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Title: History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902 v. 1 (of 4) - Compiled by Direction of His Majesty's Government
Author: Great Britain. War Office
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902 v. 1 (of 4) - Compiled by Direction of His Majesty's Government" ***

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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all
other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling
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The errors noted in the errata have been corrected in the text.]



[Illustration: Editor's arm.]









_All rights reserved_

[Illustration: The Chapel River Press Kingston Surrey.]


The decision of His Majesty's late Government, mentioned on the first
page of this history, was not finally given till November, 1905. It
was, therefore, not till December 12th, 1905, that I was able to
obtain approval for the form in which the political facts connected
with the war are mentioned in the first chapter. Since then the whole
volume has necessarily been recast, and it was not possible to go to
page proof till the first chapter had been approved. Hence the delay
in the appearance of the volume. I took over the work from Colonel
Henderson in July, 1903. He had not then written either narrative of,
or comments on, the military operations.

                                   F. MAURICE.

_May 22nd, 1906, London._



  CHAP.                                                           PAGE

      I.--Preparation for War                                        1
     II.--The Outbreak of the War                                   35
    III.--The Theatre of War                                        54
     IV.--The Boer Army                                             68
      V.--The British Army                                          87
     VI.--The Navy in the Boer War                                  96
    VII.--Talana Hill                                              123
   VIII.--The Retreat from Dundee, and the action of Rietfontein   142
     IX.--Elandslaagte                                             157
      X.--Lombards Kop                                             172
     XI.--The Arrival of Sir Redvers Buller                        196
    XII.--Advance from the Orange River                            211
   XIII.--Belmont                                                  218
    XIV.--Graspan                                                  229
     XV.--The Battle of the Modder River                           243
    XVI.--The Raid on Southern Natal                               261
   XVII.--Operations round Colesberg up to the 16th December       275
  XVIII.--Stormberg                                                285
    XIX.--Halt on the Modder River before Magersfontein            304
     XX.--The Battle of Magersfontein                              316
    XXI.--Sir Redvers Buller in Face of Colenso                    332
   XXII.--Colenso, December 15th, 1899                             351
  XXIII.--Lord Roberts' Appointment to the Command in South
            Africa                                                 376
   XXIV.--Operations Round Colesberg--December 16th, 1899, to
            February 6th, 1900                                     389
    XXV.--Lord Roberts at Capetown; reorganises                    408
   XXVI.--The Army Moves Forward                                   428


  No.                                                             PAGE

  1. Reinforcements sanctioned on 8th September, 1899              453
  2. Distribution of British Forces on 11th October, 1899,
     in Cape Colony                                                455
  3. Distribution of British Forces on 11th October, 1899,
     in Natal                                                      456
  4. Strengths of the Forces of the Transvaal and Orange Free
     State                                                         457
  5. List of H.M. Ships and Vessels serving on the Cape Station,
     October 11th, 1899, to June 1st, 1902                         460
  6. Approximate Strength and Casualties at Various Engagements
     described in Volume I                                         462
  7. The Expeditionary Force as originally organised and
     sent to South Africa                                          471
  8. The Composition and Distribution of British Troops
     in Southern Natal, 23rd November, 1899                        477
  9. Reinforcements Landed in South Africa up to the
     13th February, 1900, other than those given in
     Appendices 1 and 7                                            478
  10. Distribution of Troops in South Africa on 11th
     February, 1900, when the March from Ramdam began              485

  Glossary                                                         492

  Index                                                            497


(_In separate case._)


  General Map:--South Africa.
  Special Maps:--
    No. 1. INDEX MAP.
    No. 2. RELIEF MAP OF SOUTH AFRICA, to show Topographical
           Features and Theatre of War.
    No. 5. TALANA. October 20th, 1899.
    No. 6. ELANDSLAAGTE. October 21st, 1899.
    No. 7. RIETFONTEIN. October 24th, 1899.
    No. 8. LOMBARDS KOP. October 30th, 1899. _Situation before
           7 a.m._
    No. 8 (A). LOMBARDS KOP. October 30th, 1899. _Situation
           from 7 a.m. to Close of Action._
    No. 10. BELMONT. November 23rd, 1899. _Situation prior to
           Capture of Gun Hill._
    No. 10 (A). BELMONT. November 23rd, 1899. _Situation prior
           to Capture of Mont Blanc._
    No. 11. GRASPAN. November 25th, 1899. _Situation at 9 a.m._
    No. 12. MODDER RIVER. November 28th, 1899. _Situation at
           about 3.30 p.m._
    No. 13. MAGERSFONTEIN. December 11th 1899. _Situation
           at 4.30 a.m._
    No. 13 (A). MAGERSFONTEIN. December 11th 1899. _Situation
           at 8 a.m._
    No. 13 (B). MAGERSFONTEIN. December 11th, 1899. _Situation
           at 3.30 p.m._
    No. 14. STORMBERG. December 10th, 1899.
    No. 15. COLENSO. December 15th, 1899. _Situation at 8 a.m._
    No. 15 (A). COLENSO. December 15th, 1899. _Situation at
           11 a.m._
    No. 17. SOUTH AFRICA. Map showing the approximate situation
           on the 31st December, 1899.


  Modder River.


  A. & S. Highrs.     Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
  Art.                Artillery.
  Art. Pos.           Artillery position.
  B.M.I.              Bethune's Mounted Infantry.
  Bn.                 Battalion.
  Border.             Border Regiment.
  Br.                 Brigade.
  Car.                Carabineers.
  Cav.                Cavalry.
  Cold. Gds.          Coldstream Guards.
  Co.                 Company.
  Devon.              Devonshire Regiment.
  D.G.                Dragoon Guards.
  Dns.                Dragoons.
  Durh. L.I.          Durham Light Infantry.
  E. Surr.            East Surrey Regiment.
  Fus.                Fusiliers.
  Glouc.              Gloucester Regiment.
  Gordon., or
    Gordon Highrs.    Gordon Highlanders.
  Gren. Gds.          Grenadier Guards.
  Gds.                Guards.
  Highrs.             Highlanders.
  Hosp.               Hospital.
  How.                Howitzers.
  Hrs.                Hussars.
  I.L.H.              Imperial Light Horse.
  King's              King's Liverpool Regiment.
  K.O.Y.L.I.          King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
  K.R. Rif.           King's Royal Rifle Corps.
  Lrs.                Lancers.
  L.I.                Light Infantry.
  Liv'rp'ls           King's Liverpool Regiment.
  Manch.              Manchester Regiment.
  M.B.                Mountain Battery.
  M.I.                Mounted Infantry.
  N. Car.             Natal Carabineers.
  N.F.A.              Natal Field Artillery.
  N.M.R.              Natal Mounted Rifles.
  North'd Fus.        Northumberland Fusiliers.
  North'n.            Northamptonshire Regiment.
  N. Lan.             Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
  Prs.                Pounders (_e.g._, Naval 12-prs.).
  Queen's             Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment.
  R.E.                Royal Engineers.
  R.F.A.              Royal Field Artillery.
  R.H.A.              Royal Horse Artillery.
  Rif. Brig.          Rifle Brigade.
  R.I. Rif.           Royal Irish Rifles.
  R. Irish Fus.       Royal Irish Fusiliers.
  R. Innis. Fus.      Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
  R. Fus.             Royal Fusiliers.
  R. Muns. Fus.       Royal Munster Fusiliers.
  R. Sc. Fus.         Royal Scots Fusiliers.
  R. Welsh Fus.       Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
  S.A.L.H.            South African Light Horse.
  S. Gds.             Scots Guards.
  Sco. Rif.           Scottish Rifles.
  T.M.I.              Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry.
  W. Yorks            Prince of Wales's Own West Yorkshire Regiment.


Pains have been taken to embody in the maps all topographical
information existing up to date. A very considerable amount of
valuable triangulation has been executed over portions of South
Africa, but no systematic detailed survey has ever been made by any of
the South African colonies or states. Maps have, however, been
compiled by both Cape Colony and Natal. The former has prepared and
published a map extending north as far as Lat. 26° 30'; this includes
the Bechuanaland Protectorate and the Orange River Colony, but the
topographical detail shown over these two areas is exceedingly scanty.
The scale of the map is one inch to 12.62 miles.

The Natal Government have a map similarly prepared and drawn in the
office of the Inspector of Schools, and published on a scale of one
inch to five miles. Both these maps are very fair general maps, and
show with rough accuracy the railways, main roads and large rivers,
but the delineation of hills is little more than suggestive.

Of the Orange Free State and Transvaal the only general maps published
are based on the farm surveys. As these surveys show only those
topographical features which serve to fix the farm boundary, omitting
all other features, the map resulting from their compilation is not of
much use, especially for military purposes.

Of the north of Natal there exists a series of one inch reconnaissance
surveys of the communications from Ladysmith to the Orange Free State
and Transvaal frontiers, with sketches of the whole of the Biggarsberg
and Laing's Nek positions, made in 1896 by Major S. C. N. Grant, Royal
Engineers, assisted by Captain W. S. Melville, Leicestershire
regiment, and Captain H. R. Gale, Royal Engineers.

It is from these sources, as modified here and there by special
surveys made during or since the war, that the general maps 1, 3, 4,
and 9 have been compiled.

Of the site of the battle of Talana no special survey has been made
since the war, and map 5 is a reproduction of a portion of Major
Grant's reconnaissance sketch before referred to.

Maps 6, 7, and 8, of the battles of Elandslaagte, Rietfontein and
Lombards Kop, are prepared from surveys made since the events
occurred, by No. 4 Survey section, Royal Engineers, working under
Captain H. W. Gordon, R.E., and maps 14 and 16, of Stormberg and
Colesberg, have been prepared also from sketches made by the same

Maps 10, 11, 12 and 13, of Belmont, Graspan, Modder River and
Magersfontein, are from sketches made by Nos. 2 and 3 Survey sections,
under Captain P. H. Casgrain, R.E. The two sections on map 12 are from
drawings by Lieut. J. Cuthbert, Scots Guards.

Map No. 15, of Colenso, is from a sketch made immediately after the
relief of Ladysmith by Major S. C. N. Grant, R.E., assisted by Captain
P. McClear, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and Lieut. S. A. Wilkinson, The
King's (Liverpool) regiment, and the sections from a sketch by Lieut.
M. G. Pollock, R.E.

In most instances the special survey of the site of the battle has had
to be extended by enlarging portions of the general maps on smaller
scales. This sometimes causes a difference in the amount of detail
shown in different areas of the same map, but this is unavoidable if
the map be made to illustrate, not only the action itself, but also
the preceding and subsequent movements.

The six panoramic sketches embodied in this Volume are facsimile
reproductions of a selection made from a number executed by the late
Captain W. C. C. Erskine, Bethune's Mounted Infantry.


  A.A.G.              Assistant Adjutant-General.
  A.D.C.              Aide-de-Camp.
  A.S.C.              Army Service Corps.
  B.L.                Breech-loading.
  Battn.              Battalion.
  Brig. divn.         Brigade division=2 batteries of horse, or 3 of
                        field artillery, commanded by a Lieut.-Colonel.
                        (The term has since been changed to "brigade.")
  Captn.              Captain.
  C.B.                Companion of the Order of the Bath.
  C.I.F.              Cost, Insurance, Freight: _i.e._, under the contract
                        so designated the price paid included the cost
                        of the article, its insurance while on the voyage,
                        and freight.
  C.M.G.              Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
  Col.                Colonel.
  C.O.                Commanding Officer.
  Comder.             Commander.
  Cos.                Companies.
  Coy.                Company.
  C.R.A.              Commanding Royal Artillery.
  C.R.E.              Commanding Royal Engineers.
  C.S.O.              Chief Staff Officer.
  Cwt.                Hundred-weight.
  D.A.A.G.            Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General.
  D.A.A.G.I.          Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General for Intelligence.
  Det.                Detachment.
  D.C.L.I.            Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
  D.G.O.              Director General of Ordnance.
  G.O.C.              General Officer Commanding.
  Govt.               Government.
  H.L.I.              Highland Light Infantry.
  H.M.S.              His (or Her) Majesty's Ship.
  I.L.H.              Imperial Light Horse.
  in.                 inch.
  I.S.C.              Indian Staff Corps.
  K.C.B.              Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.
  K.C.M.G.            Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and
                        St. George.
  K.O.Y.L.I.          King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
  K.R.R.              King's Royal Rifle Corps.
  Lieut. or Lt.       Lieutenant.
  Lt.-Col.            Lieutenant-Colonel.
  L. of C.            Lines of communication.
  L.I.                Light Infantry.
  Maritzburg          Pietermaritzburg.
  M.B.                Mountain battery.
  m/m                 millimetre.
  M.I.                Mounted Infantry.
  M.L.                Muzzle-loading.
  N.N.V.              Natal Naval Volunteers.
  N.S.W.              New South Wales.
  N.S.W.L.            New South Wales Lancers.
  N.Z.                New Zealand.
  N.C.O.              Non-commissioned officer.
  O.F.S.              Orange Free State.
  pr.                 pounder.
  P.T.O.              Principal Transport Officer.
  Q.F.                Quick-firing.
  Q.M.G.              Quartermaster-general.
  Regt.               Regiment.
  R.M.L.              Rifle-muzzle-loading.
  R.A.M.C.            Royal Army Medical Corps.
  R.A.                  " Artillery.
  R.B.                Rifle Brigade.
  Royal Commission.   Royal Commission on the War in South Africa (1903).
  R.E.                Royal Engineers.
  R.F.A.                "   Field Artillery.
  R.G.A.                "   Garrison   "
  R.H.A.                "   Horse      "
  R.M.A.                "   Marine     "
  R.M.L.I.              "     "    Light Infantry.
  R.N.                  "   Navy.
  R. S. Fusiliers     Royal Scots Fusiliers.
  Sec.                Section.
  S.A.                South Africa.
  S.A.R.              South African Republic.
  Scots Greys         2nd Dragoons.
  Sqdn. or Squadn.    Squadron.
  Tel.                Telegram.
  T.B.                Telegraph battalion.
  V.C.                Victoria Cross.
  W.O.                War Office.


