an operation which the wide extension of Botha's front from Hlangwhane
to Robinson's farm, a distance of seven miles, gave him a good chance of
being able to carry out. If necessary, reinforcements could be drawn
from the investing circle around Ladysmith, which seemed to be detaining
more burghers than were necessary for the maintenance of the siege.

Buller proclaimed his intention of attacking Botha by a preliminary
bombardment of the Colenso kopjes on December 13 and 14; but the
burghers lay low and gave so little indication of their presence that it
almost seemed that they had abandoned the line of the Tugela. The
British Army was encamped near Chieveley four miles south of Colenso.

On the evening of December 14 the scheme of attack was delivered to the
Brigadiers. The leading idea of it was a frontal attack to be delivered
from the village of Colenso, where the Tugela is crossed by an iron
railway bridge as well as by an iron wagon bridge. The latter had been
left intact by the enemy, possibly in order to entice the British troops
across the river. Buller appears to have been unaware how far the Boer
trenches extended towards the west, and to have assumed that only the
kopjes immediately opposite Colenso were occupied. Hildyard's Brigade
was ordered to march in the direction of the "iron bridge,"[21] to cross
at that point, and then to "seize the kopjes north of the iron bridge."
The attack on the enemy's right, which was believed to be weak, was
assigned to Hart's Irish Brigade. He was instructed to cross the Tugela
at a bridle drift about two miles west of Colenso and work down the left
bank towards the occupied kopjes. Two infantry Brigades were retained as
reserves to be used when required; and the mounted Brigade was ordered
to move towards Hlangwhane and occupy it, if possible, and cover the
right flank; but the weakness of the Boer position on that hill, which
was cut off by the river from the main line of defence, does not seem to
have been realized. A few batteries were sent with Hart, but the bulk of
the artillery was ordered east of the railway to support Hildyard.

Buller's scheme has been severely criticized ever since its failure, but
Clery who was in nominal command of the Natal force, and in whose name
the battle orders were issued, as well as the other general officers,
acquiesced in it. But in fact hardly any scheme could have been devised
more likely to play into Botha's hands. Buller hoped to get a footing on
the left bank and Botha hoped that he would succeed in doing so. Botha's
special idea was to allure the troops of the frontal attack to his own
side, where he could easily pound them from his kopjes and carry out his
general idea of netting the British flanks.

Buller had not then been in action with the Boers and he probably
underrated their tactical capacity; but already he seems to have
contemplated the possibility of the loss of Ladysmith, for in his
despatch of December 13 to Lord Lansdowne, in which he justified his
sudden change of the plan of campaign, he said that "it would be better
to lose Ladysmith than to leave Natal open to the enemy."

Nor did the Boers enter into the contest with much confidence. They had
not yet tried Buller's mettle and his name was to them a tradition of
courage handed down from the Zulu war, in which some of the older
burghers now opposing him on the Tugela had served under him. The
curious omission to inform White in Ladysmith that an attack on Colenso
was to be made on December 15 may have arisen from Buller's doubts as to
its issue, or from reluctance to heliograph a message in a cipher of
which the enemy might have the key.

The story of the Battle of Colenso is mainly the narrative of the action
of two important components of the Army of Natal. Each of these was led
by a dangerously brave man, whose impetuosity crippled the tactical
scheme and whose method of working his command was, at least, unusual.
If in Hart and Long, who commanded the Artillery, the quality of
personal courage had been less prominent it is probable that Colenso
would not have filled up the cup of Stormberg and Magersfontein in that
dark midsummer December week.

The naval guns on the west of the railway had the honour of opening the
battle, and shelled Fort Wyllie for some time without eliciting any
response. Long joined Hildyard with another naval battery and two field
batteries. He was not only an impetuous man but he also belonged to the
short range school of artillerists;[22] and he soon outpaced his
infantry escort and came into action with his field batteries in the
open a little in advance of a shallow intersecting donga, and within
1,100 yards of the Boer entrenchments across the river. The naval
battery had been compelled by the flight of the Kaffir ox drivers to
outspan astride a deeper donga about a quarter of a mile in rear, to
which Long had sent back his gun teams. A terrific rifle and shrapnel
fire, which the infantry escort which soon came up was powerless to
subdue, was now opened upon the guns, and for an hour the batteries were
beaten on until the casualties left but four men to each gun, and
ammunition was running short. Long, who was one of the first to be
wounded, withdrew the dwindled gun detachments to the shallow donga and
sent back for a fresh supply of ammunition, intending to resume fire as
soon as the general attack developed.

All the while the batteries had been unsupported except by the escorting
companies, which were not under Long's orders, and no attempt was made
by Hildyard's or Barton's brigade in rear to relieve or divert the
pressure on the guns, which had succeeded in silencing temporarily some
of the Boer artillery and in checking the rifle fire.

Earlier in the action Buller had been informed that the guns were "all
right and comfortable," but later reports gave him the impression that
this cheery optimism was delusive, and that owing to loss of men and
exhaustion of ammunition the artillery told off to support Hildyard was
now permanently out of action. The rest of the artillery was engaged in
assisting Hart, who was in trouble, and Buller came to the conclusion
that the attack on the Colenso kopjes must be withdrawn.

Hart's Brigade was ordered to march "towards the Bridle Drift at the
junction of the Doornkop Spruit and the Tugela, and to cross at that
point." Here was yet another ambiguity. As there were two "Iron Bridges"
so also were there two "Bridle Drifts," one on each side of the isthmus
of the river loop, and yet another at the head of it. The West Drift was
unfordable on the morning of December 15, and a hasty sketch which had
probably been filled in from hearsay evidence and which was Hart's only
map, showed the Doornkop Spruit as entering the Tugela below that Drift
instead of just above the East Drift.[23] The sketch also duplicated the
loop.

In dense formation, although the enemy was reported to be in force on
his front, Hart crossed the Doornkop Spruit without recognizing it and
advanced to the West Drift guided by a Kaffir who lived close by. The
native seems either to have had misgivings as to the fordability of the
Drift or to have been carelessly instructed, for as the column
approached the river he pointed to a Drift which was not the East Drift,
but the Drift at the head of the loop near his own kraal; and Hart was
induced to change direction and lead the Brigade into the loop.

At 6 a.m. against the orders of Botha, who wished to lure on his foe,
the Boer guns commanding Hart's loop suddenly opened on the dense
battalions, and the trenches on the left bank took up the firing. The
Kaffir guide disappeared in terror. But Hart still believed that there
was a drift to be found somewhere or other and pushed his Brigade, like
a shoal of herrings driven into a purse net, up the loop; and some
companies even reached the kraal near the head of it. Without
artillery--for Hart had not brought up the field batteries assigned to
him--and exposed to a concentrated fire from front, left, and right, the
unhappy Irish Brigade, which suffered 400 casualties in less than three
quarters of an hour, was helpless. Hart began to deploy, but Buller who
from Naval Gun Hill was watching, possibly with astonishment, the
entanglement in the loop ordered him to withdraw, at the same time
sending two battalions to dig him out of his hole. It was not an easy
task and it was made more difficult by the gallant reluctance of the
Irishmen to retreat before the enemy. Thus Hart and Long, the former
with his Hibernian zeal to move in the line of the greatest resistance,
the latter with his rash generalization that entrenched Boers could be
coerced as if they were Omdurman dervishes in the open, brought about
the reverse at Colenso.

By this time it was evident to Buller that his scheme must fail. He had
already arranged the extrication of Hart and now the extrication of Long
called for immediate action. He therefore rode across to the deep donga
east of the railway; on his way informing Hildyard, whose brigade was
awaiting an opportunity to carry out its orders, that the attack was
abandoned and that the brigade must cover the withdrawal of the field
batteries. He ordered the naval battery to retire, and sent back the
ammunition wagons, which after long delay were on their way to the field
guns: and acknowledged that he was baffled.

Hildyard occupied Colenso but was unable to prevent the Boers re-opening
fire from Fort Wyllie on the desolate batteries lying on the veld. No
troops could move across the open; and only individual efforts could now
save the guns. Not a few officers and men offered for the forlorn hope,
and at the first attempt two guns were rescued. A later attempt was not
successful, and at 11 a.m. Buller ordered a general retirement and the
abandonment of the guns. The main naval battery remained in position
west of the railway for some hours, and in its presence the Boers were
afraid to cross the river and take possession of the derelict but not
disabled guns; which were not captured until all the British troops had
left the field except a few gunners and infantry details who had taken
refuge in the deep donga and whom the order to retreat had not reached;
and these were made prisoners of war.

The mounted Brigade under Lord Dundonald acting on the right flank with
orders to take Hlangwhane, if possible, was too weak to support the main
attack effectively. Assistance was refused at first by Barton and
afterwards by Buller, who thought that Hlangwhane would be of little use
to him without the possession of the Colenso kopjes; yet these could
have been enfiladed from it. As the Brigade retired it passed within
striking distance of the field guns and their captors; but nothing could
be done as ambulances and groups of prisoners were bemingled in the
throng. Dundonald seems to have been alone in his recognition of the
value of the Hlangwhane position.

A retirement to Chieveley and Frere completed the triad of December
disasters. Buller, of whom so much was expected, had failed in his first
attempt to measure swords with the burghers. His 19,000 men and
forty-two guns fighting for six hours inflicted on the enemy a loss of
less than two score. His casualties exceeded 1,100, he lost ten guns,
and he then returned to the place from which he came. He thought that he
had fought a battle, but in reality he had only made a reconnaissance in
force, a dangerous operation only justifiable by urgent necessity.[24]

Possibly if Buller, who was practically without a staff, had allowed a
freer hand to Clery, that authority on Minor Tactics might have done
better. It has been said that the defeat was due to insufficient
reconnaissance; and this is to a certain extent true, for a more
accurate knowledge of the terrain and the dispositions of the enemy
would have clearly demonstrated the hopelessness of a frontal attack on
the Colenso Kopjes, and the attempt would never have been made. Again,
as at Magersfontein four days before, a considerable portion of the
troops was not seriously engaged; and the total casualties in eight
battalions were but 120.

The loss of the guns is the chief fact in the story of Colenso. What
were Buller's intentions with regard to the Naval battery and the two
Field batteries which he sent to "a point from which they could prepare
the crossing for Hildyard's Brigade," and how did Long understand and
carry out his orders.

The battle orders had been orally anticipated by Buller, who before they
were issued, explained his intentions personally to Long: and, as often
happens in conferences, the impression retained by one conferent
differed from that intended to be conveyed by the other. Long believed
that he was instructed to shell the Kopjes and entrenched positions
behind Fort Wyllie, which he did not at first know was held by the
enemy, and he opened at a range of a mile; and Buller's statement that
he was ordered to open fire with the long-range naval guns only, the
position not being within reach of the field batteries, is contradicted;
while Buller complained that Long had taken up a position within 1,200
yards of a fortified hill and less than a quarter of a mile from cover
occupied by the enemy. There is, indeed, a small area of low trees and
scrub near the right bank of the Tugela a few hundred yards on the right
front of the line of guns, but there is no evidence that the Boers had
ever crossed the river to hold it.

When the field guns, after firing nearly 100 rounds each, became silent,
Buller, who was already perturbed by Hart's discomfiture, jumped to the
conclusion that they were exterminated, and that it would be useless to
proceed with the attack without them; but the gunners were only waiting
for more ammunition. Not until the following day did he know that men
enough to fight the guns were still untouched. If the whole of his force
had been seriously engaged he would perhaps have been justified in his
decision not to hold on to Colenso with exhausted and parched troops in
the burning heat of the South African midsummer in the hope of rescuing
the guns at night; but several battalions had been doing little more
than watching the fight during the morning, and he might have left them
on the field; and it is clear from a telegram sent by Botha early in the
afternoon that if the Naval battery had remained with an effective
infantry support no attempt would have been made by the Boers to cross
the river, and that the guns would not have been lost.

The repulse at Colenso staggered Buller's humanity. He was a brave man
on the right of whose many war medals hung the Victoria Cross which he
had won not far away from the field on which he was now fighting; but he
was lacking in bull-dog tenacity, and in the ascetic temperament which
is quickened rather than disheartened by failure. He returned to his
tent, wrung his hands, and announced to those whom it might concern that
all was lost. In the telegram in which he reported his defeat to Lord
Lansdowne and of which the frankness, the candour, and the copious yet
not egotistical use of the first personal pronoun were in curious
contrast to the formal and sterilized paragraphs of an official account,
he confessed that with the force at his disposal he had little hope of
relieving Ladysmith and he proposed that he should let it go. He ordered
the staff to select a defensive line eastward from Estcourt which his
army might occupy until the end of the hot season.

His message to White in Ladysmith was still more pessimistic, and with
an intention that was chivalrous but was not war he "spatchcocked"[25]
into it a suggestion that White should surrender, and even indicated how
the gain to the enemy could be minimised. The magnanimity of Buller was
manifest: he desired to give White the opportunity of surrendering
without incurring the full responsibility for the act, but the lack of
military instinct in Buller's mind was likewise manifest. To this
message, which was suspected in Ladysmith to have originated in the Boer
laagers, White replied that he had no intention of surrendering.

Nor did Buller's pessimism turn the Home Government from its purpose. He
was ordered to hold on, and on December 17 Lord Roberts accepted the
chief command in South Africa. In announcing the appointment, the War
Office explained that Buller was superseded because it was advisable to
relieve him of responsibility for the operations outside Natal, which he
could not effectively control from his detached position on the right
flank. The Vth Division under Sir C. Warren which had been ordered at
his request a month before, and which he found was available for service
on the Natal side, was on the point of landing in South Africa; the VIth
Division was embarking at home; the components of a VIIth Division were
being assembled, and he became less despondent.

The War Office thought that the Magersfontein mishap called for the
supersession of Methuen, and when Warren reached Capetown with the Vth
Division he found orders from home directing him to assume command of
the force at Modder River. It would probably have been better for Buller
if he had freely acquiesced in the idea of Pall Mall and had allowed
Warren, but not necessarily the Vth Division, to operate in a country
with which he had become acquainted twenty years before in the
Bechuanaland Expedition, but he could not foresee Spion Kop; and Warren
while moving towards the Orange was suddenly recalled to Capetown and
ordered to reinforce the Army of Natal with the Vth Division; and
Methuen was allowed to retain his command at Modder River.

The transfer of the Vth Division to Natal was undoubtedly called for;
but the position in the districts of Cape Colony bordering on the Free
State was alarming. A belt extending from Barkly East near the Basuto
border westwards and northwards as far as the Molopo River, and
interrupted only near the Orange and Modder Rivers, had been annexed by
the Boers and was more or less effectively occupied by them; and had
they acted with enterprise and concurrence during the period of Lord
Roberts' journey from England, the task before the new
Commander-in-Chief would have been still more formidable. In rear of
French and Gatacre was an indefinite area through which ran the British
lines of communication, and which, if not indeed actually under arms,
was ready to spring up whenever a favourable opportunity presented
itself.

Of the four Generals set to stem the tide of war until the arrival of
Lord Roberts, French alone did not restrict himself to restraining its
flow. A policy of "worry without risk" had been recommended to him by
Buller, and he carried it out with good effect. He thrust Schoeman out
of Arundel and Rensburg, and occupied a commanding position outside
Colesberg, which he maintained until he was summoned on January 29 to
confer with Lord Roberts at Capetown, where he was confidentially
informed of the plan of campaign. Clements, who a few weeks before had
reinforced him with a brigade of the recently landed VIth Division under
Kelly-Kenny, took over the command of the troops before Colesberg. But
the force which he had to his hand had been considerably reduced by the
withdrawal of the cavalry and nearly half the infantry to serve
elsewhere, while Schoeman and Delarey, who had come from Magersfontein,
had been strongly reinforced.

The Boers doubted not that the positions taken up by Gatacre and French
indicated that the impending advance of the British Army into the Free
State would be by way of Bethulie and Norval's Pont, and were
accordingly disposing all their available men, one commando even being
sent to Colesberg from Natal; but fortunately they were at first unaware
that Clements had been almost simultaneously weakened. He soon found
that he was not strong enough to hold on to the Colesberg positions and
on February 14 retired to Arundel; losing on the way two companies of
infantry which had been mislaid and forgotten and which after a gallant
running fight of three miles were captured.

But now ominous reports of Lord Roberts' movements in the West began to
come in, and the Boers realized that they had misinterpreted the signs
which had been so ostentatiously displayed. They hesitated and wavered,
and on February 20 hurried away from Colesberg to succour Cronje and the
threatened capital of the Free State.

Notes:

[Footnote 19: Buller aroused a "now-we-shan't-be-long" feeling. He would
certainly be in Pretoria by Christmas. It is said that a large number of
plum-puddings intended for the soldiers' dinners on December 25 were
addressed to Pretoria "to await arrival," by their good friends at
home.]

[Footnote 20: The history of the war showed, however, that generally the
Boers fought more strenuously and effectively when the tide was against
them than when it was flowing with them.]

[Footnote 21: The two chief authorities on the events of the day are not
in agreement as to which of the iron bridges was meant; and in the
absence of information of what was in the mind of the staff officer who
drew up the battle orders the question cannot be answered. The context
and certain expressions in other paragraphs seem to show that the
railway bridge was indicated. It was, indeed, broken but there were
drifts used by the natives above and below it. Probably the river had
not been carefully reconnoitred and the two bridges were confused, or
one only was believed to exist.]

[Footnote 22: At the battle of Omdurman he had put short range
principles successfully into practice against dervishes.]

[Footnote 23: The mistake in Hart's map is shown by a broken line in the
sketch map. It is, curiously enough, reproduced in the Colenso map not
only of the _Times_ History, but also of the German Official Report on
the War.]

[Footnote 24: See _Combined Training_, 1905, p. 109.]

[Footnote 25: _Sic_ in his speech of October 10, 1901, but he probably
meant "sandwiched."]



CHAPTER IV

Kimberley and the Siege of Rhodes


More than thirty years before the outbreak of the Second Boer War a
Dutch child in the Hopetown District of Cape Colony found, while playing
carelessly near the left bank of the Orange, a pretty pebble that was
destined to mould the History of South Africa.

He took the bagatelle home to his father's farm, where a neighbour, one
Van Niekirk, saw it and was struck by its brilliancy. It chanced that
the Irishman O'Reilly was passing that way and to him it was entrusted
to take to Colesberg for expert opinion upon its value. Here certain
Jews declared that it was but a white topaz not worth one shilling and
it was disdainfully cast out into the road, from which it was with
difficulty recovered by O'Reilly, whose belief in it though shaken was
not wholly abandoned. Through a mutual friend, Lorenzo Boyes, Acting
Civil Commissioner of the District, the pebble came to the notice of an
expert mineralogist named Atherstone at Grahamstown, but it was held so
lightly in esteem by the sender that it reached Atherstone as an
enclosure in an ordinary unregistered letter. Atherstone examined it,
and when it had not only spoilt all the jeweller's files in the town but
had also passed an examination by polarized light, pronounced that it
was a diamond worth £500. His certificate to its character, which had
been so ignorantly disparaged, was the origin of the Diamond industry of
South Africa. Another diamond was soon picked up near Hopetown which
without difficulty or misadventure rose to its own plane in mineralogy.
Its career was short and its destiny happy. It was purchased by the
first Earl of Dudley for the adornment of his second wife.

When it was noised abroad with the customary exaggeration that the
monopoly of Golconda and the Brazils was at an end and that diamonds
grew wild on the South African veld, a wide extent of country was
explored and the precious crystallized carbon was found in districts
separated by many hundreds of miles. In certain places, one of which
became known as the town of Kimberley, it was ascertained to recur in a
constant proportion of the contents of the "pipes" or volcanic tubes
which rose through the surface strata.

The pioneers of Kimberley took possession of the diamondiferous grounds
without ascertaining to whom they belonged, and when their value became
positive the question of ownership arose. The boundaries of the
districts administered by the Cape Colony, the Orange Free State, and
the Transvaal respectively were, as regards territory, supposed to be of
little account, vague, ill-defined, and unsurveyed; and the districts
themselves were occupied by native tribes of nomad habits. About the
middle of the XIXth century a Hottentot chief named Waterboer came up
out of the West and squatted in the districts lying between the Orange
and the Vaal. His rights, such as they were, were assumed or acquired by
the Cape Government, which soon became involved in controversy with the
Orange Free State as to their extent and nature. Finally the British
Empire secured a good title to the estate by the payment of £90,000. But
the Orange Free State not unnaturally, when the value of the Diamond
Fields increased day by day, soon began to think that it had parted with
a profitable possession for an inadequate return. The feeling rankled;
and the confident expectation of recovering Kimberley sold for a song
tempted Bloemfontein into the fatal alliance with Pretoria.

In 1871 a sickly youth named Cecil Rhodes came from England to South
Africa in search of health, which after a short sojourn in Natal he
found at Kimberley. The prospects of the place favourably impressed him,
and he soon laid in it the foundations of his fortune; but six years
later the future of Kimberley was still precarious and the discovery of
gold in a remote district of the Transvaal sucked thither the greater
proportion of the citizens, who, however, found that they had not
bettered themselves by the change and returned to the pipes: and soon
nearly a hundred companies, syndicates, and private adventurers were
groping for diamonds over an area of less than two hundred acres. The
waste of energy was manifest to Rhodes, who in 1888 completed, with the
help of the Rothschilds, the task upon which he had been engaged for
some years, the amalgamation of the conflicting and overlapping diamond
interests under the name of the De Beers Consolidated Mines. It was soon
found that the new industry was insufficiently protected by the existing
criminal law and a new felony was created by the Illicit Diamond Buying
Act.

It has been for several centuries the practice of Great Britain to
entrust to private companies the imperial responsibilities which she is
reluctant to assume and to let out to contractors, who can be repudiated
if they fail and expropriated if they succeed, the job of expanding an
Empire. Of this policy the most prominent instance is the East India
Company, a commercial venture which obtained from Queen Elizabeth a
charter empowering it to trade with the East and which, though connected
with Great Britain only by the slender thread of an ocean track of
12,000 miles, maintained itself for two centuries and a half with ever
increasing territory and authority until it became a great military
Empire. Other examples of lower degree are the Hudson's Bay Company and
the Borneo Company. The De Beers Company provided out of its abundance
large sums for exploration and settlement in South Africa and for the
furtherance of the Imperial idea, and it is said that Rhodes spent the
whole of one night in arguing with some of the materialistic magnates of
Kimberley, before he could induce them to consent to the employment of
the resources of the Company in the advancement of his schemes of
Empire. He found, however, that these could not be satisfactorily
promoted by a Company whose primary interests were commercial rather
than imperial; and in 1888 he obtained a charter for the British South
Africa Company, an offshoot of the De Beers Company, formed for the
purpose of extending the British Empire towards the Equator.

The question of the defences of Kimberley engaged the attention of the
De Beers Company some years before the outbreak of the war. Its
vulnerability to attack from the Orange Free State, the border of which
ran close to the town, was obvious; and in 1896 a depot of arms and
ammunition was formed. A military plan of the place was sent to the
Imperial authorities and a defence force was also organized. This,
however, had in 1899 ceased to exist owing chiefly to the action of Mr.
Schreiner, at that time the Premier of the Cape Colony, who in June
refused, with complacent optimism, to furnish it with arms, saying that,
"there is no reason for apprehending that Kimberley is in danger of
attack," and that "the fears of the citizens are groundless and their
anticipations without foundation." A battery of artillery was, however,
surreptitiously brought up from King Williamstown.

The policy of Schreiner during the months preceding the war is obscure.
While refusing help to Kimberley he was allowing munitions of war, which
were way billed as pianos and hardware, to pass through the Cape Colony
to the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He does not appear to have
been actively disloyal to the Imperial Government and in his own way he
probably did his best to keep the peace. His mind was cast in a mould
which is not uncommon in the British Empire but which is rarely found
outside it. He was more anxious to stand well with its enemies, and like
the Unjust Steward to have a claim to a place in their houses, if they
were successful, than to work for its security. It was with great
difficulty that Sir A. Milner as late as September 18 obtained his
consent to the dispatch of a few regulars to Kimberley to form the
backbone of a defensive force. He seems to have retained almost to the
end, in spite of all indications to the contrary, the belief that the
war would be averted or at least that the Orange Free State would not
join in it. Yet in this he erred in good company. Mr. Balfour said that
if on September 28 he had been asked whether war with the Orange Free
State was a probable contingency he would have replied that war with
Switzerland was one equally probable; and Lord Lansdowne declined before
September 23 to discuss with Lord Roberts the question of operations in
the Free State. Buller, with surer insight, had foreseen the alliance as
far back as 1881.

The War Office, however, was to a certain extent on the alert and
distrusted the optimism of Schreiner and of a high military official who
had been for some years in South Africa. Officers were sent to Kimberley
to organize a scheme of defence, but having regard to the susceptibility
of the Capetown Government it was done secretly and confidentially and
Schreiner was outwitted. By October 7 the town, which was under the
command of Colonel Kekewich, was secure against a _coup de main_ though
not against a vigorous and sustained siege. Little more than an eighth
of the garrison was composed of regular troops; the artillery was out of
date; rifles and ammunition were deficient. On October 13 Rhodes threw
himself into Kimberley and became for better or worse a power in the
town. As soon as the siege began the relative value of the chief
products of the mines was inverted: water, the most generous gift of
nature and hitherto an embarrassment in the workings, became for the
time being more valuable than the diamonds.

On October 12 the curtain of the great drama was raised and the first
scene presented. It showed the capture of an armoured train on the
railway between Kimberley and Mafeking. Kimberley under any
circumstances was a prize worth winning. But Kimberley taken with Rhodes
as a prisoner of war, the man who had curbed and checked on every side
the expansion of the Republics, who had taken Matabeleland on the north
and Bechuanaland on the west into the fold of the British Empire, would
be more than a prize, would be a triumph. Rhodes metaphorically in
chains, and actually paraded as a captive in the streets of Bloemfontein
and Pretoria was an alluring prospect.

Great, however, as were the advantages to be gained by the early capture
of Kimberley, the object was not pursued with energy and determination.
When the siege began on November 6 the situation was in favour of the
attack. The Boers were in possession of the railway from Orange River
Station to Mafeking: Kimberley was ill-supplied with the munitions and
weapons of war and was defended by a force mainly composed of
irregulars; it was encumbered with a large native population; and the
civil and military authorities were not working in harmony.

The defence throughout was more active than the attack. Reconnaissances
and raids against the enemy's positions were made with effect; and the
bombardment which followed a rejected summons to surrender did little
harm. Communication with the outer world was not seriously impeded.
Cattle grazed almost with impunity inside the line of investment and
several thousands of the natives escaped.

But the difficulties of Kekewich, who had been in command since
September 20, were not confined to those created by the military
situation. He was thrown into close association with the man who was one
of the indirect causes of the war, and who had little confidence in
military men, or sympathy with their ideas and methods. Rhodes had come
into his own Kimberley and for the first time he was not master in it.
He found himself a sterilized dictator acting in an atmosphere too
tenuous to support his vitality but sufficient to preserve it from
extinction. He was subject to the authority of the military commandant,
a galling position for a distinguished statesman who had not a high
opinion of the professional capacity of the British officer. From the
age of eighteen he had been his own master except during the intervals
which he had spared from South Africa and spent at Oxford, when he was
temporarily subject to the lax discipline of a University. While his
contemporaries were amusing themselves at college, or performing routine
duties in the Army or the Civil Service, or preparing to enter a
profession, Rhodes was spending the critical years of his life in
outlining the future and scheming for a South African Empire to be
erected on the foundation of the Kimberley Mines.

It was inevitable from the nature of the case and from his intimate
concern in the fortunes of Kimberley that he could not see South African
affairs at large in their true perspective. The sparkle of his diamonds
made him curiously colour-blind and out of this defect in his mental
vision sprang the mischief. Kimberley, for the time being at least,
stood so closely in the foreground that other objects were thrown out of
focus. Nor did the disturbing influence of the glare and halation of
Kimberley only affect the vision of the diamond men within the town. It
closed the eyes of the besiegers without it to a great strategical
opportunity which soon passed away.

The figure of Rhodes in Kimberley was the magnet which attracted and
detained commandos which could have been more usefully employed
elsewhere, and his presence, so far as it had this effect, was of great
service to the perilously weak British force during the first few weeks
of the war. If the commandos squatting before Kimberley had instead been
sent to raid southwards towards the Karroo, and to inflame the Dutch
districts in the Cape Colony, they would have met with little
resistance, and advancing with daily increasing numbers would have had
little difficulty in planting themselves firmly in the heart of the
enemy's country. For the moment the war in the west was waged not
against Great Britain but against the Man of Kimberley.

The diamond men, with Rhodes at their head, forgetting that the object
of the war was the redress of the Outlanders' wrongs in the Transvaal,
began to bellow for relief even before the Boers had completed the
investment of the town. Telegrams couched in extravagant and almost
hysterical language and betraying the egotism and the want of
self-control of the senders were repeatedly despatched. One of these, in
which on October 19 the De Beers directors asked for information as to
the plans of the military authorities at Capetown, "so as to enable us
to take our own steps in case relief is refused," was thought not
unnaturally by Buller to hint at surrender; and although this was not
the intention of the senders it is probable that they did not regret the
interpretation that was put upon it.

Fortunately, however, Kekewich was a cool-headed man who did not suffer
himself to be hustled. While preserving amicable personal relations with
Rhodes, he was careful to let Capetown know that the situation in
Kimberley was by no means desperate and that it would be able to hold
out for several weeks.

The impetuous and childish letters and telegrams sent out by the diamond
men induced Buller, who said afterwards that "although I had every
confidence in Colonel Kekewich's military capacity I did not trust the
other powers within the city," to send Lord Methuen northwards on
November 10 with instructions to help Kimberley by removing unnecessary
non-combatants and natives, and "to let the people understand that you
have not come to undertake its defence, but to afford it better means of
maintaining its defence."

The news of Methuen's approach did not allay the excitement of the
townsmen. His movement was not an essential part of the general plan of
campaign but only a raid in force with the object of putting men and
supplies into Kimberley and enable it to hold on until pressure
elsewhere upon the Boers should raise the siege automatically.

The dignity and the self-respect of the diamond men was affronted. Like
the Syrian captain Naaman, when offered relief of his leprosy by the
prophet Elisha, they resented the simple process by which their own
relief was to be effected. They had looked to an Army Corps at least
marching on Kimberley with all the pomp of war and speedily enabling it
to resume its normal occupation of diamond grubbing; and now they found
that the town was not considered of much account in the scheme of the
military, who regarded it as a mere besieged place of little strategical
importance; which, after some assistance, was to be left dependent for
its safety upon its own exertions while the main army advanced through
the Free State.

On December 4 Kekewich was instructed to make arrangements for the
deportation of a large proportion of the white and coloured population,
Methuen hinting that Rhodes himself might be included. Although Rhodes
had a few weeks before complained of the difficulties caused by the
presence of non-combatants and had even endeavoured to send them away,
he now vehemently opposed their removal. His reasons for so doing are
not very clear, but they appear to be part of the systematic obstruction
which he offered to every proposition of the military authorities which
tended to restrict the output of diamonds. His objections were
transmitted to Buller, who speedily put the question in its proper light
by telegraphing to Kekewich that "what we have to do is to keep the
Union Jack flying over South Africa without favour to any particular set
of capitalists," and Methuen met his protest with the answer that
"Rhodes has no voice in the matter." After the defeat at Magersfontein
the plan of deportation had necessarily to be given up.

In his own proper sphere of a civilian working with civilians Rhodes was
usefully active and his services were great. He employed the persons
thrown out of work by the closing of the mines in labour for the general
benefit of the town, and did much to relieve the distress among the
poorer inhabitants.

The manufacture of a heavy gun, to which the name of Long Cecil was
given, in the De Beers engineering establishment, was soon countered by
the Boers, who brought into action a gun throwing a much heavier shell
which had been disabled by the Naval Battery at Ladysmith, repaired at
Pretoria, and was now mounted before Kimberley. The appearance of Long
Tom, supervening on a reduction on the daily rations, caused a panic
among the civilians. On February 9 Rhodes threatened to call a public
meeting to consider the situation unless he was informed of the plans
for the relief of the town: but Kekewich was authorized by Lord Roberts
not only to forbid the holding of the meeting, but even if necessary to
arrest Rhodes. A private meeting was then held at which a remonstrance
was drawn up for transmission to Lord Roberts through Kekewich; and for
the second time a communication from the Kimberley men was interpreted
as a threat to surrender. It was probably sent with that intent in order
to elicit information as to Lord Roberts' plans.

Kekewich meanwhile was finding his position almost intolerable, and his
representations convinced Lord Roberts of the necessity of raising the
siege of Rhodes without delay and at any cost. It was effected on
February 15 by French's brilliant cavalry movement; but at the cost of
the convoy of 170 wagons which were snapped up by De Wet at Waterval
Drift, and of an Army compelled to march and to fight for nearly four
weeks on reduced rations. But the harvesting of the crop of diamonds was
resumed, and as far as Kimberley was concerned the war was at an end.

Although the siege lasted for more than three months the casualties were
few, only 40 persons being killed and 123 wounded by acts of war. The
privations suffered by the inhabitants, especially during the last few
weeks, were no doubt great, but certainly not greater than the
privations which unhappily are endured by the unemployed in Great
Britain during a hard winter. The siege was conducted without much
vigour and determination, and the most important operation on the side
of the defence was a sortie on November 29 after the news had come in of
Methuen's approach.

The relief of Kimberley closed the public career of the most conspicuous
figure in the British Empire; and with great dignity and self-restraint,
which might well have been imitated by other persons whose conduct
during the war was impugned, Rhodes refrained from publishing a
Kimberley book.

If the Siege of Kimberley brought out the weak side of his character,
his egotism and impatience, his lack of power to adapt himself even
temporarily to unaccustomed conditions, it will be remembered that these
defects were inherent and that his marvellous success in life had
accentuated them. The acts of a public man are so variously regarded by
his opponents and his admirers, are seen by them in such different
lights, that there can rarely be any general agreement on the question
of the ratio between his merits and his failings; but the chief phases
of his life afford the raw material out of which each man for himself
can form an estimate of his character.

Like many men who have afterwards become famous in the secular world,
Cecil Rhodes was intended for the Church. His health suffered from the
rigours of the East Anglian climate and he was sent out to South Africa.
His brother's farm in Natal, to which he was consigned, he found
derelict on his arrival, but he was soon growing cotton on it, against
the advice of the local experts, but with eventual success. At the age
of 18 he was prospecting for diamonds at Kimberley, and forming the
opinion during a visit to the Transvaal that an insufficient proportion
of the South African Continent belonged to the British Empire. In 1872,
being then 19 years of age, he went to Oxford, but in a few months his
health broke down and another voyage to the Cape became necessary. In
1876 he returned to the University and remained there for two years when
South Africa recalled him. As soon as he could be spared he went back to
his college and, eight years after matriculation, completed his
undergraduate course. It was a high compliment to the value of a Pass
Degree at Oxford, where, however, he formed the opinion, which was not
publicly divulged until his will was opened twenty-one years later, that
Oxford Dons were "children in finance."

His election to the Cape Parliament in 1881 as Member for Kimberley
placed him in a favourable position to advance his schemes for the
northward extension of the British Empire. When the trespasses and
encroachments of the Transvaal Boers beyond the limits assigned to them
under the Convention of 1884 made it advisable to incorporate
Bechuanaland he was unable to persuade the Cape Government to undertake
that responsibility, but with the assistance of Sir Hercules Robinson
and the support of Mr. Chamberlain he induced the Imperial Government to
take action. President Kruger had connived at the establishment on
native territory under British protection of two little republics of
raiders, to which the names of Goshen and Stellaland were assigned; and
a costly expedition under Sir C. Warren was needed to bring him to his
senses. In 1885 Bechuanaland became an integral part of the British
Empire.

In 1888 he again opened the flood gates of Imperialism, and secured by
means of a treaty with Lobengula the reversion of the native territory
north of the Transvaal, at which two European nations were nibbling, and
which in his honour received the name of Rhodesia.

He became Premier of the Cape Colony in 1890 by the help of the Dutch
vote and from that time gradually sank from the zenith of his success.
His good fortune left him when he attained his ambition. The Jameson
Raid, for which he was not personally, though he confessed himself
morally, responsible, ended his political career. His last good service
to the Empire was given during the Matabele rising. He accompanied the
troops sent to suppress the rebellion; and when the operations seemed
likely to be indefinitely prolonged, he brought it to an end by going
fearlessly and almost unattended among the natives, whose confidence he
won by meeting them trustfully in council and listening to their
grievances.

His physical vitality, always inadequate, was seriously impaired by the
strain of the siege. He never fully recovered his strength and he died
on March 26, 1902, two months before the Second Boer war was brought to
a close by the Vereeniging Treaty.

He was a rich but honest man, and the great wealth which he amassed
never led him to attach undue importance to the possession of it. He
valued it not for his own advantage, but for its help in advancing his
political and imperial schemes. He employed it creditably and without
ostentation, and spent none of it in social display in London. By his
will he left the greater portion of it to the University of Oxford for
the establishment of an amiable if somewhat quixotic system of bringing
the various branches of the Anglo-Saxon race into association at a
centre of learning and athletics, where they were to be leavened by a
Teutonic admixture.

The vision of posthumous reputation allured him, and he delighted in the
hope that the name of his own Rhodesia, like the cities which still bear
the name of Alexander, would be on the lips of men of generations as far
distant from his own as his own was from the days of the Great
Macedonian.

He presented a pair of sculptured lions to President Kruger. Almost on
the eve of the war he asserted confidently that Kruger would not fight.
It is probable that this was not his belief, but that it was said in
order to provoke the President into rejecting the overtures of the
British Government, and to make inevitable the war which he foresaw was
the only way of settling the South African question.

Not a few incidents in his life are difficult to explain. The donation
of £10,000 to the funds of the Parnellite Party by an ardent English
Imperialist who had never expressed any particular enthusiasm for Home
Rule may have been a _douceur_ to prevent the Irish members from
attacking him in the British Parliament. He had not forgotten that
Parnell inaugurated the policy of obstruction carried to the length of
all-night sittings upon the occasion of the discussion of a Cape
Colonial question in the House of Commons. Possibly Rhodes was a Home
Ruler not in spite of his Imperialism but because of it. Home rule was
necessary to it. The function of the Imperial Parliament was the general
control of the affairs of the Empire, leaving local politics to be dealt
with by local legislatures.

The strong and dominant personality of Cecil Rhodes came to the front at
a time when the British Empire was beginning to show signs of lassitude
and appeared to be growing tired of itself. Patriotism was being slowly
transmuted into a limp and sickly cosmopolitan altruism. He checked this
decadence, at least for the time being, but passed away before he was
able to subdue it.



CHAPTER V

A Tragedy of Errors


The lassitude induced by the battle of Colenso affected each combatant
on the Tugela. The Boers put the finishing touches to their works on the
left bank, and at their leisure continued the position across the river
eastwards from Hlangwhane. They did not seem to have been withdrawn in
force[26] to assist the besiegers of Ladysmith in the great assault on
Wagon Hill and Caesar's Camp on January 6, for a demonstration ordered
by Buller at White's request during the crisis showed that the Tugela
front was as strongly held as ever.

On January 8, Buller, whose Head Quarters were at Frere, was reinforced
by the Vth Division under Warren, and he now resumed his original plan,
out of which he had been scared by Magersfontein, of advancing on
Ladysmith by way of Potgieter's Drift, rejecting an alternative plan
proposed by Warren, which differed little from that by which the relief
of Ladysmith was effected six weeks later, of a direct advance by way of
Hlangwhane and Pieter's Hill. Between Buller's army and Ladysmith lay
not only the tortuous and difficult Tugela, but also a barrier of
heights and ridges through which there were but four or five possible
ways of access, one of which had already been tried without success, to
the beleaguered city lying on a plain considerably above the level of
the open ground on the right bank of the Tugela.

Buller, having selected the route which seemed at the time to be the
line of least resistance, began on January 9 to transfer the bulk of his
force from Frere to Springfield, a distance of sixteen miles, but owing
to difficulties of transport and the necessity of accumulating a large
stock of supplies at the new base, it was six days before the
concentration was effected. One brigade was left at Chieveley to watch
the Boer front at Colenso.

In Orders issued at Frere on January 9, Buller announced that he
"proposed to effect the passage of the Tugela in the neighbourhood of
Potgieter's Drift, with a view to the relief of Ladysmith." His scheme
was based upon imperfect information and misleading maps, and was in
fact not so much a surprise flank attack, as all his movements had to be
made in full view of the enemy, as an attack from a position higher up
the river that must be frontal, because the enemy would have ample time
to make it so: and herein lay its weakness. When, however, he personally
surveyed the situation from Mount Alice, which overlooks Potgieter's
Drift, the aspect of the curving amphitheatre showed the danger of
attempting to force the river at that point. On the N.E. was Vaalkrantz
and Doornkop, and the high ridge of Brakfontein, which the enemy had
already begun to entrench, and over which passed the road by which he
proposed to reach Ladysmith, everywhere commanded by the heights, filled
the quadrant towards Spion Kop on the N.W.

On January 13, Buller reported to the War Office that, having found the
Potgieter's Drift scheme impracticable, he proposed as "the only
possible chance for Ladysmith" to send Warren across at Trickhardt's
Drift, five miles higher up the river. The new scheme was based upon a
theory which had been evolved out of the experiences of autumn manoeuvre
battles collated on the office desks of Pall Mall, that the easiest
method of defeating the enemy with a small casualty list was to contain
his front and attack one or both of his flanks; and General Officers had
come to regard this as the regulation opening to which they were bound
to conform.

[Illustration: Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz positions. _Stanford's Geog'l:
Estab't._]

Buller divided his force into two unequal portions. Warren with the
stronger portion was to attack the Boer right which Buller believed to
be weak, while Lyttelton with the remainder demonstrated at Potgieter's
Drift. To himself Buller reserved the part of the Chorus in a Greek
play, taking a general interest in the action, yet not personally
concerned in it; and in that capacity he issued a stirring appeal to the
relieving force.

On January 15 "secret instructions" were given to Warren. He was
recommended, after crossing the Tugela at Trickhardt's Drift, to proceed
west of Spion Kop, and to pivot his right and swing round on to the open
plain in rear of the Boer position facing Potgieter's Drift.

Warren, who was not of opinion that the Boer right was weak, marched out
of Springfield on the evening of January 16. Lyttelton had already
started, and during the night occupied a position on the north side of
the river near Potgieter's Drift.

The task before Warren was hard. In order to carry out Buller's plan he
must cross an unbridged river and struggle through a country of which
little was known. Next day two bridges were thrown over the Tugela above
Trickhardt's Drift, which recent rains had made dangerous, and Hart's
and Woodgate's Brigades were transferred to the left bank to cover the
crossing: but it was not until sunset on January 18 that the entire
force with its tedious transport was established on the north side of
the river.

The mounted troops under Dundonald were sent out at mid-day to
reconnoitre towards the N.W. and in the course of the afternoon his
advanced squadrons came upon a Boer commando which was easily dealt
with, but before the issue was decided, he had reported that he was
engaged near Acton Holmes, and asked for help. Warren assumed that the
mounted troops, which he had sent out to reconnoitre, had wilfully and
prematurely forced on an action, and were now in trouble; and it was not
until the next morning, after an infantry brigade had been moved out to
support them, that Warren heard from Dundonald, whose previous messages
had not clearly described the situation, that he was able to take care
of himself. Dundonald had at first expected that the main body would
follow him, and his reports seem to show that he had hoped to induce
Warren to move towards Acton Holmes. He was rebuked for assuming, not
unnaturally, that the objective of the operations was Ladysmith, and
instructed that the objective was a junction with the other portion of
Buller's force. He was summoned to Warren's headquarters and ordered to
abstain from further attempts to ride round the enemy's right. Thus, as
before at Hlangwhane, a promising cavalry movement by Dundonald was
thrown away.

The deliberate march of the British Army from Frere and the delay at the
Drifts gave the Boers ample time to prepare for the attack. On January
19, on which day Warren moved to Venter's Spruit three miles from
Trickhardt's Drift, they were in occupation of the whole line from
Vaalkrantz to the Rangeworthy Heights. Fourie was in command of the
left, Schalk Burger of the centre, which included the important features
of Green Hill, Spion Kop, and the Twin Peaks; and L. Botha of the right,
in which was Bastion Hill.

There were two roads by which Warren could advance; one running by
Fairview northwards from Trickhardt's Drift between Green Hill and Three
Tree Hill, and the other eight miles longer by Acton Holmes. The length
of the latter and a report from White that several commandos were on
their way to Acton Holmes from Ladysmith, led Warren to adopt the former
route.

He informed Buller of his decision, adding that certain "special
arrangements" which he had made would oblige him to remain near
Trickhardt's Drift, and that he must therefore have further supplies.
The "special arrangements" were in fact the steps which every general
would take before attacking a strong position not immediately
accessible; namely to acquire ground from which it could be threatened
and shelled. Clery was ordered to direct the operation, which Warren
believed would entail "comparatively little loss of life."

Early on January 20 Clery with one brigade and artillery advanced up the
re-entrant which springs from the river towards the east end of the
Rangeworthy Heights, and posted his guns half way up the valley on Three
Tree Hill. Hart, with a brigade of five battalions, was sent to occupy
the irregular southern crest of the heights running from Three Tree Hill
towards Bastion Hill. He drove the Boers out of their advanced trenches,
but found that the northern and higher crest to which they had retired,
could only be won by a frontal advance across open ground. He and his
brave Irishmen were as ready as ever to push on in the line of the
greatest resistance, but he was ordered by Clery to forbear. Meanwhile
Dundonald, not deterred by the damping of his trek on the 18th, and
while obeying an order from Warren to come to heel, seized Bastion Hill,
thereby securing Hart's left flank on the crest. So far as they went,
the operations of January 20 were successful. Warren's pivot movement
was in train, the whole of his force was now threatening the Boer right
which was widely extended but deficient in depth; and the day's
casualties were few. Following the example of Buller, who delegated his
authority to Warren, the latter entrusted the conduct of the day's
operations to Clery, who in succession ordered the chief movement to be
carried out by Hart. Next day the mounted troops on Bastion Hill were
relieved by infantry.

Buller was aware that the Ladysmith garrison, weakened by sickness and
privation, could give him little or no help; but at least during the
earlier phase of the Trickhardt's Drift operations he was confident. On
January 17 he told White that "somehow he thought he was going to be
successful this time," and that he hoped to be within touch of Ladysmith
in six days. His Head Quarters were at Spearman's Camp, a few miles
south of Mount Alice, whence he rode over daily to note and criticize
the tactics.

It now occurred to Warren that he might have been mistaken as to the
significance of the position occupied by the enemy on the Rangeworthy
Heights, and that it might be in reality a screen to hide a trek of the
Free Staters back to their own country; and on this supposition, which
was founded upon reports that the Siege of Ladysmith had been raised and
that some wagons had been seen on trek westwards towards the Drakensberg
passes, he applied for reinforcements to enable him to block the way.

Buller sent him Talbot Coke's brigade with some howitzers; and came over
to consult with him on January 22. The situation was not satisfactory.
Time was being wasted, Warren's "special arrangements" had done little,
and now he had a new idea. Buller still advocated an attack on the
enemy's right, while Warren wished to persevere with his advance by the
Fairview Road; but he pointed out that Spion Kop, which his reading of
the "secret instructions" had led him to regard as out of bounds, must
first be taken. No definite action seems to have been decided on, and
Warren was left to act within certain limits on his own responsibility.
Finally, with the approval of the four infantry generals, he resolved to
seize Spion Kop that night. The attack, however, was postponed until the
following night, to give time for the position to be reconnoitred.

Spion Kop is a ridge of which the chief features are a pair of high
peaks joined by a nek to a plateau, from which a spur, ending in a kopje
called Conical Hill, juts out at right angles to the nek, which becomes
a spur of the plateau at a Little Knoll east of the summit. Its tactical
importance was derived from its height, as the summit, though not the
peaks, is higher than any of the ground held by the enemy; and from its
position, as it was on the obtuse angle formed by the meeting of Botha's
line on the Boer right with Schalk Burger's on the centre, and enfiladed
each of them. It was accessible from the British front by a slope which
rises from the lower ground to another spur running S.W. from the
plateau.

On the morning of January 23, Buller saw Warren, and again pressed him
to make an attack on the Boer right; but finding that the orders for the
assault on Spion Kop had already been issued, he refrained from vetoing
it. He threatened, however, that if immediate action in some direction
were not taken, Warren's force would be withdrawn to the south of the
Tugela.

On the previous day Warren, betraying the Engineer officer unused to
handling large bodies of men, and unfamiliar with the military unities,
rearranged his command with a straight edge, and distributed it in one
way for tactical, and in another for administrative purposes. All the
troops lying west of an imaginary line became the left attack under
Clery, while those east of it became the right attack. The latter, under
Talbot Coke, were ordered to seize the Spion Kop position by night, and
entrench it before daybreak, the actual assault being made by Woodgate
with two battalions, some mounted infantry on foot, and a few Engineers.
At sunset on January 23, the curtain fell upon the first act of the
Tragedy of Spion Kop.

On the night of the January 23 Spion Kop was held as an observation post
by a party of seventy burghers. When Buller first appeared at
Potgieter's Drift, it was on the right of the Boer line, but now it was
only the right of the centre under Schalk Burger. Little was known of
its features and tactical value, beyond the information obtainable by a
telescopic reconnaissance. It was a prominent object in the Boer
position, and it seemed to be within the grasp of a night adventure.
Woodgate left his rendezvous at 9 p.m., but it is doubtful whether he
would have reached the summit before daybreak but for Thorneycroft, who
was in command of the mounted infantry which bore his name, and who had
before nightfall picked out and noted the recognizable objects on the
slope. A staff officer from Head Quarters, who accompanied the column to
direct the march, had had no opportunity of making himself acquainted
with the way of access to Spion Kop, and Thorneycroft was ordered to act
as guide.

[Illustration: Sketch Plan of Spion Kop.]

The summit, but fortunately little more than the summit, was veiled in
mist, and the crest was reached. Bayonets were fixed before the Boer
picket was alarmed and opened fire, but the ammunition was spent without
effect, as Thorneycroft's men had by order thrown themselves on the
ground as soon as they were discovered. A charge into the mist drove
back the picket and scared the main body off the summit. Thus before
dawn on January 24, Warren was in possession of the hill which was
believed to be the key of the Boer position, and the chief obstacle in
the way of his advance seemed to be thrust aside: but the mist on Spion
Kop was the forecast of the Fog of War which was soon to envelope him.

Woodgate, having the men, the tools and the ground, at once began
impulsively to dig, without endeavouring to inform himself of the
features of the position he had so easily won. A sort of a trench had
been scratched on the summit by the weary men, when the mist rolling
away for a little while disclosed the startling topography of the
position. The surface of the plateau sloped gently at first, and then
abruptly fell away, and the trench was found to be of little use. The
enemy could approach on dead ground to within two hundred yards of it.
Woodgate, seeing that the real defensible line was not the highest part
of the summit, but the edge lower down, where the steep descent began,
sent working parties to the front, but they at once came under fire.
Soon the mist again enveloped the hill, and having disposed his force,
he reported to Warren that he had established himself on Spion Kop.

The Boer outpost which had been driven from the summit belonged to
Schalk Burger's command. With Botha's co-operation a storming force was
soon brought together, and almost every point from which Spion Kop could
be brought under fire was seized, even the Little Knoll near the summit,
which enfiladed the main trench. Joubert telegraphed from Ladysmith that
the position must be re-captured, and Kruger at Pretoria asked what was
being done to win it back.

Little did Woodgate's force realize what the morning mist was hiding.
Soon after 8 a.m. the sun dissolved the veil, and the storm burst. From
the right the men in the trench and lower crest were enfiladed by the
Little Knoll and the Twin Peaks; on their front and left they were
rained on by bullet and shrapnel from Conical Hill, Green Hill, and
beyond; with such effect that the lower crest had to be temporarily
abandoned. Woodgate was soon mortally wounded and the command devolved
upon Crofton. Spion Kop was the first position of great tactical
importance won by the British Army on the Tugela, and the Boers were
determined to recover it.

The naval guns posted on Mount Alice and at Potgieter's Drift opened
fire not only on the Little Knoll near the Spion Kop plateau and on the
Twin Peaks, but were also pitching their shells over the summit on to
the Boer positions supposed to be in line with it, and a field battery
on Three Tree Hill shelled the open ground on which the enemy was
advancing.

Heliograms and flag messages from Spion Kop, orally handed in and
incorrectly transmitted by scared signallers, bewildered the recipients
and increased the density of the Fog of War upon the Tugela. To
Lyttelton was flashed an appeal for help without a signature. A message
sent by Crofton soon after he assumed command, in which he reported
Woodgate's death and said that reinforcements were urgently required,
was transmuted into a despairing cry which made Warren think that he had
lost his head, and which led to his supersession. Warren replied that
there must be no surrender, and that Coke was on his way up with
reinforcements.

Warren and Lyttelton, as well as the Umpire in Chief, Buller, were too
far away to be able to appreciate the situation on Spion Kop, or to know
how much or how little of the ridge was in possession of the British
troops. Lyttelton's naval guns, playing upon the Little Knoll, were
twice silenced by a message from Warren, who was under the impression
that the whole of the ridge from the Twin Peaks to the main position on
Spion Kop was held. A demonstration made earlier in the day by Lyttelton
towards Brakfontein was checked by Buller, who was unwilling to engage
the enemy in that direction.

The Boers, a small party of whom before Woodgate's death had climbed the
dead ground, and had come within fifty yards of the main trench, again
attained the outer crest, and a counter attack led by Thorneycroft in
person partially failed, and although the verge was not wholly
abandoned, only the main trench filled with dead, wounded, and unwounded
men parched with thirst, remained for effective resistance. Woodgate had
already paid the penalty for the hasty and fatal act of squatting down
in an indefensible position, and lay among the other victims strewn upon
the plateau; but the British soldier is not easily discouraged by the
errors of his leaders. The cry "_nous sommes trahis_" is never heard
from his lips, and when called upon on active service,

  To live laborious days and shun delights,

he rarely fails to do his duty.

At mid-day the situation on Spion Kop was hazardous but not hopeless.
Reinforcements had arrived and were quickly absorbed in the works which
they quickened with patches of new vigour, but the terrible hail of
bullet and shrapnel was not abated. No definite orders had been given to
Clery, who was on the southern crest of the Rangeworthy Heights, except
that he was to "use his discretion about opening fire against the enemy
to his front, with a view to creating a diversion," a discretion which
he exercised by doing nothing.

Shortly before noon a step was taken by Buller, who was four miles away
on Mount Alice, which enlarged the area of the Fog of War and brought
Spion Kop within its chilling grasp. Thorneycroft was ordered to take
command on the summit with the local rank of Brigadier-General, although
there were several officers present senior to him: but many hours
elapsed before the appointment was made known to all of those whom it
most concerned. Coke, who was now on the S.W. spur, was unaware of it,
and without communicating with Thorneycroft, sent at 12.50 p.m. to
Warren a message which was not delivered till 2.20 p.m., that as the
summit was crowded and the defence was maintaining itself, he had
stopped further reinforcements.

Almost simultaneously with the despatch of this not unfavourable report,
and long before it was received by Warren, two companies posted in a
detached trench on the right threw up their hands, but not before they
had lost all their officers. Out of the crest line sprang the Boers, who
having made them prisoners, endeavoured to impose the surrender upon the
men in the main trench.[27] Thorneycroft saw that if these wavered, as
they seemed inclined to do, all was lost; and rallying the details
within reach, he succeeded in thrusting back the intruders, who,
however, had already sent their prisoners below the hill. His prompt
action stayed the wave of doubt which threatened to flood the position,
and compelled it to break before it could do much harm.

At 3.50 p.m. Coke, who was still on the S.W. spur, and therefore not in
direct touch with Thorneycroft, informed Warren that the enemy was being
gradually cleared from the summit, and that he had been reinforced with
the Scottish Rifles from Potgieter's Drift by Lyttelton, whom Warren,
after receiving Crofton's mis-transmitted message, had ordered to
co-operate. He had already forwarded a letter written at 2.30 p.m. by
Thorneycroft, stating that the force on Spion Kop was being badly
punished by artillery, was in want of water, and was insufficient to
hold the position. To this letter he had added a note of his own which
showed that he did not attach much importance to it, saying that he had
ordered more troops on to the plateau, where "we appear to be holding
our own." This letter, with Coke's covering note, did not reach Warren
until after he had received Coke's message sent nearly an hour later,
and he assumed that the latter indicated the existing hopeful situation
with which he had to deal. Of the physical features of the Spion Kop
position he knew little more than what his telescope told him, and he
read optimistically the meagre, inconsistent, and misleading reports
which reached him occasionally from the summit. He hoped during the
night to place some naval guns on the plateau: he was informed that an
accessible spring of water had been discovered: reinforcements were at
hand: there was nothing more to be done.

Lyttelton, when ordered to "assist from his side," acted with
intelligence and discernment. Noticing that Spion Kop, whither he had
already dispatched the Scottish Rifles, was full of men, he sent the
King's Royal Rifles towards the flanking position on the Twin Peaks, and
the battalion supported by the naval guns, and ignoring messages of
recall prompted by Buller, who was watching the advance with anxiety,
worked its way up and expelled a Transvaal contingent and a small body
commanded by an Irish renegade, all of whom were hurled by the impact
into a flight of eight miles. The position was at once entrenched and at
5 p.m. the right flank of Spion Kop was secured, but only for a time.
Again, as after Lord Dundonald's movement on Acton Holmes, a promising
enterprise was thrown away. Buller had from the first disapproved of
Lyttelton's action, which still more widely distributed his already
scattered command. He was too far away to see its bearing upon the
situation, and now ordered him to recall the King's Royal Rifles, who
after sunset were withdrawn from the position, which they had so
gallantly captured in spite of warnings signalled from Spion Kop that it
was strongly held by the enemy.

On Spion Kop the Fog of War hung more densely than ever. Coke, who was
lame and unable to move freely about the position, believed that Hill,
who had come up with a reinforcement soon after noon, and who was next
in seniority to Crofton, was in command on the summit. He thought that
Crofton had been wounded, and neither saw Thorneycroft nor knew until
the following day that Warren had given him the local rank of
Brigadier-General at Buller's suggestion. Thorneycroft was a junior
major in the Army, having the local rank of Lieutenant-Colonel: and with
two colonels senior to him present as well as a major-general, he was
doubtful as to his status. No instructions reached him from Coke; he was
unaware that the Twin Peaks had been taken by one of Lyttelton's
battalions, and he was without means of signalling to Warren. He had no
information of the measures which were being taken, such as the dispatch
of guns, to make the retention of Spion Kop possible.

The men on the summit were utterly exhausted by fatigue, hunger, thirst,
want of sleep, and exposure to the summer sun beating down upon the
rocky surface, and their ammunition was running short. At 5.50 p.m. Coke
reported "that the situation is extremely critical" and that the men
"would not stand another day's shelling," but it was two hours before
the message reached Warren. He ordered Coke to come down to consult him.
Coke endeavoured to obtain permission by flash signal to stay where he
was, but no oil could be obtained for the lamp, so regarding the order
as imperative, he quitted Spion Kop at 9.30 p.m., leaving, as he
thought, Hill in command. For four hours he strayed in the Fog of War
before he found Warren's Head Quarters, which had come under shell fire,
and which, unknown to him, had been moved from their original position.

Between 8 and 9, Warren received a letter written at 6.30 p.m. by
Thorneycroft, who reported that the enemy's shell fire rendered the
permanent occupation of Spion Kop impossible, and asked for
instructions.

