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Title: Story of the War in South Africa - 1899-1900
Author: Mahan, A. T. (Alfred Thayer), 1840-1914
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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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected,
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Author's spelling has been maintained.
Page numbers are shown as {p.xxx}]

[Illustration: CAPTAIN ALFRED T. MAHAN, U.S.N.; D.C.L.]

                         STORY OF THE WAR


                          SOUTH AFRICA



                     Captain A. T. Mahan, U.S.N.

                _With Map and Portrait of the Author_



    The Theatre of the War                                      1


    The Opening Campaign in Natal to the Investment
      of Ladysmith (October 11--November 2)                    28


    The Colonies and the Transports                            71


    The Western Frontier to Magersfontein and
      Stormberg. Operations of General French
      about Colesberg                                         102


    The Natal Campaign from the Investment of
      Ladysmith through the Battle of Colenso                 177


    The Natal Campaign. British Prepare for a
      Flanking Attack upon the Boers' Right at
      the Tugela. The Boer Assault on Ladysmith,
      January 6th                                             233


    Natal Campaign. The Unsuccessful British
      Attempts to Turn the Boers' Right Flank
      at Spion Kop and at Vaal Krantz                         249


    The Relief of Kimberley and of Ladysmith,
      and the Surrender of Cronje                             266




The war in South Africa has been no exception to the general rule that
the origin of current events is to be sought in the history of the
past, and their present course to be understood by an appreciation of
existing conditions, which decisively control it. This is especially
true of the matter here before us; because the southern extreme of
Africa, like to that of the American continent, has heretofore lain
far outside of the common interest, and therefore of the accurate
knowledge, of mankind at large. The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn,
in themselves remote, tempestuous, and comparatively unproductive
regions, for centuries derived importance merely {p.002} from the
fact that by those ways alone the European world found access to the
shores of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The application of steam to
ocean navigation, and the opening of the Suez Canal, have greatly
modified conditions, by diverting travel from the two Capes to the
Canal and to the Straits of Magellan. It is only within a very few
years that South Africa, thus diminished in consequence as a station
upon a leading commercial highway, has received compensation by the
discovery of great mineral wealth.

Thus separated from the rest of the world, by lack of intrinsic value
as a region producing materials necessary to the common good, the
isolation of South Africa was further increased by physical
conditions, which not only retarded colonisation and development, but
powerfully affected the character and the mutual relations of the
European settlers. Portuguese mariners, after more than half a century
of painful groping downward along the West African coast in search of
a sea route to India that vague tradition asserted could there be
found, in 1486 rounded the Cape of Good Hope, which then received the
despondent name of {p.003} the Cape of Storms from its first
discoverer, Bartholomew Diaz.

Vasco da Gama, following him in 1497, gave to it its present
auspicious title, which was to him of sound augury; for he then passed
on to explore the East coast and to find the long-desired Indies. It
was, however, the latter which constituted the Portuguese goal. Africa
was to them primarily the half-way house, where to refresh their ships
on the long voyage to Hindustan, which then took near a year to
complete. For this purpose they established themselves on the island
of Mozambique, and gradually took possession of the country to this
day known as Portuguese East Africa.

From that far back settlement, Delagoa Bay, near the southern border,
is now a thorn in the side of the British invasion; a port with which
they are not at war, and therefore cannot seize or blockade, but
which, through the supplies that thence reach the otherwise isolated
Transvaal, contributes powerfully to support the defence.

Upon the heels of the Portuguese followed the Dutch, aiming like them
at the Far East, more {p.004} especially at what were then
comprehensively called the Spice Islands--the Moluccas. They also felt
the need of a half-way station. For this the Cape of Good Hope, with
the adjacent bays--Table Bay and False Bay--presented advantages; for
though not perfectly safe anchorages at all seasons, the voyage to the
islands is more expeditiously and healthfully made by starting from,
and keeping in, a far southern latitude, than by proceeding along the
East African coast.

In 1652 the Dutch settled at the Cape, and gradually extended their
holding to the eastward as far as the Great Fish River. A generation
later, in 1686, the population received an accession of French
Protestant refugees, leaving their country upon the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes. From these descended the late General Joubert,
Commander-in-Chief of the Transvaal forces at the opening of
hostilities. The administration of the colony by the Dutch East India
Company being both arbitrary and meddlesome, some of the more
independent spirits withdrew from the coast and moved inland, behind
the difficult {p.005} mountain ranges that separate the narrow strip
of sea-coast from the high table-lands of the interior.

In 1795 local dissatisfaction and the spread of French revolutionary
principles led to a revolt of the colonists, and Holland passing at
that time into alliance with France, the Cape was seized by a British
naval and military expedition. At the Peace of Amiens in 1802 it was
restored to Holland; but in the next war it was again taken by the
British, in 1806, and at the Peace of 1814 was confirmed in their

The population remained Dutch in blood and in tradition; but
subsequent accessions of English immigrants have established in Cape
Colony itself an approach to equilibrium between the two races, to
which has also contributed a series of emigrations to the interior by
the Dutch farmers, dissatisfied with various incidents of British
rule. Into the merits of these differences we have neither space nor
occasion to go.

In 1836, immediately prior to the largest of these movements, known as
the Great Trek, the British Government, by Act, extended its claim
{p.006} of control over all South Africa, south of 25°, the latitude
of Delagoa Bay; and the Boer emigrants were warned that in entering
that region they remained under British authority, unless they passed
on into the Portuguese dominion. From this Trek resulted directly, in
the course of years, the two Boer states, the Orange Free State and
the South African Republic (commonly called the Transvaal); and also,
indirectly, the easternmost British colony in South Africa, Natal, in
which the English element is decisively preponderant.

The mention of this migration leads naturally and immediately to a
summary of the physical conditions of the country, by which, as well
as by derivation of blood, the apartness of the two races has been
emphasized. Between the narrow margin of land belonging, as it were,
to the sea, and the high interior plateau, there runs from the extreme
west of the British dominions a chain of lofty mountains, parallel,
roughly, to the coastline, and terminating only when abreast of
Delagoa Bay. These reach an elevation of from six to eight thousand
feet, and in places on the border between {p.007} Natal and
Basutoland heights of eleven thousand are attained. On the side toward
the sea the ascent is comparatively rapid and difficult, though often
broken into precipitous terraces. Inland the descent is less, and more
regular, issuing in a plateau from three to five thousand feet above
the sea, and presenting almost throughout a comparatively level or
undulating surface that offers no serious difficulty to transit.

The territory of the Orange Free State and of the Transvaal lies
wholly within this table-land. In this region, and throughout Africa
south of 25°, there are river beds, but no navigable rivers. The
country is generally treeless, and there is a great deficiency of
steady natural water supply. During the rainy season, from October to
March, the naked ground fails to retard the running off of the waters,
which therefore escape rapidly by the rivers, swelling them to
momentary torrents that quickly and fruitlessly subside. During the
long dry season the exposed herbage dries to the roots.

From these conditions it results that not only is agriculture
generally impracticable, economically, but {p.008} that cattle and
sheep, the chief wealth of the Boer farmers, require an unusual
proportion of ground per head for pasture; and the mobility of bodies
of horsemen, expecting to subsist their beasts upon local pasturage,
is greatly affected by the seasons--an important military
consideration. The large holdings introduce large spaces between the
holders, who dwell therefore alone, each man with his family. So it
has come to pass that the descendants of one of the most mercantile
and gregarious of races, whose artists have won some of their chiefest
triumphs in depicting the joyous episodes of crowded social life,
have, through calling and environment, become lovers of solitude,
austere, self-dependent, disposed rather to repel than to seek their

The same conditions, unfavourable to the aggregation of people into
towns or villages, have interfered with the development of lines of
travel, roads and cross-roads, which not only facilitate but define
movement; and as the face of the country, readily traversable in all
directions, does not compel roads to take a particular direction to
avoid obstacles, it has come {p.009} to pass that the seat of war
within the territory of the two Boer states has, like the ocean, and
for the same reasons, few strategic points either natural or

The determining natural military features in South Africa are the
seaports, upon possession of which depends Great Britain's landing her
forces, and the mountain ranges, the passes of which, as in all such
regions, are of the utmost strategic value. It has been said that the
Boers' original plan of campaign was to force the British out of
Natal, thus closing access by Durban from the sea, and at the same
time to seize the pass back of Cape Town known as Hex River. If
successful, the eastern flank of the Boer frontier would have been
secured against British landing by the occupation of Durban, while
advance from Cape Town, against the other extremity, would have
involved a front attack upon a strong position in a difficult mountain

These movements, accurate in conception, were probably in any case too
developed for the Boer numbers, and were definitively foiled by the
British grip upon Ladysmith and Kimberley. Advance was too hazardous,
leaving in {p.010} the rear such forces, unchecked, upon the flank of
the lines of communication.

To these two extremes, or flanks, of the Boer frontier, correspond on
the British side the ports of Cape Town and Durban, which may be said
to mark the western and eastern limits of the field of military
operations in the war. They are the chief seaports on the South
African coast, which by nature is singularly deficient in good and
safe anchorages. The advantages of these two, artificially improved,
and combined with the relatively open and productive region
immediately behind them, have made them the starting-points of the
principal railroad lines by which, through the sea, the interior is
linked to the outer world.

The general direction of these roads is determined, as always, by the
principal objects of traffic or other interests. Thus the line from
Cape Town, ascending by a winding course through the mountains in the
rear, pushes its way north to Kimberley, where are the great diamond
fields, and thence on, by way of Mafeking, to the territory of the
British South African Company--now known as {p.011} Rhodesia. This
lies north of the Transvaal, and, like it, is separated from the sea
by the Portuguese dominion, having, however, by treaty a right of
military way through the latter by the port of Beira; of which right
use is now being made.

In the northern part of its course, which at present ends at Buluwayo,
this road is as yet rather political than economical in its
importance, joining the British entrance at the sea to the as yet
little developed regions of the distant interior. At a point called De
Aar Junction, five hundred miles from Cape Town, a principal branch is
thrown off to the eastward to Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange
Free State, whence it continues on to Johannesburg, the great
industrial centre of the Gold Fields, and to Pretoria, the capital of
the Transvaal. A glance along this stretch of road will show that
between De Aar and Bloemfontein it receives three tributary routes
from three different points of the sea-coast--Port Elizabeth, Port
Alfred, and East London--the whole system concentrating some sixty
miles before Bloemfontein, at Springfontein, which thus becomes a
{p.012} central depot fed by four convergent, but, in their origin,
independent streams of supply; an administrative condition always
conducive to security and to convenience. This instance also
illustrates the capital importance--especially in a military point of
view--of a place where meet several roads from the permanent base of
operations, which in the case of the British interior campaign is the
sea. The fall of Springfontein would close every avenue of supply by
rail; but a blow at any one of the four lines which concentrate there
does not necessarily affect the others. Holding across-roads in fact
exemplifies the homely phrase of killing two birds with one stone.

Beyond Springfontein the straightness of the line sufficiently
testifies to the easy practicability of the country it traverses. Upon
this railroad system depend the supplies of the British army, which
presents in both men and animals a concentrated mass of life
heretofore unknown to the territory in which it is moving, and where,
from previous conditions of population and development, necessary
resources of every kind are deficient. This {p.013} system
constitutes the main chain of communications, as the term is
understood in war; by it chiefly, for much of the distance wholly,
must come all the ammunition, most of the food, and not improbably at
times a good deal of the water drunk during the dry season, which
fortunately, from this point of view, is also that of cooler weather.

The difficulty of reinforcing railway carriage by any other system of
road transportation is greatly increased by the local horse-sickness,
from which three-fourths of the horses exposed to it die. Reliance for
that purpose, therefore, must be upon the ox-wagon, which for this
reason, and owing to the open level character of the country, has in
the past played a leading part in the South African migrations.

The main and subsidiary railroads thus summarized should, from the
point of view of our subject, be considered as one, contributory to
the advance of the British army over a substantially even country,
which opposes few natural obstacles to such a movement, though here
and there "accidents of {p.014} the ground"--a range of hills, or a
dry river-bed, as at Paardeberg--may facilitate opposition by a
military force. The system receives no further support until
Johannesburg is reached. There the railroad from Durban comes in, and,
if its carrying capacity were adequate, which is doubtful, would
enable the chief base of operations and main line of communications to
be shifted to the nearer locality, retaining the Cape road only as

The advantage to the British of the line of invasion from Cape Town is
that it crosses the mountains, which separate the coast district from
the inland plateau, at such a distance from the enemy's frontier that
it is impossible for the latter to offer serious resistance before the
comparatively easy rolling country has been reached. It was for this
reason that the decision of the Orange Free State to join in the war,
while it added to the numerical resistance to be encountered by the
British, had for them the compensating advantage that it removed the
necessity of forcing their way over the difficult mountain ranges
which separate Natal from the Transvaal.

With the power of Great Britain to bring into {p.015} the field a
great superiority of numbers, it is at least open to argument that the
Free State, by ceasing to be neutral, relieved the enemy of a
difficulty greater than that which its hostility introduced. It was
for these reasons that the original British plan, as generally
understood, was to make the main invasion along this line. The danger
of Ladysmith, it is commonly and with probability believed, caused the
momentary abandonment of this purpose. Whether the change was at the
moment correct in principle or not, it is evident that Lord Roberts
has reverted to the first intention; a course which enforces its
accuracy with all the weight of his well-earned great renown.

The other railroad system of direct importance to the military
operations of the present war is the single Natal line, from Durban to
Johannesburg and Pretoria, which at Ladysmith throws off a branch to
the westward, crossing the mountains to Bethlehem in the Free State,
and there ends, over sixty miles from the road between Bloemfontein
and Pretoria. The Natal road, having been opened as lately as 1895,
may be considered the {p.016} child of the Gold Fields; prior to the
discovery of which, indeed, there were in the Transvaal neither
products nor consumers enough to give commercial value to a railroad.

The Cape Town line reached Pretoria only in 1892, and it is still
characteristic of all the lines that there is but little local
traffic, either freight or passenger; the roads exist as means whereby
the function of communication, so far discharged by the sea, is
prolonged from the coast to the interior of the continent.

It is not the least noteworthy in the incidents of commercial and
mechanical energy, by which foreign hands have developed the Transvaal
from a poor to a wealthy state, that "all the heavy machinery, the
timber, the corrugated iron with which the works and men's houses are
constructed, and nearly every requirement of work and life, had to be
brought for over three hundred miles upon ox-wagons, the country
itself supplying scarcely anything, and even to this day (1897) wheat
being brought from Australia."[1]

                   [Footnote 1: Younghusband's "South Africa of
                   To-day." Second Edition, 1899.]

Regarded {p.017} as a source of supply, especially of military supply,
the demands of which are more urgent than those of common life, as its
needs and dangers are more imminent, the Natal railroad, though much
shorter in distance to the probable scenes of operations, labours
under two disadvantages. The port of Durban is not under all
circumstances safe for large vessels to enter, and there is therefore
in the facilities for landing goods an inferiority to Cape Town. The
country, too, is more difficult, the obstacles to movement, which also
favour defence, increasing as the frontier is approached, and
culminating on the borders of the Free State and the Transvaal. Being
thus nearer, the latter are here better able to concentrate and
sustain opposition than they are on the western flank.

"The mountains which on the edge of Basutoland rise to a height of ten
thousand feet," writes Mr. Bryce, "break down toward Natal in
tremendous precipices. Near Ladysmith the frontier of the Orange Free
State coincides with a high watershed, crossed by only a few
passes."[2] Where this boundary between {p.018} Natal and the Free
State ends, that of the Transvaal begins, and soon after turns sharply
to the southward, the new direction forming with the old a very acute
angle, with apex to the north. Here, just within the territory of
Natal, is Majuba Hill, whose name has been in the mouths of all men,
and Laing's Nek, less familiarly known. The narrow neck of rugged
country embraced between the legs of this angle is about sixty miles
long, from Majuba to Glencoe. Recent events have familiarised to us
many of the names along this line of rail--Glencoe, Dundee (the
terminus of a short branch), Colenso, Estcourt, and Ladysmith itself;
while the winding character of the track, as mapped, compared with the
Free State road, sufficiently indicates the character of the country,
in which obstacles have to be circumvented as well as overcome. The
grade is in places as high as one in thirty, though that is being
reduced; but one in forty is common. Pietermaritzburg, the capital,
fifty miles from Durban in a straight line, is 2,200 feet above the
sea. Three hundred miles from its starting-point the road {p.019}
reaches an elevation of over five thousand feet, at Laing's Nek,
through which it passes by a tunnel.

                   [Footnote 2: "Impressions of South Africa." Third
                   Edition, p. 291.]

A topographical map of the country shows upon examination that the
mountain range, which forms the western boundary of Natal toward
Basutoland and the Orange Free State, and has a general north and
south direction parallel to the railroad, throws off to the eastward
spurs which, to repeat Mr. Bryce's expression, "break down in
tremendous precipices," forming a succession of terraces. The gorges
between these determine the direction of the river-beds whereby the
rainfall pours down to the sea; and the general easterly course thus
imparted is maintained and continued by the lie of the valleys,
separating the successive hills through which the territory of Natal
gradually rises to the northward. These various streams find their way
sooner or later to the Tugela, itself one of the many, but which
carries its own name until it reaches the Indian Ocean, some fifty
miles north-east of Durban.

Of these watercourses, the Tugela, which the road crosses at Colenso,
and the Mooi, some {p.020} fifty miles south, have been most often
mentioned. Another tributary called the Klip flows through the camp at
Ladysmith. The channels which these streams have cut for themselves in
time of torrent are both steep-banked and deep. They are therefore
among those accidents of the ground which, duly improved, can
seriously affect military operations. The destruction of a bridge
impedes the transport of troops and supplies; a sudden freshet,
occurring in the midst of an extensive movement, may imperil an army
by sundering its forces; while of the utility of such natural trenches
to the purposes of shelter and of defence, of awaiting attack, or
resisting an advance, both the Tugela and Paardeberg have given recent
striking illustration.

As a general rule such conditions favour the defence relatively to the
offence; the former, remaining comparatively motionless, is shielded
by obstacles, to surmount which the assailant must expose himself in
the open. Thus they compensate for inferior numbers, which is usually
the condition of the defence; and they conduce to delay, ever a
leading object in defensive warfare. Consequently, in the {p.021}
present hostilities they have helped the Boers. It may be added that
their influence is most felt when the armies are face to face, or at
least in touch. Hence their existence near the scene of probable
conflict, as in Natal, is a matter of more concern to the invader than
when, as upon the Cape extreme of the scene of war, they are found
beyond the range to which the defendant can safely extend his

These successive watercourses indicate natural lines of defence,
stronger or weaker according to their individual distinctive features.
As the railroad, in its progress north, draws near the mountains in
the neck of Natal, the streams show smaller volume and less developed
channels. This comes from their having there a shorter course and
descending from heights which, though still considerable, are
decidedly lower. But, while the streams become less conspicuous as
obstacles, the ground toward the northward frontier is more broken and
irregular, presenting numerous scattered hills, sometimes isolated,
sometimes in small ranges or groups, which to a trained military skill
afford positions too {p.022} threatening to be disregarded, and yet
which cannot be carried without heavy loss. This characteristic is
observable in the neighbourhood of Glencoe, Dundee, and Ladysmith,
and, as will be seen, exercised a determinative influence upon the

In the extreme north a similar condition is emphasized conspicuously
at Majuba Hill and the surrounding country, which, however, and
perhaps for that very reason, seem unlikely to play much of a part in
the war now current.

Before proceeding to the narrative of the hostilities which, so far as
events of decisive interest are concerned, began in Natal, it is
desirable to note one broad topographical feature distinguishing the
region to which, in its eastern development, the war has been
confined. From the capital, Pietermaritzburg, the railroad ascends
rapidly, so that in twenty-five miles it has risen from 2,200 to 4,800
feet, after which it begins again to go down, till fifty miles
further, at Estcourt--the most southern of the stations prominently
named in the narratives of the war--the elevation is 3,800 feet.
Thence, till near Glencoe and Dundee, {p.023} there is an extensive
area of comparative depression, rarely itself higher than 3,500 feet,
but on the western side skirted by the precipitous spurs of the border
mountains, close to which the railroad passes.

This district may be called the valley of the Tugela; for all the
streams tend to the latter, which finds its own bed in a broad belt of
ground, trending to the eastward, where the surface sinks to less than
3,000 feet. Ladysmith itself, important not only as a railroad
crossing and military depot, but now also historically, on account of
the operations centring around it, is at a height of 3,300. Beyond it
the country, though often rough in detail, is gently rolling in
general contour till near Glencoe, where the road climbs eight hundred
feet in ten miles. From Glencoe a branch runs five miles east to
Dundee, the site of extensive collieries, upon which Natal largely
depends for fuel.

The railroad from Ladysmith to Glencoe passes therefore through a
district the nature of which is favourable to rapid advance or retreat
of mounted men, as the Boer forces chiefly are, and which at the same
time is marked {p.024} by frequent and steep detached elevations,
adapted for defensive positions hastily assumed. These conditions,
with the nearness of the declivities of the western mountains, and the
proximity of the enemy's frontier, behind which movements of troops
would be "curtained"--to use a graphic military metaphor--gave the
Boers particular facilities for striking unexpectedly the railroad
between Ladysmith and Glencoe, upon which, in defect of other
transportation, the two British posts must depend for communication
between themselves, and with their base on the sea.

Further to the south, movements of the same kind would be decisively
more difficult. Not only would the Boers there be further from their
base, and the British nearer theirs, but the country is less
favourable to rapid horse movements, the line of the rail is
contracted by lofty and continuous ranges of hills, the space between
which gives but a narrow front to be covered by a defence, and the
river beds, as already said, are broader and deeper; notably, of
course, the Tugela. Moreover, not only are the mountains on the
western frontier higher and more difficult as one {p.025} goes south,
they are also more remote; and, south of Colenso, form the boundary of
Basutoland, upon which the Boers could not intrude without arousing
armed resistance by the blacks. All these conditions are more
favourable to a pure defensive attitude, which was that imposed at the
outset upon the British, because they were then numerically the weaker

And here at once must be made a distinction, which for intelligent
comprehension it is essential to keep in mind. Putting entirely to one
side all question of the merits of the quarrel--of its right or its
wrong--it must be steadily remembered that, although the comparative
aggregate strength of the two parties placed the Boers from the first
on the defensive in the general sense, they were at the beginning of
hostilities decisively superior in local force, and would so remain
until sufficient reinforcements from Great Britain should arrive to
turn the scale. Under such circumstances, correct military
principle--and the Boers have had good advisers--imperatively dictates
that the belligerent so situated must at once assume an active
{p.026} offensive. By rapid and energetic movement, while the
opponent's forces are still separated, every advantage must be seized
to destroy hostile detachments within reach, and to establish one's
own front as far in advance of the great national interests, as it can
be reasonably hoped to maintain it with communications unbroken. The
line thus occupied must rest upon positions so chosen that by their
strength, natural and developed, it shall be possible, when offence
has to be exchanged for defensive warfare, to impose to the utmost
upon the invader both delay and loss; for delay and loss mean
lessening power, and only by causing such diminution, greater
relatively than his own, can the weaker hope eventually to reverse the
odds and win the game.

To this end, therefore, the Boers with sound military judgment at once
devoted themselves; and it is very likely that the surmise before
quoted was correct--in naming the Hex River Pass and Durban as their
ultimate objectives, to be reached by a swift advance. The latter was
certainly not an unreasonable hope, and it is possible that with
{p.027} more precise accuracy of combination, and an offensive more
resolutely sustained, they might have attained their purpose, through
the mistaken primary dispositions of the British, who, though
recognizing themselves to be for the time on the defensive,
nevertheless, for political reasons, advanced their front of
operations to a point with which, as it proved, they could not secure
their communications. From the worst consequences of this error they
were saved by the gallantry and skill with which advantage was taken
of the defective co-operation that marked the opening of the campaign
by the Boers; and there can be also little question that the wholesome
respect for their fighting qualities, thus established at the
beginning of hostilities, had a most beneficial effect for them, in
discouraging attack by an enemy, who, though brave and active,
constitutionally prefers a waiting game to an assault. Thus the
ultimate fate of Ladysmith was settled in the fortnight of operations
that preceded the investment.

CHAPTER II {p.028}


The evident exposure of Natal to the first and heaviest attack of the
enemy, and the necessity so to provide for its defence as to gain the
time necessary for reinforcements to arrive, engaged very early the
anxious attention of the Imperial and local authorities. The latter
especially felt the greater solicitude, which is natural to those
whose interests are immediately threatened. As early as May 25, before
the Bloemfontein Conference between Sir Alfred Milner and President
Kruger, the Natal Ministry notified Mr. Chamberlain that, owing to
Boer preparations across the border, the scattered British in the neck
of Natal were getting uneasy, and the Ministry itself nervous, at the
prospect of war. These representations were {p.029} repeated more
urgently in the middle of June, and a month later a request was made
to be confidentially informed of the proposed plan for defence. When
this was communicated, it appeared that General Sir Penn Symons,
commanding the Imperial troops in Natal (who afterward was the first
general officer killed in the war), considered that with the force
then at his disposal--something over 5,000 men of all arms--he could
do no more than hold the railroad as far as Hattingh Spruit, some five
miles north of Dundee, thereby protecting the collieries. To advance
as far as Newcastle he estimated would require 2,000 more, while to
hold Laing's Nek an addition of 5,600 would be needed.

These calculations, as is now known, fell far short of the necessities
of the case, but they sufficiently alarmed the Colonial Government,
and upon its remonstrance the British Cabinet, on August 3, decided to
send a reinforcement of 2,000 men.

On the 6th of September the Governor of Natal telegraphed at length to
London many menacing symptoms observable among the Boers, {p.030}
from which war was believed to be inevitable, and urged the immediate
despatch of troops sufficient to protect the colony. In response to
this, orders were issued on September 8 for 5,700 men to start from
India, and a small additional force from England itself, making a
total of from seven to eight thousand. These were expected to arrive,
and actually did for the most part arrive, between October 12 and 19,
but even so were barely in time for the critical moment. They were
also only sufficient imperfectly to defend the colony, and were by no
means adequate to the offensive purpose which the Boer Government, in
its ultimatum, professed to discern.

Meanwhile, on the 25th of September, Glencoe had been occupied by a
detachment from Ladysmith, while reinforcements were sent to the
latter. It had by this time been recognized that the attempt to hold
the more advanced positions, such as Newcastle and Laing's Nek, would
expose the forces so placed to the fate of isolation which afterward
befell Ladysmith. The course of both the Imperial and colonial
governments at this period {p.031} was much affected by a wish not to
precipitate hostile action on the part of the Boers; for, in general,
war was not desired by the British, and, in particular, they were as
yet unready. On the 28th, however, such definite and threatening
movements were reported that the Natal Ministry decided at all hazards
to call out the volunteers, although it had apprehended that this step
would be considered practically equivalent to a declaration of war.

The increase of force in Natal to 15,000 men determined the sending
out of an officer superior in rank to General Symons. Sir George
White, designated for this duty, reached Cape Town October 3, and in
view of the serious news he there received, proceeded at once to
Durban. On the 9th, the day the Boer ultimatum was issued, he had at
Pietermaritzburg an interview with the Governor, in which he expressed
his disapproval of the position at Glencoe--an opinion in which other
officers of rank present coincided. The Governor replied that General
Symons had thought it safe, even before the Indian contingent arrived;
that the step had been {p.032} taken to assure the coal supply; and
that to recede from it now would involve grave political consequences,
disheartening the loyal, and tending to encourage a rising among the
blacks and the disaffected Dutch. Without changing his opinion as to
the military error involved, Sir George White resolved to allow the
detachment to remain. The decision thus taken finally constituted the
British military situation in Natal when the campaign opened; namely,
an advanced detachment of three or four thousand at Glencoe and
Dundee, a main body of eight to ten thousand at Ladysmith, with
smaller posts guarding the communications in rear of the latter.

The greater exposure of Natal, owing to its nearness to the Boer
States, had determined the concentration upon it of the bulk of the
British forces in South Africa, including the reinforcements so far
ordered; by the arrival of which it was expected that there would by
the end of October be 22,000 troops in South Africa. It was not till
October 7 that was issued the first order to mobilise, summoning
25,000 of the Army Reserve to join the colours.

The {p.033} necessities of Natal left but scant numbers to Cape
Colony, which was comparatively of less consequence, because the
points of vital importance to Great Britain lay near the sea-coast,
protected by their mere remoteness from any speedy attack. On the far
inland borders of the colony the situation soon reduced itself to that
with which we were so long familiar. The four or five thousand men
available at the outbreak of the war for the defence of the long
frontier, extending over five hundred miles, from the Basutoland
boundary to Mafeking, were obliged by the necessities of the case to
concentrate; which they did at Mafeking and Kimberley. There they were
speedily invested; and, being thus held in check, the border country,
including the important railroad junctions of De Aar, Naauwport and
Stormberg, lay freely open to the enemy. The seriousness of this
military condition was much increased by the well-known political fact
that the Dutch population of the region sympathized more or less
actively with the Boers. In fact many of them, upon the opening of
hostilities, crossed the border {p.034} to join the forces of the
Orange Free State.

On the 9th of October, 1899, the Transvaal Government presented an
ultimatum. After recounting the political grievances of which it
complained, it demanded that all points of mutual difference should be
settled by arbitration, or other peaceful means, that the British
troops near the Transvaal border should be withdrawn, that the recent
reinforcements be removed altogether from South Africa, and that those
still on the sea should not be landed. If a satisfactory answer were
not received by 5 P.M., October 11, the action of the British
Government would be regarded as a formal declaration of war. War
therefore may be considered as having been formally initiated by the
Transvaal, at the day and hour thus fixed.

For some time prior to the opening of hostilities, the armed men of
both the South African Republic and the Free State had been assembling
in force on their respective frontiers toward Natal; the latter less
rapidly than the former, its military preparation not having received
as full development as that of its ally, {p.035} who for some years
had been contemplating the possibility of war and accumulating
material. The Transvaalers came in rapidly, and already by the end of
September had gathered in numbers enough to warrant a speedy advance,
before the expected reinforcements from India should reach the enemy.

There is good reason to believe that it was intended to issue the
ultimatum on October 2, a week before its actual date; but there
occurred the unpleasant surprise of finding that neither in food nor
in ammunition were the supplies at hand sufficient to justify an
immediate forward movement. The defect of imperfect transport
organisation, inherent to hastily levied irregular troops, made itself
at once felt. The delay doubtless strengthened both parties, but, as
usual, inured most to the benefit of the one then on the defensive.

The first transports from India began to arrive on Tuesday, October 3,
on which day also the bulk of the Natal volunteers were expected to be
in their places; and in the six intervening days, preceding the
ultimatum, eleven {p.036} more steamers entered Durban with troops
which were at once despatched to the front. General Symons took
command at Dundee, Sir George White of the main body at Ladysmith.

The number of the Boers near at hand, and capable of being brought
against either of the British posts, was variously estimated at the
moment at from 8,000 to 13,000. There can be little doubt, however,
that the latter figure was much more nearly correct; that, in fact, on
October 11, the available force for the invasion rather exceeded than
fell short of the higher figure. Although precise information is still
lacking, there can be no doubt, from the character of the Boer
operations, that rapid subsequent accessions raised their numbers in
Natal to near 30,000 before the middle of November.

It is well here, on the verge of opening hostilities, to recall what
has before been indicated, that the projection of the narrow neck of
Natal, forming an acute salient angle between two hostile borders,
gave especial facilities to the Boers to combine their movements
outside the observation of the enemy, and {p.037} to strike suddenly
either at one of the British detachments, or at the railroad uniting
them. Small bodies began to make their appearance from both quarters
almost immediately after the expiry of the time set by the ultimatum,
and for three or four days the ordinary reports of outpost
observations and shots exchanged were continually received.

The uncertainty consequent upon these divergent demonstrations, some
of which from the Free State seemed to aim at the rear of Ladysmith
itself, was balanced and checked by the knowledge that the principal
Transvaal force had assembled round Zandspruit, in its own territory,
near the railroad, and some fifteen miles beyond Majuba Hill. There
was reason also to believe that the Transvaalers would be found more
enterprising and numerous than the Free State men. It was, therefore,
natural to expect that the main attack would come from the north along
the railroad, and from the east, where the approach from the Transvaal
boundary, which is there marked by the Buffalo River, is over a
country much more practicable than the western mountain range. These
considerations in {p.038} fact appear to have dictated the first
combination of the Boers.

Within a week from the opening of hostilities, the latter had occupied
Newcastle, thirty-seven miles by rail from Glencoe. On the 18th
further demonstrations caused General Symons to withdraw the outpost
stationed at Glencoe to the camp, which was a mile and a half west of
Dundee. The following day, Thursday, he received information, which
proved to be in the main accurate, that a combined movement was in
progress by which his position was to be simultaneously attacked from
the north and from the east. The force in the latter direction was
given at 7,000--probably an excessive estimate; although, as several
commandos had been reported on Wednesday to be moving from the
northern toward the eastern column, it is probable that the latter was
expected to make the chief attack. A British reconnaissance on the
same evening had showed the enemy apparently in force some ten miles
to the northward on the railway; but, if an attack from that quarter
were intended, the Boer combination failed, for none was made.
General {p.039} Joubert, in reporting the results, said, "Commandant
Lucas Meyer (commanding the eastern force) has had an engagement with
the British at Dundee. Meyer made a plan of campaign by messenger with
Commandant Erasmus, who, however, did not put in an appearance."
Convergent attacks, intended to be simultaneous, but starting from
different quarters, are particularly liable to such mishaps.

While these two columns on the 18th were moving on Dundee, a third
force of about 1,000 mounted men, under General Koch, coming from the
north, passed round Glencoe to the westward, crossing the Biggarsberg,
a lofty spur of nearly 6,000 feet, that extends from the western
mountains almost across Natal, with occasional depressions, through
one of which the railroad passes. On Thursday these took possession of
Elandslaagte, a station sixteen miles north of Ladysmith, capturing
one train and nearly intercepting another. Railroad communication in
the rear of Symons was thus intercepted, at the moment that Meyer was
advancing from the east, expecting to fall upon him in conjunction
{p.040} with the northern column. During the night of the 19th Meyer's
force crossed the Buffalo River at Landman's Drift, ten miles east of
Dundee, at 2.30 A.M. drove in the British pickets in that direction,
and at daybreak was seen dotting the hill-ridges, about three miles
east of the camp.

The scene of the approaching action of October 20 is the valley of a
small stream, the general course of which, as nearly as can be judged
from the maps, is north and south. The river-bed, or donga--to use the
conveniently short South African term--is half a mile east of Dundee,
the ground sloping easily toward it; while on the other side the
watershed rises, slowly at first, afterward more rapidly, for a mile
or more, to the ridge occupied by the Boers, which the road to
Landman's crosses at a depression called Smith's Nek. The enemy were
on both sides of the latter when first seen by the British. To the
north of the Nek--to the Boer right--is Talana Hill, where the
decisive fighting occurred, and which had to be carried by direct
assault, lasting, with the intervals of cover, for nearly six hours.
The {p.041} characteristics of the Hill itself, therefore, need to be
understood. As described by an eye-witness, it is about eight hundred
feet high from the level of the donga. The summit presents the flat
table-like sky line, frequently noted in South African travel, of
which Table Mountain, in Cape Town, is the conspicuous example. After
a few hundred yards of gentle acclivity through open ground a wood is
reached, near which is a homestead called Smith's Farm. Half way
between the wood and the top is a stone wall supporting a terrace.
Between the wood and this wall the ground is steep, broken and rocky.
Immediately above the wall the terrace, though easy, is wide and open,
and consequently exposed. The terrace crossed, the remainder of the
ascent is almost perpendicular; a matter therefore of strenuous
climbing under fire.