  Page 2, line 13 from top, omit "(Arabic)".

  "   14,   "   2  "   bottom, for "Sir H. Escombe" read "the Right
          Hon. H. Escombe."

  "   78, first marginal note, for "of" read "in."

  "  128, second marginal note, for "comma" read "full stop."

  "  144, line 3 from top, for "The troops a Ladysmith" read "The
          troops at Ladysmith."

  "  144, last marginal note, omit "full stop" and read on.

  "  160, bottom marginal note, for "full stop" read "comma."

  "  256, line 6 from bottom, for "Major T. Irvine" read "Captain
          T. Irvine."

  "  337, line 12 from bottom, for "semi-colon" read "comma."




[Sidenote: Scope of history.]

The war in South Africa which began on October 9th, 1899, ended so far
happily on the 31st May, 1902, that, chiefly in consequence of the
tactful management of the negotiations with the leaders who then
guided them, those who had till then fought gallantly against the
British Empire agreed to enter it as subjects of King Edward. Under
the circumstances, His Majesty's late Government considered it
undesirable to discuss here any questions that had been at issue
between them and the rulers of the two republics, or any points that
had been in dispute at home, and to confine this history to the
military contest. The earlier period is mentioned only so far as it
concerns those incidents which affected the preparation for war on the
part of Great Britain, and the necessary modifications in the plan of
campaign which were influenced by the unwillingness of Her Majesty's
Government to believe in the necessity for war.

[Sidenote: Situation Oct. 9th, /99.]

When, on October 9th, 1899, Mr. Kruger's ultimatum was placed in the
hands of the British Agent at Pretoria the military situation was as
follows. It was known that the Boer Governments could summon to arms
over 50,000 burghers. British reinforcements of 2,000 men had been
sanctioned on the 2nd of August for a garrison, at that date not
exceeding 9,940 men; and on the 8th September the Viceroy of India had
been instructed by telegram to embark with the least possible delay
for Durban a cavalry brigade, an infantry brigade, and a brigade
division of field artillery. Another brigade division and the 1st
Northumberland Fusiliers were also ordered out from home. The 1st
battn. Border regiment was despatched from Malta, the 1st battn. Royal
Irish Fusiliers from Egypt, the 2nd battn. Rifle Brigade from Crete,
and a half-battn. 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry from
Mauritius. The total strength of these reinforcements, ordered on
September 8th, amounted to 10,662 men of all ranks. On the same day,
the 8th September, the General Officer Commanding in South Africa, Sir
F. Forestier-Walker, was directed by telegram to provide land
transport for these troops. For details see Appendix I.

[Sidenote: Total forces.]

The whole of these reinforcements, with the exceptions of the 9th
Lancers and two squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards, whose departure
from India was somewhat delayed by an attack of anthrax, a brigade
division of artillery, the 1st Border regiment and the 2nd battalion
Rifle Brigade, were landed in South Africa before the actual outbreak
of war. Including 2,781 local troops, the British force in Natal was
thus raised to 15,811 men of all ranks. In Cape Colony there were,
either under arms or immediately available at the outbreak of war,
5,221 regular and 4,574 colonial troops. In southern Rhodesia 1,448
men, raised locally, had been organised under Colonel Baden-Powell,
who had been sent out on the 3rd July to provide for the defence of
that region. Thus the British total in South Africa, 27,054, was at
least 20,000 smaller than the number of the burghers whom the two
republics could place in the field, irrespective of any contingent
that they might obtain from the disaffected in the two colonies. Early
in June Sir Redvers Buller had been privately informed that, in the
event of its becoming necessary to despatch an army corps to South
Africa, he would be the officer to command it. On June 8th, the
Commander-in-Chief had recommended that as a precautionary measure an
army corps and cavalry division should be organised and concentrated
on Salisbury Plain. He had proposed that one complete army corps, one
cavalry division, one battalion of mounted infantry, and four
infantry battalions to guard the lines of communication, should be
sent out to South Africa, and he was most anxious that the
expeditionary force should be assembled beforehand, so as to render it
more effective for war purposes. The course of the negotiations which
were then being carried on convinced Her Majesty's Government that any
such step would tend to precipitate war, and, the weakness of our
troops at the time in South Africa being such as it was, that it would
be impossible to reinforce them before serious attack might be made
upon them. Moreover, there was this further difficulty, that adequate
attention had not been directed publicly to the circumstances in South
Africa which caused anxiety to the Government.

[Sidenote: Causes of delay.]

It was always possible to think that the preparations for war on a
large scale, which were undoubtedly being made both by the Transvaal
and by the Orange Free State, were the result of the anxiety which had
been caused to the rulers of those republics by the circumstances of
the Jameson raid. Every attempt by any statesman at home to bring the
facts, as they presented themselves to those behind the scenes, before
the world, was open to the imputation of being deliberately designed
to lead up to a war which it was intended to bring about. Thus it was
the very weakness of our position at that time in South Africa which
made it difficult to relieve the military danger. Any premature effort
to place our power there in a condition of adequate security tended to
suggest to foreign states that the movements made were directed
against the independence of the two republics; tended to shake public
confidence at home, and even to excite jealousy in our own colonies.
All through the long negotiations which were carried on during the
summer and autumn months of 1899 it seemed better, therefore, to incur
even some serious risk of military disadvantage rather than to lose
that general support of the nation, whether at home or in the
colonies, which would be secured by a more cautious policy, and to
hope against hope that a peaceful solution might be reached.

[Sidenote: "Adequate strength."]

In one respect there would appear to have been a misunderstanding
between the Government and their military advisers as to the sense in
which the reinforcements sent to South Africa were sufficient for the
temporary protection of our interests on the sub-continent. It is
remarkable that in the evidence subsequently given by the soldiers,
not only do they admit that they anticipated beforehand that for this
purpose the strength would be adequate, but that they assume, at the
end of the war, that it had as a matter of fact proved so. This can
obviously only be understood in the sense that the numbers then in
South Africa were able to retard the Boer operations until a large
army was thrown into the country. On the other hand, Lord Lansdowne,
describing what was evidently the meaning in which this language was
understood by himself and his colleagues, says: "I am not a soldier,
but I never heard of sending out reinforcements to a country which
might become the theatre of war merely in order that the
reinforcements might successfully defend themselves against attack;
they are sent there, I imagine, for the purpose of securing something
or somebody." And again: "I should say not sufficient to prevent raids
and incursions, but sufficient to prevent the colonies from being
overrun." It appears necessary, under its historical aspect, to draw
attention to this discrepancy of view, because it is one that may be
liable to repeat itself.

[Sidenote: Plans delayed.]

Another point influenced by the unwillingness of Her Majesty's
Government to believe in the possibility of the Orange Free State,
with which we had had for many years relations of the greatest
friendliness, appearing in arms against us, was this: that it delayed
for a very considerable time the determination of the general plan of
campaign on which the war was to be carried on. Practically, supposing
it became necessary to conduct an offensive war against the Transvaal,
the choice of operations lay between a movement by way of Natal and
one by way of the Orange Free State. Any advance by Natal had these
serious disadvantages. In the first place, the mountain region through
which it would be necessary to penetrate was one that gave very great
advantages to the Boer riflemen. In the second place, it lay exposed,
as soon as Northern Natal was entered, to attack throughout its
entire length from the Orange Free State. On the other hand, the march
by Bloemfontein opened up a country much more favourable for the
operations of a regular army, whether that march, as was originally
proposed, followed the direct line of railway through Bloemfontein,
or, as it did ultimately, the railway to Kimberley and thence struck
for Bloemfontein.[1] There remained, indeed, a third alternative,
which had at one time been proposed by Lord Roberts, of a movement
outside the Orange Free State through the north-western portion of
Cape Colony, but this had ceased to be applicable at the time when war
was declared. As a consequence of the uncertainties as to the ultimate
attitude of the Orange Free State, and the extreme hope that that
State would not prove hostile, it was not till the 3rd October that
Lord Lansdowne was in a position to say: "We have now definitely
decided to adopt the Cape Colony--Orange Free State route. It is
intended that a force of 10,000 men should remain in Natal, on which
side it will make a valuable diversion; that about 3,000 should be
detailed for service on the west side (Kimberley, etc.), and that the
main force should enter the Orange Free State from the south."

         [Footnote 1: See Chapters II. and III. for full discussion on
         the Theatre of War.]

[Sidenote: Limit of force.]

In all schemes for possible offensive war by Great Britain, subsequent
to a memorandum by Mr. Stanhope, of 1st June, 1888,[2] it had been
contemplated that the utmost strength which it would be necessary for
us to embark from our shores would be that of two army corps with a
cavalry division. Those army corps and the cavalry division were,
however, neither actually, nor were they supposed to be, immediately
ready to be sent out. To begin with, for their despatch shipping must
be available, and this, as will be shown more in detail in a
subsequent chapter, was a matter which would involve considerable
delay and much preparation. During the time that the ships were being
provided it would be essential that the successive portions of the
army for which shipping could be obtained should be prepared for war
by the return to the depôts of those soldiers who were not immediately
fit for service, and by their replacement by men called in from the
reserve to complete the ranks. None of these preparations could be
made without attracting public attention to what was done. The
reserves could not be summoned to the colours without an announcement
in Parliament, nor, therefore, without debates, which must necessarily
involve discussions which might be irritating to Boer susceptibilities
at the very time when it was most hoped that a peaceful solution would
be reached. It was not, therefore, till the 20th September that the
details of the expeditionary force were communicated to the Admiralty
by the War Office, nor till the 30th that the Admiralty was authorised
to take up shipping. Meantime on September 22nd, a grant of £645,000
was made for immediate emergencies. On the 7th October the order for
the mobilisation of the cavalry division, one army corps, and eight
battalions of lines of communication troops was issued, and a Royal
proclamation calling out the army reserve was published. Of the
excellent arrangements made by the Admiralty a full account will be
found hereafter.

         [Footnote 2: "Her Majesty's Government have carefully
         considered the question of the general objects for which our
         army is maintained. It has been considered in connection with
         the programme of the Admiralty, and with knowledge of the
         assistance which the navy is capable of rendering in the
         various contingencies which appear to be reasonably probable;
         and they decide that the general basis of the requirements
         from our army may be correctly laid down by stating that the
         objects of our military organisation are:--

         (_a_) The effective support of the civil power in all parts
         of the United Kingdom.

         (_b_) To find the number of men for India, which has been
         fixed by arrangement with the Government of India.

         (_c_) To find the garrisons for all our fortresses and
         coaling stations, at home and abroad, according to a scale
         now laid down, and to maintain these garrisons at all times
         at the strength fixed for a peace or war footing.

         (_d_) After providing for these requirements, to be able to
         mobilise rapidly for home defence two army corps of regular
         troops, and one partly composed of regulars and partly of
         militia; and to organise the auxiliary forces, not allotted
         to army corps or garrisons, for the defence of London and for
         the defensible positions in advance, and for the defence of
         mercantile ports.

         (_e_) Subject to the foregoing considerations, and to their
         financial obligations, to aim at being able, in case of
         necessity, to send abroad two complete army corps, with
         cavalry division and line of communication. But it will be
         distinctly understood that the probability of the employment
         of an army corps in the field in any European war is
         sufficiently improbable to make it the primary duty of the
         military authorities to organise our forces efficiently for
         the defence of this country."--(_Report of Royal Commission
         on the War in South Africa_, p. 225.)]

[Sidenote: The scheme of mobilisation.]

The scheme for mobilisation had been gradually developed during many
years. The earliest stage was the appearance in the Army List of an
organisation of the army in various army corps. This was chiefly
useful in showing the deficiencies which existed. It had been drawn up
by the late Colonel Home, R.E. In August, 1881, it was removed from
the Army List.

[Sidenote: Various stages of scheme.]

Practically no mobilisation scheme really took shape until 1886, when
Major-General H. Brackenbury,[3] on assuming office as head of the
Intelligence branch, turned his attention to the question. The
unorganised condition of our army and the deficiency of any system for
either home defence or action abroad formed the subjects of three
papers,[4] in which he showed that, at the time they were written, not
even one army corps with its proper proportion of the different
departmental branches, could have been placed in the field, either at
home or abroad, while for a second army corps there would have been
large deficiencies of artillery and engineers, and no departments. For
horses there was no approach to an adequate provision. The urgent
representations contained in these papers were strongly taken up by
Lord Wolseley, then Adjutant-General, and pressed by him on the
Secretary of State for War,[5] with the result that a committee of
two, Sir Ralph Thompson[6] and Major-General H. Brackenbury, was
appointed to investigate the matter.

         [Footnote 3: Now General the Right Honourable Sir Henry
         Brackenbury, G.C.B.]

         [Footnote 4: Mobilisation reports, Numbers I., II. and III.]

         [Footnote 5: The Right Honourable W. H. Smith.]

         [Footnote 6: Then Permanent Under-Secretary of State.]

[Sidenote: Sub-division to carry out.]