Coke's departure left the position without a clearly recognized
commander, although he had done little more than attend to and
distribute the supports and reinforcements on the S.W. spur. After the
dispatch of Thorneycroft's letter at 6.30 p.m., the situation grew more
hopeless every minute. The enemy's artillery was out of reach, the
nature of the ground and the want of tools made it impossible to cut
properly designed trenches, rations and water were exhausted, and
nothing was known of assistance to be brought up during the night except
that a mountain battery, which would be of little use against the
enemy's guns, was at the foot of the slope.

For these reasons Thorneycroft justified in his official report his
decision to retire from Spion Kop. With the acquiescence of all the
senior officers, except Hill, who could not be found, he ordered a
withdrawal at 10 p.m. The alternative seemed to be a Majuba surrender
next morning. At 10.30 p.m. as the troops were beginning to move off the
hill, he received a letter from Warren, asking for his views on the
situation, and as to the measures to be adopted. It was now unnecessary
to give these, and he sent a brief reply that he was obliged to abandon
Spion Kop as the position was untenable.

The retirement was not made without protests from Hill and from Coke's
staff officer who was still on the plateau. The former, eleven hours
after Thorneycroft's appointment as Brigadier-General, believed, as he
had every right to do, that he was in command, and halted the men; the
latter sent round a memorandum to the commanding officers, asserting
that there was no authority for the withdrawal. But the force of
Thorneycroft's local rank prevailed, and the retreat was not stayed.
Near the foot of the slope he found the mountain battery, and met a
fatigue party on its way to prepare emplacements for two naval guns
which were coming up, and received a message from Warren urging him to
hold on to the position. It was too late. Ordering back the party and
the battery, he went on to report himself to Warren, and arrived at Head
Quarters almost simultaneously with Coke.

The Boers meanwhile were greatly discouraged by their expulsion from the
Twin Peaks, and their failure to occupy the main position on Spion Kop.
The guns which had tormented Thorneycroft for so many hours, and which
were the chief cause of his retirement, were withdrawn, and Schalk
Burger's commandos oozed away towards Ladysmith. But there was, however,
a stalwart and not inconsiderable remnant of burghers who responded to
Botha's expostulations, and stood fast as a forlorn hope determined to
win back Spion Kop and the Twin Peaks. Their constancy was rewarded, and
when at sunrise on January 25 they once more climbed the hill, they
found to their astonishment and relief that it was still held--by more
than 300 bodies of their fallen foes.

Such in brief is the tale of Spion Kop so far as it can be disentangled
from the accumulation of messages, orders, reports, dispatches, and
personal accounts, which obscure the subject. Many of these are
inconsistent, not a few contradictory, and sufficient evidence might be
found to support plausibly half a dozen conflicting theories of the
cause of the disaster, and as many variants of the narrative.

At 2 a.m. Warren heard from Thorneycroft's lips--the latter's written
message sent off at 10.30 p.m. on the previous evening not having
reached him--of the evacuation of Spion Kop. At sunrise he was joined by
Buller, who viewed the situation in a spirit of philosophic detachment.
He had never cordially approved of the Spion Kop adventure, and was not
surprised to hear that it had failed. Warren was inclined to persevere,
but Buller decided to retire south of the Tugela and assumed the direct
command of the Army, which on January 27 was once more drawn up on the
right bank after an absence of ten days; with most of its superior
officers discredited, with Ladysmith unrelieved, and the nation at home
aghast at the disaster.

The lonely figure of Thorneycroft, the only man of action on the summit
energizing and quickening the defence, stands out prominently in the
confusion, gloom, and half lights of Spion Kop. Buller's impulsive
intervention made him responsible for the position, and he tried to do
his best. If the final act was an error of judgment, there is little
doubt that but for Thorneycroft, the Boers would have rushed the plateau
on the afternoon of January 24. He received no effective support from
Clery and little from Warren, and was out of touch with Coke and the
Colonels. His uncertainty as to his authority caused him to refrain from
exercising it fully until the last moment. For the pain which the
decision to withdraw must have given him, he deserves much sympathy. But
although it was approved of by Buller, who probably felt bound to
support his nominee, it was at least premature. He might reasonably have
expected that an effort would be made during the night to relieve him,
and might have postponed it for a few hours. It is unjust to judge a man
in the light of eventualities which he could not reasonably be expected
to foresee, but subsequent accounts from the Boer side show that the
attack would not have been renewed the next morning if the enemy had
found the Twin Peaks, for the evacuation of which Buller and not
Thorneycroft was responsible, and Spion Kop still occupied.

Not only the inconvenience, but also the danger of suddenly conferred
local rank were illustrated on January 24. Buller, hastily concluding
from a garbled message that Crofton was incompetent, asked Warren to put
Thorneycroft in charge. Thorneycroft heard of his appointment orally
through an officer who had chanced to be at the signalling station, and
the written message which never reached him was, it is said, picked up
next day by a Boer! If the exigencies of war should ever require the
sudden promotion of a junior officer to a position of great
responsibility, it should not take effect until all concerned are
notified. The defence of Spion Kop was, during the greater part of the
day, conducted by a syndicate of officers acting severally.

The curtain had fallen, the drama was over, and the critics took up
their pens. With Thorneycroft's report on the retirement from Spion Kop
began a controversy which lasted for more than two years. Warren
enclosed it in his own report to Buller, with the suggestion that a
Court of Enquiry should be held to investigate the circumstances of the
unauthorized withdrawal, and in succession each grade of the military
hierarchy passed censure on the grades below. In Buller's covering
despatch of January 31 with which he forwarded to the War Office,
through Lord Roberts, Warren's Spion Kop report, he commented very
unfavourably on Warren's arrangements and disposition of troops; and
said that Thorneycroft had "exercised a wise discretion, and that no
investigation was necessary": while to Warren's general report on the
whole operations of January 17-27, he attached a memorandum to the
Secretary of State for War, "not necessarily for publication," in which
he not only blamed himself for not having taken command on the 19th,
when he saw "that things were not going well," but also said that he
could "never employ Warren again in an independent command"; as his
slowness had allowed the enemy to concentrate and to increase the force
opposed to him more than twenty-fold.

With this accumulation of censure Lord Roberts dealt in his despatch to
Lord Lansdowne of February 13, written at a drift on the Riet River
during the advance on Kimberley. The Commander-in-Chief confirmed all
the censures passed by his subordinates and added some of his own.
Buller was rebuked for not having intervened when he saw that a most
important enterprise was not being "conducted in the manner which in his
opinion would lead to the attainment of the object in view with the
least possible loss of life on our side"; Warren was reproved because he
did not visit Spion Kop during the crisis, and had instead ordered Coke
to come to him; and while Thorneycroft's gallantry and exertions,
without which the troops would probably have been driven off the hill
during the day, were acknowledged, his action in ordering the retirement
without endeavouring to communicate with Coke or Warren was pronounced
to be a "wholly inexcusable assumption of responsibility and authority."

Never before had such an inconvenient batch of despatches been laid upon
the desks of Pall Mall. To publish them and to proclaim to the world
that the Natal Generals, when they were beaten by the enemy, had began
to fight among themselves, was impossible. If they were withheld from
publication, many awkward questions would be asked. The War Office
temporized, and endeavoured to steer a middle course. Would Buller
kindly substitute a simple narrative for his despatch? This Buller
refused to do, and in April, 1900, the War Office published the
despatches, imperfectly sterilized. As they now appeared, they were
neither a simple narrative, nor a full revelation. Lord Roberts'
criticisms on Buller were cut out. The memorandum, "not necessarily for
publication," in which Buller reflected severely on Warren's incapacity
was withheld. Only the censure passed upon Thorneycroft was allowed to
appear. The junior officer was made the scapegoat of his superiors'
mistakes. Of all the officers concerned, he alone had failed. The War
Office had taken a politic but not straightforward course. The blame
must be laid upon some one, and if it were laid upon Thorneycroft alone
it would affect public opinion less mischievously.

It soon became suspected, however, that certain things were being kept
back, and the controversy dragged on for two years; Buller to the end
maintaining that as he was not present at, nor in command of, the Spion
Kop operations, it was not incumbent on him to write a simple narrative
of them; and that his duty was to write a critical account of the
affair, such as would be sent in by an Umpire in Chief during peace
manoeuvres.

Not until April, 1902, did the Epilogue of the Tragedy of Errors appear.
The despatches, with the memorandum "not necessarily for publication,"
were published in full, as well as the "Secret Orders" given to Warren
at Springfield, which were its Prologue.

Notes:

[Footnote 26: A detachment numbering about 600 only was sent.]

[Footnote 27: In the Fog of War some of the British soldiers thought
that the Boers were coming up to surrender themselves, and acted in this
belief for a brief period.]



CHAPTER VI

More Tugela Troubles


By a process of elimination Buller hoped in time to find the road to
Ladysmith. He had tried in succession, but without success, Colenso,
Potgieter's Drift, and Trickhardt's Drift. He now informed White that he
intended to make another attempt, but Lord Roberts advised him to
postpone it until his own advance should draw off the Free Staters and
weaken the barrier on the line of the Tugela.

The situation in the besieged town was growing worse every day, but a
proposal made by White as well as by the War Office that the garrison
should endeavour to break out, was not sanctioned by Lord Roberts. White
also was opposed to Buller's making another attempt to cross the Tugela,
as he considered that the force would be more usefully employed in
preventing the enemy from concentrating on Ladysmith.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 98.]

Buller's new plan was an advance by way of Vaalkrantz. Here the river
winds in two salient loops towards the north, with a re-entrant loop
between them, and there is a slight break in the heights on the left
bank. The Brakfontein ridge slopes down towards Vaalkrantz Hill, between
which and Green Hill there is a dip through which a road passes on to
the open ground towards Ladysmith, eleven miles distant.

Buller proposed to occupy the ridge of Vaalkrantz with artillery, and
after a feint attack on the Boer position on Brakfontein, to push
through under cover of the guns. It was believed that the enemy's
extreme left lay on Vaalkrantz, which was commanded by Mount Alice and
Zwart Kop. Lord Roberts when informed of the project was not hopeful of
its success, but did not veto it, although he thought that Buller would
be better advised to abstain from offensive tactics.

The feint attack on Brakfontein was to be made by seven Field Batteries
and a Brigade of Infantry, and was to be continued long enough to
convince the enemy that it was "meant". It was then to be withdrawn and
the real attack set in motion. The advance of the feint would be covered
by heavy guns posted on Mount Alice, and concealed batteries on Zwart
Kop would open on Vaalkrantz in support of the real attack.

The bulk of the infantry was posted in the east loop, so as to appear
ready to cross the river and support the feint attack between the loops.
As soon as the guns had driven the enemy into their trenches on
Brakfontein, a pontoon bridge was to be thrown across the river south of
Hunger's Drift, and the guns on Zwart Kop were to open on Vaalkrantz,
and when this had been sufficiently bombarded, it would be carried by
the infantry, and guns would be brought up to enfilade the Boer line;
while the cavalry "when feasible" would push through under the ridge and
threaten it from the rear.

It was a pretty tactical scheme, with much of the War-Game about it, and
it depended for its success upon the practicability of using Vaalkrantz
as an artillery position, and upon the correctness of the assumption
that the enemy was not in force eastward of it.

Buller was not successful in placing his guns on Zwart Kop unnoticed by
the enemy, who was warned in time. After Spion Kop, Botha went to
Pretoria, and Schalk Burger took furlough. B. Viljoen was now in
command. He saw the danger and applied to Joubert at Ladysmith for help,
who thought he was over-anxious but sent him a heavy gun. Little however
would have been done but for the intervention of the two civilian
Presidents. Steyn appealed to Kruger who, having tried without success
to induce Joubert to take command on the Upper Tugela, fell in with
Steyn's suggestion that Martin Prinsloo, a Free Stater, should go there;
and Botha was ordered back from Pretoria. Prinsloo took command of the
Brakfontein position, Viljoen remaining on Vaalkrantz.

At sunrise on February 5 began Buller's third attempt to relieve
Ladysmith. Wynne, who had succeeded Woodgate in command of the 11th
Brigade, advanced in two lines up the slope towards Brakfontein,
supported by the fire of forty-four guns. Nearly six hours passed before
any reply was vouchsafed by the enemy. At mid-day some guns on Wynne's
left front opened on the batteries, but not a shot was fired by the
Boers in the trenches.

Already one field battery had been detached from the left of the line of
guns, the first movement in the real attack, and had taken up a position
to cover the pontoon troop which was throwing a bridge across the Tugela
near Hunger's Drift. At noon the completion of the bridge was signalled
to the feint attack. The batteries fronting the Brakfontein ridge were
withdrawn, and Wynne's brigade which, having been marched up the slope,
was now marched down again, came under a heavy but almost innocuous
infantry fire, which at last broke out on Brakfontein.

To the Boers it appeared that another attack, determined while it
lasted, but devoid of backbone, had been kept at bay. The guns on Zwart
Kop opened on Vaalkrantz as soon as the detached battery was seen to be
in motion; and the other batteries came into action as they arrived from
the Brakfontein demonstration. There was some annoyance from casual
rifle fire and a Maxim posted on the heights S.E. of the loop, but it
did not seriously interfere with the work of the bridge-builders.

The rules of the game were strictly obeyed, and there was "a thorough
preparation by artillery" before the infantry was allowed to advance.
The movement was delayed until half a hundred guns were playing upon
Vaalkrantz and the chance of a _celer et audax_ exploit was lost. At 2
p.m. Lyttelton with two battalions of the 4th Brigade was permitted to
cross the pontoon and with these he worked up under the protection of
the left bank, and emerging upon Munger's Farm, rose thence to the
southern edge of Vaalkrantz, and took hold of the ridge. Here he was
joined by a battalion of Hildyard's Brigade, whose original orders to
occupy Green Hill were cancelled, and later on by the remaining
battalions of his own brigade; which Buller, wavering for a time, had
held back, as the pontoon and the open ground were under fire from the
right flank. At 4 p.m. Lyttelton was established on the main hill of
Vaalkrantz, and during the night the position was entrenched. The
occupation, however, brought two facts to light. Half a mile to the
north of the main hill was another hill, only a few feet lower,
unapproachable and in the enemy's possession; and it was not
practicable, as Buller had hoped, to bring up artillery on to the
position seized by Lyttelton.

At daylight on February 6, the situation was favourable to the Boers.
Botha had arrived and had taken over the command from Prinsloo. The
heavy gun sent from Ladysmith had been mounted on Doom Kop, which was
now held by reinforcements under L. Meyer; other good positions east of
Vaalkrantz had been strengthened; and some of the guns on the
Brakfontein position had been moved round. Vaalkrantz standing between
Doorn Kop and the Twin Peaks, was shelled simultaneously from the left
front, and the right rear, as well as from Green Hill;[28] it seemed as
if Spion Kop were about to be repeated.

Buller opened on Green Hill with artillery, and on the hill north of the
main hill of Vaalkrantz, in the hope of making the North Hill
assailable. In view of a retirement, a pontoon bridge was, at
Lyttelton's request, thrown across the river under the main ridge. He
discouraged a proposal made by Buller to attack the North Hill by a
force creeping along the foot of the westward slope of Vaalkrantz,
covered by fire from the ridge.

Buller was now stalemated. The artillery fire had not cleared the way to
the North Hill, and Lyttelton was unable to move on it, but he said that
he could hold on for the rest of the day if no more artillery were
brought to bear on him from the S.E.

Finally Buller determined to shift the responsibility. He reported the
capture of Vaalkrantz to Lord Roberts, and in effect asked what he
should do with the white elephant. To carry out his plan would "cost
from 2,000 to 3,000 men," and he was "not confident of success." Was
Ladysmith worth it? Yes, replied Lord Roberts without hesitation,
Ladysmith was worth it and it must be done.

In the evening Lyttelton, having thwarted an attempt by the enemy to
recover Vaalkrantz, was relieved by Hildyard. On the following
afternoon, Buller, in spite of Lord Roberts' message, made up his mind
to withdraw. Further reconnaissances had shown that the North Hill, even
if taken, could hardly be held. A council of war was summoned, at which,
as might have been anticipated, Hart alone was for persevering, and at
which Warren again put forward the scheme rejected by Buller at Frere,
but now gladly adopted by him, of advancing on Ladysmith by way of
Hlangwhane.

Orders were issued for the withdrawal of the force from Vaalkrantz
during the night. It was skilfully carried out, and Buller was once more
ferrying his men across the Tugela, having for the third time failed to
reach Ladysmith.

On February 8 the Army was retracing its steps on the road by which four
weeks before it had marched from Springfield to Potgieter's Drift; and
on the 11th it was concentrated at Chieveley, from which eight weeks
before it had been thrown at the Colenso heights. All the Tugela
operations had been conducted in a rarified medium. Want of
determination, want of system, the absence of maps, the lack of a
sufficient staff, were responsible for two months of misadventure.
Buller, like the Boers, was easily discouraged by failure, but unlike
them was unable to quicken himself readily for a renewed effort. He lost
confidence in himself, and then in his subordinates. Like a nervous
child, he opened the door of a dark chamber, but was afraid to enter.
The terror of the unknown drove him back in a panic. When his plans,
which were usually well thought out, miscarried, he became peevish, and
scarcely made an attempt to reconstruct them. Only an Army of which the
backbone was the stolid, unimaginative Englishman of the lower classes,
and which believed that its leader was doing his best, could have
remained undemoralized by the campaign on the Tugela.

Buller possessed one quality which to a great extent outweighed his
shortcomings as a military commander: namely the power of inspiring
confidence. His men believed in him, and would do anything for him. They
liked him for his bluff, John-Bullish, and rampant manner. The enlisted
man is a curious differentiation from the class to which he belongs. His
democratic instincts become less acute when he shoulders the
Lee-Metford, and he readily accommodates himself to the will of a
benevolent despot of robust appearance, and blunt and somewhat
contemptuous address; whom in fact he prefers to the ascetic,
dispassionate General Officer of quiet habit and speech.

The criticisms passed upon Buller were far more friendly in the men's
than in the officers' bivouacs. Possibly the men's opinions, as being
the more natural and spontaneous, were also the more correct. The enemy
conducted the war upon principles which were strange to the British
Army, and to which it had to adapt itself painfully; and the men seem to
have recognized sooner than the professors the difficulties of the
situation, and to have been less intolerant of ill-success.

Few general officers have ever revealed in their official communications
more of the workings and the moods of their minds than did Buller in
Natal. His telegrams and despatches always reflected the thoughts of the
moment. After the Colenso fight, he candidly referred to it as my
"unfortunate undertaking of to-day." Six days before the Vaalkrantz
affair he told Lord Roberts that "this time I feel fairly confident of
success"; and on the eve of the attack he said that "while I have every
hope of success, I am not quite certain of it."

After the retirement, it was, "wherever I turn I come upon the enemy in
superior force to my own." He subjected his personal and individual
ideas and feelings to no restraint, and they incontinently leavened all
his messages which were now confident, now diffident, and now querulous,
and which read as if they were quotations from his private diary. From
Vaalkrantz he heliographed to White that the enemy was too strong for
him, and that the "Bulwana big gun is here"; and could White suggest
anything better than an advance by way of Hlangwhane? In his telegrams
from Chieveley to Lord Roberts, he complained of want of support, and of
the feebleness of the resistance made by the Ladysmith garrison, which
he professed to believe did not detain more than 2,000 men. Yet in
recording his weakness, it must in justice be said that he gained and
never lost the confidence of the rank and file of the relieving force,
and that under any other leader it would probably have succumbed to its
misfortunes.

On February 12 the re-concentration of Buller's Army at Chieveley was
complete. The enemy's front had been greatly strengthened since the
attack on Colenso. The Boers saw what Buller could not be persuaded to
believe, that Hlangwhane was the key of the position, and extended their
line thence in a curve through Green Hill and Monte Cristo, with a
detached post outside it on Cingolo. These four hills and the ground
between them Buller proposed to occupy, and then pass between Cingolo
and Monte Cristo to a drift of the Tugela N.E. of Monte Cristo, cross
the river and advance by the Klip Riyer on Bulwana. The two "iron
bridges" at Colenso were impassable, but the Boers had thrown a bridge
across near Naval Hill by which, and also by a ferry higher up,
communication was kept up with their left flank.

The initial movement on February 12 was made appropriately enough by
Dundonald, who two months before had seen the value of the Hlangwhane
position, and who now perhaps as he marched out, realized the truth of
the proverb _tout vient à ce qui sait attendre_. He occupied Hussar Hill
temporarily as a reconnaissance to give Buller an opportunity of
surveying the ground over which he was about to operate. The
Intelligence officers reported that the enemy was strongly posted at
several points within the area and unmasked some of his slim tricks. In
order to conceal the line of the trenches, the excavated earth was piled
up some distance towards the front, and tents not intended for
occupation were pitched to divert fire from the positions in which he
lay. The war-craft which comes by instinct to nationalities not in an
advanced state of civilization and leading simple lives face to face
with wild animals and native tribes, and which the conventionally
trained European soldier only learns by experience, strengthened the
Boer commandos without an augmentation of individuals liable to be
killed or wounded. The veld trenches which kept Methuen at arm's length
at Magersfontein and the Boer devices on the Tugela seem to show that
War is not a Science, but an Art, easily acquired by unprofessional
soldiers.

On February 14 the movement began and a front at Hussar Hill was taken
up, but owing to the heat and the scarcity of water, little was done
during the next two days, except a bombardment of the Boer trenches and
gun positions. The advance of the relieving force has been likened to
the deliberate progression of a steam roller.

Clery having been invalided, the IInd Division was temporarily under the
command of Lyttelton, whose orders for February 17 were to move upon
Cingolo Nek and Green Hill. Dundonald was instructed to work in rear of
the infantry and outflank any detachment of the enemy that might appear
on the Nek. But Dundonald was not a military pedant devoid of initiative
and tied to the letter of his instructions, and when the difficulties of
the ground broke the touch between him and Lyttelton he was perhaps not
sorry to find himself disengaged; and when he saw that the Boers were
entrenched on Cingolo Ridge, he attacked instead of outflanking it.

While the commando on the ridge was occupied with the infantry, it was
suddenly surprised from the flank by Dundonald's men, and was driven out
of the trenches. Meanwhile one of Lyttelton's battalions, which in
ignorance of Dundonald's movement, had been sent to clear Cingolo of
some Boers who were firing on the advance and checking it, found when it
reached the ridge that it had been forestalled in the capture.

When Lyttelton became aware that the enemy had been expelled, he
proposed to avail himself of the success without delay, and push on to
the Nek and Monte Cristo, while Warren's Vth Division attacked Green
Hill; but Buller objected to an advance which could not be completed
before nightfall. Lyttelton bivouacked S.W. of the ridge and Dundonald
on the detached hill at its northern end. During the night, field guns
were brought up the slopes and with much difficulty emplaced in a
position from which shell fire could be directed on Monte Cristo.

If the movement of the day was not remarkable for speed and enterprise,
it was at least directed with skill and without excessive caution; and
Dundonald showed that his military spirit had not been chilled by
previous rebuffs, one of them administered almost on the spot where he
was now in activity.

At daylight on February 18, the movement was resumed, the immediate
objective being the capture of Monte Cristo and Green Hill. One brigade
was sent through the Nek on to the eastward slopes of Monte Cristo,
while the other attacked the hill from the south. With the help of the
ever-ready Dundonald the IInd Division established itself on the main
hill of the ridge early in the afternoon. The Fusilier Brigade of the
Vth Division was meanwhile acting in support; and advancing as soon as
Monte Cristo was seen to be occupied, easily took hold of Green Hill.
The enemy was now expelled from all the positions commanding the
proposed line of advance over the Nek, and was retreating westward
towards the positions near the right bank of the Tugela, but no attempt
was made to pursue him. The motto of Buller's Army was _festina lente_
and its track towards Ladysmith was in zigzag.

On the following day Hlangwhane was occupied by the British troops, and
before noon on February 20, all the Boers had withdrawn to the left bank
of the Tugela, and Buller was favourably placed for the advance by way
of the Klip River on Bulwana. A reconnaissance, however, caused him to
change his mind and to resume the movement at an acute angle by doubling
back towards Hlangwhane and crossing the river by a pontoon bridge west
of the hill.

His new plan was to capture a position between the Onderbroek and
Langewacht Spruits, which appeared from a distance to be one hill, but
which in reality was two, Wynne's Hill and Horseshoe Hill, which were
separated by a donga. On the morning of February 21 he signalled his
intentions to White, saying that he thought he had "only a rearguard
before him"[29] and that he hoped to be in Ladysmith next day.

After the capture of Monte Cristo and the Hlangwhane position, some of
the commandos seem to have trekked away towards the north, and even
Botha for a time appears to have lost heart and to have suggested to
Joubert that the siege of Ladysmith should be raised. The Boer leaders
had already, like King Arthur,

  Heard the steps of Modred in the west,

and their army in Natal had been weakened, before Buller's final
advance, by the departure of commandos going to succour their brethren
not only on the Modder, but also in the Cape Colony.

The situation on the Tugela was reported to Pretoria almost
simultaneously with the news that Cronje was hemmed in at Paardeberg.
But owing it may be to the distance which intervened between Kruger and
the scene of action, the dour old _voortrekker_ of Colesberg would not
hear of any voluntary retirement before the enemy who had driven him out
of the Cape Colony sixty years before. He sent an appeal to the Boers of
the Tugela which, in an intense human document, displayed his steadfast
and touching faith, and which might have been addressed by his prototype
Cromwell to the Ironsides.

He rebuked the burghers for their cowardice, which he attributed to the
waning of their trust in the power of the Almighty to help them in their
distress, and with many instances and quotations from Holy Writ, he
adjured them to stand fast in faith. He was confident that the cause
which he in all sincerity believed to be the cause of the Church of
Christ would prevail in the end, and justifiably encouraged by successes
in the field against superior numbers he exhorted the commandos to
endure without flinching the purification by fire. Kruger's passionate
appeal availed, and the waverers returned to their posts. The incident
disclosed the power of the factor of moral force, wherein the Boer
strength lay; and it will in a great measure account for the
prolongation of the war. When their cause seemed hopeless, they
comforted themselves with the honest and irradicable belief that its
righteousness was the assurance of final success. Though most of their
leaders were incompetent, though they themselves were easily
discouraged; disobeyed orders; often malingered and mutinied; quitted
the field with their wagons which they were reluctant to abandon, under
such frivolous pretexts that the _verlafpest_ or leave-plague became a
bye-word; though time after time their power of resistance seemed to be
exhausted; though in their thousands they were distributed over the
British Empire as prisoners of war; though their confident expectation
of European intervention was not realized; though they were always
greatly outnumbered; they continued stubbornly to defy for the space of
two years and seven months the most numerous and the most efficient Army
which has ever left the shores of Great Britain, until at last they were
worn down by mechanical friction and attrition, and not by the stroke of
war. When the Boers were driven out of the Hlangwhane positions, they
took up a new position facing S.E. on the left bank of the Tugela. Their
right was near the head of Hart's loop, and their centre came within a
few hundred yards of the river at Wynne's Hill, whence the line was
carried on towards Pieter's Hill.

At noon on February 21 Buller began once more to send his men across the
Tugela, intending to content himself that day with establishing his
force "comfortably" on the position north of the railway bridge enclosed
by the bend of the river, which was now free of the enemy. He ordered
Talbot Coke with the 10th Brigade of Warren's Division to pass over the
Colenso Kopjes on to the open ground beyond, from which the Onderbroek
valley could be enfiladed by artillery. He had received information that
the enemy were there in force, and in the belief that "what Boers there
were, were hiding in that kloof," he changed his plan of moving
northwards at once on Wynne's Hill.

On February 21 Coke advanced in three lines, but soon after he had
cleared the hilly ground, his scouting line came under fire from the
Grobelaar slopes, and his right flank was also involved from the
direction of Wynne's Hill. His Brigade was pinned to the ground by rifle
and shell fire until nightfall, when it was retired to the Colenso
Kopjes, where Wynne's Brigade of Warren's Division had arrived during
the afternoon.

[Illustration: Map of the Final Advance on Ladysmith.]

The route march to Ladysmith was checked. Instead of a mere rearguard to
be driven in, as Buller had fondly believed, a strongly posted line,
extending nearly four miles S.W. from Wynne's Hill, had to be attacked.
The enemy had been so much encouraged by the failure of Coke's movement,
that Botha telegraphed to Kruger that he had hopes of a "great reverse."

Warren thought that it would be necessary to diverge from the advance
and take the Grobelaar slopes, and White reported that Boer
reinforcements were coming in from the north. Towards evening on
February 21, it seemed not unlikely that another Colenso, Spion Kop, or
Vaalkrantz would soon be debited to Buller. The line of approach to
Ladysmith was held by the enemy, and the British Army of relief, the
greater part of which had crossed to the left bank of the Tugela, was
entangled in the Colenso Kopjes, and the river loop.

Warren's general idea for the 22nd, of which Buller approved, was to
attack Wynne's Hill with the 11th Brigade, leaving Horseshoe Hill to be
dealt with by the artillery. Although the Boers on the Grobelaar slopes
had been well pounded for some hours by the field batteries, Wynne
considered that it would be unsafe to advance unless these slopes were
actually taken, but he was overruled. He had also been promised support
on his left rear, but only two of the battalions detailed for the
purpose were at hand and these were fully occupied in offering a front
to the Boers on Grobelaar, while the movement was in progress; and he
advanced against the enemy's centre unsupported except by the long range
fire of a brigade on Naval Hill across the river.

He had expected that the promised supports would secure his left flank
by seizing Horseshoe Hill, and in default he was compelled to detach a
portion of his own scanty force against it. At sunset the cutting edge
of the advancing wedge was touching the enemy, but was unable to break
into him, and Briton and Boer were face to face on Wynne's Hill and on
Horseshoe Hill.

Reinforcements were brought up and defences were constructed during the
night, while the Boers continually fired upon the confused units
labouring in the darkness. The enemy had an entrenched position on
Hart's Hill which enfiladed Wynne's Hill, and which Warren had not been
able to take, as Buller hoped, with the 11th Brigade.

Next morning the 5th Brigade under Hart, which was in reserve near the
river loop, was sent against Hart's Hill. He advanced, wherever
possible, under cover of the steep left bank of the river along a trail
so narrow that the men were compelled often to move in single file; and
at one place, where the Langewacht Spruit enters the Tugela, it was
necessary to make a detour and cross the spruit by the railway bridge,
and to quit the dead ground and emerge on to a defile under heavy fire.
The advance of the Brigade was retarded by the stringing out of the
battalions, and from time to time Hart's Hill was shelled without
seriously harming the enemy, who as usual was not posted on the apparent
crest, but some distance in rear of it.

Two battalions of the 4th Brigade, which had been lent to Hart, were so
far behind that as only two or three hours of daylight remained, he
decided to attack without them. For impetuous gallantry the advance of
the Irish regiments was not surpassed by any other exploit in the War.
Working up on difficult ground to the sound of the Regimental calls, and
then almost brought to a standstill by the barbed wire fences of the
railway, which became a trap of death, they rushed the slope, pushing
the enemy's outposts before them, and won the crest: and then in the
failing light which compelled the supporting artillery to discontinue
the bombardment and relieve the enemy from the pressure of shrapnel,
they saw the Boer positions still above them. The crest was false.

It was a cruel disappointment to brave men who had struggled so well,
but they did not flinch. A charge was made across the plateau, but it
soon was withered by fire and few of the men reached the Boer trenches.
Two more battalions of the 4th Brigade arrived at dawn, but the
reinforcement came too late. The troops were reorganized, as far as
possible, on the slope leading down from the crest, but were eventually
compelled to retire across the railway to the lower ground by flanking
fire, which Hart succeeded in silencing, and was able to reoccupy the
dead ground below the false crest with fresh troops.

The failure of the attack did not deter Buller from pursuing his plan,
and on February 24 he proposed to renew it and to operate against
Railway Hill, which stands fourth in the line of hills running in a N.E.
direction from Horseshoe Hill to Pieter's Hill; but by Hart's suggestion
the movement was postponed, and in the end, abandoned. The greater part
of his Brigade was dangerously and densely posted on the lower ground,
and when during the night a surprise party of Boers opened fire, there
was some fear of a general panic. The situation was precarious. The Boer
line had not been pierced: on each side it outflanked Buller and fronted
the Tugela loops in which the greater portion of his force was huddled.
It was fortunate for him that DeWet had gone to the Modder.

On the night of February 24 began the third movement in zigzag. The
general direction of the first was N.E.; of the second W.S.W.; of the
third East. It was discovered that there was a path by which troops
could pass east of Naval Hill down to the right bank out of the enemy's
reach, and that they could cross the Tugela by pontoon. Buller then
determined to transfer the bulk of his force back to the Hlangwhane side
of the river over the pontoon bridge by which he had crossed to the left
bank three days before. The plan involved not only the concentration of
a clubbed and unwieldy force on the right bank, but also the necessity
of keeping it there until the passage of the last detail allowed the
pontoon bridge to be taken up and moved to the new place of crossing,
three miles below.

An armistice, restricted to the arena of the recent fighting, was
granted by the Boers on February 25, for the purpose of bringing away
the wounded and burying the dead; and during the barter of news on the
very narrow strip which separated the British fallen from the enemy's
positions, the burghers refused to believe that Cronje was surrounded at
Paardeberg, and retorted that Lord Roberts had lost all his transport
and supplies at Waterval Drift, and was helpless.

The cessation of the music of war during the armistice dismayed the
garrison of Ladysmith, which feared that it must indicate another
failure; for owing to spies and the leakage of plans, Buller was afraid
of informing White fully of his position and intentions, and during the
final advance he usually restricted himself in his heliograms to the
expression of his hopes or to the reasons for their non-fulfilment.

On the enemy's side, in spite of a strong line held in sufficient
numbers, the moral position was weak. Botha, who commanded the Boer
right, distrusted Meyer, who was in charge of the threatened left. The
war-sick burghers skulked in their laagers, and it is said that even
necessary movements within the line were not ordered, from a fear lest
the burgher, when once on his feet, would march in the direction which
soonest took him out of his enemy's reach. To Botha, Buller's retirement
across the Tugela came as a gleam of hope. If it did not signify a
retreat, as he suggested to Joubert, it at least indicated that the
attack on the line of hills would not be immediately renewed.

On February 26, the preparations for the fifth attempt to relieve
Ladysmith were completed. Horse, Field, Howitzer, Mountain, and Naval
Guns, to the number of nearly three score and ten, were in position on
the northern features of Hlangwhane, Naval Hill and Fuzzy Hill, and also
on Clump Hill, N.W. of Monte Cristo. The relieving force was arranged in
two commands; the troops west of the Langewacht Spruit being placed
under Lyttelton, the rest being assigned to Warren. On Hlangwhane was
Barton with the 6th Fusilier Brigade; and W. Kitchener, now in command
of the 11th Brigade, was also on the right bank. On the left bank near
Hart's Hill were Norcott and Hart with the 4th and 5th Brigades. Under
Lyttelton was the 2nd Brigade, the 10th Brigade, though in his section,
being placed under Warren's orders.

On the previous day, a mounted brigade had been sent to the east to deal
with an expedition under Erasmus against the British lines of
communication south of Colenso. He led it timidly, and it was easily
checked, and the brigade was brought back to the river.

Buller's scheme for the operations of February 27, was an attack on
Pieter's Hill by Barton, followed in succession by attacks on Railway
Hill by Kitchener, and on Hart's Hill by Norcott, supported by artillery
fire from the positions on the right bank. By the evening of February 26
the troops for the main attack had recrossed the Tugela, and the pontoon
bridge west of Hlangwhane could now be removed. Early in the forenoon of
February 27, it was thrown over the river S.E. of Hart's Hill, where the
left bank afforded a covered way of approach to Pieter's Hill, and the
fourth and final member of the zigzag advance was traced, on this
occasion towards the north. For the seventh time Buller ferried the
Tugela with his men, who impelled alternately by the impulse of his
initiative and by the resilience of the enemy, had been tossed like a
tennis ball from bank to bank at Trickhardt's Drift, Vaalkrantz, and
Hlangwhane, yet whom nothing could dishearten. As they heard the news of
Cronje's surrender at Paardeberg, they were crossing the newly placed
pontoon bridge, and on it they set up a signpost bearing the legend "To
Ladysmith."

Barton led the way across the bridge, then turning to the right, crept
down the left bank of the river for two miles, and mounted the slopes of
Pieter's Hill, when he became aware of the great strength of the Boer
position. It was hedged in by a river, a wooded donga, and a valley;
along its westward face ran a line of kopjes, ending in a detached rocky
hill; and it was supported by fire from Railway Hill. The nearer kopjes
were carried without much difficulty, but a sweeping movement to clear
the plateau as with the swing of a scythe, was checked by heavy fire
from the east, and failed to gather in the rocky hill which commanded
the outlying kopjes, and which the enemy succeeded in reinforcing during
the fight, and in holding for several hours.

Until the development of the attack on Railway Hill by Kitchener,
Barton's Fusiliers were able to do little more than maintain themselves,
as their reserves had been absorbed and their ammunition was running
short. A final attempt was made, with partial success, at the close of
the day, to occupy the rocky hill, but at the cost of many casualties.
The enemy was not entirely expelled, but those who remained disappeared
during the night.

Kitchener followed in Barton's track as far as the gorge which separates
Pieter's from Railway Hill. In spite of the Boer rifles and of the
shrapnel of the British gunners on the right bank playing upon the Hill,
whose attention was eventually drawn to the situation by the bold
advance of two companies to a position from which they could be seen and
recognized through the gunners' telescopes, the eastward edge of Railway
Hill was won. But a portion of Kitchener's command in rear was
magnetically attracted away from the direction of the advance by a
flanking fire from Hart's Hill and, by diverging towards it, broke the
continuity of the line facing the position entrenched by the Boers.
Kitchener was, however, able to fill the gap, and he expelled the
burghers, most of whom fled before the charge got home; and Railway Hill
was won.

Norcott's Brigade was nearer to its objective than either of the
brigades which had preceded it, as it was lying south of Hart's Hill
between the railway and the river; and although deprived of a
considerable portion of his command by a demand for help which purported
to have come from Railway Hill, he finished his task in three hours. He
toiled up the dead ground to the apparent crest of Hart's Hill, and then
came face to face with the higher position, which three days before had
so cruelly baffled the Irish Brigade. But the Boers were not now in a
mood to stay. The shrapnel from the right bank, which they had not to
meet when Hart charged across from the crest in the failing light, was
now hailing on them. All but a few stalwarts took to flight, and Hart's
Hill was taken before sunset on February 27.

The capture of the hills supervening on the bad news from Paardeberg
shattered the Boer Armies in Natal. Botha's left had been defeated; and
although his right had not been seriously attacked by Lyttelton, but
only prevented from effectively reinforcing the hill positions, it fell
away towards the north. He was not able to stay the general retreat, but
he hoped at least to join Joubert and cover it with the aid of the
besieging force. Joubert, however, had already raised the Siege and was
retreating towards Elandslaagte.

Next morning Barton on Pieter's Hill vainly appealed for permission to
press forward, but Buller would only put the two mounted Brigades under
Dundonald and Burn-Murdoch on to the enemy's trail. Dundonald made for
Ladysmith, and Burn-Murdoch was instructed to act on the right front
towards Bulwana, but was soon called upon to assist Dundonald in driving
in a Boer rearguard. He then resumed his advance, and from the east
covered Dundonald, who being fired on from Bulwana thought it advisable
to send his Brigade to a safer position in rear, and having done so,
rode on at the head of a body of colonial troops, and as the sun was
setting on February 28, marched into Ladysmith and ended the four
months' Siege. It was a fitting exploit to be performed by the grandson
of that Lord Cochrane who at Aix Roads nearly a century before had
similarly chafed and strained at the leash of a superior officer's
reluctance.[30] Burn-Murdoch came into action with a rearguard covering
Bulwana, which was evacuated during the night. He bivouacked near the
Klip River, and next morning proposed to pursue the enemy, but Buller
whistled him to heel. The relieving force advanced with deliberation,
and on March 3, entered Ladysmith, and unravelled the Natal entanglement
which at one time seemed likely to wreck the South African Campaign.

The flight of the Boers continued for three days. Ladysmith, which lay
directly in the line of the retreat, divided it into two streams, one of
which flowed towards the Drakensberg, while the other went in the
direction of Elandslaagte and Glencoe, some of the fugitives not
outspanning until they reached Newcastle. So great was the
demoralization that Kruger hurried down from Pretoria to Glencoe in the
hope of staying it. He succeeded in persuading the burghers to hold the
line of the Biggarsberg, but was almost immediately summoned away to the
arena in the west; and only a few hours after he was upbraiding the
fugitives from Ladysmith and the Tugela for their irresolution and want
of faith, the fugitives of the Modder were streaming past him at Poplar
Grove.

Buller has been severely criticized for allowing the Boers to retreat
unpursued, taking with them all but two of their guns. Assuming however
that his appreciation of the situation was correct, he probably acted
wisely. He thought that his first duty was to put food into Ladysmith.
All his guns, except one Field Battery at Colenso and one Horse
Artillery Battery with Burn-Murdoch, as well as all his supply and
regimental transport, were still on the right bank of the Tugela, for
the crossing of which he had but one pontoon bridge. He therefore
decided that the wagons must have precedence, and that the army must
wait.

He was misled by his recollections and by his experience of the Parthian
tactics of the burghers whom he commanded during the Zulu War of 1879,
and from whom he says he learnt "all that he knew" about rearguards. He
believed "that an attempt to force a Boer rearguard is merely a waste of
men." Yet only a week had passed since he told White that he thought
there was "only a rearguard" between him and Ladysmith.

Thus in the glamour of an ancient rearguard reputation the enemy
disappeared.

Notes:

[Footnote 28: Not the Green Hill near Spion Kop. There were several
Green Hills on the left bank of the Tugela.]

[Footnote 29: White, however, said that he saw no signs of a general
retreat.]

[Footnote 30: The Cochrane daring and resourcefulness were not confined
to the men of the clan. During the Jacobite troubles Grizel Cochrane,
when her father was sentenced to death for treason, turned
highway-woman, and held up the coach which was bringing his death
warrant from London, and abstracted it from the mail-bag.]



CHAPTER VII

Ladysmith at Bay


Eighty-seven years before the outbreak of the South African War, the
British Army was besieging the city of Badajoz, in Spain. When it was
taken by assault, a Spanish matron and her sister were molested and came
for protection to the British Camp, where they were received by Harry
Smith, a young Captain in the 95th Regiment, who when the Peninsular War
was over, married the girl fugitive, Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon.

After a distinguished military career in the East Indies and elsewhere,
Sir Harry Smith went out to South Africa in 1848 as Governor of the Cape
Colony, and its dependencies; and in that year he proclaimed the country
between the Orange and the Vaal to be British Territory.

The Boers of the Great Trek resented the annexation, and one Pretorius
took the field, but was beaten on August 29 at the battle of Boomplatz
by Smith, who had under his command six companies of infantry and two
squadrons of cavalry; a force which strangely contrasts with the masses
of soldiery opposed to Pretorius' successors, Joubert, Botha, Cronje, De
Wet, and Delarey.

Harrismith, in the Free State, was named after him; his services in the
Sikh War were commemorated by an Aliwal on the Orange; while upon a new
township in Natal, she who was once Donna Juana Maria de los Dolores de
Leon of Badajoz on the Guadiana, bestowed the commonplace designation
for which she had exchanged her retinue of tuneful Spanish, and it was
called Ladysmith.

[Illustration: The siege of Ladysmith.]

After fifty years of obscurity, Ladysmith suddenly became the pivot upon
which the fortunes of the British Empire were poised. Its loss, at least
during the early weeks of the siege, would not only have thrown a
British Army into captivity, but would have left an encouraged and very
mobile enemy, replenished with the spoils of war, free to march
irresistibly towards the sea.

In November, Buller was prepared, if Ladysmith should fall, to abandon
the whole of Natal except Durban. He had private information that, if
the Boers reached the coast, a certain European power would intervene.
There was also the fear that another reverse would call out the
disaffected Dutch in the Cape Colony, and the danger lest the British
nation, treacherously harassed by the cries of the disaffected at home,
who sympathize with the misfortunes of every nation but their own, would
again write off South Africa as a bad debt, and offer peace on
ignominious terms. In India the news of the capture of White, a former
Commander in Chief, and of his removal as a prisoner of war, would have
seriously, if not fatally, impaired the British _raj_.

At a later period, when the reinforcements had arrived and the plan of
campaign had been altered to suit the situation in Natal, the loss of
Ladysmith would not have so vitally affected the position in South
Africa; and, in fact, Buller on December 16, authorized White to
surrender.

On November 1, the commanders of the allied forces, Joubert and A.P.
Cronje, decided to invest and bombard Ladysmith, confidently expecting
that the only obstacle in the way of the procession to the sea would
soon be removed by the fall of the intimidated town. They were even
urged by some of the subordinate leaders, who, as a rule, were never so
venturesome as when there was no immediate prospect of meeting the
enemy, to mask White and march at once upon Durban, but Joubert would
only sanction a minor effort in that direction which was postponed until
it was too late to be effective.

The last man to leave Ladysmith was French. He was ordered to Capetown
to meet Buller, who was persuaded by his report on the situation that
White's force was insufficient to keep Natal from being overrun, and
that the worst might be feared. The escape of French, by a margin of a
few minutes only, made him available for employment in an arena more
suited to his capacity than a besieged town; and his subsequent good
work in the Cape Colony, south of the Orange River, and during the
advance on Kimberley and Bloemfontein, showed how ill the fortune of war
served the Boers, when they just failed to capture the train which was
taking out of their clutches the soldier who was to relieve Kimberley
and head off Cronje at Paardeberg before the relief of Ladysmith was
effected.

White has been blamed for keeping the whole of his strong force of
cavalry in Ladysmith. He had with him four regiments of regular cavalry
besides five irregular colonial corps. For the space of three months the
action of the British Army was hampered by the absence of the mounted
troops interned in Ladysmith and engaged in garrison duties, until at
last the horses were either killed for food, or, when forage was
exhausted, turned out on the bare veld under the enemy's fire, to
support themselves as they could. White justified, or it may be,
excused, his retention of the cavalry, by its mobility, which virtually
increased the effective strength of the garrison, and enabled him to
reinforce rapidly any threatened section of the defence, as for example,
during the attack on Caesar's Camp. It is no doubt arguable that cavalry
was more useful within the lines of investment than it would have been,
if squandered over the whole area of the concurrent operations
elsewhere; and if so, the limits of its tactical employment have been
considerably extended.[31]

White's force, which numbered about 13,000 men, occupied a perimeter of
fourteen miles on the hills and kopjes nearest to the town, and was
enveloped by an outer perimeter of thirty six miles held by 23,000
Boers. The positions N.E. of the Klip River were occupied by the
Transvaalers, and the opposite semi-circle by the Free Staters.

On November 2, began the bombardment, which the enemy fondly hoped would
bring White on his knees within a week; the first death casualty during
the siege being a naval officer who had reached Ladysmith only a few
hours before the investment with a re-inforcement of long-range naval
guns from the fleet; and during the next two days it was continued from
Pepworth, Bulwana, and elsewhere, with such effect as to induce White to
ask, at the instigation of the civilian authorities, permission to send
away the women, children, and other non-combatants. This somewhat
_naive_ request was naturally disallowed by Joubert, who, however,
consented to the formation of a neutral camp for them and the sick and
wounded at Intombi, within the area of the siege, and dependent for its
supplies and maintenance upon the resources of the garrison. Joubert put
into Ladysmith 200 derelict Indian coolies from the Natal collieries, an
act which was perhaps justified by the code of war, which sanctions the
employment of any means by which the difficulties of a besieged town can
be increased; but a subsequent attempt made by Schalk Burger during
Joubert's advance on the raid towards the south, to saddle White with
the Indian refugees from the Transvaal was successfully resisted.

On November 9, the enemy was foiled in an attack on Observation Hill and
Wagon Hill which were not then held in force, and for eight weeks the
siege was carried on with so little vigour, and confronted with so much
skill, that the British casualties in killed and wounded during that
period numbered less than 250. When the Boers found that the walls of
Ladysmith did not at once fall to the sound of the artillery, they began
with equal confidence to rely upon the indirect casualties caused by
sickness and privation, and awaited the result without impatience in
their laagers. During the last fortnight of November a strong column
under Joubert was detached to raid into Southern Natal. It was prudently
but not enterprisingly led, did little harm, and returned with slight
loss.

Meanwhile the enemy's artillery had been considerably re-inforced, and
the British gun ammunition was beginning to run short. The capture of a
large herd of cattle by the Boers, who neatly drew the animals away from
the town by exploding shells behind them, entailed a reduced meat
ration. In order to co-operate with the relieving force under Clery, who
at the end of November was within signalling distance, White exercised a
part of the garrison as a striking column, which, when the time came, he
proposed to take out under his own command, and to clear the line of
approach from the South.

Three weeks after the abortive attack of November 9, Joubert returned
from his expedition to Estcourt. A council of war was held, and an
assault on the Platrand[32] was determined on for the 30th. On the
previous evening the commandos detailed as covering parties on the left
flank went into position on Rifleman's Ridge, and awaited the main
attack. Meanwhile much had happened in the laagers. The decisions of the
Boer Krijgsraad seem to have been subject to confirmation by a minor
convention composed of the subordinate officers. These took counsel
during the night, and resolved that "the plan was too dangerous to
attempt." When the covering parties opened fire at dawn there was no
assaulting column to cover.

The activity during December was confined to the defence. On the night
of the 7th a raid on Gun Hill, an underfeature of Lombard's Kop,
silenced--at least in Natal--two heavy guns which were worrying the
garrison. By the rules of the game the pieces were injured beyond repair
by the gun-cotton charges which the sappers had fired in the breeches
and muzzles; but the heavier gun was removed to Pretoria, where it was
made serviceable. It was eventually sent to Kimberley, and its arrival
greatly alarmed the timid and irresolute diamond men, whose life was
easy and almost luxurious when compared with the privations which the
steadfast garrison of Ladysmith endured for four months. On the same
night Limit Hill, which the enemy seized a few days after the
investment, was recovered.

A heavy gun was emplaced by the Boers to the front of the northward
section of the defence, on a hill in the angle between the Bell Spruit
and the railway to Harrismith. The approach to it was commanded by
Bell's Kopje and Thornhill's Kopje, but a Battalion of Rifles under
Metcalfe wriggled in between them at midnight on December 11, without
alarming the enemy, and almost reached the crest of the eminence which
was thereafter known as Surprise Hill, before the Boers opened fire. The
assaulters encircled the emplacement, but could not find the gun. In a
little time it was discovered outside the work, and disabled, but not
permanently. The Boers on the flanking kopjes were now on the alert; and
the battalion as it withdrew down the slope met in the darkness a small
but determined detachment which had formed up athwart the line of
retirement. The obstacle was rushed with the bayonet, and the expedition
returned to Ladysmith with a loss exceeding 12 per cent of its strength.

The gun raids were almost the only offensive action taken by the defence
during the siege, and though successful as far as they went, they did
not greatly reduce the strength of the enemy's artillery and were not
continued. He had still more than a score of pieces with which he daily
bombarded the town; but no attempt to assault it by a moving force was
made for some weeks. His confidence in the final issue was unimpaired;
he had but to squat in his trenches worrying the garrison with shell
fire, and the inevitable surrender must come.

His complacent view of the situation was manifested by his use of the
besieging force as a depot which was from time to time called upon to
furnish drafts for service elsewhere. Joubert's absence on the raid
towards the south did not sensibly diminish the retaining power of the
attack, and although the loss of several thousand Free State burghers
who were transferred to Cronje's command on the Modder or to Delarey's
at Colesberg was in part made up by a reinforcement of Transvaalers, the
force sitting round Ladysmith had to assist in the defence of the line
of the Tugela against Duller; yet, albeit weakened by that necessity, it
was still able without much effort to pin White down to the banks of the
Klip River. The inactivity of the garrison, as well as the daily
increasing hospital camp at Intombi under the shadow of Bulwana and the
mournful processions to the cemetery hard by, showed that sickness, the
waning physical and moral strength of those who were still on duty, and
the expenditure of stores, supplies, and ammunition, were slowly
impairing White's power of resistance; and that the numbers of the
besieging force, which later on Buller believed did not exceed 2,000
men, could be safely reduced.

The Boers believed that "their strength was to sit still," and they were
not far wrong. Early in the New Year, however, external pressure
emanating from Pretoria and Bloemfontein was brought to bear upon
Joubert, and he sanctioned another assault on the Platrand, which was
from the first considered to be the key to Ladysmith. It is a series of
plateaux, about two miles long and varying in breadth from half a mile
to a few hundred yards. Its chief features are Caesar's Camp and Wagon
Hill. A mile north of the centre of the position is Maiden's Castle. The
contours on Caesar's Camp and Wagon Hill are pinched in in three places
and divide the Platrand into four positions of unequal area, the
smallest being Wagon Point, an underfeature on the extreme right of
Wagon Hill. The latter is joined by a nek to Caesar's Camp, the plan of
which owing to the contraction of the contours somewhat resembles the
outline of a dumb-bell. The highest point of the position is a knoll on
Wagon Hill, and the front slopes southwards down to Bester's Valley and
Fourie's Spruit. On each flank were hills occupied by the enemy's
artillery.

The strength of the assaulting column as detailed was composed of
approximately equal numbers of Free Staters and Transvaalers and
amounted to upwards of 4,000 burghers. To the former Wagon Hill was
assigned as their objective, to the latter Caesar's Camp, which was held
in greater strength. Early on the morning of January 6, the sentry of
the picket posted on the nek between Wagon Hill and Wagon Point, became
aware of movement on the slope and gave the alarm. Soon after, a party
of Engineers and Infantry preparing gun positions on Wagon Point in view
of a contemplated operation in support of Buller's expected advance by
way of Potgieter's Drift, were fired on at short range by a body of Free
Staters, who had succeeded in climbing to the nek, and who then
threatened a redoubt in the western shoulder of the knoll on Wagon Hill,
which commanded Wagon Point. The first rush was checked by the Natal
Volunteers, who opened with a Hotchkiss gun from the knoll at a range of
less than 100 yards, and threw the leading ranks of the enemy into
confusion. The working parties were thus given time to take up their
rifles, and to organize themselves more effectively for defence.

A counter-attack was made from the adjacent post on the eastern
shoulder, but it failed to dislodge the enemy, a small party of whom
diverged towards their left, and circled round Wagon Point to the rear
of the position between Wagon Hill and Maiden's Castle. Here they
lighted upon the heavy gun at the foot of the northward slope for which
an emplacement had just been made on Wagon Point, and although the gun
was successfully defended by the escort, the insecurity of the Platrand
position was shown by the attempt.

While the Free Staters were assaulting Wagon Hill and Wagon Point, the
Transvaalers obtained a footing on the edge of the Caesar's Camp
position; but their supports failed them. A considerable proportion of
the burghers detailed for the attack on Caesar's Camp, most of them
Transvaalers, again either refused, as on November 9, to take part in
it, or shirked during the advance. But at dawn, after a struggle in the
dark at such close quarters that the face of each combatant was often
for the first time revealed by the flash of his adversary's rifle, the
enemy had his finger on the key to Ladysmith; and was clinging, like
swallows on the eaves, to the whole length of the Platrand from Wagon
Point along a sinuous contour line which curved round the eastern
shoulder of Caesar's Camp, and awaiting the supporting bombardment
which, as soon as there was light enough for the alignment of the
sights, would be opened upon the position from the flanking guns on
Bulwana and Rifleman's Ridge, and from Middle Hill on the front.

The normal garrison of the Platrand, which, since the attack on November
9 had been entirely included in the perimeter of the defence, numbered
not more than about 1,000 men, but it was under the command of Ian
Hamilton.

When the firing began he was in his bivouac near Caesar's Camp. He
quickly collected what troops he could lay his hands on, and went to
Wagon Hill, where he found the situation so serious that he asked White
to re-inforce him. At daybreak the Boer artillery opened upon the
position, and it is probable that it would have been lost, but for the
action of two field batteries which, at a critical moment, came out of
Ladysmith and diverged so as to protect each flank.

Already on the Wagon Point flank, the enemy had worked round and had
threatened the heavy gun, and on the other flank he was holding the
eastern shoulder of Caesar's Camp. Wagon Point was saved from a turning
movement by one battery, while the other, though itself under artillery
fire from Bulwana, opened on the Boers clinging on to the eastern
shoulder, and by checking the advance of their supports, caused them to
withdraw the hook with which they were grappling that flank. But more
than this the British guns could not do, and the Boers holding on to the
front crest could not be touched by shrapnel, and were maintaining
themselves against the defenders of Caesar's Camp; while a combat of
even greater intensity was being waged on Wagon Hill.

Here an attempt made by a few companies of Highlanders to outflank the
Boer line on the crest by working round the shoulder of Wagon Point, had
failed, as the men were exposed to an irresistible fire as they turned
the corner. On Wagon Hill the enemy was holding on to the front of the
redoubt on the knoll and each attempt to dislodge him was unsuccessful.

Towards noon there was a lull in the storm. After nine hours' fighting,
the combatants were face to face on the plateau and the advantage lay
apparently with the attacking Boers, who, in spite of the strong
re-inforcements which had been sent up by White, were still clinging to
the southern crest of Caesar's Camp, and who on their left had won a
footing close to the knoll on Wagon Hill, and were effectively checking
the details on Wagon Point. White having used up all the infantry which
he could safely spare from the other positions on the perimeter, now
sent the cavalry to the rescue.

The pause in the fight, which seems to have been occasioned by the
exhaustion and discouragement of the enemy, and which, perforce, had to
be acquiesced in by the defence, led White to report to Buller soon
after noon, that the Boers had been beaten off for the time being, but
that a renewal of the attack was probable. It came at the moment when he
was sending the despatch from his Head Quarters on Convent Hill, and
when Ian Hamilton was preparing a counter-attack round the shoulder of
Wagon Point. A small body of Free Staters rushed the summit of Wagon
Point, and by their impact drove many of the defenders down the reverse
slope. But those who remained were resolute. After a hand to hand fight
between Boer commandants and British officers around the emplacement
which had been prepared for the heavy gun, the position was recovered
and a reinforcement of dismounted Hussars came up in time to secure it.

On Wagon Hill also the struggle was renewed, and here also the defence
was strengthened by some dismounted cavalry which had been waiting in
support in rear of Caesar's Camp. It was evident that if the enemy were
not dislodged from Wagon Hill during daylight, he would be able to
establish himself irremovably after dark, when all the waverers would
come up under the protection of the night. At 3 in the afternoon White
reported to Buller that the attack had been renewed and that he was
"very hard pressed." He called the Devons to his aid from their post on
the northern section of the perimeter, and in a storm of rain and
thunder, themselves a resistless tempest, they cleared Wagon Hill with
magazine and bayonet.

On Caesar's Camp the enemy had already wavered, and the crest was in
possession of the defence; and now all along the line from Wagon Point
to the eastern shoulder the Boers were scuttling down the slopes toward
the flooded dongas below under a hail of rifle fire. The battle, which
had begun soon after midnight, was continued until near sunset and
resulted in the discomfiture of the only serious attempt made by the
Boers to capture Ladysmith by offensive action. The success was due
primarily to the determination of an enfeebled garrison, which had
already undergone a siege of nine weeks; and secondarily to the tactical
mistakes of the enemy, who had allowed troops to concentrate upon the
Platrand which should have been contained and pinned to their posts at
other sections of the perimeter of defence. Not a few of the commandos
detailed for the assault on the Platrand flinched, yet it almost
succeeded; and if these had been distributed to positions elsewhere,
they would not have incurred great danger, and their presence would
probably have prevented the transfer of the Devons and of the mounted
troops to Wagon Hill at the critical moment.