It appears from this description that the wood and the terrace
afforded a certain amount of cover, as did the donga; that the first
rush from the latter could be made rapidly, with, however,
comparatively little shelter from a long-range fire, while to climb
the wall {p.042} and cross the terrace, though a short process,
involved the utmost exposure. Concerning the last scene of the drama,
the scaling the nearly precipitous fronts which skirted the Boers'
position, the difficulty of the achievement caused the losses of the
assailants there to be heaviest. It may be added that, owing to the
unexpected and rapid developments of the day, most of the British
fought without breakfast or other food.

As soon as the enemy were discovered a company of infantry occupied
the donga, where successive reinforcements were received, and under
cover of which the line prepared for the assault. At 5.30 the Boers
surprised the British by opening with artillery--six guns--at an
estimated distance of 5,400 yards from the British camp. To this three
batteries replied, two of which were soon moved down to the town side
of the donga. The artillery duel, at a range of 2,000 to 3,000 yards,
continued until toward eight o'clock, when the Boers ceased firing,
and General Symons gave the order to prepare for the assault.
Difficult as was the task, and inferior though the assailants were in
number, the conditions were {p.043} such that the weak garrison of
Dundee had no prospect of ultimate escape, unless they could rout the
enemy with which they were engaged before the co-operating body from
the north arrived.

While the action was in its early stages, at 10 A.M., scouts reported
a large force approaching along the railroad. The small detachment
left to guard the British camp moved out to meet and, if possible, to
delay this new enemy. Besides the purely local conditions, it was
essential, in the general plan of campaign, during the waiting period
of inferiority, while their reinforcements were still on the sea, that
the British should risk much to demoralise and daunt an enemy who,
whatever their advantages otherwise, had not that military training
and cohesion which facilitates rapid recovery from a reverse. Whatever
the first mistake of advancing their position so far, it is impossible
to withhold admiration from the rapidity and energy of the measures
taken in the first fortnight of the campaign.

It was a dull, drizzling morning when the line of hungry British
soldiers leaped from the donga {p.044} and rushed for the wood; their
batteries to the right and left sending a rapid continuous iron fire
over their heads upon the hill-top, whence the Boers rained down lead
upon their advance. Few dropped here; but in the wood, where for quite
a while they halted, concealed rather than covered, many were struck
down, and here it was that death found General Symons, who had
galloped up to tell the men the hill _must_ be taken. He had asked
much of his men, but he spared not himself. He fell honoured and
beloved; man cannot die better.

It was about 10 that Symons received his wound. Obedient to his last
commands, the troops broke cover and worked their way from the wood to
the wall, step by step; a few feet onward, rushed and down; again a
rush and again down. Below the terrace they stopped, protected by the
wall but unable to advance; for did man show head or hand, down swept
the deadly fire from above. Men, however, are not of iron; eyes and
hands weary; the brain and the nerves feel strain; and it is of the
essence of defence that it exhausts quicker than does offence.
{p.045} It lacks intrinsically the moral tension that sustains; when
the forward impulse is removed, the evil spirit of backwardness finds
room to enter. As hours pass, this difference in moral conditions
affects those which are external--saps physical endurance.

Whatever the reason, toward noon the Boer fire slackened; possibly the
necessity of husbanding ammunition was felt. The British scaled the
wall, crossed rapidly the terrace, and gained the foot of the last
steep climb which lay between them and the enemy's position. Their
artillery also moved forward, to sustain the final perilous attempt by
keeping down the enemy's fire; but, despite all it could do, the loss
here was great and fell especially heavily upon the officers, who
exposed themselves freely. Out of seventeen of the latter that went
into action with one battalion, five were killed and seven wounded;
and the other regiments suffered in like manner, if not to the same
degree. As the assailants got near the top, the batteries had to cease
firing, unable longer to assure their aim between friend and foe. The
last rush was then made with the bayonet, but, as is usual, {p.046}
the defendants did not await the shock of immediate contact. They
broke and fled as the British advance crowned the summit, leaving
there some thirty dead and wounded, besides seventy wounded in a field
hospital on the reverse side of the hill. The artillery of the attack
continued to move forward to Smith's Nek, whence the enemy's force was
visible in full retreat. It was at 1.30 P.M. that the position, which
General Yule, Symons's successor, styled "almost inaccessible," was
finally carried.

The precise numbers engaged can as yet be only a matter of estimate,
but there is little doubt that the assailants were inferior in number
to the defenders. The former were about 2,000; the latter were by
General Yule thought to be about 4,000, many of whom, doubtless, were
not on the hill itself. The satisfaction of the victors, in what was
certainly a splendid feat of arms, was somewhat marred by the
disappearance of a body of cavalry, which at the opening of the day
had been sent to work round the enemy's right--northern--flank. They
had been taken prisoners, apparently by the co-operating Boer {p.047}
force which had failed to come up in time for the fighting.

The following afternoon--Saturday, the 21st--a demonstration was made
by this force; but it was not pushed home, being confined to a
bombardment by two heavy guns--40-pounders--at a range of 6,000 yards.
In prevision of such an attempt, Yule had already shifted some of his
equipage, and now, finding that the hostile guns outranged his own, he
removed the camp two miles to the southward, on high ground. On the
22nd, news being received of the enemy's defeat at Elandslaagte the
day before, he endeavoured to cut off the fugitives at Glencoe, but
the nearness of the northern Boers compelled him to desist, and
finally to resume his last position. Realising from all the conditions
that Dundee could not be held, unless reinforced, and that
reinforcement was improbable, he decided now to retreat upon

At 9 P.M. that night the British marched out, taking their transport
trains, but necessarily leaving the wounded behind them. The road
followed diverges from the railroad to the {p.048} eastward, crossing
the Biggarsberg, and coming out at a place called Beith. There it
forks, the right-hand branch trending toward Ladysmith, parallel to
the railroad and distant from it eight to ten miles. The march was
severe, for the pace was necessarily rapid and sustained, and the
roads heavy from recent rains; nor was it without serious risk from
the nearness of the enemy, although the battle of Talana Hill had done
much to free the eastern flank, and that of Elandslaagte the western.
No molestation was experienced.

It is necessary now to narrate the operations of the Ladysmith
garrison, which cannot in effect be dissociated from those of its
dependant at Dundee.

The demonstrations of the Boers, in various directions, kept Sir
George White in doubt as to their immediate intentions until Thursday,
the 19th, when Elandslaagte was occupied by the force under General
Koch. The same day word was received of the enemy's approach to
Dundee. Both movements threatened to isolate the latter. On the 20th a
reconnaissance toward Elandslaagte {p.049} was made by General
French, who had arrived the day before from England. Thick weather
prevented precise determination of the hostile numbers or position,
but the general fact was established. That evening the successful
results of the day's action at Dundee became known, and the next
morning--Saturday, October 21--the reconnaissance was resumed under
better atmospheric conditions. From a cliff between two and three
miles from Elandslaagte a clear view of the enemy was obtained, and
their fire drawn, which proved that both numerically and in artillery
they were superior to the detachment before them. They had expected
reinforcements, and those engaged in the ensuing affair were probably
nearer 2,000 than to the 1,000 of two days before.

French telegraphed to Ladysmith and received a promise of more troops,
the last of which arrived--the infantry by train--about 3 P.M.
Meantime the enemy had quitted Elandslaagte for a ridge of rocky hills
about a mile and a half south-east of the station--a position
characterised as exceptionally strong by Sir George White, who
witnessed {p.050} the affair, but left its management in French's
hands. More in detail, the ridge is described as being about 800 feet
high, 800 to 1,000 yards long, and in a general sense perpendicular to
the railroad; lying, therefore, south-east and north-west. At the
latter extremity, nearer the road, are two marked elevations, with a
neck between them, in which was the Boers' laager. Of these the
westernmost is the higher, but both commanded the rest of the ridge
throughout its full extent to the south-east. In front of the ridge
the country, of general rolling contour, presents a shallow valley
some two or three miles wide. The near side of this to the British,
when the latter first advanced, was occupied by a few Boers, but these
fell back quickly to their main body. In making their dispositions the
Boers occupied in chief force the western elevations, intrenching
their artillery on the inner and lower of the two. A thinner firing
line was developed thence to the eastward, along the summit of the
ridge covering the approach from the front. A flank being usually the
weakest part of a line, the natural course for the assailant would
{p.051} be to attack in flank at the lower--eastern--extremity of the
ridge, and to advance thence toward the main positions, supported in
so doing by a secondary front attack by riflemen and artillery. To
impede such an attempt the Boers had set up at intervals barbed wire
fences. Through these, and over a broken rocky surface, the attacking
column must fight its way, step by step, till the final hills were
reached and could be rushed as Talana had been by their countrymen the
day before.

The plan above outlined was the one adopted by General French; seven
companies of infantry being allotted to the front attack, a regiment
and five companies to that upon the flank. A few squadrons of cavalry
accompanied the latter movement, as well to protect it when in
performance as to profit by any mishap befalling the enemy. The troops
formed just below and under cover of the rising ground on the hither
side of the valley fronting the hostile line. The fire of the latter
was drawn, and the situation of their artillery thus discovered--despite
the use of smokeless powder--by the flashes of their {p.052} guns,
which showed the more clearly against the blackness of a big thunder
cloud rising behind the Dutch positions, which enabled the British
also to see distinctly the bursting of their own shrapnel over the

The usual artillery duel succeeded at a distance of 4,500 yards--two
miles and a half--but from the lateness of the hour, and the amount of
work ahead, no time could be lost, so the infantry operation began as
quickly as possible. The front attack moved down into the valley, a
firing line of three hundred men covering the space of 500 yards from
end to end, its remaining companies following at intervals to support
it, and to replace those who fell--to "feed" the line, keeping it at
full strength.

The first part of this advance was, on account of the distance,
resisted chiefly by artillery fire, which, though accurate, was seen
to cause there few casualties. At 1,200 yards from the enemy's
positions, being there well within rifle range, the line halted, lay
down, and opened fire. The smooth surface of the ground gave little
natural shelter; what {p.053} there was was found chiefly behind ant
hills, of which there were very many. The musketry fire here undergone
was severe, for the only diversion to it continued so far to be the
British artillery, the flanking movement not having yet fully
developed. Under the undivided attention of the enemy's riflemen, the
line worked its way steadily forward, men dropping frequently, to
within 800 yards of the summit, where they finally lay down and waited
under a constant fall of shot till the bugle should summon them to the

Meantime, during these last 400 yards, the flank attack was beginning.
In general, the first ascent was of the rocky, broken character before
noted, both here and at Talana; but, the strength of the Boer force
being on the other flank, the assailants, while mounting, were covered
by the slope and did not come fairly under fire until the top was
reached. Then they began to fall rapidly, but a few paces further the
ground dipped, and again gave momentary shelter. It was, however, but
to take breath for the final rush; if rush it can be called, which
meant steady, dogged bearing up against a pitiless rain {p.054} of
projectiles, and forcing one's way forward rock by rock, while
companions drop, one by one, on either side. Six hundred yards of such
work lay, before the flanking column, interrupted ever and anon by the
barbed-wire obstacles, which, however, were themselves often cut down
by the intensity of the fire.

Under such conditions the community of action which rests upon formal
organisation and method ceases to be effectual. The momentum that
endures to the end, and so effects the results of co-operation, finds
its energy partly in individual character, partly in the moral
fellowship of impulse and of purpose which, once imparted, remains
subconscious, perhaps, but ineradicable. The man knows, or rather
feels, that if he gets to the end he will find his comrades there; and
that if he goes back he will not find them, but his own self-contempt.
Such is unanimity, the oneness of will that comes of a common training
and of common ideals, bred-in, if not inborn. So this mass of men,
independent each, and yet members, each, one of the other, struggled
forward, through failing {p.055} light and drenching rain--for the
storm had burst as the ascent began--till half the way was won. Then
the bugle sounded "Charge," and the reply came cheerily up from below.
The men, in the valley and on the hill, moved forward with the
bayonet, still not neglecting cover, but looking now more to speed.
Again, as usual, save a few of the more stubborn who were killed at
their guns, the defenders did not await the shock but fled down the
hills, where the cavalry that had accompanied the flank attack got
among them and completed their discomfiture.

The battle at Elandslaagte was distinctly creditable to both sides,
but upon the whole gave sounder cause for self-congratulation to the
British than to their opponents. The former were numerically superior
to the defenders, but not to an extent which countervailed even the
natural advantages of the ground, further improved by measures for
which time allowed.

Regarded apart from its connection with the campaign as a whole,
simply as a combat unrelated to other incidents, the conception and
the {p.056} execution of the attack were admirable; while in the
matter of military dynamic energy, to whatever source that shown on
the one side or the other may be attributed, the potentiality of the
attacking force was demonstrated to be greater than that of the

Still more was the action at Elandslaagte commendable, when viewed in
relation to the general respective conditions of the Boers and the
British in Natal at that time.

Duly to appreciate the merits and the results of these two successive
days of fighting, at Talana and at Elandslaagte, it must be remembered
that the British in a general sense, and at Dundee locally as well,
were upon the defensive, and that the Boer movements were each a part
of one general plan directed, and most properly, to overwhelm and
destroy the detachments--Dundee and Ladysmith--in detail; they
together being rightly considered one fraction of the enemy's whole
force, present or hurrying over sea. So regarded, the vigour with
which the British took the initiative, assumed the offensive,
themselves in turn attacking in detail, and severely punishing, the
separate factors of the enemy's {p.057} combination, is worthy of
great praise. Sir Penn Symons is perhaps entitled to the greater meed
because to him fell, with the greater burden, the greater opportunity,
to which he proved not unequal.

Such men were worthy of the steady forward gallantry shown by officers
and men. Both leaders and led easily carry off the palm from the more
phlegmatic opponents, who failed to sweep them away. The result was to
save Ladysmith, or rather--what was most really important--to save the
organized force that was there shut in. The brilliant antecedent
campaign, the offensive right and left strokes, the prompt and timely
resolve of Yule to retreat just as he did, and the consequent
concentration, utterly frustrated the Boers' combinations, and
shattered antecedently their expectations of subduing the British by
the cheaper method of exhaustion. The failure was not only signal, but
in the end discreditable; for while success is no sure proof of merit,
nor its opposite of indesert, the wide miscalculation of the ultimate
result, which kept the Boers so long inactive before Ladysmith, and
saved Natal, while reinforcements were {p.058} well known all the
while to be hasting across the sea, is entitled to scant respect from
any indications in its favour. The faulty execution of the original
plan, which enabled the enemy to concentrate and to accumulate
adequate means of resistance, and the subsequent underestimate of the
endurance of the garrison, bear the same mark. In issuing their
ultimatum, in opening the campaign, in combining against Dundee, and
finally in investing Ladysmith, the Boers exceeded decisively that
five minutes of delay upon which, to use Nelson's words, turns victory
or defeat; and the loss of time, as yet only serious, through the
procrastinations of the siege became irremediable.

It is noticeable that the returns of casualties at Elandslaagte do not
perfectly bear out extreme conclusions as to the fatal preponderance
of the defence over the offence in modern warfare. As reported soon
after the action, the British lost in killed, 55; in wounded, 199. Of
the Boers, 65 dead were found on the ground; others, estimated--guessed
is perhaps more correct--at 50, were killed in pursuit by the cavalry.
Their wounded {p.059} is not stated, but there were many among the
three hundred prisoners taken. It is true, certainly, that in this
affair not only was the British attack well combined, but their
superiority in numbers was considerable. Still, after all deductions,
the greater loss of the defendants casts doubt, either upon their
marksmanship or upon the prevalent theory that the effects of modern
weapons are revolutionary. As a historical fact, a front attack upon
intrenched men, even irregulars, has been a desperate business as far
back, at least, as Bunker Hill and Fort Moultrie.

Twenty-four hours after Elandslaagte, at 9 P.M., Sunday, October 22,
Yule's men started on their march of sixty miles, of mountain climb
and over rain-drenched roads, to Ladysmith. Their own work at Talana
Hill had secured the left flank of their retreat, by the
demoralization of Meyer's force; to protect their right, the
increasing numbers and threatening movements of the enemy west of the
railroad impelled Sir George White to further action. On the 24th he
moved out a strong force, which discovered the {p.060} enemy at
Rietfontein, seven miles from Ladysmith, on a ridge west of, and
parallel to, the Glencoe road; their artillery intrenched in the
centre, and supported by infantry upon commanding elevations at either
end. The British drew up on a parallel ridge, to the eastward, and an
action ensued, confined mainly to artillery at 3,000 yards. In the end
the Boers, chiefly a body of Free State men, evacuated their positions
about 2 P.M. and retired to the westward. Pursuit was not attempted.
The security and junction of Yule's detachment was the prime immediate
necessity, and it was by this fully apparent that the time was come
when offensive returns, on the part of the greatly outnumbered
British, must be limited to those needed to insure necessary delay
before final inevitable interception and investment. It was no
occasion for displays of military fancy sparring.

Shortly after noon of Thursday, October 26, Yule's column marched into
Ladysmith--"done up," telegraphed White, "but in good spirits and only
need rest." The lamented Steevens, with his graphic pen, has described
for us the pride, pomp and circumstance of the return {p.061} of the
men who had stormed Talana Hill, and had still before them the grim
protracted realities of Ladysmith.

"Before next morning was gray in came the 1st Rifles. They plashed
uphill to their blue-roofed huts on the south-west side of the town.
By the time the sun was up they were fed by their sister battalion,
the 2nd, and had begun to unwind their putties. But what a sight!
Their putties were not soaked and not caked; say, rather, that there
may have been a core of puttie inside, but that the men's legs were
imbedded in a serpentine cast of clay. As for their boots, you could
only infer them from the huge balls of stratified mud they bore round
their feet. Red mud, yellow mud, black mud, brown mud--they lifted
their feet toilsomely; they were land plummets that had sucked up
specimens of all the heavy, sticky soils for fifteen miles. Officers
and men alike bristled stiff with a week's beard. Rents in their khaki
showed white skin; from their grimed hands and heads you might have
judged them half red men, half soot-black. Eyelids hung fat and heavy
over hollow cheeks and pointed cheekbones. Only {p.062} the eye
remained--the sky-blue, steel-keen, hard, clear, unconquerable English
eye--to tell that thirty-two miles without rest, four days without a
square meal, six nights--for many--without a stretch of sleep, still
found them soldiers at the end.

"That was the beginning of them; but they were not all in till the
middle of the afternoon--which made thirty-six hours on their legs.
The Irish Fusiliers tramped in at lunch-time--going a bit short some
of them, nearly all a trifle stiff on the feet--but solid, square and
sturdy from the knees upward. They straightened up to the cheers that
met them, and stepped out on scorching feet as if they were ready to
go into action again on the instant. After them came the guns--not the
sleek creatures of Laffan's Plain, rough with earth and spinning mud
from their wheels, but war-worn and fresh from slaughter; you might
imagine their damp muzzles were dripping blood. You could count the
horses' ribs; they looked as if you could break them in half before
the quarters. But they, too, knew they were being cheered; they threw
their ears up and flung {p.063} all the weight left them into the

"Through fire, water and earth, the Dundee column had come home

The undeniable error of placing an advanced detachment in Dundee had
thus been redeemed; at much material cost, it may be granted, but the
moral gain probably exceeded, and the gallant author of the mistake
paid for his error with his life. General Symons died in Dundee on the
day his column came in touch with the Ladysmith force.

In the ensuing week the Boers in largely superior numbers closed
rapidly down upon the now concentrated British, who on their part
strained every nerve to accumulate strength and resources, and to
secure time, by imposing caution and delay upon the enemy.

It was in an attempt of this kind that the disaster at Nicholson's Nek
was incurred. The enemy had appeared in great numerical strength upon
the hills, from three to five miles north of the town, and thence
round to the eastward, over a line of seven or eight miles. A
reconnaissance in force was planned for {p.064} Monday, October 30,
and in support of it, to secure the British left flank, a detachment
of a dozen companies of infantry with a mountain battery started at 11
P.M., Sunday, to march nearly due north, up the bed of a stream called
Bell's Spruit, to occupy the elevation known as Nicholson's Nek.
Advance along the broken, rock-strewn, and unfamiliar watercourse was
necessarily slow, but was unmolested until about two hours before
daybreak, when some boulders were rolled down from a neighbouring
height and fell among the mules of the battery, which was in the
middle of the column, preceded and followed by infantry. The terrified
creatures broke from their keepers, turned, and dashed in the darkness
through the rear of the division, where several shots were fired into
them by the startled soldiers, unable to see the character of the rush
they felt. Confusion necessarily ensued, and the panic spread to the
other ammunition animals, which stampeded. Order was with difficulty
restored, and the detachment, thus arrested, at daybreak found itself
still two miles short of its destination. It was not thought expedient
to {p.065} press on; and refuge, rather than position, was sought
upon a hill near by, which looked defensible, but upon climbing was
found to be commanded from several quarters. These were soon occupied
by the Boers, and after a resistance protracted to about 3 P.M., the
detachment was compelled to surrender. Something over a thousand men
were thus lost to the besieged, who could ill afford it. The
missing--mostly prisoners--amounted to 843. On the field 52 were found
dead, and 150 wounded were brought back to Ladysmith. Less than 100

                   [Footnote 3: "From Cape Town to Ladysmith," p. 79.]

The rest of the British movement was successfully carried out, the
enemy retiring before them; but although all the troops were out,
except those absolutely needed for garrisoning the works, the enemy's
field bases--"laagers"--could not be reached. Their numbers and
dispositions so far made were observed; but the approaching
powerlessness of the British for decisive offensive action was also
shown. Upon returning to camp at 2 P.M., it was happily found that a
naval brigade from the cruiser "Powerful," lying at Durban, {p.066}
had reached Ladysmith with long range and heavy guns. These were
quickly got into position and soon silenced a Boer 40-pounder, which
at daybreak had opened fire on the town from a hill between two and
three miles to the northward. A few hours later news came in of the
reverse at Nicholson's Nek.

The naval guns arrived in the nick of time, the very day that the
enemy got their first heavy piece at work, and but three days before
all communication with outside was intercepted. The closeness of the
shave emphasizes the military value of unremitting activity in doing,
and unremitting energy in retarding an opponent. At one end of the
line Talana Hill, Elandslaagte, Rietfontein; at the other, 200 miles
away, a naval division rushing guns ashore and to the railroad. The
result, a siege artillery opportunely mounted to keep the adversary at

"The enemy's guns," telegraphed Sir George White, October 30, "range
further than our field guns. I have now some naval guns, which have
temporarily silenced, and I hope {p.067} will permanently dominate,
the enemy's best guns, with which he has been bombarding the town at a
distance of over 6,000 yards." "Our forces were seriously outnumbered
and our guns outranged" (yesterday), wrote a correspondent in
Ladysmith, "until the arrival of the naval brigade, who rendered
excellent service." "The prompt assistance rendered by the Navy 190
miles inland has added immensely to the defensive strength of the
position, which now depends upon keeping down the enemy's artillery
fire. If the siege guns of the Boers can be controlled, the rifle fire
of a stout-hearted force ought to render a successful assault

The naval guns were six--two 4.7 inch, and four long 12-pounders. They
were mounted on carriages hastily extemporised for the emergency by
Captain Percy Scott, of the Royal Navy, and, as they outranged the
army field guns by full 2,000 yards, they extended by at least double
that distance the diameter of the circle of investment imposed upon
the enemy.

On the 2nd of November telegraphic communication {p.068} between
Ladysmith and the outer world was broken, and the same day railroad
communication was intercepted; the last train out carrying General
French to take a cavalry command at Cape Town. The brief, exciting,
and brilliant prelude to the war was concluded, and a great and
controlling centre of national and military interest had been
established by the isolation of some 13,000 British in the midst of
foes whose numbers are not even yet accurately known, but of whose
great superiority in that respect there can be no doubt. For a hundred
and eighteen weary days the blockade lasted, until, on February 28,
1900, the advance of the relieving force entered the place.

Almost simultaneously with the beginning of the investment, on the
31st of October, General Sir Redvers Buller arrived from England at
Cape Town to take chief command of the British forces in South Africa.
The second period of the war now opened, before recounting which it
will be necessary to summarize the general situation at date, as
constituted by many preliminary occurrences in different, and {p.069}
even remote, quarters of the world. Up to the present, success had
seemed to lie with the Boers, but the appearance was only superficial.
Their plan had been well designed, but in execution it had failed; and
while the failure is to be laid in part to a certain tardiness and
lack of synchronism in their own movements, it was due yet more to the
well-judged, energetic, and brilliantly executed movements of Sir
George White and Sir Penn Symons, which utilised and completed the
dislocation in the enemy's action, and so insured the time necessary
for organising defence upon an adequately competent scale.

"Sir George White's force," wrote Spencer Wilkinson, on the 18th
October, "is the centre of gravity of the situation. If the Boers
cannot defeat it their case is hopeless; if they can crush it they may
have hopes of ultimate success."[4] The summary was true then, and is
now. In the preliminary trial of skill and strength the Boers had been

                   [Footnote 4: "Lessons of the War," p. 13.]

     NOTE.--The effective British force shut up in Ladysmith on
     November 2 was 13,496, besides which there were 249 sick {p.070}
     and wounded; total, 13,745. The Boer force in Natal is not
     accurately known, but is roughly reckoned at double the British;
     say 30,000. This estimate is probable, both from the extent of
     their operations, and because they ought to have had at least so
     many. It would be more to their discredit to have had fewer than
     to fail with more. The non-military element in Ladysmith raised
     the number of the besieged to about 21,000.



In matters accessory to the War in South Africa, two stand
conspicuous, as worthy of note by such as interest themselves in
clearly comprehending those contemporary facts of which the import is
not merely local, but universal. As in all theatres of war, and in all
campaigns, there exist in South Africa particular conditions,
permanent or transient, to utilise or to overcome which introduces
into the character of the forces employed, and into their operations,
specific variations, distinguishing them from methods elsewhere
preferable. Such differences, however, being accidental in character,
involve questions strictly of detail--of application--and do not
affect the principles which are common to warfare everywhere. To the
casual reader, therefore, they are less important to master and
{p.072} to retain in mind, however necessary to be observed, in order
to apprehend the relative advantages and disadvantages of the parties
to the conflict, and so to appreciate the skill or the defects shown
by either in the various circumstances that arise.

In South Africa such specific differences are to be found, not only in
the features of the country, which are more than usually exceptional,
or in the contrast of characteristics between the two races engaged,
which from the military point of view is very marked, but notably in
the uncertainties and impediments attending the lines of communication
by which the British army must be sustained nearly a thousand miles
from the sea. These embarrassments are manifest in the great length
and small capacity of the single-track railroad--750 miles to
Bloemfontein and over 1,000 to Pretoria; in the difficulty and
slowness of transport by all other means; in the problems of water,
and of pasturage, as affected by the wet and dry seasons; in the
effect of all these upon mobility, and in the influence on questions
of transport, and of all mobile services, exercised by {p.073} the
regional sickness that rapidly destroys the greater part of
non-acclimated horses.

Communications dominate war; to protect long lines of communication
from serious interference by raids demands an ample mobile force.

These are general principles of warfare, universally applicable. The
questions of water, pasturage, and horse sickness are special to South
Africa, as is also in some degree the inadequate railway system; and
these constitute conditions which modify the local application of
general principles. Two factors, however, have appeared in this war
which, while they characterise it especially, are gravely significant
to those who would fain seek in current events instruction for the
future, whether of warning or of encouragement. These are the almost
complete failure of the British Government and people to recognise at
the beginning the bigness of the task before them; and, in the second
place, the enthusiasm and practical unanimity with which not South
Africa only but the other and distant British colonies offered their
services {p.074} to the mother country. The philosophical reflector
can scarcely fail to be impressed with this latter political fact; for
it has illustrated vividly the general truth that, when once men's
minds are prepared, a simple unforeseen incident converts what has
seemed an academic theory, or an idle dream, into a concrete and most
pregnant fact.

The naval battle of Manila Bay will to the future appear one of the
decisive events of history, for there the visions of the few, which
had quickened unconsciously the conceptions of the many, materialised
as suddenly as unexpectedly into an actuality that could be neither
obviated nor undone. What Dewey's victory was to the over-sea
expansion of the United States, what the bombardment of Fort Sumter in
1861 was to the sentiment of Union in the Northern States, that Paul
Kruger's ultimatum, summarizing in itself the antecedent
disintegrating course of the Afrikander Bond, was to Imperial
Federation. A fruitful idea, which the unbeliever had thought to bury
under scoffs, had taken root in the convictions of men, and passed as
by a bound into vigorous life--perfect, if not yet {p.075} mature. In
these months of war, a common devotion, a common service, a common
achievement, will have constituted a bond of common memories and
recognised community of ideals and interests. To a political entity
these are as a living spirit, which, when it exists, can well await
the slow growth of formal organisation, and of compact, that are but
the body, the material framework, of political life.

It is evident enough that the Transvaal War was the occasion, not the
cause, of the manifested unity of purpose which resulted in immediate
common action between communities so far apart, geographically, as the
British Islands, Canada and Australasia. As early as July 11 the
Governor of Queensland had telegraphed that in case of hostilities the
colony would offer two hundred and fifty mounted infantry, and on
September 29 the Governor of New Zealand sent a message of like tenor.
Before the Boer ultimatum was issued, Western Australia and Tasmania
had volunteered contingents. The other colonies rapidly followed these
examples. There were, indeed, here and there manifestations of
{p.076} dissent, but they turned mainly upon questions of
constitutional interpretation and propriety, and even as such received
comparatively little attention in the overwhelming majority of popular

The attitude of the Imperial Government throughout was strictly and
even scrupulously correct. The action of the colonies was left to be
purely voluntary, the aid accepted from them being freely proffered,
and the expenses of equipment and transportation by themselves voted.
Not till the landing of the colonial troops in Africa were they taken
into pay as an integral part of the Imperial forces, to which they
were assimilated also as regards support in the field, and in matters
of pension for wounds and other compassionate allowances.

The rapidity which characterised the movements on the part of the
various colonies affords the most convincing proof, not only of the
cordial readiness of their co-operation, but of the antecedent
attitude of thoughtful sentiment toward the home country and the
interests of the Empire, which is a far more important matter than the
relatively scanty numbers {p.077} of men sent. Imperial Federation is
a most momentous fact in the world's history, but in material results
it concerns the future rather than the present.

On the 9th of October the Boer ultimatum was issued. On the 23rd the
contingent from British Columbia left Vancouver, to cross the
continent to Quebec, where the Canadian force was to assemble; and
from that port, on the 30th of the same month, the "Sardinian," of the
Canadian line, sailed with 1,049 officers and men. The New Zealanders
and part of those from New South Wales had already started, and by the
5th of November there was left in Australia but one small steamer's
load, of less than one hundred men with their horses, which was not
already at sea speeding for Cape Town. To what was known officially as
the First Colonial Contingent the Australasian colonies contributed
1,491 officers and men.

It is impossible to an American reading these facts not to recall that
there was a day when troops, from what were then North American
colonies, fought for Great Britain in the trenches at Havana, and
before Louisburg in {p.078} Cape Breton, as well as in the more
celebrated campaigns on the lines of Lake Champlain and the St.
Lawrence. But--and herein is the contrast between past and present
that makes the latter so vitally interesting--neither mother country
nor colonies had then aroused to consciousness of world-wide
conditions, for which indeed the time was not yet ripe, but by which
alone immediate and purely local considerations can be seen in their
true proportions, and allowed proper relative weight. From those old
wars the mother country expected but an addition to her colonial
system, to be utilised for her own advantage; the colonists, outside
the love of adventure inherent in their blood, were moved almost
wholly by the jealousies and dangers of the immediate situation, as
the South African colonists have in part been in the present instance.
American concern naturally, inevitably as things then were, did not
travel outside the range of American interests, American
opportunities, American dangers, while the British Government regarded
its colonies as all mother countries in those days did. Consequently,
when the wills of {p.079} the one and the other clashed, there was no
common unifying motive, no lofty sentiment--such as that of national
Union was in 1861 to those who experienced it--to assert supremacy, to
induce conciliation, by subordinating immediate interest and
conviction of rights to its own superior claim.

After making due allowance for mere racial sympathy, which in the
present contest has had even in the neutral United States so large a
share in determining individual sympathies, the claim of an English
newspaper is approximately correct, that the universal action of the
colonies, where volunteering far exceeded the numbers first sent,
"indicates what is the opinion of bodies of free men, widely separated
by social and geographical conditions, concerning the justice and
necessity of the quarrel in which we are now engaged." But this takes
too little account of the much more important political fact that cold
opinion was quickened to hot action by the sentiment of the unity of
the Empire, an ideal which under different conditions may well take to
Imperial Federation the place that the Union occupied in American
hearts {p.080} and minds in 1861. Alike in breadth of view and in
force of sentiment, nothing exceeds the power of such an ideal to lift
men above narrow self-interest to the strenuous self-devotion demanded
by great emergencies. Should this be so in the present case, and
increase, Imperial Federation and the expansion of the United States
are facts, which, whether taken singly or in correlation, are
secondary in importance to nothing contemporaneous.

Nowhere was the failure of the British Government to comprehend the
largeness, at once of the current struggle and of its Imperial
opportunities, more evident than in the wording of its momentary
rejection of the second proffered help from the self-governing
colonies. To the offer of the Canadian Government on November 3, the
British Ministry on the 8th replied that circumstances then were such
that the necessity of a second contingent was not apparent. It may be
that, to quote again a contemporary utterance, "It has been decided
that the forces so contributed shall rather serve to assert a
principle than to constitute a serious burden on {p.081} the
colonies"; and it is doubtless more judicious to accept less, and
charily, of a too eager giver than to overtask his benevolence.
Nevertheless, a more guarded and contingent refusal would have shown
better appreciation of current conditions, and of the Imperial
possibilities involved in the continued and increased participation of
the colonies in an Imperial war.

In order not to revert again to the matter of colonial participation,
it may be well to state here that the reverse of Methuen at
Magersfontein, on December 11, occasioned a casual suggestion in the
London _Times_ of the 14th that "the colonies, whose forces are
especially suited for the exigencies of the present struggle, have
already offered in some instances to increase the strength of their
contingents ... and should now be invited to do so." Official
invitation was not awaited. The colonies took the initiative by asking
if reinforcements would be acceptable, and upon an affirmative reply
the additional troops and sums required received the votes of men of
all parties; Buller's first repulse at Colenso, and the news of
Roberts' appointment to the chief {p.082} command in South Africa,
contributing simultaneously to harden determination and to swell
enthusiasm. Whatever may be thought of the judgment of the Ministry in
the first refusal, which but reflected the slowness with which both it
and the nation it represented aroused to the magnitude of their task,
there can be little doubt that the general outcome was favourable
beyond all antecedent probability to nurturing the growth of the
Imperial sentiment. In the second effort Canada sent 1,969 officers
and men, Australasia 1,843. From the number of horses accompanying
them it is evident that these were chiefly, if not all, mounted
troops; the kind especially needed for the seat of war.

The figures given yield a grand total of 6,352 sent from the Canadian
and Australasian colonies in the more formal organization. To these
are to be added from New Zealand and Australia some 2,700 irregular
horse, raised from among the men who live there in the open, not
previously enrolled, and corresponding in general characteristics to
the Rough Riders of our recent war in Cuba. India also sent a
contingent of 2,437 men and officers. {p.083} Up to this moment of
writing, no certain account of the number of colonial troops furnished
by the South African colonies has been accessible to me. Speaking in
public recently, Mr. Chamberlain has said that more than 30,000 men
had been offered by the self-governing colonies. Early in December it
was estimated that, including the forces in Kimberley, Mafeking, and
Rhodesia, Cape Colony had already 10,000 in service. In February, an
official, but incomplete, and therefore a minimum, list attributed
7,158 at that time to Natal. Combining these various statements, and
reckoning at 12,000 the contingents from the other self-governing
colonies (excluding India), at the time of Chamberlain's speech (May
11), it seems probable that British South Africa put into the field
from 20,000 to 25,000 men. This conclusion agrees substantially with
one furnished to the author from an independent source, using other

In its entirety, the contribution of some 12,000 troops--more or
less[5]--from the greater remote {p.084} dependencies does not indeed
loom very large alongside the truly gigantic figure of 166,277
officers and men, who, between the 20th of October and the 31st of
March, were despatched for South Africa from the ports of the United
Kingdom; in which number are not included those drawn from India and
from England prior to the earlier date, and who constituted the bulk
of the force shut up in Ladysmith under Sir George White. But the
practical importance of a common sentiment--of a great moral fact--is
not to be measured by figures only. The idea of Imperial Federation
justifies itself to the intelligence as well as to the imagination,
resting upon the solid foundation of common interests as well as of
common traditions.

