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Title: Lessons of the War - Being Comments from Week to Week to the Relief of Ladysmith
Author: Wilkinson, Spenser, 1853-1937
Language: English
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Being Comments from Week to Week to the Relief of Ladysmith



Archibald Constable & Company
Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company.



The history of a war cannot be properly written until long after its
close, for such a work must be based upon a close study of the military
correspondence of the generals and upon the best records, to be had of
the doings of both sides. Nor can the tactical lessons of a war be fully
set forth until detailed and authoritative accounts of the battles are

But for the nation the lessons of this war are not obscure, at any rate
not to those whose occupations have led them to indulge in any close
study of war.

Since the middle of December I have written a daily introduction to the
telegrams for one of the morning papers. Before I contemplated that work
I had undertaken for my friend Mr. Locker, the Editor of _The London
Letter_, to write a weekly review of the war.

Many requests have been made to me by publishers for a volume on the
history of the war, with which, for the reasons given above, it is
impossible at present to comply; but to the proposal of my old friends,
Messrs. Archibald Constable and Co., to reprint my weekly reviews from
_The London Letter_, the same objections do not hold.

In revising the articles, I have found but few alterations necessary.
My views have not changed, and to make the details of the battles
accurate would hardly be practicable without more information than is
likely to be at hand until after the return of the troops.


March 9th, 1900

























The next six weeks will be an anxious time for the British Empire. The
war which begins as I write between three and four on Wednesday
afternoon, October 11th, 1899, is a conflict for supremacy in South
Africa between the Boer States, their aiders and abettors, and the
British Empire. In point of resources the British Empire is so
incomparably stronger than the Boer States that there ought to be no
possibility of doubt about the issue. But the Boer States with all their
resources are actually in the theatre of war, which is, separated by the
wide oceans from all the sources of British power, from Great Britain,
from India, from the Australian and Canadian colonies. The
reinforcements ordered on September 8th have not yet all arrived,
though the last transports are due to arrive during the next four or
five days. After that no further reinforcements can be expected for a
month, so that during the next few weeks the whole strength of the
Boers, so far as it is available at all, can be employed against a mere
fragment of the British power. To the gravity of this situation it would
be folly to shut our eyes. It contains the possibility of disaster,
though what the consequences of disaster now would involve must for the
present be left unsaid. Yet it may be well to say one word on the origin
of the unpleasant situation which exists, in order to prevent needless
misgivings in case the first news should not be as favourable as we all
hope. There is no sign of any mistake or neglect in the military
department of the Army. The quantity and character of the force required
to bring the war to a successful issue has been most carefully estimated
in advance; every preparation which forethought can suggest has been
thought out, so that the moment the word was given by the supreme
authority, the Cabinet, the mobilisation and despatch of the forces
could begin and proceed without a hitch. The Army was never in better
condition either as regards the zeal and skill of its officers from the
highest to the lowest, the training and discipline of the men, or the
organisation of all branches of the service. Nor is the present
condition of the Army good merely by comparison with what it was twenty
years ago. A very high standard has been attained, and those who have
watched the Army continuously for many years feel confident that all
ranks and all arms will do their duty. The present situation, in which
the Boers start favourably handicapped for five weeks certain, is the
foreseen consequence of the decision of the Cabinet to postpone the
measures necessary for the defence of the British colonies and for
attack upon the Boer States. This decision is not attributable to
imperfect information. It was regarded as certain so long ago as
December last, by those in a position to give the best forecast, that
the Boers of both States meant war with the object of establishing Boer
supremacy. The Cabinet, therefore, has knowingly and deliberately taken
upon itself the responsibility for whatever risks are now run. In this
deliberate decision of the Cabinet lies the best ground for hoping that
the risks are not so great as they seem.

The two Boer Republics are well supplied with money, arms, and
ammunition, and I believe have collected large stores of supplies. Their
armies consist of their burghers, with a small nucleus of professional
artillery, officers, and men. The total number of burghers of both
States is about fifty thousand, and that number is swollen by the
addition of non-British Uitlanders who have been induced to take arms by
the offer of burghership. The two States are bound by treaty to stand or
fall together, and the treaty gives the Commander-in-Chief of both
armies to the Transvaal Commander-in-Chief, who is however, bound to
consult his subordinate colleague of the Orange Free State. The whole of
the fifty thousand burghers cannot take the field. Some must remain to
watch the native population, which far outnumbers the burghers and is
not well affected. Some must be kept to watch the Basutos, who are
anxious to raid the Free State, and there will be deductions for sick
and absentees as well as for the necessary duties of civil
administration. The forts of Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Bloemfontein
require permanent garrisons. In the absence of the accurate data
obtainable in the case of an army regularly organised into tactical and
administrative units, the most various estimates are current of the
force that the two States can put into the field as a mobile army
available for attack as well as for defence. I think thirty-five
thousand men a safer estimate than twenty-five thousand. The Boers are
fighting for their political existence, which to their minds is
identical with their monopoly of political rights, and therefore their
States will and must exert themselves to the uttermost. This view is
confirmed by the action of the British military authorities, who
estimate the British force necessary to disarm the Boer States at over
seventy thousand men, a number which would seem disproportionate to a
Boer field force of only twenty-five thousand. The British forces now in
South Africa are in two separate groups. In Natal Sir George White has
some ten thousand regular troops and two thousand volunteers, the
regulars being eight or nine infantry battalions, four regiments of
cavalry, six field batteries, and a mounted battery. He appears to have
no horse artillery. In the Cape Colony there are seven British
battalions and, either landed or on passage, three field batteries. A
part of this force is scattered in small garrisons of half a battalion
each at points on the railways leading to the Free State--Burghersdrop,
Naauwpoort, and Kimberley. At Mafeking Colonel Baden-Powell has raised a
local force and has fortified the place as well as its resources
permit. A force of Rhodesian volunteers is moving from Buluwayo towards
Tuli, on the northern border of the Transvaal. There are volunteer corps
in the Cape Colony with a total of some seven thousand men, but it is
not clear whether the Schreiner Ministry, whose sympathies with the
Boers are undisguised, has not prevented the effective arming of these

The reports of the distribution of the Boer forces on the frontiers must
be taken with caution. Apparently there are preparations for the attack
of Mafeking and of Kimberley, and it is open for the Boers to bring
against either or both of these places forces largely outnumbering their
defenders. Both places are prepared for defence against ordinary field
forces. The actions at these places cannot very greatly affect the
general result. Their nearness to the frontier makes it likely that the
first engagements will take place on this border. On the other side of
the theatre of war the Boers may be expected to invade Natal and to
attack Sir George White, whose forces a few days ago were divided
between positions near Ladysmith and Glencoe, places nearly thirty-five
miles apart. The bulk of the Boer forces are deployed on two sides of
the angle formed by the Natal border, where it meets the frontiers of
the Transvaal and of the Free State. From the Free State border
Ladysmith is about twenty-five miles distant in a straight line, and
from the Transvaal border near Vryheid to Ladysmith is about twice that
distance. If the Boers move on Thursday morning they would be able
easily to collect their whole force at Ladysmith on Sunday morning,
supposing the country contained no British troops. By Sunday, therefore,
the Boer commander, if he knows his business, ought to be able to attack
Sir George White with a force outnumbering the British by something like
two to one.

If I were a Cabinet Minister I should not sleep for the next few days,
but as an irresponsible citizen I trust that the Boers will be shocked
to find how much better the British soldier shoots in 1899 than he did
in 1881.


_October 18th_, 1899

When the Boers sent their ultimatum they knew that fifty thousand
British troops were under orders for South Africa, and that for six
weeks the British forces in the theatre of war could not be
substantially increased. As they were of opinion that no settlement of
the dispute satisfactory to England could possibly be satisfactory to
themselves they had resolved upon fighting. If we assume, as we are
bound to do, that they had really faced the situation and thought it
out, they must have had in their minds some course of action by which if
they should begin the war on October 11th they would be likely to gain
their end: the recognition of the sovereignty of the Transvaal. They
could hardly expect to disarm the British Empire and dictate peace, but
they might hope to make the occupation of their country so difficult
that Great Britain would be tired of the effort before the moment of
success. The Boer defence taken altogether could hope to do no more than
to gain time, during which some outside embarrassment might cripple
Great Britain; there might be a rising at the Cape, or some other Power
might interfere.

If before the arrival of Sir Redvers Buller and his men the Boers could
destroy a considerable fraction of the British forces now in South
Africa, their chance of prolonging the struggle would be greatly
improved. These forces were in two groups. There was the small army of
Sir George White in Natal, something more than fifteen thousand men, and
there were the detached parties holding points on the colonial railway
system, Naauwport, De Aar, Orange River, Kimberley and Mafeking. These
detachments, however, are largely made up of local levies, and the total
number of British troops among them can hardly amount to three
thousand. The whole set might be captured or otherwise swept from the
board without any material improvement in the Boer position. Sir Redvers
Buller is not tied to the line of railway which most of the detachments
guard, and the disappearance both of the railway and of its protectors
would be merely a temporary inconvenience to the British. But if during
the six weeks' respite it were possible to destroy Sir George White's
force the position would be very substantially changed. The confidence
of the Boers would be so increased as to add greatly to their fighting
power, the difficulties of Sir Redvers Buller would be multiplied, the
probability of outside intervention might be brought nearer, and the
Army of invasion to be eventually resisted would be weaker by something
like a quarter. For these reasons I think Sir George White's force 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. That was the bird's-eye view of the whole situation a week ago,
and it still holds good. The week's news does not enable us to judge
whether the Boers have grasped it. You can never be too strong at the
decisive point, and a first-rate general never lets a single man go away
from his main force except for a necessary object important enough to be
worth the risk of a great failure. The capture of Mafeking, of
Kimberley, and even of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, would not compensate the Boers
for failure in Natal. Neither Colonel Baden-Powell nor Colonel Kekewich
would be likely to make a serious inroad into Boer territory. I should
therefore have expected the Boers merely to watch these places with
parties hardly larger than patrols and to have thrown all their energy
into a determined attack on Sir George White. But they seem to have sent
considerable bodies, in each case several thousand men, against both
Mafeking and Kimberley. This proves either that they have a
superabundance of force at their disposal or that they have failed to
grip the situation and to concentrate their minds, their will, and their
troops upon the key of the whole position. I believe the latter to be
the true interpretation.

If the cardinal principle is to put all your strength into the decisive
blow, its corollary is that you should deliver the blow as soon as you
can, for in war time is as precious as lives. Here again it is not easy
to judge whether the Boer Commander-in-Chief is fulfilling his mission.
When the ultimatum expired his forces were spread along the border line
of the Free State and the Transvaal, so that a forward movement would
concentrate them in the northern triangle of Natal. The advance has not
been resisted, and at the end of a week the Transvaal wing of the
combined army has reached a point a few miles north of Glencoe, while
the bulk of the Free State wing is still behind the passes. The movement
has not been rapid, but as the ground is difficult--marches through a
mountainous country and in bad weather always take incomparably longer
than is expected--the delay may be due not to lack of energy but to the
inevitable friction of movement. The mere lapse of time throws no light
on the Boer plan, for though sound strategy counsels rapidity in the
decisive blow, rapidity is a relative term, the pace varying with the
Army, the country, and the weather.

Sir George White's object is not merely to make the time pass until Sir
Redvers Buller's forces come upon the scene. He has also to prevent the
Boers from gaining any great advantage, moral or material. Time could be
gained by a gradual retreat, but that would raise the courage of the
Boer party, and depress the spirits of the British. Accordingly Sir
George White may be expected to take the first opportunity of showing
the Boers that his men are fighters, but he will avoid an engagement
such as might commit a fraction of his force against the Boer main body.
The detachment which was a few days ago near Glencoe may be expected, as
the Boer advance continues, to act as a rear guard, of which the
business is to delay the enemy without running too great a risk of being
itself cut off, or as an advance guard, which is to be reinforced so
soon as the general drift of the Boer movements has been made out. The
next few days can hardly pass without an engagement in this quarter of
Natal, and the first serious engagement will throw a flood of light upon
the aims of both generals and upon the quality of the troops of both
sides. Meantime the incidents of last week, the wreck of the armoured
train, and the attacks which have probably been made upon Mafeking and
Kimberley, are of minor importance.

A very serious piece of news, if it should be confirmed, is that the
Basutos have begun to attack the Free State. The British authorities
have exerted themselves to the utmost to prevent this and to keep the
Kaffir population quiet. The mere fact of the existence all over South
Africa of a Kaffir population outnumbering Boers and British together
made it an imperative duty of both white races to come to a peaceful
settlement. This was as well known to the Boers as to the British, and
forms an essential factor in any judgment on the action which has caused
and precipitated the conflict.


_October 25th_, 1899

The Boer Commander-in-Chief has beyond doubt grasped the situation. His
total force seems to be larger than was usually expected and to exceed
my own rough estimate of thirty-five thousand men, the balance to his
advantage being due probably to the British efforts to keep the Basutos
from attacking the Free State. Thus the Boers have been able to overrun
their western and southern borders in force sufficient to make a
pretence of occupying a large extent of territory in which only the
important posts specially prepared by the British for defence continue
to hold out. Of these posts, however, Mafeking and Kimberley are as yet
the only ones that have been attacked or threatened.

For operations in the northern corner of Natal the Boer commander was
able to collect some thirty thousand men, who on the eve of hostilities
were posted in separate columns upon the various routes leading from the
Free State and from the Transvaal into the triangle of northern Natal.
This triangle is like a letter _A_, the cross-stroke being the range of
hills known as the Biggarsberg, which is intersected near the centre on
a north and south line by the head-stream of the Waschbank River forming
a pass through which run the railway and the Dundee-Ladysmith road.
North of the Biggarsberg the gates of the frontier are Muller's Pass,
Botha's Pass, the Charlestown road, Wool's Drift, and De Jager's Drift,
of which Landman's Drift is a wicket-gate. At each of these points,
except perhaps Muller's Drift, of which I have seen no specific mention,
the Boers had a column waiting. South of the Biggarsberg are on the
east Rorke's Drift, and on the west the passes of Ollivier's Hoek,
Bezuidenhout, Tintwa, Van Reenen, De Beers, Bramkock, and Collins. At
all these points there were Boer gatherings, though on the west the Free
Staters, having their headquarters at Albertina, were likely to put
their main column on the road leading through Van Reenen's Pass to

By Thursday morning the Boer advance had developed. The columns from
Botha's Pass, Charlestown, and Wool's Drift had advanced through
Newcastle, where they had converged, and moved south along the main
road. The Landman's Drift column had moved towards Dundee, the Rorke's
Drift column had pushed some distance towards the west, and the forces
from Albertina had showed the heads of their columns on the Natal side
of the passes.

The British force was divided between Dundee and Ladysmith. The
Biggarsberg range, the cross-line of the A, is about fifty miles long.
It is traversed from north to south by three passes. In the centre runs
the railway through a defile. Twelve miles to the west of the railway
runs the direct Newcastle-Ladysmith road; eight miles to the east runs
the road Newcastle-Dannhauser-Dundee-Helpmakaar. A third road runs from
De Jager's Drift through Dundee to Glencoe and thence follows the
railway to Ladysmith. Dundee is about five miles from Glencoe on a spur
of the Biggarsberg range. Between the two places by the Craigie Burn was
the camp of Sir Penn Symons, who had under him the eighth brigade (four
battalions), three batteries, the 18th Hussars, and a portion of the
Natal Mounted Volunteers, in all about four thousand men. Thirty-five
miles away at Ladysmith, the junction of the Natal and Free State
railways, as well as of the Natal and Free State road systems, Sir
George White had a larger force, the seventh brigade, three field
batteries, a mountain battery, the Natal battery, two or three cavalry
regiments, the newly-raised Imperial Light Horse, and some Natal
Mounted Volunteers. It is not clear whether there were more infantry
battalions and it seems probable that one battalion and perhaps a
battery were at Pietermaritzburg. The Ladysmith force was at least six
thousand five hundred strong, and its total may have been as high as
eight thousand.

The Boer plan was dictated by the configuration of the frontier and of
the obstacles and communications in Northern Natal. The various columns
to the north of the Biggarsberg had only to move forward in order to
effect their junction on the Newcastle-Dundee road, and their advance
southwards on that road would enable them at Dundee to meet the column
from Landman's Drift. The movement, if well timed, must lead to an
enveloping attack upon Sir Penn Symons, whose brigade would thus have to
resist an assault delivered in the most dangerous form by a force of
twenty thousand men. From the point of view of the Boer
Commander-in-Chief, the danger was that the Glencoe and Dundee force
should escape his blow by retiring to Ladysmith, or should be reinforced
by the bulk of the Ladysmith force before his own combined blow could be
delivered. It was essential for him to keep Sir George White at
Ladysmith and also to cut the communications between Glencoe and
Ladysmith. Accordingly, on Wednesday, the 18th, the Free State forces
from Albertina, the heads of whose columns had been shown on Tuesday,
moved forward towards Acton Homes and Bester's Station, and led Sir
George White to hope for the opportunity to strike a blow at them on
Thursday, the 18th. At the same time a detachment from the main column
was pushed on southwards, and was able on Thursday, while Sir George
White was watching the Free State columns, to reach the
Glencoe-Ladysmith line near Elandslaagte, to break it up, and to take
position to check any northward movement from Ladysmith. Everything was
thus ready for the blow to be struck at Dundee, but by some want of
concert the combination was imperfect. On Friday morning the Landman's
Drift column, which had been reinforced during the previous days by a
part of the Newcastle column, was in position on the two hills to the
east of Dundee, and began shelling the British camp at long range. At
the same time the column from the north was within an easy march from
the British position. Sir Penn Symons decided promptly to attack the
Landman's Drift column and to check the northern column's advance. Three
battalions and a couple of batteries were devoted to the attack of the
Boer position, while a battalion and a battery were sent along the north
road to delay the approaching column. Both measures were successful. The
attack on the Boer position of Talana or Smith's Hill was a sample of
good tactical work, in which the three arms, or if mounted infantry may
be considered a special arm, the four arms, were alike judiciously and
boldly handled. The co-operation of rifle and gun, of foot and horse,
was well illustrated, and the Boer force was after a hard fight driven
from its position and pursued to the eastward. Unhappily, Sir Penn
Symons, who himself took charge of the fight, was mortally wounded at
the moment of victory, leaving the command of the force in the hands of
the brigadier, Lieut.-Colonel Yule. The northern Boer column seems to
have disappeared early in the day. Possibly only its advance guard was
within striking distance and had no orders to make an independent attack
on the British delaying force.

On Saturday morning Sir George White sent a small force of cavalry and
artillery to reconnoitre along the line of the interrupted railway. Some
two thousand Boers were found in position near Elandslaagte, and
accordingly during the day the British were reinforced by road and rail
from Ladysmith, until in the afternoon the Boer position could be
attacked by two battalions, three batteries, two cavalry regiments, and
a regiment and a half of mounted infantry--about three thousand five
hundred men. The Boers were completely crushed and a large number of
prisoners taken, including the commander and the commanding officer of
the German contingent. The British loss, however, as at Glencoe, was
heavy, especially in officers. The force returned on Sunday to

The British force at Dundee-Glencoe was thus still isolated, and until
now no detailed account of its movements has reached England. On
Saturday it was again attacked and, there is reason to believe, it again
repulsed a large Boer force, probably the main northern column. On
Sunday also the attack seems to have been renewed, this time apparently
by two columns, one of which may have been composed of Free State troops
from Muller's Pass. Either on Sunday or Monday General Yule determined
to withdraw from a position in which he could hardly hope without
destruction to resist the overwhelming numbers brought to bear against
him, especially as the Boer forces, either from the direction of
Muller's Pass or from Bester's Station, were threatening his line of
retreat by the Glencoe-Ladysmith road. Accordingly, leaving in hospital
at Dundee those of his wounded who could not be moved, he retired along
the Helpmakaar road, which he followed as far as Beith, about fourteen
miles from Dundee, and near there he bivouacked on Monday night. On
Tuesday he continued his march from Beith towards Ladysmith, expecting
to reach Sunday's River, about sixteen miles, by dark. Sir George White,
informed of this movement and of the presence of a strong Boer force to
the west of the Ladysmith-Glencoe road, set out on Tuesday morning to
interpose between this force and General Yule, and by delivering a smart
attack at Reitfontein was able for that day to cover the retreat of
General Yule's brigade.