Their enquiry was entirely confined to the question of obtaining the
maximum development from the existing cadres. Their report was divided
under three headings, the first of which dealt with the "Field Army,"
and laid down that two army corps and lines of communication troops
was the field army which the regular troops, as they then stood, were
capable of producing. The subjects of "Garrisons" and "Mobilisation
for Foreign Service" were dealt with under the other two headings.
Ultimately a Mobilisation sub-division, which was transferred from the
Intelligence department to the Adjutant-General's department in 1889
and to the Commander-in-Chief's office, in 1897, was created.

[Sidenote: 1890 to 1898.]

Working on the lines laid down, the mobilisation section first
produced a complete scheme in 1890. Mobilisation regulations were
issued in 1892. Further revised editions followed in 1894, and again
in 1898. All were worked out on the basis of using what was available,
and not what was needed.

[Sidenote: Scheme in 1899.]

In the spring of 1899, in anticipation of possible events, the
mobilisation section turned their attention to the requirements of a
force for South Africa. Seeing that the regulations of 1898 dealt
principally with the mobilisation of the field army for service at
home or in a temperate climate, considerable modifications, relating
to such points as regimental transport, clothing, equipment, and
regimental supplies, were necessary to meet the case of operations
carried on in South Africa. Special "Regulations for the Mobilisation
of a Field Force for Service in South Africa" were accordingly drawn
up, with the object, not of superseding the Mobilisation regulations
of 1898, but "in order to bring together, in a convenient form, the
modifications necessary in those regulations." These regulations were
completed, printed, and ready for issue in June, 1899. In their
general application they provided for the preparation in time of peace
of all that machinery which, on the advent of war, would be set in
motion by the issue of the one word--"Mobilise."

[Sidenote: Success in practice.]

The mobilisation, thus carefully prepared in all its details
beforehand, proved a complete success. Ninety-nine per cent. of the
reservists when called out presented themselves for service, and 91
per cent, were found physically fit. The first units, twenty companies
of the Army Service Corps, were embarked on the 6th of October. The
embarkation of the remainder of the expeditionary force was begun on
the 20th of October, and, with the exception of one cavalry regiment,
delayed by horse-sickness, completed on the 17th November.

[Sidenote: Fresh units needed.]

At an early stage in the war it became very plain that mere drafts of
details to replenish units would not suffice, but that organised
reinforcements would have to be sent. Even before the embarkation of
the field force was completed, orders were given for reinforcements to
be despatched; and within three months from that time the mobilisation
of four more divisions, fifteen extra batteries of artillery and a
fourth cavalry brigade, was ordered.[7]

         [Footnote 7: The following extract from the Statement of the
         Mobilisation division gives the details and dates:--

         "21. While the embarkation of the field force was proceeding,
         news of the loss of the greater part of two battalions of
         infantry and a mountain battery at Nicholson's Nek reached
         England. Orders were accordingly given on 31st October for
         the despatch of one mountain battery and three battalions of
         infantry, to make good this loss. All this reinforcement went
         from England, except one battalion. The embarkation from
         England was finished on 16th November.

         "22. On 3rd November it was decided to organise and send out
         a siege train. It embarked on 9th December.

         "23. Orders for the mobilisation of a 5th infantry division
         (the troops under Sir G. White, in Ladysmith, being counted
         as the 4th division) were issued on 11th November. An extra
         brigade division of artillery (three batteries horse
         artillery) was added on 20th November.

         "The embarkation of this 5th division began on 24th November,
         and was completed on 13th December. That of the three
         batteries horse artillery took place between 19th and 21st

         "24. Orders were given for the mobilisation of a 6th infantry
         division on 2nd December, _i.e._, as soon as the embarkation
         of the 5th division was well under way. Mobilisation began on
         4th December, and was completed by 11th December. All
         combatant units were embarked between 16th December and 1st
         January, 1900.

         "25. The order to mobilise the 7th infantry division was
         issued on 16th December. Mobilisation began on the 18th, and
         was completed on 27th December.

         "Embarkation began on 3rd January, and was completed on 18th

         "26. Meanwhile, on 16th and 22nd December, it had been
         decided to mobilise and prepare for embarkation four
         additional brigade divisions (twelve batteries) of field
         artillery, one brigade division being armed with howitzers.
         These were all embarked between 21st January and 27th
         January, 1900.

         "28. The order to mobilise an additional brigade of cavalry
         (the 4th cavalry brigade) was issued on 26th December.
         Mobilisation began on 28th December, and was completed on 2nd
         January, 1900.

         "The embarkation of this brigade was held back pending the
         arrival of Lord Roberts in South Africa, and the receipt of a
         communication from him.

         "Embarkation began on 8th February, and was completed on 17th

         "29. Orders were issued for the mobilisation of the 8th
         infantry division on 19th January, 1900. Mobilisation began
         on 20th January. Embarkation began on 12th March, and the
         last unit embarked on 18th April, 1900.

         "30. With the despatch of the 8th division, the last
         organised and mobilised regular formation left this country,
         and the work of the Mobilisation sub-division, in connection
         with the despatch of reinforcements to South Africa, came to
         an end."

         The executive work of organising, equipping, and despatching
         drafts of Militia, Volunteers, and Imperial Yeomanry was
         carried out entirely by the Adjutant-General,
         Quartermaster-General, and Director-General of Ordnance.]

[Sidenote: Smooth working.]

[Sidenote: Inadequate reserve.]

The machinery of the Mobilisation sub-division was equal to the task
and continued to work smoothly, while the Adjutant-General's
department was enabled, with little difficulty, to find men to
complete units on mobilisation.[8] All these units were brought up to
their establishment from their own regimental reserves. In order to
keep them up to their strength it was estimated that it would be
necessary to send out a series of drafts, calculated on a basis of 10
per cent. for every three months.[9] This was the system which was put
into operation from the first, and subsequently adhered to as far as
possible, drafts being detailed from regimental reserves. It was,
however, soon found necessary to introduce modifications in accordance
with the wastage which varied in the different arms, as well as in the
different units.[10] In addition to the regular stream of drafts,
special drafts had occasionally to be sent out to make good instances
of abnormal loss. Especially was this the case with infantry
battalions.[11] Consequently, the regimental reserves of some units
were exhausted before those of others, and it became necessary to draw
on the reserves of other corps which had more than they required,
their militia reserves being selected for the purpose. By the time
the war had lasted a year the equivalents of five drafts on the 10 per
cent. basis had left England. But a limit had been reached. "By the
end of a year's campaigning our infantry reserves proper, including
the now non-existent militia reserve, were exhausted, a point which
was emphasised by Lord Lansdowne in the following words in his minute
of 2nd June, 1900....:

"'Two points stand out clearly: (1) That in future campaigns we must
expect demands on a vast scale for infantry drafts; (2) that our
reserve is not large enough and must be increased.'"[12]

         [Footnote 8: Some difficulty was experienced in finding
         certain specialists, such as farriers, &c.]

         [Footnote 9: Of this original force from England, all cavalry
         and artillery units and eleven infantry battalions went out
         with a "war establishment, plus excess numbers," which were
         calculated at 10 per cent. to make good casualties for the
         first three months. It was decided to adopt this standard in
         all cases.]

         [Footnote 10: The reserve of the artillery fell short almost
         at once, whereas the entire reserves of the cavalry were not
         called out until the end of February, 1901.]

         [Footnote 11: For one battalion alone, the 2nd battalion
         Royal Irish Rifles, 1,831 duly qualified soldiers left
         England in six months, without having to draw on any reserves
         outside its own corps.]

         [Footnote 12: Memorandum on Drafts prepared in the
         Adjutant-General's department, 30th September, 1902. See
         Appendix volume, Royal Commission, p. 86.]

Short service had made it possible to build up a reserve substantial
enough to minister to the unprecedented requirements of the regular
army for a year. Without it, the end of our resources in trained men
would have been reached at a very early stage.

[Sidenote: Borrowing, with results.]

One difficulty arose. Staffs of many formations, such as those of
mounted infantry, ammunition columns and medical field units, did not
exist. The completion of these new creations for the original field
force necessitated the borrowing of officers and men from other
bodies, which, as was supposed at that time, would not be mobilised.
As the strain continually grew more severe it was found necessary to
mobilise successive divisions and additional batteries. Then, not only
had the loans to be made good to those depleted, but nearly the whole
of the personnel had to be found for the further number of fresh
organisms which were called into existence. This could only be done by
yet more borrowing. The difficulty, therefore, progressively
increased. More particularly was this the case with the ammunition
columns, the creation of which, together with the additional batteries
of artillery, caused a drain on artillery reservists, which resulted
in their being absorbed more quickly than those of the other branches
of the service.[13] All these special bodies, though essential for
war, were outside the peace establishment of the army. It became,
therefore, necessary to call out "the whole of the remainder of the
Army Reserve, in order to be able to utilise the services of
reservists belonging to Section D., none of whom could, by law, be
called out until all the reservists of all arms, in Sections A. B. and
C. had been called up."[14] This was done by special Army Order on
December 20th, 1899.[15]

         [Footnote 13: The experiences of a particular battery, Royal
         Field artillery, afford an illustration of the consequences
         detailed above. From this battery, by the end of November,
         1899, there had been drafted off to staff, service batteries,
         ammunition columns, or excess numbers, the captain, the
         senior subaltern (the only one who had had four months'
         service in field artillery), five sergeants, one corporal,
         one bombardier, four shoeing smiths, two trumpeters, the
         wheeler, six gunners and five drivers. In December, 1899, the
         battery commander, with the whole of one sub-division, was
         taken away as the nucleus of a new battery to be formed. Ten
         days after this the mobilisation of the battery was ordered.
         Rather more than 50 per cent. of the battery when mobilised
         were men of Section D. of the Reserve, of whom about half had
         seen the gun which they were to work, while none had seen it

         [Footnote 14: Statement of the Mobilisation sub-division.]

         [Footnote 15: The effect of this, as regards the cavalry, was
         that some 2,000 reservists, over and above immediate
         requirements, were prematurely placed at the disposal of the

[Sidenote: Mr. Stanhope's two corps exceeded.]

There was little breathing time between the successive embarkations of
the mobilised divisions from the commencement on 20th October, 1899,
to the completion on 18th April, 1900, with the result that in the
space of six months more than the equivalent of the two army corps and
the cavalry division, laid down in Mr. Stanhope's memorandum as that
which we should be prepared to send abroad in case of necessity, had
left our shores. By the despatch of these troops, followed by later
demands for reinforcements, our organised field army was practically
exhausted, and home defence, "the primary duty" of the whole army, was
enfeebled to a dangerous degree. In place of the army corps, "partly
composed of regulars and partly of Militia," required by the
memorandum, there remained for home service a few regular troops, some
hastily formed "Reserve Battalions," and such of the embodied Militia,
the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers, as had not already gone abroad--all
being for the most part unorganised, partially trained, and not fully

[Sidenote: Demand exceeds supply of units.]

Mr. Stanhope's view of the "improbable probability"[16] of the
employment of "an army corps in the field in any European war"--and if
not in Europe, then where else?--certainly not in South Africa--had
had its effect. In respect of numbers, it imposed a limit on the
powers of preparation; and the condition of affairs was precisely
expressed by the following sentence: "The war conclusively proved,
therefore, that Mr. Stanhope's memorandum did not make sufficient
allowance for the general needs of the Empire."[17]

         [Footnote 16: "... But it will be distinctly understood that
         the probability of employment of an army corps in the field
         in any European war is sufficiently improbable to make it the
         primary duty of the military authorities to organise our
         forces efficiently for the defence of their country."--Mr.
         Stanhope's memorandum. See pp. 5, 6.]

         [Footnote 17: Extract from note placed before the Royal
         Commission by Lieutenant-General Sir William Nicholson. A.

_Intelligence and Maps._

Whatever interpretation might be placed as between the Governments on
the accumulation of warlike stores in the Transvaal and Free State, it
had been obviously the duty of the Intelligence department of the War
Office to watch these as closely as the prevailing conditions
permitted. This had been done ever since 1896, when the
Commander-in-Chief had directed the department to undertake the
investigation. The material thus obtained was collated in June, 1898,
in the form of a handbook, entitled, "Military Notes on the Dutch
Republics of South Africa," which set forth in a concise form the
military strength, armament, organisation and tactics of the Boer
army. A revised edition of this book was issued in June, 1899. Other
handbooks, containing special reconnaissances executed in the more
important strategical localities of South Africa, and summaries of
information as to the various states and colonies, were also prepared
with a view to the possibility of active operations. The Royal
Commission on the South African War was able to pronounce in its
Report (paragraph 257) that the information contained in these
handbooks, as well as in a "valuable" series of memoranda extending
over several years, was in many respects remarkably accurate.

[Sidenote: Maps--Transvaal and Free State.]

Adequate military maps of the vast theatre over which the operations
of the 1899-1902 war subsequently spread could only have been produced
by the employment for many years of a large survey staff. The
production of correct maps of the Transvaal and Free State on a scale
of four miles to the inch would alone have taken five years to
complete, and would have cost £100,000. The state of tension existing
between Great Britain and the two republics in the years immediately
preceding the war rendered it impossible to undertake any serious work
of this description within those States.

[Sidenote: Maps--Cape and Natal.]