The battle casualties of January 6 outnumbered in the proportion of 6 to
4 the entire losses due to the acts of the enemy during the whole four
months' investment before and after that date. Twice Wagon Point was
occupied only by the wounded and the dead. Much of the fighting was
either hand to hand or at such short range that the effect of the bullet
could be almost read in the expression on the face of the stricken
opponent; now of anguish, despair, or hatred, now of a gentle sinking to
sleep after toil. The homely name of Wagon Hill, far away from the
fatherland under the southern sun, will abide for all time in the
chronicles of the deeds of the British private soldier. It was his own
battle, by which he saved Ladysmith. Next day a message from home
reached White.

"Heartily congratulate you and all under your command for your brilliant
success. Greatly admire conduct of Devonshire Regiment." The Sender was
Queen Victoria.

The failure of the attack on the Platrand deterred the Boers from
further attempts to break into Ladysmith, which was left like Paris
thirty years before to "stew in its own juice." An ingenious but
impracticable method of bringing the place to its senses by damming the
Klip River below the town in the hope of isolating it by flood was put
in hand, and some alarm was created, but the loyal stream refused to
rise. The garrison was too much weakened by disease and famine to be
able to assist effectively Buller's promised advance by way of
Potgieter's Drift, and in fact he never came near enough to Ladysmith to
make co-operation possible. A mobile column was for the second time
organized by White, but it is doubtful whether it could have taken the
field.

Perhaps some poet of a future generation may follow the example of the
Homeric syndicate and select the Siege of Ladysmith as the theme of a
great Epic, romantically but unhistorically interwoven with the legend
of Juana Maria of Badajoz. On the Boer side the struggle was carried on
with much of the simplicity of Homeric times and the Siege of Troy. The
debates in the war councils; the doubts of the subordinate commanders;
the devices and stratagems, such as the attempt to dam the Klip River,
and the proposal to disguise an assaulting commando in the helmets and
accoutrements of the slain opponents; the abstinence of some of the
leaders from the fray; the single combats on Wagon Point; the democratic
organization of the Boer forces; the difficulty of keeping the burghers
to their duty when the attraction of a domestic and pastoral life
presented themselves in an alluring form; were not of these days nor
even of the Puritan period, but belonged to a remoter age when every man
was a soldier or a shepherd according to the exigences of the moment.
Many a Boer leader, like Ajax, defied the lightning--when it was not
playing directly upon him. Not one of them comes prominently into the
foreground in the great South African siege.

De Wet's brief service in Natal came to an end before the investment,
and in the light of his exploits elsewhere, it is interesting to
speculate upon what might have happened if he had been in command of the
attack on January 6. In all probability it would have succeeded. The
Boers rarely failed when commanded by a resolute leader who knew his own
mind and was able to impose his own will upon them. In isolated
enterprises daringly conducted, they were usually efficient, and
sometimes irresistible, but like most primitive communities in which the
military instinct is individual rather than collective, they were
incapable of forming themselves into a coherent and unified Army for
action in mass. De Wet, in his _Three Years' War_, protests against the
British theory that the burghers were only fit to engage in _guerilla_,
which, possibly from ignorance of the meaning of the word, he seems to
regard as an unworthy term of reproach; but the theory was in reality a
grudging recognition of a suppressed factor in the problem of the war
which the professors had overlooked. His own exploits go far to prove
its soundness.

Like mariners adrift upon the ocean in an open boat, their food and
their water dwindling hour by hour, who eagerly watch a white topsail or
a faint wreath of smoke which seems for a time to be approaching, yet
soon sinks beneath the horizon and leaves them alone upon the waste; the
garrison of Ladysmith was cruelly tantalized by Buller's fitful
appearances on the Tugela. Again and again the boom of his guns growing
clearer and clearer and his heliographs sparkling more distinctly
deluded the defenders with the hope that the day of their deliverance
was at hand. During the Spion Kop affair, the confidence was so great
that for a day or two full rations were issued. The summit could be seen
crowded with people on January 25 who surely must be Buller's men. Not
so; they were the Boers who, to their astonishment, had found the summit
unoccupied, and were burying the dead and collecting the wounded. The
roar of war died away; was heard again from Vaalkrantz, soon to sink
into silence on February 7, when Buller announced that the enemy was too
strong for him. It was renewed at Hlangwhane, Monte Cristo, and Pieter's
Hill, but former disappointments had made the garrison insensible to
hope and it fell upon apathetic ears. When at last Dundonald's little
band was seen approaching, the chilled and dazed soldiers of the
garrison could scarcely realize that they were saved.

After January 6 the increasing sickness and the deficiency of food
became the chief facts of the Siege. More than three-score horses were
sacrificed daily to provide a meat ration for the garrison. The men
slaked their thirst with the turbid water of the Klip River, and munched
a makeshift biscuit made of Indian corn and starch. "Chevril" soup and
potted horse were luxuries. At Intombi nearly 2,000 sick and wounded
were lying without hospital diet or comforts.

On January 27 the situation was so grave that White, when he heard from
Buller that the attempt on Spion Kop had failed, proposed as a last and
desperate resource, but one which, at least, would not involve the moral
effect of a surrender, to abandon Ladysmith, his sick and wounded, and
his heavy guns, and with about 7,000 men and 36 field guns to endeavour
to join Buller. Even if another Buller failure did not sooner doom the
garrison he could only hold out until the end of February.

With this proposal Buller temporized and communicated it to Lord
Roberts, who sent an encouraging message to White, in which he asked the
garrison to accept his congratulations for its heroic defence and
expressed his regret at the delay of the relief and his hope that the
term would not be the limit of possible endurance; though he fully
expected that his own operations in the Free State would before its
expiration relieve the pressure on Ladysmith. Buller doubted Lord
Roberts' forecast and preferred to "play his hand alone," and nothing
came of the proposed break out of Ladysmith. White in his acknowledgment
of Lord Roberts' message said that by sacrificing most of his horses, he
could hold out for six weeks.

There was good reason to believe that by this time the besieging force
numbered not more than 4,000 men, who, however, could be reinforced in a
few hours from the 16,000 burghers standing up to Buller on the Tugela.
The enfeebled garrison was, however, not in a condition to act against
the attenuated cordon from which a constant bombardment was maintained.
As the month of February wore on, the news of Lord Roberts' entry into
the Orange Free State infused more hope into the garrison than the too
familiar sound of Buller once more in action on the Tugela, and so
little was expected of Buller that the lull in the fire during the
Sunday armistice on February 25 was interpreted as another repulse; and
the rations which had been increased, when a message came that he would
be in Ladysmith on February 22--which he soon found was a too confident
expectation--were again reduced. The darkness before the dawn was very
black. The news of Paardeberg reached Ladysmith on the afternoon of the
27th; towards sunset next day Dundonald marched in. White endeavoured to
organize a column to pursue the commandos retreating before Buller, but
found that the toll of war had been paid so heavily by the Natal Field
Force that little more than the strength of one company in each
battalion was fit for service.

Not the least of the trials undergone by the Ladysmith staff were the
heliograms from the Tugela and the constant surprises of the
_déchiffrage_. Sometimes pessimistic, sometimes the reverse and
frequently trivial, there was scarcely an occasion on which they were
helpful. The troubles of the relieving force figured largely in them.

The sequel to the Colenso disaster was a suggestion that White after
burning his ciphers[33]--a precaution which he naturally would take--and
firing away his ammunition, should negotiate with the enemy for the
surrender of the town. To this White made the manly and dignified reply
that there was no thought of surrender; and to his own men he issued a
soldier-like order of the day, in which he told them that they must not
expect relief as early as had been anticipated, and expressed his
confidence that the defence would be continued in the same spirited
manner in which it had hitherto been conducted; and dutifully he applied
himself to his task.

A few days later he was bidden by Buller to "boil all his water." From
Potgieter's Drift, Buller heliographed that "somehow he thought he was
going to be successful this time"; that it was "quite pleasant to see
how keen the men were"; that he hoped to be "knocking at Lancer's Hill"
in six days' time; but after Spion Kop it was, "we had awful luck on the
25th."

Notes:

[Footnote 31: As the officer in command of the Naval Brigade neatly put
it: "the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The cavalry soldiers did
excellent service in the lines--and we ate their horses."]

[Footnote 32: The Boer name for Caesar's Camp--Wagon Hill Position.]

[Footnote 33: This instruction was not included in the original
heliogram, but was annexed to it as an afterthought in a supplementary
message.]



CHAPTER VIII

Deus ex Machina, No. II


On January 10, 1900, Lord Roberts reached Capetown in the _Dunottar
Castle_, the ship which ten weeks previously had brought Buller to South
Africa, and resumed the task which he was not allowed to finish in 1881.
The terms of peace imposed upon the British Government by the Boers
after Majuba Hill resulted in an armistice of eighteen years, and he was
still the soldier to whom the nation instinctively turned when it was
again in trouble in South Africa.

With one unimportant exception all his war experience had been gained in
India or near its frontiers; but India is a spacious arena where
spacious ideas can be freely developed. His mind had not been scored
into grooves by years of desk duties in Pall Mall, or subjected to the
necessity of accommodating itself to obsolete methods and House of
Commons' views. The Indian Army, of which he obtained the command after
serving in it in each commissioned rank, more closely approaches in its
training, organization, and readiness for active service, the military
standard set up by the chief continental nations, than the British Army;
of which a distinguished German officer said at the time of the Boer War
that it was meant for detachment warfare only and not to win great
battles.

With Lord Roberts came, as Chief of the Staff, Lord Kitchener of
Khartoum, a hard and ready man who for fifteen years had been scouring
the Nile. All his war service had been in Egypt, where recently he had
not only smashed the dervishes and secured the Soudan, but by his
diplomatic tact in the Fashoda affair had relaxed the tension of a
dangerous international situation. He belonged to the Royal Engineers,
who are, like the Army Service Corps, a semi-combatant body engaged in
technical duties that do not offer much opportunity of gaining
experience in the art of war or of practice in handling troops, but who
have, nevertheless, given to the nation not a few soldiers of
distinction. It was, perhaps, for this reason that Lord Roberts
generally employed Lord Kitchener as an expert military foreman,
entrusted with the supervision of the work of others.

The situation in South Africa at the time of Lord Roberts' arrival was
as follows:--

Methuen was established at Modder River; Mafeking and Kimberley were
holding out, and the latter at least seemed to be in no immediate
danger; French was in a good position before Colesberg; Gatacre was
maintaining himself without difficulty at Sterkstroom; the garrison at
Ladysmith, after sixteen hours' fighting, had recently warded off a
determined attack; the disaffected districts in the Cape Colony had not
risen; and the despondent Buller, quickened by reinforcements and
stimulated by the approach of the _Dunottar Castle_, was about to make
another attempt to relieve Ladysmith.

Schemes for a South African campaign had been for some time under
consideration by the War Office, but as the attitude of the Free State
could not be forecasted, they were more or less provisional. As late as
the end of September the Premier and the War Minister scouted the idea
of war with the Free State, and the official plan of a central advance
on Bloemfontein by way of Bethulie and Norval's Pont, which held good
until some little time after Lord Roberts' arrival, must therefore have
been subterraneously drawn up without their knowledge. It was no doubt
an excellent solution of a strategical problem studied by men in an
office with a map of South Africa before them which showed several lines
of communication converging on the Orange River; and Buller was about to
carry it out when he was called aside to Natal.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 260.]

Lord Roberts had, however, two years before drawn up a scheme for an
advance on the Transvaal by way of the Kimberley line as far as Mafeking
and thence across country to Pretoria, and before leaving England he
modified it so as to adapt it to action in the Free State. He proposed
to leave the Kimberley line at some point between the Orange River and
the Modder River, and to march in a S.E. direction on the Bloemfontein
line. He was a firm believer in the indirect results of military
movements, and he expected that his arrival at Springfontein or Edenburg
and the menace to the Free State capital "must draw the Free Staters
back from Kimberley and Natal," and that the occupation of it "would
render the Boer positions south of the Orange River untenable." The
official plan of an advance from the centre would force back the Free
Staters engaged in the Cape Colony, and instead of isolating them would
enable them to reinforce Cronje.

After his arrival at Capetown, circumstances however compelled Lord
Roberts to modify his plan of campaign. The news of the Spion Kop
affair, anxiety on account of Kimberley, the presence of Cronje at
Magersfontein and other considerations, determined him to march through
the Free State by a more northerly route which would enable him to
relieve Kimberley _en passant_ and to give battle to Cronje.

The secret of the plan, which was known only to Lord Roberts' personal
staff, was well kept, and operations were continued without reference to
it. The earlier orders issued by him seemed to indicate that the central
advance was still to be carried out. The VIth Division under Kelly-Kenny
was sent to Naauwpoort; French was instructed to make a demonstration
against Norval's Pont; and Methuen was warned that it might be necessary
to withdraw part of the Modder River force.

The Boers, who had captured at Dundee some intelligence papers which
disclosed the original plan of campaign, were now more than ever
convinced that the British Army must advance by way of Norval's Pont and
Bethulie, and did not discover their error until it was too late to
rectify it.[34] When Lord Roberts had made all his preparations, which
involved the entire reorganization of the transport, and the raising of
a considerable force of mounted troops, for his march of 100 miles
across the veld eastward from the railway, the secret was disclosed to
Kelly-Kenny and French on February 1. This plan of a flank march had
also suggested itself to Buller, who proposed it in a memorandum which
Lord Roberts found on his arrival in Capetown; but as Buller's scheme
included the construction of a railway across the veld, and limited the
advance of the Army to the rate at which the line could be pushed
forward, it did not fall in with Lord Roberts' ideas.

Meanwhile Cronje was not perturbed by the reports of troops coming up
the Western line, and was confident that they only indicated a renewed
but isolated attack on Magersfontein. He had no doubt that if necessary
he could always fall back upon Kimberley and retreat towards the
Transvaal; and the demonstrations made by Methuen westwards in the
direction of Koedoesberg Drift served the double purpose of warning a
disaffected region and of diverting Cronje's attention from the flank on
which he was to be attacked and which he believed to be secure.

The two months following the arrival of Lord Roberts in South Africa
were the only brilliant period of a dreary war which lasted nearly three
years, and will perhaps save it from being quoted in military history as
the most sluggish campaign of recent times. In each of the two objects
of strategy, namely to avoid fighting the enemy on ground of his own
choosing, and to compel him to fight under unfavourable conditions, Lord
Roberts was extraordinarily successful. There was a light touch, an
ingenuity, in his swift and silent strategy which contrasted strongly
with the heavy and dull methods which had hitherto controlled the
action. While Buller was talking about his tedious railway across the
veld, and Milner at Capetown was dismalling the situation and
discouraging the advance, Lord Roberts had in effect entered the capital
of the Free State and seemed to have completed half his task. The Boers
were hypnotized and deceived not only by signs from which they drew
wrong inferences, but also by bogus orders which it was arranged should
come under their notice and which were simultaneously cancelled in
cipher: and when too late they awoke from the bewilderment, they began
to scuttle to and fro like rabbits in a warren. There is good reason to
believe that if the strategic ability of Lord Roberts could have been
united in one mind to the determination of Lord Kitchener the war would
have been over in a year.

On February 8 Lord Roberts arrived at Modder River, where he found bad
news awaiting him. Buller had failed at Vaalkrantz, and the diamond men
of Kimberley were threatening to capitulate. By February 13 30,000
combatants, some of whom in order to preserve the illusion had been kept
in the centre until the last moment, were in readiness at various points
between the Orange and the Modder. The immediate problem before Lord
Roberts was the relief of Kimberley in combination with the cornering of
Cronje. In the background was the Natal trouble. Buller was again
helplessly wringing his hands and reaching round to find excuses for his
misadventures. Lord Roberts wisely left him alone and went on with his
own work. He saw what Buller refused to see, that the Tugela could be
crossed at Magersfontein and Ladysmith relieved at a drift of the Modder
River.

[Illustration: Sketch map of the Riet and Modder Drifts.]

On February 11 Lord Roberts set his army in motion; and the operations
of the next few days may be summarised with sufficient accuracy as a
cavalry raid northwards, but avoiding Cronje's left flank at Brown's
Drift, to relieve Kimberley; combined with an infantry advance to cut
him off. It was not possible to make the initial movements in the
direction of the eventual advance, as the Magersfontein-Brown's Drift
quadrant N.E. of Modder River was strongly held by the enemy, and
disallowed a cavalry advance from below the junction of the Riet and the
Modder in the direction of Kimberley except by a westerly detour which
could not be accommodated to the general scheme. In order to strike the
practicable drifts on the two rivers above their confluence, it was
necessary for the advance to be made along the curve of a parabola which
issued from Modder River Station in a S.E. direction, and in a
sixty-mile circuit crossed the rivers and finally approached Kimberley,
only twenty miles distant from the starting point, almost in the
opposite direction.

At midday on February 11 the Cavalry Division under French reached
Ramdam, a farm east of Graspan and fronting the drifts of the Riet,
where the Army was being concentrated for the advance. Some hours
elapsed before Cronje became aware that French had trekked away to the
S.E., and to his slow and sullen spirit the movement did not appear to
have much significance. He was persuaded that the British never trusted
themselves much more than a day's march away from a railway. It was only
a demonstration, a reconnaissance. He did, however, take certain
precautions which, if they had been devised with a true appreciation of
the situation and intelligently carried out, might have seriously
checked French.

He assumed that the initial direction of French's march would be
continued indefinitely towards Koffyfontein, possibly even that it was a
retirement from the Modder River position caused by bad news from the
centre, and he sent a commando of observation, under C. de Wet, up the
right bank of the Riet. The most adroit and skilful movement of the war
had now begun without Cronje's comprehending its object.

But French did not complete his first day's work very auspiciously. His
supply column was far behind when he reached Ramdam, and owing to a
misunderstanding Hannay's Brigade of Mounted Infantry from Orange River,
which was instructed to join him, did not turn up: conflicting orders
had resulted as usual, _ordre_, _contr'ordre_, _désordre_. French,
however, felt himself strong enough to continue his march without
Hannay, who, on his delayed march to Ramdam, engaged a detached body of
Boers and thereby strengthened the enemy's conviction that Koffyfontein
was the objective.

As French approached the river, Waterval Drift, the lower of the two
drifts across the Riet, was found to be occupied by De Wet, and the
Division was diverted to De Kiel's Drift, which was reached without much
difficulty at midday, February 12. On the right bank were the commando
of the Jacobsdaal garrison under Lubbe, and the commando under De Wet
and A.P.J. Cronje which had been sent to observe the cavalry movement;
about 1,000 men in all. But De Wet could not get the Koffyfontein idea
out of his head, and its influence removed many obstructions from the
path of the advance. He boldly rode across French's front at De Kiel's
Drift, and made S.E. for Winterhoek, closely followed by A.P.J. Cronje;
and all French's horses could not find out where they had gone. Next day
it was given out in Divisional Orders that the commandos had gone to the
Modder River, and four weeks passed by before the Army ceased to suffer
from the error.

There was still "one more river to cross" before the diamond men of
Kimberley could be relieved; and ere the thirst of the South African
summer could be slaked on the banks of the Modder, a tract of
twenty-five miles of veld, in which the absence of any homestead having
"_fontein_" for its suffix declared the scarcity of water, must be
traversed under the sun.

In the forenoon of February 13 the Cavalry Division started northwards
from De Kiel's Drift; and at last De Wet, who, unknown to French, was
watching the trek from its right flank, partially relieved himself of
the Koffyfontein idea. The effort weakened him, and he displayed none of
that readiness of resource and promptitude of action with which he
subsequently worried the British Army for the space of two years. He
withdrew his own commando towards Koffyfontein, and having ordered Lubbe
to follow French, reported to Cronje at Magersfontein that the cavalry
was making for the Modder.

French's objective points were now Rondeval and Klip River Drifts on the
Modder, but in order to deceive Lubbe, who was hanging on to his right
flank, and to elbow him away from the drifts, French changed direction
with two brigades and headed for Klip Kraal Drift, some eight miles
above Klip Drift, reverting suddenly to his original line as soon as the
river came in sight. The drifts were held by small parties of the enemy,
who offered no resistance, and on the evening of February 13 the
Division took possession of the kopjes on the north bank.

The occupation of the drifts was soon made known to Cronje, but the news
revealed little to his dull and uninstructed nature, permeated with the
idea that a British force and a railway were indissoluble entities.
Though his communications eastward were now seriously threatened, it did
not occur to him that there might be an alternative to fighting him out
of Magersfontein, namely manoeuvring him out of it; and he persuaded
himself that French's movement was a trap to entice him away pending an
attack on Magersfontein from the south, and he was probably unaware that
the relief of Kimberley was an urgent matter. He moved his own camp from
Brown's Drift to a less exposed position at Bosjespan, and while
retaining his hold on Magersfontein with his main body, sent out two
commandos to watch French, and these accidentally occupied a line
through which the cavalry must pass on its way to Kimberley.

The arrival of the VIth Division on the morning of February 15 set
French free to resume his march on Kimberley. The two commandos had on
the previous day joined hands with Lubbe, who, after he was pushed out
of French's way, crossed the Modder at Klip Kraal Drift and worked round
to a position north of Klip Drift. The relieving force was now
obstructed in the line of its advance by ridges on its right and left
fronts and by the nek connecting them, all occupied by the enemy; while
on its left flank was Cronje's new camp at Bosjespan, of the existence
of which it was unaware. The situation seemed awkward, as the only way
out of it was the shallow valley leading up to the nek, and exposed to a
converging fire from the ridges on which two guns were posted.

But French was not long in doubt, and like a bridge player who in order
to win the game is sometimes compelled to assume the position of certain
cards, with rare intuition correctly assumed that the nek was weakly
held. Like a ship going down the ways to the water, the Division was
launched to the front; cleaving the opposing waves and gaining momentum
as it advanced, then righting itself, rose to the slope of the nek and
carried it with resistless energy.

After a short midday halt at Abon's Dam, French raised the siege of
Kimberley before sunset; the besiegers under Ferreira did not wait to be
attacked, but withdrew towards Boshof.

The relief of Kimberley was perhaps the most brilliant feat of arms in
the campaign. It was well-conceived and, considered by itself alone,
well carried out, but the merit of it has been obscured by the fact that
it cost less than half a hundred human casualties. When, on the morning
of February 15, the VIth Division took over the outposts, and the
Cavalry Division fell in on the banks of the Modder, there was the
terrain of a Balaklava charge before it.

It may well be doubted whether the price paid for the relief of the
diamond men was not too high. Uninstructed public opinion at home called
for the movement, and forced Lord Roberts' hand, but it was never an
imperative military necessity. The horse casualties,[35] due to want of
water, forced marches, and ignorance of horsemastership on the part of
all ranks, who were inclined to regard cavalry work in the light of a
steeplechase, were so heavy that when on February 17 French, after an
attempt on the previous day to pursue a body of retreating Boers with
his exhausted horses, was suddenly called upon to march thirty miles to
head off Cronje, he could in all his Division mount less than the
strength of two regiments. Nor was this all, for the rush to Kimberley
was the indirect cause of the loss of the supply column at Waterval
Drift on February 15; and thus in a few hours the mounted force and the
supply column and transport which Lord Roberts and his staff had
assembled with so much difficulty were, the former partially and the
latter entirely, sacrificed.

The VIth, VIIth, and IXth Infantry Divisions, under Kelly-Kenny, Tucker,
and Colvile respectively, were withdrawn from Modder River and the
stations south of it, and concentrated at Ramdam on February 11 and the
two following days. Owing to the steepness of its banks the Riet River
could only be crossed at Waterval and De Kiel's Drifts, and on these the
Army converged, and trickled through them like the sands in the neck of
an hour-glass. Men, horses, guns, supply and ammunition wagons were
slowly and painfully transferred to the right bank, and the VIth
Division, which followed the cavalry to De Kiel's Drift, though the
first infantry to get through by more than twenty-four hours, was
delayed by the block of transport and lost its start in the race to the
Modder River.

Meanwhile to Waterval Drift came Kelly-Kenny and Colvile in succession,
and were soon pushed on to Wegdraai Drift, to which Tucker also hastened
as soon as he could shake himself clear of De Kiel's Drift. The latter
was now out of the running, for although Kelly-Kenny had already had a
nine hours' march from Waterval Drift beginning soon after midnight, by
5 in the afternoon of February 14 the VIth Division was ready to resume
its march to support French at Klip Drift, some hours before Tucker came
in. Kitchener had been ordered by Lord Roberts to attach himself to the
VIth Division as assessor to Kelly-Kenny, and marched out with it.

When Colvile, whose division was detailed as a reserve, arrived at
Waterval Drift, he found the passage congested by transport of all
kinds; and although after half a day's delay he was able to proceed to
Wegdraai Drift, a large convoy on which the Army depended for the
greater part of its supplies for the march to Bloemfontein, had to be
left behind. A small escort remained with it, the wagons were laagered,
and the oxen outspanned and sent out upon the veld to graze. No danger
was anticipated.

De Wet had not been lurking on the banks of the Riet for nothing.
Hitherto he had not greatly distinguished himself. On the outbreak of
the war he and his three sons were commandeered as private burghers, and
when he reached the Natal border he was appointed vice-commandant. He
served under A.P. Cronje and witnessed Carleton's surrender at
Nicholson's Nek. In December he joined P. Cronje at Magersfontein, and
was sent early in February to Koedoesberg Drift to check the British
demonstrations on the Riet below Modder River Station, and later on to
observe French. It is probable that the military deficiencies of his
leaders made him sullen. Erasmus at Dundee stood idly in the background
while Symons and Yule were on the slopes of Talana Hill, and Cronje was
deaf to his remonstrances against a mere passive defence on the Modder
River and the presence of women and children in the laager.

But De Wet with a free hand quickly recovered himself when the fortune
of war threw him a casual chance after French had despatched him in
imagination to a destination where he could do no harm. The convoy was
ordered to follow Colvile to Wegdraai at 5 p.m. on February 15, and at 8
that morning, while the oxen were still grazing on the veld, De Wet, who
was hovering near Winterhoek, swooped down upon the laager. The slender
escort made a good resistance and the attack was reported to Lord
Roberts at Wegdraai, who at first sent back a battalion with a battery
and some mounted infantry, and when these were found insufficient the
rest of the 14th Brigade were despatched under Tucker to endeavour to
extricate the convoy. But when Tucker reached the Drift at sunset he
found himself unable to bring it away. Most of the oxen had disappeared
and De Wet had been reinforced. Lord Roberts was unwilling to delay his
advance, and finding that the supplies were not absolutely indispensable
to the success of his march, at midnight ordered Tucker to abandon the
convoy and to return to Wegdraai. Next morning De Wet took possession of
176 wagon loads of supplies and 500 slaughter oxen--his first exploit in
the war.

On February 16 Lord Roberts moved his Head Quarters to Jacobsdaal. It
was his intention to advance on Kimberley and to make that town the base
of his operations in the direction of Bloemfontein, when suddenly his
plans were disarranged by an unexpected event. Cronje, who for two
months had held stubbornly to Magersfontein, was reported to be trekking
to the east. French's relief of Kimberley, the presence of an infantry
division at Klip Drift, and the occupation of Jacobsdaal, were facts
which even his obstinacy could not disregard. Like a wild creature
startled in the night by a veld fire and suddenly dazzled by the glare,
he rushed blindly towards the flames which were soon to consume him.
Almost any direction but that which he took, the line of the Modder
River, would have given him a better chance of escape. French's maimed
cavalry could not have stopped him if he had retreated on either side of
Kimberley, and even a withdrawal westward down the right bank of the
Riet would have probably saved him. Methuen at Modder River took twelve
hours to discover that Magersfontein had been abandoned at midnight on
February 15.

On the morning of the 16th Kelly-Kenny sent out from Klip Drift a force
under C. Knox to cover the advance of the rest of the VIth Division on
Kimberley. Soon a long column of dust was observed in the distance
beyond the ridge on the right, and a closer examination showed that it
was caused by Cronje's wagons. The discovery came not altogether as a
surprise, for Boers had been noticed crossing the front on the previous
day, and as what was now seen proved to be the rear of a column, the
trek must have been some hours in progress.

Kelly-Kenny at once abandoned his march on Kimberley and faced
eastwards. It was found that the enemy had taken up a rearguard position
on the southern end of the ridge. The northern end was soon seized by
mounted infantry, but an attempt in interpose between the river and the
Boer position failed. The ridge was cleared at 9 a.m. by a frontal
attack, but not before Cronje's convoy had retired without molestation
to Klip Kraal, where a second rearguard position was taken up on either
side of Klip Kraal Drift.

On the assumption that Cronje was endeavouring to effect a retreat on
Bloemfontein, it was necessary to confine him to the right bank of the
Modder. He was already in possession of Klip Kraal Drift, and although
he could hardly hope to pass his wagons across it in sight of an active
enemy, it was not his only chance. Within ten miles of his laager were
Brandvallei, Paardeberg, and Vendutie Drifts, each of which would give
him access to the southern bank.

The task before the pursuing army was therefore to drive in his
rearguards from their successive positions and prevent him getting
comfortably away to secure a passage across the river. At nightfall on
February 16 it seemed likely that he would succeed. His convoy in the
main laager at Klip Kraal had had twelve hours' rest, and his rearguard
had maintained itself on the second position; in spite of a frontal
attack on the right bank, and of a flank attack on the left bank made by
a battery and a force of mounted infantry which had crossed the
semicircle formed by a northward bend of the river between Klip Drift
and Klip Kraal Drift. The guns even succeeded in throwing a few shells
into the laager, but ran short of ammunition. Kitchener, who remained
with Kelly-Kenny as military assessor, had early in the day advocated a
raid up the river in order to head off Cronje at Paardeberg Drift, but
the exhaustion of the troops prevented the enterprise.

Next day the chase began in earnest--to borrow for the occasion, as was
done so frequently during the war, a metaphor from the sporting
world--but only a few of the hounds were on the spot, and the rest of
the pack were at Kimberley and Jacobsdaal.

When the report of Cronje's retreat from Magersfontein, which Lord
Roberts received soon after he reached Jacobsdaal, was confirmed by a
message from Kitchener, he ordered French, who at that time was engaged
with the enemy some miles north of Kimberley and endeavouring to capture
the Long Tom whose recent arrival from Ladysmith _viâ_ Pretoria had
scared the Kimberley civilians into a threat of surrender, to hurry
eastward and endeavour to place himself between Cronje and Bloemfontein;
but owing to a break in the field telegraph cable the message was
delayed. Kelly-Kenny was at the same time instructed to carry on the
pursuit.

But the situation had not yet clearly disclosed itself, and Lord Roberts
did not abandon his intention of sending Colvile's and Tucker's
Divisions towards Kimberley; and their orders to march on the lower
drifts of the Modder held good. Cronje's retreat in an unexpected
direction was hard to explain. Was he going to meet the reinforcements
which Buller had just reported were on their way from Natal? De Wet had
just shown that there was a vigorous and enterprising body of the enemy
ready to raid the railway south of Kimberley, and it was possible that
he might have been reinforced from Colesberg.

Towards evening, however, a second message came from Kitchener at Klip
Drift. He summarised the situation on the Modder, which he was unable to
control with the troops at his disposal, and said that he was asking
French to proceed to Koodoos Drift to check Cronje from the east. Lord
Roberts was not the man to adhere stolidly to his own plan when a better
one was laid before him. The orders to the Divisions were cancelled, and
before midnight on February 16 Colvile was marching out to join
Kelly-Kenny in the chase. Tucker, whose Division had hardly recovered
from the Waterval Drift affair, remained at Jacobsdaal.

After sunset Cronje broke up his camp at Klip Kraal Drift and trekked
along the right bank. At midnight he passed half of his transport over
to the left bank at Paardeberg Drift, himself going on to Vendutie
Drift, where the remainder, with the women and children against whose
presence in camp De Wet had vainly protested, joined him next morning.

So far he had done well, and even when his rearguard at Paardeberg was
fired on by an advanced brigade of mounted infantry which had been
pushed on by Kitchener, he did not lose confidence; although he was
surprised that the British, "who could not march," had overtaken him.

To De Wet and especially to Ferreira, whom he knew to be not far off, he
looked for help, and even without them he believed that he would be able
to cross Vendutie Drift.

Ferreira was indeed not far off, but an obstacle suddenly sprang up
between him and Cronje, and the aspect of it was so alarming that he
withdrew in the opposite direction. The obstacle was French's attenuated
Cavalry Division which, in obedience to Kitchener's summons, had left
Kimberley before sunrise that morning, and after a march of twenty-six
miles had reached the spot indicated by Kitchener for the heading of
Cronje. As the Boer wagons were about to cross Vendutie Drift the shells
of French's Horse Artillery began to fall upon them. The convoy was
thrown into confusion, the oxen stampeded, Cronje was entangled and
bewildered, and but for the gallant exertions of some foreign officers
in the service of the Boers a fatal panic might have ensued. The advance
guard under De Beer was reinforced from the main laager, and a
demonstration made against the left flank of the cavalry; and although
French held on, his position remained insecure and even precarious until
the arrival of the infantry on the following morning. With a handful of
tired, hungry, and unsupported horsemen he not only frightened Ferreira,
whose force outnumbered his own, off the field, but also paralysed and
prepared for destruction the army which had beaten Methuen and had held
Magersfontein for two months.

[Illustration: Paardeberg.]

Next day, February 18, at 3 a.m. began the ten days' operations to which
the name of the Battle of Paardeberg has been somewhat inaccurately
given. Paardeberg is a prominent hill on the right bank of the Modder,
four miles W.S.W. of the battle centre, Cronje's laager at Vendutie
Drift, and lies on the extreme edge of the elliptical arena on which the
battle was fought. It seems to have been chosen as the official word
because the hill was the only distinctive physical feature shown on the
banks of the river in the incomplete surveys of the time, and because
the alternative would have been Stinkfontein, a farm near the field of
battle. The Battle of Vendutie Drift would have been a more correct
term.

The Modder forms the major axis of the ellipse, which it enters near
Koodoos Drift and leaves at Paardeberg Drift, and like most South
African rivers runs in a deep channel between banks intersected by the
tributary dongas which the rains have scored in the soft soil, and which
afford almost the only shelter from artillery fire. The whole area is
commanded by the surrounding kopjes and ridges.

Cronje, though urged to break out of his laager on the night of February
17, refused to move. It is probable that he might have effected his
escape if he had abandoned his transport. An active force led by a
determined man could have wriggled out under cover of the night, and
joined one or other of the commandos which were known to be hovering.
Cronje was in communication with Ferreira; he had sent to Bloemfontein
for help; and De Wet was known to be on his way from Koffyfontein. But
instead of making an effort to save himself he fatally trusted to relief
from outside. He did not realize that Vendutie Drift was not a
Magersfontein which he could hold indefinitely, or that during the last
few weeks the British Army had been greatly increased. One result of his
obstinacy was the desertion of several hundred Free Staters, who had not
served very willingly under the leadership of a Transvaaler. Most of
them returned to their homes.

In the absence of the Commander-in-Chief, who was detained at Jacobsdaal
by illness, Kelly-Kenny was the senior officer present with the force on
the Modder River; but for some reason which may have formed itself in
Lord Roberts' mind when they were fellow-passengers on the _Dunottar
Castle_, he was not entrusted with the management of the battle.
Kitchener had marched several hours with the VIth Division on February
14 before Kelly-Kenny was aware of his presence; and as Chief of the
Staff in direct communication with Head Quarters, he had much to say at
Klip Drift. At Paardeberg the status of Kelly-Kenny became still more
anomalous, Kitchener, though junior not only to him but also to two
other generals present, being empowered by Lord Roberts to issue orders
in his name so that there might be "no delay such as references to and
fro would entail." The difficulty of the situation was increased by the
fact that Kitchener was practically without a staff.

The reason which induced Cronje to remain in his laager, namely the
expected arrival of help from outside, also determined Kitchener to
attack it without delay. He confidently expected to carry it in less
than four hours, but Cronje held out for nine days.

Kitchener's plan might have been foreseen by any officer who had been
present at manoeuvres: a preliminary bombardment of the laager, followed
by a holding frontal attack, in combination with rolling-up flank
attacks. The strength of Cronje's position was supposed to be the laager
itself, whereas it was rather the river banks and tributary dongas which
he had occupied.

The frontal display was assigned to a portion of the VIth Division; the
Mounted Infantry under Hannay supported by an infantry brigade were to
work round upstream and fall upon Cronje's left flank; while the IXth
Division attacked his right flank from the west.

Kitchener, who had come on with Hannay in advance of the VIth Division,
began to issue his orders before he had seen the commanding officers of
the troops which were to carry them out. Hannay, who was at hand, was
despatched to his place in the east from which he never returned.
Kelly-Kenny's ambiguous and humiliating position; Kitchener's impatience
and impetuosity; his lack of a staff to carry out his plan; his omission
to explain it to the divisional and brigade commanders; and his habit of
"short-circuiting" orders to subordinates while their superior officers
stood passively in the background, made unity of action impossible and
February 18 a day of misunderstanding and ill-success. The battle was
fought by a Board of Directors, who, in the unavoidable absence of their
Chairman, were dominated by a headstrong General Manager, who was
doubtful of their capacity to carry on the business.

Kelly-Kenny and Colvile, whose Divisions came in during the night, had
begun to put their troops in motion before Kitchener's plan was made
known to them, and throughout the day the difficulty of co-ordinating
the whole force to it was increased by the incorrect transmission or
apprehension of oral orders. Kelly-Kenny proposed a preliminary
investment of Cronje, but Kitchener would not consent to any
postponement of his attack, for which no operation orders were issued.
In a few hours, however, the soundness of Kelly-Kenny's judgment was
shown; the attack became an investment, which was prolonged many days by
the moral and physical exhaustion of the troops, who after forced
marches by day and night on scanty rations were hustled without method
into a costly battle.

By 8 a.m. Kitchener was able to report to Head Quarters that Cronje was
hemmed in. The cavalry had occupied the ground in rear of the laager,
and he "thought that it must be a case of complete surrender." The
troops were now set to the assault, and were quickened by an encouraging
message from Lord Roberts. But they were almost immediately in trouble.
Hannay had placed himself into position for the flank attack from the
east, and his battery had already opened fire on the laager, when the
guns themselves were shelled. A commando with two guns, under Steyn of
Bethlehem, had arrived from Natal, and unobserved had seized a ridge
between Stinkfontein and the Modder, which Hannay was about to cross;
and although the Boer guns were silenced and the commando compelled to
retire, the diversion seriously disarranged the scheme of assault.

Stephenson's Brigade of the VIth Division, when on its way to cross to
the right bank at Paardeberg Drift under instructions from Kelly-Kenny,
had been recalled by Kitchener, whose orders were so vaguely expressed,
that while the Brigadier believed that he was to act in the frontal
attack from the south with the other brigade of the Division, he was
really intended by the Chief of the Staff to support Hannay's flank
movement. He was now compelled to change front to meet Steyn's threat,
and Hannay's attack was postponed. Stephenson was then ordered to resume
his advance, but apparently still in ignorance that he was expected to
act in co-operation with the mounted infantry, he so disposed his troops
that he gave little support to Hannay, who early in the afternoon
reported to Kitchener that he was too weak to advance with the flank
attack. A peremptory message was returned, in which he was ordered "to
rush the laager at all costs," even without Stephenson's support. Some
of the words of the order seemed to reflect upon his determination, so
he obeyed it literally and immediately. At the head of as many men as he
could bring to him on the spot, he charged towards the laager, and when
his horse was killed under him he marched on foot to meet his death.

As soon as it was seen that Hannay had thrown himself away, Stephenson
was ordered to renew the flank attack. With a portion of his troops and
some mounted infantry, he crossed to the right bank at Vanderberg's
Drift, and formed to the left. A small body of Hannay's force had won a
position near the Boer entrenchments, and it is probable that
Stephenson's assault would have succeeded but for a curious accident,
which could not have been foreseen, and by which he was deprived of part
of his firing line when it was most needed. The setting sun suddenly
appeared from beneath a bank of clouds in the west, directly in line
with the objective, and the dazzle of the light blotted out the laager,
at the same time illuminating the target on which the Boers were firing.
A further advance was impracticable, and the troops, which had already
fixed bayonets for the assault, were withdrawn when within 500 yards of
the enemy's position. Thus the second attempt to get at the laager from
the east failed, but Stephenson's action was not entirely without a
result, as he was able to put his men into entrenchments, where they
remained during the night.

Meanwhile, Colvile was pushing upstream from the west. On that side the
Boers had an advanced position in a big donga, which runs into the right
bank, about two miles below the laager, and upon which a few companies
of the Highland Brigade, having waded the river, had already made a
gallant but unsuccessful attack. Colvile, under orders from Kitchener,
placed himself astride the river, sending the Brigade under
Smith-Dorrien across to the north bank, while the Highland Brigade acted
on the left of the frontal attack; and when Gun Hill, which outflanked
the donga, was occupied, Kitchener ordered an assault on the donga, to
be carried out simultaneously with Hannay's attack on the left flank.
The order, however, was not communicated to Smith-Dorrien on Gun Hill,
and he was not aware of it until he saw some troops of his own Division,
supported by a few companies sent across by Kitchener from the left
bank, charging across the open. In a few minutes, the gradual
retardation of the rush, and then its extinction under a heavy fire,
showed that the attempt had failed. It is said that Smith-Dorrien had
been so imperfectly made acquainted with Kitchener's plan, that he was
under the impression that he had been sent to the north bank to prevent
the Boers breaking out of the laager, and not to attack them upstream.

The frontal attack was initiated by Kelly-Kenny with the 13th Brigade
under C. Knox, the 18th Brigade having been detached to support Hannay's
flank attack. The main body of the Boers was north of the river, but
strong detachments held the left-bank dongas. Colvile was dealing with a
demonstration against Paardeberg Drift when an oral message from
Kitchener reached him, which he interpreted as an order to go to Knox's
assistance with his Division, which was thus withdrawn from the flank
and lent to the frontal attack. He was doubtfully carrying out what he
believed to be his instructions when an order reached him to send the
19th Brigade, under Smith-Dorrien, across the river. A few companies of
his Highland Brigade succeeded in establishing themselves on the right
bank, and Knox drove the enemy out of the left-bank dongas, but was
forbidden by Kelly-Kenny to cross the river, as the enemy was too
strongly posted. The frontal attack was spent, but the troops remained
on their ground until the approach of night released them.

Two miles S.E. of Vendutie Drift, a hill, to which the name of
Kitchener's Kopje was afterwards given, rises out of the veld. In the
tactics of the assault on the laager, it was not a position of much
importance, but in the Paardeberg drama it was a striking scene. The
detachment of infantry which Kelly-Kenny sent early in the day to occupy
it had been withdrawn without his knowledge by some wandering staff
officer, who thought he had found a better use for the little garrison,
and replaced by a few mounted men. These, while watching the progress of
the fight, and perhaps regretting that they were not taking a more
active part in it, were suddenly called upon to defend themselves.

De Wet, with two guns and 600 men, had arrived from Koffyfontein at the
opportune moment of the crisis of the flank attacks. He soon carried the
kopje, and when at 4.30 p.m. he opened fire, the shells which he pitched
into the VIth Division baggage and artillery were the first intimation
of his intervention received by the Head Quarter Staff, absorbed in
their attack on the laager; and for the second time the troops were
called away from the work in hand, to deal with an unexpected attack
from the rear, and the dwindling hope of carrying Cronje's position
before nightfall passed away.

If, on the British side at Paardeberg, the commanders were not at their
best when acting _in partibus_ beyond the personal control of Lord
Roberts, on the other hand De Wet's release from immediate subordination
to Cronje seemed to make him a more dangerous foe. His capture of the
convoy at Waterval Drift on February 15 was followed in three days by a
daring raid on a British army with a handful of men. It was an impudent
and haphazard enterprise, which would hardly have been attempted if he
had been in possession of fuller information, but it was justified by
its success. De Wet had been reinforced at Koffyfontein, and if he had
brought all the commandos at his disposal with him to Paardeberg Cronje
would probably have been relieved. But he had not clearly discerned the
strategy of Lord Roberts, whose presence at Jacobsdaal deceived him, and
instead of striking with all his strength in one direction, he weakened
his force by expeditions eastward towards Edenburg and westward towards
Belmont.

His appreciation of the tactical situation at Paardeberg, based on the
rumours which drifted into Koffyfontein, was imperfect, and when he came
within sight of the Modder, and saw the British Army before him, he must
have regretted that he had not entirely abandoned the idea that the
advance would be made by way of Koffyfontein. But the time and the place
could not have been better arranged. The British Army was preoccupied
with Cronje; and Kitchener's Kopje in De Wet's hands gave a strong flank
protection to Steyn, and later on to De Beer, who, when driven out of
his position north of Koodoos Drift by a resuscitated cavalry brigade
under Gordon, crossed to the kopjes south of the river. Neither Steyn
nor De Beer had been effectually checked, and they were hovering for a
chance to swoop down.

At nightfall the situation was as follows:--

The laager was holding out, and the chief result of the day's work was a
contraction of the line held by the Boers on the river; an attempt by
Kelly-Kenny to recapture Kitchener's Kopje had failed; fully one quarter
of the perimeter commanding Vendutie Drift was in the possession of the
enemy; the troops were exhausted and the casualties exceeded 1,200.[36]

It does not necessarily follow from the failure of a tactical scheme
that it was unsuited to the occasion; but the failure of February 18 was
due to one of three causes: to the defects of the scheme, to the mode of
its execution, or to the Boer external attacks. It was not a scheme
which either Kelly-Kenny or Colvile would have devised if left to
himself, and it is very doubtful whether Kitchener had Lord Roberts'
direct authority for it. But assuming that it offered a better chance of
crippling the enemy at large than the alternative of an investment, it
was so hastily devised and so clumsily pursued that it became hourly
more difficult to carry through, until it was finally subverted by De
Wet. Many of the commanding officers had as little knowledge of
Kitchener's purpose as the pawns which are moved by the hands of the
chess player.

The conclusion seems to be that but for De Wet's intrusion the brute
force of the investors might possibly have prevailed. But the final
cause of the failure was Lord Roberts' error of judgment in putting
Kitchener into virtual command of the Vendutie Drift force, thereby
superseding senior officers of greater tactical ability. The
complications arising out of brevet rank and local rank, grades peculiar
to the British Army,[37] were already sufficiently disturbing, and yet
Kitchener was irregularly advanced by a few words in a private letter
from Lord Roberts to Kelly-Kenny.

In his report on the day's work to Lord Roberts at Jacobsdaal, Kitchener
could only say that he hoped to do something more definite on the
morrow. Lord Roberts at once ordered him to be reinforced, and being now
convalescent set out for Paardeberg, where he arrived during the
forenoon of February 19.

It is significant that Lord Roberts did not renew the assault on the
laager, and confined himself to operations against Kitchener's Kopje,
thus reverting to the scheme of investment proposed by Kelly-Kenny on
the previous day. The burghers evacuated the big donga during the night.

Lord Roberts was, from motives of humanity as well as from lack of
hospital accommodation, reluctant to inflict another loss of 8 per cent,
upon his troops. The inability to deal with a further accumulation of
wounded was perhaps a justification of his decision, but his hesitancy
to fight costly battles, which was characteristic of many general and
field officers of undoubted personal courage, is not so easy to excuse.
Even on the score of humanity, it is better to fight one decisive action
in which the casualties amount to 20 per cent., than to obtain the same
result by fighting three actions in each of which the casualties amount
to 8 per cent. The aggregate of human suffering caused to each side by
the war would have been less if the struggle had been fought out more
relentlessly, and without so much regard to the expenditure of life.
There seems to have been a theory that a percentage of casualties which
exceeded ten would demoralize the troops, although it had often been
greatly exceeded in the battles of former campaigns. In some of the
operation orders subsequently issued, the reservation, "if this be
possible without undue loss," appeared.

The presence of De Wet on Kitchener's Kopje gave Cronje a moral support
which was not of much use to him. According to De Wet's account, he
considered it a point of honour to remain with the women, children, and
wagons in the laager, which every hour was growing more unfit for
occupation.

The ejectment of De Wet, to be followed by an advance on Bloemfontein by
French's cavalry, was substituted by Lord Roberts for the assault on the
laager, which was to be left to starve itself out. But the removal of De
Wet from the kopje, which he had stolen from his opponents, was not an
easy task, and for three nights and two days the Ajax of the Boers
defied the lightnings which played upon the hill. On the 19th, a body of
cavalry was brought round from the north, but was found unequal to the
task. Towards evening an infantry brigade was thrown at the kopje, but
after it had obtained some success, and had partially entrenched itself
on the slopes, it was withdrawn by Lord Roberts. No action was taken on
the following day, but on the 21st a cavalry attack forced De Wet out of
his hold; but though squeezed like a sponge between the fingers, his
commando was incompressible, and oozed away towards the east; no
effective pursuit being possible, owing to the condition of the horses.
Meanwhile the investment continued, but the scarcity of ammunition
restrained the activity of the bombardment. An offer made by Lord
Roberts to take away the piteous women and children, praying for peace
in their time, was rejected by Cronje.

The departure of De Wet, who picked up De Beer and Steyn on his way,
enabled the gap in the circle of investment to be filled in, and the
agony of the laager was drawn out for six days. Nothing but a strenuous
attack from outside the circle could save it. De Wet indeed, who had
trekked in the direction of Poplar Grove, and who had received
reinforcements from Colesberg and Natal, which placed 5,000 burghers
under his orders, made an unsuccessful attempt to recover the kopje and
retreated hastily, though a gallant remnant of eighty-seven burghers
under Theunissen held on, and were not made prisoners until a brigade
had been launched against them. An envoy was sent by De Wet into the
laager to urge Cronje to break out. A half-hearted consent was given,
but at the appointed time the river was in flood and the attempt was
postponed.

The exhaustion of the cavalry, and the report of the arrival of
reinforcements at Poplar Grove, compelled Lord Roberts to abandon his
plan of sending on French to Bloemfontein; but as he confidently looked
to an early occupation of the Free State capital, he detached Kitchener
to Naauwpoort with instructions to see to the opening up of the railway
from the south, upon which the Army would depend for its supplies as
soon as it reached Bloemfontein. He was, perhaps, glad of an excuse to
employ his Chief of the Staff elsewhere for a time, for although the
Divisional Commanders had loyally accepted the situation, he could not
but feel that they had not been quite fairly treated, and that the
Kitchener dictatorship had not been a success.

The end came on February 27. Soon after sunrise on the anniversary of
Majuba Hill the white flag was raised in the laager. During the last
five days, Tucker, who with a portion of his Division had been ordered
up from Jacobsdaal when the news of the investment reached Lord Roberts,
closed gradually in on the west, and Stephenson on the east; and on the
26th the laager was severely bombarded by four newly arrived howitzers.
The final stroke was delivered by two companies of the Royal Canadians,
who, disregarding a false order to retire, held on, and by daybreak had
entrenched themselves within 100 yards of the flanking trench of the
laager; and though this feat was not the direct cause of the surrender,
which had been decided on the previous evening, it was not the less
meritorious. Cronje in vain endeavoured to persuade the burghers to
postpone the surrender over Majuba Day. In a few hours 4,000 men, the
majority of whom were Transvaalers, were under guard as prisoners of
war, and Cronje was on his way to St. Helena, there to commune with the
Shade of Napoleon.

It is said that when Kruger heard of the capitulation of Vendutie Drift
he exclaimed, "The real war will now begin." To the British public, the
surrender of Cronje, followed in a few hours by the relief of Ladysmith,
seemed to prove that the real war had now ended.

On the following day Lord Roberts transferred the bulk of the Army to a
fresh camping ground at Osfontein, and remained there for seven days.
The halt was rendered necessary by the exhaustion of the cavalry and
artillery horses, on whom the greater stress of the advance had fallen,
and whose rations had been docked even more than those of their riders;
and it gave Lord Roberts an opportunity of drawing supplies for the
advance from the Kimberley line, from which he was about to sever
himself. The halt also enabled the Army of the Modder to pull itself
together for a fresh effort, after a fortnight of harassing marches and
weary investment work on stinted rations.

What might almost be called a Select Committee of the House of Lords met
at Kimberley on March 1. Lord Roberts rode over from Osfontein to
consult Lord Methuen, and they were joined by Lord Kitchener, who
returned from his brief visit of inspection to Naauwpoort and De Aar.

Mafeking was in greater embarrassment than ever had come upon Kimberley,
and there was trouble in the spacious area of Cape Colony lying west of
the Capetown-Kimberley railway. Lord Roberts' hopes that a force raised
locally in Kimberley might be available for the relief of Mafeking were
disappointed; and after his return to Osfontein with Kitchener, he
instructed Methuen to see to it with a Yeomanry brigade, which would be
sent to him. To check the risings in Cape Colony, which for the time
being were confined to the Prieska district, Kitchener had already sent
out flying columns from De Aar.

The tenacity and resolution of De Wet were never more conspicuous than
during the disheartening days which followed his retirement from
Kitchener's Kopje. Neither Cronje's surrender, nor the news of the
relief of Ladysmith and of the British working steadily towards the
Orange River bridges, nor the despondency of his own men, diverted him
from his purpose of interposing between Lord Roberts and the Free State
capital. President Steyn came over from Bloemfontein to stimulate the
discouraged, and President Kruger was brought round from Joubert's Head
Quarters in Natal, where he had been successful in persuading the
burghers dismayed by the relief of Ladysmith to hold on to the
Biggarsberg positions. After a conference with Steyn, he went on to
Poplar Grove, arriving there in time to hear the opening shots of the
battle of March 7.

[Illustration: Map.]

De Wet's force at Poplar Grove was at first sufficient for the
occupation of a position on the left bank of the Modder only, but
subsequent reinforcements brought it up to a number which was estimated
by the British Intelligence not to exceed 14,000 and which was probably
much less. The position was then prolonged across the river, the front
being divided into two unequal portions by the Drift at Poplar Grove.

To drive away De Wet, and to entangle him as Cronje had been fatally
entangled in the Drifts of the Modder River, and cut off his retreat to
Bloemfontein, was the tactical scheme of Lord Roberts, who had twice as
many men, and at least five times as many guns, as his opponent.

In his method of communicating his plan to the officers concerned Lord
Roberts made an innovation. Instead of issuing written Battle Orders he
read a memorandum at a council of war, and afterwards circulated copies
of it. Thus he was able to explain the situation and expound his plan in
greater detail than is possible in the bald and sterilized paragraphs of
Orders; but he omitted to give in it definite times at which certain
movements were to be begun, or to be completed, and the oral
instructions on these points given subsequently were not clearly
understood.

In brief, Lord Roberts' plan for Poplar Grove was as follows. When
French's cavalry had made a wide circuit of seventeen miles south of the
Modder, out of reach of De Wet's left flank, and had placed itself in
rear of the Boer position, the VIth Division was to make a flank attack
on the Boer left on the Seven Kopjes, and endeavour to roll it up
towards the river, by way of Table Mountain. The enemy's centre was to
be threatened by the VIIth Division along the line of the Modder, and
his right on the north bank of the river by the IXth Division. With his
great superiority in men and guns, Lord Roberts might reasonably expect
to capture the whole Boer force, although he had no longer a Cronje but
a De Wet to deal with.

The day's operations began at 3 a.m., when the cavalry marched out of
Osfontein; but soon the absence of precise staff arrangements gave
trouble. The VIth Division, which was ordered to follow French, who it
was understood would leave camp at 2 a.m., was headed off by the
cavalry, and had to be halted until he was clear of the infantry front.
Neither Kelly-Kenny nor French seems to have mastered the scheme of
attack. At daylight, when the cavalry should have been well in rear of
the Boer position, it was in fact not far from the VIth Division, about
two miles south of the Boer left flank on Seven Kopjes and in full view
of the enemy.

As soon as the Boers perceived that an enveloping movement was in train,
they withdrew towards the river, and French reported that he had turned
their left flank, and was in pursuit, and that Seven Kopjes was open to
Kelly-Kenny's advance. The part assigned to him in the morning's work
was, however, the cutting off of the enemy's retreat, and he nullified
the tactical scheme by showing himself prematurely.

His next message to Lord Roberts, who was watching the battle from Le
Gallais Kopje, announced that he was shelling the wagons in retreat, but
that he could not get at them, as they were protected by flanking
positions on neighbouring kopjes. It was now evident that French instead
of cutting off the enemy was only pursuing him without much success.

The VIth Division advanced with great deliberation. Kelly-Kenny reported
to Head Quarters that Seven Kopjes had been reoccupied, and that a
detached hill to the east seemed to be strongly held, which was not the
impression given by French's message less than an hour previously.
However, Kelly-Kenny occupied Seven Kopjes without opposition, and it is
said that the infantry on the south bank were never in touch with the
enemy. On the north bank the IXth Division slowly, but without much
difficulty, pushed back the Boer right and captured a gun on Leeuw Kop,
the solitary trophy of the day.

Finally, the Divisions converged on Poplar Grove, but De Wet had shaken
himself free without the loss of a single burgher taken prisoner, and
with almost his full complement of wagons. He retired along the Modder
towards Abraham's Kraal, keeping French at arm's length with his
rearguards. He owed his escape to the hesitancy of his opponents and his
own mobility. The details of the fight show that some of the commanders
waited upon one another like Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan at
Walcheren. Again the British cavalry was ineffective for pursuit.

It was not known at the time that had Lord Roberts' scheme been
successful in its entirety, a capture would have been made that might
have brought the war to a sudden close. President Kruger was present
during the greater part of the battle, and with bitter chagrin saw the
burghers streaming past him in retreat.

Whether the battle of Poplar Grove is to be considered a success or not
depends upon the view which is taken of its actual and potential
results. Lord Roberts did not capture another Boer army, as he fully
expected to do, but he expelled it from a good position, and put it on
the run; and the British Army was one stage nearer to Bloemfontein.

Next day Kitchener was again, in his capacity of military foreman, sent
away to superintend the carrying out of the arrangements he had already
made for dealing with the disaffected Prieska district. His
disengagement from Lord Roberts removed for the time a potential cause
of failure, namely, the uncertainty, to which perhaps the escape of De
Wet at Poplar Grove may be due, whether a battle was to be fought with
the Commander-in-Chiefs rapier or with the Chief-of-the-Staff's
bludgeon.

De Wet, undaunted by his defeat and by the defection of a large number
of his men, who disappeared after Poplar Grove, summoned a Krijgsraad,
which authorized further resistance. A position threatening the left
flank of the advance on Bloemfontein was taken up on the kopjes near
Abraham's Kraal.

Reinforcements of "Zarps" from the Transvaal, and of contingents under
Delarey and P. de Wet, came in, and a force of about 5,000 men was
rallied, to make one more rearguard stand against Lord Roberts. In the
absence of C. de Wet, who had been called away to Bloemfontein, Delarey
was in command.

Lord Roberts' scheme for the advance on Bloemfontein was based on
reports that the Boers would take up a strong position a few miles N.W.
of the capital. He divided his force into three columns, each having a
cavalry brigade attached to it, which, marching by different routes to a
point south of the city, would cut the railway and turn the Boer flank.
On March 10 the advance began, French being in command of the left
column, which alone was seriously engaged during the march.

The position taken up by the Boers at Abraham's Kraal at first only
included a group of kopjes near the river, and another group at
Damvallei, but eventually it was extended further south to Driefontein
and Boschrand, in order to command another road to Bloemfontein.