The Boer Commander-in-Chief has thus, apparently, failed in his attempt
to crush one wing of the British force, and has accomplished no more
than bringing about its return to the main body, which must have been a
part of the original British plan, unless it was thought that a British
brigade was capable of defeating four times its own number of Boers.

The net result hitherto seems to be that the Boers have had the
strategical and the British the tactical advantage. The British troops
have proved their superiority; the Boers have shown that even against
troops of better training, spirit, and discipline, numbers must tell,
especially if directed according to a sound though not always
perfectly-executed plan.


_November 1st_, 1899

The first week's campaign, dimly seen through scanty information, gives
a peculiar impression of the two armies. The British force seems like an
athlete in fine training but without an idea except that of
self-preservation, while the Boer army resembles a burly labourer,
clumsy in his movements, but knowing very well what he wants. The
British force at first is divided upon a front of forty miles, each of
its halves looking away from the other, so that there is little
attention to the weak point of such a front, the communication between
its parts. The first event is the cutting of this communication (on the
19th), and not until the 21st is there an attempt to clear it, and that
attempt, though it leads to a severe blow against the interposing Boer
force (Elandslaagte), is not successful, for the communication has
eventually to be sought on another route behind the direct one. The Boer
idea is, after severing the connection between the British halves, to
crush the weaker Dundee portion; but the execution is imperfect, so that
Sir Penn Symons has the opportunity, which he seizes instantly, to
defeat and drive off one of the columns before the other can assist it.
His successor, General Yule, the heir to his design, is no sooner
convinced by this move to Glencoe that his line of junction with
Ladysmith is threatened with attack by a great superiority than he sets
out by the nearest way still open to him to rejoin the main body. The
Ladysmith force covers this march by a shielding movement (Reitfontein)
and the junction of the two British halves is effected. From Dundee to
Ladysmith is forty miles, and General Joubert unopposed would have
covered the distance in three days. He was before Dundee on Saturday,
the 21st, and there was no sign of him before Ladysmith until Saturday,
the 28th, or Sunday, the 29th. The original division of the British
force and the Battle of Glencoe thus produced a delay of several days in
the Boer advance: more could not have been expected from it. This first
impression ought to be supplemented by a consideration of Sir George
White's peculiarly difficult position, on which I will venture a word or

The Government, by its action in the first half of September, decided
that Sir George White must defend Natal for about five weeks[A] with
sixteen thousand men against the bulk of the Boer army, which was
likely to be double his own force. It was evidently expected that he
should hold his ground near Ladysmith and thereby cover Natal to the
south of the Tugela. This double task was quite disproportionate to his
force. If Ladysmith had been a fortress, secure for a month or two
against assault, and able to take care of itself, the field force using
it as a base could no doubt have covered Natal. But in the absence of a
strong place there were only two ways by which a small force could delay
the Boer invasion. The force might let itself be invested and thereby
hold a proportion of the Boer army, leaving the balance to raid where it
could, or the campaign must be conducted as a retreat from position to
position. For a general with ten thousand men and only two hundred miles
of ground behind him to carry on a retreat in the face of a force double
his own so as to make it last five, weeks and to incur no disaster would
be a creditable achievement. Sir John Moore is thought to have shown
judgment and character by his decision to retreat before a greatly
superior force, commanded it is true by Napoleon himself. Moore when he
decided to retreat was about as far from Corunna as Dundee is from
Durban, and Moore's retreat took nineteen days. He had the sympathy if
not the effective help of the population, and was thought to have been
clever to get out of the trap laid for him. Sir George White seems to
have been expected as a matter of course to resist the Boer army, to
prevent the overrunning of Natal by the Boers, and to preserve his own
force from the beginning of October to the middle of November.[B] The
Government expected the Boers to attack as soon as they should hear of
the calling out of the Reserves, that being the reason why the Reserves
were not called out earlier. Therefore Sir George White's campaign was
timed to last from October 9th to November 15th (December 15th). I
conclude that the force to be given to Sir George White was fixed by
Lord Lansdowne at haphazard, and that the calculations of the military
department were put on one side, this unbusinesslike way of playing with
National affairs and with soldier's lives being veiled from the
Secretary of State's mind by the phrase, "political reasons." But the
"political reason" for exposing a Nation's troops to unreasonable risks
and to needless loss must be bad reason and bad policy. Mr. Wyndham has
had the courage to assert that there was no haphazard, that his chief
knew quite well what he was doing, and that "the policy which the
Government adopted was deliberately adopted with the fullest knowledge
of possible consequences." If these words in Mr. Wyndham's speech of
October 20th mean anything, they mean that Lord Lansdowne and Mr.
Wyndham intended Sir George White to be left for a month to fight
against double his number of Boers; that they looked calmly forward to
the terrible losses and all the risks inseparable from such conditions.
That being the case, it seems to me that it is Mr. Wyndham's duty, and
if he fails, Lord Lansdowne's duty, to tell the country plainly whether
in that deliberate resolve Lord Wolseley was a partner or an overruled
protester. Ministers have a higher duty than that to their party. The
Nation has as much confidence in Lord Rosebery as in Lord Salisbury and
the difference in principle between the two men is a vanishing quantity.
A change of ministry would be an inconvenience, but no more. But if the
public comes to believe, what I am sure is untrue, that the military
department at the War Office has blundered, the consequences will be so
grave that I hardly care to use the word which would describe them.

I accept the maxim that it is no use crying over spilt milk or even over
spilt blood, but the maxim does not hold when the men whose decision
seems inexplicable are in a position to repeat it on a grander scale.
The temper of the Boers as early as June left no doubt in any South
African mind that if equality of rights and British supremacy were to
be secured it would have to be by the sword. The Government alone among
those who cared for the Empire failed to realise this in time. That has
been admitted. The excess of hope for peace has been condoned and is
being atoned for on the battlefields of Natal. But to-day the temper of
Europe leaves no room for doubt that, in case of a serious reverse in
Natal, Europe if it can will interfere. Have Mr. Goschen and Lord
Lansdowne worked out that problem, or is there to be a repetition in the
case of the continental Powers--an adversary very different from the
Boers--of patience, postponement, and haphazard? It is not the situation
in South Africa that gives its gravity to the present aspect of things,
but the situation in Europe. Upon the next fortnight's fighting in Natal
may turn the fate not merely of Natal and of South Africa, but of the
British Empire. That this must be the case was plain enough at
Christmas, and has been said over and over again. Yet this was the
crisis which was met by sending to the decisive point a reinforcement
of ten thousand men to do the best they could along with the six
thousand already there during a five weeks' campaign.

After reconnaissance on Friday and Saturday (October 27th-8th) Sir
George White, finding a large Boer force in front of him at Ladysmith,
determined to hit out on Monday. Suppose Ladysmith to be the centre of a
compass card, the Boers were spread across the radii from N. to E. Sir
George meaning to clear the Boers from a position near N.E. prepared to
move forward towards N.E. and towards E., sending in each direction
about a brigade of infantry and a brigade division of field artillery.
He sent two battalions and a mounted battery towards N. The party sent
to N. started after dark on Sunday; the other parties, making ready in
the night, set forward at dawn. There was no enemy in position at N.E.
The force sent towards E. pushed back a Boer force, which retreated only
to enable a second Boer force to take the British E. column in
flank--apparently its left flank. The N.E. column had to be brought up
to cover the retirement of the E. column. When these two columns
returned to Ladysmith the N. column was still out. Long after dark Sir
George White learned that the N. column, which had lost its battery and
its reserve rifle ammunition by a stampede of the mules, had been
surrounded by a far stronger Boer force, had held its ground until the
last cartridge was gone, and that then the survivors had accepted
quarter and surrendered.

Sir George White manfully takes upon himself the blame for this
misfortune. His portentous blunders were in sending out the party to a
distance and in taking no steps to keep in communication with it or to
support it. The detachment of a small party to a distant point is a
habit of Indian warfare. It is out of place against an enemy of European
race, for the detachment is sure to be destroyed if the enemy has a
capable commander. Every man in the Ladysmith force will have felt on
Tuesday that the commander had make mistakes which he ought not to have
made. The question is what effect this consciousness will have upon the
spirits of the force.

Sir George White was reinforced before and during the action, a
battalion of rifles having arrived in the morning and a party of
bluejackets with heavy quick-firers coming up during the day. Further
reinforcements were sent towards him from the squadron after the action,
so that his force is still about sixteen thousand. If he does not elect
to retreat, a course which might demoralise the troops, he may well be
able to defend Ladysmith until relieved; but the first business of the
troops now on their way out will be to relieve him, and until that has
been arranged for, it is to be feared that Mafeking and Kimberley must


[Footnote A: Thirteen weeks, as we now (March) know from the official

[Footnote B: I should have said December.]


_November 8th_, 1899

The war is doing us good. It is giving us the beginnings of political
education in a department that has been utterly neglected. It may be
worth while to review the whole situation of to-day, and to ask how the
man in the street can lend a helping hand.

The British Government, primarily representing the people of Great
Britain, has for many years been an affair of party; the dominant idea
of the party leaders has been when out of office to get in, and when in
to stay. The way to manage this was to cajole the man in the street, and
as he was a busy man getting his living and not much concerned about
watching the whole globe, the party leaders made bids for his support;
votes to be distributed on the principle that one man was as good as
another; taxation to be made light for him, and, consequently, as the
money had to be found, heavy for some one else. Each party offered what
it sincerely believed to be for the general good; but the kind of
general good thought of was the personal improvement or comfort of each
individual or of a mass of individuals. While this was going on in
British towns and counties, something was happening on the neglected
globe. There was a large part of the British Nation living on other
continents without votes in any British town or county, yet looking to
the British Government to champion something they loved, which has come
to be called the Empire. There were also great nations emulating the
British in the notion that the world was their inheritance, and that
they would take possession of a fair share of it. Their quarrels had
driven them to perfect their armies and to build navies. Each of them
was annoyed to find that in the scramble for the heritage some one had
been before them. On the best plots the British flag was flying, yet
Great Britain had not much Army and was very careless about her Navy.
The strong powers began to elbow her a little. The British Government
was not disturbed by these hints from the globe. A Government made by a
Parliament in which every member represented a town or a county or a
scrap of a town or county, and in which no one represented the Nation,
no one the Empire, and no one the Globe, felt bound to keep its eye upon
towns and counties, the Opposition benches, and the next election. Why
should it stand up for the British outside, and why concern itself about
other Powers looking round the globe for claims to peg out? The
colonists who looked to the British Government for championship were
snubbed; the foreign Powers working for elbow-room were politely made
way for, or if they brushed against the British coat-sleeve and caused
an exclamation received a meek apology. This was the normal frame of
mind of British party leaders and ministers, from which they have never
quite emerged. They were asleep, dreaming of a parochial millennium.

But outside of cabinets there were a few men who used their eyes. Sir
Charles Dilke took a turn round the globe, and when he came back said
"Greater Britain." That was an idea, and ideas are like the plague--they
are catching. Sir John Seeley took a tour through the history of the
last three centuries, and said "Expansion of England"; that meant
continuity in the Nation's life not merely in space but in time.
Whatever the cause, a few years ago there set in an epidemic of fresh
ideas, tending to reveal the Nation as more than a crowd of individuals
and the Empire as the Nation's work and the Nation's cause. The
Government did all it could to resist the infection. Instead of standing
up for the Empire it was bent on passing measures in the sense of its
own party. It ran away from Russia, from France, and from Germany. But
the new ideas grew; every globetrotter became a Nationalist and an
Imperialist, and shed his party skin. Then came Fashoda, and Lord
Rosebery's action in that matter killed what was left of party.

The case of the British in South Africa cried aloud for British action.
But the Government was still hidebound in bad traditions, thinking that
democracy means the tail wagging the dog, not seeing that if the
statesman leads straight along the path of duty the Nation is sure to
follow him. Happily, a statesman was sent to Cape Town, probably because
the Cabinet hardly realised how big a man he was. Sir Alfred Milner
mastered his case, thought out his cause, and at the opportune moment
put it before the Government. The first result was the Bloemfontein
conference. There, with the prescience and the strength of a Cavour or a
Bismarck, Milner put the issue: either the minimum concession which will
secure the political equality of the two races or war. Kruger's
obstinate refusal of the concessions required showed plainly that it
would be war. There was only one possible way of averting war; if fifty
thousand men had been at once sent to South Africa, Kruger and his
people would have known where they were, and might have accepted
possible terms, those offered at Bloemfontein. The moment of the
breaking off of the conference was the crisis, and to appreciate men you
must watch them in a crisis. Mr. Balfour expressed his unbounded
confidence in Kruger's sweet reasonableness and in the justice of the
British cause; he could not believe there would be war. Mr. Chamberlain
entered into ambiguous negotiations, beginning in a way that made
everyone, especially Kruger, imagine that the Government would accept
less than the Bloemfontein minimum. Of preparing to coerce the Boers
there was no sign. The Boers began to get their forces in order. In
England big speeches were made; "hands" were "put to the plough"; but at
the end of July no military force was made ready. At length, when Natal
appealed for protection against the Boer army, ten thousand men were
ordered so as to bring up the garrison of the colony to some seventeen
thousand. After the ten thousand not another man was sent until October

The present situation is the necessary outcome of the Government's
action between the beginning of June and October 7th, when the orders
for calling out the Reserves and for mobilisation were issued. The
Cabinet's decisions involved that Sir George White with his small force
should have to bear the brunt of the Boer attack from the outbreak of
hostilities until the time when the Army Corps should be landed and
ready to move. That was at least five weeks[C] of which three have
elapsed, and in the three weeks Sir George White, after one or two
initial mishaps of no great consequence by themselves, is invested at
Ladysmith, while Mafeking and Kimberley are waiting for relief, and the
Free State Boers are invading the northern provinces of Cape Colony and
trying to enlist the doubtful Dutch farmers. This is not a pleasant
situation for the Nation that declares itself the paramount Power in
South Africa. Three questions may be discussed with regard to it: What
are the risks still run, what are the probabilities, and how can we help
to prevent such a situation from recurring?

To see what has been risked on the chance that the force under Sir
George White may hold its own we must look from the Boer side. The Boer
commander hopes, or ought to hope, to destroy Sir George White's force
before it can be relieved. He has a chance of succeeding in this, for an
investing force has with modern arms a great advantage over the force it
surrounds. The outside circle is so much larger than the inside one that
it can bring many more rifles into play; it exposes no flanks, and the
interior force cannot attack it without exposing one or both flanks.
With anything like equal skill and determination the surrounding force
is sure to win in time. But if the time is limited the surrounding force
must hurry the result by assaults, in which it loses the advantage of
the defensive. If Joubert and his men have the courage and determination
to make repeated assaults it may go hard with the defenders of
Ladysmith. But the defenders hitherto have had the counterbalancing
advantage of a superior artillery. I think it reasonable to expect that
with the better discipline of his force, its greater cohesion and
mobility and the high spirit which animates it, Sir George White will be
able to defy the Boers for many weeks. But suppose the unexpected to
happen, as it sometimes does in war, and Sir George White's resistance
to be overcome? Such a victory would have a tremendous effect upon the
hopes and spirits of the Boers. It would almost double the fighting
value of their army, and would probably bring to their side many of
their colonial kinsmen. Joubert would become more daring, and, if Sir
Redvers Buller had divided his force, would attack its nearest portion
with a prospect of success. The failure of Sir Redvers Buller would
then not be outside the bounds of possibility. What that would involve
there is no need to expound--the Empire would be in peril of its
existence. We may feel pretty sure that things will not come to such a
pass; that another week will show Sir George White well holding his own
and a part of the Army Corps preparing to move. Yet it would be prudent
to guard against accidents by sending further troops to the Cape. Ten
thousand men ordered now would be at Cape Town by the middle of
December; but every delay in ordering them will mean, in case they
should in December be wanted, a period of suspense like that through
which we are now passing.

The moral of the present situation seems to me to be that we should
scrutinise our political personages, noting which of them have betrayed
their inability to see what was happening and to look ahead, bringing
down their figures in our minds to their natural size, and exalting
those who have shown themselves equal to their tasks. The man in the
street might do well to consider whether the great departments of
Government, such as the War Office and the Army, should for ever be
entrusted to men who have not even a nodding acquaintance with the
business which their departments have to transact, the business called
War. Success in that as in other business depends on putting knowledge
in power.


[Footnote C: We now know that the time was thirteen weeks.]


_November 15th,_ 1899

October 11th saw the opening of hostilities, and of the first chapter of
the war, the conflict between Sir George White with sixteen thousand men
and General Joubert with something like double that number. The first
chapter had three sections: First, the unfortunate division of Sir
George White's force and the isolation of and unsuccessful attack upon
his right wing; secondly, the reunion of his wings at Ladysmith;
thirdly, the concentration of the Boers against the force at Ladysmith
and the surrounding or investment of Sir George White. This third
section is not yet ended, but the gathering of the forces at Cape Town
and at Port Natal points to its conclusion and to the opening of the
second chapter. The arrival of the first portion of the transport
flotilla is the only important change since last week.

I thought from the beginning that the division of Sir George White's
force was strategically unsound, and the position of Ladysmith a bad one
because it lent itself to investment. It is now known that the division
of forces and the decision to hold Ladysmith, even until it should be
turned and surrounded, was due not to strategical but to what are called
political considerations. The Government of Natal thought that if the
troops were withdrawn from Glencoe--Dundee, or the whole force
collected, say at Colenso instead of Ladysmith, the appearance of
retreat would have a bad effect on the natives, the Kaffirs, and perhaps
the Dutch farmers. Accordingly, out of deference to the view of the
local Government, the General consented to do his work in what he knew
to be the wrong way. This is a perfect specimen of the way in which wars
are "muddled"--I borrow the expression from Lord Rosebery--and it
deserves thinking over.

No popular delusion is more extraordinary and none more widespread than
the notion that there are two ways of looking at a war, one the military
aspect and the other the governmental or civil aspect, that both are
legitimate, and that, as the Government is above the general, in case of
a clash the military view must fall into the background. This notion is
quite wrong, and the more important the position of the men who have got
it into their heads, the more harm it does. There is only one right way
of looking at war, and that consists in seeing it as it is. If two men
both take a true view of an operation of war, they will agree, whether
they are both soldiers, both civilians, or one a soldier and the other a
civilian. It does not matter what you call their view, but, as a soldier
who knows his business ought to have true views about it, the proper
name for the true view is the military view. If the civil view is a
different one it must be wrong. In this case the belief that a retreat
from a position to which troops had been sent would have a bad effect
was no doubt founded on fact. But for that reason the troops ought not
to have been sent there until it was ascertained that the forward move
was consistent with the best plan of campaign. Some person other than
the general charged with the defence of Natal had been arranging his
troops for him without consulting him, and had done it badly. Then came
the question of moving them back, and the probable "bad effect" was
raised as a scarecrow. But the reply to that was that the bad effect of
retreat is not half so bad as the bad effect of defeat, or of the
embarrassments of a position which, being strategically wrong, may
involve mishaps.