As regards the Cape Colony and Natal, the survey of all self-governing
colonies has been, and still is, regarded by the Imperial Government
as a matter for the Colonial Governments. The survey of Cape Colony
alone on a scale large enough for tactical purposes would have cost
£150,000, and it would have been perfectly useless to ask the Treasury
to sanction the provision of any such sum. A map, on a scale of twelve
and a half miles to an inch, had been produced by the Survey
department of the Cape Government, covering Cape Colony, Natal, Orange
Free State, and part of the Transvaal, and arrangements were made with
the Colonial Government for supplies of this for issue to the troops
on the outbreak of war. Of the northern parts of Natal two military
maps, produced during the previous wars on a scale of four miles and
one mile to an inch were available. But, though copies of one of these
maps were subsequently reproduced by the Boers and used by them in
their operations on the Tugela, it was well known that they were not
accurate and had not been corrected up to date. By arrangement,
therefore, with the Natal Government and at their expense, the
Director of Military Intelligence sent Major S. C. N. Grant, R.E.,
from England, in 1896, to execute a more careful reconnaissance of the
portion of Natal north of Ladysmith. Recognising that the map thus
produced might prove insufficient, Sir J. Ardagh, in 1897, urged
personally on the Right Hon. H. Escombe, the Prime Minister of Natal,
the importance of continuing this survey, and the latter promised to
endeavour to make such arrangements as he could, although he stated
that political considerations rendered it difficult for him to ask the
Natal Parliament to provide funds for a survey of the colony avowedly
for military purposes. Sir H. Escombe's Ministry subsequently went out
of office, and the only map of Natal existing at the outbreak of war,
besides those above referred to, was one on a scale of five miles to
an inch prepared locally for educational purposes.

[Sidenote: Intelligence map and Jeppe's.]

For the Transvaal and Orange Free State the compilation, from all the
material available, of a map on a scale 1-250,000 was commenced in
January, 1899, by the Intelligence division; twelve sheets were
completed and issued before October, 1899, and the remainder shortly
afterwards. In the same year a map of the Transvaal, compiled by C.
Jeppe from farm surveys, was produced under the auspices of the
Government of that State. A limited number of copies of this map were
obtained by the Intelligence division and issued on the outbreak of
war to the higher staffs. Subsequently in January, 1900, Colonel G. F.
R. Henderson, Lord Roberts' Director of Military Intelligence, was
fortunate enough to seize at Capetown a thousand copies of this
survey, and maps were compiled from them by the Field Intelligence
department. These proved of great service in the advance northward.

[Sidenote: A large question.]

The provision of maps for the many possible theatres of war in which
British troops may be employed is a difficult question. In the present
case the above statement will account for the fact that the maps
provided by the War Office at the outbreak of the South African war
were pronounced by the Royal Commission on that war to have been,
"with perhaps one exception, very incomplete and unreliable"
(paragraph 261).

       *       *       *       *       *

These matters preparatory to the war were not, in the ordinary work of
the departments, separated by any distinct break from the routine
necessary after hostilities had begun.

_The Distribution of responsibility_ between the several offices in
regard to the despatch of an army to the field was as follows. The
Adjutant-General's department was charged with all that affected the
actual personnel--the flesh and blood--in such matters as the necessary
qualifications of age or service, the completion of cadres with
specialists, and the maintenance of recruiting. It was the province of
the Military Secretary's department of the Commander-in-Chief's office
to select the staffs and allot the commands. The provision of equipment,
clothing, and ordnance supplies was the duty of the Director-General of
Ordnance; with the Quartermaster-General rested the provision of animals
to complete the war establishment, supplies of food, and, in conjunction
with the Admiralty, arrangements for sea transport. The two departments
of the Director-General and Quartermaster-General, long before the final
sanction was given, had worked out on paper the details of future

[Sidenote: Personal action at War Office.]

Apart from those proposals of the Commander-in-Chief to which it had not
been possible for Her Majesty's Government to accede, for the reason
already given, the several officers at Headquarters had done what they
could to make for possible future events such preparation as did not
involve expenditure. Sir Evelyn Wood, both as Quartermaster-General and
as Adjutant-General, carried on a vigorous private correspondence with
the several General Officers Commanding at the Cape, and it was at his
instance that as early as the autumn of 1896 contracts were made with
Messrs. Weil, who had complete command of the Cape market, for the
supply of horses, mules, and wagons at short notice when called for. He
sent for one of the firm to come to England, but a decision was given in
the spring of 1897 against immediate action. In April, 1898, he again
asked that the whole subject, both of transport and of the despatch of
cavalry and artillery to South Africa, should be taken up. Moreover, in
1897, he had pressed for horse-fittings for shipping, fearing the
trouble in this matter, which subsequently actually occurred. On taking
over the duties of Adjutant-General on October 1st, 1897, he, in view of
the extensive territory lately acquired in Rhodesia, proposed the
addition of 9,000 infantry to the army. The Commander-in-Chief, in
forwarding this memorandum, added to his request an additional 4,000
men beyond what Sir E. Wood had recommended. As late as February, 1898,
the transport, necessary to make the troops in South Africa fit to take
the field, was refused, though pressed for by the Commander-in-Chief, in
consequence of a private letter to Sir E. Wood, which showed Sir A.
Milner's anxiety on the subject. To suppress a small rebel Basuto chief
it would have required a month to get transport ready. At a time when a
man so intimate with South African affairs as Mr. Rhodes was deriding
all fears of Boer power, war was not believed to be imminent, and the
long habit of saving the public purse during peace time was operative
against expenditure, which would not be needed if there were no war and
no need for suppressing Basuto rebels. The same cause had delayed till
April, 1897, the necessary supply of horses to infantry regiments, at
which date £36,000 was granted for this purpose. Both these horses and
the training of mounted infantry at home had been repeatedly asked for
by Sir Evelyn Wood as Quartermaster-General, by Sir Redvers Buller as
Adjutant-General, and by Lord Wolseley as Commander-in-Chief.

_Equipment and Transport._

From the great variety of countries and climates, in which it has been
the fate of the British army to be engaged for the last hundred years
or more, it has always been impossible to foresee what the particular
equipment required for any given expedition would be.[18] To keep up
permanently all the transport animals and the large reserves of food
supplies needed for both animals and men would have been wasteful
extravagance. In one campaign, only human porterage had been possible;
in another, only transport by river boats; in another, it had been
necessary to rely chiefly on camels; in another, on the development of
canal and railway communication. Therefore, much time is always needed
before it is possible so to prepare a British army that it is ready to
wage war. An army is as little able to march till it is supplied with
the necessary transport as a man would be without proper shoes, or a
cavalryman without his horse. For such a war as was in prospect in
South Africa, ranging possibly over tens of thousands of square miles,
immense quantities, both of animals and vehicles, would be needed. A
considerable proportion of these could no doubt be procured in the
country itself, but from the numbers required it was necessary to
extend our purchases over almost all the civilised world. This was
another of the cases in which the necessity not to provoke war tended
to prevent preparations for war.

         [Footnote 18: See also Chapter V.]

[Sidenote: Land transport S.A.]

The question of land transport, on which so much of the conduct of a
campaign must depend, was one of the highest importance. The nature of
the South African country, and the absence of roads, rendered it
necessary that transport vehicles, intended for horse-draught, should
be adapted for draught by animals suitable to the country and likely
to be obtainable--namely, oxen and mules. The form of the wagons in
use had been settled twenty years before on South African experience,
by a committee consisting of Sir Redvers Buller and Colonel H. S. E.
Reeves, but the South African brake, not being convenient for home
service, was no longer used, so that this had to be supplied.
Moreover, it was necessary to convert the carriages to pole draught
for mule traction. The Director-General of Ordnance[19] asked, on July
26th, 1899, for authority to carry out this change, involving an
outlay of £17,650, but at this time, for reasons already given,
sanction was refused to any expenditure on preparations for
despatching an army to South Africa.

         [Footnote 19: General Sir H. Brackenbury.]

"On the 1st September the Director-General of Ordnance again asked for
authority. On the 5th September, in putting forward a schedule of
requirements, he pointed out that this service would take ten weeks,
and said the sanction of those items should be given at once, on
account of the time required to manufacture and obtain them, and that
if put off till the force is ordered to mobilise it would be
impossible to guarantee their being ready in time."[20]

         [Footnote 20: Extract from Minute by the Director-General of
         Ordnance to the Commander-in-Chief, dated October 10th. See
         Vol. I. Minutes of Evidence, Royal Commission, p. 76.]

[Sidenote: Delay.]

In the still existing circumstances, neither the importance of the
demand, nor the smallness of the sum asked, saved the requisition from
sharing the fate of others, and authority for the expenditure was not
received until the partial grant of September 22nd.[21] Once begun,
the work was actually carried out in sixteen days less than the
estimated time, but the delay was sufficient to prevent sixteen or
more units from being accompanied by the vehicles of their regimental

         [Footnote 21: See p. 6.]

         [Footnote 22: Water carts and ammunition carts.]

[Sidenote: Q.M.G. provides vehicles.]

Early in September an arrangement had been come to between the
Director-General of Ordnance (who, under normal conditions, was
responsible for the provision of all transport vehicles and harness)
and the Quartermaster-General, whereby the latter undertook the
furnishing of transport wagons and harness for supply trains and
parks. This in fact was carried out in South Africa.

[Sidenote: Q.M.G. and supplies.]

The Quartermaster-General, in response to demands from the General
Officer Commanding in South Africa, had sent two months' reserve
supplies from time to time since the beginning of June for the troops
already there. On receipt of the authority of September 22nd, one
month's reserves for 50,000 men, 12,000 horses and 15,000 mules were
ordered, and these were shipped by October 30th. Further expenditure
was sanctioned on September 29th. Another month's supplies for the
same numbers were therefore ordered to be despatched about November
18th. The provision of such quantities took time and, in consequence
of the delay in obtaining sanction for expenditure, the
Quartermaster-General was hard pressed in furnishing the supplies
early enough, but succeeded in doing so.

_Remount Department._

The provision of horses and mules to complete the war establishment
for mounted units was one function of the Quartermaster-General. The
Inspector-General of Remounts was charged, under him, with the detail
work connected therewith. As far back as 1887 a system of registration
of horses had been established in order to form a reserve to meet a
national emergency. With the aid of this reserve, it was calculated
that horses could be provided in sufficient numbers to complete the
mobilisation of the force laid down in Mr. Stanhope's memorandum and
to make good the wastage of the first six months. The number estimated
for these purposes was 25,000.[23] No difficulty, it was thought,
would be experienced in obtaining this number and, with the supply for
six months' wastage in hand, time would be available to arrange for
meeting further demands if they arose.

         [Footnote 23: "On mobilisation being ordered, horses to the
         number of 3,682 were bought from the registered reserve, the
         remainder required being obtained in the open market, and all
         units received their full complement with 10 per cent. of
         spare horses. No units were delayed for want of horses."
         (Court of Inquiry, Remount department, 5,344-5).

         The number of horses actually purchased from the registered
         reserve, and in the open market at home, amounted to 73,000
         by the end of 1901.]

[Sidenote: Purchase of mules and horses.]

Transport mules would in any case have to be purchased abroad and
records were preserved of the resources of different mule-producing
countries; but there had been no expectation of having to supplement,
to any extent, the home supply of horses. The Inspector-General of
Remounts had personal experience of horse purchase in Argentina, and
the success which had attended his transactions there, coupled with
his knowledge of the market, led him to believe that there would be no
difficulty in obtaining from that country a supply of good and
suitable horses, sufficient to meet any demand that might be
reasonably expected.[24] Information regarding the horse markets of
other countries did not go beyond such personal knowledge as a few
individuals in the department happened to possess. So enormous did
demands eventually become, that it is open to question whether, had
all possible information been at command, there existed for sale
anywhere a sufficient number of horses of the right age and stamp,
trained to saddle and in condition, to furnish the numbers
required.[25] Purchases of horses were, indeed, made in South Africa
before the war, under the orders of the General Officer Commanding in
that country. This was done as a mere matter of local convenience, not
as a preparation for war. Furthermore, in the middle of September
financial approval was given for the purchase "of 260 Australian
horses to replace the next year's casualties."[26] Illusions as to the
sufficiency of the home supply were speedily dispelled by the
unforeseen conditions accompanying the transition from peace to war.
Not only was the Remount department required to provide horses and
mules for a far larger British army than had ever before taken the
field, but that army was operating at an immense distance from its
base over a larger extent of country than any over which a British
army had ever before been called upon to act. Besides this, no force
previously sent into the field by any nation has included in its
composition such a large proportion of mounted men. Consequently, the
demands on the Remount department were of unprecedented magnitude.[27]

         [Footnote 24: A proposal to send 700 Argentine horses and
         mules "to acclimatise, anticipating next year's casualties,"
         was sent to the General Officer Commanding S. Africa, in
         April, 1899.--Tel. Q.M.G. to G.O.C., S.A., 28th April. (S.A.
         Series No. 3.)]

         [Footnote 25: The total number of animals furnished by the
         Remount department up to August, 1902, was as follows:--

           |         Horses.       |                   |          |
           +------------+----------+ Mules and Donkeys.|  Total.  |
           | With units.| Remounts.|                   |          |
           |   20,251   | 450,223  |      149,648      | 620,122  |

         [Footnote 26: Court of Enquiry on Army Remounts. Q. 8,
         Minutes of Evidence.]

         [Footnote 27: Court of Enquiry on Army Remounts. Report,
         Para. 234.]

[Sidenote: Absence of depôts.]

What contributed not a little to these demands was the absence of
preparation in South Africa in establishing beforehand depôts from
which a regular supply could be maintained, and in which imported
animals could rest after the voyage and become to a certain extent
acclimatised before they were used in the field.

[Sidenote: Partial provision of depôts.]