                   [Footnote 5: More have sailed since the above
                   information, but exact figures are wanting to the

In the adjustment of relative importance in men's intellects--which
must precede any useful adjustment of mutual relations, benefits and
responsibilities, by former political agreement--the colonies on the
one hand will have to recognize the immensely greater burden, as
indicated by the above figures and by the size of the fleet, borne by
the United Kingdom. The latter on its part must acknowledge, as
{p.085} in practice she has done, not merely the right of the colonies
to their local administration and self-government, but also the
indispensable contribution to the mutual interests of all parts in the
Federation, that results from local naval bases of operations in many
decisive parts of the world, resting everywhere upon the one sure
foundation for such bases--an enthusiastically loyal, self-dependent,
and military population. Military power, in analysis, consists
principally of two factors--force and position--and if the greater
wealth and population of the home country causes it to exceed in the
former, the dispersion and character of the dependencies contribute
decisively to the latter.

The transportation of the above immense body of soldiers, with all the
equipment and supplies of war needed for a protracted campaign a
distance of 6,000 miles[6] by sea, is an incident unprecedented, and
in its success unsurpassed, in military history. The nature of the
war, it is true, removed from the undertaking all {p.086} military or
naval risk; there was in it nothing corresponding to the anxious
solicitude imposed upon the British generals, by the length of their
thin railroad line and its exposure in numerous critical points to a
mobile enemy. But as a triumph of organisation--of method, of system,
and of sedulous competent attention to details--the performance has
reflected the utmost credit not only upon the Admiralty, to which,
contrary to the rule of the United States, this matter is intrusted,
and which is ultimately responsible both for the general system in
force and for the results, but also upon the Director of Transports,
Rear-Admiral Bouverie Clark, to whose tenure of this office has fallen
the weighty care of immediate supervision. To success in so great an
undertaking are needed both a good antecedent system and a good
administrator; for administration under such exceptional conditions,
precipitated also at the end by the rapid development of events, means
not merely the steady running of a well-adjusted and well-oiled
machine, but continual adaptation--flexibility and readiness as well
as precision, the spirit as well as the letter. When a particular
{p.087} process has had so large a share in the general conduct of a
war, a broad account of its greater details is indispensable to a
complete history of the operations.

                   [Footnote 6: The distance from Southampton, the
                   chief though not the only port of departure, to
                   Cape Town is 5,978 miles.]

The number and varied distribution, in place and in climate, of the
colonial or foreign posts occupied by the British army at the present
time, and the extensive character of its operations abroad, during war
and peace, for two centuries have occasioned a gradual elaboration of
regulation in the transport system, to which, by the necessity of
frequent changes of troops, are added an extent and a continuity of
practical experience that has no parallel in other nations. These have
vastly facilitated the unprecedented development demanded by the
present war. A leaven of experimental familiarity, by previous
personal contact with the various problems to be solved, suffices to
permeate the very large lump of crude helplessness that may be
unavoidably thrown upon the hands of regimental officers; and even
where such personal experience has been wholly wanting to a particular
ship's company, the minuteness of the regulations, if intelligently
followed, gives {p.088} a direction and precision to action, which
will quickly result in the order and convenience essential to the
crowded life afloat. Nowhere more than on board ship does man live
ever face to face with the necessity of order and system, for there
always the most has to be disposed in the least space.

When a ship is engaged for the government service wholly--but not
otherwise--she is known officially as a "transport"; when passage for
troops is taken, but the ship is not entirely at the government's
disposal, she is a "troop freight ship." In the former capacity, to
adapt her to her new employment, she passes under the charge of
designated naval officers for particular fitting; the time for which,
in this war's practice, has not exceeded two weeks for infantry or
four for cavalry transports. Upon preparation completed ensues an
immediate inspection by a mixed board of army, navy, and medical
officers before the ship proceeds to the place for embarkation. The
aim necessarily is to keep this process well in advance of the
mobilisation of the troops, and incites to beneficial rivalry the War
{p.089} Office and the Admiralty, between which there must be full
mutual understanding and prevision, as to the readiness of the
transports, the ports of assembly, the numbers and quantities of men,
of horses, and of material of all kinds, to be carried in each vessel.

When an embarkation is to take place, the position and arrangement of
the ships at the docks, the number and regiments of men assigned to
each are arranged, have been arranged, often many days before. The
system and manner are laid down by regulation, from the time the
detachment leaves the post where it has been stationed until the ship
is ready to cast off from the dock and go to sea. Each man takes with
him in the car, from the starting point, his sea kit and immediate
personal equipment, from which he is not permitted to part until it is
handed aboard for stowage in the precise place assigned to it in the
vessel. The muskets, when carried by the men on the journey, are
marked each with a label corresponding to the rack where it is to
stand in the ship. Upon arrival at the port, {p.090} and during the
operation of transferring, a naval officer is in charge so far as
general direction on the dock and on board the ship is concerned, but
without superseding the military ordering and management of the troops
by their own officers. The same general arrangement continues at sea.
That is, the discipline, routine, and supervision of the troops are in
the hands of the military officers, as though in a garrison; but they
can give no orders as to the management or movements of the ship to
the sea captain who commands her. On board, the mode of life is fixed
by regulation--subject, of course, to the changes and interruptions
inseparable from sea conditions. The hours for rising, for meals, for
drills, for bed, and all the usual incidents of the common day are
strictly prescribed.

With such forethought and method, ripened by long experience, results
were obtained differing greatly from the headless scene of confusion
attending the embarkation of our troops at Tampa, as described by
witnesses. Only experience can fully meet the difficulties of a great
operation of this character, and we were {p.091} without experience;
nor can experience like that of British officials ever be expected
among us, for neither we nor any other nation has or will have the
colonial responsibilities of Great Britain. The large number of
seasoned sergeants and corporals, who had embarked and disembarked
half a dozen times before, contributed immeasurably to the order and
rapidity of the process in each shipload that went to make up the
166,000 that left England for South Africa. But while so much falls
naturally to the military element, and can best be discharged by them,
because by their own self-helpfulness alone it can be carried out, the
choice and equipment of ships, the entire preparation and internal
arrangement of them as well as the direction of their movements,
coaling, etc., belong most fitly to the Navy, for the simple reason
that equipment and supervision of this character are merely a special
phase of the general question of naval administration and management;
and no specialty--in whatsoever profession--is so successfully
practised as by a man who has a broad underlying knowledge of, and
wide acquaintance with, {p.092} the profession in its general aspect.
To this unimpeachable generalization the settled practice of the
nation, whose experience in this matter transcends that of all others
combined, gives incontrovertible support.

A brief detail of the methods of the first departure, October 20,
1899, will facilitate comprehension and serve for all others. That day
four transports lay at Southampton Docks, to take on board
Major-General Hildyard, with the first brigade of the first division
of the army to be commanded by Sir Redvers Buller. The trains ran down
to the wharf near the ships, the troops remaining in them until the
usual officers, alighting, had placed the markers to indicate the
positions for each company. At the signal the companies fell in; the
regiments in quarter column. The companies then advanced successively,
forming in line abreast their ship, between two gangways--one forward
and one aft--along each of which was stretched a chain of men, who
thus sent on board, one set the rifles, the other the sea kits and
valises, which, passing from hand to {p.093} hand, reached certainly
and without confusion the spot where their owner knew to seek them.
The company then moved off, clearing the ground for its successor, and
was next divided into messes; which done, each mess, under charge of
its own non-commissioned officer, went on board by a third gangway, to
the living or "troop" deck. This unceasing graduated progress
completed its results for the first ship by 2 P.M., when she cast off
her lines and steamed out. The three others were then nearly ready,
but were delayed a short space to receive a visit and inspection from
the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, with a number of the distinguished
higher staff-officers. Thus five thousand troops, who had slept inland
the previous night, were before dark at sea on their way to South

The same scene was repeated on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday
following. By the latter evening--October 23--21,672 men had sailed,
the order for mobilisation having been issued just a fortnight before.
Of this number more than half were of the Army Reserve; men, that is,
who had served their {p.094} time, gone into civil life, and now
rejoined the colours.

The specific methods are sufficiently illustrated by the above, but it
may be interesting to note the numbers sent in each succeeding month,
for they show, on the one hand, the continuousness and magnitude of
the operation, viewed as a whole, and also, incidentally, the December
return indicates the slackening of the current, due to the unwarranted
confidence of the people and of the government in the sufficiency of
their preparations, and their underestimate of the difficulties before
them. We in the United States during the Civil War more than once made
a like mistake, discontinuing enlistments and discouraging

In October, from the various ports of the United Kingdom, were
despatched 28,763 officers and men; in November, 29,174; in December,
19,763; in January, 27,854. In the short month of February the spur of
the December disasters began to show its results, for then the figures
rose to 33,591; in March, with which month my information ends, 27,348
went out. The grand total, 166,277, may in its {p.095} effects be
summarized by saying that from October 20 to March 31, 162 days, an
average of over one thousand men sailed daily from Great Britain or
Ireland for the seat of war.

Some illustrations of the capacity of great ocean steamers for such
service may also be interesting. Thus the "Cymric" carried a brigade
division of artillery, 18 guns, 36 wagons, 351 officers and men, 430
horses, with all the ammunition and impedimenta, besides a battalion
of infantry; in all nearly 1,600 men. Another, the "Kildonan Castle,"
took on an average 2,700 officers and men, on each of three voyages.
The greatest number in any one trip was by the "Bavarian"--2,893.

In effect, although embarkation was not wholly confined to the great
shipping ports, the vast majority of the vessels sailed from
Southampton, the Thames, and the Mersey. At each of these was
stationed a captain on the active list of the Navy, representing the
Director of Transports at the Admiralty, and having under him a
numerous staff of sea officers, engineers and clerks, by whom the
work {p.096} of equipment, inspecting, and despatching was
supervised. After sailing, the vigilant eye of the Transport
Department still followed them by further provision of local officials
at foreign and colonial ports, and by the network of submarine
telegraphs which has so singularly modified and centralised the
operations of modern war. At Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, and at
St. Vincent in the Cape de Verde, the intermediate coaling ports, a
ship of war was kept always after October, the captains of which
watched over the transports, cabling arrivals and departures, deciding
questions of coal requirement, repairs, delays, and generally, no
doubt, discharging the function noted by the midshipman, who explained
that he must be going because he saw the first lieutenant's glass was
turned his way.

At Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Durban were other local
representatives--naval captains with staffs similar to those of the
home ports--so that, to use a phrase of the Director of Transports,
the ships were "well shepherded." It was, in fact, much the position
of a man who with ten fingers manipulates {p.097} the several keys of
a piano. If the end crowns the work it may be said, although the end
is not quite yet, that the work of transportation has been crowned. No
loss of human life by preventable cause has occurred, nor has
complaint been heard of serious hitch of any kind. The numbers speak
for themselves.

The carriage of animals necessary for an army of the numbers
transported would in any case be a weighty and troublesome task, but
it has been rendered doubly so by the scanty resources of the scenes
of war, by the terrible horse-sickness, and by the length of the
voyage, which enfeebles the animals in a proportion ever increasing
with the passage of the days. The evil becomes yet greater from the
pressing needs at the front, and the importunate urgency to hasten the
animals forward, over a railroad journey of hundreds of miles, without
first giving them time to regain the fulness of their strength.

The importance and embarrassing nature of this factor in the campaign
are hard to overestimate. The insufficient number of horses and their
debility have doubtless accounted {p.098} for much of the delay and
seeming languor of action, which has appeared otherwise inexplicable;
the utter weakness of the poor beasts having indeed been expressly
alleged as the reason for failure of cavalry or of artillery in more
than one critical moment. That the supply forwarded has been large, if
nevertheless falling short of the demand, is shown by the transport
figures, according to which, in round numbers, 50,000 horses and
39,000 mules had been shipped by the end of March. Half of the former,
and the greater part of the latter, were drawn from North and South
America, from Australia, and from the Mediterranean. To these figures
is to be added another, yet uncertain because future, but which, when
ascertained, will probably double the number of horses and mules
actually used in the war, raising it, including those obtained in
South Africa itself, to nearly 200,000. The monthly waste has been
roughly reckoned at 5,000.

The size and multiplicity of these various operations enforce the
homely, but always to be remembered, maxim that "War is business," and
that in all its aspects; business in {p.099} which, like every other,
the aim must be the best results with the least expenditure--of money,
of labour, and of life. An intermediate difficulty in the problem of
getting men, horses, and supplies from England to the front of
operations, and one which probably would not antecedently occur to a
person inexperienced in such transactions, was the inadequate
facilities at Cape Town itself, as well as of the railroads, for
handling the mass of freight, animate and inanimate, unexpectedly
thrust upon them. A third-class port cannot be suddenly raised to the
business of one of the first class, and be found either competent or
convenient. Consequently, the congestion at the docks, wharves, and
railroads was very great. Many ships were kept waiting two months, or
even more, for discharge; a fact which means not merely expense,
though that is bad enough, but delay in operations, which in turn may
be the loss of opportunity--and the equivalent of this again is
prolongation of war, loss of life, and other miseries.

The practical lesson of this embarrassment at Cape Town should not be
lost to those who {p.100} assume too lightly that the traffic of the
Suez Canal can in time of war be turned to the Cape route. The
question of necessity for coaling at Cape Town, and the facilities for
it should at least be exhaustively studied before accepting this
solution as final, or even probable. It is evident that, for the
operations of this war, the use of Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, and
East London, although they have no docks at which steamers can lie and
discharge, would to some extent relieve Cape Town; but that such
relief should be effective at the front, it was necessary also that
the railroads from them should be securely held up to their junctions
with the main line. This was not the case at first.

It may be added, for the benefit of American readers, that this
question of local congestion, and of consequent dislocation and delay
of traffic and of transport, is worthy of consideration by those among
us who may think that the interruption of our coasting trade, or the
blockade of one or two principal harbours, can be met by transferring
the business, of the former to the railroads, of the {p.101} latter
to other ports not blockaded. This is not so, because the local
conveniences and methods, which have developed under the sifting tests
of experience and actual use, cannot be transferred at short notice;
and until such transfer has been made, distribution cannot proceed.
The body economic and commercial will be in the state of the body
physical whose liver is congested, whose blood therefore circulates
poorly, with consequent imperfect nutrition and general disorder of
the system; much where little ought to be, and little where much.

CHAPTER IV {p.102}


As was the case a century ago, on the eve of the French Revolution,
Great Britain last year indulged too long her dream of peace, and
awaked from it too late for timely preparation. Like a man who starts
behindhand with his day, the catching up meant double worry, if not
double work. Hildyard's brigade, which sailed October 20, had, thirty
days before, been preceded by two hospital ships, three batteries of
field artillery and a thousand infantry;[7] the last-named getting
away on the 19th, only one day before Hildyard. No British field
troops had then reached South Africa, save a couple of {p.103}
battalions additional to Cape Colony, and the reinforcements to Sir
George White drawn mainly from India, which, with most of his corps in
Natal, and despite his well-directed energy, the Boers by their
superior numbers were able to round up and corral in Ladysmith in
three weeks after their ultimatum was issued. There were then also on
the way some fifteen hundred of the Army Service Corps, an organised
body of men trained for the supply and transport service of the army,
and of skilled mechanics, whose duties are to construct and maintain
works of various kinds for the facilitation of army supply--transport
and depot. These had sailed in the early days of October.

                   [Footnote 7: There may have been one or two more
                   battalions of infantry, but I have not been able to
                   trace such.]

Such was the mighty enginery antecedently set in motion, to crush the
liberties of the Transvaal. An interesting further illustration of the
way decision was precipitated toward the end is found in the fact that
Sir George White was gazetted Governor of Gibraltar in the last week
in August, and on September 15 sailed to command the forces in Natal.

"My small experience," wrote Steevens about October 12 from the
well-advanced station {p.104} of Stormberg Junction, in Cape Colony,
"has been confined to wars you could put your fingers on; for this war
I have been looking long enough and have not found it.... We are
heavily outnumbered, and have adopted no heroic plan of abandoning the
indefensible. We have an irregular force of mounted infantry at
Mafeking, a regiment (regulars) at Kimberley, a regiment and a half at
De Aar" (the most important of junctions), "half of the Berkshires at
Naauwport, the other half here." Stormberg and Naauwport were also
junctions, secondary only, if secondary, to De Aar, in the strategic
importance that always attaches to cross-roads. "The famous fighting
Northumberlands came crawling up behind our train, and may now be at
Naauwport or De Aar. Total, say, 4,100 infantry, of whom 600 mounted;
no cavalry, no field guns. The Boer force available against these
isolated positions might be very reasonably put at 12,000 mounted
infantry, with perhaps a score of guns.... It is dangerous--and yet
nobody cares. There is nothing to do but wait--for the Army Corps that
has not yet left England. Tiny forces, half {p.105} a battalion in
front, and no support behind--nothing but long lines of railway with
ungarrisoned posts hundreds of miles at the far end of them. It is
very dangerous. No supports at this moment nearer than England."[8]

                   [Footnote 8: "From Cape Town to Ladysmith," pp.

In this brief and pregnant summary the reader will note outlined the
elements characteristic of all strategic situations: the bases, the
seaports; the communications, the railway lines; the front of
operations, the frontier of the Orange Free State, or rather, perhaps,
in this defensive--or defenceless--stage, the railroad line parallel
to it, which joins De Aar, Naauwport and Stormberg.

Dangerous, sure enough; how much so needs only a glance at the map to
show. Before reinforcements could arrive Sir George White was shut up
in Ladysmith by forces double his own. These he held there, it is
true; and the fatal delay of the Boers before his lines, reflected in
their no less fatal inactivity on the frontier of the Cape Colony,
whence Steevens wrote the words quoted, doubtless threw away the game;
but we are now speaking, as he was then writing, of the time {p.106}
when the cards had only been dealt and the hand was yet to play. Put
your marks on each of the places named--Mafeking, Kimberley, De Aar,
Naauwport, Stormberg--note their individual and relative importance,
the distances severing them from one another, the small bodies of men
scattered among them, incapable through weakness and remoteness of
supporting each other, and with no common supports behind. Mafeking is
from Kimberley 223 miles; Kimberley from De Aar, 146; De Aar from
Naauwport, 69; Naauwport from Stormberg 80, as the crow flies over a
difficult country, at least 130 by rail. All three junctions with
their intervening lines of rail, bridges, culverts and all, are little
over fifty miles from the Orange River, which hereabout forms the
boundary separating Cape Colony from the Free State. And White is
about to be invested in Ladysmith, and the Army Corps has not yet left

The average length of a transport's voyage from the United Kingdom to
Cape Town, as determined from 162 records, was 22-1/6 days. The first,
with Hildyard's brigade, accomplished it {p.107} in 20 days, arriving
November 9; the last of the four took 25 days, coming in on the 14th.
With them, and their one predecessor, 6,000 additional troops were at
the latter date--five weeks after the Boers' ultimatum became
operative--landed at the far base of operations, yet 500 miles by
railroad from the front. Kimberley and Mafeking were then already
invested, and the bombardment at both places begun. The British troops
had evacuated Stormberg Junction November 3, falling back to the
southward toward Sterkstrom and Queenstown; thus abandoning railroad
communication between East London, one of the sea bases, and the
western theatre of war toward Naauwport and De Aar. Naauwport had also
been quitted at about the same time, but the Boer grasp in that
central quarter was never as firm as it was to the eastward and
westward. General French was early established with his cavalry at
Hanover Road, midway on the line from Naauwport to De Aar, and his
activity, skilfully directed against the flanks of the enemy, imparted
to the latter a nervousness which the frontal attacks on the eastern
{p.108} line failed to produce. Naauwport was reoccupied by the
British November 19, and De Aar was never by them abandoned; but the
Boers on the 25th of November blew up a bridge on the line from
Naauwport _via_ Middelburg and Rosmead to Port Elizabeth, thereby
momentarily cutting out the line from this sea base also, as their
advance upon Stormberg had eliminated East London. They made also
strenuous efforts, at many points, to destroy the main road from
Kimberley south to Orange River, blowing up culverts and bridges, but
the damage effected was afterward found to be less than had been
expected, owing to the clumsiness of their methods; a fact which
probably indicates that their cause was supported mainly by a rural
population, and that few mechanics--townsfolk--were in their ranks.

There seems to have been no serious attempt to interrupt
communications south of the Orange River, important though it was to
do so. The British Corps, to the command of which Lord Methuen was
assigned, assembled at the Orange River Bridge without opposition or
difficulty, its concentration being effected {p.109} on the 19th of
November. The advance thence, in fact, began on the 21st, and on the
23rd was fought its first battle, that of Belmont.

It will be well here to summarize, map in hand, the character and
result of the Boers' operations in this western theatre, during the
priceless five weeks of opportunity secured to them by the
over-confidence, or the remissness, or the forbearance, of their
powerful enemy. The conditions differed from those in the eastern
scene of war--in Natal--because there the just anxiety of the
inhabitants, reflected in that of the colonial and Imperial
governments, had occasioned the concentration of by far the greatest
mass of available British troops.

The exposure of Natal in its more vital and strictly British interests
greatly exceeded that of Cape Colony, where, owing to the remoteness
of the seaboard, near which the British chiefly congregated, the first
of the Boer invasion would fall upon a population strongly sympathetic
with the cause of the enemy, though British in allegiance. Therefore
while this disloyalty was ominous and detrimental {p.110} to the
British cause as a whole, direct injury to British interests was less
immediately threatened. The Cape frontier, accordingly, was left
defenceless, as has been shown; and in a strictly military point of
view it was quite correct thus wholly to neglect one, rather than
weakly to divide between two.

The consequence was that in Natal occurred during ten days the severe
and nearly continuous fighting already narrated, with the result of
shutting up in Ladysmith, on the direct line of any further advance
contemplated by the Boers, a very strong British force; incapable,
doubtless, of taking the field against the vastly superior numbers
confronting it, but most capable, by numbers and position, of
embarrassing any onward movement of the enemy. This aspect of the case
has been too much neglected in the general apprehension.

The British in Ladysmith were doubtless an isolated and endangered
garrison, the relief of which constrained the movements of its friends
away from more proper objectives; but in the early days of the siege,
while {p.111} in the prime of the physical strength afterward drained
away by hunger, and up to the time that reinforcements had arrived to
bar in front the progress of the enemy, it was also to the latter what
Mantua in 1796 was to Bonaparte, and Genoa in 1800 was to the
Austrians prior to Marengo--a force which, if advance were attempted,
would be on the rear of the army, flanking the communications. To
secure these it would be necessary, before forward movement, either to
carry the place by assault, suitably prepared and executed, thus
sweeping it out of the way for good, or else to keep before it a
detachment of sufficient strength to check any effort seriously to
interrupt the communications. But this would be to divide the Boer
forces, to which doubtless Joubert did not feel his numbers adequate.
This was the important--the decisive--part played by Ladysmith in the

Had the Boers' "exclusiveness of purpose"--to use Napoleon's happy
phrase--answered to the demands of their military situation, they
would have done for military reasons what their opponents were
compelled to do through {p.112} unpreparedness and considerations of
civil policy. They would have neglected the frontiers of Cape Colony,
and concentrated their effort against the organised force which
exceptionally favourable circumstances, that could not be expected
either to continue or to recur, had enabled them to isolate in Natal.

What effect the failure to do this produced in the latter colony will
be examined later. We have now to consider how the Boers, having
decided to follow two widely divergent plans of operations, utilised
the opportunity afforded them by the long period of weakness undergone
by their antagonists in the debatable ground, where the frontiers of
Cape Colony and the Orange Free State adjoin, along the banks of the
Orange River from Basutoland to Kimberley. Remote and detached
Mafeking, the news of whose deliverance comes as these lines are
writing, remains a romantic episode, a dramatic centre of interest,
from the heroic endurance and brilliant gallantry displayed by its
garrison; but, from the practical side, the action of friend and foe,
the fact of occupation and the conduct of {p.113} the siege, present
a military riddle not readily solved.

Noting the natural military line of the Orange River, the importance
of which in more military countries would be emphasized by
corresponding works of precaution, for defence and for movement, in
its vicinity, it will be observed that parallel to it, at a distance
of about fifty miles, within the borders of the colony, there is the
stretch of railway from Stormberg, _via_ Rosmead Junction and
Naauwport, to De Aar. Beyond the last-named point the line, now become
the main road, converges steadily and rapidly upon the border of the
Free State, within a dozen miles of which it continues from the point
where it crosses the Orange River until abreast the boundary between
the Free State and the Transvaal. Between Stormberg and De Aar this
line consists simply of the branches that there tie together the main
roads, through which the principal seaports--Cape Town, Port
Elizabeth, and East London--seek access to the interior. The
direction, alike of the main and branch roads, as well as the position
of the junctions, are doubtless determined {p.114} by local
considerations of topography and traffic.

Although constructed for commercial purposes, the line of rail from
Stormberg to De Aar has particular military value as an advanced base
of operations, from which to start, and upon which, for the initial
stages, to rest a campaign. It is central as regards the extremities
of the hostile frontier opposed to it; it is moderate in length; and,
from the rapidity of transfer from end to end afforded by the
railroad, it permits movements on one flank or the other to be
combined with comparative facility. Add to this the convergence upon
it of the several lines of supply from Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and
East London, and it is evident that the line would present particular
advantages for the assembling of a British army intending to invade
the Free State by the most probable, because most advantageous, route,
the direct highroad to Bloemfontein. It is, indeed, the key, the
central military position of this theatre of war; not geometrically,
by mere measurement of distance, but as the place where converge and
unite all the great communications from {p.115} the opposing bases of
operations, which at the first would be, for the Free State, the
Orange River, and for Great Britain, the line of seaports.

The distance from the frontier and the interposition of the mountain
range in the Steynsburg district would combine to make observation of
preliminary movements difficult to the enemy, except, indeed, by
information from the disaffected inhabitants who abounded. The secure
and undisturbed tenure of this line would therefore much facilitate
the British campaign, should it develop against the Free State;
consequently the first aim of the Boer commanders should have been to
hold, or if not able to hold, to destroy it effectually as regards
steam communication.

It is as yet impossible to say exactly what was the force of the Boers
on their western frontiers between the middle and the end of October.
Steevens, as above quoted, thought 12,000 at the earlier date. A more
likely reckoning seems to me to be 8,000, but it probably rose near
the higher figure before November, and must much have exceeded it by
the 1st of December, unless British {p.116} estimates are more wide
of the mark than is probable. The lowest maximum for the forces of the
two republics that I have seen was given by one of the Boer envoys
now[9] in the United States; viz., 38,000. Allowing 30,000 to Natal by
November 1, there is nothing immoderate in the supposition that there
were then from 10,000 to 12,000 on the line of the Orange River, and
from thence round to Mafeking. Personally, I believe that the totals
were larger, for very considerable numbers of the Dutch population in
Cape Colony and Natal joined the Boers, and the indications are that
all the available men were put--and very properly--at once in the
field. The emergency was great, time was invaluable, and the
maintaining of a reserve, judicious in many cases, would under the
conditions of the Boers have been a mere dividing and frittering of
forces, by the immediate employment of which alone might success be

                   [Footnote 9: May 19, 1900.]

To allow Great Britain time to arouse, to assemble and put forth her
strength, before some really decisive advantage, material or moral,
{p.117} was gained over her, was to ensure defeat. This, however, was
what the Boers did. Although they put in force successfully a _levée
en masse_, and thus in point of time concentrated into action their
whole fighting population, they did not with equal exclusiveness of
purpose concentrate in force upon a single military objective; nor was
such choice as they made dictated by sound military principle, or
carried out with sound military judgment.

It so happened that the conditions at the opening of the campaign bore
a curious resemblance, though on a considerably larger scale, to those
attending the hostilities of 1881 in South Africa. Then, as now, the
British were in number far inferior. Then, as now, they were scattered
here and there in small detachments. Then the Boers had achieved
successes which doubtless surprised themselves as well as their
enemies, and had produced for them the unfortunate result of
overvaluing their own prowess, and of inducing a secure belief that
both they and their opponents, after twenty years, remained in native
and acquired qualities in the same relative {p.118} positions of
individual superiority and inferiority that they had somewhat
prematurely assumed.

It was a natural result of such prepossessions that, instead of
concentrating to hold in mass some decisive position by which to
prolong the war, or to destroy or capture some important
detachment--such as that at Ladysmith--they should settle themselves
down to sieges, to a war of posts. In 1881, of several posts they had
in the same manner leisurely invested, one surrendered. They probably
believed that the others would have done so, had not the British
Government of that day yielded and made peace. Whatever the reasoning,
it was to the method of 1881 that the Boers resorted. After the
preliminary battles in Natal, already narrated, in each of which the
British attacked, they settled down with facile indolence to an
investment of Ladysmith.

The dissemination of the enemy on the Free State frontier, so
graphically summarized by Steevens, could not induce them to crush,
with the concentrated force permitted by their imposing superiority of
numbers, any one {p.119} of the small detachments thus fatally
exposed. The place, not the force within, had military value in their
eyes. To the general result contributed no doubt the tendency of local
interest to dominate general considerations in a rural and loosely
organised population. It was noted at the time that the principle of
local operation decided not only that the Transvaal should operate
chiefly in Natal, and the Orange Free State toward Cape Colony, but
also determined the course of action within each state. "There has
been very little moving about of burghers from one part of the
Transvaal or Free State to the other.... In the latter, the eastern
commandos have gone to Natal, the western ones to Kimberley, and to
the southern ones, numbering probably less than 4,000 men altogether,
have been left the double task of invading Cape Colony and keeping off
the Basutos; and as the ordinary Free State burgher is much more
anxious about his own farm than about turning our colony upside down,
the result is that practically nothing has been done to attack the
most vulnerable point in our defence."

The {p.120} same correspondent, writing from Cape Town, October 25,
said that there were not 3,000 men of regular troops, and no
artillery, in Cape Colony when the war broke out. His means of
information were doubtless better than those of Steevens, who was in
Cape Town less than forty-eight hours and made his guess--4,100--before
he had time for personal observation over the ground.

It is scarcely necessary to point out what an opportunity was here
presented for a rapid succession of blows at isolated detachments,
such as military history has often before witnessed. It is difficult
to believe that the frontier could not have been swept clean from end
to end, and the entire railroad system, essential to the advance and
centralised action of the British forces, hopelessly dislocated and
smashed by an operation embodying the most elementary conceptions of
concentration. Instead of that the centre of the line was kept almost
undisturbed, the principal demonstrations of the Boers across the
border being on the flanks--Kimberley and Mafeking on their right,
Stormberg and the {p.121} districts north and east of it on their
left; the railroad from Naauwport to De Aar, and thence to the Orange
River, being scarcely molested, and for working purposes remaining
intact. So far as military purpose can be inferred from military
action, the effort of the Boers was concentrated--or rather
localised--upon the occupation of unprotected and friendly districts
in the east, where they took up scattered defensive positions, while
for offensive operations they satisfied themselves with the investment
of Kimberley and Mafeking.

An American correspondent--evidently not unfriendly--writing of
Pretoria about October 20, records an instructive anecdote, which
reveals much of the Boer idea and purpose, and suggests food for
thought as to underlying causes, not unprecedented in history, which
from the first, if then known, would have foretold sure defeat. "A
large door on the opposite side of the room opened, and a clerk
informed the Secretary (Mr. Reitz) that he was wanted in the Executive
Council room. While he was collecting a number of papers on his desk I
could hear the conversation of {p.122} men in the adjoining room.
Suddenly there was a deep roar--almost like that of a lion--and at the
same time a bang on the table that made the windows rattle. And the
voice--it was that of a man--continued its deep bellowing, and again
there was a thundering bang on the table. 'The old President has met
with some obstacle in his plans,' said the Secretary of State, smiling
at my look of surprise at the sound of such a human voice, and he
disappeared with an armload of papers.... When he returned he was
chuckling to himself. 'General Cronje wants to assault Mafeking,' he
said. 'He has wired that he can take the town in a hand-to-hand fight,
but the old President won't listen to it. He says the place is not
worth the lives of fifty burghers, and has just issued an order that
Cronje is to continue the siege and simply see to it that Colonel
Baden-Powell and his troops do not escape. The Council was divided;
some thought that Cronje should be permitted to storm the place. The
President has just ordered that one of the big siege-guns shall be
sent to Cronje.'"[10]

                   [Footnote 10: _Harper's Monthly Magazine_, May,
                   1900, p. 827.]

Time {p.123} apparently was of no account. The burghers and the Boers
had only to wait open-mouthed for plums to drop--at Mafeking, at
Kimberley, at Ladysmith. Mafeking very possibly was not in itself
worth the lives of fifty burghers; but it was worth a great deal more
if it was to be the means of detaining them before its little worth to
their exclusion from action concentrated elsewhere, which their
numbers would have gone to make overpowering, and which by proper
direction would have been decisive--not perhaps of ultimate
issues--but of those prolonged delays in which lies the best hope of a
defence. It is an interesting commentary on Kruger's decision that, at
the moment these lines are writing, the deliverance of Mafeking is
known to have been preceded immediately by a fruitless assault of the
burghers, which cost more than that presumed for the attack at the
outset, which a competent general on the spot believed then would be
successful. Control at a distant capital, exercised by an obstinate,
overbearing old man, who, though unquestionably shrewd and acute, was
equally unquestionably narrow with the narrowness of contracted
experience and {p.124} limited military knowledge, boded ill for the
Boer cause. While Cronje at Mafeking, and Wessels at Kimberley, and
Joubert at Ladysmith were waiting for a moment that never came, time
was flying, the hostile reinforcements were speeding forward 300 miles
a day, and the very danger of the three places was goading the British
people into wide-awake activity.

Yet more imminent was the nearer opportunity, fast disappearing into
the nearer danger, ultimately to become the established and fatal
centre of ruin--at De Aar. "This was not the sort of fighting-ground
the Boer is wont to choose," wrote one there present, "but we felt
that he must come because we menaced his frontier sixty miles away,
and tempted him with such an amount of stores, guns, and ammunition as
would enable him to prolong his warfare at least two months longer
than his own resources would permit." A somewhat narrow view this,
leaving out of the account De Aar's intrinsic advantage in position;
but to continue--"Every day that the Boers delayed our camp grew
stronger, though this was not the case before General {p.125} Buller
arrived at the Cape (October 31). Until then we had only one
battalion--about 800 men--to protect stores estimated at half a
million pounds; but within forty-eight hours a battery and a
half--nine guns--had arrived from England, to be followed by another
half battery from the Orange River."[11]

                   [Footnote 11: Ralph's "Toward Pretoria," p. 97.]

The position of De Aar indicated it absolutely as a point which the
British must hold, fortify, and use as a depot and base. Camps and
buildings began to be laid out and put up about October 25, and stores
to accumulate; ten days later came the batteries and also
reinforcements; but these--400 in number--imperatively demanded by the
superior importance and exposure of De Aar, which required
concentration upon it, were obtained by evacuating Colesberg and
Naauwport, the latter a most regrettable necessity. But what were the
Boers doing while these fragments were drawing together into a single
body, while batteries were arriving, and works, not yet existent, were
being thrown up? They were besieging Kimberley and Mafeking, 150
{p.126} and 300 miles away, and pottering about just within Cape
Colony, occupying undefended towns and making proclamations of
annexation. "Fancy," says the writer just quoted,--"fancy the Orange
River sixty miles away, with 2,500 men (British) holding the
(railroad) bridge over it, and a battalion of 1,000 men broken into
five bodies of troops isolated at as many points--all, excepting the
force at Orange River, inviting certain destruction."[12]

                   [Footnote 12: Ralph's "Toward Pretoria," p. 104.]