When a civil government moves troops in connection with war it ought to
move them to the right places; that is according to sound strategy or
sound military principles. In short, whoever deals in war ought to
understand war. The reader may think that a commonplace, but in reality
it is like too many commonplaces--a truth that very important people
forget at critical moments. The first principle of action in war is to
have two men to one at the decisive point. How comes it, then, that for
six weeks Sir George White has to defend Natal with one against two?
Evidently the first principle has been violated. It came about exactly
in the same way as the putting one of Sir George White's brigades at
Dundee. The Government managed it; it was a fragment of the civil view
of war. How long, then, the reader may ask, should the civil view of war
be allowed scope and when should the military view be called in? Let me
be permitted to alter the labels and instead of "military view" to say
"view based upon knowledge"; and instead of "civil view" to say, "view
not based upon knowledge." I think that all dealings in war should be
guided by the view based upon knowledge and that the other view should
be for ever left out of account.

My unpopular belief that nobody should meddle with the management of a
war unless he understands it is, I admit, most uncomfortable, for as a
war is always managed by the Government I am obliged to think that every
Government ought to understand war. But in this country the Government
is entrusted to a Committee of Peers and Members of Parliament, none of
whom is supposed to be able to take a military view of war. If my belief
is right, a British Cabinet is very liable to take a civilian view, and
the consequences might be awkward. In fact they are awkward, as the
South African war up to date abundantly reveals.

The military view of war is that it consists in the employment of force
to compel an adversary to do your will. The employment of force is
required in the management of a Nation's affairs when the Nation has
quite made up its mind to have something done which another Nation or
State has made up its mind shall not be done. When there is this
point-blank conflict of wills, and neither side can give way, there must
be war; and the military view is that when you see war coming you should
get your troops into their places, because the first moves are the most
important, and a bad first move is very apt to lead to checkmate.

In the case of South Africa the true view was taken at the right time by
Sir Alfred Milner. He was instructed that Great Britain would take up
the Uitlander's cause, and sent to Bloemfontein to see whether President
Kruger was prepared for an equitable settlement. He proposed such a
settlement, and, as President Kruger declared the terms impossible, he
made it plain that if there were no settlement on such lines as he had
suggested, there must be war. That was the true view, and the moment
when the conference was broken off was the moment for Great Britain to
get her forces ready with all convenient speed. But Mr. Balfour on the
day when he heard the news took a civilian view; instead of looking the
war in the face he expressed the hope that President Kruger would change
his mind. That hope the Government cherished, as we now know, until the
end of the first week of September, when the Boer forces were so far on
in their preparations that Natal had been begging for protection. The
Government then sent ten thousand men, making the sixteen thousand of
Sir George White. Yet the Government at that time had before it the
military view that to compel the Boers to accept Great Britain's will
seventy thousand men would be required. Evidently, then, the sending of
the ten thousand arose not from the military view, but the civil view
that war is a disagreeable business, and that it is to be hoped there
will be none of it, or at any rate as little as possible.

The misfortunes in Natal will probably be repaired and the war in time
brought to its conclusion--the submission of the Boers to Great
Britain's will. But suppose the dispute had been with a great Power, and
that in such a case the military view had been shut out from the day the
negotiations began until the great Power was ready? The result must have
been disaster and defeat on a great scale. Disaster and defeat on a
great scale are as certain to come as the sun to rise to-morrow morning
unless the Government arranges to take the military view of war into its
midst. There will have to be a strategist in the Cabinet if the British
Empire is to be maintained. This is another unpopular view and is
hateful to all politicians, who declare that it is unconstitutional. But
it does not, in fact, involve any constitutional change, far less change
than has been made since 1895 at the instance of Mr. Balfour; and it
would be better to alter a little the system of managing the Nation's
affairs than to risk the overthrow of the Empire.


_November 22nd_, 1899

The six weeks of anxious waiting are over, and to-day the second chapter
of the war begins. On either side of the Boer States a division of Sir
Redvers Buller's force is now in touch with the enemy, and at either
point there may be a battle any day.

The small British forces sent out or organised on the spot before the
declaration of war have kept the enemy's principal forces occupied until
now, so that he has been unable to make any decisive use of the margin
of superiority which he possessed over and above what was needed to keep
the British detachments where they were. The resisting power of these
detachments is, however, not inexhaustible; they have kept at bay for a
considerable time forces much more numerous than themselves, and the
first move required of the fresh British forces is to take the pressure
off them and to combine with them. The centre of gravity is in Natal,
for there is the principal Boer army, probably two-thirds of the whole
Boer power, and there, too, a whole British division is invested. A
palpable success here for either side must go far to decide the issue of
the war.

General Joubert's force in Natal is so strong that while keeping his
grip upon Ladysmith, where Sir George White has not less than ten
thousand men, he has been able to move south with a considerable force,
perhaps fifteen thousand men, to oppose Sir C.F. Clery's advance. Sir
C.F. Clery has already at least seven, and possibly nine, strong
battalions, to which within a day or two three more will be added, and
perhaps as many as thirty-six guns, with parties of bluejackets and
various Natal levies. His interest is to delay battle until all his
force has come up. The advanced troops seem to be spread along the line
from Mooi River to Estcourt, and the Boer forces are facing them on a
long line to the east of the railway from a point beyond Estcourt to a
point below Mooi River. The Boers are on the flank from which their
attack would be most dangerous, and seem to aim at interposing between
the parts of Sir C.F. Clery's force, and at a convergent attack in
superior strength upon his advance guard at Estcourt.

I should have expected the advance parties of Sir C.F. Clery's force to
have fallen back as the Boers approached. The attempt to keep up the
connection between the parts of a concentrating force by means of the
railway strikes me as very dangerous from the moment that the enemy is
in the neighbourhood. The important thing for Sir C.F. Clery is not
whether his battle takes place twenty miles nearer to Ladysmith or
twenty miles farther away, but that it should be an unmistakable
victory, so that after it the Boer force engaged should be unable to
offer any further serious hindrance to his advance. To gain an end of
this kind a general should not merely bring up all the troops from the
rear, falling back for them if necessary, but should take care that none
can be cut off by the enemy in his front. A decisive victory by Sir C.F.
Clery or by Sir Redvers Duller, who may feel this action to be so
important as to justify his presence, would leave no doubt as to the
issue of the war. An indecisive battle would postpone indefinitely the
relief of Ladysmith and leave the future of the campaign in suspense.
Defeat would be disastrous, for it would probably involve the ultimate
loss of Sir George White's force. For these reasons I regard the battle
shortly to be fought in Natal as the first decisive action of the war,
and am astonished that a larger proportion of Sir Redvers Buller's force
has not been sent to take part in it.

The whole business of a commander-in-chief in war is to find out the
decisive point and to have the bulk of his forces there in time. If he
can do that on the half-dozen occasions which make the skeleton of a
war he has fulfilled his mission. He never need do anything else, for
all the rest can be done by his subordinates. Not every commander
fulfils this simple task because not every one refuses to let himself be
distracted. All sorts of calls are made upon him to which he finds it
hard to be deaf; very often he is doubtful whether one or another
subordinate is competent, and then he is tempted to do that
subordinate's work for him. That is always a mistake because it means
neglect of the commander's own work, which is more important.

The task, though it appears simple is by no means easy, as the present
war and the present situation show. While the fate of the Empire hangs
in the balance between Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg, a good deal
depends on the course of events between Kimberley and Queenstown. In the
northern part of Cape Colony the Dutch inhabitants are naturally divided
in their sympathies, and the loyally disposed have been sorely tried by
the long weeks of waiting for some sign of Great Britain's power. None
has yet been forthcoming. They know that Kimberley is besieged and that
the British Government has done little for its defence. During the last
week or two they have been threatened by the Free State Boers, and have
seen Stormberg and other places evacuated by the British. At length the
Free State Boers have come among them, marched into their towns,
proclaimed the annexation of the country, and commandeered the citizens.
If this goes on the Boer armies will soon be swelled to great dimensions
by recruits from the British colony, a process which cannot go on much
longer without shaking the faith of the whole Dutch population in the
supremacy of Great Britain. Some manifestation of British strength,
energy, and will is evidently urgently needed in this region. Moreover,
Kimberley is hard beset, and its fall would seem to the whole
countryside to be the visible sign of a British collapse. No wonder,
then, that Sir Redvers Duller has sent Lord Methuen as soon as he could
be ready to the relief of Kimberley. The column consists of the Brigade
of Guards, the Ninth Brigade, made up of such battalions as were at hand
to replace Hildyard's brigade (sent to Natal), of a naval detachment, a
cavalry regiment, and two or three batteries, besides local levies.
Kimberley is five or six days' march from Orange River, and at some
point on the way the Boers will no doubt try to stop the advance. I feel
confident that Lord Methuen, whom I know as an accomplished tactician,
will so win his battle as not to need to do the same work twice over.

The advance of Lord Methuen's division renders imperative the protection
of the long railway line from Cape Town to Orange River. This seems to
be entrusted to General Forestier-Walker's forces, reduced to two
battalions, and to General Wauchope's Highland brigade. One battalion
only is with General Gatacre at Queenstown, and two battalions of
General Lyttelton's brigade which have reached Cape Town are as yet
unaccounted for in the telegrams.

How, then, if all his forces are thus employed could Sir Redvers Buller,
by taking thought, have added anything to Sir C.F. Clery's force on the
Mooi River? The answer is that a commander's decision must usually be a
choice of risks. To have sent on to Natal a part of the troops now in
Cape Colony would have been to have increased the danger of the Cape
Dutch going over to the Boers. Which was the less of two possible
evils--the spread of disaffection in the Cape Colony or the loss of Sir
George White's force? No one at home can decide with confidence because
the knowledge here available of the situation in either colony is very
limited. Subject to this reserve, I should be disposed to think the
danger in Natal the more serious, and the chance of losing Colonel
Kekewich's force a mere trifle in comparison with the defeat of General
Joubert, for the effect of Joubert's defeat would be felt on the Orange
River, whereas the relief of Kimberley can hardly produce an appreciable
effect on the situation in Natal.

The difficult problem of which General Buller is now giving his solution
has been created for him by the Government, which from June to October
was playing with a war which according to its own admissions it did not
seriously mean. "Mistakes in the original assembling of armies can
hardly be repaired during the whole course of the campaigns, but all
arrangements of this sort can be considered long beforehand and--if the
troops are ready for war and the transport service is organised--must
lead to the result intended." So wrote Moltke in 1874 in one of the most
famous passages ever published. If last spring the Government or even
the Secretary of State for War alone had been in earnest, had been doing
what plain duty required, the nature and conditions of the South African
war would have been thought out, and the military judgment which was to
conduct it would have been set to devise the proper opening. That would
have consisted in landing simultaneously, thirty thousand men at Durban
and forty thousand at the Cape. These forces would not have moved
forward until they were complete and ready, and though the Boers might
meantime have overrun their borders, the British advance when it came
would have been continuous, irresistible, and decisive. Instead of that
the Government gave the Boers notice in June that there might be war, so
that the Boers had the whole summer to get ready.

When in September the Government began to think of action the only idea
was defending Natal. But this defence was not thought of as part of a
war. The idea never seems to have occurred to the Government that the
need for defence in Natal could not arise except in case of war, and
that then to defend Natal would be impracticable except by beating the
Boer army. Accordingly, the handful of troops in Natal were posted
without regard to the probable outlines of the war, and therefore,
wrongly posted. The consequence was that when war came they could not be
concentrated except at the cost of fighting and loss, and of a retreat
which gave the enemy the belief that he had won a victory. Even then the
point held--Ladysmith--was too far north and liable to be turned. All
these mistakes, made before Sir George White arrived, were evident to
that general when he first reached Ladysmith, but they could not then be
remedied, and he had to do, and has done, the best he could in the
circumstances. The fact of Sir George White's investment compels Sir
Redvers Buller to begin his campaign with the effort to relieve him, and
the fact that Kimberley is held by a weak force compels him to divide
his force when his one desire certainly must have been to keep it
united. In the expected battle at Mooi River Sir Redvers Buller will be
trying to make up for the faulty arrangements of September. The desire
to hold as much of the railway as possible--also due to the false
position of Sir George White's force--has, perhaps, led General
Hildyard to spread out his force over too long a line. But, in spite of
the difficulties created by errors at the start, I am not without hopes
that these remarks will soon be put out of date by a decisive British


_November 29th_, 1899

Two factors in the present war were impressed upon my mind at the
beginning: first, that the British Army was never in better condition as
regards the zeal and skill of its officers, the training and discipline
of the men, and the organisation of the field services; secondly, that
the Government had deliberately handicapped that Army by giving the
Boers many weeks' clear start in which to try with their whole forces to
overwhelm the small British parties sent out at haphazard to delay them.
The whole course of events up to now has been underlining these two
judgments. The British troops gave proof of their qualities at Talana
Hill, at Elandslaagte, and on the trying retreat from Dundee. There is
no more difficult task in war than a frontal attack upon a position
defended by the repeating rifle. Good judges have over and over again
pronounced it impossible. But the British troops have done it again and
again. General Hildyard's attack on Beacon Hill, an arduous action for a
definite purpose which was effected--the re-opening of the railway from
Estcourt towards the south--was a creditable achievement on the Natal
side. On the Cape side Lord Methuen's advance from Orange River is an
example of the greatest determination and energy coupled with caution on
the part of the general, and of the most brilliant courage on the part
of the troops. I thought it probable that so skilful a tactician as Lord
Methuen would combine flank with frontal attacks. It seems that the
conditions gave him little or no opportunity to do that, and he has had
three times to assault and drive back a well-posted enemy. At Belmont,
on the 23rd, and at Enslin, on the 25th, Lord Methuen had a numerical
superiority large enough to justify an attack in which heavy loss was to
be expected. The losses were not exceptionally great, and this fact
proves that the British troops are of very much higher quality than
their adversaries. At Modder River, on the 28th, the numbers were
practically equal. The Boers were strongly entrenched and concealed, and
could not be out-flanked. That they were driven back at all is as proud
a record for our troops as any army could desire, for the attacking
force ought to have been destroyed. The engagement may well have been
"one of the hardest and most trying in the annals of the British Army,"
and if the victory is a glory to the soldiers, the resolve to attack in
such conditions reveals in Lord Methuen the strength of character which
is the finest quality of a commander.

If it is well that we at home should appreciate the splendid results of
many years of good teaching given to the officers and men of the Army,
results to be attributed in great part, though not exclusively, to the
efforts of Lord Wolseley and his school, it is no less our duty to face
squarely the fact that the Nation has not done its duty by this Army.
The Nation in this sense means the people acting through the Government.
To see how the Government has treated the Army we have only to survey
the situation in South Africa. Fifty thousand men were ordered out on
October 7th,--an Army Corps, a cavalry division and troops for the line
of communications. The design was that, with the communications covered
by the special troops sent for that duty, the Army Corps and the cavalry
division, making together a body of forty thousand men, should cross the
Orange River and sweep through the Free State towards Pretoria, while
Natal was protected by a special force there posted.

But long before the Army Corps was complete this plan had been torn to
pieces by the Boers. Sir George White's force, being hardly more than a
third the strength of the army with which the Boers invaded Natal, could
not stop the invasion, though it could hold out when surrounded and

Accordingly the first task of Sir Redvers Buller was to stem the flood
of Boer invasion in. Natal and to relieve Sir George White. For this
purpose he is none too strong with three out of the six infantry
brigades that make up the Army Corps. The remaining three brigades could
not carry out the original programme of sweeping through the Free State,
and meantime the Boers have overrun the great district between Colesberg
and Barkly East, between the Orange River and the Stormberg range.
General Gatacre with a weak brigade at Queenstown is watching this
invasion which as yet he seems hardly strong enough to repel. The rest
of the troops are required in the protection of the railways, of the
depôt of stores at De Aar, and the bridge at Orange River. But
Kimberley was invested and Mafeking in danger, and the effect of the
fall of either of them upon the Cape Dutch might be serious. Something
must be done. Accordingly Lord Methuen with two brigades set out towards
Kimberley. His task is both difficult and dangerous; he has not merely
to break the Boer resistance by sheer hard fighting, but to run the risk
that Boer forces from other quarters, perhaps from the army invading
Cape Colony, may be brought up in his rear, and that he may in this way
be turned, enveloped, and invested. The scattering of forces is due to
the initial error of sending too small a force to Natal, and of making
no provision for its reinforcement until after a six weeks' interval.
The consequence is that instead of our generals being able to attack the
Boers with the advantage of superior numbers, with the concomitant power
of combining flank and frontal attacks, and with the possibility of thus
making their victories decisive by enveloping tactics or by effective
pursuit, the British Army has to make attack after attack against
prepared fronts, which though they prove its valour can lead to no
decisive results, except at the cost of quite disproportionate losses.

It is possible, and indeed we all hope that the Boer forces, at first
under-estimated, may now be over-estimated, and that Sir Kedvers Buller,
whose advance is probably now beginning, will not have to deal with
superior numbers. In that case his blows will shatter the Boer army in
Natal, so that by the time he has joined hands with Sir George White the
enemy will feel himself overmastered, will lose the initiative, and
begin to shrink from the British attacks. That state of things in Natal
would lighten Lord Methuen's work. But it would be rash to assume such
favourable conditions. We must be prepared for the spectacle of hard and
prolonged fighting in Natal, and for the heavy losses that accompany it.
The better our troops come out of their trials the more are we bound to
ask ourselves how it came about that they were set to fight under
difficulties, usually against superior numbers, though the British force
devoted to the war was larger than the whole Boer army? The cause of
this is that a small force was sent out on September 8th, and nothing
more ordered until October 7th, and the cause of that arrangement was
that the Government, as Mr. Balfour has naively told us, never believed
that there would be a war, or that the Free State would join the
Transvaal, until the forces of both States were on the move. Our
statesmen negotiated through June, July, and August, talked in July of
"putting their hands to the plough," and yet took no step to meet the
possibility that the Boers would prove in earnest and attack the British
colonies until the Boer riflemen were assembling at Standerton and
patrolling into Natal. Does not this argue a defect in the training of
our public men, a defect which may be described as ignorance of the
nature of war and of the way in which it should be provided for? Mr.
Balfour admits that his eyes have been opened, but does not that imply
that they had been shut when they ought to have been open? If the
members of the Government failed to take the situation seriously in
June, what is to be thought of the members of the Opposition, some of
whom even now cannot see that the choice was between abandoning Empire
and coercing the Boers? The moral is that we should, if possible,
strengthen the Government by sending to Parliament representatives of
the younger school, which is National and Imperialist rather than
Conservative or Liberal.


_December 7th_, 1899

The conditions in South Africa are still critical; indeed, more so than
ever. There are three campaigns in progress, and, though there are good
grounds for hoping that in each case the balance will turn in favour of
the British, the hope rests rather upon faith than upon that numerical
superiority which it is the first duty of a Government to give to its

Lord Methuen's advance came to a pause after the battle of Modder River,
now nine days ago. There appear to have been good reasons for the delay.
First of all, it is necessary that when, or soon after, Kimberley is
reached the railway to De Aar should be available both for the removal
of non-combatants, and for the transport of provisions, ammunition and
guns. This involves the repair in some way of the bridge at Modder
River. Next, it was proved-by that battle, in which the Boer force was
large enough to make the victory most difficult, and by the arrival
after the battle of fresh Boer forces, that Lord Methuen's force was not
strong enough for its work. If a whole day and heavy loss were needed to
bring about the retreat of eleven thousand Boers from a prepared
position it might be impracticable for Lord Methuen without more force
to drive away fifteen or eighteen thousand Boers from a prepared
position at Spytfontein, and the possibility of such a body of Boers
being at that point had to be reckoned with. Lord Methuen needed more
infantry, more artillery, and more cavalry. Of none of the three arms
had General Forestier-Walker any abundant supply. If he has sent on,
besides a cavalry regiment, the whole of the Highland brigade and three
batteries of artillery, Lord Methuen would be none too strong. It is
essential that, having started, he should defeat the Boers again and
reach Kimberley, for a failure would be a disaster. I have great
confidence in Lord Methuen and his troops; what determination and
bravery can do they will accomplish, and I feel pretty sure that in a
day or two we shall have news of another victory and of the relief of
Kimberley. But why has the paramount power in South Africa sent a fine
general and splendid troops to face heavy odds and to run the risk of
finding themselves over-tasked by superior numbers?