In June, 1899, the Inspector-General had represented the necessity of
sending out a proper remount establishment to receive animals, and a
supervising staff. This proposal was only adopted to the extent that,
on June 22nd, sanction was given for an Assistant-Inspector of
Remounts, accompanied by a small staff, to go to South Africa. In
August, 1899, approval was given for the retention of the existing
depôt at Stellenbosch as a temporary measure, while on the Natal side
"the present depôt" was reported by the Officer Commanding troops as
being "sufficient for all that the War Office had sanctioned."[28]

         [Footnote 28: Telegram General Officer Commanding South
         Africa, to Secretary of State, 3rd September. (South African
         Series, No. 200.)]

[Sidenote: Mules and oxen.]

Estimates of the number of mules which would be required to be
purchased abroad for regimental transport had been worked out in June.
A limited number had already been obtained in South Africa, and before
the war broke out the General Officer Commanding there had entered
into contracts for the supply of 1,470 additional animals. This met
the immediate necessity, and the subsequent purchases from all parts
of the world enabled every unit landing in Cape Colony to be
completely equipped with regimental transport when it reached its
concentration station.[29] In Natal ox-transport was principally used
as being more suitable for the country.

         [Footnote 29: There were three concentration stations in the
         Cape Colony, viz.: De Aar, Naauwpoort and Queenstown.]

[Sidenote: Animals from abroad.]

In order to supplement this supply and "with a view to possible
contingencies, about the middle of July, 1899, commissions of
officers, to make preliminary enquiries, were sent to the United
States of America, to Spain and to Italy."[30] In order that these
preparations, indispensable if war was declared, should not tend to
excite war, the Secretary of State had given instructions that these
officers should not attract attention to their mission. They were not
allowed to make any purchases until they received instructions. These
were telegraphed on 23rd September, 1899, authorising the buying of
1,000 in Spain, 3,000 in Italy, and 4,000 at New Orleans.

         [Footnote 30: Report, Court of Inquiry, Remount department,
         p. 3, para. 12.]

[Sidenote: Ships for mules.]

The conveyance of mules (but not horses) from ports abroad was carried
out by the Admiralty, and some difficulty was experienced at first in
chartering ships suitable for the purpose. The first ship-load did not
arrive in South Africa until 8th November. Mules for troops from India
were shipped under arrangements made by the Indian Government in
conjunction with the Admiralty Transport Officer.

[Sidenote: Demands fully met.]

The department succeeded in furnishing, and even in exceeding, the
numbers demanded from time to time. It had undertaken the transport of
horses purchased abroad, an arrangement which, while relieving the
Admiralty, caused no competition, as a different class of ship was
required. Horses and mules purchased in various countries were poured
into South Africa. They were used up almost as soon as they arrived.

[Sidenote: Difficulties of Remount department.]

There was no arrangement made for easy and rapid expansion. "The
Inspector-General of Remounts could do no more with the organisation
with which he was furnished; his functions were strictly limited, and
his staff even more so. It was inevitable that when a department so
equipped, and with no provision for expansion, was called upon to
extend its operations largely, there must be some lack of system."[31]
In addition to these difficulties, the department had to face others.
It was from the first made the object of attacks in the Press and in
Parliament. It was scarcely possible that the circumstances as here
recorded should be understood. To the labours of the officials,
already worked to breaking strain, was added the duty of preparing
constant written explanations of their actions, and this to an extent
that seriously interfered with the despatch of their current business.

         [Footnote 31: Report of Royal Commission, Para. 187.]

_Army Service Corps._

There was no difficulty in bringing the personnel of the transport
companies and supply detachments of the Army Service Corps up to the
war establishment laid down for them. Yet the total strength of the
corps, with its reserves called up, was far below what was required to
meet the calls which were eventually made on it. "After withdrawing
nearly every officer of the corps from England and stations abroad it
was necessary to employ in South Africa 126 additional officers of
other corps up to June, 1900, which number was increased to nearly 250
later on in the war. To replace officers in England and stations
abroad, 98 retired and reserve officers were employed. The transport
personnel (non-commissioned officers and artificers) of the companies
in South Africa, when they were subsequently divided into two, was
hardly sufficient to carry on the work, but a large number of
promotions were made to fill up the deficiencies. With the supply
branch in South Africa, 364 civilians were engaged as clerks, bakers,
and issuers, and civilians were employed at every station at home to
take the place of Army Service Corps clerks."[32]

         [Footnote 32: Statement of Quartermaster-General, 23rd
         September, 1902.]

[Sidenote: Local Drivers relieve A.S.C.]

On the other hand, the nature of the transport in South Africa
rendered the employment of native mule and ox drivers almost
imperative. A surplus of Army Service Corps drivers was thus created
sufficient to enable 600 to be lent to the Royal artillery, leaving
enough to be retained for duty at home and abroad. The duties of four
remount depôts in Cape Colony and one in Natal were also carried out
by the Army Service Corps during the first part of the war until
relieved by remount depôts from England and India.

[Sidenote: Early despatch of A.S.C.]

A notable feature in connection with the Army Service Corps was its
employment, before the outbreak of hostilities, in a rôle that was
essentially preparatory. For the first time in the history of the
corps, transport companies and supply detachments were sent in advance
of the troops whom they were to serve, and prepared the way for them.
With the despatch of two companies in July to make good the transport
of the existing force in South Africa, five officers also proceeded to
South Africa to assist in organising the supply and transport duties
in the event of a large force being sent out.[33] Further embarkations
took place in September and October, and the remainder of the Army
Service Corps units, detailed for duty with the army corps, embarked
before war had actually been declared, and before any of the troops of
the army corps had sailed. The advantages attending these measures
were that not only did all units on arriving at their concentration
stations in South Africa find their transport ready for them, but the
transport and supply services generally were organised and in working
order for their share of the operations.

         [Footnote 33: The General Officer Commanding South Africa had
         applied for special service officers acquainted with "B."

_Royal Army Medical Corps._

In respect of preparations, even up to the two army corps standard,
the Royal Army Medical Corps was weak in numbers. Barely sufficient in
its personnel even for peace requirements, it possessed no
organisation for expansion in war. The establishment of officers was
designed to provide for the bearer companies and field hospitals of
two army corps and a cavalry division, with seven stationary and three
general hospitals on the lines of communication. This only allowed for
under 3 per cent. of the troops having beds in general and stationary
hospitals. Without withdrawing officers from the colonies,[34] the aid
of 99 civil surgeons would be required. These gentlemen were to be
selected when their services were needed, but as there was no
registered list, no claim on the service of anyone could be exacted.
When the field army was provided for, the home hospitals were entirely
denuded of personnel. The work was carried on by retired officers and
civil surgeons. The establishment of non-commissioned officers and men
was designed only for peace purposes, and beyond the reserve there was
no estimate for additions in case of war. A state of war was to be met
by civilian assistance, increased employment of women nurses, and
active recruiting. An increase of establishment which had been
proposed for the estimates of 1893-4 and successive years had
gradually obtained complete sanction by 1898.[35] The increase of the
army as a whole and the known weakness in South Africa caused demands
for yet larger numbers in the estimates of 1899-1900. The Army Board
were not disposed to recommend more than a portion of these
additions.[36] The difficulty of obtaining sanction for expenditure on
measures of greater urgency required that that which was considered of
less importance should be dispensed with, so the hospital orderly had
to be rejected in favour of the soldier to fill the ranks. To provide
the general and stationary hospitals that accompanied the First Army
Corps with complete personnel, it became necessary to denude the
bearer companies and field hospitals of the Second Army Corps. It is
not surprising, therefore, that "war having been declared, and
practically the whole available personnel having been swept off to
South Africa with the first demands, it became necessary to seek for
other means of supply."[37] Hospital equipment was dealt with by the
Director-General of Ordnance, but with surgical and medical stores the
Army Medical Department was itself concerned. Funds to replace the
old-fashioned instruments then in use were asked for in 1896, and
between that date and the outbreak of war great improvements had been
made. The change, however, had not been universally completed, and on
the outbreak of war a few instruments of comparatively antiquated type
were still to be found in South Africa. A similar argument to that
which prevailed against the increase of personnel met the several
requests for storage room. It was represented that the indifferent
storage available deteriorated the instruments and made the drugs
worthless. On the other hand, the perishable nature of drugs renders
it inadvisable to keep a large amount in store, besides which, ample
supplies can always be purchased in the market. The subsequent
experience went to prove that there was no difficulty in this matter.
Throughout the war the department was wonderfully well equipped as
regards drugs and instruments, and no branch was more successful than
that concerned with medical supplies.

         [Footnote 34: The establishment for India is distinct.]

         [Footnote 35: An increase of 212 was asked for, and was
         obtained by successive grants of 54, 53, 52 and 55--total,

         [Footnote 36: The estimate was for 400 of all ranks, and 150
         were granted. The balance was granted in November, 1899, and
         the men were of course untrained.]

         [Footnote 37: Statement by Surgeon-General Jameson, Royal
         Commission on South African Hospitals.]

_Army Veterinary Department._

On the outbreak of war the Director-General of the Army Veterinary
department was responsible to the Adjutant-General for the efficiency of
his department and the maintenance of veterinary supplies. The superior
control was subsequently transferred to the Quartermaster-General. The
proportion of the veterinary service which should accompany a force on
active service was not laid down. Not only was there no organisation to
admit of expansion but, owing to the unattractive conditions attaching
to service in the department, the number of officers was actually below
the authorised establishment. In addition to the discharge of ordinary
duty, heavy demands were made by the Remount department for veterinary
officers to assist in the purchase and transport of horses and mules. It
was necessary, therefore, almost from the first, to engage civilian
veterinary surgeons.[38] The personnel of the department did not include
any subordinate staff. The Director-General[39] of the department was in
process of adopting, with improvements, the Indian system of equipment,
for which he had himself been responsible. The amount of this equipment
which it had been possible to prepare before the outbreak of war was
insufficient, but the deficiency was remedied by indenting on India for
four field veterinary hospitals and 100 field chests, which enabled the
supply to be kept up to the subsequent demands.

         [Footnote 38: The home establishment of the department was
         63; 121 civilian veterinary surgeons were employed in South
         Africa, besides those engaged by local Volunteers.]

         [Footnote 39: Veterinary Colonel F. Duck, C.B., F.R.C.V.S.]

_Inspector-General of Fortifications._

This officer was responsible for engineer stores. The nature of those
required depends largely on the country in which the campaign is to be
carried on; therefore, practically no reserve was maintained of such
ordinary items as can easily be bought in the market. Of manufactured
goods, such as railway plant, telegraph material and pontoons, which
require time for production, there was an insufficient reserve,
notably of the last named. In order to send out a number sufficient to
meet the probable requirements in South Africa, all reserve pontoons,
including some of questionable value, were collected, and the country
was denuded. This deficiency had been represented on different
occasions, but for want of funds nothing could be done towards the
provision of new pontoons until October, 1899.


Of all the departments, this was subjected to the greatest strain and
was the least prepared to meet it. The reasons were as follows. For
some years previous to 1897 the system in force was that, although the
Director-General of Ordnance was charged with the supply of stores to
the army, the financial control and the entire direction of the
ordnance factories rested with the Financial Secretary to the War
Office, who belonged to the Ministry of the day. No supplies could be
obtained by the former unless with the permission and by the order of
the latter. The system conduced to a lack of sympathy of motive, which
caused a disinclination on the one part to ask for what on the other
there would be more than a disinclination to give. This tended to
crystallise the national proneness to defer until the emergency arose
the measures necessary to meet it. It followed, then, that while
attention was given to the needs of the moment, practically all
provision for the requirements of the future was relegated to the
background. A further defect in the system was that it resulted in
there being no proper understanding between those who had intimate
knowledge of what was required by the army and those who were
responsible for manufacture.

[Sidenote: Sir Henry Brackenbury's appointment.]

During the three years that Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Brackenbury
had been President of the Ordnance Committee at Woolwich he had been
impressed by the unsatisfactory working of the system and, on being
offered the appointment of Director-General of Ordnance, in November,
1898, he urged that the direction of the ordnance factories should be
transferred to the holder of that appointment. The matter was
discussed by the Cabinet and, on its being decided to make the
transfer, Sir H. Brackenbury took up the appointment in February,
1899. The transfer was effected by the Order in Council of March 7th,
1899, which enumerated the duties with which the Director-General of
Ordnance was charged,[40] and included in them that of the direction
of the manufacturing departments of the army. The financial control of
the factories still remained with the Financial Secretary.

         [Footnote 40: The duties are detailed in Sir Henry
         Brackenbury's reply to the Royal Commission, A. 1,555.]

[Sidenote: State of ordnance stores.]

The Secretary of State himself had felt some concern as to the
condition of affairs in the Ordnance department and it was on his
initiative that Sir Henry Brackenbury was selected to set matters
right. On taking up the duties of Director-General of Ordnance, the
new chief commenced an enquiry into the condition of the armament and
the state of reserves of all ordnance stores. In the early months of
the year the greater part of his time and attention was taken up by
the important question of replacing the obsolete armament of our sea
defences. From June onwards the whole energies of the department were
directed towards meeting the requirements of the force which might
possibly have to take the field. It was not until the despatch of this
force that the true barrenness of the land came to be revealed, and
melancholy was the outlook it presented.

[Sidenote: Warning to G.Os.C.]

Early in 1899 the Director-General of Ordnance issued confidential
instructions to General Officers Commanding districts regarding
special scales of clothing and equipment for the field force
contemplated for service in South Africa. These instructions enabled
demands to be prepared, so that they could be put forward without
delay on the order to mobilise.