The concentration ordered by Buller, just mentioned, drew the British,
on the left flank of their line in Cape Colony, into two principal
bodies--2,500 at Orange River Station, where the railroad to Kimberley
crosses the river, and some 1,500 at De Aar. Stormberg Junction on the
right of the line was evacuated at the same time as Naauwport, the
troops falling back upon Queenstown, fifty miles distant by rail. This
abandonment of the two junctions severed from each other the right and
left flanks of the general front, which extended from Stormberg to De
Aar, depriving them of mutual support; a condition of disadvantage
{p.127} that was not wholly removed until after the occupation of
Bloemfontein. This gain to the Boers, however, was due to no
well-combined active operations on their side, but to the mere fact
that their opponents were everywhere so hopelessly weaker in numbers
that it was insanity any longer to risk these small detachments in
places where they ought to have been captured days before.

From these withdrawals it resulted that the British movements in
either quarter were of no assistance to those in the other by direct
co-operation, but only by diversion--by occupying in front of either
flank a certain proportion of the enemy. The latter attempted no
serious movement of attack, but simply waited. Their plan, alike in
the strategy of the campaign and in the tactics of the battlefield,
was to abide attack, with the advantages, usual to the defensive, of a
carefully chosen position diligently improved. So placed and secured,
they hoped to repel and to hold fast; but at the worst to inflict loss
greater than they received and then to slip away successfully,
avoiding capture, to another similar position in the rear of the
first, {p.128} there to repeat again the same tactic. For such
retreat provision of horse mounts was always carefully made, and to
its success their superiority in horseflesh, their habit of isolated
movement, their knowledge of the country, and the friendliness of the
inhabitants, greatly contributed. The student of naval history will
easily recognise in these methods an analogy to the battle tactics
plausibly ascribed to the French by Clerk in his celebrated treatise.
It was often successful on the ground, but it did not win campaigns.
The mastery of the sea remained with the British, whose blindly
headlong attacks with their ships resembled in much the free and often
foolish exposure of their troops in the beginning of the present war.
Nevertheless, the temper is one which wins, nor is there any necessary
incompatibility between a vigorous initiative and reasonable caution.

There is much to be said for such a plan as suited to the force
numerically inferior, and especially when, as with the Boers, it is
composed of men untutored in the military formations and manoeuvres
essential to successful movement in battle. Defence of the character
{p.129} indicated requires little change after the primary
dispositions have been made; the men for the most part stand fast when
placed, and do not incur the risk of confusion from which the
well-practised only can extricate themselves.

The mistake of the Boers was in failing to recognise that a nation
compelled to such a mode of action by its conditions of inferiority,
in numbers and in drill, is doomed to ultimate defeat, unless at the
very beginning, while the enemy has not yet developed or concentrated
his powers, such an advantage is gained by a vigorous initiative as
shall either prevent his obtaining the necessary initial positions, or
shall at least postpone his doing so long enough to affect materially
the course of the war, and give room for the chapter of accidents--for
the intervention of the unforeseen. The Boers, having surprised their
enemy at unawares, had the opportunity so to act. It may be that, had
they done so, ultimate success would not certainly have followed--the
odds were very great; but it is safe to say that only so, by rushing
the campaign at the beginning, had they any chance of final {p.130}
victory. "Desperate conditions," said Nelson, "require desperate
remedies." The Boers' position was desperate from the first, to be
saved only by the most vigorous handling of numbers which for a brief
and critical period were largely superior.

Thus it was that these opening weeks decided the character and issue
of the war, beyond chance of subsequent reversal. By the Boers' own
choice, interest was fixed not upon one or two, but upon several
quarters, and these--save Ladysmith--determined not by their inherent,
and therefore lasting and decisive, strategic importance, but by
questions of commercial value and of the somewhat accidental presence
in them of very small bodies of regular troops. At two places,
Mafeking and Kimberley, the assailants were, as an English journal
justly put it, "foiled by colonial forces hastily organised, and
stiffened by small regular detachments which have shown far more
enterprise on the offensive than their besiegers have done."

Such a situation, under the existing conditions of the general
campaign, should have been met, not by protracted investment in
force, {p.131} but by assault; or, if that were inexpedient, a
sufficient detachment should have been left to hold the garrison in
check, while considerations of more decisive military importance
elsewhere received concentrated attention.

Immediately after the arrival of Sir Redvers Buller he found the
investment of the three garrisons--Ladysmith, Kimberley, and
Mafeking--already accomplished. The question before him was
complicated by the introduction of these new factors. As has before
been said, it is generally understood that the expectation of the
British authorities had been to proceed at once to an invasion of the
Orange Free State, presumably by the line to Bloemfontein, with
flanking movements on either side of it, while the forces in Natal
were to stand simply on the defensive, until, by the advance of the
army of invasion within supporting distance, the time for co-operation
with it should arrive. In Natal, now, the tables were turned, the
defence had broken down, and the army charged with it was shut up by a
force so far superior as to enable it, not only to carry on the siege,
but {p.132} to make at least serious inroads upon the colony, if not
to advance permanently to positions of more extensive control, to
dislodge it from which greater effort would be needed. The question
now to be decided was whether relief would be best effected by
adhering to the original plan of moving in force upon Bloemfontein,
leaving Ladysmith to look out for itself, and only strengthening the
forces in Natal outside of the place sufficiently to check any further
advance of the enemy; or whether to attempt speedier succour by a
direct advance along the roads leading to one or both of the besieged

The first, if successfully carried out, would eventually take in the
rear the assailants both of Kimberley and Ladysmith, threatening them
with the severance of their communications--concerning which the Boers
are exceptionally sensitive--and thus would raise the siege by
compelling the retreat of the besiegers. This plan, moreover, would be
faithful to general military principle, by keeping the great mass of
the British Army concentrated upon a single object, and under a single

The {p.133} alternative possessed the drawback of dividing the army
into two bodies virtually independent in their several movements, out
of mutual supporting distance, and each distinctly weaker than the
single mass intended for the great central operation of the former
plan. The second also laboured under the other disadvantages that a
direct advance naturally has as compared to a turning movement. The
enemy would be met always in front--thus covering his communications
and with retreat open--in positions assumed tactically with a view to
prevent flank attacks and to compel assault in front, the most
dangerous to make.

In choosing their ground for their objects, the Boers have shown
remarkable aptitude. If overpowered and dislodged, unless routed and
dispersed, the defender falls back continually upon the bases in his
rear, recuperating his losses by reinforcements from them, while the
victorious assailant must either press on with diminished numbers or
must wait for reinforcements to come up, a delay that enables the
defence still more to improve the next position, which, in a campaign
of this sort, {p.134} has commonly been selected long before. It may
be said here that this was precisely the character of the advance on
Kimberley about to be narrated. In such a direct operation, by its
very nature, the defence gains strength and shortens his line of
communications to be defended, while the reverse conditions
unremittingly drain the powers of the assailant.

As an abstract military question there need be no hesitation in saying
that the advance through the Orange Free State was in principle the
correct plan, even under the existing conditions, as far as these are
accurately known. But conditions are never accurately known to
outsiders so immediately after a war. Even the hard bottom facts which
ultimately appear, the residuum left after full publicity, and
discussion, and side lights from all sources have done their work, do
not correctly reproduce the circumstances as present to the mind of
the general officer who decides. What is known now was doubtful then;
what now is past and certain, was then future and contingent; what
this and that subordinate, this force and that force could {p.135}
endure and would endure we now know, but who could surely tell six
months ago? Who, whatever his faith in the heroism and patience of the
garrisons, believed in December, 1899, that Ladysmith and Kimberley
and Mafeking could hold out, without relief, as long as they did? What
therefore, between the known uncertainties of the past and the
certainly imperfect information of the present, we, who had not the
responsibilities of decision, may modestly refrain from positively
judging the particular decision, even by the generally sound
principles which commonly govern such cases. Warfare is an art, not a
science; it knows no unvarying laws, and possesses neither specifics
nor panaceas.

Whatever the reason, the decision was reached to attempt
simultaneously the relief of Kimberley and of Ladysmith. It is with
the former, which also was first in order of time, that we now have
immediately to do. This advance had begun, had reached its furthest
limit, had been brought to a standstill, and so had failed, before the
clash of arms at Colenso, on December 15, signalized the opening of
the campaign for the relief of Ladysmith. {p.136} This priority was
naturally to be expected; for not only was Cape Town the first port of
arrival from England, but the much larger number of the besiegers at
Ladysmith made a much longer time necessary to accumulate the force
adequate to contend successfully against them. The details of the
assembling of Methuen's division at Orange River Station need not
detain us. The 2,500 men there in the first week of November had been
increased by November 19 to nearly 10,000, and began to advance on the
21st. It will be well, however, to say a word about their objective,
Kimberley, its conditions, its defences, and its defenders, as well as
about the country through which runs the railroad that marks the
general line of Methuen's proposed operation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Kekewich, who had been ordered to command the
forces in Kimberley, had arrived there on the 13th of September.
Already portions of the Transvaal levies were out, "on commando," as
the Boer phrase is, moving on the Free State side of the boundary
line; and many reasonably authenticated rumours were heard of
intentions {p.137} to destroy the railroad bridges--notably over the
Modder and Orange Rivers--south of the place, as well as others north
of it. The guard of the road generally was then in charge of a mounted
body called the Cape Police, detachments of which watched the bridges.
Political and other considerations prevented immediate steps from
being taken to fortify the town, but plans were matured, and
information concerning the surrounding country had already been
procured by subordinate officers, whose arrival had preceded that of
Kekewich. On the 18th of September, construction of defence works
began, reports of movements by the burghers of the Free State as well
as by Transvaalers being received, and arousing apprehension of a
sudden attack. On the 27th of September, an officer of the garrison,
by personal observation at Boshof in the Free State, ascertained that
the burghers of the latter had been ordered out. The works were then
pressed forward, and the formation of citizens into town guards
already planned, was begun; 1,156 combatant members being enrolled,
and placed under drill by non-commissioned officers of {p.138} the
regular battalion in garrison. The Boer forces continued to approach
Kimberley, and on October 4, a week before war began, advanced bodies
were within twelve miles. By October 7 the earthworks were so far
forward that Kekewich considered the place practically safe against
any attempt on the part of the enemy to rush it suddenly.

When the ultimatum expired, October 11, the garrison proper consisted
of 570 Imperial and 630 colonial troops, for the defence of an
unwalled town which contained 40,000 inhabitants and, being built in
rambling fashion, had a very long circuit--about eleven miles--to be
guarded. The ready co-operation of the citizens in military duty, both
those already belonging to volunteer bodies and those not previously
organised, but now enrolling themselves for the purpose, alone made
the defence possible. From them, particularly, was formed a corps of
irregular horse, which filled the want of mounted troops that at first
was severely felt. Colonel Kekewich, recognising the enemy's
overpowering superiority of numbers, rapidly drew {p.139} into
Kimberley all the outlying forces of every character under his

Although deeply concerned for the safety of the Modder River bridge,
upon which in a measure would depend the advance of a relief column,
"I was most anxious," he says, "that no disposition of troops made by
me should give the enemy a chance of scoring a first success, even
where the smallest body of British troops might be concerned. Taking
into consideration that the enemy would probably not regulate his
movements in accordance with the dictates of sound strategy, that he
was in possession of mobile artillery in my immediate neighbourhood, I
felt that if I had detached a small body of troops, necessarily
without artillery, which it was not in my power to support from
Kimberley, the enemy would in all probability concentrate very
superior numbers, with artillery, against the small British post, and
endeavour to destroy the troops composing the same. It was principally
for this reason that I determined to concentrate all my available
forces, including the Cape Police, at the point of greatest importance
in my command--Kimberley."

The {p.140} inference of Colonel Kekewich as to the Boers' strategy
was as accurate as his general action was militarily judicious. The
concentration and development of his resources not merely deterred the
enemy from assault, but detained them there in force, to the neglect
of matters elsewhere much more urgently worthy of their efforts. The
gain of Kimberley, had they gained it, would have been poor
compensation for the daily increasing solidity of the still weak
British grasp on the central positions outlined by De Aar, Orange
River and Naauwport. This absorption of the Boers' attention by
Kimberley was maintained by frequent sorties of the garrison, in every
direction, which at an early period of the siege became possible
through the ready facility with which the citizens were converted into
irregular mounted troops. "It will be observed," wrote Kekewich, "that
portions of the mounted corps were employed on every occasion" of the
continued sallies in greater or less force, especially at the period
of Methuen's advance.

At the same time the enemy was preparing to bombard, and was busily
engaged in {p.141} taking possession, by small bodies of from 100 to
250 men, of the undefended towns and villages in Griqualand West--the
thinly peopled district to the west of Kimberley. This pleasant but
useless pastime occupied them agreeably, and diverted them from
molesting the British at Orange River and De Aar.

"My general plan for the defence of Kimberley," says Kekewich in his
report, "was based on the principle of always keeping the enemy on the
move, and constantly in fear of an attack from an unexpected quarter.
Later, when the advance of the relief column from the Orange River
commenced, and I was put in possession of information concerning the
probable date of its arrival in Kimberley, I adopted such measures as
I hoped would cause the retention of a large force of the enemy in my
immediate neighbourhood, and thus enable the relief column to deal
with the Boer force in detail. It was with these objects that the
numerous sorties and demonstrations in force were made by portions of
the garrison of Kimberley."

Such {p.142} continual offensive action is of the essence of dexterous
defence, especially when designed in support of movements elsewhere
occurring. It is not surprising, therefore, that Lord Roberts, in
forwarding Kekewich's report, comments that "the greatest credit is
due him for his able dispositions, for his rapid organisation of an
auxiliary force, and for the tact, judgment, and resolution which he
displayed throughout the siege." This admirable service was performed
at a loss of 38 killed and 133 wounded, of all the troops employed
from the beginning of the investment to the day of relief.

Orange River, where Methuen's relief force was assembling, is seventy
miles from Kimberley. The country between is part of the great inland
plateau, in general contour rolling, but with frequent stony hills,
which locally have the name of kopjes, now become so familiar. These
kopjes are of varying heights, from fifty to five hundred feet, and
consist mainly of large boulders, with, however, a plentiful
sprinkling of smaller rocks not too heavy for handling. The steepness
and roughness of the surface make climbing a matter {p.143} of hands
as well as of feet, and are therefore a source of particular
difficulty and exposure to an assailant; while, on the other hand, the
broken heaps of huge stones afford to the defence much natural
protection, and can be further improved by building shelter places,
which it was the habit of the Boer to do, forming semicircular
breastworks. In this way, with natural and artificial cover, was
obtained a strong line of defence, depending in extent upon the length
and formation of the kopje.

Superficial advantages at once strike the eye and impress the mind,
and it was to the kopje therefore that the Boer first looked as the
natural feature upon which to found his tactical and strategic scheme
of offence. Its command over the plain country, by permitting fire
tier above tier, compensated in part for any lack of development due
to limited length or other causes, and afforded also several lines of
defence to be successively occupied. But the height, while it imposes
difficulties upon the attacker, has also drawbacks of its own. A
downward, plunging fire demands definite precision and accuracy of
{p.144} aim, and in mark firing error in elevation is more commonly
found than swerving to the right or left. The ordinary shot is more
apt to fire over a man's head, or strike the ground ahead of him, than
to miss him to one side or the other. When, therefore, it had been
found by a few experiences--Talana Hill, Elandslaagte, Belmont and
Graspan, in all of which the kopje bore a principal part in the scheme
of defence--that the British soldier could not be stopped by them
alone, the Boers, without abandoning the kopjes, reinforced them where
the ground allowed by utilising the beds of the streams, which except
in time of flood are nearly waterless. Men looking over the edge of a
steep trench glance nearly along the ground in front of them, and if
that be clear, unless they are singularly inexpert, their shots sweep
along the surface so little above it that they are sure to catch men
in front, so far as their height is concerned. This was done at Modder
River, two-thirds of the way--forty-five miles--from Orange River, and
also at Colenso; while at the disastrous battle of Magersfontein the
Boers had strengthened one {p.145} flank of their line by an
artificial trench, which was backed by a kopje.

A peculiarity of the Boer tactical methods should here be described,
originating in their habits of life and curiously adapted to the
purely defensive scheme upon which they rely. Their aim is to consume
the opponent's strength by compelling him to frontal attacks upon well
covered men, who at the proper moment shall slip away, leaving the
enemy an empty position and the prospect of another similar experience
at each succeeding stage. To effect this, their horses were hobbled in
the rear of the line, protected by the kopje, if one, or by such other
means as offered; it is said even that many of the better to do,
coming from a distance, would ride one horse to the place as to a
hunting meet, and reserve a better and fresher for the retreat, which,
in the earlier stages of Methuen's advance, was probably intended from
the first. So far do they push the endeavour to leave a barren result
to the victor that they carry away upon their horses, as far as may be
and at some risk, not only their wounded but their dead; and of the
{p.146} latter those that cannot be removed are concealed. The
singularity of this point of honour, and the tenacity of its
observance, seem more congruous to primeval than to modern warfare.

The above description gives a general idea of the conditions
confronting Methuen on the 21st of November, when he began his
advance. In it he fought four actions: at Belmont, November 23; at
Graspan on the 25th; at Modder River on the 28th; and finally at
Magersfontein, December 11. These places are distant from Orange
River, approximately, 18, 28, and 45 miles; Magersfontein being some
three miles beyond the Modder.

The gathering of Methuen's division had not been unwatched by the
Boers, and their forces, which, in two principal bodies of about 3,000
each, had been besieging Mafeking and Kimberley, and in other smaller
detachments were scattered along the railroad between the two places,
began to concentrate. On the 16th of October, 2,000 had occupied the
Modder River Station. On the 10th of November a reconnaissance from
Orange {p.147} River had found them occupying the ridges about
Belmont, in numbers estimated at 700. At about the same time Kimberley
noticed that the besiegers were increasing in numbers, while at
Mafeking they were observed to be decreasing. On the 20th it was known
that Cronje, whose reputation as a leader stood high, had been
detached with his commando from before Mafeking, leaving it to the
care of the local Boer troops, and going south. To these and other
unrecorded movements of the same kind, all entirely correct in
principle, are to be attributed the increasing numbers which Methuen
encountered in his successive actions. It is to be remarked here that
the Boers knew that inadequate transport material tied the British
general to the railroad; and it was the continuance of this belief,
when the difficulty had been obviated, that betrayed Cronje to his
ruin at a later date.

Leaving Orange River on the early morning of Tuesday, November 21, the
army, having rested during the extreme heat of the noons, camped on
the evening of the 22nd within five miles of the enemy's position.
This {p.148} was west of Belmont Station, and is described as a line
of kopjes extending east and west, and about two hundred feet high.
Lord Methuen's purpose in this and other actions was to cross the more
dangerous open ground of the approach by dark, arriving at the foot of
the kopjes before daylight. His line of advance being, in a general
sense, parallel to the hostile front, it had been his intention that
the left wing, after securing an eminence called Table Mountain on the
enemy's right, should swing its own left around, performing a
flanking, or else a general turning movement, pivoting upon the right
wing. In the obscurity, however, the latter lost direction and the
general found himself in consequence committed to a frontal attack.
Orders were therefore sent to the left wing, which had not lost its
direction, to conform its movements to those of the right, and the
attack was delivered in front. The Boers are estimated to have been
2,000 to 2,500 men, the kopjes affording them three lines of defence
in successive ridges.

Although the error in direction had necessitated a change in the
method of attack, the {p.149} time had been exact; the line had
started at 3 A.M., reaching the foot of the hills before daybreak.
This could scarcely have been much later than 4 A.M., for in the
southern hemisphere summer was near. The musketry fire of the Boers
opened soon after, "and the troops instinctively moved toward the
enemy's position." The advance was covered by artillery, which,
however, was slow in its movements, "the horses not having yet
recovered from a five weeks' voyage." Criticism has said that the
artillery was not sufficiently employed to silence the enemy's
riflemen, but Lord Methuen alleges that shrapnel does not kill men in
kopjes; "it only frightens them, and I intend to get at my enemy." The
inferiority of shrapnel to shell, in use against kopjes, has been
asserted by many observers. For these various reasons the battle of
Belmont reduced itself to a magnificent charge by a much superior
force up a stony and precipitous hill against an enemy strongly
intrenched. "At 6.10 the last height was cleared, the enemy in large
numbers galloping into the plain, their laager trekking across me
3,000 yards off, {p.150} my mounted troops unable to carry out their
orders on one side--left--because the retreat was covered by kopjes,
and on the other--right--because too far; the artillery dead beat and
unable to help me. A cavalry brigade and a horse artillery battery
from my right would have made good my success." The British loss at
Belmont was 53 killed, 275 wounded; that of the Boers is not
accurately known.

Two days later at Graspan the Boers were in about the same force and
the natural conditions similar in general character. The Boer line
extended east and west, and at the latter end--their right--were "two
high hills." These were bombarded with shrapnel, the effect of which
was more thoroughly tested, one battery alone firing 500 rounds to
clear the summit, before the infantry were allowed to advance. The men
again fought their way to the top, but again the enemy got away. "The
heights gained, I found I had taken the whole Boer force in flank, and
had entirely cut them off from their line of retreat. My guns played
on the masses of horsemen, but my few cavalry, dead beat, were
{p.151} powerless, and for the second time I longed for a cavalry
brigade and horse artillery battery to let me reap the fruits of a
hard-fought action." "The loss in both these actions," Methuen says,
"was great, and convinces me that if an enemy has his heart in the
right place he ought to hold his own against vastly superior forces,
and it does our men great credit that nothing stops them."

Both actions, in short, illustrate the same lessons, the Boers'
particular advantages for defence, their readiness in retreat, and, it
must be added, the prompt facility with which they resorted to it.
When the most that can be said has been said for their methods--and
much can be said--it still remains that an eye ever to the rear, upon
escape, is militarily a demoralising attitude upon which no sound
system of warfare can be built up. The nervousness of the Boers at any
seeming threat to their line of retreat has been so obvious as to
elicit frequent comment. As a predominant motive it is ruinous.

The loss of the British at Graspan was 16 {p.152} killed, 169
wounded. Lord Methuen noted in his report that he had fought
distinctly different Boers on the two occasions. If he was not
mistaken, this helps to account for the greatly increased numbers
encountered three days later at Modder River. At Kimberley also it had
been observed that the number of the besiegers was now much
diminished, and a report, substantially correct, was received there
that Cronje was marching south with 3,000 men. These, with the two
bodies already fought, would bring the Boer force up to the 8,000
estimated by Methuen to be present at the next action, of November 28.
The Kimberley garrison did not fail to occupy the attention of their
besiegers by frequent sorties, one in considerable strength occurring
on the day of the Modder River fight; but such measures, however
commendable, cannot beyond a certain point impose upon a sagacious
commander with good information, and Cronje well knew that to stop
Methuen was his principal affair.

The British force rested two days after Graspan, and at 4 A.M. of
November 28 resumed {p.153} its northward march. Methuen's
information had led him to believe that the Modder was not held in
force, and that he would meet his next serious opposition at
Spytfontein, where the Boers would make their last stand; the country
between it and Kimberley, a dozen miles further on, being open and
unfavourable to their defensive tactics. Reckoning upon this, he first
intended, taking five days' rations, to make a circuit eastward by way
of Jacobsdaal, crossing the Modder higher up, and coming in upon
Spytfontein from that direction. The railroad, protected by
earthworks, was to be left under guard of one or two thousand men. On
the very eve of starting, intelligence came in that Modder River
Station was strongly occupied, and the general, fearing under that
condition to risk the railroad, decided to advance direct upon the
river. He was still ignorant, and even unsuspicious, that the enemy
had massed to the number of 8,000 to oppose the passage of the 7,000
to which casualties and the care of lengthening communications had
reduced his own division.

The {p.154} position taken by the Boers was on the south bank of the
Modder, at the point where it is joined by the Riet. The two streams,
flowing respectively from east and south-east, inclose an angle of
forty-five degrees, the ground between them being called an island,
though not so properly. The railroad crosses by a bridge--by this time
destroyed--just below the junction; Modder River Station, a small,
pleasant village, being on the north bank. In the approach from the
south, by which the British were advancing, the land--or veldt--slopes
evenly and regularly downward to the river, rising again beyond in
such wise that the island is higher than the southern bank, but is in
turn commanded by the northern.

Cronje had intrenched his riflemen along a line of three miles of the
river bed, by which they were entirely concealed. On the island, which
is covered with trees and brush, he had placed sharpshooters and
quick-firing guns. On the extreme Boer right their position was
further strengthened by broken, rocky ground and small kopjes,
considerably in advance of their line. This forward {p.155} cover
they held by a strong detachment, as they did also another slight
eminence, six hundred yards further east, upon which was a farm-house
and kraal. From these a cross-fire upon the enemy served to protect
their right flank, which by position otherwise was the weaker.

Although unconscious that he was about to encounter numbers equal to,
if not greater than his own, Methuen, who expected them to retire
after a show of opposition, considered it still his best course to
advance with his two brigades on an extended front, the Guards on the
right, the 9th Brigade on the left, the two carefully keeping touch
from end to end and crossing in that order. Thus approaching, at 8.10
A.M. a very heavy fire showed that the river was held in force and
caused numerous casualties, many men falling at once. "The Scots Guard
Maxim detachment were completely wiped out." On the British
right--Boer left--there was no break in the even slope of the ground,
the Guards were visible for three miles from the river, and fully
exposed alike to the fire of the trenches and that from the island;
but the latter, {p.156} without solid cover, was in turn closely
searched by the British batteries, which, massed principally upon the
right of their line, threw in the action over three thousand rounds.
Under such heavy fire the Guards were directed to extend to the right,
at the same time swinging round their extreme right companies toward
the left. It was hoped thus to outflank and enfilade the hostile line;
but the movement was checked by the Riet, which, contrary to the
intelligence received, was not fordable. Colonel Codrington with a
score of officers and men did get across; but the water was too deep
for support to follow, and in returning some of the party were nearly
drowned, having to hold hands to stem the force of the current. There
was nothing for the right wing but to lie down when they had got
within 1,100 yards of the enemy, and then patiently to await an
outcome. Accordingly they thus remained from 10 A.M. until the sun
went down at 6.20; the fire never ceasing, yet for all its intensity
causing few casualties while the men lay quiet. "No one," wrote
Methuen, in his report, "could get on a horse with any {p.157} safety
within 2,000 yards of the enemy." Under these conditions the
conveyance of orders to different parts of the line was much

The left of the British front extended some distance west of the
railroad. Here a rising ground, parallel to the river course,
concealed the troops in their advance until its summit was reached,
but there the same withering fire checked them. About 2 in the
afternoon, however, two companies of light infantry succeeded by a
rush in carrying the farm-house in front of the Boer lines, and almost
at the same moment another detachment dislodged the enemy from the
advanced kopjes on his extreme right. The parties thus established so
threatened the Boers' flank as to shake their position.

An attempt was next made to gain and pass the river by a ford, which
lies behind the farm-house, but this was too near the strength of the
hostile fire and the effort was repelled. On their furthest left the
British had better success. There the advanced kopjes supported the
movement, and there the enemy's fire was weakest. A place deep
{p.158} but passable was found, and the Boers' right flank was turned
under a heavy fire of infantry supported by a battery. First a party
of twenty crossed, under Colonel Barter, of the Yorkshire Light
Infantry--the names of all the men who do such a deed should be
remembered, but their leader at least may be mentioned. Three or four
hundred followed, and fixed themselves on the north bank, winning the
outskirts of the village. Thence an advance of three-quarters of a
mile up the river-side was made, the general of the brigade having now
crossed; but this ground could not be held, and the British were
forced back. Reinforcements were sent, and in performing this service
Methuen's chief-of-staff, Colonel Northcott, was killed, the battle
raging along the front in full severity. When the fire ceased at dark,
the Boers still occupied their trenches, but the British were firmly
settled upon their right flank and rear, on the north bank, and had
possession of a practicable ford. During the night the Boers evacuated
their positions, and the field of battle remained with the British,
who continued to hold the line of the river {p.159} up to the time
that Roberts began his advance.

The battle of the Modder showed that, with the modern improvements in
rapid-firing arms, it is possible for troops well entrenched over an
extended front to sweep a plain field of approach with such a volume
of fire as is impossible to cross. This it shows, but otherwise the
lessons to be derived have been greatly exaggerated. Witnesses exhaust
their descriptive powers to portray the evidences of the innumerable
falls of bullets, shown by the kicking up of the dust. "A fire so
thick and fearful that no man can imagine how any one passed under or
through it. Many crippled lay flat for hours, not daring to rise for
succour. If any one asked a comrade for a drink of water, he saw the
bottle, or the hand passing it, pierced by a Dum-Dum or a one-pounder
shell. If he raised his head to writhe in his pain, he felt his helmet
shot away."[13]

                   [Footnote 13: Julian Ralph, "Toward Pretoria," p.

The impression produced by the scene is most forcibly betrayed by the
exaggerated phrase of the veteran commander in his first
telegram--"One of the hardest and most trying {p.160} fights in the
annals of the British Army." Yet, as far as result was concerned, it
was an immense expenditure of ammunition and little loss of life. The
frontal attack was so clearly impossible that it was at once
abandoned, and the men lay down. A generation or two ago they would
have persisted, many more would have been killed, and while the
position might at last have been carried in front, more than likely it
would at the last have been turned, as it was at the Modder. The
British loss, 70 killed, 413 wounded, was but 7 per cent. of the
troops engaged--about 7,000--far below that of many of Wellington's

In point of tactics, the battle may be summarized by saying that the
British line held the enemy in front until a couple of detachments, by
daring rushes, had established themselves in positions of command on
the western flank, whence they worked themselves round, crossed the
river, and fairly turned the hostile flank. And that, so stated, is a
very old story. On the other hand, at Belmont and Graspan, at Talana
Hill and Elandslaagte, it was shown that the same arms of rapid fire
{p.161} do not necessarily control where precision and skill, not mere
torrential volume, are needed. Not only is it not demonstrated that
modern weapons can stop the uphill advance of a resolute infantry on
broken ground; it has been shown to probability that they are
incapable of so doing. Whether such charges are wise is one thing, but
whether they are possible is another. Rapidity of fire has reversed
conditions where rapidity is the essential factor; it has not reversed
them, probably not greatly modified them, where skill and resolution
are chiefly demanded.

After the Modder fight Lord Methuen remained at the position then won,
establishing a pontoon bridge, restoring that of the railroad, and
awaiting reinforcements to replace the men lost in battle and those
necessarily detached to protect his lengthening line of
communications. After three severe actions he had now traversed
forty-five of the seventy miles that lay between the Orange River and
Kimberley; but the inadequacy of his numbers was increasingly felt.
During the ten or twelve days at the Modder a serious demonstration
was made in his rear at Enslin, threatening {p.162} the railroad and
his communications. Although successfully repelled, it was evident
that the enemy's concentration had made them so far superior as not
only to increase greatly his task in front, but also to threaten his
rear. "The longer I remained inactive," said he, in his report, "the
stronger would the enemy become. Therefore, on the day my last
reinforcement arrived, I decided to continue my advance. It was out of
the question to follow the railway, owing to the large kopjes on
either side, which had been strongly entrenched. Besides, by that
route there was not sufficient water."

The railroad, after crossing the Modder, runs on the west side of the
river nearly due north for two miles, and then turns north-west for
two more, when it passes between two kopjes, both fortified. The
right-hand one of these, the Magersfontein, extends to the south-east
for three miles, rising there to an abrupt peak about 150 feet high,
which is the key of the situation. In the prolongation of this range a
low ridge covered with brush extends eastward to the Modder, the bed
of which thereabout follows for some distance {p.163} a north-east
and south-west line. At the foot of the peak, but some little distance
in advance, the Boers had dug a line of trenches, which not only
covered the immediate front, but at the eastern end of Magersfontein
sweep round the curve of the hill to the north for some hundred yards,
and then turned east again, following the bushy ridge to the river.
These dispositions facilitated the passage of troops from one flank to
the other under cover, and preserved control of a ford over the Modder
behind the line. The trenches, especially before the peak, were filled
with riflemen. The kopje itself was also manned, but it is allowable
to believe that the experience of the war, already illustrated by many
encounters, must have persuaded so shrewd a fighter as Cronje of the
superior advantage of the trench system. Before the trenches ran a
continuous line of barbed-wire fence. A probable estimate of the
opposing forces places the Boers at 15,000, the British at 11,000. No
certainty can as yet be predicated for the Boer numbers, which depend
upon the enemy's calculations, but that they were decisively superior
is scarcely doubtful.

After {p.164} considering the problem before him, Methuen concluded
that a turning movement was inexpedient. He could not, on the left,
follow the railroad, for that was commanded on both sides. He could
not, on the right, pass between Magersfontein and the Modder, for the
bushy ground would prevent his artillery from helping him to its full
power, and might even place it in danger of capture. If he deflected
still more to the right, crossing the river, he would have to recross
in the face of a force superior to his own in numbers and mobility.
Moreover, in a circuit requiring time, he was hampered by the lack of
transport which then fettered all British movements. He could take
with him provisions for only five days. In any event he must fight
again at Spytfontein; better therefore meet an enemy badly shaken by
such determined assaults as those of Graspan and the Modder.
Therefore, "I decided to attack the Magersfontein kopje." In this the
main effort against the peak was assigned to the Highland Brigade,
under General Wauchope, which had just joined. The force of this
brigade was about 3,000.

On {p.165} the afternoon of Sunday, December 10, the kopjes of
Magersfontein were bombarded heavily, between 4.30 and 6.30 P.M., by a
4.7-inch gun from a distance of 7,000 yards. The Highlanders were
directed to start a half hour after midnight, so as surely to reach
the foot of the kopjes by daylight, due at 3.30 A.M. A drenching rain
came on at 1, lasting through the night and adding greatly to the
difficulty of keeping the direction, which was done by compass. This,
however, was effected, though at the expense of much delay; but the
danger of separating and struggling in the obscurity made it necessary
that the troops should hold a compact formation, and they advanced in
quarter column. The heaviness of the atmosphere postponed daybreak to
4 A.M. A few moments previously General Wauchope had given the order
for deployment on the prearranged plan--one regiment moving ahead, two
others to the right and left respectively, and a fourth forming in
reserve. Some slight delay occurred, owing to local obstacles; and
before the movement had developed, while the troops were still in mass
and {p.166} changing their places, a tremendous fire at two hundred
yards opened from the line of trenches--every rifle apparently
emptying its magazine as rapidly as the finger could handle the
trigger. Coming wholly unexpectedly in the dark, at the critical
moment of a change of formation, great confusion ensued, and
contradictory orders were given, among which the most disastrous
possible, "Retire," is said to have been uttered, causing a certain
number to turn and break through the ranks behind them. In the final
result the brigade, greatly shattered, lay down, and so remained for
several hours.

Meanwhile the remainder of the army, with the exception of a small
flanking force to the left of the Highland Brigade, took position on
its right, prolonging the front in that direction to the Modder; some
companies being thrown to the rear along the course of the river,
guarding the fords against any attack of the enemy upon the right
flank--demonstrations of which were made but repelled. The British
artillery was brought actively and continuously into play, with
perceptible effect upon the enemy's fire. The battle then resolved
itself into {p.167} both parties holding their positions until
nightfall, when the Highland Brigade was withdrawn from the perilous
position in which it had passed fifteen hours of exposure, heat and
thirst. The British slept on the ground, their general purposing next
morning to occupy the kopje, if deserted, but finding the enemy then
still in the trenches, he withdrew his force to the Modder.