If we put the most liberal construction on General Walker's account of
what he has done to reinforce Lord Methueh there are now fifteen
battalions, five batteries, and two cavalry regiments north of De Aar.
To protect the great depôt of military stores at De Aar and the railway
from that point to the Cape a considerable force is needed, and to stem
the tide of Boer invasion and Dutch disaffection, which has spread from
the Orange River to Tarkastad and Dordrecht, from Colesberg to Barkly
East, a further large force is badly wanted. But in the whole of Cape
Colony south of the Orange River there appear to be only nine
battalions, perhaps a couple of regiments of cavalry, and on the most
favourable assumption five batteries. Of these battalions Sir William
Gatacre has half-a-dozen on the lines running north from Algoa Bay and
East London, the greater part at Putters Kraal, north of Queenstown.
This is a tiny force with which to clear an invaded and disaffected area
of twelve thousand square miles. We may be perfectly certain that Sir
William Gatacre will do the best that can be done with his force, and
if that should be more than his numbers alone would lead us to expect
the reason will be that Lord Methuen's victories will have made the Free
State Boers uneasy about their road home. A fresh victory near Kimberley
and the effectual relief of that place will lighten Sir William
Gatacre's load.

The centre of gravity is in Natal, where the greater part of the Boer
army and the greater part of the British force in South Africa are
confronting one another. There are three British divisions, strong in
infantry but weak in artillery, and there is cavalry enough for a strong
division. But one of the divisions has been invested and bombarded with
more or less persistence since the beginning of November, and the other
two are not yet known to be quite ready to move. Sir George White's
force is reported to be on short rations, and some of the messages from
correspondents in Ladysmith declared a week ago that it was high time
for relief to come. The force can hardly be as yet near the limit of its
resisting powers, but it is evidently nearing the stage when after
relief it will need rest and recuperation instead of being ready for a
vigorous and prolonged advance. General Buller with two divisions will
shortly set out to force the passage of the Tugela and to fight his way
round Ladysmith, either on the east or on the west, so as to cut off
either the retreat to the Free State or that to the Transvaal of the
Boer army. If Sir Redvers Buller can in this way win a victory in which
the enemy is not merely pushed back, but controlled in his choice of the
direction of his retirement, the issue of the campaign in Natal will be
settled, and the British Commander will be able to consider his great
purpose--the crushing of the Boer armies. The long wrestle between Sir
George White and the Boers has no doubt produced a state of exhaustion
on both sides, and by the time the decision comes exhaustion will be
turned into collapse. If, as we trust, it should be a Boer collapse, Sir
Redvers Buller's best policy, if practicable, will be to follow up a
success with the utmost promptitude and vigour, to push on through the
mountains, and open a doorway into the country beyond them. A check to
Sir Redvers Buller's advance would be disastrous. He can take no more
troops from the Cape. The fifth division can hardly be at his disposal
before Christmas, for the first transport did not start till November
24th, and the last has not yet left. But a check means insufficient
force, and is as a rule to be made good only by reinforcement. It is
clear, then, that Sir Redvers Buller must not be checked; he must cross
the Tugela and must win his battle. I think that with his twenty
thousand men he may be trusted to do both, even if the Boer force is as
large as the highest estimates that have been given.

The four decisions pending--at Kimberley, north of Queenstown, at
Ladysmith, and on the Tugela--are here represented as all doubtful. I do
not expect any of them to go wrong, but it is wise before a fight to
reckon with possibilities, and where the enemy, stubborn, well-armed,
and skilful, has also the advantage of numbers, it would be folly not to
consider the possibility that he may hold his ground. There are elements
of success on the British side that should not be forgotten. The British
soldier to-day, as in the past, proves to be a staunch support to any
general. To-day, however, he has leaders who, taking them all round, are
probably better qualified than any of their predecessors. The divisional
generals are all picked for their known grip of the business of war;
among the brigadiers there are such devoted students of their profession
as Lyttelton and Hildyard, and the younger officers of to-day are more
zealous in their business and better instructed than at any previous
period. There should be less in this war than in any that the British
Army has waged of that incompetence of the subordinates which in past
campaigns has often caused the commanders more anxiety than all the
enemy's doings.

Yet at every point the Boers appear to outnumber our troops. The
question arises how this came about; either the Government has not sent
troops enough, or the force given to the Commander-in-Chief has been
wrongly distributed. Sir Redvers Buller has done the best he could in
difficult conditions. Ladysmith had to be relieved, and he has taken
more than half of his force for the purpose. He might have wished to
take a third division, but if he had done so Kimberley might have
fallen, and the rising at the Cape have spread so fast and so far that
the defeat of Joubert would not have restored the balance. Accordingly
the smaller half of the force was left in the Cape Colony. Here also
there were two tasks. To push back the invasion was a slow business, and
if meantime Kimberley had fallen, the insurrection would have become
general. Accordingly a minimum force was set to stem the invasion and a
maximum force devoted to the relief of Kimberley. The difficulties,
therefore, arose not merely from the strategy in South Africa but from
the delay of the Government to send enough troops in time. The fact that
Sir George White with a small force was left for two months unsupported
produced the rising at the Cape, and compelled the division of the
British Army Corps, in, consequence of which the whole force is reduced
to a perilous numerical weakness at each of four points. But the Army
Corps, the cavalry division, and the force for the line of
communications, have now to wait three weeks before they can be
strengthened. It was known to the Government before the end of October
that Ladysmith would be invested and need relief, that the Cape Dutch
would rise, and that unless Kimberley were helped the rising would
become dangerous. Yet the despatch of the first transport of the fifth
division was delayed until November 24th. Has the Government even now
begun to take the war seriously? Do the members of the Cabinet at this
eleventh hour understand that failure to crush the Boers means
breakdown for the Empire, and that a prolonged struggle with them
carries with it grave danger of the intervention of other Powers? Does
Lord Lansdowne continue to direct the movement of reinforcements
according to his own unmilitary judgment modified by that of one or more
of his unmilitary colleagues? I decline to believe that Lord Wolseley
has arranged or accepted without protest this new system of sending out
the Army in fragments, each of which may be invested or used up before
the next can arrive.


_December 14th_, 1899

The failure of Lord Methuen's attack at Magersfontein has brought home
to every mind the extreme gravity of the situation in South Africa, and
it seems most likely that in the western theatre of war the crisis has
issued in a decision unfavourable to the British cause.

It is well to keep the whole before our eyes even when examining a part,
so I begin with a bird's-eye view. In Natal Sir Redvers Buller seems to
be ready, and to be about to strike, for the advance of Barton's brigade
towards Colenso must be the prelude to the advance of the main body to
the right or the left to cross the Tugela above or below the broken
railway bridge. If Sir Redvers Buller is so fortunate as to bring the
principal Boer army to an action and to defeat it so thoroughly as
seriously to impair its fighting power, the balance in the eastern
theatre of war will have turned, and attention may be concentrated upon
the restoration of the position in the west. There the balance has
turned the wrong way. General Gatacre's defeat at Stormberg would not be
a very serious matter, for his force was small, were it not that it
damages the credit of British generalship, and that it must have given a
great stimulus not only to the Free State army but to the rebellion of
the Cape Boers. For the Boers Stormberg is a great victory, which will
encourage them to fresh enterprises in a country where at least every
second Dutch farmer is their friend and ally. They may, therefore, be
expected to turn their attention as soon as they can to Lord Methuen's
communications. This probability rendered Lord Methuen's position at
Modder River doubly critical. On Sunday he was ready, and set out to
test his fate. On Tuesday he was back again in his camp, the measure of
his defeat being given by his assurance that in his camp he was in
perfect security. Those are ominous words, for they have not the air of
the man who does not know that he is beaten, and who means to try again
at once. It is, however, conceivable that, as the defeat seems to have
been caused by an inexplicable blunder, the marching of a brigade in the
dark in dense formation close up to the muzzles of the enemy's rifles,
the effort may be made to attack again with better dispositions. A
second attack would, of course, be attended with twofold risks, but if
it has no chance of success the defeat already suffered must be reckoned
a disaster. If Lord Methuen is definitely beaten, Kimberley must be set
down as lost, and the question is of the safety of Lord Methuen's
division. In that case to remain at Modder River is to court investment,
which would last for many weeks. The risk would not be justified unless
there is in the camp an ample store of supplies and ammunition, and even
then it is not clear what purpose it would serve. If, therefore, the
defeat is decisive the proper course is a retreat to a position of which
the communications can be protected, and which cannot easily be turned.
The whole situation, then, is failure in the Cape Colony on both lines,
coupled with an impending action in Natal, of which, until it is over, a
favourable result, though there is reason to hope for it, had better not
be too lightly assumed. Yet the British purpose of the war is to
establish the British power in South Africa on a firm basis: the only
way to prepare that basis being to crush the military power of the two
Republics. The British forces now in South Africa are clearly not strong
enough to do their work. What is the Nation to do in order to accomplish
the task which it has undertaken?

A nation can act only through its Government, and, as at this moment the
British Nation is united in the resolve to fight this war out, the
Government has, without looking back, to give a lead. The first thing is
for the Cabinet to convince the public that it is doing all that can be
done, and doing it in the right way. But the public does not trust its
own judgment. That much-talked-of person the man in the street does not
fancy himself a general, and is not over-fond of the military
critic--the unfortunate man whose duties have compelled him to try to
qualify himself, to form a judgment about war. There is a sound instinct
that war is a special business, and that it should be managed according
to the judgment of those who are masters of the trade; not those who
can write about it, but those who have practised it and proved their
capacity. But those men, the generals who are, believed to have a grasp
of the way to carry a war through, are all outside the Cabinet. The
Cabinet has its chosen expert adviser, the Commander-in-Chief; but
rumour or surmise hints that his advice has been by no means uniformly
followed. Surely the wisest course which the Cabinet could now adopt
would be to call Lord Wolseley to their board as an announcement and a
guarantee that in the prosecution of the war his judgment was given its
true place, and that nothing thought by him necessary or desirable was
being left undone. If the military judgment holds that more force is
required the extra force must be provided. There are, after the Regular
Army and the Marines, the whole of the Militia, the Volunteers, and
thousands of trained men in the British colonies. There is no
difficulty, seeing that the Nation is determined to keep on its course,
about drawing upon these forces to any extent that may be required. If
there are constitutional forms to be fulfilled they can be fulfilled; if
Parliamentary sanction is needed it can be had for the asking.

At the present rate of consumption the fifth division will hardly have
been landed before its energies will be absorbed, and unless Sir Redvers
Buller is peculiarly fortunate during the next few days, the fifth and
sixth divisions together will not be enough to change the present
adverse situation into one of decided British preponderance. There
should be at the Cape a reservoir of forces upon which the British
Commander should be able to draw until he can drive the enemy before
him. When that stage comes the flow of reinforcements might be
suspended, but to stay or delay it before that stage has been reached is
to court misfortune.

Something might probably be done to block the channel through which the
enemy derives some of his resources and some of his information. The
telegraph cable at Delagoa Bay might with advantage have its shore end
lifted into a British man-of-war. There must be ways and means of
stopping all intercourse through Portuguese territory between the
Transvaal and the sea. That this is desirable is manifest, and to such
cases may be applied the maxim, "Where there is a will there is a way."

The idea seems to be spreading that this war must lead to a thorough
overhauling and recasting of the British military organisation. But if
you are to make a bigger army, an army better suited to the times and to
the needs of the Nation, you must begin by getting a competent
army-creating instrument. You cannot expect a Cabinet of twelve or
eighteen men ignorant of war to create a good war-fighting machine. You
cannot entrust the organisation of your Army to any authority but the
Government, for the body that creates your Army will govern you. The
only plan that will produce the result required is to give authority
over the making and using of the Army to a man or men who understand
War--War as it is to-day. In short, a Nation that is liable to War
requires men of War in its Government, and, in the case of Great
Britain, the place for them is in the Cabinet. The traditional practice
of having a civilian Minister inside the Cabinet with all the authority,
and a soldier with all the knowledge outside the Cabinet, was devised
for electioneering purposes, and not for war. The plan has answered its
object very well for many years, having secured Cabinets against any
intrusion of military wisdom upon their domestic party felicity. But now
that the times have changed, and that the chief business of a Cabinet is
to manage a war, it seems unwise to keep the military judgment locked
out. Party felicity was valuable some years ago when there was a demand
for it; but the fashions have changed. To-day the article in demand is
not eloquence nor the infallibility of "our side," whichever that may
be; the article in demand to-day is the organisation of victory. That is
not to be had at all the shops. Those who can supply it are very
special men, who must be found and their price paid. The Nation has
given bail for the production of this particular article, and if it is
not forthcoming in time the forfeit must be paid. The bail is the
British Empire.


_December 21st_, 1899

A week ago, while we were thinking over failure in the Cape Colony on
both lines of advance, we could still hope for success on what
circumstances had made the most important line, in Natal. But now there
has been failure in Natal also.

Of the battle of Colenso Sir Redvers Buller's telegraphic despatch,
though it probably does the commander less justice than he would have
received at the hands of any other narrator, gives an authoritative if
meagre account. The attack seems to have been planned rather as a
reconnaissance in force, to be followed up in case it should reveal
possibilities of victory, than as a determined effort on which
everything was to be staked. In all probability this form of action was
inevitable in the conditions. The Boers held a strong position, covered
in front by a river fordable at only two points. Such a position can
hardly be reconnoitred except by attack. It could not be turned except
by a long flank march, which, if successful would have occupied several
days, during which the camp and railhead would have to be strongly
guarded. There is reason to believe that the force in Natal has not the
transport necessary to enable it to leave the railway for several days,
during which it would be a flying column. Moreover, the Boers, being all
mounted, could always place themselves across the path of any advance.
Accordingly it is at least premature to assume that any course other
than that which he adopted was open to Sir Redvers Buller. The mishap to
a portion of the artillery will be better understood when the full
story of the battle is accessible. Meanwhile Sir Redvers Buller's
withdrawal of the troops when he saw that success was unattainable has
preserved his force, and he is now awaiting reinforcement before again
attempting an advance. The critical element in the position of affairs
in Natal lies in the fact that time runs against the British. Sir
Redvers Buller and the Government no doubt know pretty accurately the
date up to which Sir George White can hold Ladysmith. If by that date he
has neither been relieved nor succeeded in fighting his way to the
Tugela his situation will be desperate.

Lord Methuen has probably been as much hampered as Sir Redvers Buller by
want of transport. He, too, will not forget the importance of preserving
his force and his liberty of action, and will retire rather than await

Through the mists which always shroud a war during its progress the fact
is beginning to be visible that the British generals have been from the
beginning paralysed not, as anxious observers are always prone to
conclude, by any want of knowledge or energy, but by the nature of the
implement in their hands. They have to fight an enemy of unprecedented
mobility. The Boers are all horsemen and can ride from point to point
more than twice as fast as the British infantry can march; they live in
British territory by requisitions or loot, and therefore can limit their
transport train. But the British forces are restricted to a little more
than two miles an hour and to twelve or fifteen miles a day according to
the ground. There is everywhere a deficiency if not a complete lack of
transport, said to be due to the action of the Treasury during the
summer, and therefore every column is dependent for its food and
ammunition upon a line of railway, which a handful of Boers may at any
moment and at any point in its hundreds of miles temporarily interrupt.
These considerations should be kept in view not merely in reviewing the
conduct of the campaign and the work of the British generals, but above
all in the preparations now being pushed forward throughout the Empire.
The project of a Corps of Imperial Yeomanry is a step in the right
direction. If it is to contribute to success due importance must be
given in the selection of the men to straight shooting, without which
good riding can be of little use. Equally important, too, is the
selection of leaders. The home-trained officer, however good, must not
be exclusively relied upon. Every local war we have had, beginning with
the campaigns against the French in America which led to the Seven
Years' War, has proved the necessity of giving full scope to local
experience and local instincts. Old and new instances abound of the way
in which the neglect of the feelings of colonists and of their special
qualifications for special work rankles in breasts of a colonial
population. If, then, the new Yeomanry are to be of real service in
South Africa and to deserve the name Imperial a proportion of their
officers of all grades should be men of colonial birth and colonial
experience. The South African troops now at the front have done fine
service, and some of their officers might be promoted and transferred to
the new Yeomanry, their places being filled by promotions in the corps
which they leave. The preparation of transport ought not to lag behind
the despatch of reinforcements. At the earliest possible moment the
attempt should be made to send into the enemy's territory a great raid
of horsemen, on the model of the raids of the American Civil War. A body
of several thousand mounted men should march right through a part of the
Free State, living upon the country, consuming every scrap of food, and
clearing out every farm of all its provisions. If that operation can be
repeated two or three times a belt of country will be left across which
the Boers without transport will not be able to move, while the British,
properly equipped, will not be delayed by its exhaustion.

The plan adopted by the authorities for raising a volunteer contingent
is more significant for the future of the National defences than has yet
been realised. Each volunteer battalion is to supply a company to its
line battalion in the field and to keep a second company ready at home
in reserve. Thus the volunteer force is to be used by being absorbed
into the Army. That leads inevitably to the amalgamation of the
volunteers with the regular Army, and is a death-blow to the specific
character of each of them. It means that henceforth the British Army,
like other armies, will be homogeneous, containing no other categories
than men with the colours and men in reserves, classified according to
the immediacy of their liability to be called up. The volunteer
commanding officer disappears, and with him the volunteer officer as
such. For now that it is known that the Government will employ
non-professional officers only as company officers under professional
field officers, no one will take a volunteer commission with the idea of
serving for many years from subaltern to commanding officer. What has
hitherto been the volunteer force will therefore become a force
administered by professional paid officers. It will cost more, and it
will become a branch of the Army. In short, the Government has
unwittingly taken a step of which the inevitable consequence is

But from this follows another change, equally unsuspected by the
Ministry. The day that the Nation discovers, as it is now beginning to
discover, that war makes its claims on every man and on every household,
there will be no more toleration of the unskilled management that is
inseparable from the practice of choosing a. Secretary of State for War
for his ignorance of the subject. The British Nation is at length
opening its eyes to the truth that war is a serious matter, and that the
neglect of it in peace is costly in blood and perilous to the body
politic. When its eyes are wide open it will insist on putting knowledge
in power over the Army and the Navy. Thus is coming about, to the
infinite benefit of the community, the overthrow of that noxious sham,
the party politician.

Late in the day, when the position has become what it is, the
Government has thought of the elementary principle that if you want to
carry on a war you should begin by finding a commander in whom you have
confidence. Accordingly at the eleventh hour Ministers have remembered
that the Nation trusts Lord Roberts. This is proof positive that the
Government was not in earnest before the late reverses, for had they
been serious they would have appointed Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener
at the outset. The precedent is useful by what it suggests; for, if
during a war you can strengthen the military direction by giving the
authority to the man recognised as the most competent, you may also
strengthen the political direction by a similar procedure. The Cabinet
has thus, perhaps without suspicion of what it was doing, set before the
Nation the true problem: "Wanted, a Ministry competent in the management
of war."