In accordance with Lord Roberts' instructions, and to the great
disappointment of Delarey, who hoped to commit the left column to a
frontal attack on the Abraham's Kraal and Damvallei Kopjes, which lay on
the direct road to Baberspan, where it was due to bivouac that night,
French avoided them, and changed direction towards Driefontein and
Boschrand. Delarey, finding that he was not to be attacked on his right,
reinforced Driefontein Hill, which, as it happened, had just been
evacuated by De Wet, who had returned from Bloemfontein. The occupation
of a detached spur of the Boschrand by a chance body of mounted infantry
from the centre column, and a threatening movement of that column's
cavalry brigade, had drawn him away from Driefontein on to the crest of
the Boschrand. French's change of direction caused the march of his
column to converge upon that of the centre column, and he was now
crossing the front of a sinuous line of ten miles occupied by the enemy,
and extending from the Boschrand, through Driefontein, Damvallei, and
the Abraham's Kraal Kopjes to Oertel's Drift on the Modder. The right of
the line had already diverted French from his march on the appointed
bivouac, which he now proposed to reach by turning the left.

Suddenly Delarey opened fire from Driefontein on the cavalry, and the
advance of the infantry had to be delayed while the situation was
examined. The result of the reconnaissance determined Kelly-Kenny, who
was in command of the left column's infantry, to attack the minor
features of Delarey's position. He was unable to communicate with
French, but the latter, as soon as he saw that Kelly-Kenny had achieved
his object, ordered a turning movement by the cavalry.

The cavalry of the centre column, which earlier in the day had been
informed that French was not in need of its assistance, co-operated
imperfectly. The afternoon was wearing away, and Kelly-Kenny, while
waiting impatiently for the turning movement to take effect, received a
message from Lord Roberts, instructing him to push on, as it was
believed that the enemy's position was not held in great strength.

Kelly-Kenny, for the first time able to fight a battle in his own way,
now set himself to clear the enemy out of the Driefontein ridge.
Reinforcements were ordered up to him from the centre column, but he won
his victory without their aid, and after a struggle which lasted till
sunset, Delarey was expelled from Driefontein. The Boers were still in
occupation of the other positions on the line, but De Wet, although
strongly urged by Delarey to hold on, found it advisable to withdraw
from them. The burghers drifted away in the darkness, after the
exhausted cavalry had made a formal attempt at pursuit.

Two of the field guns which had been taken three months before at
Colenso fought on the Boer side at the Battle of Driefontein, which
though but a passing incident in the war, has been favoured by the
German critics with their cordial approval. "Driefontein was fought
substantially on the principles evolved by the experiences of the
campaign of 1870-1871." Kelly-Kenny's wilful and successful "use of deep
formations, limited front, and of a wasting fire to obtain ascendancy
before crushing the enemy with a simultaneous charge" is considered to
uphold the correctness of the German theory of attack, which thirty
years of new conditions of warfare have not modified.[38]

Next day the advance on Bloemfontein was resumed, and French's column
was merged in the centre column under Lord Roberts. The column under
Tucker was marching on the Free State capital by way of Petrusburg,
twenty miles to the south, as there was a possibility that some of the
commandos in retreat from beyond the Orange might be approaching. De Wet
did his best to organize a final stand N.W. of the city, but it was soon
evident that Lord Roberts' movements could not be checked, and President
Steyn fled to Kroonstad.

The cavalry was pushed on, and on the afternoon of March 12 the railway
was cut at Ferreira's Siding, a few miles south of Bloemfontein. Some
resistance was offered at a ridge commanding the approach to the
capital, but the defenders withdrew during the night. Soon after
midnight, a small party of pioneers, under Hunter-Weston of the Royal
Engineers, started to circle eastwards round the city, and having with
much difficulty in the darkness found the railway on the north side,
destroyed a culvert on the line and thereby entrapped a considerable
amount of rolling stock.

Next morning Lord Roberts came to the line, and at midday the
municipality and leading citizens of Bloemfontein waited on him at
Ferreira's Siding, and tendered the submission of the city. It was a
notable episode in the military history of Great Britain, and there was
a touch of a vanished mediaevalism in the ceremony.

The march from Ramdam to Bloemfontein restored the British Army in the
eyes of the nation. It was no longer a machine which constantly broke
down whenever stress was laid upon it, but was working quietly and on
the whole successfully. It had acquired confidence in itself, and the
infantry especially had done well during the month's advance.
Notwithstanding long marches, which in the end were equally fatiguing
whether made by day or by night, on restricted rations in a trying
climate, the proportion of men who fell out was small.

The cavalry did not greatly distinguish itself. Two brilliant exploits,
the rush from Klip Drift to Kimberley, and the heading off of Cronje at
Vendutie Drift, practically exhausted it. Its reconnaissance work during
the advance was poorly executed, and after each fight came the same
report, that the horses were unable to pursue the retiring burghers.
Overloading, indifferent march discipline and horsemastership, night
marches without previously watering and feeding the horses, reduced Lord
Roberts' mounted troops to but a fraction of their nominal strength; and
raised a question whether French, whose military capacity was
undeniable, might not be more usefully employed in infantry operations.

There is more than a substratum of truth in the remark once made by a
caustic foreign critic, that an Englishman talks more and knows less
about horses and their management than any other man.

Notes:

[Footnote 34: In the Egyptian War of 1882 Arabi was similarly misled by
Sir Garnet Wolseley, who making as if to land his Army near Aboukir Bay,
suddenly took it into the Suez Canal, and threw it ashore at Ismailia.]

[Footnote 35: 350,000 horses were used up during the campaign, in other
words, the war strength of one cavalry regiment every other day. The
removal of a cavalry officer from his command after the battle of
Graspan, because he could not do with exhausted horses what was expected
of him by an infantry officer, will perhaps account for a considerable
portion of the wastage.]

[Footnote 36: It is stated on the authority of the United States
Military attaché that Kitchener said next day that if he had known the
power of the Mauser behind entrenchments, he would not have attempted to
assault the laager.]

[Footnote 37: They were originally granted as a counterpoise to the
irregularities of the system of promotion by purchase.]

[Footnote 38: See Colonel du Cane's translation of Vol. II. of the
German Official Account, p. 52.]



CHAPTER IX

Alarms and Excursions


The occupation of Bloemfontein by the British Army in March, 1900,
ushered in the second or _guerilla_ period of the war. Hitherto the
struggle had been mainly, though not entirely, maintained against
considerable bodies of Boers, who though widely dispersed acted more or
less under a common direction; but after the capture of the Free State
capital, a system of partisan and irregular warfare was adopted by the
enemy.

The change was not suddenly effected. It was an instinctive, almost an
imperceptible, development rendered necessary by circumstances. The
reverses on the Modder, the failure at Ladysmith, the ill success which
attended the attempts to raise the fiery cross in the northern districts
of Cape Colony, indicated to the burghers the cause of the instability
of their military machine. They discovered, in time, that its centre of
gravity was too highly pitched and must be brought nearer the earth. For
five months the war had been carried on under the orders of a federal
syndicate composed of the two Presidents sitting with casual military
assessors, scarcely one of whom was a strategist or capable of viewing
the Boer cause synoptically. Cronje was gone into captivity; Joubert was
suspected to be half-hearted; and Botha, who had begun so well in Natal,
was a disappointment.

The Boers recognized that the British strategy had been astonishingly
successful, and that they could not hope to compete with it. But they
believed, not without justification, that in minor tactics and the
smaller operations of war they were the equals of their enemy and in
war-craft his superior. The power of a slender, well-led, and resolute
force was shown at Nicholson's Nek, Waterval Drift, and elsewhere, and
it began to dawn upon their lethargic minds that the individual efforts
of handy commandos acting to a great extent independently offered them
the best chance of resisting the invader.[39] The new method was almost
immediately put on trial and, with certain notable exceptions, continued
throughout the war, which mainly by its use was prolonged for twenty-six
months against an enemy daily increasing in numbers. Not that the Boers
were not at first greatly discouraged by the victories on the Modder,
which admitted Lord Roberts to Bloemfontein, and by the tranquillity
which suddenly brooded upon the arena of war. Even the Prieska
rebellion, from which so much was hoped owing to its proximity to the
line of communication with Capetown, was dying away under the vigorous
hands of Kitchener, who had been detached from Head Quarters to deal
with it.

Many of the burghers availed themselves of a proclamation issued by Lord
Roberts on March 15, under which, after taking an oath of neutrality,
they were allowed to return to their farms, and there remain during good
behaviour. Others took furlough, with or without permission, or fled to
Kroonstad. When Joubert remonstrated with De Wet for acquiescing in the
exodus, the latter replied that he could not help it. The burghers were
not accustomed to discipline and could not be coerced, but they would
return with renewed courage by and by.

The demoralization was, however, confined to the burghers who had been
fighting on the Modder River. The commandos which had been opposed to
Gatacre, Clements, and Brabant in the Cape Colony retired across the
Orange in good order under Olivier, Lemmer, and E.R. Grobler; and
although encumbered by lengthy trains of ox-wagons, marched up the right
bank of the Caledon along the Basuto Border, and established themselves
with a strength of 6,000 burghers on Lord Roberts' right flank near
Ladybrand and Clocolan: a daring exploit which was justified by its
success, as the left flank throughout the trek was exposed to a raid
from Bloemfontein or Edenburg. A mounted force 1,800 strong under French
was indeed sent eastward to show the flag, detach the waverers, and if
possible, intercept the retreat; but the information at Head Quarters
was imperfect and the strength of the commandos was greatly
underestimated. It was assumed that they had been subject to the
disintegration which obliterated the Modder River commandos; but a small
reconnoitring column, detached under Pilcher by French from Thabanchu,
found itself in presence of a force which outnumbered it thirty times,
and was recalled.

The presence of a considerable body of the enemy organized on the flank,
the necessity of accumulating a large stock of supplies and stores, and
a serious epidemic of fever among the troops, postponed the advance on
the Transvaal many weeks beyond the end of March, when Lord Roberts had
hoped to set out for the north. The apparent pacification of the country
and the alacrity displayed by the burghers in submitting to the generous
conditions of the proclamation of neutrality, had encouraged him in the
belief that prompt action before the enemy had time to take breath would
finally crush the dwindling opposition; but he soon became aware that it
was but a lull in the storm, of which the mutterings were almost
immediately renewed.

Pole-Carew, who shortly after the occupation was sent south with a
brigade to establish touch with Gatacre and Clements and open up the
railway, heard of the Boer movement along the Basuto Border and at once
reported it to Lord Roberts, whom he rejoined at Bloemfontein on March
17. Before the end of the month the line was cleared and trains were
passing to and fro between Capetown and the capital of the Free State,
which had lately been renamed the Orange River Colony. From that time
forward the enemy succeeded on one occasion only, and then but for a few
hours, in cutting the Springfontein-Bloemfontein railway; and the
hazardous advance along the Modder River, which involved the possibility
of the Army being left in the air at Bloemfontein, was fully justified.

The Boers, who were supposed to be hypnotized, soon began to show signs
of returning animation. At a Krijgsraad which assembled at Kroonstad on
March 17, and at which Steyn and Kruger were present, plans for the
renewal of the struggle were discussed and measures for enforcing
discipline on the burghers were taken. Steyn professed to have
information that a Russian advance on India was imminent. The idea of
resistance _en masse_ was abandoned, and a policy of flying columns
unencumbered with wagons and acting aggressively against the British
lines of communication was adopted. It was hoped that a timely
demonstration would lure the enemy out of his hold, and that a little
encouragement would revive the Prieska rebellion. The determination to
continue hostilities in which even Joubert, who after the fall of
Ladysmith joined the commandos operating in the Free State, acquiesced,
was a proof of the courage and the steady patriotism of the Boer
leaders, and the events of the next two years justified their
resolution. Joubert, who had attended the Krijgsraad in feeble health,
died a few days after its adjournment, and L. Botha was appointed to the
thankless office of Commandant-General.

The only direction from which Bloemfontein appeared to be vulnerable was
the north, which also was the direction in which Lord Roberts hoped soon
to be leading his troops. At a distance of a day's march from the
capital, the railway to Pretoria crosses the Modder at Glen, and again
the river which had recently figured so prominently in the campaign came
upon the stage of war, and not as a last appearance. The railway bridge
had been destroyed by the Boers, who thus excluded themselves from
action on the left bank. A considerable force was sent out from
Bloemfontein to hold the position while the bridge was being rebuilt,
and to keep at arm's length the enemy skirmishing on the right bank. It
was soon found necessary to hold a more advanced post at Karee Siding,
north of Glen, and a force which seems out of proportion to the
resistance which, according to the ideas then prevalent at Head
Quarters, might be expected, was assembled at Glen on March 28. The
VIIth Division under Tucker was brought up from Bloemfontein, and French
was recalled from Thabanchu to lead the cavalry. With him, in command of
the mounted infantry, was Le Gallais, a remarkable association of two
soldiers whose names, though in different languages, were identical.
Bloemfontein was denuded of cavalry, but the combined strength of the
two cavalry brigades was much under 1,000. The force under Tucker and
French, which judging from its strength Lord Roberts seems to have
detailed rather as the advanced guard of an immediate march on Pretoria
than as the minimum with which the opposition could be safely
encountered, numbered about 9,000 men with thirty guns. At Karee Siding
were 3,500 burghers under T. Smuts, who had come up to carry out the
Krijgsraad idea of enticing the British out of Bloemfontein.

Next day a battle of the usual type was fought. The mounted troops
worked upon the flanks of the enemy, who was posted on a line of kopjes
on each side of the railway, while the infantry attacked frontally with
success and drove back the burghers, who retired in good order towards
Brandfort unmolested by the cavalry, which was as before too much
exhausted for effective pursuit. Thus, at a cost of less than 200
casualties, Lord Roberts made good the first stage on the road to the
north.

Soon after his entry into Bloemfontein Lord Roberts sent out a small
mounted column under Amphlett to Sannah's Post, where the water which
supplied the capital was drawn from the Modder River. This had been cut
off by the enemy, and the Army was dependent upon the disused and
tainted wells within the city. The Boer commandos, which under the
command of Olivier had retreated from the Cape Colony to Ladybrand and
Clocolan, now began to threaten Broadwood, who, when French was sent to
Glen, succeeded to the command of the mounted column. Broadwood was
compelled to retire from Thabanchu on March 30. Early on the following
morning he bivouacked at the Waterworks, whither his convoy under
Pilcher had already preceded him; and simultaneously the IXth Division
under Colvile and a brigade of Mounted Infantry under Martyr were
ordered out from Bloemfontein to help him in.

Meanwhile De Wet at Brandfort was watching his opportunity of working at
the task assigned to him under the Krijgsraad scheme, of attacking the
British lines of communication. His anticipation that the burghers would
return with renewed vigour from the furlough which they had granted to
themselves proved to be accurate. While Smuts was standing up to Tucker
and French at Karee Siding, 1,600 men with five field guns under C. De
Wet, whose second in command was his brother Piet, were circling to the
Waterworks. The initial direction of the march was N.E., in order to
conceal the real objective of the raid even from his own men. His
intention was to seize Amphlett at the Waterworks, and there lie in wait
for Broadwood's convoy. Before reaching his destination he handed over
two-thirds of his force to his brother, who early in the morning took up
a position on the right bank of the Modder east and north of the
Waterworks, while he himself went to the Wagon Drift on the Korn Spruit,
where the bed is deep enough to afford perfect concealment to a large
body of men in ambush. He occupied it at 4 a.m. on March 31.

A farmer, brought in by a patrol from Amphlett's post, reported to the
officer in command of the connecting post at Boesman's Kop that the
enemy had been seen; but the officer did not pay much attention to the
report, though he communicated it to the connecting post at Springfield
in the direction of Bloemfontein; at the same time sending back the
patrol to Amphlett at the Waterworks with a reinforcement of his own
men. The patrol was fired on while attempting to return to the
Waterworks, and retired to Boesman's Kop.

[Illustration: Map.]

Broadwood, whose column had already been in bivouac near the Waterworks
for some hours with the convoy which had preceded it, was at sunrise
shelled by Piet De Wet, of whose presence on the right bank of the
Modder he had only a few minutes previously been made aware, and in the
belief that his front was clear, he at once determined to take up a
position on Boesman's Kop.

Rarely had two leaders about to meet in battle been more strangely
deceived by the Fog of War. C. De Wet, although cut off from his guns
and the main body of his command by an unfordable river, was confident
in his lurking place in the Korn Spruit that he could easily repeat his
exploit of February 15 and annex another British convoy; yet he suddenly
discovered that he had to deal not with a mere escort, but with a strong
mounted force and two batteries of Horse Artillery, and he was equal to
the occasion.

Broadwood, equally confident that the whole force of the enemy was on
his flank on the right bank of the Modder, marched heedlessly into the
ambush which De Wet had laid for him in the Korn Spruit, on the direct
line between two adjacent British posts, and which neither of them had
discovered, although the usual patrols had been sent out. When the
patrol from the Waterworks to Boesman's Kop did not return in due course
on the morning of March 31, its absence seems to have caused no anxiety
to Amphlett.

Broadwood, groping in the Fog of War, believed that the force on his
flank was Olivier's, who had driven him out of Thabanchu, and who now,
as he thought, had overtaken him. The possibility of a raid from the
north did not occur to him. He pressed on towards Boesman's Kop and
carelessly approached the sunken and treacherous cutting through which
the Korn Spruit trickles to the Modder, between banks of even height
which almost up to the brink make no perceptible break in the surface of
the veld. His ground scouts and advanced guard were Cape carts full of
refugees followed by the wagons of his convoy. Next in succession came U
Battery of Horse Artillery with its mounted escort of colonial troops.

Preceded by the Cape carts, which De Wet, in order to disarm suspicion,
allowed to cross to the left bank, the column lumbered down the slope
into the spruit and was quickly sucked into the trap. In silence broken
only by the rumble of the wheels and the Kaffir cries of the drivers,
and unseen by the gunners close behind the leading wagons were seized by
quiet, determined burghers and placed under guard. The approach to the
drift was soon blocked, and in the heart of the entanglement was U
Battery. When it reached the incline, men sprang up out of the spruit
and lined the bank, and without firing a shot made prisoners of the
gunners, who, jammed by the transport, could neither fight nor retire,
and were easily taken from their teams and guns, and conducted by their
captors down to the bed of the spruit. Only the Major commanding the
Battery and the Serjeant-Major got away. Q Battery and its mounted
escort narrowly escaped being drawn into the ambush, but were warned in
time and galloped back to the railway station buildings.

Up to that moment not a shot had been fired, but as Q Battery wheeled
the Boers lining the bank opened upon it, and in the scrimmage another
gun was lost.

The derelict and riderless teams of U Battery at the spruit were shot
down by the Boers to prevent the escape of the guns, but not before one
gallant team had wrenched its gun out of the enemy's grasp and had
broken away. The Boers were now in possession of five guns of U Battery
and of one gun of Q Battery. The spruit was shelled with little effect
by Q Battery, which unlimbered near the station buildings. Only a
plunging fire could have harmed the enemy hidden in it.

It is hard to say whether De Wet or Broadwood was in the greater danger
at 9 a.m. on March 31. The former had, it is true, just obtained a
dramatic and most encouraging success. He laid a trap for a convoy and
found himself in action with a force numerically equal to his own. He
had made many prisoners, and almost without striking a blow had captured
not only Broadwood's convoy but also six of Broadwood's guns. His force,
however, was divided. The portion of it under his own command could not
be effectively supported by his brother's command, and was confined in a
spruit out of which he could not move, and which was commanded in rear
by higher ground.

Broadwood had been outwitted by De Wet and very roughly handled. With a
crippled and maimed force he was lying between the jaws of a vice which
might at any moment close and crush him. The loss of the convoy was,
from a tactical point of view, not an unmixed evil, as he gained thereby
greater freedom of action, but the loss of half his guns was for the
time being irremediable. The careless and haphazard scouting from the
Waterworks and Boesman's Kop, in which he complacently trusted, had
lured him on.[40] When it was reported to him that the spruit was in
possession of the enemy, he could scarcely believe it possible. Whether
he or the officers in command of the artillery and the mounted escort
were responsible for the extraordinary omission to send out ground
scouts in advance of the column is not known, but the guns and wagons
would not have been lost had this simple and customary precaution been
taken.

Broadwood, who had no information that Colvile and Martyr were
approaching from the west, and that the latter was actually at Boesman's
Kop, acted in the belief that he would have to deal with the situation
unaided. He ordered the mounted infantry under Alderson to hold P. De
Wet's force on the Modder, while the cavalry, supported by fire from Q
Battery at the station buildings and working south and west of the Korn
Spruit Drift, endeavoured to turn C. De Wet's precarious position.
Neither of these operations was successful. Alderson could barely hold
his own; the turning movement, although aided by a few companies of
Martyr's force, was frustrated by small parties of marksmen whom C. De
Wet had posted on the ridge in rear; and Q Battery was losing heavily.

At 10 a.m. Broadwood ordered a general retirement. No attempt seems to
have been made to communicate with him by heliograph, and he was still
unaware that Martyr had been on Boesman's Kop for three hours, and was
actually assisting in the turning movement; and that Colvile was
hurrying forward to the sound of the firing with the IXth Division. As
the battle had begun in the Fog of War, so also therein did it end.

With the utmost difficulty Q Battery, which had been fighting in the
open until only Phipps-Hornby and less than a dozen gunners were left to
work five guns, was withdrawn. The enemy's fire was so heavy that the
teams could not be brought up to the guns, four of which were run back
by hand to the station buildings, which afforded some cover. The fifth
gun was abandoned, but by the heroic efforts of Phipps-Hornby and a
handful of gunners and volunteers from the mounted infantry escort, four
guns were brought away.

Meanwhile Alderson was fighting a rearguard action against P. De Wet, to
cover the retirement of the guns, and when this was effected, he
followed them, closely pursued as far as the Korn Spruit by P. De Wet's
burghers, who crossed the Modder at the Waterworks. Before noon the
remains of Broadwood's column were formed up near Boesman's Kop. He had
lost seven[41] guns, seventy-three wagons and nearly a third of his
strength in killed, wounded, and prisoners.

Broadwood's withdrawal gave C. De Wet the opportunity which he could
hardly have dared hope would ever be offered to him. He was reinforced
by his brother, and at once drew his spoils out of the spruit and easily
got away with them to the right bank of the Modder, where at noon he met
the advanced guard of Olivier's force. Although he was in presence not
only of Broadwood's force, but also almost in touch with a division of
infantry and a brigade of mounted infantry his movements were so little
impeded that he was able to bring two of the captured guns back to the
left bank, and to bring them into action against a detachment of mounted
infantry which was holding Waterval Drift.

Martyr reached Boesman's Kop at 7 a.m., where in the course of the
morning he was joined by Colvile, whose Division was also on its way to
Waterval Drift. Broadwood, who was about two miles away, was ordered by
Colvile to come to him, but he refused to leave his command so long as
there was any chance of recovering the guns. He technically committed a
breach of discipline, but Lord Roberts subsequently approved of his
action. He requested Colvile to advance against the spruit, but the
message was not delivered; and Colvile said that it would not have
modified his dispositions. He had already refused to listen to the
obvious suggestion made by his staff that he should go to Broadwood, who
after waiting for two hours in the expectation that something would be
done by the infantry division, gave up hope and retired towards
Springfield.

Colvile's appreciation of the situation was that it would have been
useless to pursue De Wet's mounted troops with infantry. He therefore
carried out the letter of his instructions from Lord Roberts, and,
seeing that Broadwood's column was apparently safe, went on towards
Waterval Drift: whither also Martyr had already sent the greater portion
of the mounted infantry. Thus the brothers De Wet gained not only an
actual, but also a moral success of the greatest importance to their
cause, and took away the prizes they had so unexpectedly won, under the
eyes of a strong British force helplessly watching the commandos
trailing away across the veld.

Waterval Drift had been indicated to Colvile and Martyr as their
objective by Lord Roberts, and they considered that it was their duty to
make for it. They did not, however, recognize that instructions must be
read in the light of the information at the disposal of the superior
officer at the moment of issue, and they adhered to them
pedantically.[42] Lord Roberts could not have anticipated Broadwood's
plight when he ordered Colvile and Martyr to Waterval Drift.

Meanwhile, the news of the disaster had reached Bloemfontein. French's
attenuated cavalry brigade, still panting with the fatigue of the Karee
Siding affair, was ordered out, and Colvile was instructed to endeavour
to make a turning movement, and with French's assistance to act on the
Boer line of retreat. By sunset Colvile, after some opposition, was in
possession of the Waterval Drift; the enemy having despatched the
prisoners, the loot, and the captured guns to the north, was still in
occupation of the Waterworks; Broadwood's mangled column was on its way
back to Bloemfontein; and French was expected to appear upon the stage
at sunrise next morning. The approach of the cavalry, which had picked
up Broadwood at Springfield, was delayed by a report, which proved to be
unfounded, that a body of the enemy was on the right flank marching on
Bloemfontein, and French did not come into touch with Colvile until
nearly midday on April 1. After reconnoitring the Waterworks and the
Boer positions on the right bank of the Modder, Colvile came to the
conclusion that he was not strong enough to attack them. Next day all
the troops were ordered by Lord Roberts to fall back upon Bloemfontein.

Broadwood was not wholly, not even mainly, responsible for the Sannah's
Post disaster. He was unable to retrace that unlucky first false step
when, rashly assuming that the ground had been properly reconnoitred and
patrolled, he pushed into the angle between the Modder and its
tributary; and there can be no excuse for the negligence which tossed
the convoy and the guns into the abyss. But he received neither support
nor information until it was too late. No serious attempt was made to
let him know that a strong force was on its way from Bloemfontein.
Martyr failed to report himself, and Colvile was content to be an
interested spectator of the closing scene of the drama. Each leader
assumed that the moves of the Kriegspiel had been correctly played and
that there was nothing more to be done.

After the occupation of Bloemfontein, the columns operating south of the
Orange River were drawn into the Free State. Clements crossed at
Norval's Pont, and Gatacre at Bethulie on March 15; Brabant, who
commanded the colonial troops of the latter's Division, having reached
Aliwal North four days previously. Clements' force advanced in a
peaceful procession through the districts west of the railway, meeting
with no opposition, and receiving what, under the circumstances, was
almost a welcome from the inhabitants. Early in April he joined Lord
Roberts at Bloemfontein.

Not so with Gatacre and Brabant, who were soon seriously involved. Lord
Roberts' view of the situation, which although mistaken was not
unwarranted, was that the majority of the Boers were inclined to submit,
and would do so but for the malign influence of a small belligerent
party; and in order to encourage the waverers to assert themselves, and
to give protection to them when they took the oath of neutrality and
returned to their homes, he sent out flying columns in various
directions to register names, take over arms, and make known the
conditions on which surrenders would be accepted.

The story of the Thabanchu column has already been told. Other columns
were detached from Gatacre's and Brabant's commands, and Smithfield,
Wepener, and Dewetsdorp, and smaller towns were occupied. Lord Roberts'
orders for the occupation of Dewetsdorp were conditional on Gatacre's
having enough troops for the purpose at his disposal. So little was it
expected that the columns would meet with serious resistance that they
were unaccompanied by guns, and all Gatacre's artillery was sent to
Bloemfontein.

De Wet, a soldier possessed of more power of initiative than many of his
opponents, took "upon himself the responsibility of varying the
instructions" he had received from the Kroonstad Krijgsraad. The chance
of snapping up isolated garrisons allured him from the less brilliant
but more practically useful work of hacking at the railway upon which
Lord Roberts depended for his communications, and his wonderful and
unexpected success at Sannah's Post encouraged him to persevere. He
became aware that small columns were scouring the country, administering
lightly taken oaths and giving receipts for arms handed in by burghers
who protested that they were "sick of the war"; and he determined to
deal promptly with these ominous signs.

Between Sannah's Post and Reddersburg he in one day persuaded more than
a hundred sworn burghers to break their oaths of neutrality and join
him. Whether the energy and resource which he displayed would not have
been more profitably expended in a vigorous effort to shrivel up the
line between Bloemfontein and the Orange is a matter for speculation.
Kruger watched his proceedings with misgiving, and proposed that he
should retire northwards, as soon as he had cut the railway, or even
without doing so.

Korn Spruit opened Lord Roberts' eyes. He became alarmed for the safety
of the railway, and ordered Gatacre to evacuate Dewetsdorp and to
concentrate the weak pacificatory columns wandering helplessly over the
country. The column of 550 men without guns, sent by Gatacre to garrison
Dewetsdorp, had not been there many hours before it was ordered to
retire on Reddersburg, and at daybreak on April 2 was again on the
march, and soon De Wet was in touch with it. On the following morning he
was close to it. In his own account of the affair he says that there was
a sort of a race, which was won by the British column, for a ridge near
Reddersburg, named Mostert's Hoek. He had with him 2,000 men with four
guns, but an invitation to surrender was promptly declined by the
defenders, who all that day were beaten on by bullet and by shell. After
sunset the last drop of water was served out. Next morning De Wet rushed
the western spur of the ridge, which now became untenable, and at 9 a.m.
on April 4 the column surrendered and was swept into his net.

Another hour of resistance would probably have saved it. On the previous
evening Gatacre and Lord Roberts received the news that it was in
trouble, and a relieving force was hurriedly collected at Bethany from
Springfontein and Bloemfontein, and sent out under Gatacre's command.
His scouts heard the last shot fired, and the silence which followed
seemed to show that all was over. When reports of the surrender reached
him near Reddersburg, and before De Wet, only six miles away, had
cleared out of Mostert's Hoek, he abandoned the attempt; although some
of his advanced mounted troops did indeed come into touch with the
rearguard of De Wet hurrying away with his prisoners.

Next day he was recalled to Bloemfontein by Lord Roberts, who held him
responsible for the disaster. He had occupied Dewetsdorp, an exposed and
isolated position, with an inadequate force, although expressly
instructed to leave it alone if he had not sufficient troops for the
purpose. Mostert's Hoek supervening on Stormberg ended the career of a
most gallant, energetic, and enthusiastic soldier. _Bic peccare in bello
non licet_. He was removed from his command and sent back to England.

After leaving Sannah's Post, De Wet seems to have recognized that he was
not exactly carrying out the Krijgsraad policy, for he informed Steyn
that he was going to Dewetsdorp to "collect the burghers and to obtain
dynamite for our operations" against the railway between Bloemfontein
and Bethany. Next day he heard that the British had occupied Dewetsdorp,
and soon after that the garrison was retiring on Reddersburg, and the
attack on the line, which perhaps he never seriously intended to make,
was indefinitely postponed.

For as soon as he had disposed of the prisoners of Mostert's Hoek, he
cast his eye round the horizon and descried two other isolated
garrisons, at Smithfield and Wepener. Against the former he sent one of
his lieutenants, who, however, found the little town evacuated, while he
himself made for Wepener, and longing to teach a lesson to Brabant's
loyal colonials, sat down before it on April 9 with ten guns and 6,000
men. In the course of the northward advance from the Orange it had been
occupied by a detachment from Brabant's force, which was increased by
subsequent reinforcements to a strength of nearly 1,900 men under
Dalgety, of whom little more than 100 were regular troops, with seven
guns. The town itself was not held, but a circular position outside it
with a perimeter of seven miles was taken up on the right bank of the
Caledon.

De Wet maintained the siege for sixteen days. The failure of an attempt
by night on April 10 to storm a post on the southern section of the
perimeter deterred the Boers, as at Ladysmith after the abortive attack
on Caesar's Camp two months before, from further offensive action; but
the position was vigorously bombarded from time to time, and an almost
unceasing hail of Mauser bullets fell upon it. De Wet did his best to
add Wepener to the scalps of Sannah's Post and Mostert's Hoek; but when
two columns detailed for the relief by Lord Roberts under the command of
Brabant and Hart, who had come round from Natal with his brigade,
reached Wepener from Aliwal North on April 25, they found that the siege
had been raised, and that De Wet had trekked away to the north.

At Waterval Drift, Kitchener's Kopje, Sannah's Post, and Mostert's Hoek,
De Wet showed himself to be a daring and successful partisan leader. He
was instinctively drawn towards helpless or unwary detachments. He
played his own hand without reference to his partner's, and seemed to be
incapable of co-operating in a general scheme of strategy. Perhaps he
had not much confidence in those who directed the campaign of defence.
He did not act in accordance with the instructions he had received from
the Krijgsraad; but who could find fault with a leader who was ever
sending in batches of prisoners of war? Many critics say that he was
wanting in the true military instinct and spirit, and that he lost the
greatest opportunity in his career when he allowed himself to be
attracted away from the British lines of communication by the feeble,
peregrinating columns. He says that his reason, or it may be his excuse,
for not raiding vigorously towards the south, instead of sitting down
before Wepener, was the fear lest the Transvaalers should think that the
Free Staters had abandoned them to their fate. If his action is open to
criticism when judged by the generally accepted principles of warfare,
it should be remembered that these are framed from experience only, and
are subject to accommodation. By all the rules of the game, the Boers
must have been beaten in six months: yet when, after the occupation of
Bloemfontein, the cause seemed to be hopeless, the De Wet revival
prolonged the contest for two years and more. It is almost certain that,
but for De Wet, the war would have been brought to a close in 1900. One
man only, and he was Napoleon, added a greater sum to the British
National Debt.

The fortune which proverbially attends the bold never deserted him. To
the Boer forces at large he was what the pirate adventurers and
buccaneers of the Elizabethan period, and the privateersmen of the
eighteenth century, were to the National Navy. He sailed where he would
under letters of marque from the Presidents. He is the most interesting
and the most original personage of the South African War: and when its
history is mellowed by time, and its epic is written by some Walter
Scott or Homer of the future, De Wet will be the central figure, and his
exploits will be sung.

Five years later, having thrown aside his sword, he became a controller
of ploughshares as Minister of Agriculture in the Government of the
Orange River Colony, and the father-in-law of a British officer who had
fought against him.

Notes:

[Footnote 39: At the Krijgsraad at Kroonstad Delarey maintained that the
commandos were too large and must be subdivided.]

[Footnote 40: The scouting of the British Army in South Africa has been
compared to a housemaid searching for an escape of gas with a lighted
candle.]

[Footnote 41: A The gun of U Battery, which had broken away at the
Drift, was recovered.]

[Footnote 42: In the official handbook on _Combined Training_ issued
after the war, it was expressly laid down that "officers, must take upon
themselves, whenever it may be necessary, the responsibility of
departing from or varying the orders they may have received." This
responsibility had been laid by Napoleon upon his officers nearly a
century before. Seep. 251.]



CHAPTER X

Baden-Powell and the Siege of Mafeking


Mafeking is a dull, unimportant town in the veld with a history that
attracted the Boers to it.

They considered that, like Natal and Kimberley, it did not rightfully
belong to Great Britain. They were a community of trekking and
centrifugal atoms, especially in the direction of territories in the
possession of native tribes, and their own country, though sparsely
inhabited, was not spacious enough for them. The bucolic ambition of the
Boer, which is to dwell in a house from which he cannot see the smoke of
his nearest neighbour's chimney, can be satisfied in a flat country only
when the house stands in the midst of a farm many thousand _morgen_ in
extent.

For a generation or two before the war, the Transvaalers had been
encroaching upon Bechuanaland. A Baralong chief named Montsioa was
dispossessed of Mafeking and could obtain no redress from the British
Government, which at that time was in an intermediate frame of mind, and
did not necessarily act on the assumption that in every dispute between
white man and native the latter was in the right.

Thus encouraged, the Transvaalers annexed Bechuanaland in 1868, but
three years later it was taken away from them under the Keate award, in
an arbitration to determine the respective rights of Boer and native
over the debateable territory.

After the war of 1881, the Transvaalers supposed that the British
Government would be unlikely to assert itself, and two little impudent
republics of adventurers were set up in territory which the award had
declared to be within the British sphere of influence. Montsioa fought
for his rights, but the British Government lay torpid for some time.
Finally it was goaded into action by a proclamation issued by Kruger
annexing the territory to the Transvaal. He soon found it advisable to
cancel the proclamation, and in 1885 the Republics of Goshen at Mafeking
and of Stellaland at Vryburg were effaced by an expedition led by Sir
Charles Warren. Bechuanaland was again annexed by proclamation, but on
this occasion to the British Empire.

The resentment of the Transvaalers against Mafeking, which originated in
the conviction that they had been wrongfully deprived of it, was
aggravated by the fact that it was the starting place of the Jameson
Raid.

On October 13 nearly 7,000 burghers, with six guns, under P. Cronje, sat
down before it. He expected to have little difficulty in recovering it.
Appearances were encouraging; the town was open and defenceless, and he
was probably aware that it was held by a weak garrison. Why the British
should have occupied such an out-of-the-way place as part of their plan
of campaign, he could not understand, but there it was, inviting attack.

Of the half-hearted measures taken by the War and Colonial Offices in
1899, when a war with the Transvaal seemed to be more probable every
day, one of the most intelligent was the commissioning of R.
Baden-Powell, who had formerly served in Bechuanaland and had recently
commanded the 5th Dragoon Guards, to "organize the defence of the
Bechuanaland and Rhodesia frontiers." It would neither involve a great
expenditure of money, nor be likely to wound the susceptibilities of the
Transvaalers, who might be provoked by more vigorous and minatory
measures: and thus little harm would be done if after all it were found
to be an unnecessary precaution.

For these reasons it commended itself to Pall Mall, but its chief merit
was that it sent to South Africa a capable, versatile and zealous
soldier, whose mind did not run in the grooves. Yet if Baden-Powell had
been sent to Kimberley instead of to Mafeking, Kimberley would probably
have fallen--after an outbreak of civil war within the lines between him
and Rhodes. It would have been impossible to insulate the personal
electricity with which each of them was so highly charged, and short
circuiting must have occurred.

The object of the contemplated display upon the Bechuanaland and
Rhodesia frontiers was twofold. They ran through the indefinite border
belt which separated black from white territory, and activity on them
would not only be witnessed by the tribes and exert an impressive
influence on the native mind, but would also draw away the Boers and
prevent them concentrating their forces. The central position of
Mafeking on the Western line, and the stores and supplies which had been
collected in the town, attracted Baden-Powell to it. It was singularly
ill-adapted to hold defensively against an active enemy.

In spite of recruiting difficulties raised by the Facing-both-Ways
Ministry at Capetown, which in a less tolerant and philosophic age would
at once have been swept away by a storm of indignation, he raised two
irregular regiments: the Rhodesian Regiment, which was sent into
Rhodesia under Plumer, and the Protectorate Regiment under Hore.

The Cape Ministry did what it could to prevent the Protectorate Regiment
going to Mafeking, and the corps was in fact mustered outside the Cape
Colony, and only entered the town a few days before war was declared. As
at Kimberley, so also at Mafeking, the Schreiner sect set itself
placidly to thwart the gentle and tentative early efforts of the British
Government to deal with the situation.

When P. Cronje appeared before Mafeking, Baden-Powell had a force of
less than 1,200 men, none of whom were regular soldiers and less than
half of whom were efficiently armed, with which to sustain the siege of
an open town by 7,000 Boers. He had also four small field guns of
obsolete pattern, to which were added later on a home-made howitzer and
an ancient man-of-war's smoothbore, which had left the foundry during
the Napoleonic wars. In its youth it had probably fought the French
through a porthole, and now having in the interval trekked across the
South African veld into the possession of a native tribe, was discovered
in a Baralong kraal, restored to active service, and, mounted on a Dutch
wagon, aided in the defence of a little settlement 400 miles away from
the sound of the sea.

In one respect only Baden-Powell had the advantage over Kekewich at
Kimberley. His burden was not increased by discord within the lines. The
civilians behaved with exemplary composure and put themselves
unreservedly into his hands.

An archaic but effective simplicity characterized the methods of the
defence. Baden-Powell eked out his slender stock of men and instruments
with tricks and devices that might have been employed at the siege of
Troy, but which none the less deceived and confounded the slow-witted
besiegers, whom he scandalized with gibes and taunting messages. When
asked to surrender to avoid further bloodshed, he replied that the only
blood hitherto shed was the blood of a chicken in a compound; and on
another occasion he reproved Cronje for inactivity. Many of the
incidents read like passages from the Iliad. The besiegers were allured
into determined attacks upon dummy trenches; deceived by bogus orders
shouted for their information through a megaphone; alarmed by the sudden
appearance of cavalry within the lines, for did they not see the glint
of lances? The lances were weapons that had been forged in the railway
workshops, and carried round, as it were in a parade before the
footlights by a body of supers making a gallant show upon the stage.

What should be done in a besieged place with such an embarrassing asset
as ten tons of dynamite? Buller would have handed them over to his
second in command for disposal, and then if any accident occurred would
have disclaimed responsibility for it. Gatacre would have taken the
chances, but would not have hesitated to pitch his tent if necessary
beside them. Colvile would have searched his orders for instructions.
Baden-Powell, not being able to rid himself of the explosive by firing
it, arranged that it should be fired by the enemy. He loaded it on
railway trucks, which he propelled a few miles out of the town and then
abandoned. There was no Laocoon to warn the Boers, and they rushed at
what they thought was an armoured train in trouble. In the skirmish the
dynamite exploded, and although no one was hurt the enemy was terribly
scared, and the resisting powers of the garrison virtually augmented.

Baden-Powell thoroughly understood the Boer temperament. Many
generations' isolation from the progressive European world had rendered
it peculiarly liable to be ensnared by simple expedients. It was not
wanting in "slimness," but it was the "slimness" or cunning of a
primitive race, and was easily gulled by wiles that might have been
employed against a tribe of Red Indians. Baden-Powell alone of all the
British leaders was aware of this, and he owed much of his success to
the knowledge. With but one man to defend each ten yards of his
perimeter of seven miles he hypnotized Cronje, a dull man bewildered by
a resourceful. His versatility instantly found a way out of each
difficulty that beset him. Before he sent out a party detailed for a
night attack that might easily go astray, he bethought himself of the
device by which a ship is often guided into her haven, and hung up two
lamps in the town as leading lights across the veld.

Cronje soon found that Mafeking was not an easy prey. Although in all
probability he might at any time have overwhelmed it by sheer weight of
numbers, he refrained from making the attempt. It hit out so vigorously
and was believed to be so well protected by mines that he requisitioned
a big gun from Pretoria, which was mounted south of the town and came
into action on October 23. With a weapon throwing a shell more than
three times heavier than all the shells that could be fired in salvo by
the artillery of the defence, there was no doubt in his mind that the
place must fall before the end of the month.

The arrival of the gun quickened the attack for a time. The native
location S.W. of the town was made the object of a feint on October 25
to be immediately followed by a real attack elsewhere, but the
Baralongs, who had been armed, resisted so stoutly that the operation
failed. By the beginning of November the Boers had been cleared out of a
newly made advanced trench on the east side; and Cannon Kopje on the
south, the possession of which by them would have made a considerable
section of the defence works and perhaps even the town itself untenable,
was held under a converging fire of artillery by fifty troopers of the
British South African Police against a thousand Boers.

Five weeks of Baden-Powell were enough for Cronje, who on November 19
trekked away to the south, leaving Snyman and 3,000 burghers to continue
the siege. His self-esteem had been wounded because the walls had not
immediately fallen to the sound of the big gun, and by Baden-Powell's
refusal to take a serious view of the situation in the frequent
communications that passed between them. It may be said that Cronje was
"chaffed" away from Mafeking; the gibes put him out of conceit with
himself, and instead of stimulating him into activity only made him more
dull-spirited than he was by nature. He had none of the instinctive
military genius which showed itself so notably in most of his
colleagues, who, having turned their ploughshares into swords at a
moment's notice, were generally more than a match for the professional
soldiers against whom they were pitted. He had the misfortune of meeting
almost the only British leader then in South Africa capable of
instinctively assessing him on the spot at his true valuation; and like
a timid poker-player with a good hand, he allowed himself to be bluffed
by the flourishes of his opponent. He held good cards, but he feebly
threw them down. At Magersfontein he played his hand with skill, but
lost the deciding game at Paardeberg.

Baden-Powell was too zealous a soldier to conform to the schism that the
operations of war were akin to athletics or sport. Externally his
predilections were for the drama. He was a competent actor and manager,
and he rejoiced in Mafeking as in a stage play.

Many of his devices were as unsubstantial as stage scenery; the
besiegers were the villains of the piece who would meet with their
deserts before the curtain fell; there was comic by-play in his ways of
beguiling the tedium and the lassitude of the siege, in the bantering
messages he sent out to the besiegers, and now and then even in his
garrison orders. The little garrison was permeated by the exosmose
action of his cheery optimism and humour during seven weary months of
waiting; and while it might seem to some that he was treating the
serious situation with unbecoming levity, he wisely kept the tragedy of
it, of which he was fully conscious, in the background.

His methods were so far successful that in a few weeks he had driven
away two-thirds of the force originally opposed to him, and had firmly
gripped the place. The enemy's superiority in artillery was neutralized
by the construction of underground shelters and warrens in which the
women and children took refuge during the daytime, leaving an apparently
deserted town to be bombarded. Thus Baden-Powell was relieved from the
moral pressure which a large number of casualties among them would have
caused; and the garrison suffered but little in the redoubts and
trenches. Supplies were plentiful and the water supply secure.

What Cronje had failed to do, Snyman could hardly be expected to
accomplish with a considerably reduced force, and the attack became more
faint-hearted. He carried out the Cronje policy of comfortable,
lethargic squatting, doubting not that the place must fall into his
hands sooner or later. Friends and relations tripped over from
Johannesburg to admire and encourage his brave burghers at their posts,
and some were even allowed as a treat to fire a shot at the Khakis.

No serious operation occurred until the end of the year. On the morrow
of Christmas Day, Baden-Powell made an unsuccessful attempt to carry a
fort on Game Tree Hill, which commanded the approach to the town from
the north. He was unaware of its strength, and the casualties amounted
to nearly one-fifth of the force engaged, a loss which he could ill
afford; but early in January he compelled the big gun, which could
neither face the shells of his little battery of 7-pounders nor the
rifles of his marksmen, to withdraw to a more distant emplacement east
of the town. Towards the end of the month an encouraging message was
received from Lord Roberts at Capetown.

The Boer line of circumvallation was in plan an irregular hexagon, of
which the north-east face was pushed inwards and a re-entrant angle
formed at the Brickfields; where a fort was built nearer to the town
than any other post of the attack, and the operations during February
and March were mainly a struggle for the possession of it. After several
weeks of sapping and counter sapping, the Boers, though supported by the
fire of the big gun in its new emplacement, were expelled from the
Brickfields on March 23.

April was marked by the final withdrawal of the big gun, which, after a
heavy bombardment on the 11th, was sent away to Pretoria; and by the
appearance of young Eloff, fresh from the capital, with instructions to
do what he could to stimulate the attack, for once in a way, into real
activity. More than a fortnight elapsed before he succeeded. Snyman gave
him little encouragement, but could not oppose a mandate from Kruger,
Eloff's grandfather.

The Molopo River, after passing south of the town, runs through the only
weak place in the defence, the native location, which during the first
few days of the siege had been attacked without result by Cronje.
Westward of it the steep banks of the river afford a covered way of
access to the thickly clustered huts lying within the perimeter of the
defence, which Eloff saw might be turned if he got a footing among them.

Early in the morning of May 12 a heavy fire was opened upon the town
from the east, but was soon discontinued; and then an alarm came from
the S.W. It was Eloff, who, with 300 burghers, had wriggled up the river
bed through the outposts and had set fire to the native huts: a signal
for the reinforcements which Snyman had promised in writing. It also
warned the garrison. The natives were too much terrified to offer
resistance, and Eloff, leaving the greater part of his force to hold the
location, advanced upon the town. The police building in the open was
surrounded and the detachment holding it taken prisoners. A pause was
now made to allow the promised reinforcements to come up.

Eloff's gallant thrust gave the garrison the opportunity for which it
had long been hoping. The troops of the western section of the defence
closed in and were manoeuvred by Baden-Powell through the telephone. The
door by which Eloff came in was shut, not only to a retreat but also to
the reinforcements which timidly knocked at it; the burghers holding the
location were overpowered, and Eloff's party was penned up in the police
building with its prisoners, whose condition was suddenly dramatically
reversed. Eloff, seeing that Snyman had failed him, surrendered to the
men he had captured a few hours before, within the walls of the prison
in which he had confined them.

The ordeal of Mafeking soon came to an end. On May 15 it was reported
that the relief column under Mahon, who on that day joined Plumer at
Massibi on the Molopo twenty miles from Mafeking, was approaching. The
combined forces, though vigorously opposed by Delarey, whom L. Botha had
sent when the news of the advance reached him, entered the town on May
17 and ended a siege of 213 days.

Mafeking, the last and most instructive of the sieges, proved that there
was hardly any disparity of numbers or preponderance of available
military resources that could not be neutralized by good leadership
opposed to bad. Baden-Powell had not only detained a considerable Boer
force on the edge of the storm, but with a body of irregular troops had
beaten the men of Magersfontein, Colenso, and Spion Kop.

The relief of Mafeking, however, did not vitally affect the general
situation. The capture of the town during Lord Robert's advance would no
doubt have caused annoyance and trouble, but if necessary it could have
been retaken without much difficulty. Nor would its fall have greatly
benefited the enemy, who probably would have been tempted by the success
to hold an unsound position and detain in it commandos urgently required
elsewhere.

Kimberley, Mafeking, and Wepener, more than the operations at large,
demonstrated the anomalous character of the war. Hitherto, invaders had
been accustomed to besiege the invaded, in South Africa the invaded
besieged the invaders. Such a reversal of the order of things military
had rarely before occurred. The sieges of the Peninsular War are not an
exception, for Wellington was from a military, though not from a
political point of view, as much an invader as the lieutenants of
Napoleon.

Baden-Powell is a suppressed personality whose merit was not fully
recognized. With scarcely an exception, no individual leader was more
self-reliant, or handled imperfect tools with greater skill. For seven
months he kept the flag flying over the lonely Baralong kraal in the
veld. His unconventional even theatrical methods were not to the taste
of his serious superiors, who underestimated his success. His only
reward was the Companionship of the Bath, which was also bestowed upon
the militia colonels, most of whom, from no fault or no want of zeal on
their part, but from lack of opportunity, never met the enemy except in
some casual paltry skirmish.

The junction of the two columns advancing to the relief of
Mafeking--Plumer's from the north and Mahon's from the south--was
effected at the right moment, for it is doubtful whether either of them
acting alone would have been able to deal with Delarey.

Plumer with the Rhodesian Regiment had been trekking here and there and
skirmishing with the enemy for seven months. On the eve of the war he
was sent by Baden-Powell to Tuli, a village in Rhodesia not far from the
right bank of the Limpopo, which is the northern boundary of the
Transvaal. His instructions were "to defend the border, to attract the
enemy away towards the north, and then in due time to co-operate with
the British force," which it was expected would soon be invading the
Transvaal from the south, and also to overawe the doubtful native tribes
between Tuli and Mafeking, a distance of 500 miles; and he had under his
immediate command at Tuli one irregular regiment 500 strong.

He remained for some weeks seeing to the drifts, which were now in his
possession and now in that of the enemy. A Boer raid into Rhodesia on
November 2 forced the outlying detachments back upon Tuli, which was
seriously threatened by some commandos under F.A. Grobler of Marico. The
Government of Pretoria, however, growing anxious at the presence of
British troops elsewhere, vetoed a promising enterprise and recalled
him. The raid of November 2 was answered a few weeks later by Plumer,
who, finding the drifts unoccupied, reconnoitred thirty miles towards
the south. Nearly six months elapsed before another British soldier set
foot in the Transvaal. A subsequent reconnaissance again found no trace
of the enemy on the left bank of the Limpopo, and showed that it was
unnecessary for him to remain on the river. He had the advantage of
being cut off from communication with superior officers ignorant of
local conditions, and was able to act freely upon his own
responsibility.

He soon heard news which clearly indicated the way he should go. The
railway from Buluwayo to Mafeking was held as far as possible towards
the south by patrols of police under Nicholson, and the Rhodesian
Volunteers under Holdsworth were also on the line. In the gap between
the railhead and Mafeking, a Boer commando, said to have been detached
from Mafeking by Cronje, was at Sekwani on the N.W. border of the
Transvaal and within striking distance of the Western line. It was face
to face with the border tribes and was soon in trouble with them.
Although they were not allowed to attack Sekwani independently, they
were permitted to co-operate as non-combatants in an attack which
Holdsworth was about to make on it, but only on the condition that they
did not cross the Transvaal border. This was a refinement of policy
which they could hardly be expected to understand, and they precipitated
Holdsworth's action by attacking the Boer laager, which lay but a mile
or two across the border, on their own account, and the operation had
therefore to be abandoned. To avenge this native attack, in which
several burghers had been killed, reinforcements were brought over by
the Boers from the Pietersburg line, and Holdsworth's position at
Mochudi on the Western line, whither he had retired after the Sekwani
failure, was endangered.

This was the news which reached Plumer at the end of the year. His
original instructions were obsolescent and he readily adapted himself to
the altered situation. He saw that it was more important to clear the
railway north of Mafeking than to remain where he was on the chance of a
Boer invasion of Rhodesia, of which his reconnaissances south of the
Limpopo saw no sign. The nearest station on the Western line was
Palapye, and on December 27 he set out on his midsummer march of 170
miles to it. Within a fortnight, his little force of irregulars, which
three months before had been sent out into the South African wilderness
to perform duties that might have engrossed a division, passed away from
Tuli beyond the Limpopo on to the visible stage of war near Mochudi.

In the middle of January, 1900, he reached Gaberones. On his left flank
Sekwani was still occupied by the enemy, though in reduced numbers; in
front of him the Boers were not only strongly posted on the railway at
Crocodile Pools, but able to draw upon Mafeking for reinforcements, by
the help of which they successfully resisted an attack on February 11.
Plumer's force, though augmented by detachments he had picked up on the
line, was unequal to the task of advancing along it. He therefore
decided to diverge from the railway and advance by way of Kanya, a
native town lying twenty miles west of the line.

On March 6 he reached Lobatsi, where he was forty-five miles from
Mafeking. He found, however, that it was an awkward place to defend and
soon quitted it, as Baden-Powell seemed to be in no immediate need, and
was in fact averse to Plumer's small force throwing itself upon the
besiegers. With the greater part of his command, the rest being sent
back to hold the railway at Crocodile Pools, he withdrew to the base
which he had established at Kanya; afterwards advancing to Sefetili,
thirty miles from Mafeking, where he awaited the approach of Mahon's
relieving column from the south. Baden-Powell, rejoicing in his siege,
was not anxious that the game which he was playing so well should be
brought to a premature conclusion, and was more afraid for Plumer than
for himself.

Plumer filled in his two months at Kanya and Sefetili by occasional
raids in the direction of Mafeking and by an expedition towards Zeerust.
The column in the south, of whose movements many false reports reached
him from time to time, seemed to be tarrying by the way, and it was not
until May 12 that he received a message from Lord Roberts that it was
nearing its destination.

For some weeks after his entry into Bloemfontein, Lord Roberts was
unable to arrange for the direct relief of Mafeking by a column
specially detailed for the purpose. He had originally intended that this
should be done by Methuen, but subsequently ordered him to operate in
the Free State on the left flank of the advance on the Transvaal. He
hoped to apply his favourite method of an automatic relief, brought
about by external pressure elsewhere. At the end of April, however, when
it had become an urgent matter, he ordered Hunter, who had recently
arrived at Kimberley from Natal, to send out a mounted force under
Mahon, following it himself with the rest of the Xth Division.

He left Kimberley on May 3, and on the following day Mahon set out from
Barkly West on his 230 miles' march to Mafeking. Mahon advanced wide of
the railway up the Hart's River, which joins the Vaal at Barkly West,
his right flank being covered by Hunter, who kept close to the Vaal.
Mahon met with no serious resistance until he had covered 200 miles of
his journey, when he found a, force which had been sent down from
Mafeking across his path, and which diverted him to Massibi; where he
joined Plumer on May 15.

The advance of the main and less mobile body under Hunter was aided by
demonstrations made by Methuen from Boshof. With three columns claiming
their attention the bewildered Boers were unable to do more than offer a
stout but ineffectual resistance to Hunter on the Vaal on May 5. Two
days later he occupied Fourteen Streams and restored the railway
communication across the Vaal, having during his halt taken possession
of Christiana, a village in the Transvaal a few miles up the river. It
was now no longer necessary for him to hurry after Mahon, and his
advance northwards was made at leisure. Early in June he occupied
Lichtenburg, where Mahon rejoined him.

Mafeking as well as Kimberley were now in the hands of Lord Roberts, but
the Western line joining them to Capetown was not yet secure. The
districts of Cape Colony west of De Aar and Hopetown were remote and
backward, and sparsely inhabited by discontented and unprosperous Dutch
farmers. Nearly a year before, while the Cape Government was placidly
blinking under the shadow of Table Mountain and only taking action that
thwarted the attempts of the Imperial Government to prepare for war, and
like the unjust steward intriguing for reception in Boer houses if the
Empire should fail, arms had been sent into these districts by the Boers
of the Republics, and courses of instruction in the use of them were
actually being held.

To stir up the discontented and set the veld on fire, a party of
Transvaalers swooped down from Vryburg before the war was many days old.
Rebel commandos were raised, and most of the districts lying between the
Orange and the Molopo were involved, some of them being annexed by
proclamation to the Republics. For several months the trouble was
confined to the right bank of the Orange, but during February it passed
over to the left bank.

In pursuance of his policy of striking swiftly and strongly at the
centres of population, and not from neglect, Lord Roberts had left the
rebellious and disaffected districts more or less to themselves, in the
belief that indirect action would retrieve the situation and that his
advance would take the heart out of the rebels and deter them from
crossing the river; and for some months there had been no British troops
south of the Orange except at De Aar and Hopetown.

Now, however, the railway, which until his arrival at Bloemfontein was
his only line of communication, was threatened. The Prieska and Herbert
districts on the left bank of the Orange, and even the remote Gordonia
district lying in the angle between the Orange and the Molopo, which was
too far away to be included in the first batch of proclamations, were
annexed by the Boers. There was much danger of the advancing army not
only finding its communications broken, but also a formidable rebellion
springing up behind it.

The troops on the line were insufficient to deal with the situation, and
Lord Roberts was obliged to draw upon Clements, who was acting in the
other disturbed districts of the Cape Colony south of the Free State.
Lord Kitchener, who chanced to be passing through De Aar on his way back
from Naauwpoort, where he had been sent to look after the central
advance, made arrangements for the Prieska operations and rejoined Lord
Roberts at Kimberley; but his presence was soon required again at De
Aar. Three columns had started westward from the line, but the centre
column, which was composed of the troops withdrawn from Clement's
command, met with opposition in the Prieska district, and was compelled
to retire on March 6. When the news reached Lord Roberts he sent
Kitchener to take charge of the operations, which from that time was
successful. The rebellion south of the Orange was suppressed; the
leaders disappeared; and by the end of the month Kitchener was free to
return to Head Quarters at Bloemfontein.

Not many weeks, however, elapsed before there was trouble in Griqualand,
a considerable portion of which was in the hands of rebel descendants of
the burghers of the Great Trek, who were joined by rebels expelled from
the districts south of the Orange during the late operations. A column
had been sent out against them from Kimberley by Methuen in March, but
Lord Roberts disapproved of the expedition and it was recalled. At the
request of Sir A. Milner, who from the first had been of the opinion
that the British hold on South Africa was in greater danger from
rebellion in the Colony than from the commandos of the two Republics,
Lord Roberts consented to send a force into Griqualand under the command
of Warren, who was brought round from Natal, and returned to the country
through which he had worked in the Bechuanaland Expedition of 1885. In
the middle of May, Warren set out from Belmont. The only regular troops
in his column were a few Irish mounted infantry. Douglas was easily
taken on May 21, and on his way to Campbell he was compelled by supply
and transport difficulties to halt at Faber's Put, where at dawn on May
30 he was surprised by the rebels, who, knowing that they had not to
face regular troops, anticipated an easy victory. They succeeded in
almost surrounding the camp before the alarm was given, but after a
brief struggle were driven off.