The battle of Magersfontein brought Methuen to a standstill, and
postponed for more than two months the relief of Kimberley. The
disaster which befell the Highland Brigade was one of those incidents
which ought not to have occurred, but determination of blame must
await more precise information than is now accessible. To retain the
cover of darkness for an approach made within effective, though long,
range of the enemy's fire--to deploy as near as possible to him, but
still too distant to be seen--to keep 3,000 men in black darkness in
touch, yet not compacted--these are conditions desirable of attainment
but difficult to combine, and, like all combinations, liable to fail
in some element. The total loss, by the last revised returns, was
{p.168} 171 killed, 691 wounded, four-fifths of which fell on the
Highland Brigade and in the first few moments. Among the slain was
General Wauchope.

From the day of this battle until February 11, the opposing forces
continued in the positions occupied by them before the engagement,
Methuen upon the north bank of the Modder, Cronje holding the ranges
at Magersfontein and Spytfontein. The great comparative mobility of
the Boers, with their more numerous and seasoned horses, enabled them
to maintain the investment of Kimberley, and yet retain the power to
concentrate betimes at any threatened point from this interior
position. Here between the two bodies of the enemy, between Methuen
and Kekewich, was the bulk of their army. Kimberley was never
assaulted, nor did the inhabitants often see their enemy in any force.

During the same calendar week as Magersfontein, there occurred two
other reverses--at Stormberg, December 10, and at Colenso, December
15--which made this the black week of the war for the British arms.
These misfortunes, though chargeable in {p.169} part to faulty
dispositions upon the ground, and in part to the chapter of those
accidents which have always to be allowed for in war, serve more
especially to illustrate the embarrassments attendant upon the
division of a force into two or more parts out of reach for mutual
support, and neither one in decisively preponderant strength to the
enemy to whom it is opposed. This disadvantage is greatest to the
offensive, because to the defensive falls the privilege of increasing
power by choice of position and by fortifying. It was in this dilemma
that the British, in consequence of the abandonment of their original
concentrative plan of advance through the Free State, and the adoption
of two or more lines of operation, found themselves over their whole
front; from Colenso on the east, through Sterkstrom and Naauwport, to
the Modder River. The result throughout was--if not paralysis--at
least a cessation of movement, after the reverses above mentioned,
except in the brilliant and useful, but in scale minor, operations of
General French upon their left centre, about Naauwport and Colesberg.

In {p.170} the centre and east of the border district between Cape
Colony and the Free State--from Naauwport to Stormberg and beyond--the
position now was and continued to be especially critical, because most
exposed. Had the Boer forces there been handled with definiteness of
aim and concentration of effort in aggressive movement, serious
disaster could scarcely have been averted. But direction seems to have
been largely in the hands of the Free State farmers of the locality,
whose aptitudes and leading carried them little above the level of
irregular partisan troops. These are invaluable for their own
purposes, but those purposes are distinctly subsidiary to war on the
great scale, and by themselves alone do not decide campaigns. It is
impossible not to be struck with the general similarity of motive, and
of action, in the Boer operations from November to January in Cape
Colony, from Stormberg to Dordrecht and thence to the Basuto boundary,
and the dashing but militarily abortive raids to the rear of Lord
Roberts' right flank while he was at Bloemfontein. As soon as the
Dutch commandant in the latter instance settled upon {p.171} Wepener
for the expenditure of his strength, he had not only secured that
opportunity for ready retirement to which the partisan looks, but he
had also relieved the British commander from serious anxiety
concerning his communications.

The British disaster at Stormberg possesses no intrinsic interest, or
claim to mention, as a military incident; but as it attracted so much
notice at the time, and carried a certain moral effect, the details
must be summarized. The Dutch were strongly entrenched and in force on
a hill overlooking the place. The British were at Putter's Kraal and
Sterkstrom, some twenty odd miles distant by the railroad, which they
controlled up to Molteno, nine miles from Stormberg. The troops, 2,500
in number, had been marching, or in open railroad trucks, since early
morning of Saturday, December 9, when at 9 P.M. they detrained at

From this place there are two country roads, one direct to Stormberg,
the other branching to the left toward Steynsburg, on the
Stormberg-Naauwport railway. General Gatacre {p.172} intended to
follow the Steynsburg road for four or five miles, and there to take a
turn to the right, which his guides assured him would in another mile
and a half bring him to the south-west angle of the Boer position; but
the turn was missed and passed, with the result that after a very long
circuit, of two hours and a half, the column came out on the
north-west angle. The attack was immediately delivered, but the
troops, greatly exhausted, having halted only forty-five minutes since
9 o'clock, appear to have been incapacitated, by the accumulated
hardships and disappointments of the night, to contend with the
obstacles before them. The character of the casualties sufficiently
indicates the comparative feebleness of the fighting. There were 31
killed, 58 wounded, while in prisoners there were lost 633. The
accounts give the impression that many of the men taken were
physically too depressed to quit the shelter in which they found
themselves, in order to retire further. Two guns also were lost. The
retreat which followed almost immediately was conducted under
difficulties and fatigue, offering "great opportunity for {p.173} an
active enemy"; but it was not disturbed.

Further to the west and north General French, during this same period
and the ensuing month of January, was carrying on continuous active
operations, which will remain an instructive lesson for the military
student, but which, from the smallness of the scale and the technical
character of their merits, cannot well be related in a narrative of
this character. For it he has received, if not popular appreciation,
at least public reward in the high commendation of Lord Roberts, whose
own achievements in a long career of honour give the greatest weight
to his praise. "I consider that General French showed marked ability
and judgment in constantly harassing the enemy and driving them from
one strong position after another, without exposing his men to heavy
loss." Yet even this scarcely measures the full value of French's
services. The untiring molestation to which the enemy was subjected by
him, as testified not only by his full report but by the daily
telegram of this or that brush, first in one quarter, then in another,
unquestionably--or {p.174} rather evidently--produced an impression
and concentrated an anxiety that contributed to divert attention from
the preparations to the westward, which were to result in the relief
of Kimberley and the capture of Cronje. In these later events French
was rewarded by the conspicuous as well as important part he played.

Reaching Cape Town immediately after the investment of Ladysmith,
French was sent up country by Sir Redvers Buller with orders to seize
Naauwport, then recently evacuated, and whenever possible to push on
and gain Colesberg. Naauwport was reoccupied November 19, and
thenceforth activity was incessant. Advancing, retiring, gaining,
losing, on front, flank, or rear, of the enemy, whatever else found
place, repose did not. The report is a record of unrestingness, which
communicated itself to the enemy as uneasiness. On the 16th of
December Arundel, midway from Naauwport to Colesberg, was occupied as
headquarters, and from that time, as before, "every opportunity was
taken to worry the enemy and to harass his flanks and rear until
December {p.175} 29, when he finally evacuated his position in my
front and retired on Colesberg. These operations were fully reported
each night by telegraph." These telegrams journalise the restlessness
of the skilled warrior who looks beyond his minor _rôle_--beyond mere
partisan scurrying to and fro--to the great something to which he

Lord Roberts availed himself ably of the disquiet caused by French. As
the fulness of time approached for the relief of Kimberley, the forces
about Naauwport grew larger and more restless than ever. Advance in
menacing force was made not only toward Colesberg, but to the
eastward, along the railroad to Steynsburg and Stormberg. Parties of
colonial horse crossed the country from Gatacre at Sterkstrom to
French and Kelly-Kenny at Steynsburg and Arundel. A general advance in
force seemed imminent. On February 2 French, in closing his long
report to Lord Roberts detailing the events since December 16, said,
"In accordance with the instructions received at Cape Town from the
commander-in-chief, I am now making the arrangements ordered." The
explanation {p.176} of this mysterious allusion appeared thirteen
days later, when, on February 15, he led the relieving column into
Kimberley, two hundred miles distant. The same day his former command,
weakened by his own withdrawal with the cavalry, and by that of
Kelly-Kenny's division, and now under General Clements, had been
forced out of Arundel by greatly superior numbers; but to what avail?
Yet in another ten days the Boers from Kimberley to Colesberg were in
full retreat, and on February 26 Clements not only had regained his
ground, but had entered Colesberg, for which French had so long
manoeuvred in vain. The incident illustrates happily the far-reaching
effect of a great movement in mass, wisely conceived, ably directed,
and secretly executed.

CHAPTER V {p.177}


The severing of communications, by rail and telegraph, between
Ladysmith and the outer world, was the first step in a preliminary
process of attack and of defence; after which only the opponents
settled down to the relatively permanent conditions that constitute
the monotonous endurance of a siege. The British, prior to accepting
the investment, struck out right and left from day to day, by
skirmishing and reconnoitring parties; the Boers on the 9th of
November delivered an assault described as determined in character,
which will be more particularly mentioned later, but concerning which
details are singularly meagre. This no doubt is owing, partly, to the
habitual reticence of the Boers concerning {p.178} their reverses,
and partly to the isolation of the British garrison and correspondents
until a time when nearer and more exciting events engrossed the
columns of the press, crowding out this affair, already become past

Unless the author has greatly misconceived the general utterances, the
occupation of Ladysmith has been in popular estimation merely an
unfortunate accident forced upon the British as a result of the
original faulty dispositions of the campaign. This view is scarcely
correct; and even if it were in part well founded, the natural
inference, that the investment was a misfortune, pure and simple,
would not follow. Probably no single incident of the war has been more
determinative of final issues than the tenure of Ladysmith. Therefore,
an examination of the relation borne by this single factor to the
whole, of which it was a part, may very fitly precede immediately the
narrative of the particular occurrences which locally centred around

The considerations of any and every nature which made Ladysmith a
railroad junction, a cross-roads, at which met three important
{p.179} lines of communication--one with Durban, one with the
Transvaal, and one with the Orange Free State--constituted it at the
same time, necessarily and consequently, a position of strategic
importance. Even had a mistake been made in selecting it as a railroad
centre--which I have never seen asserted--the decision alone would
have given it value; but, if the choice was sound, all the
considerations which dictated it go to increase that value. It does
not follow, of course, that such a position must under no
circumstances be abandoned, that something better than its tenure
might not have been done for the British campaign; still less is it to
be concluded that the only, or the best, way to hold the place was by
occupying the town itself, or the particular lines ultimately
established around it by Sir George White.

These are questions of detail, which, however important, are separable
in thought and in decision from the general fact stated--that
Ladysmith, being a railroad crossing, the only very important one on
the Natal theatre of operations, was necessarily a strategic point not
lightly to be surrendered.

Nor {p.180} was Sir George White, in deciding to hold the place,
constrained only by the demands of an immediate emergency. The
thoughts and reasonings of that gallant and distinguished officer have
been sequestrated from public knowledge by the same causes that
obscure most of the early happenings of the siege; but, from speeches
made by him shortly after his return to England, it is clearly
apparent that not only a present military exigency, but also the
considerations above mentioned, were present in his mind, as indeed
they could not fail to be with any instructed and intelligent officer.
"Natal was the object on which the Boers had set their hearts. It was
not only the actual point which they attacked, but it was also their
sentimental object. They had the idea that they had a right in Natal,
and their plan of campaign was framed from the very idea that they
should have the territory from Majuba to the sea. But Ladysmith stood
in their way, and he might say that Ladysmith was a most important
town in northern Natal. From its geographical position it became of
great strategical importance. It was at Ladysmith that {p.181} the
forces of the Transvaal, pouring over the northern and north-eastern
passes of Natal, first joined with the forces that came in from the
west and the Orange Free State, and there the two South African
Republics combined in their strength under the late Commandant-General
Joubert--a man who, he would like to say there, was a brave and a very
civilised man. Ladysmith was also a railway centre of great
importance, and it was therefore of great value to them to keep it out
of the possession of the enemy."[14]

                   [Footnote 14: London _Weekly Times_, May 18.]

Nor was this all, as touching the place itself. That similar
reasonings had led the Imperial authorities, antecedent to the
hostilities, to choose Ladysmith as a depot and _place d'armes_, is
shown by the reproaches addressed to the Government by the London
_Times_, November 21, 1899: "There is no need to inquire just now into
the balance of political and military considerations which determined
the policy of making a stand at Ladysmith. It is enough that that
policy was definitely adopted in ample time to allow of providing
Ladysmith with the long-range guns which its {p.182} position renders
peculiarly necessary, dominated as it is by hills on three sides. Why
were such guns not provided? Why was it left to fortunate accident to
furnish the garrison at the very last moment with the means of
defence"--by the arrival of the naval guns?

In like manner the prime minister of Natal, some months later,
challenged the following statement of the _Times_ in its issue of
March 2, 1900: "From November 2, when, owing to the subordination of
military to local political considerations, a British force of 10,000
fine soldiers was shut in Ladysmith, a great fear has hung over us."
Upon this the premier comments: "It is true that the Governor, when
asked by Sir George White to give his opinion, pointed out the serious
political consequences which might follow the evacuation of Dundee.
But as far as Ladysmith was concerned the abandonment or evacuation of
that town was never, to my knowledge, even hinted at. For two years or
more previous to the outbreak of the war, Ladysmith had been made the
principal military station in Natal; large quantities {p.183} of
commissariat stores and ammunition had been accumulated there; and the
troops stationed at Ladysmith, comprising the larger portion of the
Natal garrison, had been permanently hutted instead of being retained
under canvas. Of one fact I am certain, and that is that no suggestion
of any kind was ever made to the Government of Natal that, for
military or any other reasons, it was undesirable that Ladysmith
should be defended."

Intrinsically, therefore, Ladysmith presented strong claims, inherent
and acquired, against abandonment. But there were further reasons,
exterior to herself, to be found in the particular condition of the
military problem. In all campaigns, and especially in those which are
defensive in character, as this then was, it is an accepted principle
that the front of operations should be advanced, or, in case of
retreat, should be maintained, as far forward as is possible
consistent with general considerations of safety. Prominent among the
latter is always the securing of the lines of communication, by which
alone supplies and reinforcements can be received, or {p.184} further
retreat made in case of necessity. By detaining the enemy in such an
advanced position, security--partial or total--is obtained for the
various interests in the rear, whether public or private. The question
of such detention, however, if to be effected by an inferior army, is
difficult and complicated; for which reason, as well as because of
other disadvantages inherent in inferiority, a defensive campaign
really great--great, that is, in a military sense--makes the highest
demand upon military skill.

It was the defensive stage of Napoleon's Italian campaign of 1796 that
illustrated his greatness, even more conspicuously than the offensive
movements which preceded it, extraordinary exhibitions though they
were of his military genius; and the same distinction attends his
resistance of the allied invasion in 1814.

In certain conditions of country, in certain relative degrees of
numerical strength, under certain political conditions--for it is a
grave mistake to think that military and political considerations can
be dissevered practically, as they can logically--an inferior force
can contest {p.185} step by step, content to delay only, not to
arrest. It is, for instance, evident that, politically, one may more
readily thus abandon hostile country than uncover one's own
territory--as in Natal--even though the military conditions in the two
cases be identical. But, under different circumstances of position or
of numbers, such dilatory field operations may be impracticable. If
the country through which retreat is to be made be open, if numbers be
so small that the enemy can overlap--that is outflank--if the ground
does not afford positions where the flanks may be protected by natural
obstacles that make outflanking impossible or exceedingly arduous, if
the enemy be greatly superior in mobility, in such conditions retreat
from each successive stand is apt to be precipitate--dependent less
upon one's own will than upon the enemy's energy--and the retiring
army may reach its ultimate goal under an accumulation of retrograde
impulse not far distinguishable from rout, deteriorated in _morale_
and diminished in numbers.

Where such unfavourable conditions obtain, the principle which
dominates all correct defensive action {p.186} receives a special
application. The principle is that every defensive disposition should
look to offensive action--or at the least to offensive effect. Mere
defence is ultimate ruin. "In the long run," said Napoleon, "no
position whatever can be defended if it does not threaten the
enemy."[15] Consequently, the force that for any, or several, of the
reasons above given cannot safely keep the field must establish itself
solidly in some place where, for whatsoever advantages, it is as far
as possible itself secure; but whence at the same time--and this is
the more important of the two considerations--it most effectually
menaces the enemy. This it does by applying again, but in another
manner, the flanking, or turning, idea--by placing itself across or to
one side of the line of communications upon which the enemy will
depend, if he ventures to advance in the direction which the defendant
has not felt himself strong enough otherwise to contest. Of {p.187}
such offensive-defensive positions there are many historical examples.
Among these the most recently conspicuous was the occupation of Plevna
by the Turks in 1877, and the long consequent arrest of the Russian
progress; but Mantua, in 1796, in like manner and for the same
reasons, effectually stopped Bonaparte for eight months, and Genoa, in
1800, so long delayed the Austrians as to reverse the issues of the
campaign signalised by the name of Marengo.

                   [Footnote 15: I should greatly like here to take up
                   my parable against those who base their
                   calculations for the numbers and kinds of naval
                   vessels upon the idea of "a navy for defence only";
                   but space and relevancy both forbid.]

From the simply defensive point of view, a line of works arranged
consecutively around such a stationary centre has no flanks to be
turned, but resembles a circle or other continuous curve which returns
into itself. Like a straight line, such a curve may be broken by
superior force; but until that is done the weakness of flanks does not
exist. Moreover, succour can be more quickly sent from a centre to
every threatened point of the circumference than from the middle of a
line of equal length to its extremes. A circle, therefore, is the most
compact disposition for defence, and so most ideal for smaller
numbers. It is concentration in its most effective {p.188} form,
while sacrificing nothing in elasticity and flexibility of motion.

These are the intrinsic defensive advantages--as distinguished from
the offensive threat to the enemy's communications--secured to the
weaker party by a permanent position, and these are its compensations
for the loss of open communications which have been deliberately

In Natal, at the end of October, 1899, the British army was much
inferior to the enemy in both numbers and mobility; and while several
lines of defence were to be found in the region behind, as was shown
by the stubborn resistance which the Boers, when in turn outnumbered,
made at the Tugela, these positions were open to the danger of being
turned by superior numbers or superior rapidity; still more when these
two were combined. In fact, much of the subsequent Boer success in
defence resulted from the fact that, acting on the inside of an arc,
with the advantage of interior--shorter--lines, they also moved over
the latter with greater speed, owing to their distinguishing
characteristic as mounted troops. They had particular facilities, in
{p.189} a word, for accumulating successful numbers at a threatened
point of a stationary defence, which the British would not have had in
an active campaign of retreat.

It became therefore advisable, if not imperative, for the British
commander in Natal to resort to a stationary defence for the
preservation of his division, and to place himself for offensive
purpose upon the flank of the enemy's possible line of invasion, in
order to deter him from further advance. As to situation, Ladysmith
was clearly indicated by the reasons before stated, and especially
because there was there accumulated a great quantity of ammunition,
provisions, and other supplies, which not only should not be allowed
to fall into the hands of the Boers, but also would be essential to
the maintenance of the garrison, if relief were long delayed, as it
proved to be. That this contingency was foreseen, and as far as
possible provided for, has been shown by subsequent utterances of Sir
George White. "From the moment I saw the situation in Natal, I was
certain I should be pressed back by superior numbers, and have to hold
Ladysmith, and I knew that {p.190} the enemy had guns with which I
could not hope to cope with my 15-pounder field guns. Therefore I
telegraphed for the naval guns. It was a question of a race for them,
and Captain Lambton was the right man to win that race. He won only by
a short head."[16]

                   [Footnote 16: London _Weekly Times_, June 1, 1900.
                   Captain the Hon. Hedworth Lambton, Commander of the
                   "Powerful," accompanied the naval guns to
                   Ladysmith, and was there throughout the siege.]

This, then, was the function which the current of events assigned to
Ladysmith, and the part which it bore to the subsequent development of
the war. Discussion has been thus long because, in the author's
judgment, White's action in shutting himself up in the place, and the
admirable tenacity of himself and of the garrison in their resistance,
were the shaping factors in a contest the ultimate result of which was
probably certain in any event, but which in feature and occurrence
would have been very different had Ladysmith either not been occupied
or proved incapable of protracted resistance. As so often markedly
happens, when a correct decision {p.191} has been made, circumstances
seemed to work together to favour the consequences. The respite given
to the garrison by Joubert, who did not attack until November 9,
allowed opportunity to regularize and further to develop the system of
defence, so that on November 6 a press censor telegram, brought out
successfully by a Kaffir runner, read, "Position here now believed to
be entirely safe; greatly strengthened in the last twenty-four hours."
The opportune arrival of the naval guns also, though by so narrow a
margin of time, decisively influenced the outcome. "Had it not been
for these guns," said Sir George White, after his return to England,
"the guns of the Boers would have been brought up very much nearer to
my defences of Ladysmith, and it would enormously have embarrassed my
powers of resistance and would have added enormously to the mortality
of my garrison. Not once or twice in our rough island story have the
naval officer and his men come in the nick of time, and the siege of
Ladysmith was but one instance added to these happy advents."

As {p.192} before said, Ladysmith is surrounded on three sides by
hills which overtop it; railroad lines and stations, indeed, do not
commonly prefer summits to valleys. On the 30th of October the Boers
had already mounted a 40-pounder gun on Peppworth's Hill, north of the
town, with which on that day they opened fire at a distance of over
6,000 yards, much outranging the army field artillery. It was in
connection with the general sortie of the garrison to seize that
position that the disaster of Nicholson's Nek was incurred.

This first threatening outlook was materially modified by the arrival
the same day of the six naval guns from Durban, two of which were of
power equal to the Boers' heavy pieces, and all of a range superior to
those previously at White's disposal. By the 3rd of November a second
long gun had been placed by the besiegers some 8,000 yards--between
four and five miles--south-east of the town, upon Mount Umbulwani;
from which, and from an eminence known indifferently as Lombard's Kop
and as Little Bulwana, three miles to the northward, and also east of
{p.193} the place, the worst of the heavy gun fire upon the town
itself, as distinguished from the lines of defence, seems to have
proceeded. On the 28th the Boers had established within 5,000
yards--less than three miles--of the western defences a third
40-pounder, to which, we learn from Joubert's despatches, his gunners
with grim military humour gave the name of "Franchise"--in mockery,
doubtless, of the British Government's demands on behalf of the
Uitlanders. It may be mentioned here that throughout the war the Boers
have shown a remarkable facility in transporting these heavy cannon,
placing them with surprising rapidity in positions unexpected by their
opponents. On the 29th the besieged could count twenty-six guns in
place upon the lines of attack; but of these, at that time, only the
three specified were guns "of position," to be reckoned as units of a
siege train. The British defensive works, when finally established,
measured in circuit some sixteen miles. The range of the heavier
hostile guns, as revealed by their early practice, compelled an
extension to this degree, in order to hold them back beyond easy
{p.194} command of the town. Fortunately this perimeter, which would
indicate the enclosed area to have a diameter of from five to six
miles, could be manned without overtaxing the numbers of the garrison.
At the moment of investment the British force fit for duty was 572
officers and 12,924 men; total, 13,496. Of these, during the siege, 88
officers and 732 men were killed or wounded; but sickness and want of
food had so far further reduced the numbers that on the day of relief
there were of effectives only 403 officers and 9,761 men, and of these
it was significantly added that "they are the only troops fit to do
even a two-miles march."[17]

                   [Footnote 17: London _Weekly Times_, April 27,
                   1900. Some other interesting siege statistics will
                   be found in the same number.]

Long before this condition of destitution and debility was reached the
besiegers found their hands so occupied by the British relieving
forces that the besieged had little more to do than to hold on. When
the danger to Ladysmith had decided the British authorities to depart
from the original plan, of a single forward movement in mass through
the Free State, and to organise instead a double advance, with
{p.195} divided forces, for the simultaneous relief of Ladysmith and
of Kimberley--as well as certain other subsidiary operations by French
and Gatacre--heavy reinforcements were at once directed upon Natal.
Hildyard's brigade, which had left England before the news of Talana
Hill was received, went on at once from Cape Town without
disembarking, reaching Durban before November 17. Lieutenant-General
Sir Francis Clery continued on to the same port from his original
destination, Port Elizabeth, and upon arrival, November 18, took
command of all the forces in the colony south of Ladysmith. He was
followed exactly a week later by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Redvers
Buller, drawn in person by the irresistible logic of events to the
scene which his own action, or that of the Government, had determined
to be the chief among several centres of active operations.

Meantime, since the day of investment, much had been happening, and
conditions were rapidly taking shape. Upon the 9th of November Joubert
directed an attack upon the defences of Ladysmith. This delay of a
week {p.196} has not yet been explained, and is to be justified only
upon grounds of necessity, in the Boer commander's inability, however
occasioned, sooner to get his numbers together, concentrated and
disposed for so grave an enterprise. The solution is probably to be
found partly in his own natural temperament, which his previous
career, though political rather than military, indicates to have been
cautious, and lacking in the aggressive quality that has given
President Kruger, in civic contests, a continuous triumph over his
more cultivated and progressive, but less combative, rival.

It is to this trait of wariness, seeking to compass ends by
indirection and compromise rather than by open conflict, that
Joubert's failure to achieve success in public life has been plausibly
attributed, and from it arose the nickname "Slim (crafty) Piet"
attached to him by his countrymen. "It was this want of assertiveness
and of determination in following any marked line of action which
prevented Joubert from playing a great part in the fortunes of the
Republic. Opportunities occurred again and again after the advent of
the {p.197} Uitlanders when a vigorous assertion of himself would
have placed him in a position to defeat Mr. Kruger. But the habit of
indolence, so often found associated with a big physical frame, and a
certain element of Scotch 'canniness,' which led him to refuse to
accept risks, prevented his offering serious opposition to the Kruger

This estimate of Joubert's characteristics is recently confirmed by
two sympathetic observers from within the Boer lines. "Mr. Davitt, in
a letter from Kroonstad to the Dublin _Freeman's Journal_, declares
that the Boers were not at all dismayed by the death of General
Joubert, which they agreed was in no sense a misfortune. He was too
merciful in his notions of warfare. Ladysmith could easily have been
taken on more than one occasion had Joubert not vetoed the proposed
assaults."[18] The second correspondent relates that General Joubert
overruled the desire of the burghers to assault Ladysmith, saying "at
a War Council that the city was not worth to the Boers the lives of
500 burghers." If Joubert really said that, he ought unquestionably
to {p.198} have been at once relieved from command; but as the
incident is preceded by the statement that "the burghers were
confident of their ability to take it in a hand-to-hand fight,
_notwithstanding that the English outnumbered them more than two to
one_,"[19] the source of the correspondent's information is open to
some question.

                   [Footnote 18: London _Times_, June 25, 1900.]

                   [Footnote 19: _Harper's Monthly Magazine_, July,
                   1900, p. 174.]

To make war without running risks--not mere risk of personal danger,
but of military failure--has been declared impossible by the highest
authority. Yet such a temperament, betrayed in politics, being
constitutional, will enter into all actions of life, and one is not
surprised to read that "this characteristic of caution was the chief
mark of Joubert's conduct in the field as a military commander. His
idea of warfare was to act ever on the defensive." Let this be
qualified so far as to say that his idea appears always to have been
to act within limits of safety, to consider self-preservation--the
preservation, that is, of his own forces--more important than the
destruction of the enemy, and we have a view, not of Joubert only, but
of his race, which goes {p.199} far to explain the failures at
Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking, and likewise the inefficient
action at that early period of the war when alone success was locally
possible, and, if locally attained, might have even compassed an
ultimate victory. If to this idea be linked that which is closely akin
to it--of attaining results, not by superior dexterity in the use of
means, but by subtlety and ambush--and we have the explanation both of
the numerous artful traps into which British detachments were led,
like game into the snare of the hunter, and yet also of the sure
failure to achieve success in war, for the craft of the hunter is not
the skill of the warrior.

The cognate words "stratagem" and "strategist" sufficiently indicate
that craft and wile are part of the professional equipment of great
warriors, but with them these are not, and cannot be, predominant.
Their skill is not so much to contrive success by deceiving an enemy
as to command it by local superiority of force, either exerted in
violence, or imposing submission by mere evidence of overpowerment.
Circumvention with them aims at permanent results which it alone
cannot obtain. It {p.200} is but a means to the end, which is the
crushing, the military annihilation, of the enemy. That can be
accomplished only by force, not by mere guile. In his temperament, as
shown by his action, Joubert reflected the fighting characteristics of
his people, of whom he has been the most conspicuous military
representative, honoured by friend and foe alike for his fearlessness,
his intelligence, and his humanity. Courage of the highest proof as
regards personal danger, but not the courage that throws away the
scabbard, much less that which burns its ships. The hunter, meeting
superior strength with superior cunning, without even the very least
willingness to lose his life in order to carry his end, may be brave
even to recklessness; but he rejects habitually the tone of mind
distinctive of the soldier, who counts life naught if only by its
sacrifice the end may be attained, or honour preserved. In so far,
that element of stupidity which has been somewhat lavishly attributed
to the British officers' too single-minded attention to their end, to
the exclusion of care for their own persons and those of their men,
has a military value not only great, but decisive. The {p.201}
quality needs direction and control, certainly; but, having been
reproached for now two centuries, the question is apt--Where has it
placed Great Britain among the nations of the earth?

The assault of November 9 began, as is usual in such cases, with a
heavy artillery fire, intended to shake the endurance of those
subjected to it. The Boer guns opened at 4 A.M., and under their cover
the assailants moved forward. The attack was made from all sides, but
the principal effort came from the northward, between the railroads
leading north-east to Glencoe and north-west to the Free State. As
before said, particulars are wanting; but the British had only to hold
their own, except when by a rush, after a repulse of the enemy, they
gained ground over which the latter had passed; whereas the Boers,
having to break cover frequently in order to advance, underwent
necessarily the greater burden of exposure and of loss. How large this
was is still uncertain. Sir Redvers Buller, on the 5th December,
telegraphed to the War Office that it was "very difficult to make any
statement as to the {p.202} enemy's losses. For instance, at Belmont,
81 of their dead were accounted for; they gave 15 as the number of
killed. There is every reason to believe that in the fight at
Ladysmith, on November 9, the enemy's loss was over 800 killed and
wounded." The Boer practice of removing or concealing their slain has
already been noted. The British casualties on this occasion were at
the time reckoned at about 100. Whether subsequent estimates
materially changed this figure is not particularised; but probably it
is nearly correct, for the total losses during the investment,
exclusive of the great assault of January 6, were only 355. The enemy
were effectually repulsed all along the line, and the fighting was
mostly over by 11 A.M. At noon a salute was fired, in honour primarily
of the Prince of Wales's birthday; but, incidentally, doubtless, it
expressed exultation over the garrison's own achievement.

Nearly two months elapsed before the attempt to carry the works by
storm was renewed, and then, doubtless, because it had been recognised
that there was at least a dangerous probability that the place might
hold {p.203} out, until it was relieved by the immense forces known
to be accumulating. But the immediate result of the failure of the 9th
was to dispose the Boer authorities not to risk further slaughter, but
to trust rather to the slow process of famine for overcoming an
endurance which neither they, nor probably the British outside, then
thought could be so long protracted.

Joubert therefore settled down to an investment and bombardment.
Immediately following this determination, and probably consequent upon
it, there were organised a number of raids upon the Natal territory to
the southward. These, though simultaneous in execution, and therefore
mutually supporting, were made by bodies apparently individually
independent; sharing in this a characteristic commonly met in the Boer
operations, and facilitated at once by their individualistic habits of
life, their knowledge of the country, and their freedom from the
organic interdependence which to regular troops becomes a second
nature. Every Boer organisation seems susceptible of immediate
dissolution into its component units, each of independent {p.204}
vitality, and of subsequent reunion in some assigned place; the
individuals passing easily as innocent wayfarers or peasants among the
population, with which they readily blend. The quality has its
strength; but it has also its weakness, and the latter exceeds. This
capacity for undergoing multifold subdivision, with retention of
function by the several parts, is characteristic, in fact, of the
simpler and lower forms of life, and disappears gradually as evolution
progresses to higher orders. In all military performance, it is not
the faculty for segregation that chiefly tells. It is the
predisposition to united action, the habit of mutual concert and
reliance. By this, concentration of purpose, subordination to a common
impulse, ceases to be an effort, becoming the second nature of the
man; and concentration of action, not merely in great operations but
in the inner spirit, is the secret of success in war. Individual,
intelligent self-direction is not, however, thereby excluded. The two
are complementary elements of the highest personal efficiency; but
they must be regarded in their due relations and proportions. The
individualistic {p.205} tendency is that of the natural man, of the
raw material, of the irregular trooper. Educated in the trained
soldier into due subordination to the superior demands of military
concert, it remains an invaluable constituent of military character;
but where existing in excess, as it does prior to training, it is far
more harmful than beneficial. In considering the experiences of a war
of the kind before us, these facts should be kept clearly in mind; for
under the peculiar conditions of countries partly or wholly
unredeemed, as the American wilderness of a century or so ago, or
South Africa to-day, the special experience of the inhabitant confers
local aptitudes which the trained soldier needs to acquire, which
place him for the moment, and in so far, in a position of inferiority,
and in consequence of which hasty impression lightly reaches the
erroneous conclusion that greater military efficiency resides in
individual liberty of action, than in imposed habits of subordination
and concert of movement. It is not so. The exception should not be
mistaken for the rule, nor the occasional for the permanent.

Incidentally {p.206} to the process of investment, the Boers had
already moved in considerable numbers south of Ladysmith, and had
established batteries on Grobler's Kloof, a ridge two or three miles
west of the railroad, overlooking the Tugela from the north. Thence
they had opened fire on the 2nd of November against Colenso, the town
and railway station upon the southern bank, and against Fort Wylie,
upon the northern, just to the east of the road. Colenso and Wylie
were consequently evacuated by the small British forces there present,
and on the 4th it was announced officially that they had retired to
Estcourt, twenty miles to the southward--twenty-seven by the railroad.
This marked the furthest point of the British retreat; but the fewness
of the troops that there made their stand exposed them for some days
to very serious danger, had the object of the Boers been, as was by
some alleged, with firm purpose to destroy whatsoever of force or of
facilities existed to further the advance of relief to the invested
garrison, and not merely raiding with a view to increase their
resources in the positions they {p.207} had determined to hold,
around Ladysmith and on the Tugela.

Up to the 15th of November an armoured train was sent out daily from
Estcourt to reconnoitre, but on that day, having pushed too far north,
it was intercepted on its return by an advanced party of the enemy,
who, by loosening a rail, threw it off the track. A hundred British,
more or less, were here captured; among them Mr. Winston Churchill, a
war correspondent. Three days later, November 18, there were seen from
Estcourt the advanced patrols of the various raiding parties, who were
sweeping the country on both sides of the railroad over a front of
thirty miles or more, from Weenen on the east to Ulundi on the west.
On the 21st they were reported in the direction of Greytown, forty
miles east of Estcourt and the same distance from the railroad, which
here runs south-east, and also at Impendhla, twenty-five miles west of
the road. Their advance was pushed close to the Mooi River, which the
railroad crosses twenty miles to the southward of Estcourt, and there
artillery shots were exchanged with the camp where Sir {p.208}
Francis Clery was assembling the reinforcements arriving at
Durban--the beginnings of the force destined to the relief of

Communication of Estcourt with Mooi River was for a short while
interrupted, both by rail and by telegraph, the enemy occupying
Highlands Station, thirteen miles to the southward, on the 20th, and
also a position commanding Willow Grange, midway between Highlands and
Estcourt. At no time, however, did the Boers make any serious
demonstration, looking towards the permanent isolation of the place;
nor was there any attempt to capture it. The whole movement, as it
resulted, was simply a raid, and nothing more, with no apparent
objects except to secure supplies, and, while so engaged, to insure
their own safety from molestation by occupying positions of command,
which facilitated their defence and--by menace or otherwise--imposed
obstacles upon the movements of the British. A certain amount of
outpost skirmishing of course occurred, and on the night of the 22nd
some 4,000 British, under General Hildyard, moved, by way of Willow
Grange, to attack Beacon Hill, which overlooks {p.209} Estcourt from
the west. The Boers were in force there, and upon still higher ridges
farther to the westward. A sharp engagement took place that night, in
which the British first carried the position, but afterwards retired,
leaving it to be reoccupied by the enemy. The movement on their part
seems to have been simply precautionary, a sharp rap to check the
over-confidence of the opponent, and to deter him from pushing attacks
upon the railroad, which for the time being might be inconveniently
successful; the reinforcements from Durban having as yet only
partially come up, and the organisation for advance being still
incomplete. The British loss was 11 killed, 67 wounded.[20]

                   [Footnote 20: The latest revised official returns
                   of casualties now (July 18) accessible to the
                   author are to be found in the London _Times_ of
                   July 4, and are complete to June 30.]