_December 28th_, 1899

War is the Nation's business and, when it comes, the most important part
of the Nation's business. A Nation that for many years neglects this
branch of its affairs is liable to suffer to any extent. The proverb, "a
stitch in time saves nine," gives a very fair idea of the proportion
between the amount of effort required in a properly-prepared and
well-conducted war, and the amount required when there has been previous

There must be some way in which a national affair of such importance can
be properly managed, and just now it might be well to consider how a
nation can manage a war. Certainly not by the methods of political
decision to which recent developments of democracy have accustomed us.
You cannot fight a campaign by consulting the constituencies or even the
House of Commons before deciding whether a general shall move to his
right or his left, shall advance or retire, shall seek or shall avoid a
battle. Neither can you settle by popular vote whether you will make
guns of wire or of fluid compressed steel, what formations your infantry
shall adopt, whether the soldier is to give six hours a week to shooting
and one to drill, or six to drill and one to shooting.

Yet all these questions and many others must be settled, some during
peace and some during war, and they must be settled correctly or else
there will be defeat. In political matters the accepted test of what is
correct is the opinion of the majority as expressed by votes in a
general election, but in war the test of what is correct is the result
produced upon the enemy. If his guns out-range yours, if his troops at
the point of collision defeat yours, there has been some error in the
preparation or in the direction, unless indeed the enemy is a State so
much stronger than your own that it was folly to go to war at all, and
in that case there must have been an error of policy. The decisions upon
which successful war depends turn upon matters which have no relation
to the wishes or feelings of the majority; matters not of opinion but of
fact; matters about which eloquence is no guide, and in regard to which
the truth cannot be ascertained from the ballot box, but only by the
hard labour of prolonged study after previous training. For success in
war depends upon the troops being armed with the best weapons of the
day, upon their being trained to use them in the most appropriate
manner, upon the amount of knowledge and practice possessed by the
generals; upon a correct estimate of the enemy's forces, of their
armament and tactics, and upon a true insight into the policy of the
Powers with which quarrels are possible.

A year ago it was known to many persons in this country, and the
Government was informed by those whose, special duty it was to give the
information, that the Boer States aimed at supremacy in South Africa,
that they were heavily armed, that a large force would be required to
defeat them, and that to postpone the quarrel would make the inevitable
war still more difficult. It was well understood also that the
difficulty lay in the probability that if a small force were sent it
would be exposed to defeat, while if a large one were sent its despatch
would precipitate the war. These were the facts known more than a year
ago to those who wanted to know. Is it not clear that the Government's
management has been based upon something other than the facts; that the
Government was all the time basing its action not upon the facts but
upon speculations as to what might come out of future ballot-boxes? They
were attending to their own mission, that of keeping in office, but
neglecting the Nation's necessary business, that of dealing promptly
with the Boer assault upon British supremacy in South Africa. The
explanation is simple. Every man in the Cabinet has devoted his life
since he has been grown up to the art of getting votes for his party,
either at the polls or in Parliament. Not one of them has given his
twenty years to studying the art of managing a war.

But a war cannot possibly be well managed by anyone who is not a master
of the art. Now and then there has been success by an amateur--a person
who, without being a soldier by profession, has made himself one; such a
person, for example, as Cromwell. Apart from rare instances of that
sort, the only plan for a Government which does not include among its
members a soldier, professional or amateur, is to choose a soldier of
one class or the other and to delegate authority to him. But this plan
does not always succeed, because sometimes a Government composed of men
who know nothing of war postpones calling in the competent man until too
late. There have been in our time two instances of this plan, one
successful and the other a failure. In 1882 Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet
drifted against its will and to its painful surprise into the Egyptian
war. The Cabinet when it saw that war had come gave Lord Wolseley a
free hand and he was able to save them by the victory of Tel-el-Kebir. A
year or two later, being anxious to avoid a Soudan war, they drifted
slowly into it; but this time they were too late in giving Lord Wolseley
full powers, and he was unable to save Gordon and Khartoum solely
because he had not been called upon in time. The best analogy to the
course then pursued is that of a sick person whose friends attempt to
prescribe for him themselves until the disease takes a palpably virulent
form, when they send for a doctor just in time to learn that the
patient's life could have been saved by proper treatment a week earlier,
but that now there is no hope. For war requires competent management in
advance. There are many things which must be done, if they are to be
done in time, before the beginning of hostilities, and the more distant
the theatre of war the more necessary it may be to take measures

The management of a war can never be taken out of the hands of the
Government, because the body which decides when to make preparations
is, by the fact that it has the power of making that decision, the
supreme authority. If, therefore, a Nation wishes to have reasonable
assurance against defeat it must take means to provide the supreme
authority with a military judgment. The British system for a, long time
professed to do this by giving the Secretary of State for War a military
adviser who was Commander-in-Chief. Such a plan might have worked on
condition that the Secretary of State kept the Commander-in-Chief fully
informed of the state of negotiations with other Powers, and invariably
followed his advice in all matters relating to possible wars. The
condition has never been fulfilled, and for many years, as there were no
serious wars, the mischief of the neglect was not apparent except to the
few who understood war, and who have for many years been anxious. But in
1895 the present Cabinet began its career under the inspiration of Mr.
Balfour, who knows nothing of war, by giving the Secretary of State
absolute authority over the Army and all preparations for war so far as
the Army is concerned, and by formally declaring that the Secretary of
State could please himself whether he followed the advice of the
Commander-in-Chief. Thus the Nation in its indifference allowed the fate
of its next war to be entrusted to hands not qualified to direct a war,
and allowed itself to be deprived of the means of knowing whose advice
was being followed in regard to the preparation of its defences. At the
same time a Committee of Defence was formed of members of the Cabinet, a
committee of untrained men, to settle the broad lines of the Nation's
preparations for the maintenance of the Empire. The results of these
remarkable arrangements are now manifest, and yet the cry is that there
is to be no change in the Government.

But unless there is a thorough change as soon as possible, unless steps
are taken to find a man competent in the management of war and to give
him a place in the Cabinet, where he can keep the naval and military
preparations abreast of the policy, or check, a policy for the execution
of which adequate preparation cannot be made, what guarantee can the
Nation have that it will not shortly have a second war on its hands, or
that the war now begun will be brought to a successful end?

But if war as a branch of the Nation's affairs ought to be entrusted to
a man competent in that branch, what about the tradition that any
politician of eminence in the party is fit to be the Cabinet Minister at
the head of any branch of the public service? Is it not the truth that
this tradition is bad and should be got rid of, and that every branch of
the Nation's business has suffered from the practice of giving authority
for its direction to a minister who has not been trained to understand
it? The war will have been a great benefit if it leads to the universal
recognition of the plain fact that Jack of all trades is master of
none, and that no branch of the public service can possibly be well
directed unless its director is thoroughly conversant with the business
with which he is entrusted. So soon as the Nation grasps the idea that
democracy can fulfil its mission only when the electors are resolved to
choose leaders by their qualification for the work they have to do, the
British Nation will resume the lead among the nations of the world.


_January 5th_, 1900

There has been no substantial, visible change in the military situation
since the battle of Colenso on December 15th. The actions of General
French at Colesberg and of Colonel Pilcher at Sunnyside are valuable
mainly as evidence that with sound tactics the Boers are by no means
invincible, and that British troops only require intelligent leading to
be as capable of the best work as any troops in the world. General
French, however, until the hour at which I write had not finished his
wrestle with the Boers at Colesberg, and until it is over no military
action can be classed either as success or failure. Colonel Pilcher's
opponents were colonial rebels, probably not as good as Transvaal Boers,
who have had in peace more rifle practice. The losses were small,
proving that the resistance of the enemy was by no means desperate, and
as the retreating force was not pursued the defeat was not crushing.
Colonel Pilcher by the temporary occupation of Douglas reaped the fruits
of his victory, but the whole small campaign is of no very great
importance, as the possession of the triangle between the railway and
the Riet and Orange Rivers depends in the ultimate issue not upon the
event of local skirmishes, but on the issue of the decisive fighting
between the British Army and the forces of the Republics. Lord Methuen's
communications appear to be now well organized and guarded, so that his
position need cause no special anxiety. A good deal depends on the
outcome of the struggle between General French and the Colesberg Boers,
for, while a Boer defeat would render the line from the Cape to Orange
River quite safe, a Boer victory would endanger not only Naauwpoort but
De Aar. General Gatacre's cue should be to risk nothing. If he waits
where he is and merely holds his own until the sixth division is ready
for use no harm will have been done; if he makes any mistakes the
consequences may be more than the sixth division can remedy. The centre
of interest still lies between Ladysmith and Frere. The tone of the
telegrams from Ladysmith, which declare that though the bombardment has
been more effective since Christmas, and through dysentary and enteric
fever are busy, "all is yet well," proves that the situation of Sir
George White's force is critical, and may at any moment become
desperate. The Boers by occupying and fortifying positions south of the
Tugela have taken the best means of making sure that Sir Redvers
Buller's advance, even if successful, shall be delayed and the time
taken over it prolonged. The Boer commander sees clearly that his
present object is to delay Sir Redvers Buller, so as to gain the time
needed to bring about the fall of Ladysmith. If that can be secured the
next question will be how to damage Sir Redvers Buller. Of the prospects
of Sir Redvers Buller's attack no estimate can be made. He is stronger
than he was by the greater part of Sir Charles Warren's division, and it
is to be hoped, by plenty of heavy artillery and by an organised
transport; but the Boers are stronger than they were by a new position,
by three weeks of fortification, and by the consciousness of their last
victory. Upon Sir Redvers Buller's fate depends more than anyone cares
to say. If he wins and relieves Ladysmith the success of Great Britain
in the war will be assured, though the operations may be prolonged for
months; but if he should again fail there is no prospect of success
except by exertions of which the Government as yet has not shown the
faintest conception. His action can hardly be completed in a single
battle or in a day; the first telegrams, therefore, need not necessarily
be taken as giving the result; more probably his operations, except in
the most unfavourable case, will be continuous for something like a

For the Nation there is a question even more vital than the fate of Sir
Redvers Buller, and more practical. Nothing that was at home can do can
affect the impending battle by the Tugela. The issue of that battle, as
of the war, though it is not yet known and can be revealed only by the
event, is in reality already settled, for it depends on the proportion
of the forces of the two sides, which has been determined by British
strategy and cannot now be modified, upon the qualities, armament, and
training of the troops, which are the results of the conditions of their
enlistment, organisation, and education, and upon the judgment and will
of Sir Redvers Buller, also the outcome of his training and of the Army
system. But whatever happens on the Tugela the British Nation has its
to-morrow, a very black one in case of a defeat, and a very difficult
one even in case of victory, for all the great Powers are for ever
competitors for the possession and government of the world, and Great
Britain having shown a weakness, expected by others though unsuspected
by her own people, will in future be hard beset. The Russians have just
moved a division from the Caucasus towards the Afghan frontier, which
portends trouble for India. The Austrians, as well as the Germans are
setting out to build an extra fleet--what for? Because the Austrian
Government, like the German and Italian Governments, know, what our
recent Governments have never known, that Great Britain has for two or
three centuries been the balance weight or fly-wheel of the European
machine, by reason of the prescience with which her Navy was handled.
Those Governments now see that statesmanship has gone from us; they
divine that the great Navy we now possess cannot be used by a timid and
ignorant Government, and that no reliance can be placed upon Great
Britain to play her own true game. Accordingly, they see that they must
strengthen their own navies with a view to the possible collapse of the
British Power. In the near future the maintenance of the British Empire
depends upon the Nation's having a Government at once far-seeing and
resolute, capable of great resolves and prompt action. Of such a
Government there is, however, no immediate prospect. The present Cabinet
has given its testimonials: a challenge sent to the Boers by a
Government that did not know it was challenging anyone, that did not
know the adversary's strength, nor his determination to fight; and a war
begun in military ignorance displayed by the Cabinet, and carried on by
half measures until the popular determination compelled three-quarter
measures. Does anyone suppose that this Cabinet, that did not know its
mind till the Boers declared war, knows or will know its mind about the
conflict with Russia in Asia, or about any other of the troubles,
foreseen and unforeseen, which await us? A victory in Natal would save
the Cabinet and drown the voices of its critics; and in that case the
present leaders will infallibly go halting and irresolute into the
greater contests that are coming. A defeat in Natal would destroy the
Government at once if there were before the public a single man in whose
judgment and character there was confidence; but there is no such man,
and, as the Opposition leaders are discredited by their conduct in
regard to the quarrel with the Boers, the present set will remain at
their posts to continue the traditional policy of waiting to be driven
by public opinion. The Nation, therefore, has before it a necessary task
as urgent as that of reinforcing the Army in the field, which is to find
the man in whose judgment as to war and policy as well as in whose
character it can place confidence.

The man to be trusted is, unfortunately, not Lord Wolseley. I have for
years fought his battle by urging that the Government ought to follow
the advice of its military adviser, a theory of which the corollary is
that the adviser must resign the moment he is overruled. I have never
meant that the adviser is to be a dictator, nor that the Cabinet should
follow advice of the soundness of which it is not convinced. The Cabinet
has the responsibility and ought never to act without full conviction.
The expert who cannot convince a group of intelligent non-experts that a
necessary measure is necessary is not as expert as he should be; and if
he still retains his post after he has been overruled on a measure which
he regards as necessary he has not the strength of character which is
indispensable for great responsibility. Now, though the relation between
a Cabinet and its advisers ought to be secret, in the present case each
side has let the cat out of the bag. Lord Wolseley's friends defend him
by declaring that he has been overruled. But that defence kills him. If
he has been overruled on a trifle it does not matter, and the defence
is a quibble; if he has been overruled on an essential point why is he
still Commander-in-Chief? No answer can be devised that is not fatal to
his case. Lord Lansdowne's friend, for such Lord Ernest Hamilton may be
presumed to be, says: "Supposing, for the sake of argument, that the
short-comings of the War Office in and before the present war were due
not to neglect of military counsels, but to the adoption of such
counsels, contrary to the more far-seeing judgment of the civil side."
That is a condemnation of the civilian Minister and of the Cabinet, for
no man in charge of the Nation's affairs ought to take the
responsibility for a decision of the soundness of which he is not
convinced. If Lord Lansdowne disagreed with Lord Wolseley and was not
prepared to ask for that officer's retirement, why did he not himself
retire rather than make himself responsible for measures which he
thought wrong or mistaken? These are not personal criticisms or attacks.
Lord Wolseley and Lord Lansdowne have both of them in the past rendered
splendid services to the Nation. But the Empire is at stake, and a
writer's duty is to set forth and apply the principles which he believes
to be sound, without being a respecter of persons yet with that respect
for every man, especially for every public man, which is the best
tradition of our National life. What at the present moment ought not to
be tolerated is what Lord Ernest Hamilton suggests, an attack upon the
generals at the front, to save the War Office or the Cabinet; and what
is needed is that the Ministers should choose a war adviser who can
convince them, even though to find him they have to pass over a hundred
generals and select a colonel, a captain, or a crammer.


_January 11th_, 1900

The arrival of Lord Roberts at Cape Town announces the approaching
beginning of a new chapter in the war, though the second chapter is not
yet quite finished.

The first chapter was the campaign of Sir George White with sixteen
thousand men against the principal Boer army. It ended with Sir George
White's being surrounded in Ladysmith and there locked up.

The second chapter began with the arrival of. Sir Redvers Buller at Cape
Town. It may be reviewed under two headings: the conception and the
execution of the operations. When Sir Redvers Buller reached the Cape,
the force which he was expecting, and of which he had the control,
consisted altogether of nearly sixty thousand regular troops, besides
Cape and colonial troops. There was an Army Corps, thirty-five thousand,
a cavalry division, five thousand, troops for the defence of
communications, ten thousand, and troops at the Cape amounting to eight
thousand, some of whom were at Mafeking and Kimberley. After deducting
fourteen thousand men for communications and garrisons at the Cape, the
commander had at his disposal for use in the field about forty-four
thousand regular troops arranged as a cavalry brigade, seven brigades of
infantry, and corps troops.

There were many tasks before the British general. Southern Natal was
being invaded and had to be cleared of the enemy; the Cape Colony, too,
had to be freed from its Boer visitors, and the rising of the Cape Dutch
stopped. Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking were all awaiting relief,
and last, but not least, the Boer armies had to be beaten, and the two
Republics conquered. The strategical problem was how to accomplish all
these tasks at once, if possible, and if that could not be done, to sort
them in order of importance and deal with them in that order. The
essential thing was not to violate any of those great principles which
the experience of a hundred wars and the practice of a dozen great
generals have proved to be fundamental. The leading principle is that
which enjoins concentration of effort in time, space, and object. Do one
thing at a time and do it with all your might. If the list of tasks be
examined it will be seen that there is a connection between them all,
and that the connecting link is the Boer army. Suppose the Boer army to
be removed from the scene every one of the other aims would be easy of
accomplishment. There would then be no invaders in either colony;
Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking would be safe, and the troops in
those places free to march where they pleased; the Cape rising could be
suppressed at leisure, and the British general could at his convenience
go to Pretoria and set up a fresh government. No other of the tasks had
this same quality of dominating the situation; any one of them might be
accomplished without great or immediate effect upon those that would
remain. For this reason wisdom prescribed as the simplest way of
accomplishing the seven or eight tasks the accomplishment of the first
or last, the destruction of the Boer army. That army was in three parts:
there was a fraction on the western border of the Free State, a fraction
south of the Orange River, and the great bulk of the whole force was in
northern Natal. Destroy the principal mass, and you could then at your
leisure deal with the two smaller pieces. Everything pointed to an
attempt to crush the Boer army then in Natal.

There were two ways of getting at that army which was holding Ladysmith
in its grip. One was along the railway from Durban, one hundred and
eighty-nine miles long; it was sure to bring the British Army face to
face with the Boers at the Tugela. That point reached, either the Boers
would stand to fight and, therefore, give the opportunity of crushing
them, or they would retreat, in which case Ladysmith would be relieved,
and the British force, strengthened by White's division, would be
within three hundred miles of Pretoria. A great victory in Natal would
save Natal, stop the Cape rising, and, if followed up, draw the Boer
forces away from Kimberley and the Cape Colony.

The other way was to follow the railway line or lines from the Cape
ports, to collect the Army on the Orange River and advance to
Bloemfontein, and thence towards Pretoria or towards the western exits
from the passes through the Drakensberg mountains. This plan, however,
gave no immediate certainty of an opportunity to attack the Boer army.
The British force could be assembled on the Orange River no sooner than
on the south bank of the Tugela. But from the Orange River to
Bloemfontein there would be a march of one hundred and twenty miles, and
the Boer army was not at Bloemfontein. There was a probability that when
the British force reached Bloemfontein the Boer army might leave Natal,
but the probability did not amount to certainty; it rested upon a guess
or hypothesis of what the Boer general or the Free State Government and
its troops would think. Supposing, however, that these persons did not
think as was expected; that they determined to complete the conquest of
Natal (except Durban, which was protected by the fleet), and to keep
their grip upon Ladysmith, at any rate until the British force was
nearing the passes of the Drakensberg or crossing the Vaal, and then,
but not till then, to retreat to Middleburg? In that case the purpose of
the advance, the crushing of the Boer army, might be deferred for a very
long time, and meanwhile every one of the minor tasks, except the relief
of Kimberley and the repulse of the Free State invaders of the Cape,
would be left over. Ladysmith might fall, and its fall stimulate the
Cape rising and endanger the communications of the British force
advancing north of the Orange River.