Early in June Campbell and Griquatown were occupied; and on the 24th
Kuruman, which had been in the hands of the rebels for nearly six
months, was recovered. Near Khies, lower down the Orange, the force
which had been left to watch the banks after the suppression of the
Prieska rebellion, some of the fugitives from which had returned to the
river under the leadership of a Jew, attacked and carried their laager.
This and the Faber's Put affair were the only serious fights in the
clearing of the Colony north of the Orange.

Thus by the end of June Lord Roberts had secured the railway from
Mafeking and Kimberley to the south.



CHAPTER XI

Bloemfontein to Pretoria


[Sidenote: Map, p. 260.]

The agile mind of Lord Roberts rather than the heavy hand of his Chief
of the Staff is discernible in the method of the advance on the
Transvaal.

There were two courses open to the British Army. It might have
deliberately pulverized and extinguished each atom of opposition within
reach in the Free State, and have taken no step to the front until the
rear and the flanks were absolutely and finally clear of the enemy; or
it might have advanced boldly towards the Transvaal with the ordinary
precautions for the protection of the lines of communication and of the
flanks.

Lord Roberts adopted the latter course. He had tried it with success in
the Afghan War twenty years before, when he marched even more "in the
air" from Kabul to Kandahar. The tedious process of "steam-rollering"
the Free State was not to his taste, nor would the expectant British
public at home have understood it; and it would have been severely
criticized by the military experts. It would have concentrated before
him north of the Vaal all the Boer forces which could not be crushed on
the spot, and have left the resources of the Transvaal for some time
untouched: free communication with the outer world by way of the neutral
port of Lorenzo Marques, the treasury of the Johannesburg gold mines
upon which the enemy could draw, and the railway and mining workshops in
which munitions of war could be manufactured.

Lord Roberts therefore determined upon a swift advance from
Bloemfontein. He was confident that the occupation of places would bring
the war to an end without an excessive loss of life; and he would
probably have been right if he had been engaged in a European war. He
did not see, however, that the Boers derived little or no strength from
their towns, which were rather a source of weakness; they were men of
the veld and the veld was their strength.

De Wet's _guerilla_ advanced Chermside to the command of the IIIrd
Division, in place of Gatacre sent home. A new Division, numbered the
VIIIth, under a new commander, Sir Leslie Rundle, a general with an
Egyptian reputation, was assembled south of Bloemfontein in April.

The siege of Wepener called for activity from Bloemfontein as well as
from the Orange, and Lord Roberts sent Rundle to Dewetsdorp, where his
presence would, it was hoped, not only draw the Boers away from Wepener,
but deny them a retreat to the north. Pole-Carew with the XIth Division
and French followed Rundle, but De Wet abandoned the siege on the
approach of Hart and Brabant from the south, and his brother P. De Wet
scuttled away from Dewetsdorp on the approach of Rundle; and the
commandos ran the gauntlet successfully. Their hereditary trekking
instincts told them when to move and how to move, and their mobility had
not at that period been recognized by the British Staff. Wepener was
indeed relieved, though not from Bloemfontein, but the subsequent
divagations of the Boers baffled three British divisions which were
endeavouring to squeeze them northwards and head them off. A strong
rearguard was left by the Boers at Houtnek, ten miles north of
Thabanchu.

Lord Roberts' position at Bloemfontein, and on the line of
communication, had never been seriously endangered. The brilliant
affairs of Sannah's Post and Mostert's Hoek were no doubt annoying to
the British Army and encouraging to the enemy. At home the importance of
them was greatly exaggerated. If the advance on the Transvaal was
delayed by them and the subsequent operations arising out of the siege
of Wepener, more time was given to prepare for it; and the British Army
was usefully informed of a fact which hitherto had hardly been
suspected, namely, that the enemy derived much of his power from
mobility, resourcefulness, and aptitude for _guerilla_.

Lord Roberts' plan for the movement on the Transvaal was an advance in
line, on a front which extended from Ladysmith to Kimberley. It soon
became an echelon owing to the slow movements of Buller in Natal. In the
centre at Bloemfontein were the troops under the immediate orders of the
Commander-in-Chief; on the left at Kimberley were Methuen, and Hunter
with the Xth Division which had been brought round from Ladysmith.
Between the centre and the right the intervention of Basutoland and the
Drakensberg prevented the effective co-operation of the Natal Army with
Lord Roberts; and a portion of the interval was occupied by the enemy.

The centre columns under Lord Roberts were about 43,000 strong. Hunter
and Methuen in the west had each under his command about 10,000 troops,
while Buller's force, which was much nearer to the Transvaal objective
than the centre, and which was still lingering on the banks of the Klip
River two months after the relief of Ladysmith, numbered about 45,000.
Ian Hamilton, who had done so well in the Elandslaagte and Caesar's Camp
affairs, was not allowed to waste himself in the Natal lethargy. He was
recalled from Ladysmith, and after taking part from the Bloemfontein
side in the Wepener operations, was given command of a column which was
sent on, a few days before the general movement, in the direction of
Winburg to protect the right flank of the central advance and to fend
off from it the hovering Boer commandos which had been pressed
northwards by the April operations. He started from Thabanchu on April
30 and was soon in action with the Boer force a Houtnek under P. Botha.
The battle lasted until nightfall and was renewed next day, when, with
the help of reinforcements from French and Colvile, Ian Hamilton forced
the Boers to retire on Clocolan.

Meanwhile there was energy on the left. Methuen had been for some time
in occupation of the Boshof district, where he was in a position to
threaten Kroonstad as well as the commandos at the Vaal bridge at
Fourteen Streams between Kimberley and Mafeking. The relief of the
latter was to be undertaken by a flying column under Mahon supported by
Hunter's division. On May 3 Lord Roberts left Bloemfontein for the
north. Kelly-Kenny's Division remained in charge of the Free State
capital, while Chermside's policed the railway and the country in rear.
Rundle at Thabanchu was instructed to prevent the enemy from regaining a
footing in the districts east and south of Bloemfontein, and Methuen to
push on towards the left bank of the Vaal beyond Hoopstad. No definite
orders were sent to Buller, but for two months there had been a constant
interchange of suggestions, counter-suggestions, plans, and projects for
co-ordinate action.

Lord Roberts' objective was now Pretoria. The country in front of him
was not difficult and he had a railway behind him. The line of
communication with the south was fairly safe, and it was estimated that
not more than 12,000 Boers with twenty-eight guns, under Delarey and L.
Botha, who had been brought round from Natal to take chief command
during the crisis, barred the way into the Transvaal; not including the
loosely associated commandos operating on the right flank under the
general control of De Wet, the Prince Rupert of the Boer War.

The nearest Boer post was at Brandfort, a few miles north of Karee
Siding. On the right was the Winburg intervening column, 14,000 strong,
under Ian Hamilton, who dragged in his train a weak supporting Division
under Colvile, his superior officer in an anomalous position obliged to
conform to his movements, and without authority to direct them.
Brandfort was occupied that evening by Lord Roberts at the cost of six
men killed. Vet River, the next obstacle, was secured on May 5, and
crossed on the following day by the greater part of the main column. Ian
Hamilton went into bivouac eight miles north of Winburg, which was
occupied by his henchman Colvile.

Up to this time, Lord Roberts was acting without the cavalry under
French, who since the Sannah's Post affair had been working in the
Thabanchu district, and who joined the main column on May 9. Though his
horses were not in good condition, his arrival increased the power of
the centre to strike rapidly at the next obstacles, the Zand River and
the town of Kroonstad forty miles beyond, which was now the seat of the
Free State Government. The drifts on a section of the river nearly
twenty miles in length were seized, the most easterly being taken by Ian
Hamilton, who had gradually converged on the centre column and was now
on the right of the line. Next day the passage of the river was
effected; but Lord Roberts' hope of getting round and grappling each
flank of the enemy, who numbered about 3,000 Transvaalers and 5,000 Free
Staters, was not realized, and Botha withdrew without serious loss. That
night the Army went into bivouac astride the railway between Zand River
and Kroonstad.

On the left was the cavalry under French, who next morning raided
northwards; but although he was unable, owing to the opposition of a
force which came out of Kroonstad, to reach the railway north of the
town, a small party of pioneers whom he had sent on succeeded during the
night in blowing up the line at America Siding within a few yards of the
high-road by which the enemy was retreating. This daring exploit, which
although it had not much effect on the situation was not the less
meritorious, was carried out by Hunter-Weston, who, just two months
previously, had similarly cut the line north of Bloemfontein. The Boers
had taken up a position at Boschrand to defend Kroonstad on the south,
but French's turning movement scared them, and the position as well as
the town was abandoned, in spite of efforts made by Steyn and Botha to
arrest the flight. The seat of Government was transferred to Lindley.

The Zand River affair was an incident in the advance rather than a
battle. Lord Roberts suffered but 115 casualties. Its effect on the
enemy was chiefly moral. The Transvaalers, whose country had not yet
heard the sounds of war, were alarmed, but the Free Staters were
dismayed. The ties of race and kindred had engulfed them in a war which
was not for their own cause, and the brunt of which they had borne for
ten weeks. They thought that they had done all that could be expected of
them and that the Transvaal must now look after itself. From that time
there was no organized co-operation between the allies.

On May 12 Lord Roberts entered Kroonstad. In his advance, averaging
thirteen miles per day, he had outstripped the reconstruction of the
railway, of which almost every bridge and culvert had been blown up by
the retreating Boers, and many miles of the permanent way had been
destroyed. A halt was therefore necessary until the railhead could be
brought nearer, and to give the Army an opportunity of pulling itself
together, which was especially required by the cavalry. Little more than
one-half of the 6,000 horses with which French marched out of
Bloemfontein on May 6 were fit for service at Kroonstad seven days
later.

Ian Hamilton was sent out in chase of the flitting Free State
Government. He found it not at Lindley, nor at Heilbron, for it had
trekked away to Frankfort. Between Lindley and Heilbron he was attacked
in rear by a body of Boers, who emerged from the presumed vacuum behind
him, but they were beaten off.

The bulk of the enemy's force which had evacuated Kroonstad, was now in
the triangle formed by the railway, the Vaal and the Rhenoster. On its
left flank was Ian Hamilton; and French was ordered out to hook the
right flank, a repetition of the movement which had failed at Zand
River. On May 22 Lord Roberts left Kroonstad.

The enemy, however, again evaded the net. Reconnaissances by French on
May 23 showed that Botha had been frightened by the appearance of Ian
Hamilton at Heilbron, and had crossed into the Transvaal. The discovery
necessitated the recasting of Lord Roberts' plan, and brought about an
interesting and entirely successful strategic movement. It was evident
from Botha's dispositions that he expected Ian Hamilton to march
straight to his front and endeavour to cross the Vaal above the railway
bridge at Vereeniging. The difficult drifts and country below it were
considered to be a sufficient protection, and were not strongly held by
Botha, who on this occasion was completely out-generalled by his
opponent.

Lord Roberts ordered Ian Hamilton to march from the right flank to the
left, across the front of the main Army, and then in conjunction with
French to wheel round to Meyerton on the line between Johannesburg and
Vereeniging. On the evening of May 26 he entered the Transvaal at
Wonderwater Drift. But Ian Hamilton's column had not the honour of being
the first troops of the main body to enter the Transvaal, for he found
the cavalry in front of him. French,[43] who had been sent out from
Kroonstad on May 20, reached the Vaal at Paris on the 24th, and at once
threw part of his force into the Transvaal, the rest crossing higher up
at Old Viljoen's Drift. He thus fittingly celebrated the last birthday
festival of Queen Victoria, which was also appropriately honoured by a
proclamation issued on the same day by Lord Roberts, by which the Orange
Free State was annexed to the dominions of Her Majesty under the
designation of the Orange River Colony--a suitable birthday offering
from a distinguished soldier to his Sovereign.

The main body of the Army with the Commander-in-Chief at its head
entered the Transvaal at Viljoen's Drift on May 27, and, like the
pioneer columns of French and Ian Hamilton, met with no opposition. It
was of good augury for the speedy subjugation of the South African
Republic. The expected firm stand of the enemy along the right bank of
the Vaal, where the great battle of the war was to be fought, was not
made. Vereeniging and subsequently Meyerton were abandoned in spite of
all Botha's efforts to keep his burghers' faces to the front. He held a
strong line enclosing Vereeniging and the drifts and extending from near
Heidelberg to Potchefstroom, but it impotently watched the British
troops crossing the river. Some opposition was indeed offered to French
when he was a day's march from the drift by which he had crossed into
the Transvaal, but the bulk of the commandos fell away to the north and
took up positions between Johannesburg and Krugersdorp. By arrangement
between the Governments, none of the Free Staters accompanied Botha into
the Transvaal; but he was in communication with De Wet at Frankfort, and
was urging him to act against the railway in the Free State. He must
have regretted that the strong hand and will of the man of Waterval
Drift, Kitchener's Kopje, Sannah's Post, and Mostert's Hoek, were not
with him on the right bank of the Vaal to animate the shrinking burghers
of the South African Republic.

The immediate purpose of Lord Roberts was now the capture of
Johannesburg, the relations of some of whose inhabitants towards
Pretoria had brought on, not only the Jameson raid, but also the war.
Although it was not defended by permanent military works, the burghers
had taken up a position before it which might be very hard to capture,
and there was another and greater cause for anxiety. The task before
Lord Roberts may be likened to an attack on a ship manned by pirates,
who threaten to fire the magazine as soon as a hand is laid upon the
bulwarks. It was seriously proposed by certain persons in authority
under Kruger, that on the appearance of the British Army before the
city, the mines in which so many millions of British capital were
invested should be wrecked; and it is probable that the threat would
have been carried out with official sanction if Botha had not set his
face resolutely against such a piratical act.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 240.]

Lord Roberts proposed to effect the capture of Johannesburg by
surrounding it. While with the main body of his Army he occupied
Elandsfontein on the east, French and Ian Hamilton, the pioneers of the
advance from Bloemfontein, would deal with the enemy posted south of the
city and then establish themselves, the former near Klipfontein, north
of it, and the latter near Florida, west of it. The right and the most
vulnerable part of the Boer line was posted on Doornkop near the scene
of the surrender of Jameson, the enthusiast, who, a few years before,
had endeavoured with a few hundred adventurers and soldiers of fortune
to solve the South African question which Great Britain was now tackling
with a quarter of a million of trained soldiers.

On May 29 Ian Hamilton attacked the Doornkop position and won it after
some hard infantry fighting; French, reinforced by the loan of
Hamilton's mounted troops, having thrown a grappling iron round it,
thereby rendering it untenable. At nightfall the two leaders were firmly
planted west of the city. The movement deceived the enemy, to whom the
advance of the main body under Lord Roberts on Elandsfontein came as an
unwelcome surprise, though Botha had to some extent prepared for it. The
detachments posted by him at various places east of the city offered no
effectual resistance, and Lord Roberts went into bivouac that night at
Elandsfontein. Johannesburg was entrapped between him on the east, and
French and Hamilton on the north and west.

On May 30 the city agreed not unwillingly to surrender, but having
regard to the presence in it of splinters of the lately shattered
commandos, to the probability of street fighting, and to the risk of
injury to the mines, Lord Roberts consented to postpone his formal entry
until the following day; by which time the judicious action of the
representatives of the Boer Government had averted the impending danger,
and the troops took peaceful possession of Johannesburg.

In spite of disquieting news from the Free State, Lord Roberts remained
firm in his purpose of advancing on Pretoria without delay. Not only was
it the head quarters of Krugerism, but also the place in which the Boer
harvest of war--more than 4,000 British prisoners, some of whom had been
in captivity since the day of Talana Hill--was garnered.

On June 3 the advance on Pretoria, which it was hoped would be the last
important movement of the war, was resumed; Wavell, with a brigade of
Tucker's Division, being left behind as Bank Guard over the treasure in
the mines. Botha had retired on the capital, but no one knew whether he
would endeavour to defend it, or whether the vaunted forts would
imperiously address the invader. In view of possible eventualities,
however, a siege train, in which were included two 9.45" howitzers which
had been hastily acquired in Austria, was taken up to answer Forts
Schanzkop, Klapperkop, Wonderboom, and Daspoort if they should speak.

Throughout the month of May there had been alarms and excursions in the
capital of the South African Republic. The sound of the _plon-plon_ of
the British Army was daily growing more distinct. The house of Ucalegon
was on fire. The Volksraad met on May 7, and after a session of three
days handed over the situation to the wavering executive Government,
which had already made arrangements for an eastward retirement. Kruger,
fearing lest his retreat by the Delagoa Bay railway should be cut off,
slipped away to Machadodorp on May 29; the forts were emptied and
abandoned, and Botha was bidden to do the best he could with the
remnants of the Transvaal forces. On June 3 he took up a position on a
ridge a few miles south of the city and prepared for the worst.

French, on the left front of the advance, was ambushed in a defile by a
commando which had come up out of the west, but cleared himself with
slight loss. The forts were dumb. Only the ridges between the city and
Six-Mile Spruit were found to be held. The southern ridge was taken, and
when the northern ridge was turned by Ian Hamilton, who was recalled
from acting at large in support of French, the Boers retired. French
passed through Zilikat's Nek and marched on Pretoria north of the
Magaliesberg. On June 5 the capital of the South African Republic
surrendered to Lord Roberts.

The Boers streamed away towards the east. An attempt made a few days
before to cut the Delagoa Bay railway failed, not, however, through the
fault of Hunter-Weston, who led the enterprise. The force given to him
was insufficient for the purpose, and he was unable to repeat the
exploits of Bloemfontein and Kroonstad.

The prisoners of war, whom to the number of 3,000 the Boers had not been
able to drag away with them in their hurried flight, and who were in
confinement at Waterval twelve miles north of the city, were brilliantly
liberated on June 4 by some squadrons of cavalry; which not only ran the
gauntlet of the Wonderboom defile, but passed through the Boer posts at
the further Poort and snatched away the prize from under the eyes of
Delarey, who was covering Waterval with 2,000 burghers and some guns.

On the day of Lord Robert's entry into Pretoria, Buller was still in
Natal. They had started simultaneously, and in thirty-four days the main
body had marched 300 miles, but the tardigrade Natal Army was now on
Lord Roberts' right rear. It had been his hope that Buller would advance
step by step with him, and having reached the Transvaal, would strike
northwards and establish himself on the Delagoa Bay railway and deny it
to Kruger. At Kroonstad, Lord Roberts, seeing that he could not expect
assistance from Buller, contemplated detaching Ian Hamilton and sending
him into the Eastern Transvaal, but the fear of unduly weakening the
main body in view of probable opposition at the Vaal, Johannesburg, and
Pretoria, caused him to give up the project. As events turned out, it
would in all probability have been successful.

Pretoria was in the hands of the British Army, Kruger was in flight, the
war was over said the experts. Without having fought a single action
that could be termed a battle, and at a cost of less than 500
casualties, of which but sixty-one men were killed, Lord Roberts had
passed from Bloemfontein and had seized the perverse city in which most
of the South African troubles of the past twenty-five years had been
brewed. The Free State, though kicking, was apparently helpless. There
were, however, not a few observers on the spot to whom the easy success
and the few casualties were of ominous import. A change in the method of
the opposition to be offered in the future to the invader was indicated.
The Boers were discovering that they were incapable of waging systematic
warfare and were on the point of resorting to _guerilla_, for which
they, as well as the arena, were by nature particularly well adapted.

[Illustration: Sketch map of Magaliesberg district.]

On the Boer side there was a transitory interval of weakness. Even
before Lord Roberts' occupation of Pretoria Kruger wrote doubtfully to
Steyn; and after it Botha was inclined to negotiate with the invader. He
was with his commandos at Hatherley, a few miles east of Pretoria. A
Council of War was held in the office of a Russian Jew, who was a
distiller of whisky. The leaders complained that they had been deserted
by Kruger, who had slunk away with the civil government and all the
money he could lay his hands on, and the general opinion was in favour
of abandoning the struggle. A meeting between Lord Roberts and Botha was
even arranged, when suddenly De Wet intervened. The news of his
successful raids on the line of communication in the Free State relaxed
the tension of the minds of the despondent commandants. Easily
disheartened and easily reassured, they leapt in an instant from one
psychological pole to the other. Botha announced that he was ready to
meet Lord Roberts, not only in conference, but in battle. The
negotiations were, however, not definitely broken off until after the
Battle of Diamond Hill.

Lord Roberts had sent Kitchener with a column to see to the trouble in
the Free State, and could not put more than about 16,000 men into the
field against Botha, who, with 6,000 men, had taken up a strong position
astride the Delagoa Bay railway sixteen miles east of Pretoria. His
centre was at Pienaar's Poort, where the railway passes through a
defile, and his front, which his former experience of Lord Roberts'
tactics led him to extend greatly, was nearly twenty-five miles in
length, and ran along an irregular chain of hills, kopjes, and ridges.
Facing the Diamond Hill and Donkerhoek range, south of the centre, is
another range of heights through which the two poorts Tyger and Zwavel
pass, and which circles round the source of Pienaar's River towards the
Diamond Hill range. North of the centre runs a broken range ending
abruptly at the Kameelfontein ridge, which overlooks the broad
Kameelfontein valley leading to the Krokodil Spruit; and across the
valley rises the Boekenhoutskloof ridge, a detached feature with
triangular contours, which, being somewhat in advance, commands the
approaches to Kameelfontein ridge, where the Boer right flank under
Delarey was posted.

The left flank was on Mors Kop and curved round indefinitely to
Kameelzyn Kraal with detached posts in the direction of Tygerpoort. The
centre north and south of Pienaar's Poort was the strongest section of
the line, and for this reason and for another it was held by
comparatively small numbers. Botha was an acute observer and had learnt
the moves of the British autumn manoeuvre opening, a holding attack on
the centre not intended to be pushed home in order to eke out paucity of
numbers operating on a wide front. Lord Roberts, in spite of his
superiority of strength, could not hope to inflict a decisive defeat
upon Botha's well-posted commandos, but only to remove them out of
striking distance of Pretoria, and he was successful.

The earlier movements of the attack on June 11 were in the nature of a
reconnaissance in force, as it was uncertain how far to the north and
south the Boer front extended. The usual tactics were adopted. French
with the 1st and 4th Cavalry Brigades under Porter and Dickson was to
work round the enemy's right flank and to endeavour to circle round it
to the railway; a demonstrating attack on the centre would be made by
Pole-Carew; while Ian Hamilton acted against the left flank.

French approached the Kameelfontein valley and won a footing on
Boekenhontskloof ridge, which the Boers were only now moving out to
occupy, with his left. His right soon came under heavy fire from
Krokodil Spruit Hill on the Kameelfontein ridge, but he succeeded in
seizing Louwbaken, which he held tenaciously in spite of Delarey's
attempts to work round it and of the shells of a heavy gun posted six
miles away near Edendale. Meanwhile his left had been struggling for
several hours on the Boekenhoutskloof ridge, which it eventually
cleared, and was then able to support the right, which was still
clinging desperately to Louwbaken. Throughout the afternoon the Boers
continued their attacks on French, but were unable to shift him. At
nightfall he found that instead of turning the enemy's right, he had
only plastered himself against it. He had already reported the situation
to Lord Roberts, who authorized him to withdraw if necessary, at the
same time cautioning him "not to risk too many casualties."

[Illustration: Diamond Hill.]

Pole-Carew, in the centre, was in action with his heavy guns only,
"demonstrating" according to the rules, pending the development of the
flank attacks.

The force on the right under Ian Hamilton was strong in mounted troops.
He entered the arena through Zwavelpoort, and thrust at the bristling
but indeterminate left flank of the enemy. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade under
Broadwood evicted a small body of Boers from Tygerpoort, and when the
3rd Brigade under Gordon came up to hold the position until the arrival
of an infantry regiment, Broadwood advanced across the valley in the
direction of Mors Kop, and soon was not only under shell fire from
Diamond Hill, but also under rifle fire from some vague detachments of
Boers on his right rear.

Nor was this all, for as he proceeded, the enemy was seen pouncing down
from Diamond Hill on to the Kleinfontein ridge upon the line of his
advance, and simultaneously he was fired on from the right. Two horse
artillery guns, which had been sent out, with an insufficient escort, to
deal with the swoop, were almost captured, and were only saved by Lord
Airlie at the cost of his own life. The attack on the right was soon
checked, but the cavalry instead of outflanking the enemy was itself
outflanked and unable to make a further advance.

Gordon had now come away from Tygerpoort, and, in touch with Broadwood,
screened the right flank of Ian Hamilton's infantry attack; which after
the failure to turn the enemy's left flank, had necessarily to be a
frontal movement against the strongest section of his line. Bruce
Hamilton, with a brigade of Ian Hamilton's command, crossed Pienaar's
River near Boschkop and expelled the Boer advanced front from the
Kleinfontein ridge. Ian Hamilton was now face to face with Diamond Hill,
but the afternoon was too far spent for further action.

The general idea for the right attack on the following day was a
movement by Bruce Hamilton, reinforced by the Brigade of Guards from
Pole-Carew's command in the centre. Diamond Hill was taken without much
difficulty early in the afternoon, and the Donkerhoek plateau was
cleared. A gap was now made in the Boer line, the commandos driven off
making for the Donkerpoort ridge on the one side, or the
Rhenosterfontein heights on the other. From three positions a double
rain of bullets poured upon Bruce Hamilton on the plateau, until the
heights were reached by De Lisle's mounted infantry from Broadwood's
brigade. Bruce Hamilton's right flank was thus relieved, but between him
and the enemy clustering on the ridge intervened the impassable ravine
of the Donkerpoort. Night was approaching and nothing more could be
done.

On the left, French held his own but no more during the day, and
Pole-Carew in the centre had no opportunity of going into action. The
capture of the Rhenosterfontein heights occurred at an opportune moment
and perhaps averted a disaster. At Delarey's request Botha was on the
point of sending reinforcements to the Boer right to enable it to drive
away French and fall upon the weak British centre, when De Lisle's
success vitally changed the situation.

Next morning, June 13, the British Army found that it had won a victory
without knowing it. The Boers had faded away during the night and had
abandoned the strongest position which they had ever held in the Free
State or the Transvaal. French and Ian Hamilton went in pursuit with no
results. Delarey succeeded in circling round towards the Western
Transvaal, Botha retired to the east. The casualties on the British side
were 176; the Boers professed to have lost but four burghers killed and
twenty wounded.

Lord Kitchener was away in the Free State, and the battle was fought
under the usual restrictive conditions, that no operation likely to
entail serious loss of life was to be undertaken: and the enemy found
that the ordeal of combat was not very dreadful.

With the occupation of Pretoria, which was not virtually effected until
Botha's retreat from Diamond Hill, the ranging phase of Lord Roberts'
campaign was nearly at an end. At the two capitals and at other towns
already occupied, he had places of arms, from which without wide
divagations of large bodies of troops, he could hope soon to control and
eventually to dominate the Republics.

To see to the long and lonely furrow which he had ploughed across the
veld from the Orange to the Magaliesberg, and to prevent its being
obliterated by the wayward and shifting sand of the desert, was the
present task before him.

Notes:

[Footnote 43: Plumer raided across the Limpopo into the Transvaal as far
back as December, 1899, and Hunter occupied Christiana on May 15.]



CHAPTER XII

The New Colony


[Sidenote: Map, p. 260.]

The Orange River Colony did not receive its incorporation into the
British Empire with a display of gratitude for the honour conferred upon
it.

The urgent message sent by Botha to De Wet on May 27 after the British
Army had crossed into the Transvaal was hardly necessary to incite that
free lance into action after his own heart, and he at once quitted
Frankfort for Lindley.

When Lord Roberts entered the Transvaal he left behind him a
considerable force to teach the New Colony its duties. Besides the
stationary troops at Bloemfontein and on the railway, the VIIIth and
Colonial Divisions under Rundle and Brabant were at Senekal and
Ficksburg; Colvile with the IXth Division, who had been taken off Ian
Hamilton's lead and allowed to run alone, was near Lindley; and Methuen
had come into Kroonstad from Bothaville, the line of his march, which
was originally towards the Transvaal, having been changed by orders from
Lord Roberts.

Such were the forces against which De Wet was ready to fling himself.
Early in June he was faced by another opponent. Lord Kitchener had come
down from the Transvaal with a strong column.

Lord Roberts, on leaving Bloemfontein for the north, instructed Rundle
to "exercise a vigilant control east of the railway." In co-operation
with Brabant, he worked up through the fertile district along the Basuto
border, slowly but steadily; his immediate object being to prevent the
enemy breaking back towards the south. No serious opposition was
encountered, and by the middle of the month the Divisions had advanced
to Clocolan and Winburg, where Rundle came in touch with the IXth
Division.

Colvile received orders to advance to Lindley and Heilbron. He was
instructed to reach Heilbron with the Highland Brigade on May 29, and
was informed that a force of Yeomanry under Spragge would on May 23 join
him at Ventersburg, which he would pass through on his march.

Spragge was unable to be at Ventersburg on the date fixed and was
ordered on to Kroonstad, where he received telegraphic instructions to
join Colvile at Lindley on May 26 at the latest. It has never been
ascertained by whom this fatal message was despatched. No British staff
officer has ever acknowledged himself the sender of it, and it has been
suggested that it was sent by a Boer sympathizer who was better informed
of Colvile's movements than the Intelligence Staff.

Colvile believed that his presence at Heilbron on May 29 was
imperatively required in connexion with the advance, and, although very
weak in mounted troops, he pushed on from Ventersburg without waiting
for Spragge. On May 26 he reached Lindley after some resistance outside
the town, and next day resumed his march to Heilbron, which, though
checked on the way, he reached on the appointed day.

Meanwhile, Spragge was doing his best to deliver himself to the IXth
Division, to which he was waybilled. He moved a few miles out of
Kroonstad on May 25, and next evening was in bivouac within eighteen
miles of Lindley. Next day he resumed his march on the town, about the
same time that Colvile was quitting it for Heilbron. The two commanders
were in entire ignorance of each other's movements.

At midday, Spragge reconnoitred the town, and finding it occupied,
withdrew to a position outside. Although Colvile had quitted it but a
few hours previously, and although the dust of his column could still be
seen on the Heilbron road, a commando under Michael Prinsloo, which he
had driven out, had promptly returned; and some burghers who had
surrendered to Spragge on May 26, and who, having given up their rifles,
had been "allowed to return to their farms," went to Lindley instead and
gave warning of the approach of the Yeomanry.

Spragge counted on being able to draw rations at Lindley when he joined
Colvile, and marched out of Kroonstad with two days' rations only, and
these, although eked out by a capture of sheep on the way, were almost
exhausted. There were three courses open to him: to retire to Kroonstad,
to follow Colvile, or to remain where he was. He chose the last.

He took up, and did his best to make defensible, a plateau and kopje
position two miles N.W. of the town. He had 500 men, but no guns, and he
reported the situation to Colvile, who was eighteen miles away when he
received the message next morning; and to Rundle, who was at Senekal.
Colvile answered his appeal for assistance with a refusal, but suggested
a retirement on Kroonstad; but the message did not reach Spragge. Rundle
was too far away to help Spragge directly, but made a movement towards
Bethlehem, which he hoped would draw the enemy away from Lindley.

On May 28 the Boers took up positions which practically surrounded
Spragge, but he held his own that day and the next; and although the
enemy was reinforced on the 29th, he was not so closely invested that he
could not have broken out. Firing was heard in the S.E., and Spragge,
believing that it was Rundle in action, endeavoured without success to
communicate with him.

So long as the investing force was without guns, Spragge was confident
of being able to hold on. But on May 30 a further reinforcement came in.
Martin Prinsloo joined his brother with three guns and a strong
commando. The Prinsloos, who were acting under the orders of De Wet, had
originally been detailed to look after Colvile, but were drawn away by
the attraction of an easier prey at Lindley.

On May 30 a kopje on the west, from which the Boers were sniping into
the position, was captured by Spragge, but soon fell again into the
hands of the burghers. It was recovered next morning, but pressure
elsewhere squeezed it finally out of the grasp of the re-captors. The
Boers had brought their guns into action. The key of Spragge's position
was two kopjes on the S.E. of the defence. The outer kopje was rushed by
the enemy, the detachment occupying it being driven back towards the
inner kopje. A panic-stricken non-commissioned officer in the connecting
post between them raised the white flag without authority, and, it is
said, was immediately shot for having done so. The officer in command on
the inner kopje considered that he was bound by the act and recognized
it, and only hastened the inevitable end. There was a last wriggle or
two, and then Spragge, who was surrounded by 2,000 Boers with artillery,
gave in.

Nearly 500 yeomen were added to the panel of British prisoners of war by
the hawk-like swoop of De Wet and the brothers Prinsloo almost under the
eyes of three Divisions of the British Army. For not only were Colvile
and Rundle aware of Spragge's predicament, but as soon as it was
reported to Lord Roberts, Methuen was ordered to the rescue.

Methuen, who only arrived at Kroonstad from the west on May 28, was
already on the move to help Colvile, from whom a disquieting message had
been received at Head Quarters. Colvile's safe arrival at Heilbron next
day rendered assistance unnecessary, and Methuen, under instructions
from Lord Roberts, turned towards Lindley. He was, however, too late,
for as he approached the town the news of Spragge's surrender reached
him on June 1. He ran into the rear of the Boers hurrying away with
their prey, and even intercepted two guns and some wagons, but was
unable to retain them.

The Lindley affair sent Colvile back to England in the wake of Gatacre.
The responsibility of the surrender was fixed upon him and he was
deprived of his command. He had no doubt been in a false position during
the first fortnight of the advance from Bloemfontein when he was kept
trailing behind a junior officer, and this slight perhaps affected his
judgment, but he was constitutionally incapable of viewing a situation
synoptically and perspectively. As at Sannah's Post, so again at Lindley
the halation of a word or two in his orders fogged the image on his
retina. He doggedly stared at the words _Heilbron, May 29_, as if the
whole issue of the campaign depended upon them. There was nothing in the
context to show that they were more than the details of an itinerary
which he was expected to follow if circumstances permitted. He was
urgently in need of the very mounted troops with which he made no effort
to put himself in touch. _Bis peccare in bello non licet_. Lord Roberts
could forgive once, but Colvile was superseded for having twice shown a
"want of military capacity and initiative."[44]

Yet the disaster was not due to his default alone, although the
contributory defaults of others were rightly not permitted to excuse
him. He had good reason to think that a well-mounted force would be able
to take care of itself, and to believe that proper staff arrangements
had been made for Spragge's march; but in each of these warrantable
assumptions he was wrong. Lindley was the first of a series of disasters
which seemed to show that Lord Roberts had pushed on too hastily.

Rundle's endeavour to help Spragge by a demonstration in the direction
of Bethlehem soon came to an end. It is said that a telegram in which he
announced the movement to Brabant fell into the hands of the Boers, who
promptly utilized the information. On May 29 he was seriously checked at
the Biddulphsberg, where they had taken up a position. He failed in an
attack on what he believed was the Boers' flank but which was in reality
their front. During the engagement he received a telegram from Head
Quarters, dated three days previously, ordering him to join Brabant in
the Ficksburg district, and he withdrew from the action, having suffered
186 casualties, some of which were caused by a fire which broke out in
the long grass through which he had advanced, and in which helpless
wounded men were lying. A brigade of Tucker's Division under Clements
took his place at Senekal.

De Wet now set himself in person to execute the task entrusted to him by
Botha of getting behind the British force in the Transvaal and breaking
or interrupting the line of communication in the Free State. He had not
long to wait for opportunities. He left Frankfort with 800 men, and on
June 2 placed himself in observation near Heilbron, where Colvile was
awaiting a supply column from the railway at Roodeval. The convoy was
harassed from the first by mischances. Against Colvile's orders it was
despatched with but a small escort and without guns. When he heard that
sufficient protection could not be given, he counter-ordered the convoy,
but the message did not arrive until after it had started.

On the second day of the march a body of the enemy was found blocking
the road at Zwavel Kranz between Heilbron and Heilbron Road Station. It
was De Wet waiting for the convoy.

The news of its plight reached Heilbron Road Station,[45] and a
relieving column was sent out, which came within four miles of Zwavel
Kranz. No firing, however, was heard, and the officer in command,
hastily concluding that all was well, returned to the railway without
finding the convoy, which next morning surrendered, the victim of
easy-going indifference and neglect.

So far De Wet had done well, but he was only beginning his work. The
railway between Bloemfontein and Vereeniging was weakly held by
regiments of militia threaded like beads on a string in posts along the
line. At Roodeval supplies and stores in large quantities, urgently
needed by the Army in the Transvaal, were waiting until the bridge over
the Rhenoster River, which had been destroyed by the Boers retreating
before Lord Roberts, could be rebuilt. There was scarcely a post that
did not beckon to De Wet to come to it.

He was within reach of the railway at three vulnerable points, and he
divided the force to attack them simultaneously; himself taking command
of the raid on Roodeval, which was held by casual details of
departmental troops stiffened by a detachment of militia. Thus an
important link in the chain was unable to bear a comparatively slight
tension. No one was recognized as being definitely responsible for the
railway north of Bloemfontein. The charge of it had been given to an
officer who, unknown to the staff, was at the time in hospital and
unable to take over his command; detachments were moved promiscuously by
orders which came now from Pretoria and now from Bloemfontein; and in
the chaos De Wet wriggled in between Colvile and Methuen.

On June 7 Heilbron Road Station, Rhenoster River Bridge, and Roodeval
were captured in succession. At the Bridge the Derbyshire Militia fought
gallantly for several hours, but were overpowered in a hopeless
position, and soon afterwards Roodeval and its accumulated booty fell
into the hands of De Wet,[46] who on that day severed Bloemfontein from
Pretoria for a week and added nearly 500 men to the muster-roll of his
prisoners of war.

It was evident to Lord Roberts that things had taken a serious turn, and
that his position in the Transvaal was unsound. In framing his plans for
the advance from Bloemfontein, he had naturally expected that the Natal
railway would be available as an alternative line of communication soon
after he entered the Transvaal; but the movements of Buller were
deliberate, and nearly a third of it was still in the enemy's hands. It
is probable that Lord Roberts would have been less disinclined to the
"steam-rollering" policy if he could have foreseen that on the day he
entered Pretoria the Natal Army would be still south of Laing's Nek.

As a preliminary measure pending, the elaboration of a definite scheme
to put the Free State in order, Kitchener, who was always held in
readiness with steam up to proceed to districts in difficulties and
hustle local commandants and their staffs, was sent across the Vaal with
a column; and Methuen's Division was set in motion.

On the Bloemfontein side, Kelly-Kenny took temporary charge of all the
troops south of Kroonstad, whither a brigade under C. Knox was sent to
protect the stores and supplies; and Winburg was strengthened. While C.
De Wet was engaged upon his own work his brother P. De Wet, whom he
threatened to shoot if he gave in, was discussing terms of surrender
with Methuen at Lindley, but as in the contemporaneous negotiations
between C. Botha and Buller at Laing's Nek, and between L. Botha and
Lord Roberts in the Transvaal, no terms of settlement were arranged; and
Methuen quitted a pacificatory colloquy with one brother to encounter
the other in arms, and joined Kitchener at Heilbron Road Station on June
10.

De Wet was elbowed away westwards from the railway, but he soon circled
back, recrossing it at Lieuw Spruit between Rhenoster River Bridge and
Heilbron Road Station, where he not only took fifty prisoners, but
almost captured Kitchener, who chanced to be passing through at the
time.

It is interesting to speculate briefly on the effect which such a
notable capture might have had upon the general situation. The Boers
themselves would hardly have realized its importance. They were unaware
of the position held by Kitchener in the British Army, and his name was
unfamiliar to them. He had been here and there like many another
commander whom they had met in the field. Still, they had never yet
captured an unwounded general officer, and they would no doubt have made
a great effort to prevent his services being again available against
them.[47] It is, however, unlikely that De Wet would have been able to
retain his prisoner for more than a few weeks at most. But no one can
say what De Wet could not do. At home it is probable that a disastrous
reaction would have followed the news of the railway broken, of Lord
Roberts insolated in the Transvaal, and of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum a
prisoner of war and possibly a hostage. It is very doubtful whether the
nation, entangled by fresh difficulties and deafened by pro-Boer yells
growing shriller and shriller every hour, would have remained firm of
purpose. It is hardly too much to say that June 12, 1900, was one of the
most critical dates in the history of the war.

During the next fortnight, attacks on a convoy for Colvile at Heilbron,
on the railway a few miles north of Kroonstad, a threat on Lindley which
almost became a siege, and a raid on Virginia Siding by a commando under
Roux, which sprang out of the Senekal district, maintained the mutiny,
and again showed that however tightly the Boers might seem to be grasped
in the hand, some of them were sure to wriggle through the fingers.

It was soon apparent that the Free State would not be brought into
subjection by haphazard divagations of brigades and columns; and about
the middle of June Lord Roberts planned a systematic and simple
campaign. The towns and strategical points were to be strongly held
while flying columns shepherded De Wet and his commandos and endeavoured
to enfold them. Buller, who arrived at Standerton on June 23, would bar
the way should they attempt to retreat into the Transvaal, and a retreat
southwards would throw them on to Rundle and Brabant. The four flying
columns were based on the line of garrisons which extended from
Heidelberg in the Transvaal to Winburg and Senekal in the Free State.

The command of the Heidelberg column, which was strong in mounted
troops, was given to Ian Hamilton, but an accident compelled him to hand
it over to Hunter, who had come up into the Transvaal after the relief
of Mafeking. The Heilbron column was the Highland Brigade of the late
IXth Division, which was broken up when Colvile returned to England. At
Rhenoster River was Methuen to prevent a break out towards the west.
When the Winburg district was cleared by a strong column under Clements,
who, a few weeks before, had relieved Rundle at Senekal, he would
advance on Bethlehem, Paget at Lindley co-operating with him. As soon as
Hunter, who was put in general charge of all the troops engaged, entered
the Free State, Macdonald was ordered to join him with the Highland
Brigade. Methuen's force at Rhenoster River was soon found to be
unnecessary, as the enemy was retreating in the opposite direction, and
it was sent into the Transvaal.

At the end of June the columns began to move. Each of them was, as it
were, the head of a spear prodding the mob of commandos towards the pen
which had been assigned to them. With them, union was not strength, but
weakness: the more they were agglomerated the less were they to be
feared.

[Illustration: Brandwater Basin.]

Clements herded Roux, whose commando was the only body known to be at
large, towards the kraal, and advanced with Paget to Bethlehem, which
was occupied on July 7. The Boers opposed with delaying actions only,
capturing but being unable to retain two of Paget's guns, and outside
Bethlehem they brought into action and lost a field gun which had been
taken from Gatacre at Stormberg, and which now, after half a year's
exile _in partibus inimicorum_, was restored to the British Service. Two
days after Clement's entry into Bethlehem, he was joined by Hunter, who
had crossed the Vaal on June 29 and had picked up Macdonald at
Frankfort.

The Brandwater Basin, into which the Boers had retreated from Bethlehem,
taking with them Steyn and the Free State Government, which was set up
at Fouriesburg, is a semicircle formed by the Witteberg and Roodeberg at
the head-waters of two tributaries of the Caledon, the Little Caledon
and the Brandwater; the Caledon being the diameter and the mountains the
circumference of the area. The river section of the perimeter lies on
the Basuto border, and the mountain section is wild and difficult, there
being but four wagon roads into it in nearly seventy-five miles: at
Commando, Slabbert's, Retief's, and Naauwpoort Neks. The passes at
Witnek, Nelspoort, and the Golden Gate are scarcely better than rough
bridle-paths.

The strength of the enemy holding the Basin and the Neks was about
7,000. The Boers had indeed established themselves in an apparently
strong defensive position, but they had not been there many days before
they began to ask each other what was the good of it to them. They had
taken it up against the advice of De Wet, who saw that it was playing
the game of Lord Roberts. They had deprived themselves of their mobility
and were confined in a house of detention, where they could do no
mischief except to each other. They realized too late that De Wet was
right. The commandants were at variance and there was indiscipline in
the laagers.

De Wet saw that the Brandwater Basin was no place for him. He was
beating his wings in a vacuum, and he resolved to get out of it as soon
as possible. After a Council of War orders to decamp were issued. The
general idea was that a column under De Wet should break out through
Slabbert's Nek and make for Kroonstad, and that Roux should take out
another column and march on Bloemfontein, a portion of the force being
left behind to guard the passes.

On the night of July 15 De Wet, accompanied by Steyn, who went out to
establish yet another seat of government, pulled his column, which
included 2,600 burghers and 460 vehicles and was nearly three miles
long, out of the Basin through Slabbert's Nek. He met with no
opposition, and successfully carried out the first episode of the
programme.

Hunter at Bethlehem was standing sentry over the northward passes, but
want of supplies and deficiency of ammunition prevented him advancing at
once on the Basin: and of the range before him he had no accurate maps
and knew less about its topography than an astronomer knows of the
Mountains of the Moon. While formulating a scheme for blocking the
passes, De Wet's sudden outbreak took him by surprise, and he was unable
to head the Free State leader, who passed northwards between Bethlehem
and Senekal, pursued by Broadwood's cavalry. The hounds were on the
scent of the first De Wet hunt.

Rundle, who for two months had been painfully, but not with unnecessary
deliberation, pushing his force up the right bank of the Caledon, was at
first ordered by Hunter to watch Slabbert's Nek, but on a report that
the Boers were about to come out through Commando Nek, he was sent back.
The movement, though justified on the assumption that the report, which
came on good authority, was correct, was unfortunate, as it left the key
of the gate at Slabbert's Nek in the enemy's hands, and allowed De Wet
to escape.

De Wet had assigned to himself the initial movement of the withdrawal,
and left the rest of the programme to develop itself without him. Roux
was put in charge of the Brandwater Basin. De Wet was an unpopular
leader. His attempts to leaven the commandos with a little of the
military spirit were resented. He had from the first, with only partial
success, set his face against the incumbrance of wagons which marched
with every commando. On the way to Sannah's Post he had cashiered a
commandant named Vilonel for disobeying his orders with regard to
transport. His nomination of Roux did not give satisfaction. The
partisans of other leaders protested, and it was determined to settle by
election the question of the Chief Command. In the meantime, the
management was in the hands of a triumvirate composed of Roux, Olivier,
and Martin Prinsloo.

In the chaos, the commandos which De Wet had arranged should break out
remained in the trap and simplified Hunter's task. In succession,
Retief's Nek, Slabbert's Nek, and Commando Nek were taken, the latter by
Rundle, who on July 28 joined Hunter at Fouriesburg. Witnek had been
abandoned by the Boers, who now had only Naauwpoort Nek and the scarcely
practicable Golden Gate open to them.

The Nek was closed by Hunter on July 27, and a position outside the
Golden Gate, but not the Gate itself, was occupied. The greater part of
the Boer force was now practically sealed up in the Basin.

A Council of War was held to elect a new chief commandant. Had the vote
been taken ten days earlier the situation might possibly have been
saved, but the belated proceedings which displayed the weakness of a
democratically organized army, and which, in the absence of
representatives of the commandos not on the spot, were of doubtful
validity, only added to the existing confusion. Prinsloo, however, seems
to have been informally chosen.

His first act was to endeavour to obtain an armistice from Hunter, who
naturally refused it. A few hours later Prinsloo agreed to surrender,
and on July 30 the main body of the Boers in the Basin laid down their
arms at Slapkranz. Roux, the rival candidate for the Chief Command,
protested against the surrender, not only to Prinsloo, but also in
person to Hunter, to whom he pleaded, that as Prinsloo had not been duly
elected, the act was unauthorized and therefore was not binding on him.
Hunter refused to listen to such quibbles. On several occasions during
the war the Boers had profited by the honourable reluctance of the
British commanders to repudiate an unauthorized raising of the white
flag, lest they should be accused of having laid a trap to lure on the
enemy. Hunter rightly held that Roux's plea for local option was
inadmissible, and that the surrender must apply to the whole force. Roux
then yielded.

A large number of burghers, however, as soon as they heard that Prinsloo
had agreed to surrender, hurried away under Haasbroek, and scraped
through the Golden Gate and joined Olivier and Hattingh outside the
Basin. They were successful in evading the capitulation, for Olivier,
when informed of it officially under a flag of truce, also declined to
be bound by Prinsloo's act, and Hunter was unable to insist upon it. He
trekked away towards Harrismith unmolested by the troops watching the
Golden Gate, and he baffled for four weeks the columns sent in pursuit
by Hunter, who, however, prevented him joining De Wet. He was taken
prisoner near Winburg on August 27.

The tangible result of the Brandwater Basin operations was the capture
of more than 4,000 Boers and of three guns, two of which had been lost
at Sannah's Post. The mountains in which the burghers had taken refuge
became a prison, from which they were taken when Hunter came on circuit
for the gaol delivery, and on conviction they were sent beyond the seas.

Yet subsequent events showed that Lord Roberts would have made a good
bargain if he could have exchanged all the burghers and the guns, and
all the loot of horses, cattle, and sheep, for one man who had slipped
through Slabbert's Nek on July 15, 1900.

Notes:

[Footnote 44: Napoleon said that "a military order must not be passively
obeyed except when it is given by a superior who is on the spot at the
moment the order is given, knows the state of things, and can hear
objections and give full explanations to the officer charged with
executing the order."]

[Footnote 45: Also called Vredefort Road Station.]

[Footnote 46: 660,000 rounds of Lee-Metford ammunition were buried by
him for future use.]

[Footnote 47: In the Russian War the Japanese gave orders that a Russian
admiral, who was a wounded prisoner of war on board a Japanese torpedo
boat, was to be shot if any attempt was made by the Russians to capture
it.]



CHAPTER XIII

Nec Celer nec Audax


[Sidenote: Map, p. 50.]

Lord Roberts had almost as much difficulty in bringing Buller out of
Ladysmith as he had had in putting him into it. The relieved garrison,
wasted and enfeebled by the rigours of the siege, was unfit to take the
field, but there does not seem to have been any good reason why the
relieving force, or at least a portion of it, should not have been
pushed forward boldly without delay. The inaction invited the retreating
enemy to halt and occupy the Biggarsberg Range; only a few days after
Buller had informed Lord Roberts that he did not expect that any stand
would be made south of Laing's Nek. Buller did indeed propose on March 3
to advance on Northern Natal, as well as to attack the Drakensberg
passes leading into the Free State; but Lord Roberts thought the scheme
premature and ordered him to remain on the defensive, to police the
country adjacent to the Harrismith railway with the greater part of his
available force, and to send one division round by way of East London to
join the central advance under Gatacre. Warren's Division therefore left
Ladysmith on March 6. White, to whom Lord Roberts had intended to give a
command in the Free State, was compelled by ill health to return to
England. The order to "remain strictly on the defensive" was afterwards
not unreasonably quoted by Buller in justification of two months of
inaction, which, however, Lord Roberts ascribed to other causes, as he
had agreed to subsequent proposals made by Buller for offensive action.

The Boers on the Biggarsberg at first numbered about 15,000, but by the
end of March many commandos had been attracted away by Lord Roberts'
advance to more strenuous fields. Some time passed without any definite
action having been agreed upon between Lord Roberts and Buller. The
latter objected to almost every proposal made by the former, and
sometimes even on reconsideration criticized his own proposals. He was
allowed to recall the Vth Division, which after a brief absence rejoined
his command; but even with it he protested against an advance on Van
Reenen's Pass, which he had himself proposed and which he was instructed
to make at the beginning of April, because Lord Roberts would consent to
the employment of one division only in it. Lord Roberts did not insist
on the movement, as Buller now said that it would endanger not only his
own force, but also Natal; and finding that Buller had far more troops
than he could usefully employ, ordered him to send the Xth Division
under Hunter round to Kimberley. Even after its departure Buller
outnumbered the enemy by more than five to one.

He was still haunted by the troubles of the Tugela, and was unable to
nerve himself for the risks that every leader must run. The Boers
bewildered him. He could plan no scheme without a conviction that
somehow their "knavish tricks" would frustrate it, and his inactivity
made him more prone than ever to brood over possible mischances. He
remained in Ladysmith because it was the only course open to him after
he had by a process of elimination considered and rejected all the
alternatives. Each of them had its disadvantages and its dangers,
therefore it were better to stay where he was. During a critical period
the Natal Army was of as little use to Lord Roberts as were the Spanish
contingents to Wellington in the Peninsula; and its laggard action
retarded the progress of the war. Lord Roberts laid his plans for the
advance on the assumption that it would be in operation on his right
flank when he reached Pretoria, and if L. Botha had found it pressing on
him when he was playing at peace-making in June, instead of engaged in
equally fruitless negotiations with his brother 180 miles away at
Laing's Nek, it is improbable that he would have continued the struggle.

On May 2 Lord Roberts informed Buller that he was ready to start from
Bloemfontein, and that he expected the Natal Army to co-operate with him
by attacking the Boers on the Biggarsberg, and then advancing towards
the Transvaal. For this movement Buller considered that his force, which
consisted of three divisions of infantry and three brigades of mounted
troops, in all about 45,000 men, was insufficient; but he proceeded to
carry it out. The Boers were in occupation of the whole line of the
Biggarsberg from Helpmakaar westwards, and commanded the roads as well
as the railway running through the range.

Buller on this occasion determined rightly upon a turning movement. All
his previous attacks had either been frontal or had been made so by the
enemy. His plan was to move eastwards with the IInd Division under
Clery, while the Vth Division under Hildyard, who succeeded Warren when
the latter was called away to Bechuanaland, advanced up the railway
against the Boer centre. The IVth Division under Lyttelton, composed of
the infantry which had been in Ladysmith during the siege, was kept in
reserve pending the development of the turning movement, which began on
May 11, and was skilfully conducted by Buller and was entirely
successful. Places and rivers which had not been named in the chronicle
of the war since October of the previous year now emerged from their
obscurity. Elandslaagte became the fulcrum of an aggressive operation.
Sunday's River and the Waschbank River after an interval of seven months
were again crossed by British troops, not, like Yule's force, in hasty
retreat, but in confident advance.

The Boers prepared for, and fully expected, a direct advance on Beith by
way of Van Tender's Pass, but Buller made for the extreme flank of the
range near Helpmakaar, which they held but lightly. It was rendered
untenable on May 13, and after dark they retired on Beith, setting fire
to the veld to mask the movement and hinder pursuit. At dawn Dundonald
pushed on through the flames and smoke with his mounted infantry, but
was checked by a body of Irish traitors who were acting as rearguard to
their flying employers, and was unable to come up with the burghers. On
the following night his patrols reported that Dundee was clear, and
Buller occupied the town and reached Newcastle on May 18. The success of
the turning movement was due in a great measure to a small force under
Bethune, which had been lying for some months lower down the Tugela, and
which Buller called up to threaten Helpmakaar from the south while he
advanced from the west. It had been originally detached to protect his
right flank during the advance on Ladysmith, and after long inaction as
a watching force was restored to the strenuous campaign.

Of the rest of Buller's troops, one portion only, namely Hildyard's
Division, was actively engaged in the movement. Its menace to the Boer
centre near Glencoe, through which passed the railway to the north,
attracted commandos away from the enemy's left flank at Helpmakaar and
facilitated the turning movement. Lyttelton's Division and two cavalry
brigades, which although Buller had informed Lord Roberts that he "was
short of his proper strength" for the advance he had left behind near
Ladysmith, took no part in it; and the absence of the cavalry allowed
the enemy to retreat without molestation. The advance of Hildyard's
Division was retarded, not by opposition, but by the duty which fell
upon it of repairing the railway along which it advanced, and it did not
reach Newcastle until May 27. On the 23rd Lytteltonand most of the
cavalry were ordered up from Ladysmith.

As soon as Buller reached Newcastle he sent on Dundonald to reconnoitre
the Laing's Nek position. On the west it was flanked by Majuba Hill, on
the east by Pougwana, and was found to be strongly held. He therefore
decided to make no further advance until he had concentrated his force
at Newcastle. The cutting edge of the reconstructed Natal wedge had not
as yet sufficient substance behind it to warrant its being put into
operation. Pending the assembly of the Army Buller prodded across the
Buffalo at Vryheid and Utrecht in order to safeguard his right flank.
The expedition against the former town was ambushed and compelled to
retire; while the two strong columns which were sent against Utrecht
were hardly more successful. The town did indeed profess to surrender,
but no garrison was left to enforce the submission, and on the
withdrawal of the troops the Boers hovering in the hills returned like
birds who have been temporarily scared out of their nests.

By the end of May, Buller's Army was concentrated in the northern corner
of Natal. Towering over his left front was the Drakensberg Range through
which Botha's Pass runs into the Orange Free State; on his right front
was the Buffalo River with a difficult country beyond; and on his front
was Majuba of ill-omened memory and Laing's Nek, over which the road to
Volksrust and the Transvaal passed.

Buller remained at Newcastle for eighteen days, of which three were an
armistice during negotiations for surrender with C. Botha, who was
unable to accept the terms offered. On June 5 the advance was resumed,
Laing's Nek being the immediate objective. At first Buller proposed to
attack it directly, but soon after reaching Newcastle he found that the
enemy was unassailably established on the position, and that it must be
turned either from the east or from the west. The former movement would
involve a wider detour through difficult country to the line of advance
which would be taken up after the Transvaal was entered, and the western
movement through Botha's Pass was therefore selected. Lord Roberts had
for some time been in favour of it, but he had intended that it should
be more than a mere turning operation. His advance from Bloemfontein had
driven many of the commandos into the N.E. corner of the Free State, and
he asked Buller to cross the Drakensberg and take them in rear by
passing into the Transvaal by way of Vrede; but Buller could not be
persuaded to remove himself so far from the railway. He had already
missed an opportunity of co-operating with the main advance by a
westward movement from Ladysmith to Van Reenen's Pass along the railway
to Harrismith, where the presence of a division of the Natal Army would
have been of the greatest use. The relations between Lord Roberts and
Buller during the Natal campaign were rather those of leaders commanding
the armies of allied nations than of superior officer and subordinate.

Thus the westward movement, instead of being a helpful operation at
large in support of the main advance, was whittled down to the turning
of Laing's Nek. Between Botha's Pass and Laing's Nek the dominant
contours roughly assume the outline of a sickle and its handle, the Pass
being at the end of the handle and the Nek near the point of the blade.
Within the curve of the blade stands the high Inkwelo Mountain facing
Majuba Hill, and at the upper end of the handle is a mountain of less
elevation called Inkweloane. The Ingogo River, which rises near the
Pass, is flanked on its right bank by Van Wyk's Hill, which commands the
eastern approach to the Pass, and on its left bank by Spitz Kop, a
detached hill of the main range.

Inkwelo had been held for some days by a portion of Clery's Division.
The Boers occupied Spitz Kop and the ridge from Inkweloane to the Pass
and a short section beyond it, but their line was thin. The Vryheid and
Utrecht affairs had deceived them into the belief that an eastward
turning movement was in contemplation. On June 6 Van Wyk's Hill was
occupied by Hildyard and held against the enemy on Spitz Kop, who
attempted to dislodge him; and by the following morning artillery had
been brought up, and the Pass and the enemy's position on the adjacent
crestline were commanded. These on June 8 were carried by an infantry
movement in echelon with loss of two men killed. Spitz Kop offered no
resistance. A fusillade broke out on Inkweloane, but Dundonald's brigade
soon quenched it by a determined ascent up alpine slopes to the
crestline As at Helpmakaar the enemy set fire to the grass and passed
away behind a veil of smoke.

The capture of Botha's Pass was an affair which did credit to Buller. It
showed that since Colenso he had learnt how to use artillery, and his
disposition of his guns was admirable. They rendered the enemy's
position untenable and left little but hard climbing to the infantry. It
can hardly be termed a battle, it was rather an autumn manoeuvre
engagement, conducted on Lord Roberts' principles. A very important
position was won and the enemy driven back with scarcely the shedding of
a drop of blood on either side. Hildyard was in executive charge of the
operations.