No attempt on a large scale was made to arrest the Boer raiding
operations. From this, and from their mutually independent character,
it has resulted that the numbers engaged in them have remained very
uncertain, not having been observed or tested by the usual military
methods. By one correspondent on {p.210} the spot they were estimated
at not over 5,000;[21] by another, equally present, at from 7,000 to

                   [Footnote 21: Atkins, "Relief of Ladysmith," p.

                   [Footnote 22: Burleigh, "Natal Campaign," p. 127.]

Sir Francis Clery had apparently determined to concentrate his entire
effort upon organising the relief of Ladysmith, and was not to be
drawn off by side events, however disastrous to local interests. The
British force at Estcourt and at Mooi River were considered safe, and
the enemy's advance in fact did not extend in any force beyond the
latter. Very shortly after the affair at Willow Grange the tide began
to ebb. The precise cause for this is still a matter of surmise. It
may be that Joubert considered he had gathered in all that was needed
to supply his positions around Ladysmith and behind the Tugela; it was
reported at the time that 12,000 head of cattle were among the spoils.
It may be that he found the British force, although yet only partially
concentrated and organised, too strong to justify a more extended
movement. It had been rumoured that he purposed to capture, if
possible, Estcourt and Mooi River, {p.211} and even to push on to
Pietermaritzburg, with the view of stopping the relief column as far
as possible from its point of destination. Such an effort was strictly
accurate from the strategic standpoint, and accordingly his whole
movement may have been of the nature of a reconnaissance in force, to
receive greater development if circumstances favoured, and in any
event to impose delay by destroying the roads. To this, however, it
must be replied, even in the ground covered, the injury to the rail,
though often attempted was nowhere serious, except where culverts or
bridges offered vulnerable points.

Another interesting and far from improbable story was current at the
time, that Joubert's retirement was due to peremptory orders from
Pretoria, elicited by the progress of Methuen, the operations around
Naauwport, and the increase of British force in that central region
which French's movements, and those of Gatacre before Stormberg,
seemed to indicate. This report is mentioned by two correspondents
then at Estcourt,[23] as based upon despatches captured {p.212} on
Boer couriers on November 25, directing Joubert to return at once to
Ladysmith, and even to prepare for moving homeward. An official
synopsis of the papers,[24] then given to the press by the military
authorities, does not fully establish the truth of the rumour, but it
does give fair ground to infer that such an influence was exerted upon
the counsels of Pretoria by the operations in Cape Colony; notably by
the battle of Belmont, November 24, and the consequent demoralisation
among the Free State burghers.

                   [Footnote 23: Burleigh, "Natal Campaign," p. 128,
                   129. Atkins, "Relief of Ladysmith," p. 116.]

                   [Footnote 24: Burleigh, "Natal Campaign," p. 129.]

Whatever foundation of truth it may have, the incident irresistibly
suggests, though it does not certainly demonstrate, the advantage of
adhering to the original plan of advance by the Free State line. It
has been stated that, "On all sides in Germany the opinion is
expressed that Kimberley, and even Ladysmith, ought to have been
erased as primary factors in the calculations of those responsible for
the plan of operations. A strong British army advancing towards
Bloemfontein, and turning neither to the left nor to the right, would
have attracted the attention of all the available {p.213} Boer
forces, and would indirectly, but none the less speedily, have
relieved the pressure on Ladysmith and Kimberley.... War is a hard
trade, and must be waged independently of minor considerations and of
many human sympathies."[25] Would it not be juster to say, war must be
waged in the spirit of fortitude, that endures the strain of even a
very great risk, incurred by persisting in a course of action
demonstrably correct?

                   [Footnote 25: London _Weekly Times_, December 22,

Uttered in the week following Magersfontein and Colenso, the opinions
just quoted are certainly open to the charge of being wise after the
event; nevertheless, it is indisputable that they express a
fundamental military truth. A really strong military conception would
have been to concentrate for an advance, such as here suggested,
notifying Sir George White that he could not expect direct relief, but
must plan for a resistance protracted to the farthest, in order that
upon the enemy might be thrown the dilemma of dividing his forces,
thus facilitating the advance of the British central column, or else,
in {p.214} order to oppose this, to drop the eagerly-coveted prize at
Ladysmith. Divided as the total British force already was by the
isolation of the latter, the great resolve would have been, "Let it
fall, if it ultimately must, if only by endurance it prolongs to the
latest moment the dissemination of the enemy's armies." One is
forcibly reminded of the charge of the Archduke Charles to his
subordinate at the critical moment of 1796, which Jomini singles out
for conspicuous eulogium: "It matters not if Moreau gets to Vienna,
provided you keep him occupied till I am done with Jourdan."
Reasonings like these are strictly general in their bearing, liable to
refutation by the special circumstances controlling a particular
action; and it may perfectly well be that considerations of urgency,
amounting even to impossibility, make them inapplicable to the case
before us. Nevertheless, it can scarcely fail that, till such special
considerations are known, and their validity admitted, it is to this
point that military scrutiny and inquiry will be irresistibly drawn.

Whatever the cause of Joubert's retirement, the {p.215} fact was
beyond doubt on the evening of November 25, and on the 26th Hildyard
had advanced a detachment twelve miles, to Frere, hoping thence to act
upon the enemy's line of retreat. Herein he was disappointed, but with
this began the general advance of the British forces in Natal, which a
fortnight later brought the adversaries confronting one another on the
opposite banks of the Tugela. During this period White also was not
idle. Two well-planned and energetic night attacks were made upon the
enemy's siege batteries--on the 8th of December at Gun Hill, a kopje
pertaining to Lombard's Kop, and on the 10th at Surprise Hill, north
of the town, towards Nicholson's Nek. The former, executed chiefly by
Natal colonial forces, resulted in destroying a 6-inch gun and a
4.7-inch howitzer. The second, by Imperial troops, destroyed another
howitzer of the same size. Like the sorties of Kekewich from
Kimberley, these, by compelling the enemy's attention to the place,
contributed to further the movements of Buller, between whom and the
garrison communication, hitherto dependent {p.216} chiefly upon
runners, had now been opened by heliograph and electric-light signals.

Frere had now become the British point of assembly. On the 8th of
December there were there concentrated four infantry brigades,
designated numerically as the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th, as well as the
cavalry and artillery, which a week later took part in the battle of
Colenso. The Boers on their side had taken advantage of the interior
position they held, between the relieving column and the garrison, and
of the fact that the latter could scarcely attempt to break out to the
north, to withdraw their forces in great measure from the latter
quarter, disposing them between Ladysmith and the Tugela in such wise
that they might most easily be concentrated upon the centre, should
the British attack be made there, as it first was, or upon either
flank should a turning manoeuvre be attempted. Their arrangements for
such action appear to have been sagaciously made, as were also the
preparations for contesting the passage of the river at Colenso.

On {p.217} December 12 the final British movement began by the advance
to Chieveley of the 6th Brigade, styled also the Fusilier Brigade,
under Major-General Barton, with 1,000 colonial cavalry, three field
batteries--eighteen pieces--and a number of naval guns, of which two
were of 4.7-inches calibre, and fourteen were long-range 12-pounders.
These were drawn by oxen, even when going into action; the two heavier
guns requiring each fourteen yoke. These batteries were manned by 254
seamen, under the command of Captain Jones, of the cruiser "Forte."
The detachment thus composed settled down a little in advance of
Chieveley, just east of the railroad line, about three miles from
Colenso and four from the kopjes on the far side of the Tugela
overlooking the railroad bridge, upon the nearest of which stands Fort
Wylie. The exact range to the latter, as determined the next day, was
7,200 yards.[26]

                   [Footnote 26: Four statute miles equal 7,040

The following morning, Wednesday, December 13, at 7 A.M., the naval
guns began a heavy bombardment upon the kopjes last mentioned,
{p.218} which lie nearly due north of Colenso, and upon which Sir
Redvers Buller intended to make his main attack. The firing was
maintained for six hours, and did in places considerable damage to
such works as could be discerned; the 4.7-inch guns using lyddite
shells, the bursting effect of which is extremely violent. Despite the
severity of the test to which they were thus subjected, the Boers with
admirable self-control refrained from any reply, and so preserved in
great part the secret of their dispositions from detection by the

Next day, Thursday the 14th, the remaining British force marched out
of Frere camp at 4.30 A.M. for Chieveley. The extreme heat of the
days, summer being then well begun, combine with the usual advantages
of timely starting to determine early movements in South Africa. The
last comers pitched camp west of the rail, and about a mile nearer the
Tugela than the 6th Brigade. The naval guns also moved forward
three-quarters of a mile, and resumed the bombardment. The Boers again
making no reply, the disappointment of {p.219} their opponents at
failing to uncover the position of their guns began to yield to an
impression that these had been withdrawn, and even that possibly the
passage would not be contested.

The total British armament now gathered on the south side of the
Tugela has been variously stated at from 20,000 to 23,000 of all arms.
The smaller figure seems the more probable. As regards the number of
their opponents, there is no certain information. Nothing is known,
however, to reduce the estimate previously given--30,000. Allowing for
the necessity of holding in check the garrison at Ladysmith, the Boers
could very well meet Buller in force numerically equal, without taking
account of the passive advantages of a defensive position unusually

That night were distributed the British orders for forcing the passage
of the Tugela. They were issued by Sir Francis Clery, as commanding
the South Natal Field Forces; but Sir Redvers Buller, by the language
of his subsequent report, has left no doubt that the plan embodied his
own ideas, as Commander-in-Chief in {p.220} South Africa generally,
but present on this scene. This report is the guide in the following
account, the narratives of others having been by the writer used to
supplement or, where necessary, to elucidate.

The general line of the Tugela, for a half-dozen miles above Colenso,
is nearly due east, but its course is extremely winding. In this
section two or three bends of nearly a mile in bulge occur, one of
which had quite an influence in the action. The town itself lies in a
bight of this kind, just west of the railroad, which crosses the river
by a bridge, at that time destroyed. Immediately above it, however, an
iron road-bridge still remained. The latter is the centre of a
semicircle of hills, which surround it to the northward, their crests
being on an average some 1,400 feet high and distant four and a half
miles. The bridge was also the centre of battle, as planned by the
British. Near it, on the north side, are "four small, lozenge-shaped,
steep-sided, hog-backed hills," the one nearest the water, on which
Fort Wylie stands, being the lowest, the others rising in succession
behind. {p.221} They were all "strongly entrenched, with well-built,
rough stone walls along every crest that offered, there being in some
cases three tiers." It was upon these that Buller designed to make his
principal effort. "It was a very awkward position to attack," he says,
"but I thought that if I could effect a lodgment under cover of Fort
Wylie the other hills would to a great extent mask each other, and
shell-fire and want of water would clear them out in time."

The report of the Commander-in-Chief, dealing almost exclusively with
the course of events as they happened, does not particularly describe
the remaining features of the field. These must be supplied from other
sources. Above--west of--Fort Wylie, on the north side, the hills
recede somewhat from the river and rise to one of the crests mentioned
by Buller, known as Grobler's Kloof. This also was heavily fortified,
commanding, it is said, Fort Wylie and the neighbouring hills. If this
be so, success at the latter, had it been achieved, would quickly have
elicited proof of the fact. Under Grobler's Kloof, some two or three
miles up the river, was a drift {p.222} or ford, over which the plan
of attack proposed to pass the 5th or Irish Brigade, commanded by
Major-General Hart, forming the left flank of the British line. This
done, the brigade would move down stream to reinforce the main attack
on the Fort Wylie kopjes.

Below Fort Wylie the river continued south-easterly for something less
than a mile. Then with a bold sweep it curves north, and round west,
to a point half a mile north-east of the fort, when it again flows due
north for a couple of miles. From this formation results a tongue of
land, embraced in the curve, projecting to the south-east, and much
resembling a bastion, to which the subsequent northern stretch serves
as a curtain. In general effect, however, the river may be broadly
said to make below Wylie a sharp turn to the north, running that way
for two or three miles, after which it resumes its general easterly
course towards the sea. The point where it thus resumes its direction
is well to the north--rear--of the line of Boer entrenchments, between
Grobler's and Wylie, so that, if their positions were prolonged on
that {p.223} same line, they would be separated by the river. If, on
the other hand, instead of so continuing, the entrenched works were
made to follow the river course north, keeping always on the same side
of the Tugela, the main Boer positions, confronting the bridge, would
be open to enfilading fire from the eastern hills on the opposite side
below the bend.

Such conditions would seem to make this eastern part of the Boers'
position--their left flank--the weakest. The outcome of the campaign
tends to confirm this conclusion, which the author has been interested
to find also in a letter, not only composed, but published, before the
abortive attempt to turn the west flank at Spion Kop. "To the east of
Fort Wylie," wrote a correspondent of the London _Times_ on December
21, "the Tugela bends sharply northward, and here the left flank of
the Boer position is on the south sides of the river, on a solitary
hill called Hlangwane. This is doubtless the weakest spot in the Boer
position, for if an enemy could take it by storm or otherwise, he
could render the kopjes north of Colenso untenable."[27] {p.224} This
shows that the Boers preferred to have their lines divided by a river
fordable only in places, and at times impassable through floods,
rather than leave their flank uncovered to artillery, a decision
probably correct. As shown by the plans, Hlangwane, as an eminence,
stood by itself; a mile and a half to its east and rear was another
height named Monte Cristo, and again to the westward a range called
Inhlawe Mountain.

                   [Footnote 27: London _Weekly Times_, January 19,
                   1900. On the other hand, another correspondent who
                   shared this view has said, "The consensus of
                   military opinion seems to be that the ground being
                   too rough and broken to the eastward, the chief
                   column will try and effect a crossing far to the
                   westward of Colenso." (Burleigh--p. 155).]

Of the features mentioned, the Bridle Drift on the west, the iron
road-bridge in the centre, and Hlangwane Hill on the east, are the
principal points to remember. On the British side of the river, a
plain sloped gradually down to the southern bank from a distance of
two or three miles. It was divided north and south by a slight swell
in the ground, flat-topped, of height just sufficient to conceal men
on one side of it from those {p.225} on the other. On the eastern
edge of this rise, the railroad track ran north to the bridge. On the
western side, and between 3000 and 4000 yards from Wylie, was placed
the chief naval battery, the two 4.7-inch and four 12-pounders.
Between these and the railroad was to advance the central column of
attack, the 2nd Brigade under General Hildyard. To the left rear of
this, between it and the 5th Brigade--which, as before said, was
directed upon the Bridle Drift--was placed the 4th, under Major
General Lyttelton, charged with the duty of reinforcing either the 2nd
or the 5th, as circumstances might demand during the progress of the
fight. The 6th Brigade--Major-General Barton--was to advance on the
east of the railroad, in general support of Hildyard. On this part of
the field the ground was flat, but intersected by several dongas. Each
extreme of the line of infantry formed by the four brigades was
covered as usual by a flanking force, chiefly of horse; but while that
on the British left had this function only, that on the right, the
mounted brigade, with one battery--six guns--was {p.226} to attempt
Hlangwane Hill. If successful, it was to enfilade the Wylie kopjes
from that position. The remaining four batteries of field artillery
were intended at the proper moment to concentrate their fire upon the
Wylie kopjes, preparing the way for the crucial charge of the 2nd
Brigade. For this object, two followed Lyttelton's 4th Brigade, and
two the 6th; the last, under Colonel Long, being accompanied by six
naval 12-pounders.

From these dispositions it appears, as is clearly stated by Buller in
his report, that all the differing factors in the attack were to
converge for their object, and according to their respective
qualities, upon "the kopjes north of the iron bridge"--to use Clery's
expression in the orders for battle. The 2nd Brigade marched upon them
direct; the 5th approached their right flank by way of the Bridle
Drift; the 4th and 6th reinforced, as required, each of the others;
the four batteries--two on either side--brought a cross-fire upon the
same objects; while the flanking force on the British right was to
assist by an enfilading fire from Hlangwane. To combine {p.227}
several separate efforts, so that by mutual support and effect each at
the critical moments contributes its due share to the one main
exertion, is always difficult. Failure may ensue from lack of the
nicest attention on the part of any one subordinate, or from those
chances which must always be allowed for in war. The British at
Colenso suffered from both causes.

Hart, on the left, having the longest road to reach the kopjes, moved
first. The brigade reached the river, but missed the ford. It has been
said that the enemy, by building a dam below, had raised the water to
seven feet. Be that as it may, a few venturing in with musket and
ammunition belts were drowned. Groping for the way, and apparently
confused between the tortuous courses of the river itself and a
tributary which enters near by, the mass of the troops blundered into
a sharp bend curving to the northward, thus coming under a cross fire
from the two enclosing banks. Here they became heavily engaged, and
Buller, seeing the hopelessness of the position, recalled them. It was
necessary, however, to send two {p.228} of Lyttelton's battalions and
two batteries to extricate them. Hart's attack therefore had failed,
and his division contributed nothing further except the menace of its
presence, which must retain some of the enemy to resist a possible

A yet more decisive mishap meanwhile had occurred in another part of
the field. Reckoning that Hart and Hildyard were to attack in mutual
support, the time had come for the latter to advance, and he had done
so. The beginning of his movement was to have been covered by the six
naval 12-pounders accompanying Long's two field batteries, and a
position had been appointed them to that effect; it being intended
apparently that the army guns should not come into action till later,
when the development of Hildyard's movement would permit them to
approach the enemy within their shorter range without losing the
necessary support of infantry fire,--directly by the 6th brigade,
specifically charged with that duty, and indirectly by the occupation
which Hildyard's attack would necessarily give the Boers. Instead,
however, of attending closely to the requirements of a movement
{p.229} where a certain exactness of touch was evidently necessary,
Long's two field batteries, leaving their infantry escort behind,
galloped rapidly forward on the east side of the railroad and came
into action 1200 yards from Fort Wylie, and, as Buller judged, only
300[28] yards from the enemy's rifle pits. The slow-moving oxen
fortunately were unable to drag the heavier naval guns to the same
position to share the fate that quickly befell. A very heavy fire was
opened from the Boer rifle pits, and although the gunners stuck
manfully to their pieces until the ammunition in the limbers was
exhausted, they were compelled then to leave them on the plain,
retreating for shelter to a donga. The breech-blocks, even, were not
carried away; it is said because they expected to return again to
action. The naval detachment, 300 yards further back, were exposed to
the same fire, but received only its outer fringe. The native drivers
bolted, and many of the oxen were killed or stampeded; but the
{p.230} seamen contrived to drag their guns out of range.

                   [Footnote 28: This "3" in the copy before me may be
                   a misprint for "8." The London _Times_
                   correspondent gives 800 yards for the rifle fire.]

News of this mishap reached Buller as he was returning from witnessing
Hart's discomfiture. Hildyard was directed to move two regiments of
his advancing brigade to the right to save the pieces; but, though the
order was steadily executed, it was found impossible to keep the
troops out of cover under the fire of Wylie, which had been
momentarily silenced by Long's impetuous attack, but had now opened
again. The batteries had failed by preceding, and so losing, infantry
support; the infantry in turn failed because the guns were powerless.
A sudden and desperate rush with harnessed teams succeeded in
withdrawing two of the twelve abandoned pieces, in performing which
service the son of Lord Roberts lost his life. But a second attempt
found the enemy on guard again, and out of 22 horses that started 13
were killed before half-way to the spot.

The naval 12-pounder accompanying Long having been rendered immobile
for the day, and the two batteries sacrificed, Sir Redvers Buller
decided that without their support it would {p.231} be impossible to
force the passage. He therefore directed a general withdrawal to the
camp. The abandoned batteries were left in the open, where, together
with the wounded men and some of the supports sent in by Hildyard,
they were taken by the Boers. The British loss in missing and
prisoners was 21 officers and 207 men. There were killed 135, and
wounded 762. The enemy remained unshaken in his positions.

This mortifying reverse, following sharply upon the heels of
Magersfontein and Stormberg, thoroughly aroused the British people,
who neither at home nor on the field were prepared for it. The day
after the receipt of the news, Saturday, December 16th, a Cabinet
meeting was held, and the next evening it was announced that, as the
campaign in Natal was likely to require the undivided attention of Sir
Redvers Buller, Lord Roberts would be sent to South Africa as
Commander-in-Chief, and would be accompanied by Lord Kitchener as
Chief of Staff. At the same time the rest of the Army Reserve was
called out, and further measures taken which carried the troops
employed in South Africa to, and beyond, {p.232} the large numbers
already quoted as despatched by the end of the following March.

Lord Roberts sailed from England December 23rd. On the 26th, at
Gibraltar, he picked up Kitchener, who had been brought there by a
swift naval cruiser, and on the 10th of January, 1900, he landed at
Cape Town.

CHAPTER VI {p.233}


After the reverse at Colenso, nearly four weeks elapsed before Sir
Redvers Buller was ready to move again for the relief of Ladysmith.
The interval passed in receiving reinforcements, and in accumulating a
transport service which should enable the army to perform a long
flanking march, for, the frontal attack upon the Boer centre having
failed, and its difficulties been not only recognised but
demonstrated, the purpose was now to turn their right flank by way of
Springfield, some twenty miles to the north-east of Frere, crossing
thence the Tugela by a ford six miles distant, known as Trichardt's
Drift, and following the Acton Homes road. The {p.234} army would
thus pass round Spion Kop and gain the open plain north of the
mountain thus named.

While this movement was in progress, but before crossing the river, a
reserve supply for seventeen days was accumulated at Springfield. It
may be assumed therefore that this represents the conditions which Sir
Redvers Buller thought requisite to his projected operation. The
necessity of depending chiefly upon the slow-moving ox-wagons, and
their comparatively small capacity, made the organising of the train
tedious and difficult. "To forward supply alone," wrote Buller, "took
650 ox-wagons, and as between Frere and Springfield there are three
places where all the wagons had to be double-spanned, and some
required three spans, some idea of the difficulties may be formed." A
correspondent with the army states that the wagons "can only be
depended upon to haul not more than 600 pounds each." To lessen this
great inconvenience road traction-engines were employed with success.
The same writer says of these that "they can easily haul twelve tons,
and on {p.235} a flat, dry veldt strip along at a brisk eight miles
an hour. They leisurely descend into spruits--beds of streams--roll
across, and wheel up stiff long climbs like flies walking up a wall.
They are not quite helpless, even when the ground has been soaked by

                   [Footnote 29: Burleigh, "Natal Campaign," p. 240.]

While these preparations were making, the besieged had to resign
themselves to further weary endurance. "Sir Redvers Buller," writes a
correspondent within, "has sent a heliograph message bidding us wait
in patience for another month until siege artillery can reach him."
The bombardment was maintained by the Boers with increased but
monotonous regularity, intensified from time to time as movements
among Buller's troops led them to strengthen their forces upon the
Tugela, with a consequent weakening of those of investment.

The firm resolve manifested by the British Government and people after
the repulse at Colenso, and the enlargement at once given to the scale
of the war and to the contemplated reinforcements, showed that,
unless {p.236} the garrison was speedily reduced, it would probably
be relieved by sheer weight of numbers. In short, the opportunity for
a decisive blow possibly now existed, but, if not quickly improved,
would certainly pass away for ever. The motive for the assault that
soon followed is not positively known; but, if the Boer information of
the damage done by their shells, and of the food and ammunition supply
in the town, was as accurate as it is believed to have been, they knew
that neither bombardment nor hunger could reduce the place before the
dreaded power of the outside enemy received full development.
Ladysmith was to them like a dead weight round the neck of a swimmer
struggling for life under other disadvantages. It is unnecessary to
seek any further reason for the assault of January 6, by whomsoever
first commanded. The words attributed to Joubert's order, "Ladysmith
must be taken before Wednesday"--the faint echo, perhaps, of
Wellington's "Ciudad Rodrigo _must_ be stormed this evening"--needed
only to be supplemented by the words, "or never," to express a
military argument to which no valid reply could {p.237} be made. As
the commander of the New Orleans forts said, "There will be no
to-morrow unless so and so is done _at once_."

Reluctant, therefore, though the Boers as a race have shown themselves
to offensive tactics and to assault, the necessities of the case
compelled them. In their plan, and in its execution, they showed all
the courage, all the tenacity, heretofore displayed in their defensive
operations, as well as the peculiar, stealthy rockcraft of a nation of
hunters, which has equally characterised them. It is not, however, too
much to add that at the supreme moment, when man stands foot to foot
and eye to eye, and when the issue depends upon superior aggressive
momentum of temperament, the national trait, whether original or
acquired, asserted itself; and the heroes who had scaled the heights
barefoot, and clung with undying resolution to their rocky cover,
exchanging shots almost muzzle to muzzle, did not muster the
resolution which might, or might not--the true soldier recks not which
at such an hour--have carried them, more than decimated, but
triumphant, across the belt of withering fire to victory. The reply
{p.238} of the British colonel on the other side of the sixty yards of
plateau that separated the opponents, "We will try"--a phrase which
Americans will remember fell in the same tongue from the lips of our
own Colonel Miller at Lundy's Lane--expressed just the difference. Of
the three companies who then rose to their feet on Wagon Hill and
rushed, every officer fell and fifty-five of the men; but the bayonets
of the survivors reached the other side, and there followed the
inevitable result. The men that would not charge fled.

Of this affair, in which Ladysmith most nearly touched ruin, the
salient details only must be briefly told. The part of the British
defences chosen for the Boer assault was a ridge two miles south of
the town, in length some 4,500 yards,--over two and a half miles,--and
600 feet high. Its general direction is east and west, but in contour
it is slightly concave towards the south, whence the assailants came.
In the centre, this crescent, having a comparatively easy incline, is
more readily swept by fire, and approach is more easily seen. The
Boers consequently chose to ascend by the horns, which are very
precipitous, {p.239} and where, therefore, if no noise is made,
detection is not easy and aim is extremely difficult. Above the ridge
thus described rose three eminences, of 100 feet or more. That on the
east was Cæsar's Camp, about 1,500 yards long by 700 wide; next, and
400 yards distant, Wagon Hill, two-thirds the size; and close to this,
and at the extreme west, Wagon Hill West, scarcely more than a knob,
but very steep.

The Boer plan was to seize the two extremities by a night attack of
picked men, who, when they had made good their hold, would be
reinforced rapidly from a main body assembled behind hills some two
miles south. Against Wagon Hill went 300 men, who, on reaching the
foot, took off their shoes and divided into two parties, one of which
climbed noiselessly Wagon Hill, the other Wagon Hill West. They came
as a complete surprise upon the British outposts. Wagon Hill West was
held by two squadrons, about 70 men, of Natal troopers--the Imperial
Light Horse; Wagon Hill proper by a half-battalion of infantry. It
happened, however, by fortunate coincidence, that it had been decided
{p.240} to mount that night a naval gun upon Wagon Hill West. This,
with an escort of engineer troops, a half company of infantry, and
some seamen--in all sixty rifles--had reached the foot of the hill by
2.30 A.M., the hour the attack was made.

Alarm was taken only an instant before the Boers were upon the
garrison. The rush and fire followed so instantly that the defenders
were driven in disorder over the crest, leaving it in the hands of the
enemy, who captured a lieutenant and sixteen men--thirteen of them
wounded. Amid the surprise and confusion, and the black darkness, the
gun escort, under two young lieutenants of engineers, held firm,
affording a rallying point for the routed garrison; and this mixed
body, steadying itself under cover on the reverse side of the hill,
stood fast and waited events. The Boers, also expectant, instead of
pursuing their success, retired and sought cover on the outer slope; a
narrow sixty yards of summit alone separating the opponents.

Somewhat less of success attended the surprise on Wagon Hill proper.
Nevertheless, there also the Boers effected a lodgment on {p.241} the
plateau, and along the nek connecting with Wagon Hill West. A group of
stragglers, from the Imperial Light Horse and the Wagon Hill garrison,
had got together among the boulders of a knoll off the latter hill,
near the nek, and thence kept up a cross-fire on Wagon Hill West. The
Boers doing the same from their side, that summit was untenable to
either party. Here, at the west end of Wagon Hill, the two lines were
but 30 yards apart. To the eastward, towards Cæsar's Camp, as the
plateau widened, the space increased to 100 yards. The danger to the
British in this situation was, that if the knoll were lost, Wagon Hill
West, losing the support of its fire, would probably fall with it.
Wagon Hill proper would then be taken in flank as well as in front,
and so rendered untenable; while Wagon Hill once gone, Cæsar's Camp
would be exposed to a like concentration and probably to the same
fate. Deprived of the ridge, the British line of defences would be
broken and the enemy established on a commanding height in easy
range--5,000 yards--of the town. Two or three desperate attempts to
reinforce the {p.242} knoll by crossing the open were therefore made
by small parties, but these were cut down, the officers leading them
being killed. At this time the colonel, two majors, and four other
officers of the Light Horse were hit. It was to this resolute tenure
of the key of the situation by a handful of men that Sir George White
referred in a speech at Belfast. "On January 6th, which has been
alluded to as a tight day, had it not been for the Imperial Light
Horse, Joubert might have been spending his Sunday (January 7) where I
spent mine. I think I may say of them they were the bravest men I ever
had under my command." Colonel Ian Hamilton, the brigadier in command
on the ridge, also wrote of them, "It will be made quite clear in my
despatch that the Imperial Light Horse were second to none. No one
realizes more clearly than I do that they were the backbone of the
defence during that long day's fighting."[30] In other parts of the
field also the British loss of officers at this moment was heavy.

                   [Footnote 30: Burleigh's "Natal Campaign," p. 410.]

At dawn the lines lay as described, but reinforcements {p.243} were
being hurried to the British, the greater part directed on Cæsar's
Camp. The Boers did not move during this critical period, relying upon
their deadly fire, maintained by veterans in cover-taking and
marksmanship. More than this was needed. In such a state of the
national cause, the crests should have been attempted at all risks;
and at all risks the forlorn hopes should have received immediate
substantial support. In cases like this, national temperament tells;
there was by them no such rush as those in which the British officers
had dared to fail. By 8 A.M., more or less, Wagon Hill and Wagon Hill
West had received, or saw coming, reinforcements of a half battalion
of infantry and two fresh squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse. The
Boers, however, were also pushing men up. Under these conditions no
further advance was tried from either line, but the firing continued
incessant and unpitying. By 10 A.M. the British force had so increased
that the Boer fire was considerably slackened.

While these things were happening on the west, Cæsar's Camp had been
also the scene {p.244} of a contest--serious, and for a moment
apparently doubtful. At no time, however, was the peril here as great
as on Wagon Hill. There the fight was lost, and there won. Meantime
the Boer siege guns had opened upon the field of action with great
effect, maintaining a vigorous fire throughout; and the British on
their side had advanced field batteries in the plain, to sweep either
flank of the threatened ridge, a measure which markedly curtailed the
power of the enemy to send reinforcements to those already engaged on
the heights. The Boers had also developed attacks upon the north and
north-east of the town; but these, however intended, did not proceed
beyond mere demonstrations.

At 2 P.M., on Wagon Hill West, a few Boers at last attempted what
numbers should have tried hours before. It is trite to say that at
such a crisis proverbial truths receive double emphasis. "Not to gain
ground is to lose ground." "He who hesitates is lost." At the hour
named, a number--eight, it is said--at their head De Villiers, a Free
State commander, rose suddenly to their feet. The action, unexpected
after so many passive hours, {p.245} shook the steadiness of the
British opposite. Some turned and ran down hill, but the Engineer
detachment stood fast with fixed bayonets. An infantry major beside
them fell, shot dead, but their own lieutenant, Digby Jones, a youth
in his twenties, led them forward to the encounter. The parties met
midway, but only one follower had kept on with Villiers. The Boer
leader was killed by Jones, who himself dropped immediately after. His
junior, Denniss, went out to look for him, and quickly shared his
fate. So, after hours of steadfast bearing, died these gallant
lads--not in vain. With them fell also fifteen out of their thirty
sappers, wounded, but not all slain.

At 4 P.M. a rain-storm of exceptional violence, even for South Africa,
burst over the ridge. In the midst of it the Boers on Wagon Hill West,
whose numbers had increased beyond the British knowledge, again
attempted a forward movement; again, so the accounts say, waverers
were found on the British side; again their officers called them
together; charge threatened was met with charge effected, and for the
last time. Before {p.246} the levelled bayonets the enemy turned and
fled down hill to return no more.

The same opportunity of tempest was taken by the assailants on Wagon
Hill to mass their forces. Then it was that the British commander on
the spot asked Colonel Park whether, with the three companies of the
Devonshire Regiment in reserve, he could clear the hill. "We will
try," was the reply. The companies deployed in three lines, in
extended order--six to eight paces between the men--and fixed
bayonets. The enemy knew not what was coming, but their watch was
untiring. When ready, "The Colonel rose to his feet, and the three
companies rose with him as one man. With a cheer that foretold
success, the Devons dashed into the open. The fire with which they
were received was simply awful; it might have staggered any troops.
Leaving the cover of the stones, the Boers stood upright and emptied
their magazines into the advancing line. But it never wavered, never
checked, though the ranks were sadly thinned. The Boers fled from the
boulders which they had held with such tenacity throughout the day,
and turned at bay upon the {p.247} edge of the crest, hoping yet to
stay the deadly rush of steel. They were augmented from below, but the
stand was of no avail. Though charging, the Devons steadily changed
front and bore down upon the hillside. The enemy broke and fled
headlong down. The day was won. Such was their dread of the bayonet,
they did not even attempt to rally in the spruits below, but, leaving
prisoners and ammunition behind, without turning, made their way to
their horses."[31] A bayonet charge rarely is awaited.

                   [Footnote 31: London _Weekly Times_, February 23,
                   1900. In default of official reports, the author
                   has depended chiefly upon the _Times_
                   correspondence, and upon "Four Months Besieged," by
                   Mr. H. H. Pearse, correspondent of the _Daily

Ladysmith was saved, but at heavy cost. The British loss in killed
was--officers, 14; private men, 164; wounded officers, 33; privates,
287; of the latter, 4 officers and 25 men died of their wounds. The
Boers' loss is not accurately known. A correspondent in Ladysmith has
stated that Sir George White, having undertaken to deliver the bodies
of those who fell within the British lines, 133 were so handed over
from the top of the hill. {p.248} This number was believed to be
small compared to those slain on the retreat, on the slopes, and in
the brush below. The streams being in flood from the rain, it was
thought that many more were drowned. In estimating hostile losses,
however, there is usually a tendency to exaggerate.

The Boers never again attempted assault.



On the 9th of January, 1900, the Fifth Division of the British Army,
which, under Lieut.-General Sir Charles Warren, had been assembling at
Estcourt, marched out for Frere, where General Buller's headquarters
had been established after the battle of Colenso. Arriving the same
evening, it started the next day for Springfield, the movement being
followed by the whole army, except the 6th Brigade, left at Chieveley,
and such other troops as were needed to protect the railroad to Durban
against raids. To control the action of the mass of the Boers,
dependence could be placed upon the operation in progress for turning
their right flank, to resist which {p.250} and to maintain the siege
of Ladysmith would require all the force at their disposal.

The abortive issue of this British undertaking, and of its sequent
operation against Vaal Krantz in the same quarter, removes the
necessity of giving minute details in a narrative which does not
profess to be a critical military study, but merely seeks to present a
clear analytical account of the various transactions.