These were the two plans, and I confess that my own judgment at the
beginning of November inclined to the former, though, as I am aware
that most of those whose strategical judgment I respect hold a decided
opinion the other way, I cannot be dogmatic. The prevalent opinion
attaches more importance than I can persuade myself to do to the
difficulties of the hilly and mountainous country of northern Natal.
There is, moreover, a reserve imposed upon observers at home by our
ignorance of the state of the transport services of the British forces.
No concentration of troops is profitable if the troops when collected
cannot be fed.

Subject to these reserves it may be said that Sir Redvers Buller at the
beginning of November had to choose between two lines of operations,
that by Natal and that by the Cape. The cardinal principle is that you
must never divide your force between two lines of operations unless it
is large enough to give you on each of the two lines an assured
superiority to the enemy's whole force. Sir Redvers Buller's design,
however, violated this principle. He neither determined upon action with
all his might through the Cape Colony nor upon action with all his
might through Natal, but divided his effort, directing four of his seven
brigades to Natal and the other three towards the Orange River; half his
cavalry brigade going to Colesberg, and a mixed force of the
communication troops to Sterkstrom on the East London line.

This design gave no promise of effecting the dominant task, the crushing
of the Boer army, though it aimed at grappling in detail with several of
the subordinate tasks; but its execution proved as indecisive as its
conception. In Natal the main force under Sir Redvers Buller himself
completely failed in the attack on the Boer army at Colenso on December
15th; Lord Methuen's advance for the relief of Kimberley came to a
standstill at the Modder River, and met with a serious repulse at
Magersfontein; while the smaller parties of Gatacre and French have made
little headway against the Free State troops and the rebellious Cape

The fifth division, the bulk of which was directed to Natal, has been
added to Sir Redvers Buller's force, without having enabled him as yet
to strike the decisive blow or even to prevent a determined assault upon
Ladysmith by the Boer army. That assault is believed to be now
impending, and its delivery will close the second chapter of the war. If
Sir Redvers Buller can win his battle in Natal while Sir George White is
still unconquered, the military power of the Boers will receive a great
shock, and the issue of the war will no longer be doubtful, though its
end may be distant. But if Sir Redvers Buller should again fail the
result must be to leave Sir George White's force in extreme peril, to
give the Boer forces the spirit of a veteran and victorious army, and to
encourage the Dutch element at the Cape to take an active part against
the British.

This is the situation which confronts Lord Roberts on his arrival at the
Cape. The problem bears a general resemblance to that which Sir Redvers
Buller had to solve at the beginning of November, but there are
important differences. Lord Roberts has in hand only a brigade, the
twelfth or first of the sixth division, which has just reached Cape
Town; he has to expect the rest of the sixth division, the seventh, a
possible eighth, and a considerable extra force of mounted troops and of
artillery; but the arrival of these forces will be gradual, and he will
have no mass of fresh troops until the beginning of next month. Even
then he may not have the means of feeding on the march the newly-arrived
divisions. Meantime a British victory in Natal would be more valuable, a
British defeat there more disastrous than ever. The effort ought to be
made if there is a reasonable probability of success, for though failure
would have disastrous consequences, material and moral, the admission of
helplessness involved in making no attempt would depress the hearts of
the British troops perhaps as fatally as a lost battle.

The first decision required is whether Sir Redvers Buller's force is to
try its fate once more. In all probability that decision has been made
while Lord Roberts was at sea, and according to the event will be the
situation with which the new Commander-in-Chief will have to deal. A
victory in Natal will make his task easy; a failure will put before him
a problem the fortunate solution of which would be a triumph for any


_January 18th_, 1900

Yesterday began the action upon which in all probability depends the
future course of the war. By the time these lines are in the reader's
hands more will be known of the battle that can be guessed to-day by the
wisest, though several days may pass before the result is fully known.

Sir Redvers Buller on Wednesday, the 10th, had under his command three
infantry divisions, a cavalry brigade, some two thousand mounted
infantry, and probably altogether about eighty guns. Clery's division
consists of Hildyard's and Lyttelton's brigades; the third division,
comprising Hart's and Barton's brigades, is not known to have had a
commander appointed; Warren's division is composed of Woodgate's brigade
and of half of Coke's brigade, to which another half may have been added
by taking two battalions which have been some time in Natal, and belong
neither to Clery's nor to the third division. The whole force ought to
be thirty thousand strong for a fight, taking the division at nine
thousand instead of ten thousand, for though there have been losses
there have also been drafts to fill up gaps. A party of mounted troops
probably one thousand strong is reported to have been detached a few
days ago by rail to Stanger on the coast near the mouth of the Tugela,
and thence to have disappeared on a mission of which the purpose is as
yet unknown, though it looks like a raid upon the railway between Dundee
and Newcastle. The strength of the Boers in Natal has never been
accurately known, and the estimates differ widely, ranging from
thirty-five thousand to more than double that number. Sir George White
may have nine thousand effectives at Ladysmith and might be contained by
fifteen thousand Boers, perhaps by a smaller number. There will,
therefore, be available against Sir Redvers Buller a force on the lowest
estimate about equal to his own, and possibly outnumbering it by two to

On Wednesday, the 10th, the British force started westward. No telegram
as yet gives its distribution, but it is plain that Clery's and Warren's
divisions moved out, together with the cavalry brigade and whatever
mounted infantry had not been sent south. Hart's and Barton's brigades,
or one of them, with a proportion of artillery may be assumed to have
been left in the entrenchments which face Colenso and cover the British
line of communications by the railway. On Thursday morning Lord
Dundonald with the cavalry brigade and some of the mounted infantry was
in possession of the hills overlooking Potgieter's Drift and of the pont
or ferry-boat. The same day the infantry or the leading division,
Clery's, was in the hills north of Springfield. Lord Dundonald's force
commanded the river at Potgieter's Drift, and the crossing there was
thus assured. A pause of four days followed: a pause probably not of
inaction, but of strenuous preparation in order to make the final
advance vigorous. During those days, no doubt, supplies would be
accumulated at Springfield Bridge Camp, at Spearman's Farm, and at some
point near to the next drift to the west. This would save delays when
the advance began, for if the force depended upon magazines at Frere the
transport would break down in the advance beyond the Tugela, whereas if
the transport had in the later stages merely to start from the south
side of the Tugela, the force could be kept supplied for a few days.
Lord Dundonald was engaged in strengthening his position at Zwart's Kop,
so that in any case there would be a secure retreat across the river if
need be. The river itself seems also to have been properly reconnoitred.

The enemy's position could be seen four or five miles to the north, and
he was known on Thursday to be strongly entrenched. A passage for
Warren's division was chosen at Trichardt's Drift five miles above
Potgieter's and near to Wagon Drift which is marked on the sketch map
issued by the Intelligence Division. From Trichardt's Drift there is
evidently a road leading into the Bethany-Dewdrop Road, and parallel to
that which runs from Potgieter's Drift. On Tuesday, the 16th,
Lyttelton's brigade of infantry with a battery of howitzers crossed the
Tugela at Potgieter's Drift and gained a line of hills to the north,
probably the edge of the plateau on which lies the Boer position. The
telegrams say nothing of bridge-making at Potgieter's Drift, but are
explicit as to the crossing of at least some of the artillery. On
Wednesday General Lyttelton shelled the Boer position with howitzers and
naval guns without drawing a reply. This silence of the Boer guns is
correct for the defenders of a position, as a reply would enable the
assailant to fix the position of the guns and to concentrate his fire
upon them. The same day (Wednesday) Warren's division crossed the Tugela
at Trichardt's Drift, and driving in the enemy's outposts secured a
lodgment on the low wooded hills about a mile north of the river; this
division, after its advance guard had crossed, was passed over by a
pontoon bridge. The remainder of yesterday may have been spent in
reconnaissance, bridge building--for an army that has crossed a river
needs to have behind it as many bridges as possible--in bringing up all
the forces destined for the battle, perhaps including Hildyard's
brigade, and in making complete arrangements for the attack which was
probably delivered this morning.

Sir Redvers Buller has aimed his blow in a right direction, for, if it
can be delivered with effect, if he can drive the Boers back, their army
will be in a perilous situation. The plan evidently is that while
Clery's division holds the Boers in front, Warren's should strike upon
their right flank. If, then, the combined attack of the two divisions
forces the Boers back the situation would be that the Boer army would
have to retreat eastward across the Klip River, its retreat in any other
direction being barred by the defences of Ladysmith, by Warren's and
Clery's divisions, and by the British force in the lines at Chieveley.
In such a situation a forced retreat would be disastrous for the Boers,
as Sir Redvers Buller's two divisions would be nearer to the Boer line
of retreat through Glencoe than the Boer army.

Of the probabilities of success it would be rash to speak. But though
numbers are against the British we must never forget the splendid
qualities which British troops have displayed in the past and which, as
the actions of this war have proved, are possessed by our officers and
men to-day. The experiences of the last few weeks have taught them what
are the formations to avoid and have shown them that they shoot at least
as well as the Boers. We may, therefore, hope for victory even against

But even if Sir Redvers Buller finds positions as strong as that at
Colenso, the Boers will probably be baulked of their prey, the garrison
of Ladysmith. Sir George White has with him the flower of the British
Army, and he does not mean to be reduced by degrees to the extremity of
famine and helplessness. During Sir Redvers Buller's attack the
Ladysmith's force will not be idle, but will attack the Boers who are
investing the place. Signals must have been prearranged between the two
commanders, and it can hardly be doubted that if and when Sir George
White should have reason to believe that Sir Redvers Buller may be
unable to force his way through the Boer positions he would himself set
out to cut his way through the investing lines, and at whatever
sacrifice to carry the remnant of his force into Sir Redvers Buller's
camp, and thus to vindicate the honour of the British arms and the
character of the British soldier.


_January 25th_, 1900

The decisive operation is proceeding slowly but surely. On Wednesday,
the 10th, Lord Dundonald reached the south bank of the Tugela at
Potgieter's Drift, and on Thursday a brigade of infantry was up with
him. A week later, on Wednesday, the 17th, Lyttelton's brigade crossed
by the drift, and Warren's wing of the Army began the passage by a
pontoon bridge at Trichardt's or Wagon Drift. On Thursday, the 18th,
Dundonald was on the high road west of Acton Homes, and drove away a
party of Boers.

North of the Tugela there is a great crescent-shaped plateau three or
four miles across at the widest part. The crescent has its convex side
to the south-west. One of its horns touches the Acton Homes--Ladysmith
road; its broadest part bulges south towards the river bank between
Wagon Drift and the loop near Potgieter's Drift; its other limb is
broken into irregular heights, Brakfontein kopje apparently marking its
south-eastern apex. On the concave north-eastern side Spion Kop is about
at the centre, and is four miles north of Wagon Drift. The plateau is
three or four hundred feet above the river and Spion Kop about the same
height above the plateau. Near the northern apex rises the Blaauwbank
River, which flows eastward towards Ladysmith along the foot of an east
and west range, a spur from the Drakensberg mountains jutting out so as
to separate the Van Reenen's road and valley from the valley followed by
the Acton Homes--Ladysmith road.

When Warren crossed the river he found the western half of the crescent
held by the enemy.

Whatever his original design, which may have been to take his whole
force to Acton Homes, and then march eastward along the road, he had to
drive the Boers from the plateau. His action was deliberate, without
hurry, but without waste of time. The troops had been prepared for
tactics better suited to their weapons, the bullet and the shell, to the
enemy's weapons, and to the ground, than the rapid advance and charge,
which was the plan of earlier actions in this war. The view that the
bullet should do its work before the appeal to the bayonet is made had
at length asserted itself. Moreover, the need for method in attack had
been recognised; first reconnaissance, then shelling; during the
shelling the deployment of the infantry in extended and flexible order,
then the musketry duel supported by the artillery; and then, as the
infantry fire proves stronger than the enemy's, an advance from point to
point in order to bring it to closer and more deadly range; last of all,
if and where it may be needed, the charge. These sound tactics--the
only tactics appropriate to modern firearms--cannot be hurried, for to
charge men armed with the magazine rifle and not yet shaken is to
sacrifice your troops to their own bravery.

Warren's attack then was rightly deliberate. On Friday, the 19th, he was
reconnoitring and feeling for the enemy. On Saturday the shooting match
began. It was continued throughout Sunday, and was not over on Tuesday.
During these days the British were making way, gradually and not without
loss, but steadily. There were, no doubt, pauses for renewing order, for
reinforcing, and for securing the ground won. On Tuesday evening Spion
Kop was still held by the Boers, who seem even then not to have been
driven off the plateau, but to have been clinging to its eastern edge.
On Tuesday night Spion Kop was taken. It was assaulted, probably in the
dark, by surprise, and the Boers driven off. Even on Wednesday the Boers
were tenaciously resisting the advance, making heavy attacks on Spion
Kop and using their artillery with effect. At midnight between
Wednesday and Thursday Sir Redvers Duller telegraphed home Sir Charles
Warren's opinion that the enemy's position had been rendered untenable,
and added his own judgment of the behaviour of the British troops in the
words, "the men are splendid."

All through the week Lyttelton's brigade has been facing a force of the
enemy on the eastern limb of the plateau in front of Potgieter's Drift.
He has not pressed an attack but has kept his infantry back, not pushing
them forward to close range, but contenting himself with shelling the
Boer positions.

Sir Redvers Buller before the troops left the camps beside the railway
had six infantry brigades. There are indications in the telegrams of a
reorganisation and redistribution of battalions among the brigades, so
that it is hardly safe to speak with certainty as to the present
composition and distribution of the commands. Apparently the left wing
under Warren consists of three or four infantry brigades, the cavalry
brigade, and most of the mounted infantry, and five or six batteries.
Sir Charles Warren himself appears to keep the general direction of this
wing in his own hands. Sir F. Clery either commands a division (two
brigades), the third brigade being led by its brigadier, under Sir
Charles Warren's direction, or Sir F. Clery is supervising the whole of
the infantry advance. Lyttelton has his own brigade, and Barton's
brigade covers the railhead at Chieveley. That accounts for five of the
six brigades. The sixth is Coke's, of Warren's division. We do not at
present know whether this is with Warren on the left wing or with Duller
as a general reserve to be put in to the fight at the decisive moment.

The great difficulties of day-after-day fighting, which has been
regarded for some years as the normal character of future battles, is to
secure for the men the food and rest without which they must soon
collapse, and to ensure the continuous supply of ammunition. If these
difficulties can be overcome Sir Redvers Bullers has a good chance of
success in his endeavour to relieve Ladysmith. Once driven from the
plateau by Warren, the Boers must retire several miles before they can
reach a second defensive position, and their retirement may be hastened
by pressure on their flanks, which is to be expected from Dundonald's
mounted infantry and cavalry, probably now on the right or northern
flank of the Boer line, as well as from Lyttelton on their left. A small
reinforcement would give a fresh impetus to the British advance. If
Coke's brigade has not yet been engaged Sir Redvers Buller will know
when and where to use it--either to reinforce Lyttelton for a blow
against the Boer line of retreat or to reinforce Warren's left. The
arrival of the _Kildonan Castle_ at Durban this morning, as far as we
know, with drafts for some of the battalions, is better than nothing,
for the drafts will give fresh vigour to the bodies that receive them.
They cannot reach the fighting line before Saturday, but their arrival
then may be most opportune. Still better would it be if a fresh brigade
should arrive while the struggle continues. There was at least a brigade
available at Cape Town a few days ago, and it could not have been better
employed than in strengthening Buller at any point where he can feed it,
at Chieveley if not as a reinforcement to Warren or Lyttelton, for a
fresh brigade at Chieveley would enable Barton to put pressure on the
Boers in his front.

Supposing that Warren has by this time compelled the retreat of the
Boers from the plateau for which he has been fighting, what can the
Boers do to resist Buller's further advance? They must try to hold a
second position. Two such positions appear to be open to them, if we may
judge by the not very full maps available. The line of hills from
Bulbarrow Hill on the north to the hill near Arnot Hill Farm on the
south might give good opportunities for defence; it blocks the road to
Ladysmith, for the Boers occupying the line would be right across these
roads. Another plan would be for the Boers to retreat to the north-east
on to the east and west ridge, which commands from the north the Acton
Homes--Dewdrop road. If the Boers took this position the roads to
Ladysmith, or to the rear of the investing lines, would be open. But Sir
Redvers Buller could not advance along them with the Boer forces
menacing his flank, and he would be obliged either to attack them or to
contain them by extending a force along their front to hold its ground
against them while he pushed the rest of his force towards Ladysmith.
Whether this would be a prudent plan for the Boers depends upon their
numbers, and if they are strong enough they might combine both plans.

It is, however, by no means certain that Lord Dundonald is unable to
prevent the Boers from crossing the Blaauwbank Spruit. He has not been
heard of for a week, and has had plenty of time to have his force in
position to the north of Clydesdale Farm, unless, indeed, he has been
kept in hand behind Warren's left flank ready for pursuit after the
capture of the great plateau.

The situation continues to be critical, and must be so until the fate
of Ladysmith is decided. Our own men are justifying to the full the
confidence reposed in them; what men can do they will accomplish. But
the Boers are fighting stubbornly, and may be able to wear out Sir
Redvers Buller's force before their own resistance collapses. We at home
must wait patiently, hoping for the best but prepared for fresh efforts.
At least we ought all now to realise that the splendid behaviour of our
soldiers in the field lays upon us as citizens the duty of securing for
the future the best possible treatment of those who are so generous of
their lives.


_February 1st_, 1900

If on Tuesday the Bank of England had announced that it could not meet
its obligations I imagine that there would have been a certain amount of
uneasiness in the City and elsewhere, and that some at least of the rich
men to be found in London would have put their heads together to see
what could be done to meet a grave emergency.

On Tuesday a failure was indeed announced--a failure which must involve
the Bank of England and most of the great banking and trading
corporations of this country. But no one seems to have taken action upon
it, and I see no visible sign of general alarm. The Prime Minister,
speaking in his place in the House of Lords and on behalf of the
National Government, said: "I do not believe in the perfection of the
British Constitution as an instrument of war ...it is evident there is
something in your machinery that is wrong." That was Lord Salisbury's
explanation and defence of the failure of his Government in the
diplomacy which preceded the war, in the preparations for the war, and
in the conduct of the war. It was a declaration of bankruptcy--a plain
statement by the Government that it cannot govern. The announcement was
not made to Parliament with closed doors and the reporters excluded. It
was made to the whole world, to the British Nation, and to all the
rivals of Great Britain. Parliament did not take any action upon the
declaration. No committee of both Houses was formed to consider how
without delay to make a Government that can govern. The ordinary normal
routine of public and private life goes on. Thus in the crisis of the
Nation's fate we are ungoverned and unled, and to all appearance we are
content to be so, and the leader-writers trained in the tradition of
respectable formalism interpret the Nation's apathy as fortitude.

Lord Salisbury's confession of impotence was true. From the beginning
to the end of this business the Government has lacked the manliness to
do its plain duty. In the first half of July, before the official
reports of the Bloemfontein conference were published, everyone but the
disciples of Mr. Morley knew that the only honourable course, after the
Government's declaration prior to the conference and after what there
took place, was to insist on the acceptance by the South African
Republic of the Bloemfontein proposals and to back up that insistence by
adequate military preparations. It is admitted that this was not done,
and what is the excuse now made? Mr. Balfour told the House of Commons
on Tuesday, January 30th, that if in August a vote of credit had been
demanded "we should not have been able to persuade the House that the
necessity for the vote was pressing and urgent." The Government charged
with the defence of the Empire excuses itself for not having made
preparations for that task on the ground that perhaps the House of
Commons would not have given its approval. Yet the Government had a
great majority at its back, and there is no instance in recent times of
a vote of credit having been rejected by the House of Commons. This
shameful cowardice was exhibited although, as we now know but could not
then have imagined, the Government had in its possession the protest of
the Government of Natal against the intention of the Imperial Government
to abandon the northern portion of that colony. The Natal Ministers on
July 25th confidentially communicated their extreme surprise at learning
that in case of sudden hostilities it would not be possible with the
garrison and colonial forces available to defend the northern portion of
the colony.