Thus, after eight months' fighting, the main body of the Natal Army was
at last in bivouac in the enemy's country. Buller had taken Botha's Pass
with three infantry and two cavalry brigades; and with these he made for
his next objective, the town of Volksrust in the Transvaal, a few miles
north of Laing's Nek, which Clery at Ingogo was watching from the south.
Lyttelton was posted on the left bank of the Buffalo watching the right
flank of the advance.

Buller's operations in the Free State lasted two days only. On June 10
he engaged a small body of the retreating enemy and entered the
Transvaal. In front of him was the Versamelberg, a spur of the
Drakensberg, over which the road from Vrede to Volksrust passes at
Alleman's Nek, where 2,000 Boers with four guns had taken up a very
strong position. The road rises to the Nek between heights, and the
initial movements of the attack had to be made across two miles of open
veld. The burghers had not had the time, or did not think it necessary,
to strengthen the position artificially, but they were observed throwing
up some entrenchments when Buller approached.

His bivouac on June 10 was at the Gansvlei Spruit on the Transvaal-Free
State border, and next day at dawn he resumed his march on Volksrust. No
serious opposition was encountered until early in the afternoon, when
Dundonald, who was operating on the right front, came under artillery
fire from the Nek. The infantry, whose left flank was watched by
Brocklehurst with a cavalry brigade, was then ordered to advance, the
objective of the 2nd Brigade under E. Hamilton being the ridge on the
left of the Nek, and that of the 10th Brigade under Talbot Coke the
ridges on the right of it, the 11th Brigade under Wynne being kept in
reserve.

The advance was made under a heavy and worrying but not very effective
fire from each section of the ridge. The key of the position proved to
be a conical hill on the right of the road at the entrance to the Nek.
The Dorsets of Coke's brigade gallantly climbed the slopes, and aided by
artillery fire carried it with the bayonet. The fight, however, was far
from ended. The Boers beyond remained until the shells which had been
pouring on the conical hill followed them to the crestline. Then again
the Dorsets threw themselves upon the enemy, and by sunset the heights
on the right of the Nek were in possession of Coke. Almost
simultaneously E. Hamilton established himself on the left of it. The
resistance offered to Dundonald on the right flank was more effective;
and as between him and his immediate opponents the day waned upon an
uncertain issue. He had driven them out of successive positions though
not actually off the ridge; but the occupation of the Nek made further
opposition useless and they withdrew during the night.

The capture of Alleman's Nek rendered Laing's Nek untenable, and Clery
closing up from Ingogo next day found it abandoned. The enemy had
evacuated the whole of the Majuba-Laing's Nek-Pougwana position, leaving
scarcely so much as a wagon behind him, and was retreating northwards.
The westward turning movement was tactically a success but strategically
a failure. With three brigades of mounted troops under his orders,
including some regiments of regular cavalry which were lying idle at
Ladysmith and elsewhere, Buller made no attempt to cut off the
retreating Boers. A daring raid, such as had been twice made by French
on the Modder four months before, concurrently with the Botha's Pass
operations would have had a good chance of crushing C. Botha; and
Brockleburst's cavalry, which during the attack on the Nek was working
somewhat widely on the left flank, might well have been sent to bar the
way. The ponderous movements of Buller were in strange contrast to the
activity of his ally Lord Roberts. The Natal Army made its way through
the country like an elephant trampling through a sugar-cane plantation.

On June 13 Buller entered Volksrust and next day established his Head
Quarters at Laing's Nek. Wakkerstroom, a town which threatened his right
flank, surrendered _pro formâ_ to Lyttelton on June 13, and again to
Hildyard four days later; and no doubt would have been equally ready to
accommodate itself to the wishes of any other column sent to it, but
after each surrender it reasserted itself, and Buller was obliged to
leave it in charge of the commandos.

With the occupation of Laing's Nek the Natal campaign, which had lasted
eight months, came to an end, and Buller, having left a strong force
under Lyttelton in charge of Natal, passed up the railway to Heidelberg;
where on July 4 he for the first time came into physical touch with the
main Army under Lord Roberts. By a curious coincidence he here met
Hart's Brigade of the Xth Division, which had left his command three
months previously at Ladysmith, and which had in the meantime marched up
from Kimberley.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

Lord Roberts' plan for the Natal Army was that it should march across
the veld to the Delagoa Bay railway and co-operate in his movement to
clear the Eastern Transvaal. The Brandwater Basin surrender relieved the
railway in Natal from immediate danger and allowed the ample force
holding it to be reduced. At the end of July Buller was instructed to
lead 11,000 of his men across a sparsely populated country where no
railway was. It was for him a novel phase of warfare. Hitherto he had
hardly dared trust himself out of sight of a culvert. But he was a man
from whom the terror of the unknown very soon passed away when he had no
choice but to face it. In Natal he would have stood aghast at a
suggestion that he should cut away his moorings and be wafted by the
winds of war for ten days or more across a strange ocean. If hitherto he
had been _nec celer nec audax_ now he became at least _audax_. Lord
Roberts had imbued him with the progressive spirit. He raised no
difficulties of his own, and he encountered those arising out of the
situation resolutely and successfully. His army was strung out upon the
railway from Ladysmith to Heidelberg; his transport was still organized
regimentally, a system which had hampered Lord Roberts' movements and
was soon abolished in the main body; and oxen, mules, and wagons were
scarce. For infantry he chose the IVth Division under Lyttelton, and for
cavalry the brigades under Brocklehurst and Dundonald.

On August 7 Buller's column quitted the Natal line;[48] its destination
being Belfast on the Delagoa Bay line, along which Lord Roberts was now
advancing.

Its progress may be compared to the course of a steamer across an
unquiet ocean. The waves raised by a fresh gale on the starboard bow
were cleft by the stem, only to reunite behind the churn of the
propeller. They were powerless to abridge the day's run by many miles,
but they could still swing forwards to the shore. On one occasion the
ship was slowed down to a standstill by a fog.

The waves were the commandos of the district, most of which had retired
under C. Botha from the Laing's Nek positions. Buller had not much
difficulty in dealing with them as obstructions to his advance, and in
succession he occupied Amersfort, Ermelo, and Carolina; but they soon
returned to their stations. His own inclinations would probably have
persuaded him to halt and smash them, but he was marching against time
between two widely separated bases. Near Carolina on August 14 he came
in touch with French, who was acting with Lord Roberts' eastward
movement from Pretoria, and from that date the operations of the Natal
Army were merged in those of the main Army, and came under the immediate
direction of the Commander-in-Chief.

A scheme proposed by French and sanctioned in substance by Lord Roberts,
for an immediate cavalry turning movement round the left flank of the
enemy, who was strongly posted astride the railway near Belfast; in
conjunction with a central infantry advance to be made by Buller and
Pole-Carew, whose Division was within reach, was discountenanced by
Buller, and a simple frontal movement was substituted for it. Its
practicability was doubtful owing to the marshy character of the ground.

On August 25 Buller, French, and Pole-Carew entered Belfast, where they
were joined by Lord Roberts.

Notes:

[Footnote 48: i.e. the section of the railway from Johannesburg to Natal
which is in the Transvaal.]



CHAPTER XIV

The Taming of the Transvaal


The course of the war north of the Vaal after the battle of Diamond Hill
up to the date of Lord Roberts' arrival at Belfast seven weeks later was
tortuous and difficult. The main Army changed front as soon as Pretoria
was reached and faced to the east in the direction of the retreating
Transvaal Government. Its line of communication became a prolongation of
its front; its left flank towards the north was open; and on its rear
was the unsubdued country west of the capital in the direction of
Mafeking and Vryburg.

Through this district, which is intersected by ranges running generally
east and west, and which contains some towns of importance, the troops
set free by the relief of Mafeking advanced in two columns towards
Pretoria and Johannesburg. The southern column was Hunter's Xth
Division, which after easily occupying Potchefstroom and Krugersdorp,
passed through Johannesburg, and on Hunter's being sent into the Free
State was broken up at Heidelberg. The northern column, under
Baden-Powell, occupied Rustenburg and met with little opposition during
the month of June. It was intended by Lord Roberts, if all went well,
that this column should eventually take up a position on the Pietersburg
railway, north of Pretoria, which was unprotected in that direction.

The inactivity of the Boers seemed to show that they had really lost
heart, and that an awakening such as that which came a few weeks after
the entry into Bloemfontein was improbable. Earlier in the month of June
there had been negotiations for peace, not only between subordinate
leaders in the Free State and Natal, but also between the two
Commanders-in-Chief in Pretoria; and although they were broken off, the
fact that they had occurred made the silence more significant and gave
hope that the enemy was reconsidering his position.

The illusion was soon dispelled. Whether owing to the natural resilience
of the Boer character after a brief phase of doubt, or to the news of De
Wet's successful attacks on the railway in the Free State, the
smouldering fires broke out anew early in July. Delarey, who had checked
French at Diamond Hill, came out of the east to quicken the west; the
baffled burghers of Snyman, released from the siege of Mafeking, were
trickling vaguely into the district; a force under Grobler of Waterberg
was reported north of Pretoria; an incursion was made across the Vaal
from the Free State; and commandos appeared south of the Magaliesberg
near Olifant's Nek and Commando Nek, thus threatening the movements of
Baden-Powell, who was operating north of the range and who had occupied
Commando Nek and the adjacent Zilikat's Nek on July 2, leaving only a
small force at Rustenburg. Five days later the Boers failed in an
attempt to recapture the town, which was saved by a detachment of the
Rhodesian Field Force.

This force, which was under the command of Sir F. Carrington, was
composed mainly of mounted contingents from the Colonies. It had been
raised a few months before at the instance of the British South Africa
Company to hold the northern frontier of the Transvaal, which after
Plumer's departure for the south was unguarded, and to deny Rhodesia to
the Boers should they attempt to break out northwards. It was from the
first under a sort of dual control which militated against its
efficiency. The Company made the arrangements for its enrolment and
equipment, while the War Office provided the staff. It was in
difficulties from the first. By a somewhat strained interpretation of a
treaty between Great Britain and Portugal, and after some weeks of
diplomatic discussion and in spite of a protest naturally made by the
Transvaal Government, the Rhodesian Field Force was permitted to land on
Portuguese territory at Beira in April and to move up country. Its
advance was further delayed by a break of gauge on the railway between
Beira and Buluwayo; it was pulled hither and thither, and was never able
to co-operate effectively with the general operations. It was moved in
driblets, and some details did not reach Buluwayo until September. A
portion of it came along the Western line, and Rustenburg was saved by
the Imperial Bushmen. At the end of the year it was disbanded.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 240.]

On July 11 three blows were struck by the Boers with success. The
attempt on Rustenburg drew back Baden-Powell, whose place at Zilikat's
and Commando Neks was taken by a regiment of regular cavalry which
happened to be passing that way. As it was required elsewhere, a body of
infantry was sent out from Pretoria to take over the Neks, and on the
night of July 10 Zilikat's Nek was held by three companies and a
squadron. Next day, after a struggle which lasted throughout the day, it
was captured by Delarey, and two guns and nearly 200 prisoners of war
fell into his hands. The disaster, the first of its kind in the
Transvaal, was due to two causes. The British force actually at the Nek
was insufficient to hold it; and the main body of the cavalry stood
aloof. The latter was no doubt in a dubious position. It was under
orders, which were brought by the infantry relief, to meet Smith-Dorrien
nearly twenty-five miles away on July 11; and when the enemy was seen
occupying a strong position on the Nek, it assumed that assistance would
be of no avail, and beyond a short artillery bombardment nothing was
done. Even the squadron holding Commando Nek was ordered to retire at
midday. A relieving force was sent out from Pretoria, but it arrived too
late to avert the disaster.

The cavalry thus delayed was intended to reinforce a column under
Smith-Dorrien, who had come up into the Transvaal with Ian Hamilton's
column, and who was marching from Krugersdorp to take off the pressure
from the south on Baden-Powell at Rustenburg; Olifant's Nek, over which
the road to the town passed, being in the possession of the Boers. On
July 11, when Smith-Dorrien had marched about ten miles from his
starting point, he met a commando at Dwarsvlei, which was so well
handled that not only was he compelled to retire on Krugersdorp, but
also had much difficulty in bringing away his guns. The failure was
chiefly due to the non-appearance of the cavalry, without which he did
not feel himself justified in standing up to the enemy.

On the same day another cavalry regiment was in trouble. Onderste Poort,
a few miles north of Pretoria, was attacked by Grobler of Waterberg, and
while reinforcements were on their way he drove back still nearer to the
capital the force which was holding the outpost, and forced one troop to
surrender.

The situation was alarming. The districts west and south-west of the
capital were infested by energetic commandos which had thwarted all
Baden-Powell's and Smith-Dorrien's efforts to suppress them, and Grobler
was threatening Pretoria from the north. There were indications that the
enemy's plan was to transfer the opposition from the east to the west;
and if so, then Lord Roberts' force, whose front after Diamond Hill
faced eastwards, would have to conform to the movement. A few weeks
previously it had been weakened by the departure of Hunter's strong
column for the Free State, and now Lord Roberts was compelled to redress
the balance by calling up Methuen's Division from Lindley to
Krugersdorp, where it arrived on July 18. French was ordered to operate
north of Pretoria with cavalry, and a column under Ian Hamilton[49] was
also sent up.

Methuen marched at once on Rustenburg, and cleared Olifant's Nek on July
21. The scheme of shutting up the Boers in it failed, as Baden-Powell
was unable to close the northern exit, and they escaped with slight
loss.

At the beginning of August the situation was, if anything, worse. The
events which succeeded the occupation of Bloemfontein were repeating
themselves in the Western Transvaal. Methuen had been recalled from the
Rustenburg expedition to deal with an outbreak on the line from
Johannesburg to Klerksdorp, which fell into the hands of the enemy;
5,000 Boers were reported to be on or near the Magaliesberg; a small
British force was besieged in Brakfontein, west of Rustenburg, on the
road to Mafeking; De Wet was at large in the Free State, and it seemed
probable that he would come up into the Transvaal and add to the
trouble.

At the end of July Ian Hamilton's force was diverted from its movement
towards the north and ordered westward to relieve and bring away
Baden-Powell; and Carrington was instructed to co-operate from Mafeking.
Lord Roberts had decided to abandon Rustenburg and Olifant's Nek and the
greater part of the Magaliesberg. These detached positions detained more
troops than he could spare[50] and were difficult to supply. Ian
Hamilton's trek lasted only a few days. He recaptured Zilikat's Nek, and
on August 5 brought away Baden-Powell, who left Rustenburg most
unwillingly and who was ready to sustain another siege in it. Lord
Roberts, however, would not heed his repeated protests, and the only
section of the Magaliesberg held after the withdrawal from Rustenburg
was that lying between Pretoria and Zilikat's and Commando Neks.
Rustenburg and Olifant's Nek had called for the diversion of three
columns in succession: Smith-Dorrien's, which did not reach them, and
then Methuen's and Ian Hamilton's; and the abandonment of them was
imperative. From the west Carrington made an attempt to relieve
Brakfontein on August 5, but was compelled by the presence of the enemy
in superior force to return to Mafeking. The relief was effected ten
days later, not from the west, but by Lord Kitchener with a column that
had been engaged in the pursuit of De Wet.

Suddenly all the operations were deranged by the news that De Wet had
crossed the Vaal at Schoeman's Drift on August 6, and the greater part
of the British Army in the Transvaal was either directly or indirectly
turned on to the pursuit of one man; Lord Kitchener, as usual when
energy and pushing power rather than tactical skill were looked for,
being placed in general charge of the operations. The two most
determined and unfaltering men in South Africa were now pitted against
one another.

De Wet's escape from the Brandwater Basin on July 15 was soon discovered
and he was unable to get a good start. Broadwood's and Little's mounted
brigades were sent after him, now and then taking long shots at him or
worrying his rearguard. His object was to conduct Steyn and the Free
State Government officials into the Transvaal, where they could
co-operate with Kruger. He chose the route which appeared to him, and
rightly so, to be the line of least resistance, namely, towards the Vaal
Drifts near Potchefstroom; instead of making for the upper reaches of
the river, on the other side of which Buller was established on the
Natal railway.

It was soon found impossible to overtake him, even with mounted troops.
The only course was to shepherd him into a fold from which he could not
escape. The tracery on the map of his movements and of those of his
chief scout Theron, intersected by the reticulations of the pursuing
columns, resembles a spider's web in disorder.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

Finally he was hemmed in on the left bank of the Vaal near Reitzburg. On
the right bank Methuen, supported by Smith-Dorrien, was watching the
drifts. He did his best, but his force was insufficient for the purpose,
and on August 6 De Wet, with it is said no less than 400 wagons, entered
the Transvaal at Schoeman's Drift, the greater part of Methuen's force
having been sent to hold a drift lower down. Methuen doubled back and
fell upon the Boer rearguard, which, though driven out of successive
positions, maintained itself long enough to allow the main body to
escape unscathed.

De Wet's subsequent movements greatly puzzled his pursuers. He divided
his column into two portions which did not always march in the same
direction, and it was therefore difficult to discern the ruling movement
of his trek. At one time it appeared that he was about to re-cross into
the Free State, and the plans for the northward pursuit were temporarily
suspended; to be resumed when he had received an allowance of one day's
start. It is probable that his original intention had been to return to
his own country as soon as he had put Steyn and the officials into the
Transvaal, leaving them with an escort to find their own way to Kruger,
and that he was prevented by the appearance of a strong column under
Kitchener on the left bank. As a Free Stater, moreover, he would be
disinclined to give his services to the Transvaal.

Kitchener crossed the Vaal on August 8, and hung to De Wet's right rear,
Methuen hanging on to the left rear; but neither was able to do more
than clutch vainly at the skirts of the elusive column. In front of De
Wet, Smith-Dorrien was holding the Klerksdorp railway, but again he
misled his pursuers, and instead of trekking north after he had crossed
the Gatsrand, a movement which Smith-Dorrien anticipated and provided
for, he changed direction, and on August 11 passed over the railway at a
section which had been left unoccupied on Smith-Dorrien's right flank.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 240.]

Lord Roberts saw that Methuen's and Kitchener's pursuit would probably
fail, and that De Wet would reach the Magaliesberg. Ian Hamilton was
instructed to prevent him crossing it, and on August 11 he was
specifically ordered to occupy Olifant's Nek. Commando Nek was held by
Baden-Powell. There was a third pass, the Magato Nek, a few miles west
of Rustenburg, for which De Wet was apparently making, and which seemed
to be his only possible way of escape, as it was confidently assumed
that the other passes were held by British troops. It was, therefore,
only necessary to head him from Magato Nek, and this was done by
Methuen. But the movement threw De Wet towards Olifant's Nek, which to
his great astonishment was not occupied, and through which he passed
with Steyn on August 14 and shook off his pursuers. Ian Hamilton had not
been made to understand that the actual closing of Olifant's Nek was an
urgent matter; and he, in fact, informed Lord Roberts that he did not
propose to do so except indirectly by a movement which would command the
approach to it.

In this, the first of the De Wet hunts, nearly 30,000 British troops
were directly or indirectly engaged in heading or pursuing over an area
of 7,000 square miles. Nine columns blindly zigzagged and divagated to
false scents and imperfect information in chase of one man encumbered
with a civil government on the run and several hundred wagons. Again and
again the fowler's net was cast upon the migrant, who always wriggled
through the meshes. In one month he trekked 270 miles from the
Brandwater Basin to the north of the Magaliesberg, with British troops
continuously to his flanks, his front, and his rear.

It would have been regarded as the most notable personal exploit of the
war if De Wet had not himself twice repeated it under circumstances of
even greater difficulty. It must be acknowledged that his daring and
resolution deserved success. He did not attain it by the means of
followers eager to serve a trusted and beloved leader, for they by no
means rose to him. When he reached the Vaal he was careful to throw the
burghers' wagons across the river first of all, knowing that their
unwillingness to leave the Free State would be overcome by their greater
reluctance to sever themselves from their oxen and stuff. He owed his
success mainly to the power of a strong will to make weaker wills work
for it; and in a less degree to the accuracy of the information which
Theron, his chief scout, obtained for him.

It is at least doubtful whether Lord Roberts did not take De Wet too
seriously. Was the capture of a _guerilla_ leader worth the withdrawal
of so many British troops from the main operations, and would not the
sounder strategy have been to ignore him? If he had been severely let
alone, he would hardly have done more than that which he did with the
strength of an Army Corps against him, and his prestige with his own
people would not have been so surely set up.

The escape of De Wet was an incident of war, which, having regard to all
the circumstances of the campaign, could not be made impossible. Columns
working independently under directions from Head Quarters cannot be made
aware of all that each has or has not done, and must take many things
for granted; and the information of the enemy's movements which reaches
them from the same source must often be received too late for effective
action. If Lord Roberts had listened to Baden-Powell's protest against
the evacuation of Rustenburg and Olifant's Nek, De Wet would probably
have followed Cronje to St. Helena; but that does not prove that the
policy of withdrawing from remote and exposed positions was unsound. All
that can be said against it is that it chanced to be carried out a few
days too soon.

Steyn and the officials left for Machadodorp. De Wet felt that his own
country had a claim upon his services, and desired to return to it
without delay. He divided his force, leaving the greater part under
Steenekamp north of the Magaliesberg, himself going south with a small
commando. The division materially aided his return, for it was not known
for certain at Head Quarters with which portion he was marching. While
he was in imagination being chased north of Pretoria, he was in fact
scaling a rough mountain path, for all the passes had been closed, near
Commando Nek, and looking down from the heights upon a British force by
which he was not discovered. On August 21, after an absence of sixteen
days, he recrossed the Vaal, and entered the Free State. The net result
of all the labour, all the efforts, and all the consequent distress and
exhaustion to which the British troops had willingly subjected
themselves, was to re-establish De Wet as a greater power for mischief
than ever.

The Free Staters under Steenekamp joined Grobler of Waterberg, but the
combination was hustled to the north out of striking distance of
Pretoria by Baden-Powell, whose purely military service in South Africa
ceased soon after. He had been selected to raise and to command the
South African Constabulary, a semi-military body, which it was hoped the
approaching end of the war would ere long permit to take over some of
the duties of the troops.

For some weeks after the escape of De Wet the various columns operating
north and west of Pretoria were engaged in patrolling the country. They
nowhere encountered serious resistance, but Delarey was neither taken
nor crippled.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

While these events were occurring in Lord Roberts' rear, he was
advancing eastwards from Pretoria. The battle of Diamond Hill was
followed by a brief period of quietude in the east as well as the west.
The objective of the British Army was the railway from Pretoria to
Komati Poort, on which the Transvaal Government, covered by Botha at
Balmoral, was now dwelling at Machadodorp. The movements of Lord Roberts
were for some time controlled by the situation in the Free State and the
Western Transvaal, which called more pressingly for attention than the
eastward advance.

Early in July a column under Hutton was sent out to feel towards Botha's
left. As he was opposed and made little progress, Lord Roberts a few
days later reinforced him with French and a cavalry brigade, and on July
11 the combined columns thrust back the Boers from their positions at
Witpoort, a few miles south of Diamond Hill. Botha had arranged with the
commandants on the other side of Pretoria for concurrent attacks on the
British forces in the vicinity of the capital, and his own was the only
operation that was foiled on July 11. French's success, however, could
not be followed up. He proposed to raid the railway near Balmoral, but
Lord Roberts had been made anxious for the safety of Pretoria by the
news of the affairs of Zilikat's Nek and Onderste Poort, and recalled
him. Hutton was ordered to remain where he was, about twenty-five miles
south-east of the capital, with a reduced force.

There were indications that an attack not only on Pretoria but also on
Johannesburg was contemplated by the enemy, in collusion with plots for
risings against the British which were hatching in each city. It was no
time yet for an eastward advance. The successes north and west of
Pretoria stimulated Botha to attack what he supposed would strategically
now be the most vulnerable section of the perimeter of defence, namely,
the section facing him. If it had not been weakened by the withdrawal of
troops to the west, troops would probably have been withdrawn from the
west to meet him, and the task of Delarey thereby lightened. Either
alternative would forward his policy.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 240.]

East of Pretoria Pole-Carew with the XIth Division was in touch with
Hutton. Botha recalled Grobler of Waterberg from the north, and on July
16 threw himself upon Pole-Carew and Hutton, near Witpoort. The brunt of
the attack fell upon the latter, who, though at first pressed back and
outflanked on his right, recovered himself and forced the enemy to
retire. His immediate opponent was B. Viljoen, a leader who showed great
military capacity in his management of the action. Against the XIth
Division Botha demonstrated only. The chief incident of the affair was
the holding of an outflanked and commanded kopje position by a few
companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers for six hours.

The scheme for the eastward advance, which Lord Roberts did not feel
himself justified in initiating until after the affair of July 16, was
that French should rejoin Hutton and take charge of the right; with Ian
Hamilton, brought down from his northward demonstration against Grobler,
on the extreme left north of the railway, while Pole-Carew advanced with
Lord Roberts centrally along it.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

The advance began on July 23. French, with the natural spirit of a
cavalry officer, chafed at being restricted to the slower progress of
Pole-Carew's infantry and proposed to push forward boldly and cut the
railway east of Middelburg, but Lord Roberts was reluctant to part with
the only cavalry he had, and vetoed the movement. Botha was soon
frightened out of Balmoral, which had been his Head Quarters since the
battle of Diamond Hill, and which was entered by Lord Roberts on July
25. Two days later French rode into Middelburg.

The eastward advance had now gained possession of eighty miles of the
Delagoa Bay railway, but the De Wet trouble and the disturbed state of
the Western Transvaal made the continuation of the movement unsafe, and
Lord Roberts called a halt. It was also advisable to wait until supplies
had been collected at Middelburg, and until Buller, who was coming up
from the south, was in a position to co-operate. Lord Roberts returned
to Pretoria, leaving French in charge. Ian Hamilton, the emergency man,
was sent to the west to deal with Delarey and De Wet. Towards the end of
August Pole-Carew advanced to near Belfast, where he hoped soon to
report himself to Buller.

Nearly three months had now elapsed since the battle of Diamond Hill.
The progress of the Transvaal campaign was not very apparent, but it was
real. Botha had been driven back along the Delagoa Bay railway, and
neither the outbreaks in the Western Transvaal nor the meteoric
incursion of De Wet had availed him. Nothing that had occurred elsewhere
weakened the western advance to an extent that gave him an opportunity
of effectively withstanding it. Buller was approaching, and Lord Roberts
was no longer dependent upon one line of communication. The fugitive
Free State Government had been driven into asylum with the fugitive
Transvaal Government. No commandos were at large which could seriously
threaten Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, or Pretoria; and the only organized
body which the enemy could bring into the field was confronted by a
British Army and had the barrier of the Portuguese frontier behind it.
There was good hope that in a few weeks the already undermined fabric of
Boerdom would totter to the ground, and that the worst that could happen
was that some of the fragments might not fall clear of the British
troops.

The arrival of Buller's force from the south gave Lord Roberts, who
returned from Pretoria on August 25, the reinforcement justifying the
resumption of the eastward advance. He found the troops unfavourably
placed for immediate action. Botha was posted on each side of the
railway near Belfast; the junction of his right with his left, which had
different fronts, forming an obtuse salient angle. The greater part of
the British force was south of the line and prevented by the nature of
the ground from undertaking an enveloping movement on the enemy's left.
Buller had kept the cavalry to heel, and it was lying compressed between
him and Pole-Carew, who was entrenched round Belfast.

Lord Roberts' first act was to distribute over a wider front the
conglomeration of troops, which were hampering each other's movements.
French with his own cavalry, but without Buller's, was sent north of the
line to face Botha's right flank and to clear Pole-Carew's left flank,
while Buller worked up from the south towards the line.

The movement began on August 26, and by the afternoon French, having
made a wide detour, had established himself north of Belfast; thus
enabling Pole-Carew to leave the town and extend his division in front
of the enemy's right. Buller's movement was at first directly
northwards, on account of the soft ground. His march, like that of
Pole-Carew on the other flank, was across the enemy's front, but neither
of them was seriously checked and the casualties were few.

Buller had proposed to move eastward in the direction of Dalmanutha as
soon as the ground permitted, but a cavalry reconnaissance discovered
the enemy posted at Bergendal, close to the railway. The position was,
in fact, the point of the obtuse angle formed by the two sections of the
Boer front, one of which faced S.W. towards Buller, and the other west,
towards Pole-Carew; and if it could be carried not only would Botha's
line be broken, but Buller would be in a good position to deal with a
retreat from either section,

The battle of Bergendal on August 27 was mainly a struggle between less
than fourscore Transvaal Police and two battalions and forty guns of
Buller's Division. The "Zarps" held a rocky ridge at the end of a spur,
where they were bombarded for three hours, yet when the infantry
advanced it was met with a vigorous rifle fire, which was continued
almost without intermission until at last the kopje was carried by
assault. The defence of the kopje was one of the most conspicuous feats
of the war on the Boer side, and it is noteworthy that it was made by a
body of regularly disciplined men. Owing partly no doubt to the
difficulty of reinforcing such an isolated position, no effective
support was given by Botha to the gallant little band, neither did he
trouble Buller seriously with artillery fire; and the commandos east and
north of the Zarps' kopje did little. He does not seem to have
recognized that Bergendal was not a mere strong post, but the key of an
unsound position which should at all hazards have been safeguarded. This
Buller saw at once, and he moved so as to meet with the least
interference from the enemy, who, having two fronts, could not act
solidly upon either of them.

The capture of Bergendal dissolved the Boer position. The commandos
facing Buller were driven off; and the right, which had been opposing
French and Pole-Carew so feebly that neither of them suffered a single
casualty, fell away. Buller went in pursuit, but was unable to worry the
retreat. Some commandos withdrew eastwards along the line, others broke
off towards Lydenburg and Barberton. The Boer Governments retired from
Machadodorp to Nelspruit. Buller crossed the railway, and on August 29
Helvetia was taken. Next day the British prisoners of war, whom the
Boers had brought away in the scuttle from Pretoria when Lord Roberts
entered the city, were released at Noitgedacht by their captors, who
were no longer in a position to detain them.

Botha had indeed been forced into retreat, but not cut off, and he
escaped with all his guns and his losses were comparatively slight. His
burghers were, as usual after a lost battle, demoralized and
disheartened for the time being, but not, as was thought by the British
Army, scared by their reverses into abject impotence. From the time of
the occupation of Bloemfontein _guerilla_ had been gradually taking the
place of organized warfare, of which Bergendal was the last act, and
which the burghers saw that they could not hope to wage successfully.
The history of the previous seven months showed what could be won by
_guerilla_, and what could be lost by pretending to be an Army. The fact
that they were no longer able to act as a coherent military body did not
permanently discourage them, and the struggle had not yet run more than
one-third of its weary course.

It was, however, the general belief not only in Great Britain but also
in the Army in South Africa, that the Boers had kicked their last kick
at Bergendal. There might be a final wriggle or two; but the end was in
sight, and before the first anniversary of the declaration of war, peace
would again reign in the land. These not ill-founded hopes justified
Lord Roberts' Proclamation of September 1, by which the Transvaal was
formally incorporated in the British Empire.

To prevent the enemy escaping to the north or to the south, and to
impale him upon the stakes of the Portuguese frontier, Lord Roberts
pushed forward three columns; one under Pole-Carew to follow the railway
towards Komati Poort, another under French to march towards Barberton,
and a third under Buller to occupy the Lydenburg district; to which
Botha had gone after the battle of Bergendal, and which if held by him
would leave in the possession of the Boers the best line of retreat from
the railway to the northern Transvaal.

Ian Hamilton, on his return from the west after the escape of De Wet,
was lent to Buller for a few days. The occupation of Lydenburg on
September 7, and of Spitz Kop four days later, drove Botha back to the
line at Nelspruit. Buller's operations were carried out with success in
a country more difficult than any that had yet been entered by the
British Army in South Africa. South of the railway, French spread the
net, casting it from Carolina to Barberton, which he entered on
September 13, and where he not only captured a considerable amount of
rolling stock and supplies which the Boers had shoved into the little
branch line, but also released a final remnant of about a hundred
British prisoners of war, most of whom were officers. He had advanced
through a country almost as difficult as that in which Buller was
engaged, and although the commandos opposing him had at first been drawn
away to the south by the report that he was making for Ermelo, they
returned in time to offer some resistance east of Carolina; but he
entered Barberton without the discharge of a rifle. Botha had sounded
the Cease Fire.

The Boers had found it necessary to consider the situation seriously.
They had been driven into a relatively minute area, which was morally
congested with a pair of Presidents and their parasites, remnants of
Government offices, superfluous commandants, and commandos some of which
were eager and some of which were not eager to continue the struggle;
and physically by the accumulation of stores, supplies, guns,
ammunition, and rolling stock which had been rammed down into the last
section of the Delagoa Bay railway.

Kruger was induced to lighten the ship which he had so signally failed
to keep on her course. He left Nelspruit on September 11 for Lorenzo
Marques, where he was taken under the protection of the Portuguese
Government, and where he remained until the eve of the first anniversary
of the opening scene of the drama, the battle of Talana Hill. On October
19 another nation offered him asylum, and he sailed for Marseilles in
the _Guelderland_, a cruiser of the Dutch Navy; thus symbolically
repatriating the French and Dutch emigrants who had quitted Europe for
South Africa in the seventeenth century.

The positions of Buller on the north of the railway, of French at
Barberton, and of Pole-Carew ready to advance centrally, made immediate
action imperative; but Botha was hampered by the presence of not a few
unwilling and unmounted commandos. These he sent under Koetzee to Komati
Poort and left to arrange their own destiny; and with the rest, which
numbered 4,000 burghers, he broke away in two directions, himself with
B. Viljoen leading the northward trek, while T. Smuts endeavoured to
escape southward into Swaziland.

Thus when Pole-Carew, who had been joined by Ian Hamilton and whose
advance had been delayed to allow French and Buller to get into position
on his flanks, reached Komati Poort on September 24, he found himself
hitting at vacancy with the wreckage of two lost republics around him,
derelict railway stock, disabled guns, abandoned ammunition, and burning
stores. Koetzee's men had disappeared, most of them into Portuguese
territory, which they had been partly persuaded and partly compelled to
enter by the Portuguese authorities, who, although they had regarded the
Boer cause with a more than benevolent neutrality during the earlier
stages of the war, now saw that a fight near the frontier would be a
most embarrassing episode; and, while offering an asylum to the
fugitives, threatened to allow Lord Roberts to land troops at Lorenzo
Marques if it were not accepted. On the 28th Pole-Carew was engaged not
in battle with the Boers, but in celebrating the birthday of the King of
Portugal, a singular interlude between the acts of the war drama.

Botha in making for the north hoped to establish his remnant and
cultivate the germs somewhere in the Leydsdorp or Pietersburg districts,
which were the only portions of the Transvaal not occupied by British
troops. Lord Roberts' expectations that they would be denied to the
enemy by the Rhodesian Field Force under Carrington were not fulfilled,
and he could not spare any of his own troops to occupy them.

Botha, preceded by a few days by Steyn, left the Delagoa Bay line on
September 17, and succeeded in scraping past Buller without serious
excoriation, but he was compelled to send the greater part of his force
under B. Viljoen by a circuitous route through the unhealthy lower veld.

The enemy was now to all appearances chased to the ends of the earth,
but throughout October and November roving bodies worried the railway
and detained a considerable British force upon it.

Commandos that could not be accounted for by the British Intelligence
Staff seemed to spring out of the ground. Trains were de-railed, raids
and counter-raids north and south were the order of the day. Lydenburg
was prowled upon. Botha and Viljoen, stirred by Steyn, hovered in the
north, and Viljoen went south to co-ordinate the several activities. On
November 19 he effected a temporary success at Balmoral, capturing a
small post and cutting the railway, but it served him little and he soon
retired.

Of the force engaged in the Komati Poort advance, the Guards' Brigade,
which the hopeful situation would soon, it was thought, allow to be sent
home, as well as French's cavalry and other troops, had been withdrawn;
and a column under Paget which was operating west of Pretoria had to be
called up to expel Viljoen from a position which he afterwards took up
twenty miles north of the railway at Rhenosterkop. The affair was the
only serious action during October and November.

French did not advance beyond Barberton. Early in October he was ordered
to clear the country lying between the Natal and the Delagoa Bay
railways. At first opposed by Smuts and subsequently impeded by bad
weather, transport difficulties, and constant sniping, his movement
resembled a retreat rather than a voluntary advance, and it was so
regarded by the commandos. When he reached Heidelberg on October 26, he
had lost half his oxen and a third of his wagons.

After the conclusion of the Komati Poort operations Buller returned to
England. No general officer serving in South Africa was regarded by the
non-commissioned officers and men under his command with greater
affection and admiration. The Natal Army was held together in spite of
disasters and failures by the personality of its leader. He had made not
a few mistakes, but they never lost him the confidence of his troops,
who, when he left their camp at Lydenburg, said farewell to him with an
extraordinary demonstration of genuine regret.

At the end of November the command of the British Forces in South Africa
was taken over by Lord Kitchener from Lord Roberts, who sailed for
England in the belief that the war was practically over. He had
completed the task which he had set himself when he landed at Capetown
ten months before. At that time hardly even a scout had quitted British
territory; now almost every mile of railway and every considerable town
of the two republics, except Pietersburg, was in the possession of the
British Army; the Boer Governments had been expelled; Natal was free;
organized resistance had ceased; the remnants of a baffled and
bewildered enemy were prowling aimlessly in small bodies. All the
precedents indicated a speedy termination of the War.

When Lord Roberts left the shadow of Table Mountain the last word in
Strategy and Tactics had been spoken, and the war gradually became a
problem in Mechanics. His strategy was freely criticized at first, but
it proved to be sound; and the only fault that could be found with his
tactics was that like a skilful chess player he always endeavoured to
defeat his opponent with the least possible loss on either side.

The organization of a European Army had been found inefficient for
dealing with Boer _guerilla_. The Army Corps fell to pieces as soon as
it landed in South Africa; and as time went on the Divisions, the
Brigades, and even many of the regimental units were one by one
liquidated and re-shuffled into columns.[51]

Lord Kitchener, who had been General Manager to Lord Roberts, was
admirably qualified to succeed him, and to deal with a situation which
seemed to call for the exercise of a strong will and of the power of
organization rather than for the display of purely professional
qualities, in which he was somewhat deficient. It is doubtful whether he
would have commanded a large army successfully on the field of battle,
but no better man could have been chosen to control the vast area over
which the British Forces were distributed.

[Illustration: Map.]

Notes:

[Footnote 49: Not the column with which he had come up to Pretoria with
Lord Roberts, and which after his accident had been taken over by
Hunter, but a newly-constituted column.]

[Footnote 50: Lord Roberts said that if he had been free to send Ian
Hamilton into the Free State instead of to Rustenburg, De Wet must have
been surrounded.]

[Footnote 51: After June, 1901, the classification of the South African
Army in Divisions and Brigades disappeared from the Army List.]



CHAPTER XV

The Recurrences of De Wet


[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

In October, 1900, De Wet, with 1,000 men, again crossed into the
Transvaal at Schoeman's Drift. His movement, which was preceded by
constant raids on the railway throughout September, was not altogether
voluntary, but was rather a withdrawal from columns pressing on him in
the Free State.[52] Barton, who with the Fusilier Brigade had been sent
down by Lord Roberts to meet him, took up a position at Fredrikstad,
where he was surrounded by De Wet and Liebenberg on October 24. The
situation was now so serious that Lord Roberts ordered a brigade under
Knox to come up to Barton's assistance from the Free State, but it was
not required, as the arrival of a column from the north broke the
cordon, and De Wet returned to the Free State.

The new De Wet hunt was soon in cry. When Knox was set on the trail, he
was in the Free State and De Wet was in the Transvaal. Two days later
the positions were reversed, for they had crossed the river in opposite
directions. The situation now developed itself favourably for De Wet's
methods. For a purely military operation he had never shown much
aptitude. He had failed against Barton at Fredrikstad, but he was not
discouraged by the repulse, which he unjustly attributed to want of
co-operation on the part of Liebenberg. He had put the Vaal between
himself and Knox, who was on the right bank blindly nosing the drifts.
He knew from recent experience that his pursuers, with their imperfect
methods of acquiring information, would hunt by sight and not by scent,
and he had the mobility of a hare as well as the instinct of a fox. He
lay _perdu_ for some days near the left bank of the Vaal, while a net
with spacious meshes was being cast to ensnare him. Again he crossed and
re-crossed the river in order to bring Steyn away from Ventersdorp, whom
two months previously he had conducted into the Transvaal, and who had
in the meantime worked round the British Army to Machadodorp and back;
and who after conferences with Kruger and L. Botha, now returned with
him unscathed into their own land with schemes for the future.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 260.]

Pom-pom batteries and mounted infantry, the latest fashions of war, were
sent after him by Knox. On November 6 he was surprised in laager near
Bothaville, but escaped with Steyn and the greater portion of his
command on the first alarm. The gallant Le Gallais was killed and the
laager itself captured after a stout resistance some hours later, and
with it all De Wet's field guns, wagons, a considerable quantity of
ammunition and horse equipment, and more than 100 prisoners of war.

Most men would have succumbed to the disaster, but it only spurred De
Wet. He had signally failed in his late attempt on the Transvaal, and he
had just lost almost everything at Bothaville, but he resolved to make a
raid in the opposite direction on the northern districts of Cape Colony.
To reach his new objective, he must traverse the whole length of the
Free State, which, having been in the occupation of the British Army for
several months, should have offered the line of greatest resistance to
his movement.

The Brandwater Basin disaster of July 30 had, however, by no means
crushed Free State Boerdom, which, after having been heavily hurled to
the ground, where it lay for a time apparently unconscious, began to
show signs of returning animation, and in a few weeks was again on its
legs; thanks to the restoratives freely administered by De Wet on his
return from his first incursion into the Transvaal. Into each district
he sent irreconcilable men after his own heart to stimulate the wavering
and animate the discouraged; and barely a month elapsed before the
burghers were besieging Ladybrand, which, however, they failed to take,
and were hacking at the railway into the Transvaal. In October every
village in the S.W. district of the Orange River Colony in the
possession of a British garrison was attacked, all but one of them
without success.

Lord Roberts had already taken measures to curb the new activities. His
plan was to occupy certain places strongly as bases from which mobile
columns could constantly move to and fro, eating up the intervening
country and rendering it incapable of supporting the enemy. Its
operation was mainly confined to the northern districts of the Free
State, in which lay the centre of disturbance, and the troops engaged
could not be readily employed outside them. It was so far successful, in
that it drove De Wet into the Transvaal in October, but it failed to
restrain his subsequent movements. It probably was the best that could
have been devised for dealing with local _guerilla_, but its action
being centrifugal and not circumferential, it was powerless to deal with
a meteoric raid of well-mounted men. Although the British troops greatly
outnumbered the Boers, yet in practice only the mounted details, which
included no regular cavalry and were relatively weak, were directly
effective against the enemy, and the movements of the divagating columns
were sluggish.

When De Wet left Bothaville on November 6, his arm was, metaphorically
speaking, in a sling, and he was footsore; but ten days later he had
brought together in the Doornberg a force of 1,500 men, with whom he
proposed to cut his way into the Cape Colony. His movement south may be
compared to that of a small swift steamer endeavouring to escape from a
blockaded seaport. Ahead of him and on each beam were the slow-moving
vessels of the blockading squadron, most of them hull down and with
banked fires.

He made at once for the scene of his April successes, the country lying
between Bloemfontein and the Basuto border. The chief obstacles in his
way were a line of posts running eastwards from Bloemfontein, and the
town of Dewetsdorp, which was held by 500 British troops. The latter he
might have avoided had he chosen to do so, but he seems to have been
attracted to it because it was the home of his childhood, which it was
incumbent upon him to redeem from bondage.

The phenomenon of a Boer column marching through the heart of a country
supposed to be effectively in the possession of the British Army was
again witnessed. To borrow another metaphor, this time from Astronomy,
De Wet throughout the greater part of his career was a telescopic star,
invisible to the naked eye. General Officers and column commanders
helplessly watched his course through the telescopes of the Intelligence
Staff, and seemed to have as little power of influencing it as an
observer at Greenwich has of changing the orbit of a planet. The
astronomer can at least forecast with certainty the path which it will
follow in the heavens, but there were no observations available from
which the course of De Wet could be predicted for more than a few hours.
He seemed to defy the laws of gravitation.

On November 16, he easily rushed the Bloemfontein-Thabanchu line of
posts at Springhaan's Nek, and three days later invested Dewetsdorp.
Meanwhile the alarm had been given. Knox's force, which had been sent
after him into the Transvaal, was now sent after him to Bloemfontein,
and mobile columns were detailed. Dewetsdorp was doomed from the first
unless assistance arrived from outside. The position could not be held
effectively by a small force, One by one the scattered posts fell into
the hands of De Wet, but the defence was maintained until the 23rd, when
the white flag was hoisted. On the previous day two relieving columns
had started from Edenburg, but they were checked near Dewetsdorp on the
24th by De Wet, who shook himself free of them and was soon on his way
to the south with 500 prisoners of war; and Knox with a third relieving
column was marching from Edenburg.

Thus almost within sight of Sannah's Post and Mostert's Hoek and after
six months of apparently successful activity by the British Army, De Wet
snatched away another garrison. After a repulse at Fredrikstad, soon
followed by a severe mauling at Bothaville, from which he broke out as a
fugitive, he placidly and confidently trekked southwards unopposed for
150 miles, magnetically attracting to himself a force sufficient to blot
out Dewetsdorp in the presence of a bewildered enemy, who, though in
overwhelming numbers, was feebly strung out in lengths without breadth.
The British Army had still to learn, not only in the Free State, but
also elsewhere, the elemental fact in geometry that neither one straight
line nor two, nor under certain conditions even three, can enclose an
area.

It was evident that De Wet was making for the Cape Colony, the
disaffected northern districts of which were again giving cause for
anxiety, and which at all hazards he must be prevented from entering.
Lord Kitchener came down from the Transvaal to direct the operations;
the Brigade of Guards on its way to Capetown and home, was de-trained to
hold the line of the Orange; Knox's columns hurried forward. De Wet,
after a slight encounter with Knox, who was marching south, turned
adroitly to the west and did not resume the original direction of his
march until he had put a considerable distance between himself and the
columns, which were "running heel" and pursuing him almost in the
opposite direction. Near Bethulie he was reinforced by Hertzog and other
leaders, but by this time he had been headed by Knox at Bethulie and was
compelled to draw off eastwards into the angle between the Orange and
the Caledon. He left Hertzog with instructions to make his way across
the river west of Norval's Pont, intending to cross with his own force
higher up. He was, however, prevented by the forces of nature from
carrying out the raid which the British military forces would probably
have been unable to prohibit. Heavy rains had fallen in the Basuto
Mountains, and the sudden rise of the Caledon and the Orange to flood
level obliterated most of the drifts and entrapped him between them. He
made one dash for the Orange at Odendaal, but found the drift in the
possession of the enemy.

De Wet now saw that he was not destined to enter the Cape Colony on this
occasion, and that he would have much difficulty in saving himself. On
December 6 he determined to retreat by the way he came. He did not,
however, wholly abandon the scheme of a Cape Colony raid, for he
detached Kritzinger and Scheepers with instructions to hover and watch
their opportunity of breaking into it. The opportune falling of the
Caledon opened to him a postern towards the north, and on December 7 he
crossed the river and made for Helvetia, where again he was entangled.
The line of least resistance seemed to run westwards towards the
railway, and he put himself upon it, soon to find that Kitchener's
dispositions had obstructed it. He doubled back, and trailing Knox after
him in a night march, shook himself free. Knox, confident that the
Bloemfontein-Ladybrand line of posts would be an effectual barrier to De
Wet's retreat, had waited to pull his straggling columns together. De
Wet, reinforced by a commando under Michael Prinsloo, who had been with
him in his first Transvaal incursion when Steyn was put over the border,
rushed at the blockhouse line and again cut it at Springhaan's Nek, for
although it had been attended to recently, there was an aneurism in it
which yielded at the critical moment, and on December 14 De Wet passed
freely through the lesion. He arrived by way of Ficksburg at Tafelberg,
S.E. of Senekal, on December 25.

The failure of the raid was almost as disconcerting to the British plan
of campaign as its success would have been. It showed that the troops
were unable to prevent a mobile and well-led commando from traversing
the Free State from end to end; it put new spirit into the burghers, and
destroyed the hopes of peace which the operations of Lord Roberts in the
Transvaal had kindled. De Wet was still at large, and although he had
not accomplished all that he intended, he had good reason to be
satisfied, and was stimulated for fresh efforts. He could boast that he
was beaten not by columns but by two rivers in spate. His movements were
so little obstructed that after reaching the Senekal district he was
able to pay a flying visit to the railway at Roodeval, where he
recovered the Lee-Metford ammunition which he had buried in June, and
with which he hoped soon to have an opportunity of charging the rifles
captured at Dewetsdorp.

When De Wet, Hertzog, and Kritzinger parted company near the Orange
early in December, their tracks formed the letter Y inverted. De Wet
marched along the stem towards the N.E.; Kritzinger struck in the
direction of the midland districts of the Cape Colony; Hertzog made for
the west. Martial law was at last proclaimed in the Colony, the greater
part of which was, in spite of innumerable columns slipped at them,
traversed by Hertzog and Kritzinger. The former, after an adventurous
march of over 400 miles, reached Lambert's Bay on the shore of the
Atlantic, and gave to most of his men their first sight of the sea; and
to all of them a unique experience in the war, for they were shelled by
a British cruiser at anchor in the haven.[53]

While Hertzog was watching the setting of the sun upon an Atlantic
horizon, Kritzinger was at Willowmore, almost within sight of the Indian
Ocean, having in spite of all the columns pushed his way from Rouxville
down into the S.E. districts of the Cape Colony. Neither Kritzinger nor
Hertzog, however, effected much by their raids except to show in the
Colony what De Wet had already shown in the Transvaal and the Free
State, the impotence of even the best-laid schemes of pursuit, and they
returned towards the centre in February. De Wet and Hertzog had between
them in the course of a few months succeeded in ploughing, through the
heart of the country occupied by the British Army, a lonely furrow which
stretched from the northward slopes of the Magaliesberg in the Transvaal
through the Free State to a haven on the South Atlantic Ocean.

Meanwhile De Wet was waiting until the moment should come for him to
take part in the wide-reaching plan of campaign which had been devised
by the Boer Governments. They saw the uselessness of attempting to
withstand the British forces in the Republics, and they determined to
bring the war back into the Cape Colony and Natal. The general idea was
that L. Botha should march on Pietermaritzburg from the Eastern
Transvaal, while De Wet followed Hertzog and Kritzinger across the
Orange, and then, having effected a junction with them, should advance
on Capetown. The scheme was not so extravagant and quixotic as it might
appear to be, as recent events had shown the difficulty of restraining
the movements of a Boer leader of dash and enterprise; and there was no
reason why De Wet should not be as successful in eluding pursuit in the
future as he had been in the past.

Again the Doornberg, although within sight of the railway between
Bloemfontein and Kroonstad, was available as a meeting place. Here on
November 16, 1900, he had assembled his burghers for his first attempt
on the Cape Colony; and here on January 25, 1901, he brought them
together for his second. Steyn was with him, and all the available Free
State commandants with more than 2,000 men mustered on the mountain
unmolested. His intentions were not unknown to the British Intelligence
Staff, and when he quitted the rendezvous he had a column under B.
Hamilton on his right rear and a column under C. Knox on his left front.

The situation was not novel, and he dealt with it with his customary
good luck and success. He passed across Knox's front, who fortunately
for him had been ordered not to act before Hamilton came up, and reached
the Tabaksberg, between Winburg and Brandfort, next day. On the
following morning he shook off an attack made by a portion of Knox's
column, and went for the Bloemfontein Thabanchu line of posts, which he
had already twice cut. Hamilton, distanced in the chase, had been put on
the railway and sent to Bloemfontein to strengthen the line, but he
arrived too late to prevent De Wet crossing it on January 30 at Israel's
Poort. The sorely-tried pale had again failed.[54]

De Wet, having shaken off the columns which had been pursuing him from
the Doornberg, had now a free course of 100 miles to the next obstacle,
the Orange. It was evident that the speed of the columns must be
increased and Knox was put upon the railway for the first time and
Hamilton for the second and dispatched to Bethulie. The energy of a
considerable portion of the British Army was devoted to an attempt to
make the barrier of the Orange impassable.

North of the river was De Wet; south of it Hertzog and Kritzinger were
waiting for him. There was every reason to fear that should he succeed
in joining either of them, the smouldering embers of rebellion would
again break out in the Cape Colony. Troops were hurried by train from
the Transvaal, from Kimberley, and from Capetown. Lyttelton was brought
down from the Delagoa Bay line to Naauwpoort to take general charge of
the operations, and to build as rapidly as possible a wall that could
not be scaled or breached.

For some reason which is not apparent De Wet, although he had an open
country in front of him in which not a single British column was
operating, moved slowly, and thereby gave more time for the carrying out
of Lyttelton's arrangements. Possibly he may have been delayed by
trouble with his Free State commandos, some of which a few days later
refused to cross with him into the Colony. On January 31 he passed
through Dewetsdorp, gratified no doubt to find that since his capture of
it in November his enemies had not ventured to set foot again in it. At
that time he had not made up his mind whether to cross the Orange east
or west of Norval's Pont. If the former, he would soon be able to join
Kritzinger, who after the Willowmore raid had returned to the Zuurberg,
between Stormberg and Naauwpoort; if the latter, he would be able to
call up Hertzog, who had returned from the shores of the Atlantic and
was hovering in the Carnarvon district west of De Aar.

De Wet had from time to time to time been in communication with
Kritzinger and Hertzog during their raids. His advanced patrols soon
discovered that the section of the Orange lying eastward of Norval's
Pont was very strongly held. The dispositions of Lyttelton's troops seem
to have been made on the assumption that De Wet would endeavour to join
Kritzinger, who was little more than one day's march from the left bank,
rather than Hertzog, who was 150 miles away. The river section westward
of Norval's Pont was therefore held lightly by a line of outposts at the
drifts, thrown out from the main barrier based on Naauwpoort, nearly
forty miles south of the river. Of this De Wet was at the time unaware.
His information was that the eastward section was impassable. The
westward section might possibly not be so, and he determined to make for
it.

He spread a report that he intended to cross the river at Odendaalstroom
or Aliwal North, and paused to allow it time to reach the ears of Knox,
who seems to have given some credence to it. A column was sent out to
reconnoitre in the direction of Smithfield. When half-way between that
town and Dewetsdorp, De Wet suddenly changed direction and made for
Phillipolis, detaching a portion of his force under Froeneman, who on
February 5 captured and burnt a train a few miles south of Edenburg and
crossed the railway. On the following night, De Wet crossed it with the
main body near Springfontein, while Knox was hunting for him near
Bethulie.

It was now evident that De Wet's objective was the Zand Drift on the
Orange west of Phillipolis. He had had a long start, and the nearest
troops available for the pursuit of him were the columns of Knox and
Hamilton at Bethulie. Here the river bends round to the south, forming
an arc through Norval's Pont towards Zand Drift; and the columns
therefore crossed to the right bank and marched eighty miles along the
chord, only to find when they reached the Drift on February 12 that De
Wet had two days previously crossed by it into the Cape Colony.

The operations of the next sixteen days were confined to a comparatively
small rectangle of about 6,000 square miles lying on the left bank of
the Orange, which bounded it from Norval's Pont to Douglas and thence to
near Prieska. The S.E. side and half the S.W. side, namely from Norval's
Pont to Naauwpoort and thence to De Aar, were formed by the railways,
the remaining portion of the S.W. side being the river Brak, which flows
into the Orange a few miles above Prieska.

Owing to a sudden flood, which delayed Knox for two days, he was unable
to follow De Wet across Zand Drift, but Plumer started from Naauwpoort
with two columns, and on February 12 came in touch with De Wet and
compelled him to change his course. Two days later De Wet crossed the
railway between De Aar and Hopetown, after a rearguard action with
Plumer, into whose hands fell next morning the transport which De Wet
had been compelled by bad weather to leave behind him.

De Wet now proposed to fetch a compass towards Prieska, where he hoped
to effect a junction with Hertzog, but the driving power of the raid was
slowly exhausting itself. The motive energy was stored up in
accumulators, and when these were discharged in succession, there was no
means of re-charging them. Hertzog and Kritzinger, who had been relied
on for this purpose, were not at hand; more than a third of the force
with which De Wet had originally left the Doornberg had declined to
leave the Free State; and the transport had been lost.

Plumer also was exhausted and unable to continue the pursuit, but
fortunately Knox was close behind him. He doubled back towards Hopetown
for supplies, leaving Knox to follow the trail. De Wet was now driven
into the western corner of the rectangle where the Brak falls into the
Orange, and where he found himself in a dilemma similar to that which in
his first raid had cornered him between the Orange and the Caledon. The
Brak was in spate, and he could not cross it to Prieska. All hope of
joining Hertzog and of a successful raid into the Cape Colony was at an
end; there was nothing to be done but make the best of his way back to
the Free State. He reversed his course and made for the confluence of
the Orange and the Vaal. His change of direction was not known to Knox,
who, assuming that De Wet must have crossed the Brak, which fell as
suddenly as it had risen, threw his columns across it and trekked for
twenty miles towards the S.W. Hertzog was reported to be a day's march
higher up the Brak.

Up to this time the whole of the stress of the pursuit had fallen upon
Knox and Plumer. As soon as the news of De Wet's entry into the Cape
Colony reached Lord Kitchener, he hurried down from the Transvaal to De
Aar to superintend the casting of the nets. His first dispositions were
made with the object of preventing De Wet and Hertzog breaking away into
the districts lying west of the railway to Capetown, and an ingenious
and elaborate scheme of columns springing out from the line in
succession from the north, was arranged. It was not, however, put into
action, for Knox and Plumer had headed back De Wet, and for the time
being had prevented a junction between him and Hertzog. It was no longer
a case of a stern chase, but of the fencing in of a comparatively
limited area, into which more than a dozen columns were thrown, and
which by February 24 was reduced to the district bounded on three sides
by the railways and on the fourth by the Orange.

When on February 21 Plumer was able to resume the pursuit, Knox having
discovered his mistake was recrossing the Brak, and De Wet on the left
bank of the Orange was unsuccessfully searching for practicable drifts.
He succeeded, however, in transferring a few of his men to the right
bank in a boat at Makow's Drift, but was overtaken by Plumer before he
could complete the movement, and forced to hurry on towards Hopetown. In
the course of one week he had marched in the direction of almost every
point in the compass, and was now heading E.S.E.

When within fifteen miles of Hopetown he lost two guns, and on the same
day ran up against a new obstacle, a column under Paris, which had come
down from Kimberley and which had extended itself westward from
Hopetown. He succeeded in wriggling through the line without detection
during the night; while Paris, unaware of what had occurred and thinking
that De Wet was still in front of him, pushed on next morning and came
into action, not with De Wet, but with Plumer, who was pursuing De Wet
in the opposite direction. On February 24 De Wet crossed the railway
eastwards a few miles south of Orange River Station.

As soon as Hertzog in the Carnarvon district heard of the approach of De
Wet he trekked up towards the Brak to meet him, having first detached a
portion of his command under Brand to make a circuit through Britstown.
Brand was followed by B. Hamilton, who had been set on to his trail, but
regained touch with his leader on February 20, when the news came that
De Wet was in difficulties and that the raid must be abandoned.