It is necessary first to understand the principal features of the
country. In general directions, as far as effective, the movement
followed the valley of the Tugela. In this, ten miles west of Colenso,
there is a sharp bend at nearly right angles. There the stream for a
stretch of six miles has run south by east, while above it the river
bed again, as below, lies east and west, but is excessively tortuous,
winding back and forth among hills which on one side or the other come
down close to the water's edge. It was at Trichardt's Drift, about
seven miles above--west of--this north and south stretch, that the
British army was to make, and did make, its crossing; purposing
thereby to turn the {p.251} flanks of the Boer positions, which in a
general sense followed the north bank of the Tugela.

The conditions leading to the choice of this point appear to have been
as follows. Eastward of the north and south stretch just specified,
and as far as to the Ladysmith railroad, the mountain ranges north of
the river are not only high, but wide, broken, and intricate, ending
in Grobler's Kloof and the other kopjes mentioned in describing the
positions at Colenso. The reverse slopes of this broken region are
full six miles north of the river's course. The map shows the district
almost wholly bare of roads, an indication that it is unsuited to
large military operations. Upstream of the stretch, the ranges, though
steep and broken, are very much narrower. Three miles west of it, at
Potgieter's Drift, a road passes through from Springfield to the plain
beyond at Brakfontein, showing a considerable depression at this
point. By this road was made the second unsuccessful attempt of the
campaign, towards Vaal Krantz.

Four miles higher up, at Trichardt's Drift the {p.252} chain leaves
the river, trending north-north-west for eight miles, with a breadth
which, beginning with three miles at the south, narrows to one and a
half, with lessening elevation, towards the north end, where it drops
to the plain. The western slope of this eight mile spur, over the
southern part of which, contrary to first intention, the British
attack was actually made, is precipitous near the summit; lower down
it is more gradual, but still steep. A mile from the foot of the spur,
and parallel to it, runs a stream called Venter's Spruit, which enters
the Tugela from the north-west a little above Trichardt's. Six miles
from the ford, between spur and spruit, is Acton Homes, the point
designated by Buller as the first objective of the army, whence the
range was to be crossed. The change of direction noted at Trichardt's
gives to the whole range, from Colenso to Acton Homes, the character
of an arc of a circle, on the interior of which, considered as a
defensive position, the Boers moved, with the additional advantage of
being all mounted men. Near the southern end of the spur, but well to
its eastern edge, is the lofty eminence called {p.253} Spion Kop,
which played so important a part in the operation as it ultimately

At Acton Homes roads meet from north, south, east and west; a fact
which sufficiently indicates the importance of the point and the
comparatively favourable nature of the surroundings for
operations--for roads usually seek the easiest ground. From it two
start east for Ladysmith, crossing the spur by different ways, and
uniting some eight miles beyond in the plain lying west of Ladysmith,
where the network of communications shows the relatively open
character of the country. It was by one or both of these roads that
Buller purposed to advance.

On the 12th of January the 5th Division reached Springfield, and on
the 13th the whole army was assembled there or at Spearman's Hill,
near Potgieter's Drift, where Buller established his headquarters. The
hills there on the south side of the river were fortunately secured,
and naval batteries placed upon them commanding the opposite heights.
The turning movement by way of Acton Homes was then committed by Sir
Redvers Buller {p.254} to Sir Charles Warren, who on the 15th of
January received--to quote his own words--"secret instructions to
command a force to proceed across the Tugela, near Trichardt's Drift,
to the west of Spion Kop, recommending me to proceed forward, refusing
my right (Spion Kop), and bringing my left forward to gain the open
plain north of Spion Kop ... I was provided with four days' rations,
with which I was to cross the Tugela, fight my way round to north of
Spion Kop, and join your column opposite Potgieter's." This,
therefore, was Buller's plan; the spur was to be turned rather than
forced. It appears to have been his sustained purpose to leave the
execution to Warren, interfering himself not at all or the very least
possible. The force employed on the expedition has been nowhere found
officially stated. Warren himself says that his own command "amounted
to an army corps less one brigade," which, including all arms and the
medical and supply services, would be about 30,000 men--an estimate
that appears rather too high. The one brigade remained with Buller at
Spearman's Camp.

On {p.255} the evening of January 16 this brigade, the 4th, under
Lyttelton, covered by the naval batteries, crossed at Potgieter's
Drift, and established itself in kopjes a mile north of the river. The
movement was a feint on the Brakfontein Road, and was continued the
following days to draw attention from the true attack by Warren. The
latter crossed on the 17th at Trichardt's, occupied the hills on the
north side commanding the ford, and pushed the cavalry as far as Acton
Homes, which they entered without serious opposition, but were soon
after withdrawn. That night and the 18th the wagon train passed over,
and on the 19th two brigades advanced farther and occupied some hills
on the right.

During the 19th Warren made up his mind that the plan "recommended"
him was not practicable without modification, and, after consulting
his principal subordinates, telegraphed that evening to Buller as
follows: "I find there are only two roads north of the Tugela by which
we could possibly get from Trichardt's Drift to Potgieter's--one by
Acton Homes, the other by Fair View and Rosalie. The first I reject as
too long; the second {p.256} is a very difficult road for a large
number of wagons unless the enemy is thoroughly cleared out. I am,
therefore, going to adopt some special arrangement which will involve
my stay at Venter's Laager for two or three days. I will send in for
further supplies and report progress." Explained by other remarks of
Warren's in his despatches, this appears to mean that the easier road
by Acton Homes was thought by him too long for his division to
traverse with the food they could carry in their haversacks, and that
it was therefore necessary to take the shorter, which leaves the main
road three miles from Trichardt's, and strikes directly over the
range, passing north, and within three miles, of Spion Kop. To do this
the men would carry four days' rations, and the wagons be returned
south of the Tugela. First of all, however, the positions in front
must be captured, including Spion Kop.

The above telegram was the only report made at this period by Warren
to his superior. Various operations went on during the next three
days, presumably pursuant of the purpose stated in Warren's subsequent
account of {p.257} his proceedings--"We must first capture the
position in front of us." The estimate of their effect by Buller, who
was at the scene on the 21st and 22nd, is best given in the words of
his report to Lord Roberts. "I went over to Sir C. Warren on the 23rd.
I pointed out to him that I had no further report and no intimation of
the special arrangements foreshadowed by his telegram of the 19th,
that for four days he had kept his men exposed to shell and rifle
fire, perched on the edge of an almost precipitous hill, that the
position admitted of no second line, and the supports were massed
close behind the firing line in indefensible formations, and that a
panic or sudden charge might send the whole lot in disorder down the
hill at any moment. I said it was too dangerous a situation to be
prolonged, and that he must either attack or I should withdraw his
force. I advocated, as I had previously done, an advance from his
left." This last phrase does not make certain whether Buller's
judgment coincided with that of Warren concerning the impracticability
of the Acton Homes route, but it seems to indicate that it did not.

Warren {p.258} replied that he had intended to assault Spion Kop the
night before, but had not done so because the general told off for the
work wished first to reconnoitre the ground. It was decided that the
attack should be made that night, and General Woodgate was detailed
for the command at Buller's "suggestion"--or, to use Warren's words,
"the Commander-in-Chief desired."

The assault was made that night and was entirely successful, the
British gaining possession of the summit and remaining there all next
day. It was found, however, that the Boers had guns in position on
neighbouring heights within effective range. It was possible also for
the Boer riflemen, with their extraordinary aptitudes for stalking, to
maintain a perpetual fire from well-covered positions; whereas, to
whatever cause attributable, there does not seem to have been a
well-organised plan to provide artificially and rapidly the shelter
which the flat bare tops of South African mountains do not naturally
extend. General Woodgate was mortally wounded at 10 A.M.
Reinforcements were then on the way, and when his fall was reported,
{p.259} General Coke, with two fresh regiments, was sent to assume
command. He heliographed down at 2 P.M. that unless the enemy's guns
could be silenced the men could not hold the place under another day's
shelling. Some hours later, at 9.30 P.M., he was called down to make a
personal report of the conditions.

Towards nightfall Warren made arrangements to send up two naval
12-pounders, a mountain battery, and a heavy working party under
engineer direction to organise field protection--a provision that
should have formed part of the original plan--elaborated through four
days of operations. Before these reached the summit, and in ignorance
that they were on the way, Colonel Thorneycroft, left in command by
Coke's departure, decided that the position was untenable, and soon
after 9.30 P.M. evacuated it. Upon this Sir Redvers Buller commented:
"Preparations for the second day's defence should have been organised
during the day, and have been commenced at nightfall. As this was not
done I think Colonel Thorneycroft exercised a wise discretion." From
this judgment Lord Roberts {p.260} dissented vigorously. "I am of
opinion that Lieut.-Colonel Thorneycroft's assumption of
responsibility and authority was wholly inexcusable. During the night
the enemy's fire could not have been formidable, and ... it would not
have taken more than two or three hours at most to communicate by
messenger with General Coke or Sir C. Warren, and to receive a reply.
General Coke appears to have left Spion Kop at 9.30 P.M. for the
purpose of consulting with Sir Charles Warren, and up to that hour the
idea of a withdrawal had not been entertained. Yet, almost immediately
after General Coke's departure Colonel Thorneycroft issued an order,
without reference to superior authority, which upset the whole plan of
operations, and rendered unavailing the sacrifices which had already
been made to carry it into effect." In face of this severe, and in the
author's judgment merited, condemnation, it would be less than just
not to quote also Lord Roberts' further words. "Lieut.-Colonel
Thorneycroft appears to have behaved in a very gallant manner
throughout the day, and it was doubtless due in great measure {p.261}
to his exertions and example that the troops continued to hold the
summit until directed to retire."

On the morning of the 25th, seeing that Spion Kop was no longer held,
Buller assumed command in person, and began to withdraw to the south
of the Tugela. This movement was completed on the 27th, the troops
reaching their new camps by 10 A.M. of that day.

Thus, unfortunately, ended in failure an expedition concerning which
Lord Roberts wrote, "The attempt was well devised, and I agree with
Sir Redvers Buller in thinking that it ought to have succeeded." He
continues, "That it failed may, in some measure, be due to the
difficulties of the ground, and the commanding positions held by the
enemy, probably also to errors of judgment and want of administrative
capacity on the part of Sir Charles Warren. But, whatever faults Sir
Charles Warren may have committed, the failure must also be ascribed
to the disinclination of the officer in supreme command to assert his
authority and see that what he thought best was done, and also to the
{p.262} unwarrantable and needless assumption of responsibility by a
subordinate officer."

It would be presumptuous and unbecoming in an officer not of the land
service to express an opinion upon the difficulties of detail
encountered in the various operations of this week's work. But the
points selected for criticism in the expressions of Lord Roberts just
quoted belong to the fundamentals, common to both military
professions. The generous wish of Sir Redvers Buller to leave his
subordinate untrammelled discretion in the management of an operation
intrusted to him, was pushed to an extreme, and was maintained, as is
plainly evidenced by his own dispatch, after confidence was shaken.
The situation was one familiar, on a smaller scale, to every officer
who has ever had command. It is difficult at times to draw the line
between fussy interference and reasonable superintendence; yet more
difficult to determine the moment when a subordinate must be subjected
to the mortification of virtual supersession in the control of a
matter that has been committed to him. But these are, after all, only
instances of embarrassments common {p.263} to life, which increase in
degree and in number as one mounts the ladder. Whatever may be said in
favour of the fullest discretion to a subordinate out of signal
distance--and very much indeed must be said for this--nothing can
relieve a commander-in-chief only four miles distant of the
responsibility, not for his own reputation--a small matter--but for
his country's interests, in directing according to his own judgment
the great operations of a campaign. However honourable to generosity,
it is certainly carrying self-abnegation to an indefensible extreme to
leave the decision of attack or withdrawal, of movement by direct
attack or by flanking--"by the left"--to a junior, when one's self is
on the spot, in actual conversation.

The action of Colonel Thorneycroft in withdrawing raises also the
mooted question of when and how the assumption of responsibility in
disobeying orders--express or implied, general or particular--is to be
justified; a matter on which much unenlightened nonsense has lately
been spoken and written in the United States. No general rule,
{p.264} indeed, can be laid down, but this much may surely be
re-affirmed--that the justification of so serious a step must ever
rest, not on the officer's _opinion_ that he was doing right, but upon
the fact, demonstrated to military judgment by the existing
conditions, that he _was_ right. Colonel Thorneycroft's intentions
were doubtless of the best; the writer cannot but believe that Lord
Roberts's sentence will be endorsed by the professions, for the
reasons he himself gives.

After the withdrawal across Trichardt's Drift, a week was allowed for
repose after the seven days' fighting just undergone. The attempt to
reach Ladysmith was then renewed, taking the road by Potgieter's Drift
to Brakfontein. It was decided first to get possession of Vaal Krantz,
a height three or four miles east of Spion Kop, to the right of the
road. The movement began on February 5th, under the immediate
direction of Sir Redvers Buller. The same day Vaal Krantz was carried
and occupied; but Buller was disappointed in the advantage he hoped
from it. He reported that "it was necessary after seizing {p.265}
Vaal Krantz to entrench it as the pivot of further operations, but I
found after trying for two days that, owing to the nature of the
ground, this was not practicable; it was also exposed to fire from
heavy guns which fired from positions by which our artillery was

As the projected advance depended upon the tenure of Vaal Krantz, and
this could not be assured under the circumstances, the attempt had to
be abandoned. On the evening of February 7 the British army again
retired south of the Tugela, and thence returned to the camps at
Chieveley, facing Colenso.

In the operations about Spion Kop from January 17-24, the British
losses were: killed, officers 27, men 245; wounded, officers 53, men
1,050; missing and prisoners, officers 7, men 351. Total, 87 officers,
1646 men.

At Vaal Krantz, February 5-7, the losses were: killed, officers 2, men
23; wounded, officers 18, men 326; missing, men 5. Total, 20 officers,
354 men.



The month of February, 1900, which opened with the reverse at Vaal
Krantz, proved to be the culminating period of the war. During its
course, the tide, which had been running strongly against the British,
turned decisively in their favour. Before it closed, Kimberley and
Ladysmith had been relieved and Cronje forced to surrender.

After the affair at Magersfontein, December 11, Methuen and Cronje
remained confronting one another. The British strengthened themselves
upon the line of the Modder, by the railroad; the Boers, from the
kopjes of Spytfontein, some three miles to the northward, gradually
extended their works {p.267} east and west until in both directions
their flanks rested upon the river. Shelling by guns of long range was
carried on intermittingly by both parties, and there were small
affairs from time to time, but nothing on a large scale occurred.

After his arrival on January 10, Lord Roberts spent three weeks in
Cape Town arranging for his campaign. On the 6th of February he left,
accompanied by Lord Kitchener, and on the 9th was at the Modder Camp.
On the 11th began the movement which resulted four days later in the
relief of Kimberley, and on the 27th of the month in the surrender of
Cronje. For these objects, and at this time, 44,000 troops of all arms
had been collected near the Modder.

It is needless to say that preparation had preceded execution by more
than the two or three days elapsing between Roberts' arrival and the
start. At Cape Town he had had interviews with General French,
summoned there for that purpose. During January the constant arrival
of troops from all quarters at the Modder Camp gave the impression of
{p.268} a purpose to resume the frontal attack and to force the way to
Kimberley through Magersfontein; an impression which, produced on the
mind of the Boer leader, was itself part of the necessary preparation.
On the 3rd of February, General Hector MacDonald, with a brigade of
Highlanders, had moved north-west, towards Koodoosberg, where he
arrived on the 7th. The movement was in sufficient force to attract
the attention of the Boers, and appeared the more plausible because of
the disturbed condition of the district; which, although British, was
full of Boer partisans showing signs of restlessness. A similar
expedition, but less numerous, under Colonel Pilcher, had gone out
early in January, capturing forty rebels. While otherwise useful, it
seems probably that MacDonald's enterprise was intended chiefly to
fasten the enemy's attention in a false direction. On the 8th he was
recalled by Methuen, acting under orders from headquarters.

The great projected operation was to turn the eastern left flank of
Cronje's position, seizing important drifts, or fords, on the Riet
{p.269} and Modder Rivers by a secret and rapid circuit of cavalry,
which should hold them until they were secured by slower moving
infantry following on the track. When the last and chief of these,
Klip Drift on the Modder, some twenty miles east of Magersfontein, was
held by an infantry division, the cavalry's flank would be secured and
its advance would then be pressed to Kimberley. While the movement was
in progress, Methuen in his old lines on the Modder would hold the
enemy in his positions by a demonstration of force seemingly not
reduced. If the undertaking were successful, superior British numbers
would be planted across the line of Cronje's communications with
Bloemfontein, and the cavalry on his rear to intercept retreat in mass
to the north. To this turning operation were assigned three divisions
of infantry and one of cavalry; the latter was under General French,
called from the Naauwport district for this purpose. The infantry
divisions were the 6th, General Kelly-Kenny; the 7th, General Tucker;
and the 9th, General Colvile. The total force thus engaged in the
invasion of the Orange Free {p.270} State was 34,000; 23,000 infantry
and 11,000 mounted men. They were accompanied by 98 pieces of
artillery, and by supplies in 700 wagons, drawn by 9,000 mules and

French's division, three brigades, 4,800 men, accompanied by seven
batteries of horse artillery, left Modder River Camp at 3 A.M. Sunday,
February 11th. Diverging slightly from the railroad, they marched due
south--away from the enemy--seventeen miles to Ramdam, which is about
ten miles east of Graspan Station. At sunrise they were out of sight
of the empty tents, standing deceitfully behind them. At noon Ramdam
was reached, and the division halted till 3 A.M. of the 12th, when it
again marched due east for a ford called Waterval Drift, on the Riet
River, which it will be remembered is a tributary of the Modder,
flowing from south-east to north-west. Reaching there soon after
sunrise, the ford was found to be held by a party of the enemy.
Covering his change of purpose by a feint upon this position, French
swung the rest of his division to the right, and with slight loss
forced a passage at De Kiel's Drift, apparently somewhat higher up.
That evening he {p.271} held both sides of the Riet, the enemy having
retreated. During the night Kitchener came up with a division of
infantry which had made its journey in part by rail, and with which
arrived also supply trains, whose slow movement would have delayed
unduly the progress of the horse division.

Owing to delays in distributing provisions and fodder, French could
not start again until 11.30 A.M. The loss of the five early hours,
says an eye-witness, cost 100 horses, which died or failed in the
march that day. The goal now was Klip Drift, about twenty-five miles
distant. Passing well east of Jacobsdal, suffering intensely from heat
and thirst, the division sighted the Modder when still eight miles
away. All were much spent, the artillery horses could scarcely drag
their pieces, and there was a showing of opposition on the right
front; but French, despite the general exhaustion, decided to drive on
without halting, lest the enemy, recovering from their surprise,
should concentrate to oppose his passage. Thus hastening, the Boers,
taken unready, were routed. At 5.35 P.M. French reported back to
Roberts, who received the message at {p.272} De Kiel's Drift, that he
had occupied the hills on the north of the river, capturing three of
the enemy's laagers with supplies, while Gordon with his brigade had
seized Rondeval Drift, four miles west, with a second drift between it
and Klip, and two more laagers. Control of both sides of the Modder,
and power to operate on either bank freely, were thus assured,
provided the infantry followed in time.

That night, February 13-14, the cavalry rested on the north bank,
holding the adjacent kopjes, and there remained during the succeeding
day, waiting for the infantry. Throughout the 14th the Boers made
constant harassing demonstrations, disturbing the rest of the weary
men and horses. "But no attack was driven home. 'Could the Boers learn
to attack, they would be a formidable foe,' the General once observed.
Directly we moved out the attack failed."[32] Kitchener in person
arrived at midnight, and the 6th Division, "very tired," at early
morning of the 15th. The {p.273} defence of the position was then
turned over to Kelly-Kenny, "leaving French free to act,"[33] and the
cavalry, reinforced by several new regiments from the westward, which
raised its numbers to near 10,000,[34] prepared for the final rush to
Kimberley, some twenty-five miles away.

                   [Footnote 32: "The Cavalry Rush to Kimberley," by
                   Captain Cecil Boyle, additional aide to General
                   French. The _Nineteenth Century_, June, 1900, p.

                   [Footnote 33: Lord Roberts' telegram.]

                   [Footnote 34: London _Weekly Times_, March 23,
                   1900, p. ii.; also February 23, p. 114.]

A few miles from Klip Drift, towards Kimberley, lay an enclosed plain,
five miles long by three wide, where a number of Boers were waiting to
contest progress. The kopjes controlling entrance had been secured by
the British, but the transit had to be forced. The enemy were in
position on hills in front, and flanking the lines of advance.
Measures were taken to cover the flanks with artillery, and to clear
them while pressing forward, otherwise the Boer positions were carried
by a charge. "The whole division was set in motion. For nearly five
miles in perfect order they galloped on, until the head of the plain
was reached. It was a thrilling time, never to be forgotten. Our guns
held the enemy on our left, while the 9th and 16th Lancers had cleared
the ground on {p.274} the right. About two miles from the head of the
plain the main body was halted to allow the guns from the left to
rejoin us, but Broadwood's brigade continued the gallop to the very
top of the pass on the left, and the 12th Lancers dismounted and held
the kopjes in front. The right front was held by the Household
Composite and Gordon's Lancers."[35]

                   [Footnote 35: "The Cavalry Rush to Kimberley," p.

After a brief stop to re-assemble the march was resumed. Just beyond
the head of the plain the chimneys of the mine works at Kimberley
became visible--still ten miles distant. Cronje, by this aware of the
direction and purpose of the movement, tried to intercept the advance
at a place called Benaauwheidfontein Farm, four miles from the town,
but he was just too late to occupy the commanding positions. Brushing
aside the inadequate force opposing him, French passed on, and about 7
P.M. entered the place, joining hands with the long besieged.
Kimberley was relieved, and the British cavalry established on
Cronje's rear.

The general situation that evening, Thursday, February {p.275} 15,
was as follows: Methuen at Magersfontein, in front of Cronje; the 7th
Infantry Division at Jacobsdal, ten miles to the south-east; the 6th
holding the Klip and Rondeval Drifts on the Modder, twenty miles east
of the Boer army; the 9th near Jacobsdal, in reserve, ready to move
where most needed. Lord Roberts himself was at Jacobsdal, whence his
telegrams were dated on the 16th and 17th. Kitchener remained at Klip

Cronje, who had not believed that the British could make so rapid a
march, or take so large a force far from the railroad, saw that not
only had he been outwitted and his position become untenable, but that
there was no time to lose if he hoped to escape at all. As French
slipped by him into Kimberley, he sent word to the camp to get the
trains at once in movement, and to start east towards Bloemfontein.
This direction of retreat has been criticised,[36] and it {p.276} has
been argued that he should have tried to retire to the northward, away
from the British divisions already east of him. In this direction a
certain proportion of his army did break out. It is to be remembered,
however, that not only was Bloemfontein the capital of the Free State,
and, therefore, not lightly to be sacrificed, but that his movement
was concentric, having regard to Joubert and the bulk of the Boer
forces elsewhere. Not only so, but French was north of him; and as it
turned out it was French, in virtue of the superior mobility of his
cavalry, who headed him off to the eastward, giving time for the
British infantry to come up. The trains went with Cronje, and
apparently it was his unwillingness to drop them, rather than the
direction of his retreat, that lost him. Because men not so encumbered
escaped north, it cannot be certainly concluded that he could by the
same course have saved his trains.

                   [Footnote 36: See summary of a letter of Michael
                   Davitt, whose Boer sympathies are well known, from
                   Kroonstadt, March 31, to the Dublin _Freeman's
                   Journal_, given in the London _Times_, June 25,

Be it as it may, Friday morning the 16th found the Boer lines at
Magersfontein empty. The presence of British divisions south of the
Modder compelled Cronje to take a course {p.277} north of it. Except
for the drifts, the river thus protected his flank; and if he could,
by diverging sufficiently, slip undetected past Klip Drift, leaving
the easternmost of the British divisions--Kelly-Kenny--in his rear, he
might reach the point he aimed at, Koodoosrand Drift, twenty-four
miles north-east of Klip Drift, cross there, and so reach the direct
road from Jacobsdal to Bloemfontein. This effected, the British would
have a stern chase, proverbially long, and in this instance certainly

Cronje nearly succeeded. Early on Friday morning the British at Klip
Drift saw north of them a great cloud of dust, moving eastward. It was
the Boer convoy, in rear of which doubtless was their army. Kitchener
sent out mounted infantry to get to the north of the retreating force,
while a brigade of foot was directed to keep along the river's bank.
Word was sent at once to French in Kimberley, who was employing that
day in clearing the country north of the town. The field telegraph
being cut by the enemy, he received Kitchener's message late at night.
This, after stating Cronje's movements, added that {p.278} if he,
"with all available horses and guns, could head him, and prevent him
from crossing the river, the infantry from Klip Drift would press on
and annihilate or take the whole force prisoners."[37]

                   [Footnote 37: "The Cavalry Rush to Kimberley," p.

French left at 3.30 A.M. with one brigade and three batteries, the
others to follow as they could with their worn-out animals. The enemy
had a long start, but from Kitchener's message it was evident that
their march would be steadily harassed and delayed by the frequent
necessity of fighting, of resting at times, and by the slow movement
of the ox-team. Using utmost speed, at 11 A.M. French's detachment saw
the trees lining the Modder's banks, upon which its route had been
converging. On the left a fairly large body of men were perceived
moving east. A line of hills between these and the British force
concealed the latter, who were nearer the river. The horses were
ordered to water while the general and staff rode forward to
reconnoitre. Reaching a favourable height, they saw, 4,000 yards away,
the leading wagons of the Boer convoy just descending to {p.279}
Koodoosrand Drift, where a road from the northward crosses to
Petrusberg, on the Jacobsdal-Bloemfontein highway. The batteries were
summoned up, being cautioned to move at a walk, lest their dust should
draw attention, and at 12.15 P.M. the first shot was fired which told
Cronje that at the very last moment, with safety apparently grasped,
his passage was about to be disputed.

The Boer general, who for a day and a half had been fighting a
constant succession of rearguard actions with Kitchener's infantry,
took his measures promptly to meet this new dilemma. He first tried to
seize positions of command which would give him control of the ford.
In this French was the quicker, and headed him. He then turned his
column to the right to a ford called Wolveskraal Drift, four miles
below, west of Koodoosrand, and the same distance above Paardeberg
Drift, from which his defence has received its name. At Wolveskraal he
"laagered" his trains on the north bank of the river, postponing
crossing to next day. Either he felt sure that the British infantry,
marching afoot, could not come up in time to stop him, or else,
{p.280} unable to reconcile himself to cutting loose from his guns and
his wagons, he determined to risk all on the chance of saving them.
French, unsupported, could only answer for Koodoosrand.

The decision was critical, and proved fatal. The British 6th Division
pressed on untiring after nightfall, aiming to reach Paardeberg, but,
missing the precise point, they passed on and halted a mile and a half
below Wolveskraal, nearly opposite the ford Cronje intended to use.
Though all unknowing, they had taken a commanding position to head
him, as French had at Koodoosrand. Behind them was the mounted
infantry, which had crossed back from the north side, and also the 9th
Division. Before daybreak both these had halted on the south side, at

When Cronje camped on the afternoon of the 17th, the only chance left
him was to cross at once to Wolveskraal, abandoning his guns and
wagons. On the morning of the 18th no chance was left, except by
outside help, which could come only from the eastward, probably only
from Joubert before Ladysmith. Realising this, and to gain time for
{p.281} such assistance to arrive, he took up a defensive position
based upon the bed of the Modder.

In broad outline his dispositions were as follows. The bed of the
river, which lies nearly east and west, is from fifty to one hundred
yards wide and about thirty deep, in soil that lends itself easily to
the spade. On both sides, for a mile above and below Wolveskraal
Drift, the edges of the banks were trenched, and at either end of
these trenches traverses, thrown forward at right angles, served to
strengthen against enfilading attack. North of the river, some cannon
were placed in advanced works, three-quarters of a mile from the rifle
pits, between which and the river, in the open, was the "laager" of
ammunition and other wagons. The river trenches described constituted
the nucleus and backbone of the Boer defences, but in his first
dispositions Cronje occupied the bed of the stream down to Paardeberg,
seeking thus to push back as far as possible from his intended
crossing the force which he supposed had yet to come up from that
quarter. The Boers that surrendered numbered {p.282} 4,100 men. It
may be supposed, therefore, that there were from 4,500 to 5,000
present at the first.

South of the river is grassy plain, at its widest 3,000 yards,
shelving gently to the bank. Beyond it there is a rise of fifty feet
in the ground. Behind this plain, on the morning of Sunday, February
18, the British had in position the 6th Division and of the 9th the
19th Brigade, besides three regiments of Highlanders. The mounted
infantry, that had been pursuing the day before on the north bank, now
occupied the river-bed west of Cronje's lines. The artillery present
was three batteries--two field and one howitzer--with a single naval
gun. On the north bank at daybreak was French's cavalry brigade, which
was slightly reinforced during the day, and his horse artillery.

Soon after daybreak fighting began, the Boers opening fire at the west
end of their line upon the mounted infantry. The latter replying
succeeded in driving the enemy a quarter of a mile up stream. While
this was occurring the British began a frontal attack in line from the
south--the 6th Division on the {p.283} right, the 9th on the left,
the advance of the infantry line being supported by the batteries,
placed 2,000 yards south-east of the Boer laager. French's horse
artillery also opened from the north bank. As usual in frontal attacks
upon a well-entrenched resolute enemy, the loss of the assailants
greatly exceeded the results obtained. By an eye-witness the action
was likened to Methuens at the Modder.[38] The fire of the batteries,
however, was extremely destructive to the Boer laager, causing several
explosions, and great distress to the enemy could not but ensue from
this injury to their only base.

                   [Footnote 38: London _Weekly Times_, March 23 and
                   April 6 (p. iii). In the absence of official
                   reports other than telegraphic summaries, the
                   author has based his account chiefly on this

The frontal attack was supplemented later by efforts directed upon the
flanks. Three regiments--one a Canadian--of the 19th Brigade at 9 A.M.
crossed at Paardeberg, and thence fought their way a mile
up-stream--east--on the north bank. Here they were stopped, and had to
extend their line to the northward; after which, by short and
desperate rushes, {p.284} they continued to add by driblets to the
ground so far gained. This was strictly a flank attack, and not only
shortened by so much the Boer front, but enabled the assailants to
enfilade their line in part. The attempt was imitated on the eastern
flank by the mounted infantry which, after the arrival of the foot
divisions, had moved east from Paardeberg and established themselves
on the Boers' eastern flank at Koodoosrand Drift. These crossed at
this point at about noon and fought west. An hour later they were
supported by the two right--east--regiments of the British line, which
by a rush reached the river below Koodoosrand, where a number crossed.
These moved west in two parties, in mutual support on either bank.

The frontal attack and the flank movements so far stated summarize the
details of this action. Support was sent from time to time as occasion
demanded and opportunity offered, especially to the flanking parties.
The net result of the day was that Cronje's force, from a development
of four miles, was shortened in to two, the British holding the river
{p.285} banks above and below that stretch, with considerable part of
their force placed perpendicularly to the river across both the Boer
flanks, yet bound together in mutual support by the main body,
extended along the southern slope, ready to reinforce in either
direction. The flanking parties began immediately to entrench, their
lines running, as already intimated, perpendicular to the Boer front,
and facing the transverse works which the latter had erected as a
protection against enfilading.

The British loss this day is variously estimated from 1,100 to 1,250.
The official accounts do not particularise, but give as the total
casualties, February 16-27, killed 255, wounded 1,209, missing 70. The
propriety of the frontal attack has been much doubted. The question is
one of expediency, upon which the author does not presume to give a
certain opinion. It may be remembered that the Boer position had been
hastily assumed, under conditions not long foreseen, and therefore
quite possibly not very solid. The fact could be tested only by trial.
So severe an assault unquestionably tends to benumb {p.286} the
victim, and to make less probable his escape, quite independent of his
actual loss. Moreover, the flanking gains, which ultimately hastened
and determined the inevitable surrender, could scarcely have been
secured except under the stress of the frontal attack.

The next day, February 19, Lord Roberts arrived at Paardeberg, and
with him the 7th Infantry Division. A reconnaissance, the following
afternoon, satisfied him that assault would be attended by very heavy
loss. He, therefore, ordered a bombardment, at a range of about 2,000
yards, by between forty-five and fifty guns. Of these, rather more
than half were on the northern bank and in enfilading positions. The
ground upon which this tremendous fire played was some two miles long
by a half-mile wide. The character of the injury is best told by the
report of an eye-witness of the conditions. "Nothing could be done but
crouch in the trenches and wait till dusk prevented a further attack,
while wagon after wagon in the laager caught fire and burned away into
a heap of scrap iron surrounded by wood ashes. The desolation
produced {p.287} was fearful, and it soon became impossible to make
any reply. The losses inflicted upon the horses were the turning point
of the siege. So enormous a proportion (estimated by some at 75 per
cent.) of the horses, for which no protection could be made, were
lost, that any dash for freedom by night was impossible and the
condition of the laager rapidly became so foul, that that alone, apart
from the want of food, would have compelled an early surrender. There
was no opportunity of getting rid of the vast number of dead animals;
burial was impossible, and the low state of the river prevented them
from sending them down stream for several days; all they could do was
to drag them to leeward of their camp. Meanwhile decomposition set in,
and the absolute need of clean air caused a serious rebellion in the
camp, most of the 4,000 men demanding that surrender should be made at
once. When on Sunday, the 25th, the flood brought down past our lines
an unending series of dead animals that cannot have been less than
1,500 or 2,000, the desperate straits of the enemy were apparent

This {p.288} benumbing concentrated gun fire of February 20 was not
repeated. The British Commander-in-Chief thenceforth satisfied himself
with hemming in the enemy, under a steady pressure, the result of
which could not be doubtful. A few days more or less were not to be
counted against the husbanding of his soldiers' lives, in conditions
also of comparative rest, favourable to a recuperation sorely needed
by men and horses. The last arrived 7th Division entrenched itself on
both sides of the river--à cheval, as the French phrase runs--to the
eastward of and perpendicular to Cronje's lines, barring the way
against attempts to break out towards Bloemfontein, and against the
approach of aid from that quarter. The troops were further occupied by
the Boer reinforcements, from Natal, and elsewhere, which began to
cluster round the scene, seeking to help the beleaguered army. Several
smart actions were fought, but all attempts at relief were vain.

The approach of Majuba Day--February 27--appears to have influenced
both parties, hastening the issue. The Boers, huddled in the narrow
and loathsome bed of {p.289} the river, with senses sickened by the
disgusting accumulations of filth and decay inevitable in the
circumstances, clamoured for deliverance even at the cost of
surrender. Cronje, obstinately bent to prolong to the utmost the
chance of succour, is reported to have promised at last to surrender
on the 28th, but by no means on the date illustrated by a boasted Boer
victory. On the other hand, it is said that Roberts was urged to
effect the consummation on that day, in grateful expiation of the
disaster that had ever since rankled in British remembrance. One of
his brigadiers, Hector MacDonald, now lying wounded, had been present
at the earlier humiliation, and recalled the date to the
Commander-in-Chief. However it be, a plan was adopted which brought
about the desired coincidence. Ever since the 18th, the detachment of
which the Canadian Regiment formed part had held the position then
gained on the north bank, on the enemy's west flank. There it occupied
a trench, running 700 yards north from the river. In the early hours
of February 27, long before daybreak, three companies of the
Canadians, {p.290} acting under specific orders, quitted the trench
and moved towards the enemy, followed close at heel by fifty engineer
troops. In their silent advance they approached to eighty yards of the
Boer traverse trench before discovered. Then a heavy and continuous
fire burst forth, lasting for fifteen minutes without intermission.
The Canadians lying down replied, while the engineers close behind
them dug, till a trench 100 yards long, and giving good cover, ran
from the bank to the north. Into it, when finished, the Canadians

The game was won. To quote Roberts' telegram, "At 3 A.M. to-day a most
dashing advance made by the Canadian Regiment and some engineers,
supported by the 1st Gordon Highlanders and 2nd Shropshires, resulted
in our gaining a point some 600 yards nearer the enemy, and within
eighty yards of his trenches. This apparently clinched matters." The
new position, which passed the power of the Boers to force, enfiladed
securely their rifle-trenches along the river, and took in rear the
advanced works to the north. At daylight of Majuba Day, {p.291}
Cronje sent Roberts a letter saying that he surrendered

Briefly summarized, this achievement of the British Army was the
dislodgment of an inferior force from an extremely formidable
position--at Magersfontein--at the least loss to the victors, by a
secret and rapid flank march, followed by a swift pursuit, ending in
the enforced surrender of a portion that sought escape in flight.
Incidentally, Kimberley was relieved. Such effects, by such use of
superior numbers, without which they cannot be accomplished, are
always the object of war, which aims not at fighting, but at results.
To estimate duly the operation, regard must be had to the impediments
to movement, the overcoming of which gave success. The larger force,
to compass its object, had to reach secretly and rapidly positions
which interposed decisively between the inferior and its line of
communications and retreat. To do this secretly, a large circuit must
be made; that is, a road must be taken far beyond the enemy's ken,
therefore much longer than that he himself would traverse to pass the
same decisive points {p.292} and thereby evade interception. The
question is one of exterior and interior lines, and therefore of
speed. Speed in a country without resources, and especially when
opposed to an enemy notoriously mobile, means not only hard legging
and much privation, but very high organisation of transport, to insure
even a bare sufficiency of support.