[Sidenote: Method of keeping equipment.]

Wherever storage buildings were available the war equipment of units
was kept on their charge. In other cases it was apportioned to units
but held in store for them by the Ordnance department. When
mobilisation was ordered, there was war equipment practically complete
to enable two army corps, a cavalry division, and lines of
communication troops to take the field.

[Sidenote: Clothing.]

The special clothing prescribed for South Africa entailed an entire
change of dress--helmet, body-clothing, and boots. Sanction had been
given in April, 1899, for the storage of a reserve of khaki drill
suits,[41] of which the amount authorised would have been insufficient,
but fortunately the Clothing department had a surplus which enabled a
complete issue to be made on mobilisation. It had been represented from
South Africa, with the support of the Director-General of the Army
Medical Service at home, that serge was more appropriate to the climate
than cotton drill, and the substitution had been approved by the
Commander-in-Chief on August 18th. No steps towards effecting the change
could be taken until the grant of September 22nd, and the first three
divisions embarked with cotton drill clothing.[42] It is probable,
however, that even had the money been forthcoming when the change was
first approved, not more than half the amount required could have been
obtained in the time. One difficulty experienced in connection with the
issue of clothing was that of providing each unit with the right number
of suits of particular sizes. Many of the reservists who presented
themselves on mobilisation were found to have increased considerably in
figure, and consequently much fitting and alteration was necessary. This
caused delay. At that time the boot for foreign service differed in
pattern from that for home service, and an issue of the former was made.
The supply on hand was only sufficient to allow a complete issue to men
of the mounted services, while dismounted soldiers had one pair of each
pattern, reservists having home service pattern entirely. The sudden
demand on the market for the materials necessary for these articles of
clothing entailed a considerable increase of cost, without, at the
outset at least, ensuring provision of the best quality.

         [Footnote 41: This reserve consisted of 40,000 suits; the
         number actually issued was sufficient to equip the force

         [Footnote 42: At the time of year this was suitable, and
         serge clothing was eventually sent out. Troops subsequently,
         up to May, 1900, took one suit of drill and one suit of
         serge. Later each man took two suits of serge.]

[Sidenote: War equipment.]

At the outbreak of war the authorised war equipment was practically
complete, and there remained the equipment for a third army corps,
but suitable only for service at home. Beyond this, there was no
provision of special reserves to meet the continual drain by service
in the field abroad. Such reserve material as there was for batteries
of both horse and field artillery was speedily exhausted; while to
provide heavier ordnance it was necessary to draw upon the movable
armament for home defence. More speedy still was the exhaustion of gun
ammunition, and not even the suspension of Naval orders in the
factories, with loans from the Navy and from India, could enable
demands to be complied with quickly enough. Similarly, the
deficiencies in other stores, such as camp equipment, vehicles,
harness, saddlery and horse-shoes, made themselves apparent at a very
early date in the war.[43]

         [Footnote 43: In the matter of hospital equipment previous to
         mobilisation there had been stores for field hospitals of
         three army corps; but there was no reserve of equipment for
         stationary hospitals or general hospitals, except for one
         general hospital and two stationary hospitals, which were not
         included in the army corps organisation.]

[Sidenote: Purchases abroad.]

[Sidenote: Mark IV.]

Any idea that may have existed that the ordnance factories and the
trade would be able to meet all demands from week to week was quickly
dispelled. The supply could not keep pace with the need, and in some
cases the exhaustion of the home market necessitated large purchases
in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Of rifles and other weapons
at this time the store was ample, except in the case of sabres, of
which, owing to a contemplated change in pattern, the reserve had been
allowed to fall very low. There was a complete reserve of ball
ammunition of the kinds approved for use in the earlier part of 1899,
viz.: Mark II. and Mark IV., the latter having an expanding bullet.
During the summer of 1899 it was found that under certain conditions
the Mark IV. ammunition developed such serious defects that, apart
from the inexpediency of using a bullet which the signatories to the
Hague Convention[44] had condemned, it was deemed advisable to
withdraw this particular kind of ammunition as unsuitable for war
purposes. This meant that two-fifths of the reserve was unserviceable.

         [Footnote 44: The British Government was not a party to this

[Sidenote: Alarming minute from D.G.O.]

On 15th December, 1899, as the result of his enquiry, Sir Henry
Brackenbury put forward his report to the Commander-in-Chief, in which
he enumerated in detail the various deficiencies of stores brought to
light by the war in South Africa. The condition of affairs was such as
to cause grave apprehension. To use his own words: "That war has now
disclosed a situation as regards armaments, and reserves of guns,
ammunition, stores and clothing, and as regards the power of output of
material of war in emergency which is, in my opinion, full of peril to
the Empire; and I, therefore, think it my duty, without waiting to
elaborate details, to lay before you at once the state of affairs, and
to make proposals, to which I invite, through you, the earnest and
immediate attention of the Secretary of State." These proposals dealt
with the provision of armaments, reserves of ammunition, stores and
clothing, and the improvement of factories and storage-buildings, with
the object of putting the country in a condition of safety and
preventing the possibility of the recurrence of the state of affairs

         [Footnote 45: Sir H. Brackenbury's representation was laid
         before the Cabinet and resulted, on the recommendations of
         the Mowatt and Grant Committees, in a grant of £10,500,900 to
         be distributed over a period of three years.]

[Sidenote: A free hand.]

In his minute Sir Henry Brackenbury also insisted on the necessity of
a free hand being given in time of war to the Inspector-General of
Fortifications as regards works and buildings, and to the
Director-General of Ordnance as regards armaments, stores and
clothing. He had, through the Army Board, on the 22nd September,
brought to the notice of the Secretary of State the difficulties and
delays inseparable from the financial system which obtained in peace
time, and had been granted practically what he asked in his
expenditure for the supply of the army during the war. On this point
Sir Henry Brackenbury remarked in his report:--

"It is only by such a free hand having been given to us since the
outbreak of war in October that it has been possible to supply the
army in the field, and even so, owing to the want of reserves, we have
been too late with many of the most important articles."

The tale of deficiencies was thus summed up by the Secretary of

[Sidenote: Lord Lansdowne's note.]

"It is, I think, abundantly clear from Sir H. Brackenbury's Report,
that we were not sufficiently prepared even for the equipment of the
comparatively small force which we had always contemplated might be
employed beyond the limits of this country in the initial stages of a
campaign. For the much larger force which we have actually found it
necessary to employ our resources were absolutely and miserably
inadequate. The result has been that the department, even by working
under conditions which have nearly led to a breakdown, has been barely
able to keep pace with the requirements of the army."[46]

         [Footnote 46: Extract from memorandum of May 21st, 1900, by
         the Marquess of Lansdowne.]


Offers of assistance had poured in from Greater Britain from the
moment that the imminence of war in South Africa was realised. It was
not the first time that our kinsmen had sent their sons for the
general service of the Empire. In 1881, within twenty-four hours of
the receipt of the news of the action at Laing's Nek, two thousand men
of the Australian local forces had volunteered for employment in South
Africa, but were not accepted. Four years later, eight hundred
colonists from New South Wales were welcomed for service at Suakim,
while a special corps of Canadian voyageurs was enlisted for the
advance up the Nile. But on neither of these occasions was the tender
of patriotic help so welcome to the Mother Country as in the present
instance, for it was felt that the whole Empire was concerned in the
contest for the establishment in South Africa of equal rights for all
white men independent of race, and that it was, therefore, peculiarly
fitting that the younger States of the great Imperial Commonwealth
should make the quarrel their own. As early as July, 1899, Queensland,
Victoria, New South Wales, the Malay States and Lagos, had tendered
their services, and Her Majesty's Government, though not then able to
accept the offers made, had gratefully acknowledged them. In
September, Queensland and Victoria renewed their proposals, and
further offers of assistance were received from Canada, New Zealand,
Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, and Hong Kong. The
majority of a squadron of the New South Wales Lancers, which had been
sent to England to undergo a special course of training at Aldershot,
also volunteered for South Africa. As regards Natal and Cape Colony,
it was assumed as a matter of course, both by the Colonial troops
themselves and by the Imperial and Colonial Governments, that they
would cheerfully do their duty if called out for local defence. The
whole of the Natal local forces were mobilised for active service on
29th September,[47] the day after President Kruger commandeered his
burghers. A portion of the Cape Volunteers were called out on 5th
October, and the remainder during the first month of the war.[48] On
the 3rd October the Secretary of State for the Colonies telegraphed to
various Colonial Governments a grateful acceptance by Her Majesty's
Government of the services of their contingents, indicating in each
case the units considered desirable. It was not found possible to take
advantage of the offers of some of the Crown Colonies, but from the
self-governing Colonies, troops numbering about 2,500 of all ranks
were accepted.[49] These proved but the advance guard to the total
force of nearly 30,000 men from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India
and Ceylon, who at various times represented Greater Britain in the
army of South Africa.

         [Footnote 47: The corps mobilised were Natal Naval
         Volunteers, Natal Field Artillery, Natal Royal Rifles, Durban
         Light Infantry, Natal Mounted Rifles, Natal Carbineers,
         Umvoti Mounted Rifles, Border Mounted Rifles.]

         [Footnote 48: For the local forces called out in Cape Colony,
         see Chapter II., p. 53.]

         [Footnote 49: For arrivals of "Oversea Colonials," see
         Appendix 9. The whole subject is treated more fully in Vol.
         II. in a chapter on the Colonial Corps.]



         [Footnote 50: See general map of South Africa, Relief map No.
         2, and map No. 3.]

[Sidenote: Defence plans of local authorities.]

[Sidenote: Genl. Goodenough.]

It has been convenient to carry the statement of the measures adopted
for preparation at home in certain matters beyond the actual date of
the declaration of war. It is now necessary to view the state of
affairs in South Africa at that time. Although British preparations
for war had been retarded by the hope of the Queen's Government that
the grave issues with the Dutch Republics might be determined by
diplomatic action, yet the weakness of our military position in South
Africa had long been felt as keenly by the local military authorities
as it had been by the Headquarter staff at the War Office. In schemes
for the defence of the British colonies, submitted in 1896 and 1897 by
Lieut.-General Sir W. H. Goodenough, who was then commanding in South
Africa, the extraordinary extent of the frontiers to be defended, the
disadvantages entailed by their shape, and the overwhelming numerical
superiority of the Boers over the handful of British troops then in
South Africa, made it necessary to base the protection even of the
most important strategical points on sheer audacity.

[Sidenote: War Office to Gen. Butler Dec. /98.]

[Sidenote: Dec. /98, from W.O.]

A letter addressed by the War Office to General Goodenough's
successor, Lieut.-General Sir W. Butler, on 21st December, 1898, had
requested him to reconsider his predecessor's proposals, and to report
at an early date the distribution of troops he would make in the event
of war with the two Dutch Republics. In a review of the strategical
situation, that despatch drew attention to the fact that the troops
then stationed in the command "would be inadequate for any other than
a defensive attitude, pending the arrival of reinforcements from
England." In the same paper the effect of the frontiers on the
questions, both of defence in the earlier stages of the war, and of
the ultimate form of offence, is so fully treated that it will be
convenient to quote here the official statement of the case. It must
be premised that it is assumed in it, as in fact proved to be the
case, that both sides would tacitly agree, for the sake of not raising
the native difficulty, to treat Basuto territory as neutral. That
mountain region was therefore throughout considered as an impassable

"The frontiers of the Transvaal and the Free State are conterminous
with English territory for over 1,000 miles, but the defence of this
enormous frontier by Her Majesty's troops is impossible to
contemplate. Southern Rhodesia, although a possible objective for a
Boer raid, must rely entirely for its defence upon its own local
forces, and, although the line from Kimberley to Buluwayo is of some
strategic importance, yet its protection north of the Vaal river would
be altogether out of our power during the earlier stages of the war.
Basutoland may also be eliminated from defensive calculations, as its
invasion by the Boers would be improbable; moreover, the Basutos, if
invaded, would be able for some time to maintain an effective

"The frontier, therefore, the observation and defence of which appears
to need definite consideration, may be held to extend in Cape Colony
from Fourteen Streams bridge in the north to the south-west corner of
Basutoland, and to include in Natal the triangle, of which Charlestown
is the apex, and a line drawn from Mont Aux Sources to the
Intonganeni[51] district of Zululand the base.

         [Footnote 51: Now spelt Emtonjaneni on the general map.]

"The mountains and broken country of Basutoland and Griqualand East,
which lie between Natal and the Cape Colony, are unpierced by railways
and ill-supplied by roads. It must be accepted, therefore, that a
force acting on the defensive in Natal will be out of touch with a
force in Cape Colony, and the two can only operate from separate

[Sidenote: Dec. /98 from W.O.]

"As regards the Cape frontier, for the portion lying between
Basutoland and Hopetown railway bridge,[52] the Orange river forms a
military obstacle of some importance, impassable, as a rule, during
the first three months of the year, except at the bridges, and even at
other times difficult to cross, owing to its quicksands, and liability
to sudden flood. Between Hopetown railway bridge and the Vaal the
frontier is, however, protected by no physical features and lies open
to invasion.

         [Footnote 52: The railway bridge at Orange River station.]