Hertzog and Brand joined forces across the river and trekked to the
east, having thrown Plumer off the scent for a day. On February 25
Hertzog crossed the railway. Three Boer leaders were now groping for
each other in the Fog of War: De Wet, Hertzog, and Fourie, who had been
left behind to do what he could to extricate the transport which De Wet
had been compelled to abandon when he crossed the railway westwards on
February 16, and who had been lost sight of by the British columns. The
forces of gravitation are, however, irresistible, and as Hertzog and
Brand could not be long kept apart, so also De Wet, Hertzog, and Fourie
soon came together.

De Wet trekked along the left bank of the Orange for nearly sixty miles,
but found every drift impassable. On February 26 he reached Zand Drift.
A fortnight previously a sudden flood had checked his pursuers, now
another flood was checking his retreat from them at the same spot, and
he was hemmed in by a swollen river and a dozen active columns. Most men
would have yielded to the situation, but his tenacity of purpose never
faltered. Early on the morning of February 27 Hertzog, who had picked up
Fourie a few hours before, joined him.

After crossing the railway Hertzog made for Petrusville, where he heard
that De Wet had passed through the town on his way south, and followed
him. About twenty miles away on Hertzog's right flank a column under
Hickman was marching on Zand Drift, and had it not been suddenly
diverted northwards by orders from Lyttelton, it must have forestalled
him at the Drift, as it was working on interior lines. The change of
direction was made before Hertzog's presence in the vicinity became
known to Hickman, who on sighting a Boer column on February 26 again
changed direction to pursue it. A second column was soon descried, and
later in the day, about the time that De Wet reached the Drift, a
considerable Boer force was sighted. It was composed of the two columns
already seen under Hertzog and Brand, reinforced by Fourie, who had
emerged from the Fog. Hickman's pursuit failed to prevent the three
commandants joining De Wet at the Drift during the night.

The _disjecta membra_ of the raid were now assembled, but the task of
the British columns was, apparently, greatly facilitated. Instead of
having to chase evasive and elusive commandos now in this direction and
now in that, the leaders had but to pin De Wet down to the left bank of
the Orange at Zand Drift and to leave him to gaze longingly at the
further shore. Nothing could now save him but a sudden fall of the
swollen river. Before De Wet's arrival at Zand Drift Lyttelton had put
troops in motion, some of them from considerable distances, to enclose
the area, but of the columns detailed three only had come up. Hickman
was on the spot, Crabbe from Hopetown was in touch with him, and Byng,
who had been hurried up from Victoria West, was at hand. None of the
other columns were in position, owing mainly to delays on the railway.
Thus the only effective force for the capture of De Wet was the three
columns with Hickman, who was out of communication with Lyttelton.

The troops had been disposed with the object of driving De Wet back into
the Free State rather than of capturing him, and they were unable to
concentrate themselves upon him. Norval's Pont, from which the line of
the Orange might, perhaps, have been blocked in the direction of Zand
Drift, was unoccupied. On February 27 Hickman pushed De Wet away from
the Drift. Two columns were behind the Boer leader, but in front of him
was a weak and thinly extended force under Byng, which De Wet cut
through without difficulty, and next morning reached Botha's Drift. It
was fordable, and after eighteen days' absence he re-entered his own
country. He had not succeeded in raiding very far into the Cape Colony,
but he had baffled and outwitted the most strenuous military effort of
the war.

Plumer, who had been ordered round from Orange River Station to
Colesberg, arrived there too late. He was immediately sent on to
continue the pursuit in the Free State in co-operation with a column
under Bethune, which marched directly across the veld to Fauresmith.
Bethune was soon compelled to fall out, but Plumer held on for five days
more without, however, lessening the distance between him and his
quarry. On March 11, after a trek of more than 800 miles, De Wet, having
dismissed on his way up most of the commandos to their several
districts, entered Senekal with Steyn, and returned to within a few
miles of the Doornberg place of assembly which they had quitted
forty-four days before.

The lessons to be derived from the history of the three De Wet hunts are
mainly of a moral character, and have only an indirect bearing upon the
principles which guide the conduct of military operations in general. No
such episodes could ever occur in a European War. Yet the Power which
holds Hindustan cannot afford to forget them. Who can say that in the
not distant future, which all the signs of the times seem to show will
be marked by turbulence and disorder in India, a De Wet may not come
forth out of the thousands of Sikhs, Ghoorkas, Pathans and Rajputs who
have learnt the Art of War in the Native Army? The arena of the
struggle, with its long lines of communication, all its chief towns held
by British troops and its vast plains inhabited by a disaffected
population, would be strikingly similar to that on which the Boer War
was fought.

Notes:

[Footnote 52: De Wet says that he went at the request of Liebenberg, who
was in charge of the commandos operating between the Vaal and the
Magaliesberg, and who had previously been engaged in the Bechuanaland
rebellion.]

[Footnote 53: Twenty-three centuries previously, a Greek Army, after a
march of many weeks, reached the sea. The emotion of the men at the
sight has been thus described by their leader in a well-known passage
which Hertzog might well have in substance incorporated in his reports
to De Wet: "No sooner had the men in front caught sight of the sea than
a great cry arose, and Xenophon with the rearguard, catching the sound
of it, conjectured that another set of enemies must surely be attacking
the front. But as the shout became louder and nearer, and those who from
time to time came up began racing at the top of their speed towards the
shouters and the shouting continually recommenced with yet greater
volume as the numbers increased, Xenophon settled in his mind that
something extraordinary must have happened, and mounted his horse and
taking with him Lycius and the cavalry, galloped on. And presently they
could hear the soldiers shouting and passing on the joyful word [Greek:
Thalatta, Thalatta]"--_Anabasis_, IV, 7.]

[Footnote 54: De Wet ascribes his success to a feint which he made in
the direction of Springhaan's Nek, and which he asserts threw the
columns off the scent; but it is improbable that the feint had anything
to do with it. At the time of De Wet's crossing at Israel's Poort
Hamilton had only reached Sannah's Post, nor was Knox marching on the
Nek.]



CHAPTER XVI

Lord Kitchener at Work


The nation at home, which at the close of 1900 was confidently expecting
the end of the war at an early date, was not long obsessed by its
optimism. Efforts not less vigorous than patriotic were made not only by
Great Britain, but also by the Colonies and South African Loyalists, to
give Lord Kitchener the troops he needed.

At the end of May, 1901, he had at his disposal a force which, including
all classes of irregulars, semi-combatants, and non-combatants, was not
less than 230,000; of whom more than one-third were mounted. The rule
hitherto observed, that the native races were to be employed in servile
capacities only, was relaxed, and in certain cases natives were allowed
to carry arms when acting as scouts or patrols.

It is impossible to ascertain with any degree of accuracy either the
actual or the potential strength of the enemy at this period. It has
been estimated that, excluding the burghers actually on commando, there
were less than 30,000 Boers able to take up arms if inclined to do so;
but this number must only be regarded as the maximum strength of a
possible and to a great extent an unreliable reserve upon which the
commandos in action, at no given moment much exceeding 12,000 burghers,
could draw to supply the wastage of war.

The war now entered fully into its "blockhouse and drive" phase. The use
of these expedients in combination was, it is believed, new to military
history. The principle of the blockhouse had already been tentatively
adopted in South Africa without much success, notably between
Bloemfontein and Thabanchu, where a line of posts was established which
on three occasions was cut by De Wet.[55] The chief defect of the
blockhouse is its vulnerability to shell fire; but by this time the Boer
artillery was a negligible quantity. Its adoption on a large scale dates
from the time of Lord Kitchener's taking over the command. The expedient
was, in the first instance, applied to the railways as a protection
against the raids to which they were subject; and after July, 1901, it
was extended to the open veld. Subsidiary lines of blockhouses, which in
general jutted out at right angles to the railways and in most cases ran
along the cross-veld roads changing direction as circumstances required,
were built. They acted as fences to obstruct or to deflect the movements
of the enemy and enclosed areas greatly differing in size.

The longest blockhouse line, which was, however, not completed until a
few weeks before the end of the war, extended from Victoria Road Station
to Lambert's Bay on the Atlantic, a distance of 300 miles. In the
vicinity of Johannesburg, and in the Central districts of the Orange
River Colony west of the railway, cordons of posts manned by the South
African Constabulary took the place of blockhouse lines. These posts,
which were established at wider intervals apart than the blockhouses,
were intended to act as bases for minor clearing operations. They
offered little or no obstruction to a Boer commando on trek. The
blockhouse lines were resolutely extended by Lord Kitchener in every
direction; and by the end of the war there was scarcely a district in
the spacious area of hostilities that was not impaled upon them or
helplessly clutched in their fatal grasp.

The "Drive" as a military weapon is as old as the time of Darius. The
first use of it in South Africa, on a large scale, was French's movement
through the Eastern Transvaal in February, 1901.[56] The "Drive" has
been criticized as an awkward attempt to perform, with one and the same
force, two distinct operations of war; namely, the coercion of the
non-military population and the defeat of the enemy's troops. The dual
task deprives the force set to it of mobility and power of initiative.

As a detail of abstract and orthodox military criticism the objection is
sound; but it ignores the special local circumstances of the case. In
the vast area on which the British Army was operating it was not
possible to separate the two objectives. Moreover, the purely military
resources of the enemy were waning; and the contest was resolving itself
into an effort to put pressure on the country at large, rather than to
smash the dwindling, evasive, and centrifugal commandos in the field.
French's "drive," from a military point of view, was not a success; but
it at least frightened Botha and the Transvaal Government. In May, 1901,
there was a conference near Ermelo at which it was resolved that
overtures should be made to Lord Kitchener; and but for Steyn, who was
communicated with in the Orange River Colony, and who had had no
experience of the "drive," it is probable that negotiations for peace
would have ensued. On the other hand, the "drive" has been approved as a
method of warfare particularly adapted for use by an army deficient in
mobility and incapable of acquiring accurate intelligence of the enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the two months preceding Lord Roberts' departure from South
Africa at the end of November, 1900, no events of great military
importance occurred in the Transvaal, except De Wet's Fredrikstad raid.
The opposition had, to all appearance, dissolved into impalpable matter.
Here and there some Boer atoms coalesced and were not pulverized; but
for many weeks there was little in the general situation to disturb the
optimistic belief, which was held not only by the people at home but
also by the Army in the field, that the end was not far off.

Botha and Steyn reached Pietersburg in September, where they were joined
by B. Viljoen, who arrived a few weeks later after a circuitous journey
from Komati Poort through the low veld. An important detail of Lord
Roberts' plan of campaign had not been carried out. He had hoped that
the Northern Transvaal would be denied to the Boers by Carrington, who
failed to carry out his part of the programme. Thus Pietersburg was a
fairly secure eyrie in which plans could be devised and from which a
swoop could be made either east or west of Pretoria.

Botha and Steyn soon came to the conclusion that the situation, though
serious, was by no means hopeless. Certain events of October and
November were encouraging. They not unnaturally argued that the
withdrawal of their two chief opponents, Lord Roberts and Sir Redvers
Buller, indicated infirmity of purpose on the part of the British
Government. The idea was mistaken, as the recall of these leaders, or at
least of one of them, was due to the fact that the British Government
was of opinion that the war was practically over. Again, they were
relieved of the inconvenient and harassing presence of Kruger, the dour,
reactionary old farmer, who had brought on the war and had now left his
country to its fate; who had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing since
he had set out on the Great Trek of 1836; and whose mind ran in a
channel so shallow that it could almost be heard rippling over the
stones. Also, it is probable that they had information that the majority
of the men of the Colonial and Irregular Corps, whose term of service of
one year would shortly expire, or had already expired, were declining to
re-enlist--yet another sign of infirmity of purpose. Moreover, the Boer
agents in Europe no doubt reported that all the regular infantry and its
reserves in Great Britain had been exhausted.

In November, 1900, the new plan of campaign was drawn up. L. Botha was
to invade Natal, after a raid into the Cape Colony by De Wet, for whom
Kritzinger and Hertzog would prepare the way and lay out the dâk. Steyn
hurried southwards with the scheme, and was picked up at Ventersdorp by
De Wet. Botha went to the high veld between the Natal Railway and the
Delagoa Bay Railway, leaving B. Viljoen north of the latter railway.
Beyers was ordered to join Delarey, who after the battle of Diamond Hill
went into his own country near the Magaliesberg and was now lurking in
the Zwartruggens.

French, after his unhappy cross-veld march to Heidelberg, was placed in
charge of the Johannesburg district. His passage had not overawed the
local commandos, which, like the armed men from the teeth of Cadmus,
soon sprang up out of the ground; and two attempts made by Smith-Dorrien
to coerce them failed. Hildyard, after the departure of Buller and the
dissolution of the Natal Army, was placed in charge of an extensive
district which included not only Natal but also the S.E. corner of the
Transvaal. Clery went home in October, 1900, and was succeeded in the
charge of the Natal Railway in the Transvaal by Wynne. Lyttelton, with
his Head Quarters at Middelburg, was posted on the Delagoa Bay Railway.

Methuen alone of all the British leaders had an opportunity during this
period of acting against definite objectives. Early in September he
quitted Mafeking and zigzagged in the western districts. After a minor
affair at Lichtenburg he was called south, and with the help of Settle,
who sallied from Vryburg, relieved Schweizer Reneke. His next efforts
were not so successful. A march to Rustenburg, with a view of
intercepting the wandering President of the Free State, brought him to
his destination early in October, only to find that Steyn was gone; and
subsequently he was unable to tackle Delarey effectively in the
Zwartruggens, a difficult district lying a day's march west of the
Magaliesberg. When he reached Zeerust a considerable portion of his
command was withdrawn under C. Douglas to reinforce French, and the end
of November found him again at Mafeking, too weak to work outside his
own district.

The Magaliesberg was patrolled by Clements and Broadwood, who made some
captures. Clements also was called on to furnish troops for French, who
lay at Johannesburg, having under his command several mobile columns as
well as the garrisons on the Klerksdorp railway and elsewhere.

Paget, who since August had been operating north of Pretoria, made an
attempt in the direction of Rustenburg to cut off Steyn, but was no more
successful than Methuen. His next divagation was to Eerstefabriken, a
few miles east of Pretoria, whence he was ordered away to see to B.
Viljoen, who was harassing the Delagoa Bay Railway, and whom, without
assistance from Lyttelton, he shifted from a strong position at
Rhenoster Kop in an affair which has been termed the last orthodox
pitched battle of the campaign.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such, in brief, was the position in the Transvaal when Lord Kitchener,
after a flying visit to Bloemfontein for the purpose of co-ordinating
the activities against De Wet, returned to Pretoria on December 11,
1900. It would have offered greater difficulties to a man who was a
soldier first and an organizer afterwards than it did to the successor
of Lord Roberts. It may be likened to an archipelago in a stormy sea
infested by pirates who, though powerless to take possession of any of
the islands, made communication between them always dangerous and
sometimes impossible.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 240.]

Lord Kitchener's coming difficulties were heralded less than a week
after the departure of Lord Roberts by the loss of a large convoy which
was proceeding to Rustenburg, and for which Delarey, who was always to
be found where weak detachments came his way, was waiting. Ten days
later Clements suffered a disaster. He was based on Krugersdorp, but his
command had been weakened and his transport was deficient. He received
orders to act in the Hekpoort Valley, while Broadwood acted north of the
Magaliesberg. When he reached Noitgedacht Nek he found Delarey a few
miles away. At his urgent request a small portion of the troops which
had been taken from him was restored, with a few wagons; but they left
Krugersdorp too late to be of service.

Clements was under the impression that he had only Delarey to deal with,
and was unaware that Beyers was on his way to carry out the orders he
had received from Botha. The withdrawal of Paget to Eerstefabriken
cleared his front, and he marched on to the Magaliesberg. His movements
were not unnoticed by the Intelligence, which, however, failed to notify
them to Clements, who on December 11 was in presence of two Boer
leaders, whose united forces were twice as strong as his own. Unknown to
him they had met at Boschfontein near the southern approach to Breedt's
Nek; for when a commando was reported to be at hand, he did not doubt
that it was Delarey's force only.

Noitgedacht was tactically an unsound position which Clements, assuming
that his right was safe, had taken up in order to maintain heliographic
communication with Broadwood on the other side of the Magaliesberg. The
range rises more than a thousand feet above the camp selected by
Clements and is accessible only by a rough track. The ground on either
side of the Nek was occupied by pickets posted there mainly for
signalling purposes. These posts, however, were helpless if attacked, as
they were not only widely scattered, but could not be reinforced from
the main body in the valley below. Thus they were little or no
protection to the camp.

In the direction from which an attack might be expected Clements' camp,
which lay at the foot of the Nek, was protected by a low ridge jutting
out from the main range and ending in a detached kopje. This ridge was
held by mounted infantry. Another detached kopje, called Yeomanry Hill,
was occupied towards the S.E.

Delarey's general idea for the day's operation was simple: an advance by
himself along the low ground upon the camp, coincident with an advance
by Beyers on the other side of the range. Shortly before sunrise on
December 13 Delarey endeavoured to rush the mounted infantry posts on
the ridge, which in anticipation of an attack had been strengthened on
the previous evening. Their vigorous resistance foiled the enterprise
and Delarey was driven off.

Soon, however, the sound of firing on the heights showed that the
Northumberland Fusilier posts on each side of the Nek were in action.
They had been attacked by Beyers, but fortunately not as had been
intended by Delarey simultaneously with his own attack upon the ridge;
otherwise it is probable that it would have been successful. After a
desperate struggle, in which the Fusiliers lost heavily, they were
overpowered, and Beyers was in possession of the high ground overlooking
the camp. An attempt made by Clements to recover the Nek failed. Beyers'
burghers came plunging down like a cascade and broke upon the camp
itself.

Clements anticipated that Delarey would soon return to the charge and
ordered a retirement, which was effected under cover of the artillery
and a rearguard of mounted infantry. Shortly before noon he formed up on
Yeomanry Hill. Delarey renewed his attack, but met with such sturdy
resistance that his men could not be induced to push it home. In the
course of the afternoon Clements withdrew towards Rietfontein, having
lost in killed, wounded and prisoners more than two-thirds of his 1,500
men. An orderly retreat was effected, and the column, which had been
surprised by Beyers and had seen its camp in the possession of the
enemy, brought away, in the presence of superior numbers, all its ten
guns.

[Illustration: Noitgedacht Nek.]

Broadwood on the other side of the range, to communicate with whom
Clements had taken up an unsound position at Noitgedacht Nek, lost touch
with him, and like many a British officer before him in South Africa,
was groping in the Fog of War. Two days previously he had heard that
Beyers was approaching, and he knew that Delarey was not far off; yet in
his ignorance of the situation he allowed Beyers to wriggle in between
him and Clements and to meet Delarey. At the time when Clements was
defending himself against the combined attack of the two Boer leaders,
Broadwood was seven miles away, placidly patching a field telegraph
cable; and when at noon he discovered that Clements was in action he
made no attempt to create a diversion.

It would be inequitable to surcharge the Noitgedacht misadventure and
other "regrettable incidents" to any individual: they should rather be
surcharged, not to this or that responsible commander, but to
irresponsible Human Nature. The British Army was, to a great extent,
stale and veld-sick. It was informed that the war would soon be over,
and it had become slack and careless. Convoys were sent afield with
insufficient escorts to run the gauntlet of ever watchful and alert Boer
commandants; Intelligence news qualified by the reports of untrustworthy
native spies was transmitted circumferentially from column to column,
with the result that the leader to whom it was of the most importance
was sometimes the last to receive it; the scouting and patrol work was
casual and rash. It is, however, but just to say that when the occasion
called for it, the fighting qualities of the British soldier showed no
signs of deterioration.

The Boers, after their habit, were content with the tactical victory at
Noitgedacht and refrained from endeavouring to improve upon it. French
and Clements took the field without delay, and although they failed in
their plan to pin Delarey and Beyers on to the wall of the Magaliesberg,
the Boer leaders were compelled to separate. Their brilliant and brief
co-operation did much to awake the British nation out of its torpor.
There was no longer any talk of reducing the Army of occupation by
one-half at the end of the year, and still more during the New Year; or
of quenching the smouldering embers of the war with Baden-Powell's new
South African Constabulary.

Late in December the pursuit of Delarey, who had retired from
Noitgedacht towards the S.W., was resumed. At Ventersdorp he and his 700
men, after eluding a ponderous force of nearly 6,000 men with 40 guns,
doubled back; and soon the same columns unsuccessfully encountered him
at Cyferfontein, where he ambushed a mounted detachment and then
disappeared.

Beyers, who went into the west after he was wrenched apart from Delarey,
soon reappeared upon the stage in the Hekpoort Valley with 1,200 men.
His position was precarious. In front of him was Paget, who had been
sent round to intercept him; while pressing on his heels was a
newly-formed mounted force under Babington, 2,000 strong. He extricated
himself cleverly by brushing past Paget and advancing boldly in what was
apparently the line of greatest resistance.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 240.]

No one but a Boer leader with a supreme contempt for his enemy would
have thought of placing himself within striking distance of Pretoria and
Johannesburg. Yet on January 11, 1901, he audaciously laagered within a
few miles of Johannesburg, unknown to the garrison. Next day he crossed
the railway at Kaalfontein, half-way between the two cities, and
disappeared in the Eastern Transvaal. That at this stage of the war it
was possible for 1,200 men to cut the railway, and with scarcely the
loss of a man to cross it, with guns and a long train of wagons, midway
between the two chief cities of the Transvaal, showed how much still
remained to be done.

The disturbances in the Orange River Colony brought about certain
changes and redistributions in the Transvaal commands, by which leaders
were, as in the circuits of Wesleyan ministers, removed from spheres
familiar to them. Clements went to Pretoria in succession to Tucker, who
was sent to Bloemfontein; E. Knox, who, fifteen months previously, had
been in command of the squadrons of the 18th Hussars which were not made
prisoners of war at Talana, took command of the column of Broadwood, who
was sent across the Vaal; Cunningham succeeded Clements in the
Magaliesberg district; Hart quitted Klerksdorp for the Orange River
Colony; and French went away into the west.

On the Boer side a new name which was destined often to be on men's lips
emerged from the crowd in January, 1901. A young lawyer named J.C.
Smuts, who had received his legal education in England, and whom Delarey
entrusted with a command, soon showed, and not for the first time, that
a shrewd, resourceful, energetic and determined civilian was, at least
in _guerilla_, more than a match for highly trained British officers.

A movement towards the south by Cunningham, with a view of checking
Delarey, soon brought Cunningham into trouble. After crossing the
Magaliesberg he was entangled by the Transvaal leader, and had to be
extricated by Babington before he could proceed to his destination at
Krugersdorp.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]

Smuts, the new leader, went to the Gatsrand. His first exploit was to
snap up a weak and isolated British detachment at Modderfontein Nek, and
to establish his own commando on the position. When Cunningham reached
Krugersdorp he received orders to tackle Smuts. On February 2, having an
overwhelming superiority in guns and a considerable advantage in
numbers, he attacked Smuts; but the apprentice tactician had little
difficulty in meeting the regulation frontal holding attack combined
with a turning movement, and Cunningham withdrew.

In the Western Transvaal there were now three Boer leaders to be dealt
with: Smuts in the Gatsrand, Delarey in the Zwartruggens, and Kemp. The
latter had come down from the north with Beyers and had been with him
when the line was crossed at Kaalfontein. He had lately returned to his
own district of Krugersdorp. With Botha threatening in the east and De
Wet raiding in the south, few troops could be spared to help the columns
on the spot; but two additional columns, under the command of Shekleton
and Benson, and composed mainly of details, were assembled by Lord
Kitchener. One of these went astray, but the other joined Cunningham and
advanced against Smuts in the Gatsrand, only to find that he had escaped
at first towards the south, and had then changed direction and had
vanished in the N.W.

Methuen, who towards the end of November, 1900, had gone south from
Mafeking in order to deal with apprehended trouble in Griqualand West,
pushed up from the S.W. corner of the Transvaal and on February 18,
1901, came upon Delarey, who had escaped from Babington and had
reinforced a gathering of weak commandos near Hartebeestfontein.
Although outnumbered by more than 4 to 3, Methuen without much
difficulty compelled Delarey to withdraw, and went on to Klerksdorp.
Smuts reappeared and with Delarey made off to the N.W., the sanctuary to
which each of them had in turn repaired. Methuen was sent south to
Hoopstad in the Orange River Colony. He had hardly started when news
came in that an isolated garrison seventy miles away in the N.W. was
threatened.

Delarey had a definite objective in view when he disappeared, his native
town of Lichtenburg. The place was one of many for which Methuen, with
an attenuated force, was responsible; and now he had been called away to
a town in trouble in the opposite direction. Two columns nearer at hand
were called upon to relieve Lichtenburg, but in the meantime it had
relieved itself; for although Delarey succeeded in winning a footing
within it, the obstinate resistance which he encountered disheartened
him, and he withdrew on March 4 after twenty-four hours' fighting.

The next three weeks were occupied in the pursuit of Delarey by two
columns under Shekleton and Babington, at first in directions which he
had not taken. They started westward from Ventersdorp, not conceiving it
possible that, after the repulse at Lichtenburg, he would have the
audacity to throw himself across their left front in an attempt to reach
Klerksdorp. When the news that he had actually done so reached them they
changed direction southwards, Delarey opening outwards to let them pass
through towards Wolmaranstad, whither the Intelligence had in
imagination waybilled him. The British columns, unaware that he was on
either side of them, and still under the impression that he was on their
front towards the south, passed on and halted at Hartebeestfontein, when
a reconnoitring party sent out northwards discovered that he was in rear
of the columns.

The reconnoitring party had much difficulty in saving itself, as it was
charged by mounted Boers in mass, a tactical movement which hitherto had
not been tried by the enemy. Babington at once reversed the line of his
march, and on March 24 came up with Delarey at Wildfontein, midway
between Ventersdorp and Lichtenburg. Delarey was moving heavily and was
compelled to jettison his guns and his transport. These were picked up
by Babington, who, however, was not able to continue the pursuit and
returned to Ventersdorp.

The loss did not disconcert Delarey. He retired with Kemp to a position
close to his lair in the Zwartruggens, where, however, he did not long
remain. At the same time, he sent Smuts to the Hartebeestfontein
district, out of which he had just been driven. The audacity of the act
was justified, for Smuts maintained himself against Babington during the
whole of April.

Early in May a determined effort was made to clear the district. Methuen
after he had relieved Hoopstad was recalled to Mafeking, and then went
to Lichtenburg. The British force on the Magaliesberg, commanded first
by Clements, then by Cunningham, and now by Dixon, was ordered to
operate from the north, while a strong column under Ingouville-Williams
was prepared at Klerksdorp. Thus each angle of the disturbed area was
held by troops ready to converge; and within it were Babington's
columns. Delarey was believed to be at Hartebeestfontein; but neither he
nor any other Boers could be found there when the troops entered it on
May 6. The Boer leaders had, as usual, adopted their usual strategy of
spreading false reports, and of dispersing their commandos as soon as
they were hard pressed. On the British side the subsequent operations
were conducted without method. The columns, having effected little, were
recalled to their bases; and the middle of May, 1901, saw Delarey, Kemp,
and J.C. Smuts still at large.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first offensive action taken by Botha after he came down from
Pietersburg in November, 1900, was against Hildyard's posts in the angle
adjoining Natal. His movements against the garrisons of Vryheid and
other places in December failed, and he returned to the Central
Transvaal in order to co-operate with B. Viljoen in worrying the Delagoa
Bay Railway, on which Lyttelton's[57] force was strung out. Viljoen had
already made a daring and successful raid on Helvetia, from which he
brought away not only prisoners of war but also a heavy gun; although
the town was by no means isolated, being one of a line of posts running
from Belfast and Machadodorp to Lydenburg.

The exploit encouraged Botha to plan a general attack, in co-operation
with Viljoen, on a section of the railway each side of Belfast. It was
made on January 7, 1901. The chief effort was against Belfast, where
Smith-Dorrien was in command of a garrison too weak for effective
resistance. Viljoen advancing from the north met with some preliminary
success, but a fog prevented co-operation between him and Botha and the
attack failed. The attacks on the other posts on the railway were
repelled without much difficulty. The recrudescence of Botha, the
intrusion of Beyers from the west, the hovering presence of Viljoen
north of the Delagoa Bay Railway, and the rumour that an invasion of
Natal was in contemplation to synchronize with raids beyond the Orange
by De Wet, Kritzinger, and Hertzog, determined Lord Kitchener to try to
sweep up and reduce the Eastern Transvaal.

A force of five columns under the command of French was assembled a few
miles east of the Elandsfontein-Pretoria Railway and began its advance
on January 28. The general idea was that it should gradually extend its
front, like the cone of dispersion of a shrapnel shell, between the
diverging Natal and Delagoa Bay Railways, and then sweep eastward
towards the Swaziland and Zululand borders; upon which Botha's
commandos, if not already crushed by an enveloping movement on Ermelo,
would be finally impaled. To assist French when he had traversed about
one-half of the area, three columns were detailed to march southwards
from the Delagoa Bay Railway on Ermelo. One of these columns was,
however, sent away at the last moment under Paget to take part in the
operations against De Wet in the Cape Colony. The combined strength of
the seven columns against Botha was about 20,000 men, the majority of
the combatants being mounted. A break back by Beyers and Kemp, who
rejoined Delarey, was the opening incident of French's advance.

The first objective of French's movement was the town of Ermelo, where
Botha was acting as a sort of rearguard to cover the retreat of the
fugitive burghers, who with their families and their stuff were
endeavouring to escape from the Khakis. His contemplated attack on Natal
was, at least for the time being, impracticable; and he set himself to
the task of inflicting what damage he could on the threatening columns.
He ascertained that Smith-Dorrien's column was approaching Lake Chrissie
on February 5, and that the other column operating from the Delagoa Bay
Railway under W. Campbell, was too far away to give it effectual
support. The gap left by the withdrawal of Paget had not been filled up.

When Smith-Dorrien reached the Lake, Botha had already started to meet
him. Early in the morning of February 6 the British Camp was attacked,
but although the attempt was furthered by a stampede of Smith-Dorrien's
horses, Botha failed. He was compelled to draw off, but with the greater
portion of his burghers wriggled round to the rear of the columns.[58]
Thus when French reached Ermelo he found that he had nothing to strike
at. The Boer commandos had passed away. After a short halt he changed
direction half right, and projected his front on to a cross-veld line
reaching from the Swaziland border to Amersfort; then bringing round his
right he formed up his seven columns on February 18 along the Swaziland
border, with an eastward front of nearly forty miles extending
southwards from Amsterdam. Dartnell was on the right of the line and
Smith-Dorrien on the left.

Most of the fugitive commandos had, however, retired into the S.E.
corner of the Transvaal; a movement which Hildyard, who was in charge of
the district as well as of the whole of Natal, was not strong enough to
check. French was now based on Natal for supplies, and arrangements had
been made that two large convoys should be sent to him by way of
Utrecht. Bad roads, bad weather, and submerged drifts impeded the
progress of the painful trains, the first of which did not reach him
until March 2, ten days after it was due. Meanwhile he subsisted on
dwindled rations and on what he could pick up on the veld.

When, owing to a change in the routes by which he was supplied, French
was able towards the end of March to operate actively, he endeavoured to
isolate the S.E. corner of the Transvaal by disposing his force in two
lines. One line ran from Piet Retief to Vryheid and acted as the driving
force, and the other ran from Piet Retief along the Swaziland border and
acted as the stopping force. Within the angle enclosed by these lines
were commandos under Grobler of Vryheid, Emmett, and other leaders; but
all of them wriggled out with insignificant losses. The line along the
Swaziland border was rendered immobile by difficulties of supply, and
the driving line was exhausted. The closing incident of French's ten
weeks' campaign, the chief harvest of which was the capture, surrender,
wounding, or killing of 1,300 Boers, the seizure of a considerable
amount of ammunition, and the taking of eleven guns, was the return of
Smith-Dorrien to the Delagoa Bay Railway in the middle of April.

Botha's projected invasion of Natal had indeed been frustrated and
postponed, but he and all the other Boer leaders had escaped, unscathed
and undismayed. French's ponderous columns had trudged painfully across
the veld from Springs almost into Zululand, and had left things much as
they were at the beginning of February.

During the early months of the year 1901 Viljoen for the most part
contented himself with frequent attacks on the Delagoa Bay Railway, and
a vigorous effort to restrain his activity was not practicable. In March
Lord Kitchener formulated a plan for the subjugation of the Northern
Transvaal. His plan was to send a column with secrecy and dispatch to
Pietersburg, which would be occupied as a base from which the column
would work southwards along the line of the Olifant's River, in
co-operation with columns acting northwards from the Delagoa Bay
Railway.

The force selected to proceed to Pietersburg was Plumer's Australian
column, which sixteen days after it desisted from the chase of De Wet in
the Orange River Colony was marching northwards out of Pretoria. Plumer
entered Pietersburg on April 8 without opposition, Beyers, who had been
falling back before him from Warmbaths, having evacuated the town.
Plumer halted for a few days in order to secure the railway and to make
arrangements for carrying out his orders to hold the line of the
Olifant's River. Before the end of the month he was in possession of all
the drifts from Commissie Drift downwards, and denied them to Viljoen.

The country in which Viljoen was acting is hilly and intricate, and Lord
Kitchener, by borrowing Sir Bindon Blood from the Indian Government, an
officer of great experience in frontier _guerilla_, paid Viljoen and the
Boer commandos the compliment of crediting them with the military
qualities of the dangerous, predatory, and enterprising hill tribes of
the underfeatures of the Himalayas. To Blood were given six columns
which were to work from Lydenburg and the Delagoa Bay Railway.

Viljoen was near Ros Senekal. He had three lines of retreat, northward
or southward along the Steelpoort River, or down the Blood River.
Blood's columns were disposed with the object of closing these exits.
The Transvaal Government, which for some months had been sojourning in
security at Paardeplatz, fled and joined Botha near Ermelo; but Viljoen
stood fast.

The total force under Blood exceeded 10,000 men. Three columns under
Beatson, Benson, and Pulteney, who had joined from Vryheid where he had
been serving under French's command, advanced northwards from the
Delagoa Bay Railway. On their right front they were supported by three
columns acting from Lydenburg, under Park, W. Douglas, and W. Kitchener.
Douglas was the only leader destined to encounter Viljoen, who on April
10 struck at him near Dullstroom, but was handsomely beaten and
compelled to return to the place from which he came. He was hedged in on
all sides; mutiny and disaffection were rife among his burghers; and he
saw that there was nothing to be done but make his escape as best he
could.

He was headed off by Benson in an attempt to get away up the Steelpoort
Valley, where next day 100 Boers gave themselves up to Blood. He next
tried the Blood River, and passing down the valley crossed the Olifant
on April 22, almost within sight of Beatson, who was watching the
drifts. A few days later he crossed the railway and joined Botha at
Ermelo. Early in May the active operations north of the Delagoa Bay
Railway ceased. As in French's campaign, so also in Blood's, the results
were chiefly negative. A glut of live stock was rounded up, a
considerable amount of ammunition and all the guns known to be in the
district were taken, and 1,100 Boers either surrendered or were made
prisoners. The columns were withdrawn, as troops were in request in the
districts lately driven by French; and Plumer, who had had no
opportunity of engaging actively in the movement, was recalled. He was
succeeded at Pietersburg by Grenfell.

At the end of May Dixon set out westwards from Naauwpoort in the
Magaliesberg district on a raiding expedition. He trekked for three days
and then ran unexpectedly into a Boer column at Vlakfontein. He was
attacked through a veil of smoke from a grass fire which the slim enemy
had lit to windward. In spite of this disadvantage he held his own and
compelled the Boers to retire, but soon, however, found it advisable to
retire himself and returned to Naauwpoort.

The column which had engaged Dixon was under the command of Kemp, whom
the Intelligence had after the Hartebeestfontein operations despatched
in imagination with Delarey to the south, where they were reported to be
concentrating. Kemp, however, had returned to the Zwartruggens. After
the Vlakfontein affair he found columns approaching him from all sides
and dissolved his command. Delarey had gone south, and was now in the
Orange River Colony.

The northward retreat of De Wet through the Orange River Colony in
March, 1901, drew in its trail a host of British columns, which plodded
sturdily across the veld with scanty results. He endeavoured to
systematize _guerilla_ by parcelling out the late Free State into
districts under commandants acting locally: Lord Kitchener retorted by
parcelling it out into a smaller number of districts, each district
being in charge of a general officer armed with columns with which to
worry the local commandants. Many divagations ensued; few profitable
results were attained.

Of these divagations the most conspicuous was a visit paid by Rundle to
the Brandwater Basin, wherein the enemy was reported to be once more
concentrated. There were, in fact, less than 1,000 burghers within the
Basin, but these pressed severely on him when, at the end of May, he
made his exit through the Golden Gate with one prisoner of war.

Exigencies elsewhere compelled Lord Kitchener to allow the Cape Colony,
to a great extent, to take care of itself. Some troops were sent down,
but they were insufficient to control the disaffection which was active
in the midland districts. Kritzinger remained in the Cape Colony;
paying, however, a brief visit to the Orange River Colony in April.

Early in June Delarey, De Wet, and Steyn met at Reitz, for the purpose
of considering a communication lately received from the Transvaal
Government, suggesting that overtures should be made to Lord Kitchener.
To this Steyn had already returned an unfavourable answer; but he
distrusted the wavering and wandering Transvaal Government, and he was
desirous of obtaining the support of Delarey, whom he knew to be the
most stalwart and implacable of the Transvaal leaders. It was arranged
that Steyn, Delarey, and De Wet should go north and meet Botha at
Ermelo.

Meanwhile Elliott, who was in charge of one of the districts parcelled
out by Lord Kitchener in the Orange River Colony, was engaged in a drive
from Vrede to Kroonstad. On June 6 he sent on a weak column under Sladen
to capture a Boer convoy near Reitz. It was taken without trouble, but
the news soon reached the triumvirate in camp not far off and they
determined to make an effort to recapture it. A small commando was
quickly mustered and Delarey and De Wet attacked Sladen, who after
several hours' hard fighting was relieved by another column from
Elliott's force. The prize was retained, but Delarey and De Wet got
away. They waited until Elliott had passed by, and then made for the
north with Steyn, crossing into the Transvaal near Standerton.

Meanwhile the Transvaal Government which they had gone to meet had been
again sent on its journeyings. The effects of French's drive had soon
passed away, and Lord Kitchener found it necessary to resume active
operations in the Eastern Transvaal, the chief object of which was the
capture of the Transvaal Government. It was hustled out of the Ermelo
district and pushed down towards Piet Retief, from which it returned to
Ermelo in the middle of June. Its drooping spirits were revived by an
affair at Wilmansrust, where a wandering Australian column was
overwhelmed by a commando under Muller which was lurking in the
district. On June 20 Steyn, Delarey, and De Wet met the Transvaal
Government in a Council of War near Standerton.

The allies at once determined to continue the war. Lord Kitchener had
permitted a communication to be sent to ex-President Kruger asking his
advice. Kruger's reply, as might have been anticipated, was in favour of
continuing the war. In his comfortable sanctuary in Holland he had
nothing to lose by urging those whom he had left behind to carry on the
struggle. In view of the tentacles with which Great Britain was grasping
South Africa and of the general situation, the decision of the Council
of War was a morally courageous act. There was in it, moreover, a
special as well as a general idea. Particular attention was to be given
to the cultivation of the numerous germs of mischief in the Cape Colony,
and this part of the plan was entrusted to the brilliant young lawyer,
J.C. Smuts, who returned with Delarey to the Western Transvaal.

An almost complete reconstruction of the Free State Government was
rendered necessary by an episode which occurred soon after Steyn's
return to his own country. When he and his colleagues crossed the Vaal
they found Elliott again engaged on a drive. On the night of July 10
they were surprised at Reitz by Broadwood, who had joined Elliott's
command, and all except Steyn were captured. De Wet was away, otherwise
it is improbable that a man of such infinity of resource and strength of
will would have allowed his friends to be taken tamely in their
slumbers.

       *       *       *       *       *

The task set to Smuts was, to all appearance, impossible of fulfilment.
Not only had he to collect a sufficient force in the Gatsrand under the
eyes of British columns, but he had also to conduct it through the whole
length of the Orange River Colony, and run the gauntlet of Elliott, C.
Knox, Rundle, and Bruce Hamilton. By the middle of July he had recruited
340 burghers, who travelled south in four parties with British columns
at their heels and mustered near Hoopstad on August 1.

Here they entered the precincts of the area into which Lord Kitchener
was endeavouring in one grand drive to sweep the Boer remnants of the
S.W. Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. Elliott was wheeling round
from Reitz through Vredefort and Klerksdorp and advancing on the line of
the Modder River, behind which stood Bruce Hamilton.[59] A considerable
amount of transport and live stock was taken; also 500 Boers, among whom
Smuts and his commando were not.

He had succeeded on August 3 in wriggling by night through Elliott's
driving line and was now in rear of it. He now divided his force into
two commandos, one of which, under Van der Venter, made for the south by
way of Brandfort. With the other he boldly trailed behind Elliott and
followed him to the Bloemfontein-Jacobsdal line of Constabulary posts,
through which he passed without injury. He then found himself entangled
in Bruce Hamilton's columns, and although he succeeded in reaching
Springfontein, he was soon forced to retreat nearly seventy miles in the
direction of Bloemfontein. Nothing daunted, he made another dash for the
south, and having evaded two pursuing columns entered Zastron on August
27, where he found Van der Venter waiting for him. His daring and
adventurous ride ranks as one of the most notable personal exploits of
the war. He had not only cut Elliott's line from front to rear, but had
afterwards enfranchised himself amid the swarm of Bruce Hamilton's
columns. The lawyer Smuts was the De Wet of the Transvaal.

Kritzinger after fifteen weeks' activity in the Cape Colony had returned
to Zastron a few days before Smuts' arrival. His incursion into the
Colony in May occurred at an opportune moment, for the local rebels were
being severely worried. He made at first for the Zuurberg, but being
soon expelled from it and from the adjacent mountainous district north
of Sterkstroom, circled back to the Orange and snapped up Jamestown. He
now flung his grenades on all sides. One rebel leader reached the
Transkei districts; others prowled between Graaff Reinet and the
Capetown Railway. Kritzinger himself captured a small British detachment
near Maraisburg.

As in February when Lyttelton was brought down, so again in July the
situation in the Cape Colony was sufficiently serious to call for
outside assistance. French was sent down from the Transvaal; Lord
Kitchener himself came to Middelburg. The measures concerted between
them, a series of northward drives by the operation of which the rebels
would be plastered against the railways, which were rapidly blockhoused
for the purpose, met with indifferent success. The disaffected midland
districts were swept, but the leaders escaped. Kritzinger crossed the
Orange in August, and at Zastron awaited the arrival of J.C. Smuts with
new schemes for mischief.

The presence of these leaders attracted columns from several quarters
and they were betimes theoretically surrounded. Kritzinger, however,
refused to consider himself surrounded and even worked freely in
co-operation with Brand: nor had J.C. Smuts any intention of resigning
his commission. He crossed the Orange on September 3. A fortnight later,
Kritzinger and Brand parted company. Kritzinger marched on the Orange,
and near a drift of that river pounced upon and overwhelmed a weak
detail of the force under Hart, who was acting as warden of the Cape
Colony marches. Brand made for the Bloemfontein-Thabanchu line of posts,
which was the sport of every Boer leader who chose to hack at it, and
which recently had scarcely impeded the progress of Van der Venter to
the south for an hour. On September 19, near Sannah's Post, he ambushed
and destroyed a party of mounted infantry engaged in raiding a farm. Two
guns and nearly 100 prisoners of war were taken by Brand.

Smuts' arrival in the Cape Colony, like Kritzinger's four months before,
stimulated a waning cause. Lotter, who had escaped French's drives, had
just been taken; the other rebel leaders were isolated and comparatively
innocuous. Fresh hopes were kindled, activities were renewed, when it
was noised among the rebel bands that Smuts the Transvaaler had swooped
down like an eagle from the north.

These hopes were not delusive. Smuts made for the south, pursued by some
of French's columns. Near Tarkastad on September 17 he ambushed and
overwhelmed a detachment of regular cavalry and won a footing in the
midlands, where rebellion again raised its head from the ground.

Smuts noticed and encouraged the promising movement and returned to the
Zuurberg, out of which, however, he was soon hustled. He went away to
join a rebel leader named Scheepers, who had been working freely 200
miles away to the S.W. in the districts bordering the sea. Scheepers,
however, was taken prisoner near Prince Albert Road Station on the
Capetown Railway before Smuts reached him; but Smuts continued his
movement. Smuts had entrusted the inflammatory work in the midlands to
local leaders before he left the district, and now set himself to
trespass beyond the furthest point reached by Scheepers, and to make a
bold entry into the extreme S.W. corner of the Cape Colony. Early in
November he penetrated into the Ceres district, where he was less than
100 miles in a direct line from Capetown. He had brilliantly performed
the task set to him by Botha and Steyn at Standerton in June. He had
been in contact with and had evaded the majority of the units of Lord
Kitchener's widely disseminated army at one time or another during his
ride of 1,100 miles, and in fourteen weeks had passed from the Gatsrand
in the Transvaal to within a few days' march of Capetown.

Meanwhile Lord Kitchener was doing his best to deal with the accruing
winter discontent. He had a plan of his own; and he was also furnished
with a plan that had been drawn up by the civilian authorities in
Downing Street and South Africa, who thought that the walls of Jericho
would fall to the sound of a Proclamation. In August, 1901, a legal
document was served on the Boers, much in the same way that a writ is
served upon a debtor. In it they were declared to be helpless and
incapable of carrying on the struggle, and their leaders were threatened
with perpetual banishment. It had little effect on the enemy, except to
brace him up for further efforts; and Lord Kitchener, it is believed,
had no faith in it.

Lord Kitchener's plan was the extension across the veld of the system of
blockhouse lines which at first ran only along the railways, and the
formation of pens or enclaves into which the attenuated roving bands of
Boers were to be herded and dealt with severally and severely. The work
of extension was taken in hand in July, 1901. The Boers in the veld
watched it with the detachment and unconcern of a wild bird on the
branches looking down upon the fowler laying his snares in the field
below.

Another drive by Elliott during August and September, this time through
the eastern districts of the Orange River Colony, affected little.
Kritzinger remained in his corner between the Orange and the Caledon and
could not be extracted from it; De Wet was still at large. In the
Transvaal the leaders were marking time. Viljoen after the Standerton
conference withdrew beyond the Delagoa Bay Railway, but was soon driven
out of the mountains. He lost heart, handed over his command to Muller,
and went down to the low veld adjoining the Pietersburg Railway.

In the Western Transvaal Delarey and Kemp were alert. Kemp in the
Zwartruggens foiled an attempt to cast a net around him, and in
conjunction with Delarey attacked Methuen on the Marico River without
success on September 5. A pale of blockhouses denied them access to the
"protected area."[60] Muller effected a trifling success in the middle
north. Beyers in the Pietersburg district was unable to prevent Grenfell
reaching a point but sixty miles from the Limpopo and there making
prisoners of a local commando.

No organized attempt was made to disturb Botha in the Ermelo district. A
column under Benson did indeed set out from the Delagoa Bay Railway in
August, but it was recalled by the alarm of a Boer raid on the line at
Bronkhorst Spruit. Benson subsequently did useful raiding work in the
Carolina district, but was not strong enough to tackle Botha.

       *       *       *       *       *

Botha had never abandoned the scheme of an invasion of Natal which was
drawn up at the end of 1900. His first attempt to carry it out was
frustrated by French, but it was uppermost in his mind during the winter
of 1901. Early in September he left the Ermelo district, in which Lord
Kitchener had never been able to operate effectively, and made for Piet
Retief with 1,000 men. Columns, faint yet pursuing, started from each
railway, and ignorant of his movements trudged wearily across the veld
to the S.E. Botha, after passing through the defile between the
Swaziland border and the Slangapiesberg, turned to the south, his
ultimate objective being Dundee. In the corner abutting on Zululand were
commandos under Emmett and Grobler of Vryheid.

Lyttelton on his return from leave took over the Natal command from
Hildyard. He disposed his columns as best he could, having regard to the
contradictory reports which reached him of Botha's movements and
intentions. The first encounter occurred on September 17 at Blood River
Poort. A mounted column under Gough and Stewart had been sent out from
Dundee across the Buffalo to bring away a convoy from Vryheid. Gough
soon came into touch with a body of the enemy. It was, he thought, only
a local commando, and when he saw it off-saddle he left Stewart in
support and went out to surprise it. The nature of the ground prevented
a complete surprise, but he partially effected it, only to be surprised
himself by the sudden charge of Botha's main body, which was supposed to
be a day's march distant. After a brief combat, in which Stewart was
unable to intervene, Gough lost the whole of his command of nearly 300
men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, as well as three guns. Stewart
escaped to the Buffalo.

The crick-crack of Botha's Mausers at Blood River Poort echoed
throughout South Africa. Troops from all quarters were hurried to the
spot; search parties discovered some columns under W. Kitchener which
had lost themselves on the high veld; and so rarified was the military
atmosphere, that not only columns but even general officers were scarce.
Bruce Hamilton and Clements were brought in.

Botha seems to have regarded his success as unreal. He hesitated to
follow it up, and soon the Buffalo in flood effectually barred the way
to Dundee. He now proposed to enter Natal through Zululand, below the
junction of the Tugela and the Buffalo. On the point of the angle which,
at that time, the Transvaal thrust into Zululand were two British posts,
Forts Prospect and Itala. Botha was beginning to be doubtful about the
eventual success of his Natal raid, but thought that as he was on the
spot he might as well be doing something. He therefore ordered these
posts to be taken, entrusting to his brother C. Botha the attack on
Itala, and to Emmett and Grobler the attack on Prospect. The failure of
each attack with considerable loss on September 26 made Botha reconsider
his position. There was no more thought of another campaign on the
Tugela, and he determined to retire.

Lyttelton's dispositions continued for some days to be directed against
the Natal raid upon which Botha was supposed to be still engaged, and
the discovery that he had abandoned it was not made until October 1. His
capture did not seem to be a very difficult task, as his only way of
escape was the Piet Retief defile by which he had entered the district
three weeks before.

There was, however, an intermediate barrier, the irregular Pondwana
range lying eastward of Vryheid, where he might be arrested. Lyttelton's
plan was that Clements and B. Hamilton should press towards this barrier
from the S.W., while W. Kitchener acted as a stop on the north side of
it. The range is pierced by several neks, at one of which, lying between
the main heights and the Inyati spur, Botha was checked by Kitchener on
October 2. He then made a cast eastward to another nek and by abandoning
his transport succeeded three nights later in getting round Kitchener's
left. He easily kept Kitchener off in a rearguard action and made for
Piet Retief. Neither Clements nor B. Hamilton was ever in the running,
and Kitchener was hampered by the necessity of watching several neks
along a front of twenty miles.

There was, however, one more barrier for Botha to cross or to turn, the
Slangapiesberg between Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief; but it scarcely
delayed him for an hour. Except one column, which was covering the
building of a blockhouse line and which he evaded without difficulty,
there was nothing to oppose him. When a column under Plumer came upon
the scene he had passed away on October 11 through Piet Retief towards
Ermelo. His movements had bewildered his opponents, who intent on
frustrating a raid on Natal, had omitted to bar and bolt the door by
which he had entered. His capture would, in all probability, have ended
the war.

When Botha left for the south he instructed B. Viljoen to carry on for
him; but when he joined the itinerant Transvaal Government at Amsterdam
he was disappointed to find that little or nothing had been done in his
absence, thanks chiefly to the mobile energy of Benson, who hovered like
a hawk over the terrorized laagers. Moreover, the pale of Constabulary
posts which formed the eastward section of the great ring fence
enclosing the "protected area" had been advanced. It now ran from
Greylingstad to Wilge River Station on the Delagoa Bay Railway, and
encroached upon the area in which Botha could act with reasonable hope
of success.

The return of Botha, however, infused some spirit into the hustled
commandos of the high veld, and he gladly accepted a suggestion that
Benson should be attacked. The Ermelo and Carolina men who had
accompanied him to Natal returned to find that their districts had been
roughly handled by Benson and were eager for reprisals. On October 25
Botha narrowly escaped capture by two columns which had been sent after
him from Standerton.

Benson left Middelburg, the base to which he returned from time to time,
on October 20, with a column 1,600 strong, to renew his operations on
the high veld. When he reached the Bethal district he noticed ominous
signs of the revived spirit. He was hampered with a considerable
transport, his supplies were dwindling, and he did not think himself
justified in risking an encounter. He therefore decided to return to the
Delagoa Bay Railway. H. Grobler of Bethal, who had suggested to Botha
the attack on Benson, was in the vicinity with 700 burghers, and Botha
himself was again in the field.

Benson began to retire before sunrise on October 30. Bad weather and
Grobler pressing in rear worried the forenoon march, and ere the midday
halt had been called Botha came up with 500 men after a forced march.
While the convoy was being parked at Bakenlaagte, the pressure on the
rearguard increased, and it was forced back to a ridge about two miles
S.E. of the park. Benson came up and ordered a second retirement of the
rearguard to a position, to which the name of Gun Hill has been given,
nearer the park, and posted two field guns on the hill.

Botha soon occupied the ridge, and then charged Gun Hill with his main
body under Grobler, at the same time sending parties to attack the
flanking posts. Two detachments of British infantry stranded between the
ridge and the hill were overwhelmed by the charge. Most of the mounted
sections got away to the hill, hotly pursued by the Boers, who leaving
their horses at the foot, at once began to climb the slope. They
clutched each shoulder of the hill, swarmed up the front, and soon
silenced the guns. An attempt to bring up the teams from the reverse
slope failed.

In less than half an hour Grobler had won Gun Hill with a loss of 100
men. Benson was mortally wounded. The flanking posts were too much
engaged in defending themselves to be able to assist the defenders of
Gun Hill. An attempt to intervene made by a few companies on the march
to the camp where the convoy was parked was unsuccessful. The Boers, as
usual, were satisfied with a casual tactical success, and made no effort
to follow it up strategically. They were soon driven off Gun Hill by
shell fire from the camp, but after nightfall returned to bring away the
guns. In the British casualties were 120 prisoners of war.
Wools-Sampson, who succeeded Benson in command, maintained himself for
two days, and was then relieved by columns from the south. He returned
to the Delagoa Bay Railway.

       *       *       *       *       *

The exigences of the military situation called for the withdrawal of
most of the troops operating against Kemp and Delarey in the Western
Transvaal; and by the middle of September, 1901, these leaders had
practically but one column to evade, namely the force formerly commanded
by Dixon and now by Kekewich. He left Naauwpoort on September 13, and
after some preliminary work on the Magaliesberg passed through Magato
Nek, and with a force of less than 1,000 men advanced into the
Zwartruggens, a wild, difficult, and confusing district admirably
adapted to Boer _guerilla_.

On September 29 Kekewich took up a position at Moedvil near the right
bank of the Selous River. He was compelled to place all his westward
outposts, except one double picket, on the right bank, as the veld on
the left bank was bushy and rose gradually from the river and would have
absorbed more men than he could spare for outpost duty.

Delarey was accurately informed of Kekewich's movements, and it is said
had actually reconnoitred the camp unobserved a few hours after
Kekewich's arrival. He quickly formulated his plan of attack, in which
he seems to have followed, on a smaller scale, the familiar tactics of
the British leaders whom he had met in battle, notably at Diamond Hill,
but with a certain innovation of his own.

He divided his force into four columns, two of which were told off to
grapple Kekewich's flanks and command his line of retreat, and two to
make a frontal but not merely holding attack on his centre. Early in the
morning of September 30 Delarey put his columns in motion. He started
with certain points in his favour. All Kekewich's outposts save one were
on the right bank and in the vicinity of the camp, and in fact Delarey
took him by surprise. The movements of the Boer columns were, however,
not well co-ordinated. The flanking columns were not in position when
the centre columns, which do not seem to have been challenged by the
post on the left bank, reached the river and concealed themselves in the
deep bed. This might not have marred the success of Delarey's plan if
the columns in the river-bed had not been discovered by a patrol which
gave the alarm and brought them prematurely into action.

The situation now resolved itself into an attempt to storm the position.
The centre columns sprang out of the river while it was still dark,
mounted the steep bank and opened fire up the slope on to the camp on
the skyline above. A stampede of the horses ensued, but a resolute front
was quickly formed and the attack was checked. An alarm that the enemy
was threatening the rear of the camp was proved to be unfounded by a
scratch gathering of details which was hastily mustered; it then wheeled
round, and picking up reinforcements on the way charged the Boer left at
the river. The charge was irresistible, and the sun had hardly risen
when Delarey's whole line fell away.

No limit can be assigned to the British soldier's power of resistance
when he finds himself in a tight place, but it would probably have gone
hard with him if Delarey's tactical scheme had been accurately carried
out, and if the flanking columns, one of which was under the command of
Kemp, had been further in advance when the centre columns were
discovered. A panic among the horses which threw the camp into
confusion, supervening on an unexpected attack while the dawn had
scarcely shown above the Magaliesberg, was soon followed by a cry that
the position had been turned. Yet at that critical moment of the dark
hours, when animal courage is supposed to be at its lowest ebb,
Kekewich's men never wavered, and although they were only called upon to
deal with a blundered manoeuvre, yet it exacted from them a toll in
casualties of nearly one fourth of their strength. Kekewich was wounded,
and the loss of horses and transport pinned him to the ground until he
was relieved by a column from the south, which had marched to the sound
of the battle.

A few days later Kekewich went to Rustenburg, out of which he again
sallied forth on October 13 into the Zwartruggens in search of Delarey.
Methuen had already left Mafeking on the same errand. On October 24
Delarey fell in with one of Methuen's columns on its way to Zeerust. The
column, which was impeded by wagons slowly progressing along a bad road
in a defile, was pounced upon unexpectedly and hewn in twain; but if, as
usual, the scouting was poor the defence was excellent. After a struggle
which lasted two hours Delarey was driven off, the severed portions of
the column were re-united, and not one of the seven guns was lost.

       *       *       *       *       *

By the end of 1901 all the precedents of European warfare had been
discredited. Tactics and strategy, as practised by the experts, had done
their best, and were now in bankruptcy. The war had drifted into its
final mechanical phase: the coercion of brute force by brute force of
higher potential. It was now mainly a question of putting as many men as
possible on horseback to ride down the enemy. Field guns not being
needed, the Royal Artillery was formed into a corps of Mounted Rifles.

Ian Hamilton, who had gone home with Lord Roberts, returned to South
Africa a year later as Chief of the Staff to Lord Kitchener.

Notes:

[Footnote 55: These posts, however, were small entrenched forts at
considerable distances apart for the protection of the road to
Basutoland, rather than blockhouses.]

[Footnote 56: See p. 326.]

[Footnote 57: Lyttelton went to the Cape Colony in February, 1901, to
direct the operations against De Wet, and was subsequently sent into the
Orange River Colony. After a few months' leave he returned to South
Africa in September and took over Hildyard's command in Natal.]

[Footnote 58: He was next heard of at the abortive peace conference held
at Middelburg, where he met Lord Kitchener at the end of February.]

[Footnote 59: Bruce Hamilton succeeded Lyttelton in the Orange River
Colony when the latter went home on leave.]

[Footnote 60: The "protected area" was a district round Pretoria and
Johannesburg which was enclosed by a ring of blockhouses and
Constabulary posts in August, 1901.]



CHAPTER XVII

The Mechanical Phase

I. ORANGE RIVER COLONY


The year 1901 was drawing to its close, and the three chief Boer leaders
were still at large. Delarey was lurking in the difficult kloofs of the
Western Transvaal; Botha was on watch in the high veld of the Eastern
Transvaal, just outside the "protected area"; and De Wet was awaiting
his opportunity in the N.E. of the Orange River Colony.