By virtue of the interior line, notwithstanding the rapidity with
which Roberts' men and horses moved, Cronje got past the decisive
points; but for French he might have escaped. His success in this
changed instantly the whole direction of the British operation. Trains
directed upon one expectation had to be diverted elsewhere, which
means not the mere turning round of waggons, but the reversal of a
complicated machinery working at high pressure; perhaps rather the
redistribution of parts in an engine while in actual operation. That
the transport system under this extreme test stood the strain without
dislocation, though with necessarily lessened output, is as creditable
as the patient fortitude of the hosts, who lacking full food and
water, toiled uncomplainingly in pursuit, under the burning {p.293}
sun, not knowing but that after all their labour would be in vain.

The final, and successful, operations of Sir Redvers Buller for the
relief of Ladysmith were almost exactly coincident, in beginning and
in duration, with those of Lord Roberts which ended in the surrender
of Cronje. There was even a certain close approach to synchronism in
dates of the more conspicuous incidents in each.

On the 11th of February, when the departure of French began Roberts'
turning movement, Buller's force was again assembled at Chieveley. The
following day the direction of his next effort was indicated by the
occupation of Hussar Hill, south of Hlangwane Hill, which it will be
remembered lies near the Tugela, its crest about three-fourths of a
mile east of the bend which the river makes just below Colenso, and
after which it holds a northerly course for two or three miles before
again running east.

This north and south stretch, as before said, divided the Boer
military line of the Tugela. Since the battle of Colenso all their
positions had been strengthened, especially {p.294} the eastern
portion south of the river, previously comparatively neglected; and
continuous entrenchments now extended from Hlangwane east for three
miles to a treeless height named Green Hill. East of this, again, and
connected with it, is a range called Monte Cristo, which runs
north-west to the Tugela. This district south of the river, and
between it and the entrenchments just mentioned, is for the most part
rugged and intricate, but less so than the region west of Colenso and
north of the stream.

The occupation of Hussar Hill on February 12 was for reconnaissance
only. The force was afterwards withdrawn. On the 14th the real
movement began. Hussar Hill was again taken, and from that day the
operations, though varying in activity, were continuous until the
18th, when, after two days of heavy fighting from hill to hill, the
British succeeded in gaining possession of Green Hill, their ultimate
object, upon the enemy's left flank. The Boers then evacuated
Hlangwane, which was occupied on the 19th by the British. The
positions of the Boers south of the Tugela and east of the bend had
{p.295} thus all fallen, weakening their left flank, at the same
moment that Roberts, arriving at Paardeberg, found Cronje hemmed in
the bed of the Modder.

Buller's turning movement had now driven the Boers into the
mountainous country between Colenso and Ladysmith, west of the bend in
the Tugela. Here, when his campaign opened in December, had been the
strength of their position. Its general character has been already
mentioned, as well as some particular features--Grobler's Kloof, two
miles above Colenso, the kopjes behind Fort Wylie commanding the
bridge, etc. Between Grobler's and the northerly stretch of the river
ran the railroad to Ladysmith, threading a maze of hills which a stay
of three months had made intimately familiar to the Boers, both men
and officers. The accidents of the ground, and their mutual influence
from the military point of view, had been carefully studied and
artificially improved, by men whose natural aptitudes for defensive
warfare and choice of positions is of the highest. In nothing do they
seem to have shown more skill than in the preparation of traps,
{p.296} whereby success, won with just sufficient difficulty to seem
plausibly brilliant, turns at the very moment of apparent victory into
hopeless disaster, entailing either destruction or retreat.

Into this tangle of obstacles the British forces were now about to
enter. Colenso, found to be evacuated on February 19, was occupied on
the 20th. A reconnaissance pushed across the bridge showed that the
kopjes about Fort Wylie, now rendered untenable by the loss of
Hlangwane, were but weakly held and their guns gone. On the morning of
February 21, the second day after the occupation of Hlangwane, a
pontoon bridge was thrown at a point between that hill and Colenso. By
midday of the 22nd nearly five brigades of infantry had crossed, and
immediately afterwards the advance began. That day and the two
following were marked by extremely severe fighting, attended with
alternate success and repulse, but the end was failure after very
heavy losses. The series of incidents is instructive as a military
lesson on warfare in an intricate mountain region; but to follow it
would require care and {p.297} attention, with elaborate maps, and
even so would possess sustained interest only for the professional

On the afternoon of February 20, Buller had telegraphed the fall of
Hlangwane, adding, "the enemy seem to be in full retreat, and are
apparently only holding a position which they occupy across the
Colenso-Ladysmith railway, where it is close to the angle of the
Tugela, with a weak rear-guard." The mention of the railroad shows
that this impression of retreat concerned the enemy west of the bend
and north of the river, but it proved to be entirely mistaken. On the
24th of February, it is true, the Boers packed their wagons and moved
them north of Ladysmith.[39] The fact testifies to the vigour of the
assault and their consequent anxiety; but in the evening of that same
day it had become apparent to the British that the resistance was
still so strong that they could not get through by the direction
taken, which, speaking generally, was that of the railroad. Sunday the
25th was passed in inaction, removing the wounded and {p.298} the
dead, and on Monday the whole force was withdrawn across the Tugela at
Colenso, to try another movement from further down stream, to the
north and east of Hlangwane, and again directed against the enemy's

                   [Footnote 39: Bullet's telegram from Ladysmith,
                   March 2.]

This retreat, though not certainly known, was vaguely suspected in
Ladysmith, where the silence of Sunday sounded ominous. The spirits of
the now famishing garrison sank accordingly. One among them writes:
"The ending has been strange. On Monday, February 26, the garrison was
sunk in a slough of despondency. On the previous Thursday General
Buller had signalled from below in such confident language that the
force had been placed upon full rations. Then, day by day, we had
watched for some sign of the promised relief. Daily the guns had
boomed, and occasionally we had caught a glimpse of the burst of an
'accidental,' but nothing more. Heavy weather had settled upon us and
had blinded the little winking reflector on Monte Cristo Hill. On
Sunday the relieving force must have been engaged in a night attack,
for the sound of volley firing {p.299} was distinctly audible in
Ladysmith. Then came a day of silence. The helio was veiled in cloud,
and there were no sounds of war. The spirits of the garrison fell.
Grave rumours circulated. Men even said that for the third time the
relief column had recrossed the Tugela. Monday brought a wave of hope,
for at midday there was a gleam of sunshine, and we learned the news
that Cronje had been surrounded in the Free State. Still there was no
news from Buller's column. It was evident that the staff were also
becoming anxious, for although the following day brought the news that
Cronje had surrendered, yet the evening saw the garrison again reduced
to quarter rations. This was only a precautionary measure, for Buller
had helioed 'everything progressing favourably.' But the man in the
street was sceptical. If favourable, why reduce the ration? Thus it
was that Tuesday, Majuba Day--although on that date the tide of
fortune had turned in our favour--marked the lowest pitch of
despondency into which the garrison was ever plunged during the 118
days of its investment."[40]

                   [Footnote 40: London _Weekly Times_, March 30,

The {p.300} end of their sufferings, however, was really at hand.
Buller's telegram of February 28 announcing the success of the next
operation, states also its character. "Finding that the passage of
Langewachte Spruit (the scene of the fighting on the 23rd and 24th)
was commanded by strong entrenchments, I reconnoitred for another
passage of the Tugela. One was found for me below the cataract by
Colonel Sandbach, Royal Engineers.... On the 26th, finding that I
could make a practicable approach, I crossed the guns and baggage back
to the south side of the Tugela, took up the pontoon bridge on the
night of the 26th, and relaid it at the new site.... On the 27th
General Barton, with two battalions 6th Brigade and the Royal Dublin
Fusiliers, crept about one and a half miles down the banks of the
river, and, ascending an almost precipitous cliff of about 500 feet,
assaulted and carried the top of Pieter's Hill. This hill to a certain
extent turned the enemy's left, and the 4th Brigade, under Colonel
Norcott, and the 11th Brigade, under Colonel Kitchener, the whole
under General Warren, assailed the enemy's main position, which was
magnificently {p.301} carried by the South Lancashire Regiment about

This handsome operation, which finally loosed the bonds in which
Ladysmith was held, should perhaps be described in more detail than a
telegram commonly admits. At the lower end of the northerly stretch of
the Tugela, below Colenso, where the river again turns east, the
railroad, which has kept close to the west bank, also inclines east
for a mile and a half, constrained still to cling to the stream by
hills to the northward. The more conspicuous of these had been named
Terrace Hill and Railway Hill, and there it was that the British
attacks of the 24th had been baffled. After passing them the road
leaves the river, runs north, and in another mile reaches Pieter's
Station. A mile to the eastward of this is Pieter's Hill, which the
river nears by a northerly bend in its course. The Boer position north
of this section of the river stretched from Railway Hill,
three-quarters of a mile west of the road, to Pieter's Hill. The
British occupied the heights on the opposite side, between one and two
miles distant, and 200 feet above the {p.302} bed of the Tugela.
Along these crests they mounted heavy guns, a sustained fire from
which, as is usual, preceded the attack.

On February 27--Majuba Day--as the troops detailed for the assault
were about to step on to the bridge, there was communicated to them
the news of Cronje's surrender at an earlier hour of the same day,
flashed by the wires around from the Modder by way of the sea. Under
this inspiring intelligence they went into action. The crossing was
made near the angle of the river, where it turns the second time and
resumes its easterly direction. Barton's brigade, which was to carry
Pieter's Hill--the enemy's left--crossed first, and inclining to the
right kept along the river a mile and a half to its appointed place,
followed successively by Kitchener's and Norcott's brigades, which
thus, when the line was formed, constituted respectively the centre
and left of the British front of assault.

The attack on Pieter's was first made, beginning about 1 P.M. By the
capture of this the Boer left was turned, after which by assaults
progressing successively from the British right to the left, in
continuous mutual {p.303} support, all the works on Railway and
Terrace Hills were carried by sunset, the enemy being, in many cases,
driven out at the point of the bayonet. The British entrenched
themselves that night in their new gains, but next morning, February
28, the Boers were found to have retreated from all the positions from
which they had not been expelled. There was no defensive line
remaining south of Ladysmith in which they could make a further stand,
and the relief of the place followed as a matter of course. An advance
party under Lord Dundonald entered the town that evening, and Buller
himself followed the next day, March 1.

In these final operations for the relief of Ladysmith, the British
loss in the Official Table of Casualties is given under two heads: 1,
Monte Cristo, February 15-18, being those on the Boer left, south of
the Tugela, ending in the capture of Hlangwane Hill; 2, Relief of
Ladysmith, February 19-27. In the first there were: Killed 14, Wounded
188, Missing 4; Total 206. In the second: Killed 263, Wounded 1621,
Missing 12; Total 1896. These losses are most {p.304} suggestive of
thought as to the character of the operations in which they were
respectively incurred. The second total exceeds considerably that
reported for any other action, or series of actions, during the war.
Spion Kop, with 1733, is the nearest approach.

The advance of Lord Roberts to Bloemfontein after Cronje's surrender
met with little resistance. The first position taken by the Boers to
contest his progress appears to have been four or five miles east of
Koodoosrand Drift. In his telegram their line is described as
extending four miles north and eleven miles south of the Modder, a
length which evidently required a pretty large force to man it. Its
extremities, however, received no protection from natural obstacles of
ground, and on the 7th of March French's Cavalry Division, passing
south, turned their left flank. The Boers then retreated without
serious fighting, the British having only fifty casualties. Three days
later, at Driefontein, between forty and fifty miles from
Bloemfontein, a stand was made which required a severe struggle to
overcome. "The enemy opposed us throughout yesterday's march,"
{p.305} Roberts telegraphed; "and from their intimate knowledge of the
country gave us considerable trouble.... The brunt of the fighting
fell upon Kelly-Kenny's division, two battalions of which, the Welsh
and the Essex, turned the Boers out of two strong positions at the
point of the bayonet." The British here lost 63 killed, 361 wounded.
The defenders, contrary to their habit, failed to carry away their
dead, of whom the victors buried 127. In the Boer papers their loss
was reported to be seven killed and eighteen wounded--a suggestive
discrepancy. No further opposition of consequence was encountered, and
on March 13 Roberts entered Bloemfontein.

The occupation of Bloemfontein and the relief of Ladysmith closed for
a time the British operations, and were followed by a period of
suspended advance. This was imposed in part by the fatigue of the
soldiery, a cause, however, which would not have lasted more than a
few days--except in the case of the hunger-weakened defenders of
Ladysmith. A prolonged stop was required for several reasons. The
conduct of the war had now reverted to the original plan of an
invasion in {p.306} force through the Free State by the great mass of
the British army. To this, all other movements were subsidiary,
including those of even such a great corps as that of Buller, upon a
line so important as the Natal railroad. But the central mass under
the Commander-in-Chief had momentarily exhausted itself, not in
organic vitality but in function power of movement, owing to the
excessive strain upon the transport service and the expenditure of
animal life in the forced marches and severe privations in the past
month under conditions always most trying to unacclimated horses. The
British Assistant Secretary of War said in Parliament that Lord
Roberts arrived at Bloemfontein with his horses wholly starved and his
men half-starved. The "wreck of an army," wrote a correspondent
present, "lies scattered in and about Bloemfontein." Paralysing as
such a condition is under any circumstances it was trebly so in a
force which by a sudden rush, a leap rather than a march, had
projected itself a hundred miles from any solid base of operations,
and had not yet its communications secured. How much more was this
true when {p.307} a great further advance of 250 miles was intended.
In short, before moving forward, it was necessary to insure that the
connection behind was established, and the provision for transport
ahead adequately developed. This involved not only an immense
accumulation of animals, to allow for a waste always extreme, but also
large reinforcements of troops; for every step forward in an enemy's
country requires a detachment left behind to secure it.

"At each remove the lengthening chain" demands its group of guards,
and these wisely disposed for quick mutual assistance; for with any
enemy, and especially with one so mobile, it is impossible to be
everywhere in sufficient force, superior to an unexpected attack.
Communications are ever on the defensive, the most embarrassing of
military attitudes. To the scattered units of such a system, all that
can be provided is power to hold out until succoured. Moreover, there
must be not merely a steady stream of supply from some far distant
source, but the establishment of intermediate reservoirs--secondary
depots--well stored with the manifold requirements of {p.308} an army
in campaign; advanced bases, capable by themselves of supporting for
an appreciable time the existence and activity of forces dependent
upon them alone. The importance of these to the army make them ever an
object of attack to the enemy. Provision against accident or
interruption, casual or hostile, has therefore to be elaborate in
framework and solid in joint. "Lord Roberts had 45,000 men when he
arrived at Bloemfontein, and he increased that number to 75,000 by
April 30." Six thousand horses, besides mules, were at the same time
sent up. To supply men and animals with daily food, and to accumulate
on the spot twenty-five days' provisions and supplies of military
stores for the further advance to the Vaal, there had to be brought
daily to Bloemfontein, besides the reinforcements of men, 1020 tons by
a single-track railroad on which many bridges had been destroyed.[41]
And Bloemfontein was 750 miles from Cape Town, and 250 from De Aar,
the nearest secondary base so far established.

                   [Footnote 41: These figures are taken from a speech
                   made by the Under Secretary of War in Parliament,
                   June 29, 1900.]

The {p.309} good effect of Roberts's advance upon the general fortune
of the war, and the correct military principle of the original plan,
by him resumed, were clearly and quickly evident. Men from the Boer
forces before Ladysmith were assembling already around Paardeberg
before Cronje surrendered, seeking to relieve him, and Roberts on his
march to Bloemfontein fought not only them but others from Colesberg
and Stormberg, and generally from the regions over which French and
Gatacre had vainly striven to advance. How far this helped Buller in
his actual fighting before Ladysmith cannot certainly be said. The
comparative ease with which Hlangwane Hill was carried was probably
due chiefly to the correct direction given to the attack, while the
heavy loss of the following days, February 22-24, may also be assigned
to a frontal assault undertaken under a mistaken impression as to the
enemy's force. The Boers did not then fight like men who were merely a
rear guard covering a retreat. Nevertheless, there are indications
that their numbers had been materially weakened, and the consciousness
that Roberts's success {p.310} would necessitate the abandonment of
the siege may have affected the fighting, especially after Cronje's
surrender became known.

The effect at Colesberg and in the Stormberg region is less doubtful.
The imminence of Roberts's advance, when his purpose became apparent,
drew away so many of the enemy to oppose him that the task of Clements
and Gatacre became relatively easy and rapid. On March 15, two days
after the occupation of Bloemfontein, Clements, whose temporary
retirement has been noted, reached and held Norval's Pont, where the
line from Naauwport to Bloemfontein crossed the Orange; while Gatacre,
so long at a standstill, the same day occupied Bethulie, where the
road from East London bridges the river. These two points are only
about thirty miles apart, the converging roads meeting thirty miles
beyond, at Springfontein. This junction was occupied next day, March
16, by a brigade sent back by Roberts. By the holding of these points,
railroad communication was restored, in a military sense, from
Bloemfontein to Cape Town and to East London. {p.311} To assure it in
practice as well, there was needed only certain repairs, and adequate
guards disposed round these central positions.

Coincidently with the forward movement of Clements and Gatacre, a
similar advance upon the latter's right flank, and, in a sense,
covering it, was made by a colonial division of 2,000 men under a
colonial officer, General Brabant. This took its direction to the
eastward of the easternmost railway system, midway between it and the
Basutoland boundary, traversing the mountainous region in which lay
the districts of Cape Colony, Herschel, Aliwal North, etc., that early
in the war had been annexed by proclamation of the President of the
Free State. After crossing the Orange, this division continued to
skirt the Basuto line by Rouxville and Wepener, thus entering the
region south and east of Bloemfontein, which shortly became the scene
of the enemy's movements threatening Roberts's communications with
Cape Colony--movements characterised by a certain daring in conception
and execution, but to which the customary caution of the Boers
{p.312} gave a direction too eccentric to constitute a home-thrust.

From February 11, when Roberts left the Modder, to March 13, when
Bloemfontein was occupied, his operations and forward movement had
been practically continuous. The subsequent halt, imperative as it was
for the reasons stated, gave the Boers breathing time in which to
recover themselves. Advance in force by the British main body was not
resumed until May 2, but detachments were moved about in various
directions on the near front, and on flank and rear, to occupy
necessary outposts, to secure the communications, and to insure quiet
among the inhabitants. During this prolonged period of recuperation
and preparation the enemy resumed activity, scouring the country with
their mounted men, seeking to cut off exposed parties, and by menacing
the communications, to embarrass and retard the British commander in
his new arrangements. In the first of these measures the Boers
attained some successes; but in the second, either their numbers were
too few for their object, or their habitual caution prevented {p.313}
resort to action in such force and at such risk as is absolutely
necessary either seriously to "interrupt" communications--in the
military sense of the phrase--or to produce any deterrent impression
upon a commander of the experience and sound judgment of the one with
whom they were dealing. Not only did they not materially threaten the
communications, but it was perfectly evident that, whatever their
reasons, they dared not attempt to do so.

As regards the cutting off of British detachments, of which the
affairs of Reddersburg and of Koorn Spruit, near Thaba Nchu, were the
most conspicuous illustrations, the only thing essential to be
remarked is that such reverses on a small scale are always to be
expected in war, in even the most successful campaigns. This does not
mean that no blame attaches to them. Very probably in most such cases
there has been carelessness or miscalculation, for which somebody
merits either punishment or censure. But the Commander-in-Chief and
the nation concerned have to reckon upon such mishaps; and, without
affecting {p.314} indifference, or neglecting to exact responsibility,
they are to be regarded merely as the bruises and the barked limbs
that men get in any rough sport. These they are, and usually they are
nothing more. The player does not bleed to death in consequence; he
simply goes on with the game. Military men, of course, understand
this, but nations are too apt to be fretful as though some strange
thing had happened to them.

It is not by such affairs that contests are decided--on the playground
or in strategy. Lord Roberts proceeded with his preparations
undisturbed by the mosquito buzzings about his ears or on his trail.
At last, when ready, a second long leap was made. The British army,
leaving Bloemfontein on the 2nd of May, was on the 12th at Kroonstad,
over 100 miles distant. On the 24th the Vaal was crossed, and on the
31st Roberts entered Johannesburg. Five days later, on the 5th of
June, the British flag was hoisted in Pretoria, the capital of the
Transvaal, 250 miles from Bloemfontein. The sustained momentum of this
advance, achieved in very little over a month, testifies at once to
the solidity {p.315} of the preparations of the British leader, and
to the fruitlessness of such disseminated operations, by small bodies,
as were conducted by the Boers during the British halt at
Bloemfontein, and are now being carried on by Botha and De Wet.
Subsidiary to the greater plan of a campaign by massed forces, they
have their advantage; as a main dependence, they merely protract the
agony of endurance and suffering.

Sir Redvers Buller had to await in Natal the movement of the central
mass of the British force in the Orange Free State. Towards the middle
of May his advance began, directed against the positions which the
Boers had taken upon the Biggarsberg mountains, and on the 15th he
reoccupied Dundee and Glencoe. Into the detail of these movements it
is not proposed to enter. The retirement of the Boer forces before
Roberts, in the Free State, uncovered the flank and endangered the
communications of their brethren on the other side of the mountains.
There was therefore for these nothing to do but to fall back,
abandoning with a show of opposition positions whence otherwise they
might have inflicted {p.316} considerable loss upon the superior
force assaulting them.

At the present moment, July 26, the British have communication from
Johannesburg and Pretoria to the sea-coast by two routes--to Cape Town
and to Durban. The actions of the Boers show that it is not in their
power seriously to incommode either the one or the other. The trivial
raids performed by their mounted men under De Wet and Botha may
protract the sufferings of the war, and add to the close of the
struggle a certain lustre of persistent resistance; but, barring
events now unforeseen and scarcely to be anticipated, they cannot
change the issue, which has become simply a question of endurance
between combatants immeasurably unequal in resources.

INDEX {p.317}

  Admiralty, the British, utmost credit due to its efforts
    in transporting troops and material, 86.

  American colonies, the, action of, in the old wars contrasted
    with colonial action of to-day, 77.

  Army Reserve, 25,000 men called out, 32.

  Army Service Corps, the, 103.

  Australasia and the war, 75.

  Australia supplies wheat to the Transvaal, 16.

  Barbed-Wire obstacles at battle of Elandslaagte, 54;
    defences at Magersfontein, 163.

  Barter's, Colonel, brave deed at Modder River, 158.

  Barton, Major-General, advances to Chieveley, 217.

  Beira, port of, 11.

  Belmont, battle of, 148-150.

  Bethlehem, 15.

  Biggarsberg Range, 39, 48.

  Black week of the war for the British, 168.

  Bloemfontein, 11;
    occupied by the British, 305.

  Boers, original plan of campaign of the, 9, 26;
    helped by nature of the country, 21;
    their decided superiority in numbers at the beginning
      of hostilities, 25, 36;
    ultimatum, the, 31;
    guns, position of, betrayed by their flashes, 52;
    procrastination, 58, 123, 129;
    forces, estimation of the, 116;
    trenches and tactics, 133, 144, 163;
    losses in battle, difficulty of arriving at the truth respecting, 202.

  Bonaparte, 111.

  Brabant, General, 311.

  British Army, first order to mobilize issued, 32;
    gallantry and skill of the, at the opening of the campaign, 27;
    officers' "stupidity," Captain Mahan's striking question on it, 201.

  British Columbia and the war, 77.

  British Cabinet decides to send 2,000 men to Natal, 29.

  British Navy and transport service, splendid tribute to, 86 _et seq._

  Buffalo River, 37, 40.

  Buller, General Sir Redvers, arrives at Cape Town to take
    chief command, 68;
    assumes the command in Natal, 195.

  Buluwayo, 11.

  Campaign, the, compared with that of 1881, 117;
    its enormous difficulties unforeseen by the British Government
      and people, 73;
    the question as to its future conduct at the time of General
      Buller's arrival, 132.

  Canada and the war, 75.

  Canadian Regiment, gallant conduct of the, at Paardeberg, 289.

  Cape, the, 4;
    seized by the British 1795, again in 1806, 5.

  Cape Police, the, and the defence of Kimberley, 137.

  Cape Route, the, may not be equal to carrying the traffic of the Suez
    Canal in war time, 100.

  Cattle and sheep the chief wealth of the Boer farmers, 8.

  Chamberlain, Mr. Joseph, 28;
    and the Colonies, 83.

  Clark, Rear-Admiral Bouverie, great credit due to, as Director of
    Transports, 86.

  Clements, General, takes Colesberg, 176.

  Clery, Lieut.-Gen. Sir Francis, 195.

  Codrington, Colonel, at Modder River battle, 156.

  Colenso, effect of reverses at, 81;
    battle of, 220-232;
    occupied by Buller's army, February 19, 296.

  Colesberg taken by General Clements, 176.

  Colonial Government of Natal calls for Imperial aid, 29.

  Colonies, the, and the transports, 71;
    splendid response of the, 74 _et seq._

  "Communications dominate war," 73.

  Congestion at docks, wharves, and railroads in South Africa and its
    cause, 99.

  Country, its nature favours defence, 20.

  Cronje, General, and President Kruger, anecdote of, 122;
    recalled from Kimberley to oppose Methuen's advance, 147;
    leaves his entrenchments at Magersfontein, and commences his
      retreat towards Bloemfontein, 275;
    surrounded and captured at Paardeberg, 275-291

  De Aar Junction, strategic importance of, 11, 33, 104.

  "Defence exhausts quicker than offence," 44.

  Delagoa Bay, a thorn in the side of the British, 3.

  Denniss, Lieut., gallant conduct and death of--"not in vain," 245.

  Devonshire Regiment, the, "save Ladysmith," 247.

  Diaz, Bartholomew, 3.

  Driefontein, battle of, 304.

  Dundee, 22;
    battle of Talana Hill, near, 43.

  Dundonald, Lord, enters Ladysmith, 303.

  Durban, 9.

  Dutch settle at the Cape in 1652, 4.

  East London, 11.

  Elandslaagte, occupied by the Boers, 39, 47;
    battle of, described, 49-59.

  Enslin, 161.

  Federation, imperial, a most momentous fact in the world's history, 77.

  _Forte_, men of the cruiser, under Captain Jones, bombard
    kopjes near Colenso, 217.

  Free State, the, at the commencement of hostilities, 35.

  French, General, his first move against the enemy at Elandslaagte, 49;
    leaves Ladysmith by the last train out, 68;
    at Naauwport and Colesberg, 169, 173;
    tribute to his skill, 175, 176;
    relieves Kimberley, 266-274;
    joins in the pursuit of Cronje to Paardeberg, 275.

  French settlers at the Cape, 1686, 4.

  Frere, Buller concentrates at, 216.

  "Front attack a desperate business," 59.

  Gama, Vasco da, 3.

  Gatacre, General, and the surprise at Stormberg, 171.

  Glencoe, 22, 30, 38.

  Graspan, 144;
    battle of, 150-152.

  Great Britain unprepared and unwilling for war, 31;
    no other nation has or will have such colonial responsibilities
      and experience, 91.

  Great Trek, the, 5.

  Hex River Pass, 26.

  Highland Brigade, the, at Magersfontein, 164-168.

  Hildyard, General, attacks Beacon Hill, 208.

  Hlangwane occupied by Buller's army, February 19, 294.

  Horse-sickness, 13, 97.

  Horses and mules, enormous numbers imported for the war in South
    Africa, 98.

  Imperial Federation, the dream of, converted into "a concrete and most
    pregnant fact" by Paul Kruger's Ultimatum, 74;
    "A most momentous fact in the World's History," 77.

  Imperial Government, the, and the colonies, 76, 80.

  Imperial Light Horse, the, General White's tribute to, 242.

  India, despatch of troops from, 30;
    arrival of the first transports from, 35, 84.

  Johannesburg, 11;
    occupied by Lord Roberts, May 31, 314.

  Jones, Digby, Lieutenant, gallant conduct and death of--"not in
    vain," 245.

  Jones, Captain, of the cruiser _Forte_, at Colenso, 217.

  Joubert, General, of French descent, 4;
    reports engagement at Dundee, 39;
    attacks Ladysmith, November 9, 195;
    Boer estimate of, 197.

  Kekewich, Lieut.-Col., and the defence of Kimberley, 136-141.

  Kimberley, 33, 106;
    its defence, 136-141;
    relief of, by General French, 266.

  Kitchener, General Lord, arrives with Lord Roberts at Cape Town,
    January 10, 1900, 232;
    fights a succession of rearguard actions with Cronje, 275 _et seq._

  Klip River, the, 20.

  Koch, General, 39;
    occupies Elandslaagte, 48.

  Koorn Spruit, reverse at, 313.

  Kruger, President, 28;
    his ultimatum converts the dream of Imperial Federation into
      a "most pregnant fact," 74;
    anecdote of his "roaring" and "bellowing," 122;
    and Joubert, 196.

  Ladysmith, 15, 20, 22;
    causes which led to its investment, 27;
    Sir George White takes command at, 36;
    all communications with, cut off November 2, 67;
    decisive part played by, in the campaign, 111;
    importance of its tenure on the events of the campaign, 178;
    siege of, 192 _et seq._;
    successful sorties by the British against Gun Hill and Surprise
      Hill, 215;
    Boer attack on Cæsar's Camp and Wagon Hill, 239;
    relief of, by General Buller, 303.

  Lambton, Captain, and the naval guns, 190.

  Landman's Drift, 40.

  Macdonald, General Hector, 268;
    at Paardeberg, 289.

  Mafeking, 33, 106;
    heroic endurance, 112;
    importance of its defence, 123;
    Kruger refuses to allow Cronje to storm it, 122.

  Magersfontein, 81;
    battle of, 162-167.

  Majuba Day, Cronje surrenders on, 289.

  Majuba Hill, 18, 22.

  Methuen, General Lord, appointed commander of the British corps at
      Orange River bridge, 109;
    and the battle of Belmont, 148-150;
    and the battle of Graspan, 150-152;
    and Modder River battle, 152-161;
    and the battle of Magersfontein, 162-167.

  Meyer, Commandant Lucas, 39.

  Milner, Sir Alfred, 28.

  Modder River, battle of, 152-161.

  Modern arms, power of, greatly exaggerated, 159, 161.

  Mooi River, the, 19.

  Naauwport Junction, 33, 104.

  Napoleon, 184, 186.

  Natal, 9;
    the rivers of, 21;
    opening of the campaign in, 28;
    campaign from the investment of Ladysmith through the battle of
      Colenso, 177 _et seq._

  Naval brigade with guns from the _Powerful_ gets into
    Ladysmith, 66.

  Nelson's dictum on "five minutes of delay," 58, 130.

  Newcastle occupied by the Boers 38.

  New Zealand and the war, 75.

  Nicholson's Nek, the disaster at 63-65.

  Orange Free State, its neutrality possibly more dangerous to the
    British than its hostility, 14.

  Orange River, strategic importance of the, 113.

  Origin of the two Boer states, 6.

  Over-sea transport of troops, &c., English system described, 92.

  Paardeberg, 14, 20;
    Cronje's fight and surrender at, 281-221.

  Park, Colonel, gallant conduct of, 246.

  Physical conditions of South Africa, 6.

  Pieter's Hill, battle of, 302.

  Plevna, 187.

  Port Elizabeth, 11.

  Portuguese East Africa, 3.

  Powell, Colonel Baden-, and Kruger, 122.

  _Powerful_, naval brigade from the cruiser, reaches Ladysmith with
  long-range guns "in the nick of time," 65.

  Pretoria, 11;
    occupied by Lord Roberts June 5, 314.

  Reddersburg, reverse at, Reitz, Secretary, anecdote of, 121.

  "Reverses always to be expected in war," 313.

  Rhodesia, 11.

  Rietfontein, White's action at, 60.

  Roberts, General Lord, 15;
    leaves England December 23, arrives at Cape Town January 10, 232;
    arrives at Modder Camp February 9, 267;
    enters Bloemfontein March 13, 305;
    occupies Johannesburg, 314;
    occupies Pretoria June 4, 314.

  Scott, Captain Percy, and the naval brigade guns, 67.

  Smith's Nek, 40.

  South African colonies, the, and the war, 83;
    seaports, importance of to British, 9.

  Spion Kop, battle of, 249-265.

  Springfontein, 11, 12.

  Spytfontein, 164.

  Steevens' description of the retreat of the Dundee column, 60;
    quoted, 103, 115, 118.

  Stormberg, 33, 104;
    British reverse at, 168-172.

  "Stupidity" of British officers, "where has it placed Great Britain
    among the nations of the earth?" 201.

  Suez Canal, 2;
    traffic of the, in war time, a warning, 100.

  Symons, General Sir Penn, his views as to the force needed, 29;
    takes command at Dundee, 36;
    wounded, 44;
    tribute to, 57;
    death of, 63, 69.

  Talana Hill described, 40;
    assault of by British, 43;
    the battle of, 43.

  Temper, the, which wins in war, 128.

  Transports and the colonies, 71;
    British arrangements, "a triumph of organisation," 86.

  Transvaal, the, imports wheat from Australia;
    poorness of the country in all but gold, 16;
    had for some years prepared for war, 35.

  Tugela River, the, 19;
    Buller's first attempt to pass the, 219;
    passage of the, by Buller's army and capture of Pieter's Hill, 300.

  Ultimatum presented by the Transvaal Government, 34, 35.

  United Kingdom's, the, effort, gigantic, unprecedented and unsurpassed
    in its success in military history, 85.

  United States, expansion of the, and Imperial Federation "secondary in
    importance to nothing contemporaneous," 80.

  Vaal Krantz, battle of, 264.

  Volunteers, the Natal Volunteers called out, 31.

  War, theatre of the, described, 1-28;
    was not desired by the British, 31;
    initiated by the Transvaal at 5 P.M., October 11, 1899, 34;
    effect of the, in uniting the Empire, 75.

  Warren, Lieut.-General Sir Charles, and Spion Kop, 249-265.

  Wauchope, General, killed at Magersfontein, 164-168.

  Weapons, modern, effect of, perhaps over-estimated, 59.

  Wessels at Kimberley, 124.

  Western frontier, the, 102.

  White, General Sir George, takes the Natal command, 31;
    takes command at Ladysmith, 36;
    tribute to, 69;
    gazetted Governor of Gibraltar, 103;
    and the siege of Ladysmith, 191.

  Wilkinson, Spencer, quoted, 69.

  Yule, General, succeeds General Symons, 46, 57;
    his famous retreat, 59.

  Zandspruit, 37.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Story of the War in South Africa - 1899-1900" ***

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