After shilly-shallying from May to September the Government began its
preparations, and the Boers as soon as they were ready began the war. Of
the conduct of the war the readers of _The London Letter_ have had an
account week by week, as to the truth of which they can judge for
themselves, for the facts are there by which it can be tested. The
attempt has been made to refrain from any criticism which could hurt the
feelings of the generals, who are doing their duty to the best of their
power in most trying circumstances. But is it not plain that the British
Army has been hampered by a lack of sound strategy and of sound tactics
such as indicate prolonged previous neglect of these branches of study
and training? Who is responsible to the Nation for the training of the
Army? The Government and the Government alone. If any military
officer has not done his work effectively--if, for example, the
Commander-in-Chief has not taught his generals rightly or not
selected them properly--who is responsible to Parliament for that?
Not the officer, even if he be the Commander-in-Chief, for the
Commander-in-Chief is the servant of the Cabinet and responsible to the
Cabinet, which if it were dissatisfied with him ought to have dismissed
him. Authority over the Army is in the hands of the Secretary of State
for War as the delegate of the Cabinet. Lord Lansdowne has held his post
only since 1895, and cannot be held responsible for the training of the
older generals; but before him came Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman who for
some years had charge of the preparation of the Army for war as the
delegate of the late Cabinet. For the state of the Army, for the
strategical and tactical training which has resulted in so many
failures, the politicians of both front benches, who in turn have
neglected these vital matters, are responsible.

Here we are, then, in the middle of the war, without a Government, but
with a body of men who fill the place of a Government while admitting
themselves incompetent to do the work entrusted to them and for which
they are paid. The war so far has consisted of a succession of repulses,
which at any moment may culminate in disaster. Sir Redvers Buller has
twice led his Army to defeat and is about to lead it a third time--to
what? Possibly to victory; we all hope that it may be to victory. But
possibly to a third defeat which would mean not merely the loss of the
force at Ladysmith; it would mean that Sir Redvers Buller's Army in its
turn would need succour, and that the plan, so much favoured by the
strategists of the Army, of a march through the Free State would be
hampered. For the final and decisive defeat of Sir Redvers Buller would
be followed by the long-deferred general rising of the Cape Dutch, and
probably enough by the action of one or more of the European Powers.
_The Times_ of to-day announces that a foreign Government has ordered a
large supply of steam coal from the Welsh collieries. That can mean but
one thing, that some foreign Power is getting its Navy ready for action.

What, then, is the situation to-day? That any day may bring the gravest
news from South Africa, to be followed possibly by an ultimatum from a
foreign coalition. In that event the Nation will have to choose between
abandoning its Empire in obedience to foreign dictation, an abandonment
which would mean National ruin, and a war for existence, a war for which
no preparation has been made, which the Government is incompetent to
conduct, and which would begin by a naval conflict during which it would
be impossible to assist the Army in South Africa. That is the situation.
It may take a turn for better; you cannot be quite sure that a storm
which you see brewing may not pass off, but the probabilities are that
the struggle for existence is at hand. What then is our duty, the duty
of every one of us? To support the Government which cannot govern? Not
for a moment, but to get rid of it as soon as possible and to make at
once a Government that will try. Lord Rosebery at least sees the
situation and understands the position. There is no other public man who
commands such general confidence, and it is practically certain that if
the Cabinet were compelled to resign by an adverse vote of the House of
Commons Lord Rosebery would be the first statesman to be consulted by
the Queen. Lord Rosebery could make a Government to-morrow if he would
ignore parties and pick out the competent men wherever they are to be
found. Any new Cabinet, except one containing Mr. Morley or Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman, would be given a chance. The House of Commons would
wait a few weeks to see how it bore itself. If there were prompt
evidences of knowledge and will in the measures adopted, even though
half the Ministers or all of them except Lord Rosebery were new men,
there would soon be a feeling of confidence, and the Nation, knowing
that it was led, would respond with enthusiasm. In that case Great
Britain might make a good fight, though no one who knows the state of
our preparations and those of the rest of the world will make a sanguine
prediction as to the result.


_February 8th_, 1900

Sir Redvers Buller on Monday set out on his third attempt to relieve
Ladysmith. He appears to have made a feint against the Boer position
north of Potgieter's Drift, and, while there attracting the attention of
the Boers by the concentrated fire of many guns, to have pushed a force
of infantry and artillery across the river to the right of Potgieter's
Drift. This force, of which the infantry belongs to Lyttelton's brigade,
carried and defended against counter attack a hill called Vaal Krantz,
at the eastern end of the Brakfontein ridge. To the east of Vaal Krantz
runs a good road to Ladysmith, along which the distance from the Tugela
to Sir George's White's outposts is about ten miles. To the east again
of the road is a hill called Dorn Kop. Here the Boers have an artillery
position which seems to command Vaal Krantz, and they probably have the
usual infantry trenches. The Boer position then faces the Tugela and
runs from Spion Kop on the west, the Boer left, to Dorn Kop on the east,
the Boer right. Sir Redvers Buller's attack is an attempt to pierce the
centre of this position.

To break the centre of an enemy's line, to pour your forces into and
through the gap, and then roll up the more important of his divided
wings, is an operation which if it can be successfully executed makes a
decisive victory; if followed up it ruins the enemy's army. But it is in
modern conditions the most difficult form of attack. The long range of
modern weapons, of guns that kill at two miles and of rifles that kill
at a mile--to take a moderate estimate of their power--enables the
defender to concentrate upon any attack against his centre the fire of
all the rifles in his front line for a couple of miles, and of all the
guns standing on a length of four miles. A similar concentration of fire
is only occasionally and temporary possible for the assailant, though if
it should happen that the ground exposes a point of the defender's line
to such concentric fire, while it protects some points held by the
assailant, the attack would have a prospect of success. But the moment
the point of attack is recognised by the defender he will collect every
available battery and rifleman from all parts of his line and place them
on that portion of his front which commands the path of the assailant.
To prevent this the assailant must engage the defender along his whole
line so that all the defending forces are fully occupied and there are
none to spare for the critical point or region.

Sir Redvers Buller's task is rendered harder by the fact that his own
troops before they can attack must cross the Tugela. He has two bridges
at the point here supposed to have been selected for the main attack,
but troops can hardly cross a bridge at a quicker rate than a brigade an
hour, and as the Boers ride faster than the British infantry can walk,
and as the British troops south of the river cannot effectually engage
the Boers, it will not have been easy so to occupy the enemy along the
whole front as to prevent his massing guns and rifles--at any rate
rifles--to defend his centre.

So much for the initial difficulties, which seem by a combination of
feint and surprise to have been so far overcome on Monday that the
advanced British troops effected a lodgment in the centre of the Boer
position, from which a counter-attack failed to eject them. The next
thing is, as the British force is brought across the river, to attack
one of the Boer wings while containing or keeping back the other. Before
this, can be done the enemy's centre must really be pierced, so that
troops can be poured through the gap to turn the flank of one of the
enemy's divided halves. This piercing is most difficult in the
conditions of to-day, for the enemy by establishing a new firing line
behind the point carried by our troops may be able to enclose in a
semicircle of fire the party that has made its way into the position.
Against such an enveloping fire it is a hard task to make headway.

All these aspects of his problem a General thinks out before he starts;
he does not make his attempt unless and until he sees his way to meet
the various difficulties, both those inherent in the nature of the
operation and those that arise from the local conditions and from the
character of the particular enemy. The difficulties are therefore not
reasons why General Buller should not succeed, but their consideration
may help to show why with the best previous deliberation and with the
bravest of troops he may perhaps not be able to break the Boer

There is one feature of his task that is perhaps not fully appreciated
by the public. In order to relieve Ladysmith he must thoroughly defeat
and drive away the Boer army--must, so to speak break its back. For,
supposing he could clear a road to Ladysmith and march there, leaving
the Boer army in position on one or both sides of his road, his position
on reaching the place would be that he would have to fight his way back
again, and that unless he could then defeat the Boers his Army would be
lost, for it would be cut off from its supplies. The relief of Ladysmith
and the complete defeat of the Boer army are therefore synonymous terms.
There is, however, a sense in which a partial defeat of the Boers would
be of use. If the Boer army, though not driven off, were yet fully
absorbed in its struggle with Sir Redvers Bullet and had drawn to its
assistance some portion of the force investing Ladysmith, it might be
possible for Sir George White to make a sortie and to break through the
investing lines. To that case, however, the term "the relief of
Ladysmith" could hardly be correctly applied.

How far Sir George White can co-operate with Sir Redvers Buller depends
partly upon the mobility of his force. His horses after three months in
Ladysmith can hardly be in much condition, even supposing that they have
not already begun to be used as food for the troops. Supposing there
are horses enough for the field guns, and that the naval guns and
mountain guns were destroyed at the last moment before the sortie. The
men and the field artillery would then have to make a night attack,
followed by a march of about seven miles in trying conditions, and by a
second attack in which they would join hands with Sir Redvers Buller.
This does not imply exertions impossible to troops like Sir George
White's, and such a move perhaps offers the best way out of the
difficulties of the situation. If in that case Sir George White made for
the north side of Dorn Kop a part of the Boer army would probably be
destroyed, and the loss which the British force would have suffered
would thus to some extent be made up for. It is presumed that Sir
Redvers Buller and Sir George White, who are able to communicate with
one another, have a cipher which enables them to inform each other
without informing the enemy.

Any plan which will unite Sir George White's force, or the bulk of it,
with that of Sir Redvers Buller on the Tugela will simplify the whole
problem of the War. Lord Roberts is preparing for an advance in force
from the Orange River, which will sooner or later transfer the centre of
gravity to the western theatre of War, in which the British troops will
not be confronted by the difficulties of an unknown or very imperfectly
known mountainous region. The movements now taking place in the Cape
Colony are the preliminaries to that advance. The method, the only right
method, is to use the reinforcements that have arrived--the sixth and
seventh divisions--to secure a preponderance first at one point and then
at another, instead of distributing them evenly over the whole area and
the various points of contact. The idea would seem to be, first, to
strengthen General French until he has crushed the Boer force with which
he is dealing, then to use his troops to secure the defeat of the Boers
who are opposing Sir William Gatacre, and then to cross the Orange
River with three divisions and deal a blow against the Boer army that is
now between the Riet River and Kimberley. This plan of beating in detail
the Boer forces in the western theatre of war, if carried out so as to
lead in each case to a crushing defeat of the Boers, would be the
prelude to a collision between the main Boer army and a British force
its superior in every respect. The first certain evidence that some such
idea is at the foundation of the new operations may be hailed as the
beginning of victory. For the present it is enough to know that the
departure of Lord Roberts from Cape Town augurs the opening of an
energetic campaign with that unity of direction in a strong hand which
is the first element of success in war.


_February 15th_, 1900

In war, as in other great enterprises, the first element of success is
unity of direction in a strong hand. The reason is that whenever the
co-operation of large numbers is involved the needful concentration of
purpose can be supplied only by the head man, the leader or director.
Concentration of purpose means in war the arrangement in due perspective
of all the various objectives, the selection of the most important of
them, the distribution of forces according to the importance of the
blows to be delivered, of which some one is always decisive. To the
decisive point, then, the bulk of the forces are directed, and at other
points small forces are left to make shift as well as they can, unless,
indeed, there is a superabundance of force--not a common phenomenon.

The same principle of concentration prescribes that action when once
begun should, at any rate at the decisive point, be sudden, rapid, and
continuous. These fundamental ideas are illustrated by the practice of
all the great commanders, and there is perhaps no better definition of a
great commander than one whose action illustrates the simple principles
of war. Lord Roberts is once more revealing to his countrymen the nature
of these principles. The tangled mass of the war has suddenly become
simplified, and there is clearness where there was confusion.

The Commander-in-Chief reached Cape Town on January 10th, and found
large forces dispersed over a front of two or three hundred miles, the
reinforcements at sea, and the transport still in a state very like
confusion. By February 6th, two or three weeks earlier than was
anticipated by those at home who had the most perfect confidence in him,
he was on his way to the front, enabling those at home to draw the
certain inference that all was ready, the divisions assembled, and the
transport in order. While he was travelling the six hundred miles from
Cape Town to the Modder River various preliminary moves which he had
ordered were in course of execution. There had been a large display of
British infantry near Colesberg, covering the withdrawal of General
French and the cavalry division. This had the effect of causing the
Boers to reinforce Colesberg, probably by detachments from
Magersfontein. The British infantry, however, was there only to lure the
Boers; it was composed of parts of the sixth division on the way further
north, and only a small infantry force was left to hold the reinforced
Boers in check. The next move was a reconnaissance in force from Modder
River to Koodoosberg Drifts, which drew Commandant Cronje's attention
and some of his troops to his right flank. The reconnaissance had the
further object of inspiriting the Highland Brigade which had been so
badly damaged at Magersfontein, and of establishing good relations
between these troops and their new commander, General Mac Donald. On
their return to camp a short address from Lord Roberts had the effect
upon them that Napoleon's proclamations used to produce on the French
troops. A day or two was spent in completing the organisation of the
force at Modder River, where a new division, the ninth, had been formed
probably of troops brought up from the communications. The mounted
infantry were also brigaded, as had been those at Orange River Station.
Meantime various movements had been going on of which the details as yet
are unreported. Two infantry divisions, the sixth and seventh, the last
two from England, were moving towards the Riet River to the East of
Jacobsdal. The point or points from which they started are not known,
nor the direction of their march, which was screened by the cavalry
division and perhaps also by a brigade of mounted infantry. At any rate
on Sunday, the 11th inst., Hannay's brigade of mounted infantry from
Orange River, on the march to Ramdam, had to cover its right flank
against a party of Boers. Ramdam is not to be found, but if it is on
the Riet above Jacobsdal the probability is that Hannay's brigade was
covering the right flank of the infantry divisions.

On Monday French with his cavalry brigade seized a drift or ford across
the Riet ten or a dozen miles above Jacobsdal, and the two infantry
divisions were so close behind him that on Tuesday Lord Roberts could
report them both encamped beyond the river. On Tuesday French was off
again to the north with a cavalry brigade, a mounted infantry brigade,
and a horse artillery brigade, a second cavalry brigade, under Colonel
Gordon moving on his right. By half-past five French was across the
Modder River, having forced a drift and seized the hills beyond so as to
secure the passage for the infantry, while Gordon had seized two drifts
further to the west. Between them the two cavalry commanders had
captured five Boer laagers, and the slightness of the opposition they
encounter proves that the Boers were completely surprised. On Wednesday
morning the sixth division was on the march to follow the cavalry, and
the seventh division was to take the same direction on Wednesday

These are all the facts reported until now, Thursday afternoon. Let us
see what they mean. First of all, Lord Roberts has chosen his objective,
the Boer force before Kimberley, on the right flank of the Boer front
Stormberg--Colesberg--Magersfontein. A blow delivered here and followed
by a march into the Free State places Lord Roberts on the communications
of the Boers now at Stormberg and Colesberg and between the two halves
of the Boer army, of which one is on the border of Cape Colony and the
other in Natal. The objective, therefore, has been chosen with
strategical insight. In the next place forces have been concentrated for
the blow. Lord Roberts has four infantry divisions, a cavalry brigade,
and at least one brigade of mounted infantry, his total strength
amounting to at least fifty thousand men. Then there has been a skilful
and successful attempt to distract the enemy's attention, to conceal
from him the nature of the movement and the force to be employed, and
last, but not least, there has been the suddenness and the rapidity of
movement essential to surprise. These are the proofs of that breadth and
simplicity of conception and of that mastery in execution which are the
marks of the best generalship.

But there is in the best work more than breadth of mind and strength of
hand. The details fit in with the design and repay the closest scrutiny.
The march of twenty-five thousand men round Jacobsdal towards the Modder
tactically turns the Boer position at Magersfontein, so that it need not
be carried by a frontal attack. But it also places the British force on
the direct line of the Boer communications with Bloemfontein, and if
Commandant Cronje values these communications he must either make a
precipitate retreat by Boshof, offering his flank during the process to
attack by French, or must attack the sixth and seventh divisions on
their march from the Riet to the Modder. But in either case he has to
reckon with the Guards and ninth divisions which are not mentioned in
the telegrams, but which are assuredly not idle. Lord Methuen has long
held a crossing on to the peninsula or Doab between the two rivers, and
the advance of a division into this peninsula must compel the prompt
evacuation of Jacobsdal or bring about the ruin of any Boer force there,
while at the same time it would increase the weight of troops that
intervene between Magersfontein and Bloemfontein. A single division is a
more than ample force to cover the British railhead at Modder River.
Commandant Cronje may elect to fight where he is, which would be to
court disaster, for he would be attacked from the east in great force,
with no retreat open except to the west away from his base, and with a
considerable river, the Vaal, to cross. Such a retreat after a lost
battle and under the pressure of pursuit would be ruin to his army. He
may move off by Boshof, but that would be impracticable unless the
start were made soon after the first news of the British advance. On
Wednesday he would have only the mounted troops to deal with; even on
Thursday (to-day) the sixth division could hardly be used with effect on
the north bank of the Modder, but on Friday he would have the sixth and
seventh divisions to reckon with. Probably his best course would be to
retire before he can be attacked to Barkly, on the right bank of the
Vaal. He would there be in a position most difficult to attack, and yet
his presence there on the flank of any British advance either to the
north or to the east would make it impossible to neglect him. His
decision has been taken before now, or this opinion would have been
suppressed out of deference to the anxiety of those who imagine that
strategical advice is telegraphed from London to the Boer headquarters.

Of the effect of the new move upon the general course of the war it
would be premature to enlarge. We must wait and see the close of the
first act. The most effective issue of this week's movements would be a
battle leading to the thorough defeat, the military destruction, of the
Boer army before Kimberley. A less valuable result would be the raising
of the siege of Kimberley without fighting, a result which is not to be
preferred, because a force that retires before battle has to be fought
later on. For this reason the true Boer game is to retreat in time.

It will be interesting to watch the effect of the new campaign upon the
ripening resolve of the British Nation to have, its Army set in order.
Upon many minds, and no doubt upon Ministers and their adherents, the
impression made by success in the field will be that reform is needless.
The true impression would be that it is as urgent as before, and that
the right way to begin is to give authority to the right man, the
commander who is now revealing his strength.


_February 22nd_, 1900

A week ago the news was that Lord Roberts had begun his movement, that
he was moving with fifty thousand men against Commandant Cronje, and
that General French with the cavalry division had crossed the Modder,
the sixth and seventh divisions following him between the Riet and the

The great object was to strike down Cronje's force before it could
receive help, and the design must have been to cut off his retreat to
the eastward. On Thursday, the 15th, French marched from the Modder to
Alexandersfontein, attacked the rear of the Boer line investing
Kimberley, and in the evening entered the town. He had left the sixth
division at the drifts of the Modder. This movement of French's appeared
to imply that Cronje's army was known to be retreating to the west or
north-west, and that French took the road through Kimberley as the
shortest way to reach a position where that retreat could be
intercepted. It could hardly be imagined that the move was made for the
sake of Kimberley, of which the relief was assured whether Cronje stood
to fight or retreated in any direction. The essential thing was to find
where Cronje's force was--if it was at Magersfontein to surround it or
drive it to the west; if elsewhere to delay it with the cavalry and
pursue it with the infantry. But Cronje was not found. When French was
in Kimberley, Cronje, retreating eastwards, passed through the fifteen
miles gap between the town and Kelly-Kenny. Kelly-Kenny on Friday
discovered this and set off in pursuit while French was following a Boer
force retreating northwards, probably part of the force that had
invested Kimberley. Kelly-Kenny shelled the Boer laager and captured a
number of waggons, but the Boers retreated eastwards along the north
bank of the Modder with Kelly-Kenny at their heels. To assist
Kelly-Kenny French was recalled from the north, and Macdonald with the
Highland Brigade pushed out by a forced march from Jacobsdal. Accounts
differ as to the site of the fighting, but there was a three days'
running fight, during which Cronje may have crossed the Modder and
approached Paardeberg or may have been stopped on the north bank. The
Boer reports, which imply at least that Cronje was hard pressed, were
sent off before the finish, and the first British official reports,
consisting only in a list of officers killed and wounded, show that each
of the three infantry brigades had hard fighting with considerable

Of eight infantry brigades with which Lord Roberts began his movement
three were engaged against Cronje; one has probably been sent to
Kimberley, with which town railway communication has been re-opened, so
that it will be soon an advanced base for the Army. Lord Roberts,
therefore, who was at Paardeberg on Monday evening, may have had with
him four brigades or two divisions, representing twenty thousand men,
besides the three brigades engaged, which represented before the battle
something like fifteen thousand.