De Wet, who had been lying low for some months, was roused by a certain
communication from Botha as well as by action taken against him by Lord
Kitchener. A carefully devised and accurately carried out centripetal
drive of fourteen columns converging, like meridian lines on the Pole,
on a certain point ten miles N.E. of Reitz, was abortive. When the
columns reached it on November 12 they found that the enemy had wriggled
through the intervals, leaving scarcely a burgher at the place of
meeting; and while they were blankly staring at each other, De Wet at
Blijdschap, only twenty miles away, was in conference with Steyn and
discussing with him a suggestion made by Botha that peace negotiations
with Lord Kitchener should be opened.

To this an answer similar to that which had been given to Botha in May
was returned. De Wet and Steyn scouted the idea of reconciliation with
the enemy. A Council of War was summoned and a concentration of burghers
ordered. By the end of November De Wet had collected at Blijdschap a
force of 1,000 men undetected by Elliott's columns, which, having taken
part in the centripetal failure, were again on the move after a brief
rest at Harrismith. Elliott, while on the march to Kroonstad, actually
brushed past De Wet.

A column under Rimington then came upon the scene. He had heard of the
Council of War from a captured Boer, who probably with intent refrained
from reporting the concentration. Thus when Rimington expected that the
easy task before him was the capture of De Wet and Steyn and the units
of a Council of War, he suddenly found himself opposed by a considerable
force, a detachment of which passed by him and attacked his train in
rear. After an encounter in which a gallant young cavalry subaltern,[61]
who but a few weeks before had joined the Inniskilling Dragoons from the
Militia, laid down his life for his country, Rimington extricated his
convoy, but refrained from attacking De Wet's main body, which was
reported to be strong.

Each side thereupon withdrew, Rimington to Heilbron and De Wet to
Lindley, from which he found it advisable to retire on coming into
contact with a column forming part of another Elliott drive, the second
of the series, suggested by Rimington on his return to Heilbron. De Wet
then trekked towards Bethlehem, halting at Kaffir Kop, where, nine days
later, he foiled a third Elliott drive by promptly dispersing his
burghers, who soon reassembled on a range of hills beyond Bethlehem.

Elliott's units then returned to their respective bases to refit. A
column under Dartnell at Bethlehem, which had recently been reinforced
from Rundle's command by a strong detachment under Barrington Campbell,
was on the point of returning to Harrismith, when it was informed that
De Wet's re-united commandos were lying in wait at a spruit about twenty
miles out on the road to Harrismith. Dartnell marched on and maintained
himself without much difficulty when he arrived at the spruit. Campbell
came up, and De Wet's commandos withdrew without orders; but no attempt
was made to convert their retirement into a rout. Dartnell continued his
march to Harrismith.

After the affair at the spruit De Wet again dispersed his burghers, with
orders to hold themselves in readiness to muster at short notice. He had
not long to wait before he saw another opportunity of employing them.

A small force, less than 1,000 strong, was covering, half-way between
Harrismith and Bethlehem, the construction of the main blockhouse line
to Kroonstad, under the personal superintendence of Rundle. The force
was broken up into three detachments, which were too far apart to render
each other effective support in case of a sudden attack.

The strongest detachment, consisting, however, entirely of Yeomanry, was
posted on Groen Kop, three miles distant from Rundle's Head Quarters.
The position is fairly strong, and resembles a wedge lying on the veld,
with a gentle ascent from the east to a plateau to which the normal
level rises steeply on three sides. A mile or two to the S.E. it is
commanded by a higher eminence, from which a party of Boers had already
been expelled. It was not, however, occupied, and De Wet promptly made
use of it as an observation post, for which it was admirably adapted, as
it looks down into the British position on Groen Kop. Moreover, the
customary movements for protection, such as the relief of outposts, were
carried out with such extraordinary laxity and neglect that De Wet was
soon able to acquaint himself with almost every detail of the defence.
Even the emplacements of a field gun and a pom-pom were disclosed by
shots casually fired for range-finding purposes.

On Christmas Eve De Wet saw that he had before him a prey that would
fall into his hands as easily as Sannah's Post or Waterval Drift, and he
resolved to clutch it at once. His burghers, though dispersed, were
within call, and a force of over 1,000 was quickly assembled. With
unerring instinct he selected the steep N.W. corner of the Groen Kop
wedge as the point of attack, reasoning that the defenders would think
themselves adequately protected in that direction by the nature of the
ground. On Christmas morning, soon after midnight, over 1,000 Boers were
in position under the broad end of the wedge. They were not discovered,
as no patrols had been sent to watch the ground beneath, and the
sentries on the crest gave no sign.

The pioneers of the storming party attained the crest at 2 a.m.; and not
until then was the alarm given to the dormant camp. The position, after
a struggle which lasted but an hour and a quarter, was captured by De
Wet, who, ere the midsummer sun had risen, was hurrying away with
British prisoners of war, guns and wagons, which neglect of the ordinary
precautions by a body of unprofessional troops had delivered into his
hands.

At Rundle's Head Quarters, only three miles away, the sound of the
firing had attracted attention, and a weak body of Mounted Infantry, the
only mounted force at his disposal, was sent out to see what was the
matter. It was unable to intervene with effect, and returned to report
the situation.

The remaining detachment of Rundle's force, consisting of two companies
of slow-moving Infantry only, was still further from his Head Quarters;
but thirteen miles away in the direction of Harrismith lay a force of
Colonial Horse. When a telegram from Rundle to summon them to the rescue
miscarried, his staff-officer galloped away in the dawn and put them on
the trail of De Wet; but he had had a long start and escaped into the
hills near Bethlehem. Here he remained for a few hours, and then went
towards Reitz.

During a temporary absence for the purpose of conferring with Steyn he
left his commandos in charge of Michael Prinsloo, who on December 28 was
engaged in a rearguard action with Elliott, who was conducting yet
another drive and whom he easily evaded.

On the last day of the year De Wet disbanded his commandos a few miles
from the spot on which he had assembled them at the end of November. In
the interval he had evaded all the Elliott drives; he had captured a
strong British post; he had marched without damage along the sides of a
triangle on which lay the towns of Reitz, Lindley, and Bethlehem, each
of which was from time to time in the possession of his enemy; and had
never been more than thirty miles distant from the central point of the
triangle. The captured guns were sent away beyond the Wilge River under
Mears.

No blame can be imputed to Rundle for the unsatisfactory issue of the
operations. He had little reason to suspect that any considerable force
of the enemy was in his vicinity. He was engaged in mechanical work, the
laying out of a blockhouse line. It was the immediate task before him,
and to the best of his ability he used the untrustworthy and meagre
instruments at hand. It would, however, have been more in accordance
with military principles if he had employed his mounted troops in duties
more suited to their arm, instead of holding with them the infantry
position of Groen Kop.

Only a few days before, a similar misadventure had attended the
construction of the Heilbron-Vrede blockhouse line. Rimington and Damant
had hardly returned to Heilbron after Elliott's third drive when they
were ordered out beyond Frankfort, to the assistance of the blockhouse
builders, who were being worried by a commando under Wessels, which De
Wet had sent out after the Council of War. Near the Wilge River they
acted on a front too extended; and a portion of Damant's force was
deceived by the slim tricks of a party of Boers working in cavalry
formations and many of them dressed in khaki uniforms. In order to keep
up the illusion they fired at detached parties of their own side, and in
the end Damant was overwhelmed on a hill, with a loss of nearly 90 per
cent. of casualties, before the rest of his command came up and drove
away the assailants. Rimington was too far away either to prevent or to
retrieve the disaster.

When the "drives" were renewed in the northeastern districts of the
Orange River Colony at the end of January, 1902, the experience of the
last few months had shown that they must be conducted on new methods.
Hitherto the typical "drive" had been a net or nets cast too often
hastily and at random, the meshes of which were large, irregular, and
easily cut. The new "drive" was a bar of steel pushed steadily forward
by simultaneous action throughout its length, and with its ends resting
on the two completed blockhouse lines running eastward from Heilbron and
Kroonstad.

[Sidenote: Map, p. 260.]

The Drive, Mark II, was inaugurated on February 3. De Wet, who on
January 10 had had a hurried interview with Steyn near Reitz, was lying
at Elandskop between Heilbron and Reitz, and again concentrating his
scattered burghers and planning an escape with them to the south across
the Kroonstad-Bethlehem blockhouse line. Mears, on his way to rejoin De
Wet, ran into a column under Byng, to whom he lost the guns captured by
De Wet at Groen Kop.

On February 5 a force of 9,000 men under Elliott, Rawlinson, Byng, and
Rimington formed up on a line stretching from Frankfort to Kaffir Kop.
The composition of this force showed the altered conditions of warfare.
It included very few field guns, but no less than 2,200 horse and field
gunners acting as Mounted Riflemen.

Next day the first impulse was given to the Bar, the blockhouse lines
north and south, as well as the railway, having been strengthened. The
whereabouts of De Wet were approximately known.

The first drive of the new pattern lasted three days, the columns
reaching the railway on February 8. It was so far effective that none of
the enemy broke back through the advancing line, which was vigorously
maintained in continuity of pickets by night and of scouts by day; but
De Wet was not on the roll of nearly 300 Boer casualties. Although
hampered with live stock from which his followers refused to be parted,
and in spite of two hovering columns which were acting in support of the
southern blockhouse line, he not only broke through it owing to its want
of vigilance, but even succeeded in dragging the cattle across it after
him. He then retired as usual to the Doornberg. Other parties of Boers
broke through the northern blockhouse line; and thus the first of the
new drives ended with poor results. As soon as the trouble was over De
Wet with his followers again crossed the southern blockhouse line and
quietly returned to Elandskop, where he dispersed them.

A second drive to sweep those districts which had not been touched by
the first drive was soon put in hand. It was to be performed in two
movements by two sets of columns. A force under the Driver-in-Chief
Elliott starting eastwards from Kroonstad and the Doornberg would
advance in line, resting its right first on Lindley and then on
Harrismith, in the vicinity of which it was proposed that it should meet
the other set of columns, under Rawlinson, Byng, and Rimington. These,
starting on an extended front which ran from near Johannesburg to within
a few miles of Heilbron with their centre astride the Vaal and their
right touching the Natal Railway, would advance S.E. to near Vrede; then
wheeling to the right march southwards with their left on the
Drakensberg; finally, in conjunction with Elliott, pushing the fugitives
on to the eastern section of the Harrismith blockhouse line. The
operation may be likened to the sweep of two brooms, one acting with a
semicircular and the other with a forward movement.

It was begun by Elliott, who started on February 13, and after an
abortive attempt to snap up De Wet reached Wilge River on February 22
and awaited the arrival of the other columns; his left being near
Tafelkop.

Rawlinson and Byng meanwhile were advancing. On February 19 they wheeled
to the right and with their centre near Vrede were now wholly within the
Orange River Colony. The two forces were now disposed at right angles to
each other, one of the lines containing the angle being the Wilge River,
which Elliott was unable to hold in sufficient strength as his front was
widely extended. In the vicinity of Harrismith the southern blockhouse
line was reinforced by Brook, who succeeded Rundle in the command of the
district.

The northern blockhouse line was unable to stem the tide of fugitives
flying before Rawlinson and Byng, whose columns were now strung out on a
much wider front than that on which they had begun their march. The
advance of Elliott had also driven various Boer details into the right
angle, in which were now conglomerated not only combatants, but women,
children, stock, and transport. Included among the fugitives from
Elliott were De Wet and Steyn, who had again come together. With Elliott
at their heels, their only chance of escape was to break through the
attenuated line of Rawlinson's columns. De Wet's good fortune did not
fail him, and with Steyn and a few hundred burghers he severed it at
Langverwacht at midnight on February 23 and was again at large. The
remnant of the commandos was left behind within the pale with their
women, children, cattle, and stuff; and these, augmented by the
Harrismith commando, were the prisoners of Elliott and Rawlinson when
the drive, in which 30,000 British troops were directly or indirectly
engaged, completed its task.

Yet another drive, the third of the new series, ensued. It had, of
course, for its objective the capture of De Wet, as well as the "tidying
up" of the district, in which certain commandos, which had not been
netted in former drives, still lurked. It was composed, like the second
drive, of two sets of converging columns and traversed the terrain of
the first drive.

It happened that the point of convergence lay near the spot, not far
from Reitz, where De Wet and Steyn were in hiding. The propinquity of
the columns drove them out of their retreat, and taking a circuitous
route past Heilbron and thence along the left bank of the Vaal they
crossed the river near Commando Drift, and on March 17 joined Delarey
near Wolmaranstad in the Transvaal. Little was done after the junction
of the two sets of columns, and they returned to the railway on March
11, with a stray commando in front of them, which easily rushed the
blockhouse line near Heilbron. A portion of the troops was hastily
withdrawn to deal with the crisis in the Transvaal.

Hardly had the dust raised by the trampling of the third drive settled
down upon the veld when the fourth drive was in progress, and 14,000 men
on a front which stretched from one blockhouse line to the other were
plodding eastward to the Drakensberg. It was held up for a time by two
rivers in spate, the Wilge and the Liebenberg's, and when released it
trudged on to the mountain range, where on April 5 its components were
dissolved, having disposed of less than 100 of the enemy.

Yet one more drive, the fifth and last of the series, was called for.
Early in May Bruce Hamilton swooped down from the Eastern Transvaal upon
the harassed land, and in co-operation with Elliott worried it for the
space of ten days. Many small parties of Boers broke through--the last
wriggle in the Orange River Colony.


II. EASTERN TRANSVAAL


[Sidenote: Map p. 292]

The episode of Bakenlaagte called for vigorous measures to be taken
against Botha and the men of the high veld in the Eastern Transvaal; and
in November, 1901, a second and revised edition of French's programme at
the beginning of the year was issued.

The new campaign was placed in charge of Bruce Hamilton, and the general
idea, at least in its earlier movement, was the same as that furnished
to French, namely the outward sweep of columns having for its object the
rounding-up, pursuit towards the Swaziland border, and capture of the
various _guerilla_ commandos, which with the Transvaal Government in
their midst haunted the Ermelo and Bethal districts.

Bruce Hamilton, with 15,000 men in twelve columns, either under his
immediate command or co-operating with him, started on November 16, his
immediate objective being the same as French's ten months before,
namely, Botha on the high veld. He advanced the Constabulary posts
fifteen miles, so that the line now ran between Brugspruit and Waterval;
and proceeded to carry out a movement on Ermelo, in which he was
supported on either flank by columns acting from the Natal and Delagoa
Bay Railways. Botha, however, had had warning of his approach, and
having conducted the Transvaal Government out of the area of immediate
danger and dispatched it to its old seat at Paardeplatz, returned to
deal with Bruce Hamilton, who, on reaching Ermelo on December 3, found,
as French had found in February, that he had nothing to strike at. The
Transvaal Government had vanished, and Botha and his chief lieutenant,
P. Viljoen, instead of being on the run towards Swaziland, had broken
back and were now behind him.

In order to deal with them, a pause in the operations became necessary.
A series of night raids was instituted. In the first of these Botha, who
was lying twenty miles west of Ermelo, was nearly taken. He succeeded in
escaping towards the S.E., but was headed by a column under Pulteney
operating from Wakkerstroom and was forced towards the upper waters of
the Vaal. The raid upon P. Viljoen in the Bethal district was so far
successful that in it 200 of his burghers were made prisoners, and one
of the guns taken at Bakenlaagte was recovered: while he himself not
only escaped, but succeeded in putting 300 of his followers under J.
Prinsloo across the recently established Brugspruit-Waterval line of
Constabulary posts and in planting them in the "protected area" as seeds
of future mischief.

Bruce Hamilton now resumed the general operation eastwards with fair
success. Botha at Beginderlyn was faced by the columns supporting the
right flank of the advance, and had the Ermelo-Standerton blockhouse
line behind him. One of his lieutenants named Britz went out and
ambushed a night raid sent out from the line on December 19 at Holland,
making nearly 100 prisoners; and a few days later he squeezed through an
enveloping movement in which he lost somewhat heavily, but he eventually
succeeded in rejoining Botha.

It was now necessary to drive on to Bruce Hamilton a compact little
force of over 800 burghers, which on New Year's Day, 1902, Botha had
under his command; and this task devolved upon Plumer and the other
column commanders operating from the S.E. corner of the Transvaal. Botha
was engaged at Bankkop, between Ermelo and Amsterdam, by a strong
scouting party acting in advance of the main columns, which he was on
the point of overwhelming when it was reinforced. He escaped without
difficulty, taking with him eighty prisoners. The plan of throwing him
into Bruce Hamilton's arms had failed.

Bruce Hamilton returned to Ermelo, and late in January again swept the
country, with scanty results. His operations had been successful to the
extent that they finally denied the high veld to Botha, who in February
withdrew to the Vryheid district, and secreted himself among the
mountains. Bruce Hamilton was sent after him and hunted him for a month.
His next appearance was neither as a prisoner of war nor as an opponent
in battle, but as the representative of his country on the way to attend
the Peace Conference which assembled at Pretoria on April 12.

P. Viljoen, as soon as Bruce Hamilton was out of the way, discussed the
situation with his followers. It was decided that he should take action
in what was apparently the direction of greatest risk. With 400 men he
burst through the line of Constabulary posts, and on January 24 joined
J. Prinsloo in the Wilge River Valley, within the so-called "protected
area." Prinsloo, even before Viljoen's arrival, had maintained himself
without difficulty; and for some weeks after February 24, when an
unsuccessful effort was made at Klippan to crush them, they were
practically left to roam as they willed, no British troops being
available to deal with them effectively.

In the N.E. Transvaal B. Viljoen and Muller had been quiescent
throughout the summer. The former lay usually at Pilgrim's Rest; the
latter haunted the hilly country west and S.W. of Lydenburg; neither
leader being able to get much work out of passive and spiritless
followers. When Schalk Burger, the Acting President of the Transvaal,
and the rest of the Government were driven across the Delagoa Bay
Railway by Bruce Hamilton in December, Park, who was in command of the
solitary British force north of the line, aided by a column from
Belfast, made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the wandering
Government.

B. Viljoen was anxious for its safety and persuaded it to take refuge
with him at Pilgrim's Rest. It started on the journey with him; but
fortunately its courage failed it, and Viljoen was left to return alone
and to be taken prisoner near Lydenburg on January 25. Troops were
slipped at it but were evaded; and it withdrew to the west across the
Olifant's River. It maintained itself until March 12, when by leave of
Lord Kitchener it passed through Balmoral into conference with Steyn and
the remnants of the Orange Free State Government at Kroonstad and thence
to Klerksdorp.

In the "protected area" P. Viljoen had perforce to be left unmolested
until the end of March, when the conclusion of the third drive in the
Orange River Colony set some troops free for work elsewhere. His
commandos, about 800 strong, were discovered in laager twenty miles east
of Springs by a cavalry column under Lawley during a night raid on April
1. After a temporary panic they not only rallied, but drove away the
attacking force and pursued it until restrained by the intervention of
another portion of Lawley's command which had remained in camp. The
incident called for strenuous measures. During the last three weeks of
April the whole district was driven by Bruce Hamilton; at first from
north to south starting from the vicinity of Carolina, then by a counter
march from south to north through the "protected area," the latter
movement being repeated in the reverse direction. P. Viljoen was not
found in the wilderness, while his colleague Alberts escaped with 500
burghers into the Orange River Colony, whither he was followed by Bruce
Hamilton.


III. WESTERN TRANSVAAL

[Sidenote: Map. p. 292.]

Meanwhile in the Western Transvaal Delarey had remained undisturbed save
by the building of blockhouse lines. The situation elsewhere had not
suffered active measures to be taken in the district controlled by him,
which extended from the corner between the Vaal and the Western Railway
almost to the Magaliesberg, and for which on the British side Methuen
and Kekewich were the commanders chiefly responsible. During the earlier
summer months some small incidents occurred which were usually
favourable to the British cause.

In February, however, the tide of fortune turned. Delarey came down from
the north, apparently to watch his chance of intervening on behalf of De
Wet in the Orange River Colony, and heard from Liebenberg that a convoy
was on its way from Wolmaranstad to Klerksdorp. On February 25 the
convoy, which was escorted by 700 men and two guns, was near Yzer Spruit
within a day's march of its destination, when it was ambushed in the
dawn and captured by Delarey, Kemp, and Liebenberg, who thus easily
obtained what they were most in need of, namely transport animals, guns,
and ammunition to the amount of half a million rounds.[62] The capture
was effected within hearing not only of Klerksdorp, but also of a small
column on the march from Klerksdorp to Hartebeestfontein. Kekewich, who
was near Klerksdorp, then left for Wolmaranstad and sent a column under
Grenfell in pursuit of Delarey; but the column failed to find Delarey.

Methuen at Vryburg promptly set himself to work, with such tools as he
could lay his hands on, to avenge the disaster. He put together a column
of which about one-third was regular infantry with four field guns, and
the remainder samples of almost every irregular corps that had been
raised during the previous twelve months; and he set out at the head of
it to intercept Delarey, who was reported to be making for the Marico
River. He ordered Kekewich to co-operate with him from Klerksdorp.

Grenfell's column was accordingly ordered to meet Methuen at
Roirantjesfontein seventeen miles south of Lichtenburg. He arrived there
on March 7; Methuen, who was delayed by the difficulty of finding water,
having reached Tweebosch on the previous day.

It was now incumbent on Delarey, who was marching up from the south with
1,100 burghers, to attack either Methuen or Grenfell before they could
join hands. He chose the former's heterogeneous host as the easier prey,
and fell first upon his rearguard soon after he left Tweebosch at dawn
on March 7, and then upon his right flank. The mounted troops, which
were promptly disposed as a screen, failed ignominiously, the greater
part of them leaving the field in disorder. The regular infantry stood
fast with the guns, but were soon overwhelmed. Grenfell was unable to
intervene, but he strengthened Lichtenburg in case Delarey should come
that way. Delarey, however, went to the south to meet De Wet and Steyn,
whom he cheered with the news of the capture of four British field guns
and of 600 prisoners of war, among whom was Methuen, severely wounded.
Steyn remained with Delarey; De Wet returned to the Orange River Colony.

Yzer Spruit and Tweebosch introduced the Drive into the Western
Transvaal. Troops from all quarters reinforced Kekewich at Klerksdorp,
and soon a force 14,000 strong was assembled there and elsewhere. The
difficulty of the task before it was enhanced by the absence of a
network of blockhouse lines, which had only been laid out along the
Schoon Spruit and thence to Lichtenburg and Mafeking, and also along the
Vaal.

The troops had to begin operations from a faulty strategical base, as
they were aligned along or near the Schoon Spruit blockhouse line, and
between the Boers and that line. To drive Delarey on to it, they must
rapidly place themselves west of him; and this could be done only by a
night march of mounted men darting through his commandos and then
pressing him on to the Schoon Spruit in the opposite direction.

The operation, which was of spirited and ingenious conception, was
carried out on March 23. In proportion to the effort--the force engaged
in it numbered 11,000 mounted men--the results were paltry. A few score
prisoners and three guns were taken. As in the earlier drives in the
Orange River Colony, the meshes of the net were spacious and fragile.
Delarey, Kemp, and Steyn escaped; and even Liebenberg, when about to
suffer the _peine forte et dure_ upon the Schoon Spruit blockhouse line,
found a discontinuity through which he wriggled at midnight. Delarey
mustered his burghers to the number of over 2,000 on the Hart's River.

To deal with the embarrassing situation the British columns were again
marched to the west, with instructions to form a line of three
entrenched camps distant one or two days' march from the Schoon Spruit.

The centre column under the command of W. Kitchener having reached its
destination, made a reconnaissance in force still further to the west on
March 31. Cookson, who was in charge of the expedition, at the end of a
march of thirty-five miles, during which he had pushed back small
parties of the enemy, halted at Boschbult, where two farms lay on the
banks of the Brak River.

Cookson soon found himself in presence of 2,500 Boers with four field
guns, his own strength being 1,800 with the same number of guns. The
position was a bad one as the ground rose on each side of the river; the
bush offered cover to the attack, and the only cover available to the
defence was the almost dry bed of the river. He threw out screens and
proceeded to entrench and form a laager; while the screens faced in the
open the fire of the enemy under cover in the bush on the high ground.
Liebenberg made one attempt from the south to charge the main position,
but was driven back by the southern screen which had been brought into
the river bank; and after a second unsuccessful attempt, this time from
the east, withdrew to the high ground on the north.

When the work at the laager at the farms, which was impeded by artillery
fire from the S.W., was sufficiently advanced, the northern screen was
withdrawn. Some confusion ensued, as the Boers in the bush immediately
fell upon it, but their attempt to get at the main position on the
river, though supported by artillery, failed. It never attained the
crisis of an assault; and late in the afternoon it was called off by
Delarey, who arrived from his Head Quarters near Hart's River.

Meanwhile the sound of the action had reached the ears of W. Kitchener,
who twenty miles away was laying out his entrenched camp. He hurried to
the rescue, but the cessation of the firing and the reports of
stragglers led him to the conclusion that Cookson had been annihilated.
He reported to that effect to his brother, Lord Kitchener, and returned
to camp. Next day he again went out, and found to his satisfaction that
Cookson was still a military asset.

Kekewich, meanwhile, was searching for Delarey elsewhere. He had
bespoken at Head Quarters W. Kitchener's co-operation in the quest and
was relying on it; but a column commander on trek _in partibus Boerum_
is hard to find, and no instructions reached Kitchener.

The need of a General Manager on the spot to co-ordinate the activities
of the syndicate of column commanders who had so signally failed to
bring Delarey to book was now manifest; and Ian Hamilton, who had
greatly distinguished himself in two of the early combats of the war,
was now chosen to bring it to an end. On April 8 he joined Kekewich at
Middelbult.

Ian Hamilton quickly formulated a plan of using the three columns,
11,000 strong, of Kekewich, W. Kitchener and Rawlinson, who had lately
been in pursuit of De Wet in the Orange River Colony, as a scythe to
sweep over the country with a swing at first grazing Hart's River, then
the Vaal, and finally coming to rest at Klerksdorp. Only four days were
allotted to the movement, which began on April 10 and called for a daily
march of more than forty miles. Delarey had been summoned to take part
in the negotiations for peace, and Kemp was in charge of the Boer
commandos, which numbered about 2,600 burghers.

It happened that Kekewich, whose force was detailed as the right of the
advance, bore too much to the left on the first day's march, and found
himself in rear of Rawlinson. Kemp was observing the movement, and
assumed that he had located the British right, whereas Kekewich had
partly regained his position by moving towards Roodeval, where Kemp was
hovering for a chance to fall on the rear or the flank of Ian Hamilton's
columns.

Kekewich reached Roodeval early on April 11, and at once pressed forward
to Hart's River. His advanced guard almost immediately discovered a
large body of mounted men on the left front, who, until they opened
fire, were by some strange misconception taken to be a portion of
Rawlinson's column. They were in fact more than a thousand Boers under
Potgieter, who as soon as he had disposed of the advanced guard, made
for the main body, which was not yet formed up, and by which Potgieter's
men were again mistaken for a portion of Rawlinson's column. The error
was discovered, but not too late. The Boer attack, which for sheer
reckless bravery could hardly be surpassed, and which has been compared
to the Dervish charge at Omdurman, was made in the open against a
considerable force, was repelled; and Potgieter fell dead at the head of
his commandos. Rawlinson hurried up to the sound of the firing and drove
away the enemy, who retired, but not in disorder, to the south. A
remnant, however, broke back and even sniped the main body. In less than
three hours after the first shot had been fired by Potgieter, Kekewich
and Rawlinson started in pursuit. Kemp, however, saved himself, and
escaped with what was, under the circumstances, the inconsiderable loss
of the two field guns which Delarey had taken from Methuen at Tweebosch.

The two Hamiltons rang down the curtain of the War Tragedy. While Bruce
Hamilton was driving for the last time through the Orange River Colony,
Ian Hamilton with Kekewich, W. Kitchener, and Rawlinson, assisted by a
column from the Vaal under Rochfort, began a westward drive in the
Transvaal, with 17,000 men. Kemp followed the usual practice of Boer
commandants when hard pressed by the enemy, and scattered his commandos;
thus when Ian Hamilton's 17,000 crossed the border and reached the
Western Railway on May 11, they found less than 400 Boers, among whom
Kemp was not, impaled upon the barrier of blockhouses and armoured
trains.


IV. CAPE COLONY


During the early part of the summer of 1901-2 the Cape Colony was,
comparatively speaking, quiet, though dormantly rebellious. Little
positive progress was made, either by French or by the inflammatory
elements opposed to him, of which the leader was J.C. Smuts. These were
for the most part acting in a spacious and inaccessible area, which
included the districts of Kenhart, Carnarvon, Sutherland, Fraserburg,
and Calvinia. A blockhouse line, which when completed would stretch from
Victoria West to Lambert's Bay, was in course of construction through
these districts.

In December Kritzinger headed a raid from the Orange River Colony; but
although he was soon captured near Hanover, the greater portion of his
followers escaped to the south and infested the districts of Cradock and
Somerset East. Stephenson was put in immediate charge of the operations
against Smuts, who had established himself on the Zak River between
Kenhart and Calvinia, and who in January moved eastward. It was a false
move, because it brought him into the Fraserburg district, and made him
more accessible to the columns opposed to him. It was made apparently
with the intention of breaking across the railway in the vicinity of
Beaufort West.

The operations against Smuts, the flank bases of which, Beaufort West
and Lambert's Bay, were over 300 miles apart, attained only negative
success. A large convoy drawn by donkeys fell into the hands of the
rebels between Beaufort West and Fraserburg, and a smaller convoy in the
Sutherland district.

French now took in hand the Drive, the last weapon left in the British
Armoury, which his colleagues in the Transvaal and the Orange River
Colony had been wielding for some months. It was brandished northwards
from Beaufort West on February 17; but it only dispersed without
destroying the rebels, most of whom had retired to the north and N.W.
Not a few scraped round the right flank of the drive, crossed the
railway, and plunged into the Graaff Reinet and Aberdeen districts,
where they were joined by a band under Fouché, which had been lurking
and conniving far away to the N.E. between Dortrecht and Aliwal North.

Smuts withdrew to the N.W. and laid siege to Ookiep, which was relieved
on May 3 by an expedition sent from Capetown through Port Nolloth; Smuts
having in the meantime retired in order to attend the Peace Conference.
He had done his best to carry out the instructions given to him by the
Boer Council of War held in June, 1901, to foment a general insurrection
in the Cape Colony, but he had failed.

Notes:

[Footnote 61: L.M.O. _Requiescat in pace_.]

[Footnote 62: It is not easy to understand why an empty convoy on the
march, not from, but to a base of supplies, should have taken over 700
rounds per man.]



CHAPTER XVIII

The End


Nearly two years had passed by since the negotiations for peace between
Lord Roberts and L. Botha and between Sir Redvers Buller and C. Botha
had fallen through shortly before the battle of Diamond Hill. In
February, 1901, another conference for peace was held at Middelburg in
the Transvaal between Lord Kitchener and L. Botha, who after parleying
for a fortnight, abruptly broke off the negotiations. If, as seems
probable, he was led to adopt that course by the news of the escape of
De Wet from the Cape Colony, a historical parallel may be found in the
sudden dissolution of the Congress of Vienna, when the courier brought
the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba.

In January, 1902, an offer made by the Government of the Netherlands to
mediate between the combatants was declined by the British Government.
The incident of the offer was, however, communicated to the Transvaal
Government, which was then lying north of Balmoral, and which asked for
and received permission to discuss proposals for peace with the Free
State Government at Kroonstad. Schalk Burger, the Acting President of
the Transvaal, arrived at Kroonstad on March 22. Steyn, who was with
Delarey, was sent for; De Wet was searched for, and for the first time
found; and the allied Governments, the chief members of which were, on
the one side, Schalk Burger and Delarey, and on the other De Wet and
Steyn, met in conference on April 9 at Klerksdorp, which was, at Steyn's
suggestion, chosen as a more convenient place of meeting than Kroonstad.

It was soon decided to open negotiations with Lord Kitchener, at whose
invitation the Governments proceeded to Pretoria, where they met him and
Lord Milner. The Boer proposals, which postulated the continued
independent existence of the two shattered Republics, were rejected; it
seemed that the war must be fought to a still bitterer end. Finally, it
was agreed that the negotiations should be adjourned for a month, in
order to allow the feelings of the burghers at large to be ascertained,
and reported at a Convention to be held at Vereeniging on May 15. In the
meantime the military operations were to be continued, subject to the
permission to be given to the Boer leaders to go freely among and
consult their people.

When the Convention assembled it was found that while the Transvaal was
generally in favour of submission, the Orange River Colony was still
implacable. A compromise was effected between them, and the heads of a
treaty, of which the chief clause ensured a qualified independence to
the late Republics, under the guise of British Protectorates, were drawn
up by J.C. Smuts, who had come from Ookiep to resume his former
profession and to act as legal adviser to his colleagues. It was
submitted to Lord Kitchener at Pretoria, who, as the delegates might
have foreseen, refused to consider it and handed to their counsel Smuts
a document, in which the Boer leaders were required, on their own behalf
as well as on their followers' behalf, to acknowledge themselves as
British subjects.

The negotiations at Pretoria were conducted by a deputation from the
Vereeniging Convention: Delarey, Botha, Smuts, De Wet, and Hertzog.
These did their best, and even obtained some verbal changes of
phraseology which made Lord Kitchener's terms less unpalatable. The
question of British nationality was waived for the moment to allow of
the other stipulations of the document being discussed; and the general
subject was referred to a minor convention consisting of Lord Milner and
his legal adviser on one side, and of Smuts and Hertzog on the other.

A proposal for a final settlement was drawn up, which, with certain
alterations insisted on by the Colonial Office, was presented by Lord
Kitchener as his ultimatum, to be accepted within three days by the
Vereeniging Convention. Botha and his colleagues returned to Vereeniging
and laid it before the delegates. Steyn refused to entertain it and
immediately resigned his titular office of President of the Orange Free
State; De Wet, implacable almost to the last, protested against its
terms. The hopelessness of the Boer cause in South Africa was, however,
manifest. Even De Wet yielded, and voted with the majority in favour of
accepting the British terms of peace.

On May 31, 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging brought to an end the War of
960 days.


FINIS



COMMANDERS OF DIVISIONS AND BRIGADES,
OCTOBER 1899-JUNE 1901

CAVALRY.

DIVISION--French.

BRIGADES.

1 Babington, Porter, Gordon     1 (Natal) Burn-Murdoch
2 Broadwood                     2 (Natal) Brocklehurst
3 Gordon, Little                3 (Mounted Brigade, Natal)
4 Dickson                           Dundonald

MOUNTED INFANTRY BRIGADES----Alderson, Le Gallais, Martyr,
Ridley, Hutton

INFANTRY.

DIVISIONS.

I Methuen                         5 (Irish) Hart
II Clery, Lyttelton, Clery        6 (Fusilier) Barton
III Gatacre, Chermside            7 I. Hamilton, W. Kitchener
IV White (troops in Ladysmith),   8 Howard
  Lyttelton                       9 Featherstonehaugh, Pole-
V Warren, Hildyard                   Carew, C. Douglas
VI Kelly-Kenny                    10 Talbot Coke
VII Tucker                        11 (Lancashire) Woodgate,
VIII Rundle                           Wynne, W. Kitchener,
IX Colvile                            Wynne
X Hunter                          12 Clements
XI Pole-Carew                     13 C. Knox
Colonial: Brabant                 14 Chermside, Maxwell
                                  15 Wavell
BRIGADES.                         16 B. Campbell
                                  17 Boyes
1 (Guards) Cplvile, Pole-         18 Stephenson
  Carew, Inigo Jones              19 Smith Dorrien
2 Hildyard, E. Hamilton           20 Paget
3 (Highland) Wauchope,            21 B. Hamilton
  MacDonald                       22 Allen
4 Lyttelton, Norcott, Cooper      23 W. Knox



INDEX OF PERSONS AND PLACES

(It has not been thought necessary to include in the Index names of
towns or of physical features which constantly occur in, or are not
material to the narrative; and incidental or unimportant references and
allusions have also been generally omitted.)


Abon's Dam, 56, 165
Abraham's Kraal, 187-190
Acton Holmes, 99, 100
Airlie, Lieutenant-Colonel the Earl of, 244
Alberts, 357
Alderson, Brigadier-General E.A.H., 202, 203
America Siding, 233
Amersfort, 272
Amphlett, Major C.G., 198-200

Babington, Major-General J.M., 321-324
Baden-Powell, Major-General R.S.S., 4, 34, 213-222, 224, 273-277, 280-282,
  320
Bakenlaagte, 341
Balmoral, 283, 284, 291
Bankkop, 355
Barberton, 289
Barton, Major-General G. 53, 69, 73, 76, 132-135, 294
Bastion Hill, 100, 101
Battles, Sieges and Engagements, chief--
  Alleman's Nek, 269, 270
  Belmont, 55
  Bergendal, 286-288
  Botha's Pass, 268
  Caesar's Camp, 141, 143, 145-149
  Colenso, 69-78
  Dewetsdorp, 297, 298
  Diamond Hill, 241-245
  Doornkop (Transvaal), 237
  Driefontein, 189-191
  Elandslaagte, 42-44
  Graspan, 56
  Kimberley, 87-92
  Ladysmith, 140-155
  Lindley, 247-252
  Lombard's Kop, 49-50
  Mafeking, 212-221
  Magersfontein, 58-63
  Modder River, 56-57
  Paardeberg, 172-183
  Pieter's Hill, 133-135
  Poplar Grove, 185-188
  Rhenoster Kop, 316
  Rietfontein, 45
  Sannah's Post, 198-206
  Six Mile Spruit, 239
  Spion Kop, 102-115
  Stormberg, 65-69
  Talana, 39-41
  Vaalkrantz, 116-120
  Wepener, 209, 210
  Zand River, 233
Beatson, Brigadier-General S.B., 329
Belfast, 272, 285, 286, 325
Bell's Kopje and Spruit, 144
Benson, Colonel G.E., 322, 329, 337, 340-342
Bethlehem, 249, 252, 256-258
Bethune, Colonel E.C., 265, 309
Beyers, General C., 315, 317-322, 325, 326, 328, 337
Biddulphsberg, 252
Blijdschap, 345, 346
Bloemfontein, surrender of, 191
Blood, Lieutenant--General Sir B., 329, 330
Blood River Poort, 338
Boekenhoutskloof Ridge, 241, 242
Boesman's Kop, 199-204
Boschbult, 360
Boschrand (Driefontein), 189
Boschrand (Kroonstad), 234
Bosjespan, 164
Botha, General C., 254, 264, 266, 270,  272,  339, 365
Botha, General L., 52-54, 70, 75, 78, 100, 112, 117-119,
  126, 128, 132, 193, 196, 232-242, 245-247, 254,
  264, 283-291, 314, 315, 322, 325-327, 337-341,
  345, 354, 355, 365-367
Botha, P., 232
Bothaville, 295, 296, 298
Brabant, Brigadier--General Sir E.Y., 194, 206, 207, 209, 210, 230, 247,
  252, 256
Brakfontein (Natal), 97, 106, 116-119
Brakfontein (Transvaal), 277, 278
Brak River (Cape Colony), 305-307
Brak River (Transvaal), 360
Brand, 307, 308, 335
Brandfort, 197, 198, 232, 233
Brandwater Basin, 257-261, 271, 278, 280, 295, 331
Britz, 355
Broadwood, Brigadier-General R.G., 198-205, 244, 245, 259, 278, 316,
  317, 319, 321, 333
Brocklehurst,  Major-General J.F., 269-271
Brook, Major-General E.S., 352
Buller, General Sir Redvers, 51, 53-55, 69-79, 86, 89,
  90, 96-103, 107, 112-127, 131-133, 136, 140, 152-155,
  231, 240, 254, 256, 262-272, 284-291, 365
Bulwana, 122, 123, 125, 135, 136, 142, 145, 147, 148
Burger, Schalk, Acting President of the Transvaal, 100, 103, 105, 112, 117,
  142, 356, 365
Burn-Murdoch, Brigadier-General J.F., 135, 136
Byng, Colonel the Hon. J.H.G., 350-352

Campbell, Colonel W.P., 326
Campbell, Major-General B., 346, 347
Carleton, Lieutenant-Colonel F.R.C., 47-49
Carolina, 272
Carrington, Lieutenant-General Sir F., 274, 277, 278, 290, 314
Chermside, Lieutenant-General Sir H., 230, 232
Chieveley, 53, 76, 97, 121
Chrissie, Lake, 326
Christiana, 226, 235
Cingolo, 123, 124
Clements, Major-General R.A.P., 81, 194, 195, 206, 227, 252, 256, 257,
  316-321, 324, 339, 340
Clery, Lieutenant-General Sir C.F., 72, 77, 101, 103, 107, 113, 124, 143,
  264, 267, 268, 270, 315
Clump Hill, 132
Coke, Major-General J. Talbot, 102, 103, 106-111, 113, 114, 127, 128, 269
Colenso Kopjes, 127-129
Colesberg, 64, 80, 81, 145, 157, 309
Colvile, Lieutenant-General Sir H.E., 62, 63, 166, 167, 170, 171, 175, 177,
  178, 180, 198, 202-206, 216, 232, 233, 247-253, 255, 256
Conical Hill, 102, 105
Cookson, Colonel G.A., 360, 361
Council of War, _see_ Krijgsraad
Crabbe, Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre, 309
Crofton, Colonel M., 106, 108, 109, 113
Cronje, General A.P., 46, 140, 167
Cronje, General A.P.J., 163
Cronje, General P., 56-58, 61, 63, 81, 126, 131, 133, 141, 145, 158-164,
  166-175, 179, 181-185, 192, 193, 213-217, 219, 220, 223, 281
Cunningham, Brigadier-General G.G., 321, 322, 324
Cyferfontein, 321

Dalgety, Colonel E.H., 209
Damant, Lieutenant-Colonel J.H., 349, 350
Damvallei, 189
Dartnell, Brigadier-General Sir J., 327, 346, 347
De Beer, 172, 179, 182
Delarey, General, 55-58, 61, 81, 189, 190, 194, 221, 232, 239, 241, 242,
  245, 274, 275, 282, 283, 315-326, 330, 332, 337, 342-345, 353, 357-362,
  365, 366
De Lisle, Colonel H. de B., 245
De Wet, General C., 47, 151, 152, 162, 163, 167, 168, 170, 171, 173,
  178-182, 185-191, 198, 200-204, 207-211, 232, 241, 247, 252-256, 258,
  259, 274, 278-282, 294-310, 322, 330, 332, 337, 345-353, 358, 359,
  365-367
De Wet, General P., 188, 198, 199, 202-204, 230, 254
Dickson, Major-General J.B., 242
Dixon, Brigadier-General H.G., 324, 330, 342
Donkerhoek Range, 241, 245
Donkerpoort, 245
Doornberg, 297, 302, 303, 305, 310, 351
Doornkop Natal, 97, 119
Doornkop Spruit, 74
Douglas, Lieutenant-Colonel W., 329
Douglas, Major-General C.W., 316
Drifts--
  Bosman's, 57
  Botha's, 309
  Brandvallei, 169
  Bridle, 74
  Brown's, 56, 61, 161, 164
  Commando, 353
  Commissie, 329
  De Kiel's, 162, 163, 166
  East, 74
  Jager's, 39
  Klip, 163, 164, 166, 168, 169, 171, 174, 192
  Klip Kraal, 163, 164, 169, 171
  Koedoesberg, 159, 167
  Koodoos, 171, 173, 179
  Makow's, 307
  Munger's, 117, 118
  Oertel's, 190
  Old Viljoen's, 235
  Paardeberg, 169-171, 173, 176, 178
  Potgieter's, 54, 55, 96, 97, 99, 103, 106, 108, 116, 121, 146, 151
  Rondeval, 163
  Schoeman's, 278, 279, 294
  Trickhardt's, 97, 99-102
  Vanderberg's, 176
  Vendutie, 169, 171-173, 178, 180, 184, 192
  Viljoen's, 236
  Waterval (near Koffyfontein), 91, 132, 162, 166, 167, 171, 179
  Waterval (near Sannah's Post), 204, 205
  Wegdraai, 166, 167
  West, 74
  Wonderwater, 235
  Zand, 304, 305, 308, 309
Du Cane, Lieutenant-Colonel H.J., 191
Dullstroom, 329
Dundee, 37, 39
Dundonald, Major-General the Earl of, 76, 99-101, 109, 123-125, 135, 153,
  154, 265, 266, 268, 269, 271
Du Plooy, 64
Dwarsvlei, 276

Elandsfontein, 237
Elandskop, 350, 351
Elliott, Major-General E. Locke, 331-334, 337, 346, 349-353
Eloff, 219, 220
Emmett, 328, 338, 339
Ermelo, 272, 326, 327, 330, 332, 354
Erasmus, 40-42
Estcourt, 52, 53, 79

Faber's Put, 228
Fairview, 100, 102
Ferreira, 165, 172, 173
Florida, 237
Forestier-Walker, Lieutenant-General Sir F., 63
Fort Itala, 339
Fort Prospect, 339
Fort Wyllie, 73, 76, 77
Fouché, 364
Fourie, 100, 307, 308
Frankfort, 234
Fredrikstad, 294, 298
French, Lieutenant-General Sir J.D., 48-50, 52, 64, 65, 80, 91, 141,
  157-159, 162-168, 171, 172, 182, 183, 186, 187, 189-192, 195, 197,
  198, 205, 230, 232-239, 242, 245, 272, 277, 283-291, 313, 315, 320,
  321, 326-328, 334, 364
Frere, 53, 76, 96
Froeneman, 304
Fuzzy Hill, 132

Gansvlei Spruit, 269
Gatacre, Lieutenant-General Sir W., 52, 55, 64-68, 80, 81, 157, 194, 195,
  206-208, 216, 230, 251, 257, 262
Gatsrand, 279, 322, 333, 336
Glencoe, 42, 44, 136
Gordon, Brigadier-General J.R.P., 179, 244
Gough, Major H. de la P., 338
Green Hill (near Colenso), 123-125
Green Hill (near Spion Kop), 100, 105
Green Hill (near Vaalkrantz), 116, 119, 120
Grenfell, Lieutenant-Colonel H.M., 330, 337, 358, 359
Grimwood, Colonel G.G., 48, 49
Grobelaar Slopes, 128, 129
Grobler, E.R., 68, 69, 195
Grobler, F.A. (Marico), 222
Grobler, H. (Bethal), 341
Grobler of Vryheid, 328, 338, 339
Grobler of Waterberg, 274, 276, 282, 284
Groen Kop, 347-350
Gun Hill (Bakenlaagte), 341
Gun Hill (near Ladysmith), 143
Gun Hill (near Paardeberg), 177

Haasbroek, 261
Hamilton, Lieutenant-General Sir Ian, 43, 44, 49, 147, 149, 231-240,
  242-245, 247, 256, 276-278, 280, 284, 285, 288, 290, 344, 361-363
Hamilton, Major-General Bruce, 244, 245, 302-304, 307, 333, 334, 339,
  353-357, 363
Hamilton, Brigadier-General E., 269
Hannay, Colonel O.E., 162, 174-177
Hartebeestfontein, 323, 324, 330, 358
Hart, Major-General A.F. 71-75, 78, 99, 101, 120, 129-132, 135, 210, 230,
  321, 335
Hart's Hill, 129, 130, 132-135
Hart's Loop, 127
Hattingh, 261
Heilbron Road Station, 253
Hekpoort Valley, 317, 321
Helvetia (Transvaal), 287, 325
Hertzog, General, 299-301, 303-308, 315, 326, 366, 367
Hickman, Colonel T.E., 308, 309
Highlands, 53
Hildyard, Lieutenant-General Sir H., 52, 53, 71-73, 75, 76, 120, 264, 265,
  268, 270, 315, 325, 327, 338
Hill, Colonel A.W., 109-111
Hlangwhane, 69-71, 76, 96, 120, 122, 123, 125-127, 131-133
Holdsworth, Lieutenant-Colonel G.L., 223
Holland, 355
Hoopstad, 323, 324
Hore, Lieutenant-Colonel C.O., 214
Horseshoe Hill, 125, 129, 131
Houtnek, 230, 232
Hughes-Hallett, Colonel J.W., 62, 63
Hunter, Lieutenant-General Sir A., 225, 226, 231, 232, 256-261
Hunter-Weston, Lieutenant-Colonel A.G., 191, 234, 239
Hussar Hill, 123, 124
Hutton, Major-General Sir E., 283, 284

Impati, 40-42
Ingouville-Williams, Lieutenant-Colonel E.C., 324
Inkwelo, 267
Inkweloane, 267, 268

Jacobsdaal, 56-58, 163, 168, 170, 171, 173, 179, 181, 183
Johannesburg, Surrender of, 239
Joubert, General P., 38, 49, 53, 54, 69, 105, 117, 118, 135, 140, 142, 143,
  145, 185, 193, 194, 196

Kaalfontein, 321, 322
Kaffir Kop, 346, 350
Kainguba Hill (Nicholson's Nek), 47, 49
Kameelfontein Ridge and Valley, 241, 242
Kanya, 224
Karee Siding, 197, 198, 205, 232
Kekewich, Colonel R.G., 86, 87, 89-91, 215, 342-344, 357-359, 361-363
Kelly-Kenny, Lieutenant-General T., 81, 158, 159, 166, 168-171, 173-178,
  180, 181, 186, 187, 190, 232, 254
Kemp, 322, 324-326, 330, 337, 342, 343, 358, 360-363
Kissieberg, 66-69
Kitchener, General Lord, 156, 160, 166, 170, 171, 173-178, 180, 181, 183,
  184, 188, 194, 227, 229, 241, 246, 247, 254, 255, 278-280, 292, 298,
  299, 306, 312, 316, 326, 328, 331-334, 336, 345, 365-367
Kitchener, Major-General W., 132-134, 329, 338, 339, 360, 361, 363
Kitchener's Kopje, 178-182, 185
Kleinfontein Ridge, 244
Klipfontein, 237
Klippan, 356
Klip River, 123, 125, 150
Knox, Colonel E.C., 321
Knox, Major-General C., 168, 177, 254, 294, 295, 297-299, 302-306, 333
Knox,  Major-General  W., 49
Kock, 42
Koetzee, 289, 290
Koffyfontein, 162, 179
Korn Spruit, 199, 200, 202, 203, 207
Krijgsraad, 143, 188, 194, 196-198, 207, 209, 210, 240, 258, 260, 332, 345,
  346, 349, 364
Kritzinger, 299-301, 303-305, 315, 326, 331, 334, 335, 337, 363
Krokodil Spruit and Hill, 241, 242
Kroonstad, 191, 234, 247-250, 258, 357, 365
Kruger, President Paul, 11, 69, 95, 105, 118, 126, 128, 136, 184, 185, 188,
  196, 2O7, 213, 220, 239-241, 289, 295, 314, 332

Lancer's Hill, 155
Langewacht Spruit, 125, 130, 132
Langvervacht, 352
Lawley, Lieutenant-Colonel the Hon. R., 357
Le Gallais Kopje, 187
Le Gallais, Lieutenant-Colonel P.W., 197, 295
Lemmer, 195
Lennox Hill, 39, 40
Lichtenburg, 226, 315, 323
Liebenberg, 294, 358, 361
Liebenberg's River, 353
Lieuw Kop, 187
Lieuw Spruit, 255
Limit Hill, 144
Little Knoll, 105, 106
Little, Colonel M.O., 278
Long, Colonel C.J., 73, 75, 77
Long Hill, 46, 48, 49
Lotter, 335
Louwbaken, 242
Lubbe, 163, 164
Lydenburg, 288
Lyttelton, Lieutenant-General the Hon. N.G., 99, 106, 108, 109, 119, 120,
  124, 135, 264, 265, 268, 270, 271, 303, 308, 309, 315, 316, 325, 333,
  334, 338, 339

MacDonald, Major-General Sir H.A., 256, 257
Machadodorp, 239, 282, 283, 287, 295
Mahon, Brigadier-General B.T., 221, 222, 224-226, 232
Maiden's Castle, 145, 146
Majuba Hill, 36, 266, 267
Martyr, Lieutenant-Colonel C., 198, 202-206
Mears, 349, 350
Metcalfe, Colonel C.T.E., 144
Methuen, Lieutenant-General Lord, 52, 55-59, 62, 63, 79, 80, 89-92, 123,
  157, 159, 168, 172, 184, 225, 228, 231, 232, 247, 250, 253, 254, 256,
  276-280, 315, 323, 324, 337, 344, 357-359, 362
Meyer, L., 39, 40
Meyerton, 235, 236
Middle Hill, 147
Milner, Lord, 51, 86, 160, 228, 367
Moedvil, 342
Monte Cristo, 123-126
Mors Kop, 242, 244
Mostert's Hoek, 208
Mount Alice, 97, 102, 106, 107
Muller, 332, 337, 356

Naval Gun Hill, 75
Naval Hill, 123, 129, 131, 132
Neks
  Breedt's, 317
  Cingolo, 125
  Commando (Orange River Colony), 258-260
  Commando (Transvaal), 274-276, 278, 280, 282
  Laing's, 36, 38, 254, 262, 264, 266-268, 270, 272
  Magato, 280, 342
  Modderfontein, 322
  Naauwpoort, 258, 260
  Nicholson's, 46-49, 167
  Noitgedacht, 317-320
  Olifant's, 274, 276-278, 280, 281
  Retiefs, 258, 260
  Slabbert's, 258-261
  Springhaan's, 297, 299, 302
  Zilikat's 11, 239, 274, 275, 277, 278, 283
Nelspruit, 287, 289
Nicholson, Colonel J.S., 223
Noitgedacht (Delagoa Bay Railway), 287
Norcott, Colonel C.H.B., 132, 133

Observation Hill, 142
Olivier, General J.H., 64, 66, 68, 195, 198, 200, 259, 261
Onderbroek, 125, 127
Onderste Poort, 276, 283
Ookiep, 364, 366
Orange Free State, Annexation of, 236
Osfontein, 184, 186

Paget, Major-General A.H., 256, 257, 291, 316, 317, 321, 326
Paris, Major A., 307
Park, Colonel C.W., 329, 356
Penn-Symons, Major-General Sir W., 37, 39, 41, 45
Pepworth Hill, 46, 48, 49, 142
Phipps Hornby, Lieutenant-Colonel E.J., 203
Pienaar's Poort and River, 241, 242, 244
Pietersburg, 292, 314, 328
Pilcher, Lieutenant-Colonel T.D., 195, 198
Pilgrim's Rest, 356
Platrand, 143, 145, 147, 150
Plumer, Brigadier-General H.C.O., 214, 221-225, 274, 305-307, 309, 328,
  330, 340, 355
Pole-Carew, Lieutenant-General Sir R., 62, 195, 230, 242, 244, 245, 272,
  283-290
Porter, Colonel N.C., 242
Potgieter, F., 362
Potgieter, H., 16
Pretoria, surrender of, 239
Prieska, 184, 194, 196, 227, 305, 306
Prinsloo, Jacob, 55, 355, 356
Prinsloo, Martin, 38, 118, 119, 250, 259-261
Prinsloo, Michael, 249, 250, 299, 349
"Protected Area," 337, 340, 345, 355, 357
Pulteney, Colonel W.P., 329, 355

Railway Hill, 131, 133, 134
Ramdam, 162, 166
Rangeworthy Heights, 100-102, 107
Rawlinson, Colonel Sir H., 350-352, 361-363
Reddersburg, 207-209
Reitz, 333
Rhenosterfontein Heights, 245
Rhenoster River Bridge, 253
Rhodes, Right Hon. Cecil, 83-95, 214
Rifleman's Ridge, 143, 147
Rimington, Colonel M.F., 346, 349, 351
Roberts, Field-Marshal Lord, 79, 114, 120, 132, 153, 154, 156, 158, 160,
  161, 167, 168, 170, 171, 173, 179, 181, 183, 184, 186, 189, 191, 194,
  195, 219, 226, 228, 229, 231, 232, 234, 236, 239, 241, 246, 254, 256,
  262, 264, 271-273, 280-282, 284, 286, 288, 292, 296, 313, 314, 365
Rochfort, Colonel A.N., 363
Roirantjesfontein, 358
Roodeval (Orange River Colony), 252, 253, 300
Roodeval (Transvaal), 362
Rooi Kop, 66
Rosmead (on Riet River), 57
Roux, General P.H., 256-260
Rundle, Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie, 230, 232, 247-250, 252, 256, 259,
  260, 331, 333, 347-349, 352
Rustenburg, 273-278, 281, 316, 317, 344

Scheepers, 299, 336
Schiel, 43
Schoeman, 64, 80, 81
Schoon Spruit, 359
Schweizer Reneke, 315
Sefetili, 224
Settle, Major-General Sir H., 315
Seven Kopjes, 186, 187
Shekleton, Lieutenant-Colonel H.P., 322, 323
Sladen, Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.R., 331, 332
Slapkranz, 260
Smith-Dorrien, Major-General H.L., 177, 178, 275, 276, 278-280, 315,
  325-328
Smuts, General J.C., 322, 324, 325, 332-336, 363, 364, 366
Smuts, General T., 197, 198, 290, 291
Snyman, General, 217, 219, 220
Spitz Kop (Natal), 267, 268
Spitz Kop (Transvaal), 288
Spragge, Lieutenant-Colonel B.E., 248-252
Spytfontein, 56-58
Steenekamp (of Heilbron), 282
Steenkamp, L.P., 68
Stephenson, Major-General T.E., 176, 177, 183, 363
Stewart, Lieutenant-Colonel H.K., 338
Steyn, Commandant, of Bethlehem, 175, 176, 179, 182
Steyn, M. President, Orange Free State, 52, 118, 185, 191, 196, 257, 258,
  278-280, 282, 290, 291, 295, 302, 310, 313-316, 331-333, 345, 346, 350,
  352, 353, 357, 359, 360, 365-367
Stinkfontein, 173, 175
Surprise Hill, 144

Table Mountain (on Modder), 186
Theron, 279, 281
Theunissen, 182
Thorneycroft, Colonel A.W., 104, 107-115
Thornhill's Kopje, 144
Three Tree Hill, 100, 101, 106
Transvaal, Annexation of, 288
Tucker, Lieutenant-General Sir C., 166, 168, 171, 191, 197, 198, 321
Tweebosch, 358, 359
Twin Peaks, 100, 105, 106, 109-112, 119
Tygerpoort, 241, 242, 244

Utrecht, 266, 327

Van der Venter, 333-335
Van Reenen's Pass, 263, 267
Van Tender's Pass, 45, 265
Van Wyk's Hill, 267, 268
Van Zyl's Farm, 67
Venter's Spruit, 100
Vereeniging, 235, 236, 366, 367
Viljoen, General B., 6, 117, 118, 284, 290, 291, 315, 316, 325, 328, 329,
  340, 356
Viljoen, P., 354-357
Virginia Siding, 255
Vlakfontein, 330
Volksrust, 266, 268-270
Vryheid, 266, 325

Wagon Hill and Point, 142-151
Wakkerstroom, 270
Warren, Lieutenant-General Sir C., 79, 80, 93, 96, 97, 99-1O3, 1O5-115,
  120, 128, 129, 132, 213, 228, 264
Waterval (near Pretoria), 239
Waterworks, 198-200, 202, 203, 205
Wauchope, Major-General A.G., 59-62
Wavell, Major-General A.G., 238
Wessels, 349
White, Lieutenant-General Sir George, 37, 38, 42, 43, 45, 46, 49, 51, 72,
  79, 96, 100, 102, 116, 122, 125, 126, 128, 132, 137, 140-143, 147-151,
  153-155, 263
Wildfontein, 324
Willow Grange, 53
Willowmore, 301
Wilge River (Orange River Colony), 349, 352, 353
Wilge River (Transvaal), 356





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