"As regards the Natal frontier its salient confers on the enemy
facilities for cutting our line of communications, and for outflanking
at pleasure the positions of Laing's Nek and the Biggarsberg. This
facility is accentuated by the influence of the Drakensberg, which
forms a screen, behind which an enemy can assemble unobserved and
debouch on our flanks through its numerous passes. These passes,
however, have been recently examined and found to be for the most part
but rough mountain tracks available for raids, but unsuitable for the
advance of any large force accompanied by transport. To this Van
Reenen's Pass, through which the railway and main road issue from
Natal into the Free State, and Laing's Nek (across and under which the
main road and railway pass into the Transvaal) are notable exceptions,
and the possession of these two passes necessarily carry with them
great strategical advantages.

"An appreciation of the relative importance of the defence of the two
frontiers of Cape Colony and Natal would, no doubt, be assisted if the
line by which the main advance on the Transvaal will ultimately be
undertaken were determined; but I am to say that in the
Commander-in-Chief's opinion the plan for offensive operations must
depend upon the political and military situation of the moment, and
cannot now be definitely fixed. The fact, however, that an offensive
advance will ultimately be undertaken, as soon as sufficient forces
have arrived, must be especially borne in mind in considering
arrangements for the first or defensive stage of the campaign."

The despatch then stated that the following should be taken as the
basis of Sir William Butler's arrangements for frontier defence: "The
latest information in the possession of the War Office as to the
military strength of the two States will be found in the recent
pamphlet entitled 'Military Notes on the Dutch Republics of South
Africa,' copies of which are in your possession. You will observe that
in that publication it is estimated that the total forces of the two
republics amount to over 40,000 men, and that of these some 27,000[53]
would be available for offensive operations beyond their frontiers. It
is known that projects for such offensive operations have actually
been under the consideration of the War department of Pretoria, but
although an attempt may be made on Kimberley and the northern strip of
Natal may be occupied by the Boers, yet it is considered to be
unlikely that any further serious advance into the heart of either
colony would be undertaken. Raids, however, of 2,000 to 3,000 men may
be expected, and it is against such raids that careful preparation on
your part is necessary."

         [Footnote 53: A later edition of the Military Notes (June,
         1899) estimated the total strength of the burgher and
         permanent levies to be 53,743, and further that these would
         be joined at the outbreak of war by 4,000 Colonial rebels. It
         was calculated that of this total, and exclusive of those
         detached for frontier defence and to hold in check Kimberley
         and Mafeking, 27,000 effectives would be available as a field
         army for offensive operations. When these estimates were
         made, the large number of Uitlanders in Johannesburg made it
         probable that a considerable Boer force would be detained to
         watch that city.]

[Sidenote: June /99. Sir W. Butler's reply.]

Sir W. Butler, being occupied by other duties, did not reply to this
despatch until pressed by telegrams at the beginning of June of the
following year. He then reported by telegraph and in a letter to the
War Office, dated 12th June, 1899, that he intended, in the event of
war, to divide the troops in Natal into two; one part at
Dundee-Glencoe with orders to patrol to the Buffalo river on the east,
Ingagane on the north, and the Drakensberg Passes on the west, and the
other at Ladysmith, with instructions "to support Glencoe and maintain
the line of the Biggarsberg, or to operate against Van Reenen's Pass
should circumstances necessitate." In Cape Colony he proposed, with
the small number of troops then available (_i.e._, three battalions,
six guns and a R.E. company), to hold the important railway stations
of De Aar, Naauwpoort and Molteno (or Stormberg), with strong
detachments at Orange River station, and possibly Kimberley, and
outposts at Colesberg, Burghersdorp, and Philipstown. It will be seen,
therefore, that, while deprecating the actual occupation of the
Drakensberg Passes and of the Colesberg and Bethulie bridges over the
Orange river, which had been proposed by his predecessor and approved
by Lord Wolseley, Sir William Butler did not shrink from the forward
policy of endeavouring to bluff the enemy with weak detachments
stationed in close proximity to the frontier.

[Sidenote: Baden-Powell sent out.]

It was in conformity with this policy that, in July, 1899, the War
Office despatched Col. R. S. S. Baden-Powell, with a staff of special
service officers, to organise a force in southern Rhodesia. It was
hoped that, in the event of war, his column might detain a portion of
the Boer commandos in that quarter, since its position threatened the
northern Transvaal. To his task was subsequently added the
organisation of a mounted infantry corps which, based on Mafeking,
might similarly hold back the burghers of the western districts of the
South African Republic.

[Sidenote: Choice of Routes.]

The cloud of war rapidly spread over the whole of the South African
horizon, and the strategical situation became sharply defined. As
regards the determination of the plan of offence referred to in the
above War Office despatch, the difficulty was due to the hope
entertained by the Cabinet that, in the event of war between this
country and the Transvaal, the Orange Free State would remain neutral.
The choice in that case would have lain between an advance based on
Warrenton, _i.e._, on the Kimberley-to-Mafeking railway, or a movement
parallel to the Natal-to-Johannesburg railway. By the middle of 1899,
however, the Headquarter staff at the War Office were convinced that,
if war should supervene, the two republics would make common cause. A
memorandum, entitled, "The Direction of a Line of Advance Against the
Transvaal," was prepared by the Intelligence division on that basis
and submitted on 3rd June, 1899. It was contended in this memorandum
that the lack of any railway between Fourteen Streams and the
Transvaal capital eliminated that route from consideration, and that
the choice now lay between the line running up through the centre of
the Free State and the Natal route.

[Sidenote: The better line.]

In comparing the relative merits of these two routes it was shown that
strategically the Natal line would, owing to the shape of the frontier
and the parallel screen of the Drakensberg, be constantly exposed to
dangerous flank attacks, while the flanks of the Free State route
would be comparatively safe. "The Basutos' sympathies will be entirely
with us, while on the west the garrison of Kimberley will hold the

[Sidenote: Reasons.]

Tactically, it was pointed out, the Natal route traversed "an ideal
terrain for the Boers," and crossed the "immensely strong" position of
Laing's Nek. On the other hand, a force advancing by the Free State
route, once over the Orange river, would have only to deal with the
Bethulie position, and would then reach open plains, which "afford the
freest scope for the manoeuvres of all three arms."

[Sidenote: Conclusion.]

Furthermore, the Free State route could be fed by three distinct lines
of railway from three ports, while the Natal route would be dependent
on a single line and one port. The memorandum, therefore, submitted
the conclusion that "the main line of advance against the Transvaal
should be based on the Cape Colony, and should follow generally the
line of railway through the Orange Free State to Johannesburg and

[Sidenote: Natal threatened.]

In June it became evident that the vague designs of the Boer
Governments against Natal, of which the British Intelligence
department had had cognizance in the previous year, were taking
definite shape, and that, at any rate, so far as the Transvaal forces
were concerned, the eastern colony would probably become the main
object of their attack. The only British reinforcements immediately
available were therefore assigned to that colony. On the Cape side it
was manifest that the determining factor was the attitude of restless
elements within the colony itself. It was known that secret agents
from the Transvaal had, during the past two years, visited many parts
of the colony, and that arms had been distributed by those agents. The
investigations of the Intelligence department had, however, failed to
discover proofs of the establishment of such organisations as would
enable any formidable rising in the colony to coincide with a
declaration of war by the republics. It was fully realised that it
could not but be the case that there would be among many of the Dutch
colonial farmers some natural sympathy with their kinsmen, and that a
certain number of the younger and wilder would possibly slip across
the border to join the enemy's forces; but it was believed that,
provided this class of the community was not encouraged by any sign of
weakness to enter into relations with the republics, they would be, as
a whole, loath to throw off their allegiance to a State to which they
and their forefathers had for many generations been loyal, and under
whose rule they had enjoyed equal liberties, self-government and much

[Sidenote: Protective Posts.]

If these conclusions were sound--and the course of events during the
first month of the war was to prove their general correctness--it was
highly desirable that detachments of British troops should remain in
the northern districts of the colony, and thus carry out the double
function of encouraging the loyal while checking lawless spirits, and
of retaining possession of those lines of railways, the use of which
would be a matter of vital importance to the field army in its
subsequent advance from the coast. It was obvious that these isolated
posts of a few hundred men would run serious risks. Thrust forward in
close proximity to the enemy's frontier, they were separated from
their base on the coast by some four to five hundred miles of country,
throughout which there might be possible enemies; thus their
communications might at any moment be cut. Furthermore, until troops
arrived from England or India, no reinforcements would be available
for their assistance. But the alternative of abandoning the whole of
the northern districts of Cape Colony to the enemy, and thus allowing
them to enforce recruitments from colonists who might otherwise live
in peaceful security under the British flag, involved dangers far
graver, and was, in fact, never contemplated by the military
authorities either in London or at the Cape, except in the remote
contingency of war with some maritime Power coinciding with the
outbreak of hostilities with the Boer Republics. Moreover, by the
middle of September, 1899, the organisation and training of Colonel
Baden-Powell's two newly-raised corps, the one at Tuli and the other
near Mafeking, were already sufficiently advanced to afford good hope
of their being able to sustain effectively the rôle which had been
assigned to them, while arrangements were being taken in hand to
secure Kimberley from being captured by any _coup de main_.[54]

         [Footnote 54: See Vol. II.]

[Sidenote: Forestier-Walker adopts Butler's plan.]

Although, therefore, at that moment the only regular troops in Cape
Colony were three and a half battalions of infantry, two companies
Royal engineers, and two companies of Royal Garrison artillery,
General Sir F. Forestier-Walker, who, on September 6th, 1899, arrived
at Cape Town, replacing Sir William Butler, decided to adhere to his
forward defence policy, and to carry out unchanged the arrangements
contemplated by him. Thus, by the end of September, a series of
military posts had been formed encircling the western and southern
frontiers of the Free State at Kimberley, Orange River station, De
Aar, Naauwpoort, and Stormberg, each post including a half-battalion
of regular infantry, and a section of engineers. To Kimberley were
also sent six 7-pr. R.M.L. screw guns, and to Orange River station,
Naauwpoort and Stormberg, two 9-pr. R.M.L. guns each. Each of these
three-named had also a company of mounted infantry. The guns were
manned by garrison artillerymen from the naval base at Cape Town. By
arrangement with the Colonial authorities the Cape Police furnished
various posts of observation in advanced positions. Behind the weak
line thus boldly pushed out in the face of the enemy there were no
regular troops whatever in the Colony, except half a battalion and a
handful of garrison gunners in the Cape peninsula.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers approves.]

Sir F. Forestier-Walker had, however, the satisfaction to find that
these dispositions, which he had carried out on his own initiative
after consulting the High Commissioner, fitted in well with the plans
of Sir Redvers Buller, and were acceptable to that officer. A
telegram from Sir Redvers, dated London, 29th September, 1899,
informed Forestier-Walker that an expedition made up of an army corps,
a cavalry division, and seven battalions for the lines of
communication would be sent out to South Africa and would advance on
Pretoria through the Free State. That general was therefore directed
to make, so far as was compatible with secrecy, preliminary
arrangements for the disembarkation of this army at the three ports,
Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London. In acknowledging these
orders on the following day, Sir F. Forestier-Walker accordingly
reported by telegram that he would arrange for the disembarkation
bases and that he was establishing advanced depôts at De Aar,
Naauwpoort, and Stormberg;[55] Sir Redvers Buller, in a message
despatched from London on 2nd October, replied:--

         [Footnote 55: These places had been suggested as suitable for
         advanced depôts in "Notes on the Lines of Communication in
         Cape Colony," issued by the Intelligence Division, W.O., in
         June, 1899.]

     "Your proposals are just what I wish, but I feared suggesting
     depôts at Naauwpoort and Stormberg, as I did not then know if you
     had sufficient troops to guard them. It will not do to risk loss.
     I leave this to your local knowledge."

[Sidenote: Further Steps of Defence.]

On the 7th of October, 1899, the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers landed
at Cape Town from England and were sent on the 10th to De Aar; a wing
of the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers left Stellenbosch by train for the
same destination on the 9th. Stores were already accumulating at De
Aar but, having regard to Dutch restlessness in the vicinity of
Naauwpoort and Stormberg, Sir F. Forestier-Walker, after personal
inspection, considered it inadvisable to risk any large amount of
material at either until more troops could be spared to hold them. For
the moment it appeared to him desirable to concentrate all available
mobile troops at the Orange River station, where he retained command
of both banks of the river, and thus, as soon as adequate strength was
organised, could operate thence towards Kimberley or on some point in
the Free State. The energy of Lieut.-Colonel R. G. Kekewich, Loyal
North Lancashire regiment, who had been despatched to Kimberley to
take command, assisted by Mr. Cecil Rhodes and the officials of the De
Beers Company, had placed that town in a fair state of defence. At
Mafeking it was realised that Colonel Baden-Powell's troops would be
unable to do more than protect the large quantities of stores
accumulated by merchants at that station against the formidable Boer
force which was concentrating for attack upon it. Nevertheless, by so
doing, Baden-Powell would fulfil the rôle assigned to him, since he
would prevent large numbers of the enemy from engaging in the serious
invasion of the exposed frontier territories of Cape Colony. The
actual distribution of troops in the Colony at the outbreak of war is
shown in Appendix 2.

[Sidenote: Natal defence--Generals Cox and Goodenough, 96/97.]