Of French and the cavalry division there is no report. The Boers publish
a telegram from Commandant de Wet, who seems to have brought up
reinforcements while Cronje's action was in progress on Sunday.

The Boer commander evidently counted on reinforcements from all
quarters; a party from Colesberg cut off a British waggon train at the
Riet on or about Friday, the 16th, and reinforcements from Natal arrived
during Cronje's action. Lord Roberts has thus drawn the Boers away from
the circumference towards the centre. He has lightened the tasks of
Buller, Clements, Gatacre, and Brabant, but has thereby brought the
chief load on to his own shoulders. It seems a misfortune that Cronje
was able to escape eastwards from Magersfontein, though it would be
wrong until full knowledge of what took place is obtained to assume that
this could have been avoided.

Cronje, however, has not been able to make good his escape. A Renter's
telegram from Paardeberg dated. Tuesday explicitly states that Cronje's
force was enclosed and remained enclosed. Lord Roberts on Tuesday
reported that after examination of the enemy's position by
reconnaissance in force, he decided to avoid the heavy loss involved in
an assault, but to bombard the enemy and to turn his attention to the
approaching reinforcements. The result was that the reinforcements were
driven off and dispersed with heavy loss to them and trifling loss to
the British. This seems to have been effected on Tuesday. Boer prisoners
reported that they have come from Ladysmith, and the commander of the
reinforcements is said to have been Commandant Botha, who was last heard
of at Spion Kop. On Tuesday also the shelling of Cronje's position is
said to have induced him to ask for an armistice, which must be assumed
to be the prelude to a surrender; at any rate the request would hardly
be granted except to settle the terms of a capitulation or to enable the
Boer general to be told that unconditional surrender was the only
alternative to a continuance of the bombardment.

The advance into the Free State implied that Lord Roberts meant to take
the benefit of acting on "interior lines," that is, in plain English,
of getting in between his enemies and striking them in turn before they
can unite or combine. This plan required him with his main body to
attack the enemy's reinforcements in detail as they came up. In that way
he secured time for the completion of the action against Cronje, and
upon its favourable issue he will be master of the situation.

In Natal the situation has been changed by the action of Lord Roberts.
The two Boer Republics are well aware that they must stand or fall
together. Either the Boer Commander-in-Chief has decided to strike at
Lord Roberts, in which case he must move the bulk of his force into the
Free State, or he hopes to be in time to resist Lord Roberts after
making an end of Sir George White. In the former case he must raise the
siege of Ladysmith, for he cannot carry it on without a strong covering
force to resist Sir Redvers Buller. Then there will be forty thousand
British troops in Natal, whose advance will be almost as dangerous as
that of Lord Roberts. In the latter case there can be little chance of a
successful resistance to Lord Roberts, whose advance northwards from
Bloemfontein would in due time compromise the safety of the Boer army.
The reports do not enable us to feel sure which decision has been taken.
Sir Redvers Buller's telegram of Wednesday to the effect that one of his
divisions had crossed the Tugela and was opposed only by a rear guard
looks very like a Boer withdrawal from Natal. A later unofficial
telegram, describing a very strong position north of the Tugela held by
the Boers to cover the siege, suggests that the Boer commander is again
trying to lead his adversary into attack upon a prepared position. Each
case has its favourable aspect. If the Boers are raising the siege the
forces of Buller and White will in a few days be united, and need only
good leading to force the passes and invade either the Free State or the
Transvaal. If the Boers are determined to hold on to Ladysmith, they
cannot effectively check the advance of Lord Roberts.

While the war is going on the Nation ought to set its military forces in
order. The Militia should be formed into divisions for the field and be
shipped off to manoeuvring grounds at the Cape; they can be brought home
as soon as it is certain they will not be wanted. The Volunteers could
soon be formed into an army if the War Office would carry out the
measures which have for years been urged upon it by Volunteer officers.
The first step is to give the officers the authority which has hitherto
been withheld from them, so that by its exercise they may form their
characters; the second to give them the best instruction and
encouragements to learn; the third to find them ground for ranges, for
field firing and for manoeuvres. A minister of war who combined
knowledge of war and of the Volunteers with a serious purpose would be
able in two months to infuse the whole Volunteer force with the right
ideal, and then, by mobilising them for another two months, to transform
them into an army. It is for the Navy and the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs to secure the four months that are needed.


_March 1st_, 1900

February has made up for the blunders of August and September, and
retrieved the disasters of October, November, and December.

On Tuesday the 27th, Commandant Cronje with four thousand men, the
remains of his army, surrendered to Lord Roberts at Paardeberg; the same
day, Sir Redvers Duller attacked and carried the Boer position near
Pieters, in front of Ladysmith, and on Wednesday the 28th, Lord
Dundonald with two mounted regiments, entered Ladysmith.

The fighting in the Free State and in Natal has been simultaneous, and
it may be worth while briefly to review the two campaigns. Lord Roberts
set out from Modder River on Monday the 12th. On that day began the
march of his force to the attack of Cronje. French with the cavalry
seized Dekiel's Drift on the Riet and was followed by two infantry
divisions. Next day, Tuesday the 13th, French was holding the drifts of
the Modder, and on Thursday morning the sixth division was at Klip
Drift. Thereupon French pushed on with his cavalry to Kimberley. The
same night Cronje marched off between Kimberley and Klip Drift, making
eastwards along the north bank of the Modder, which he was to cross near
Paardeberg. But his march was discovered. He was followed and attacked
on Friday the 10th by the advance guard of the sixth division, which
detained him at the crossing of the river. The Highland Brigade made a
forced march to intercept him on the south bank, and between Friday and
Sunday, the 16th and 18th, he was surrounded and driven back into a
position formed by the river banks. Here, from the 17th to the 27th, he
held out against a bombardment, while the British forces, pushing their
trenches gradually nearer, were preparing for an assault. Lord Roberts
had brought up the bulk of his force, and parried with ease the attacks
of two or three parties of Boers who came up in succession to Cronje's
assistance; some of them having been sent for the purpose from Northern
Natal. On Tuesday, February 27th, the anniversary of Majuba, Cronje

The effects of this campaign against Cronje were felt at once in various
parts of the theatre of war. The advance of Lord Roberts and the retreat
of Cronje carried with them the relief of Kimberley. It drew away the
Boers from the Colesberg district, so that on the 26th General Clements
was able to enter Colesberg, which had been evacuated, and on the 27th,
to move his troops forward from Arundel to Rensburg.

Lord Roberts had arranged for other action simultaneous with his own. On
Friday, the 16th, General Brabant with his Cape Mounted Division
attacked the Boers near Dordrecht and defeated them. A week later he was
in Jamestown, the Boers were retreating towards the Orange River, and
the rebels in Barkly East were asking for terms, receiving the answer
that there were no terms but unconditional surrender.

On Wednesday the 14th, while French was leading the advance from
Dekiel's Drift to the Modder, Sir Redvers Buller took Hussar Hill,
north-east of Chieveley. Four days later, on Sunday the 18th, he fought
a considerable battle at Monte Cristo, a point of the Inhlawe range, the
capture of which turned Hlangwane Hill and led to its capture next day,
Monday the 19th. On Tuesday the 20th, Buller's advance guard crossed the
Tugela near Colenso. On Wednesday the 21st, the river was bridged, and
three brigades crossed to the north bank. The fighting then became
continuous. On Friday there was a determined attack by the Irish brigade
upon a Boer position west of the railway near Pieters. The assault
failed and the troops suffered heavily, but the British force maintained
the general line of front which it had gained. On Monday the 26th, a
fresh bridge was thrown across the Tugela, a mile or two east of the
railway line, and on Tuesday the 27th, Pieters Hill, east of Pieters
Station, in the prolongation of the Boer front, was stormed by General
Barton, whereupon the whole British force renewed the attack in front
upon the Boer positions west of the railway and carried them, dispersing
the enemy. It now seems that this was the decisive attack, for the next
evening, Wednesday the 28th, Dundonald with two mounted regiments was in
Ladysmith, and to-day Sir Redvers Buller with his Army Corps moved
forwards towards Nelthorpe, the last railway station before Ladysmith.

On Wednesday morning Sir Redvers Buller reported a considerable force of
the enemy still on and under Bulwana Mountain, to the east of Ladysmith.
His task and that of his Army Corps is to inflict what damage he can
upon that force of the enemy, taking from Sir George White whatever
assistance that officer and his troops can give, and leaving to the
auxiliary services the work of attending to the sick and wounded in
Ladysmith and the provisioning of the troops and the town. A part of Sir
George White's force is, no doubt, still fit for action so soon as its
supply of cartridges can be renewed. The most effective plan would
probably be to leave a strong rearguard at Nelthorpe, and to push on
with the main body and the bulk of the artillery through Ladysmith to
the assault of one of the Boer positions on the north side of the town.
This would compel the Boers to abandon Bulwana, perhaps to leave behind
their heavy guns; would, if successful, prevent their retreat by the
direct road into the Free State, and might greatly embarrass or, at
least, harass their retreat through the Biggarsberg.

The defeat of the Boer army in Natal and the relief of Ladysmith is a
great blow to the Boer cause. It frustrates the hopes of the Boers for
the one great success on which they were to some extent justified in
counting, and makes an end of their plan of campaign.

A few days will be needed to repair the railway from the Tugela to
Ladysmith, and to build a temporary railway bridge at Colenso. By that
time the force of Sir George White and Sir Redvers Buller will be
rested, refreshed, and reorganised, forming an army of from thirty-five
thousand to forty thousand men. In the Free State Lord Roberts has
probably forty-five thousand. The collapse of the Boer invasion of Cape
Colony points to the early reopening of the railways from Naauwpoort and
Sterkstrom to Norval's Pont and Bethulie, the repair of the railway
bridges over the Orange River, and the concentration at Bloemfontein of
sixty thousand men, with the railway from the Orange River working and
guarded behind them, possibly with a new line of railway from Modder
River or Kimberley to Bloemfontein as an additional resource. The
advance of Lord Roberts with sixty thousand men to the Vaal River must
open to Sir Redvers Buller the passes of the Drakensberg range from Van
Reenen's to Lang's Nek, and between the two forces the Boer army must be
crushed. The Boers may abandon the attempt at resistance by battle, and
may confine themselves to the defence of Pretoria, to raids on the
British communications, and to the various devices of irregular warfare.
But the British forces will shortly have at their disposal as many
mounted men as the Boers, so that even irregular warfare can but lead
to their destruction in detail.

The only hope for the Boer cause now rests upon the intervention of
other Powers, and the crucial moment for the British Government is at
hand. That the Nation is resolved to brook no intervention is absolutely
certain, and that it is ready to make great sacrifices and great efforts
to resist any attempt at intervention seems equally beyond doubt. Has
the Government appreciated either the needs of the situation or the
temper of the Nation? Intervention if offered will be proposed suddenly,
and foreign action, if it is contemplated at all, will follow upon the
heels of the rejection of the proposals. If, then, fleets have still to
be completed for sea, plans of campaign to be matured and adopted, and a
Volunteer Army to be improvised, the great war will find us as unready
and as much surprised as did the supposed small war five months ago.

The measures required are, first of all, to settle the distribution of
fleets for all eventualities, to commission every ship in the navy and
to have all the fleets ready in their intended stations, so that only an
order by cable may be needed to set them to work; secondly, to have all
the coast defences manned and ready thirdly, to have the volunteer
brigades encamped in the defensive positions round London, for which
they are destined; and, lastly, but not least, to have the rest of the
forces at home encamped near great railway centres as field divisions of
regulars, field divisions of militia, and field divisions of volunteers,
with ammunition, transport and supplies attached to them. If these
measures had already been carried out there would be no intervention. If
they are now carried out without loss of time, intervention may be
prevented. If they are much longer postponed intervention becomes
probable; the great war may be expected, and no man can foretell whether
the British Empire, if again taken by surprise and unready, can weather
the storm.


_March 8th_, 1900

Lord Roberts yesterday defeated the Boers near Poplar's Drift. In order
to measure the importance of the event it may be well to begin by a
rough general survey of the condition of affairs.

There have long been signs that the Boer Power was subjected to a very
great strain by the effort made to hold, against ever-increasing British
forces, a number of points upon the circumference of a very large area.
The Boers were attacking Mafeking and Kimberley, and covering their
action at both points by forces intended to delay the relieving columns.
They were also endeavouring to support rebellion throughout a great
tract of country in the Cape Colony, extending from Prieska on the west
to the Basuto border on the east, and covering the rebels by parties
posted to resist the advance of Gatacre and French along the railways
from the south coast to the Orange River. These two groups of
enterprises were but the subordinate features of a campaign in which the
principal undertaking was the reduction of Ladysmith, which involved a
prolonged and stubborn resistance to the repeated assaults of Sir
Redvers Buller.

Thus the Boer Governments, or their commander-in-chief, set out at the
beginning to do many things at the same time. There were few British
troops in the country, and there was the possibility of great success,
at least in the shape of the occupation of territory, before the British
forces could be assembled. But shortly after the arrival of Sir Redvers
Buller's Army Corps it began to be evident that the Boer forces were
balanced by the British. There was a pause in the movements. The British
made little headway and the Boers none. Yet, as both sides were doing
their best, it was clear that the Boers required the utmost exertion of
all their energies to maintain the equilibrium. This condition may be
said to have lasted from about the middle of December to the middle of
February. During those two months, however, while the Boers were at
full tension, the British were gathering new forces behind their front
line, which itself was all the time receiving gradual accessions of

When Lord Roberts with fifty thousand men burst through the Boer cordon
and destroyed the force with which Cronje had been covering the siege of
Kimberley, the Boers had no reserve of force with which to fill up the
gap. Every man sent to Cronje's assistance had to be taken from some
other post where he was sorely needed. The detachments sent from Natal
into the Free State left the Natal Army, already wearied by its long
unsuccessful siege of Ladysmith, and by Buller's persistent attacks, too
weak to continue at once the siege and the resistance to Buller. But the
two tasks were inseparable, and when Buller renewed his attack and drove
the Boers from their posts south of the Tugela, the Boer army of Natal
found itself able to cover its retreat only by a last desperate
rearguard action at Pieters.

Defeat in the Free State and collapse in Natal were accompanied by the
abandonment of the effort to support the rebellion in Cape Colony.

This general breakdown following upon prolonged over-exertion, and
accompanied in the two principal regions by complete defeat, must have
had its effects on the spirits of the troops. Hope must be gone and
despair at hand, and the consequent diminution of power is sure to be
considerable. There is no sign as yet of any strong leadership such as
could to some extent restore the fortunes of the Boer army. The retreat
beyond the Orange River has been gradual; the siege of Mafeking has not
been abandoned, and there is no sign of a determined concentration of
forces to oppose Lord Roberts.

Since the surrender of Cronje on February 27th, Lord Roberts has been
completing his supplies, and probably making good the damage to his
transport caused by the loss of a convoy on the Riet River. He has also
brought up the Guards Brigade as a reinforcement. A few days ago the
camp was moved forward from Paardeberg to Osfontein, and beyond
Osfontein the Boers were observed collecting their troops from day to
day and extending their position, which ran roughly north and south
across the Modder. Yesterday Lord Roberts advanced to the attack with
three and a half infantry divisions, a cavalry division and a brigade of
mounted infantry. The cavalry, followed by an infantry division, turned
the enemy's left flank, and by noon the enemy's army was in full retreat
towards the north and east, pursued by the British. The Boers have this
time not ventured to stand to fight. They have seen themselves assailed
in front by a force which must have greatly outnumbered them at the same
time that their flank was turned by a force as mobile as their own.
Their precipitate retreat coming after their late defeats must increase
their demoralisation, and it will hardly be practicable for them to make
a fresh stand east of the Free State Railway. Lord Roberts will be on
the railway with the bulk of his force by Saturday or Sunday, and his
presence there will complete the break up of the Boer defences of the
Orange River.

The situation of the Boers is now, as far as it depends on themselves,
desperate. They can hardly collect forty thousand men for a decisive
battle, and are confronted by two armies, each of which has that
strength, the one nearing Bloemfontein, the other at Ladysmith. Lord
Roberts, when he reaches the railway, will probably call up from the
Orange River such additional forces as are not required as garrisons in
Cape Colony. His numbers can be fed by constant small reinforcements,
while the Boers have no means of increasing their numbers. With each
succeeding week, therefore, the British will grow stronger and the Boers
fewer. The utmost that the Boer commander-in-chief can expect to
accomplish is to delay that advance to Pretoria which he cannot prevent.

He may perhaps bring about the fall of Mafeking, if he chooses to
dispense for a few weeks longer with the reinforcements which Commandant
Snyman by raising the siege could bring to his main army. There was
indeed some days ago an unofficial report that a strong column was
moving north from Kimberley. If that were true the destination of the
column must have been Mafeking, but it is not clear what its composition
could be. The Guards Brigade being at Poplar's Drift there would be left
the other brigade of the first division, and that may be on its way
towards the north. Resistance was expected at the passage of the Vaal at
Fourteen Streams, but that point must have already been reached.
Probably nothing will be heard of this column until it has accomplished
its task, except in the not very probable event of hard fighting between
Winsorton and Mafeking. Colonel Baden-Powell is known to be very hard
pressed, being short of provisions and of troops. It is certain the
column will make every effort to reach Mafeking in time, but the
distance is great. The best chance of success would be found in the
despatch of a large body of mounted troops to move in the fashion of the
great raiding expeditions of the American Civil War; but it is doubtful
whether sufficient mounted troops were or are available.

Apart from their own resources the Boers may hope for help from outside.
They have from the beginning looked for the intervention of some great
Power, for the assistance of the Dutch party at the Cape, and for such
action by the British Opposition as might embarrass the Government in
its resolve to prosecute the war to its logical conclusion.

Intervention will not be undertaken by any Power that is not prepared to
go to war, and does not see a fair prospect of success in an attack upon
the British Empire. Intervention therefore will be prevented if the Navy
is kept ready for any emergency, and if the Government measures for
arming the Nation are so carried out as to convince continental Powers
that they will produce an appreciable result. That conviction does not
yet exist, but it is not too late to create it.

The Cape Dutch will not be able to embarrass a British Government that
knows its own mind and is resolved to treat them fairly while asserting
its authority in the Transvaal and the Free State. The peace at any
price party at home is trying hard to press its false doctrines, but in
the present temper of the Nation has no chance of success, provided only
that the Government carries out without hesitation or vacillation the
policy to which it is by all its action committed, of bringing the
territories of the Boer Republics under British administration so soon
as the military power of the Boers has been broken.

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