Reports on the frontier defence of Natal had been submitted during the
years 1896-7, by Major-General G. Cox, who was then holding the
sub-command of that colony, and by Lieut.-General Goodenough. After a
careful examination of the question whether the tunnel under Laing's
Nek, the Dundee coalfields to the south, and Van Reenen's Pass could
be protected with the troops available, General Goodenough decided
that none of these could be guarded. Having then only one regiment of
cavalry, one mountain battery, and one infantry battalion, he thought
it better to concentrate nearly all of them at Ladysmith, the point of
junction of the branch railway to Harrismith with the main line to the
Transvaal, sending only small detachments to Colenso and Estcourt. On
the despatch to Natal, in the second quarter of 1897, of
reinforcements, consisting of another cavalry regiment, a second
battalion of infantry, and a brigade division of artillery, temporary
quarters were erected at Ladysmith for this increase to the garrison
of the colony, and Sir William Goodenough informed the War Office that
in case of emergency he proposed to watch the whole frontier with the
Natal Police, to hold Newcastle with colonial troops and to despatch
most of the cavalry, one field battery, and half a battalion of
infantry to Glencoe to cover the Dundee coalfields. The remainder of
the regular troops, consisting of a battalion and a half, a few
cavalry, and two batteries, would be placed at Ladysmith, where a
detachment of a battalion and the mountain battery would be kept ready
to occupy and entrench itself at Van Reenen's Pass. These proposals
were approved for execution on an emergency "so far as the exigencies
of the occasion may admit."[56]

         [Footnote 56: W.O. letter, September 3rd, 1897.]

[Sidenote: Natal defence--Sir W. Butler, /99.]

Sir W. Butler's report of 12th June, 1899, adopted practically the
same plan of defence. To a suggestion as to a possible occupation of
Laing's Nek,[57] General Butler had replied that he did not think the
immediate possession of that place of great importance and that its
occupation by a weak force would be a dangerous operation. The regular
troops in Natal had at this date been only reinforced by one more
battalion, and consisted of but two cavalry regiments, one brigade
division field artillery, one mountain battery, and three infantry
battalions. To these must be added the Natal Police, a corps about 400
strong, admirably trained as mounted infantry, and nearly 2,000
Colonial Volunteers of the best type.

         [Footnote 57: W.O. letter, February 23rd, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Protest of Natal Government, July /99.]

The communication of this scheme of defence to the Natal Ministry in
July, 1899, led them to prefer an urgent request that sufficient
reinforcements should be sent out to defend the whole colony. In the
long telegraphic despatch addressed on 6th September, 1899, by the
Governor, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, to the Colonial Office, it was
urged that: "In the opinion of the Ministers, such a catastrophe as
the seizure of Laing's Nek, and the destruction of the northern
portion of the railway ... would have a most demoralising effect on
the natives and the loyal Europeans in the colony, and would afford
great encouragement to the Boers and their sympathisers." The
announcement from home of the early despatch of reinforcements from
India which was received by Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson in reply to this
telegram, did not, in the opinion of Sir F. Forestier-Walker, or of
Major-General Sir W. Penn Symons, who had succeeded General Cox in the
local command of Natal, justify a deviation from the scheme of
defence put forward by their predecessors. Apart from the difficulty
of a water supply for a force occupying Laing's Nek, it was felt that
such a forward position would be strategically unsafe, and would
impose on the troops in Natal a task beyond their powers. On the other
hand, the decision to give the coalfields at Dundee the protection
contemplated by Sir W. Butler was adopted.

[Sidenote: Sept. 25th, /99. Glencoe held.]

By the 24th September the Governor told General Symons that the
gravity of the political situation was such that the dispositions of
the troops previously agreed on for the defence of the colony must at
once be carried out. The necessary permission to act having been
obtained by telegram from the General Officer Commanding South Africa,
the 1st Leicester and 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, with a squadron of
the 18th Hussars were entrained at Ladysmith for Glencoe on the
morning of the 25th September, the remainder of the 18th Hussars, with
a mounted infantry company and two field batteries reaching Glencoe by
march route on the 26th. The gaps these changes made in the Ladysmith
garrison were filled up, the 5th Lancers, 1st King's Royal Rifles, and
1st Manchester being ordered to move to that place from Maritzburg.

[Sidenote: Sir George White, Oct. 7th, wishes to withdraw from

Sir George White had been despatched early in September from England
to command the troops in Natal. When, on October 7th, he arrived and
assumed command, he found that the forces at his disposal were divided
into two bodies, the one at Glencoe and the other at Ladysmith. On
leaving England he had been given no instructions on the subject, nor
had the previous correspondence with the local military authorities as
to the defence of Natal been seen by him, but he held that from a
military point of view the only sound policy was to concentrate the
whole of the British troops in such a position that he would be able
to strike with his full strength at the enemy the moment an
opportunity offered. He determined, therefore, to withdraw the Glencoe
detachment and assemble the whole at Ladysmith, the importance of
which was increased by the preliminary dispositions of the Boer
commandos, to be described later. The Governor, on being informed of
this intention, remonstrated against the withdrawal from Glencoe in
terms which are thus recorded in his subsequent report of the
interview to the Secretary of State for the Colonies:--

[Sidenote: Protest by Governor.]

     "Now that we were there, withdrawal would, in my opinion, involve
     grave political results, loyalists would be disgusted and
     discouraged; the results as regards the Dutch would be grave,
     many, if not most, would very likely rise, believing us to be
     afraid, and the evil might very likely spread to the Dutch in
     Cape Colony; and the effect on our natives, of whom there were
     750,000 in Natal and Zululand, might be disastrous. They as yet
     believe in our power--they look to us--but if we withdraw from
     Glencoe they will look on it in the light of a defeat, and I
     could not answer for what they, or at all events a large
     proportion of them, might do."

[Sidenote: Sir G. White yields and retains Glencoe.]

Influenced by these strong representations and especially by the
suggestion that the evacuation of Glencoe might lead to a general
rising of the natives--a very grave consideration in the eyes of an
officer with long Indian experience--the British commander decided to
acquiesce for the moment in the separation of his troops which had
been arranged by Major-General Symons. Sir George conceived, however,
from the Intelligence reports before him that the bulk of the Boer
commandos were assembling behind the screen of the Drakensberg, and
that the northern portion of Natal would be their primary and
principal object. He retained his own belief that the safety of the
colony could only be fully secured by decisive strokes at the enemy's
columns as they emerged from the mountain passes and, in pursuance of
this policy, General White impressed on his staff the necessity for
making such preparations as would set free the maximum number of
troops for active operations in the field. Under these circumstances
Sir W. Penn Symons started for Dundee on October 10th and on October
11th Sir George White went by train from Maritzburg to Ladysmith. The
distribution of the forces in Natal on the outbreak of war will be
found in Appendix 3.

[Sidenote: Boer plans.]

The exertions of ten special service officers despatched to South
Africa three months earlier had ensured the acquisition of accurate
information as to the enemy's mobilisation, strength, and points of
concentration. Sir George White's appreciation of the situation was,
therefore, in conformity with the actual facts. The main strength of
the enemy had been concentrated for an invasion of Natal. The
President hoped that it would sweep that colony clear of British
troops down to the sea, and would hoist the Vierkleur over the port of
Durban. Small detachments had been told off to guard the Colesberg,
Bethulie, and Aliwal North bridges and to watch Basutoland. On the
western frontiers of the Transvaal and the Free State strong commandos
were assembling for the destruction of Baden-Powell's retaining force
at Mafeking and for the capture of Kimberley. Both Kruger and Steyn
aimed at results other than those achieved by the initiatory victories
of 1880-1. They cherished the hope that the time had come for the
establishment of a Boer Republic reaching from the Zambesi to Table
Mountain; but, for the accomplishment of so great an enterprise,
external assistance was necessary, the aid of their kinsmen in the
south, and ultimately, as they hoped, an alliance with other Powers
across the seas. The authorities at Pretoria and Bloemfontein realised
fully that, though they might expect to have sympathisers in the
colonies, active co-operation on any large scale was not to be counted
on until successes in the field should persuade the waverers that, in
casting in their lot definitely with the republican forces, they would
be supporting the winning side. The conquest of Natal and the capture
of Kimberley would, it was thought, suffice to convince the most
doubtful and timid. As soon, therefore, as the British troops in Natal
had been overwhelmed and Kimberley occupied, the Boer commandos in the
western theatre of war were to move south across the Cape frontier to
excite a rising in that colony. A situation would thus be created
which, as they calculated, would lead to the intervention of one or
more European Powers, and terminate in the permanent expulsion of all
British authority from South Africa.

[Sidenote: Boer Distribution Oct. 11th, /99.]

[Sidenote: For Natal.]

It was with these designs and based on this far-reaching plan of
campaign that the mobilisation of the burghers in both the republics
was ordered during the last week of September, and by the 11th of
October the following was approximately the constitution, strength and
distribution of the field forces.[58] The army for the invasion of
Natal was made up of three distinct bodies; the principal and most
important of these remained under the personal orders of General P.
Joubert, the Commandant-General of the Boer forces, and was
concentrated at Zandspruit and Wakkerstroom Nek, in immediate
proximity to the northern apex of Natal. It included the Krugersdorp,
Bethel, Heidelberg, Johannesburg, Boksburg and Germiston, Standerton,
Pretoria, Middelburg, and Ermelo commandos, the Transvaal Staats
Artillerie, and small Irish, Hollander and German corps of
adventurers; the total strength of this force was about 11,300 men.
Its armament included 16 field guns and three 6-inch Creusots. On the
eastern border of Natal, facing the British force at Dundee, lay the
Utrecht, Vryheid, Piet Retief and Wakkerstroom commandos, under the
leadership of General Lukas Meyer; this detachment numbered about
2,870 men. Westward, a Free State contingent, amounting to some 9,500
burghers, and consisting of the Vrede, Heilbron, Kroonstad, Winburg,
Bethlehem and Harrismith commandos, occupied Botha's, Bezuidenhout,
Tintwa, Van Reenen's, and Olivier's Hoek passes. The republican
forces, to whom the task of conquering Natal had been assigned,
amounted therefore at the outset of war to about 23,500 men.[59]

         [Footnote 58: This statement is based on information obtained
         from Boer sources during and since the war, but the numbers
         must only be taken as approximately accurate.]

         [Footnote 59: Reinforcements, amounting in all to about 3,240
         men, joined the Boer Natal army during the months
         November-December; these were made up of 1,300 Johannesburg
         police and burghers, 290 Swaziland police and burghers and
         the Lydenburg and Carolina commandos. These reinforcements
         were, however, counterbalanced by the transfer of detachments
         of the Free State commandos to the western theatre of war.]

[Sidenote: For Mafeking.]

For the attack on Colonel Baden-Powell's small garrison at Mafeking, a
body, in strength about 7,000, consisting of the Potchefstroom,
Lichtenburg, Marico, Wolmaranstad and Rustenburg commandos, with a
company of Scandinavian adventurers, had been concentrated close to
the western border. General Piet Cronje was in supreme command on this
side, his two principal subordinates being Generals Snyman and J. H.
De la Rey.

[Sidenote: For Kimberley.]

The capture of Kimberley and the duty of holding in check the British
troops at the Orange River station were assigned to Free State levies
composed of the Fauresmith, Jacobsdal, Bloemfontein, Ladybrand, Boshof
and Hoopstad commandos, the first two of these corps being assembled
at Boshof and the remainder at Jacobsdal. Their total strength was
probably about 7,500; a Transvaal detachment, about 1,700 strong,
composed of the Fordsburg and Bloemhof commandos, was concentrated at
Fourteen Streams, ready to join hands with the Free Staters.

[Sidenote: For other points.]

The Philippolis, Bethulie, Rouxville, and Caledon commandos, under the
orders of Commandants Grobelaar, Olivier and Swanepoel, were
assembling at Donkerpoort, Bethulie, and a little to the north of
Aliwal North for the protection, or possibly destruction, of the
Norval's Pont, Bethulie, and Aliwal bridges. These four commandos had
an approximate strength of 2,500 burghers. Detachments, amounting in
all to about 1,000 men, were watching the Basuto border; on the
extreme north of the Transvaal about 2,000 Waterberg and Zoutpansberg
burghers were piqueting the drifts across the Limpopo river. A small
guard had been placed at Komati Poort to protect the vulnerable
portion of the railway to Delagoa Bay, while the Lydenburg and
Carolina commandos, about 1,600 strong, under Schalk Burger, watched
the native population of Swaziland. Thus, including the police and a
few other detachments left to guard Johannesburg, about 48,000
burghers were under arms at the outbreak of war.

[Sidenote: Large influence of Baden-Powell on them.]

The most remarkable feature of the Boer dispositions is the influence
on them of Baden-Powell's contingent. His two little corps, each
numbering barely 500 men, had drawn away nearly 8,000 of the best
burghers. Mafeking was in itself a place of no strategic value, and,
had the enemy been content to watch, and hold with equal numbers,
Lt.-Cols. H.C.O. Plumer's and C.O. Hore's regiments and the police and
volunteers assisting them, a contingent of 5,000 Transvaalers might
have been added to the army invading Natal, thus adding greatly to the
difficulties of Sir George White's defence. Alternatively it might
have ensured the capture of Kimberley, or might have marched as a
recruiting column from the Orange river through the disaffected
districts and have gradually occupied the whole of the British lines
of communication down to the coast.

[Sidenote: Anxiety of British Situation.]

The general distribution, therefore, of the Queen's troops in South
Africa at the outbreak of war appears, with the exception of the
division of the field force in Natal, to have been the best that could
have been devised, having due regard to the advantage of the
initiative possessed by the enemy, and to the supreme importance of
preventing, or at any rate retarding, any rising of the disloyal in
Cape Colony. Nevertheless, the situation was one of grave anxiety. The
reinforcements which would form the field army were not due for some
weeks. Meanwhile, in the eastern theatre of operations, the Boers
would have made their supreme effort with all the advantages of
superior numbers, greater mobility, and a _terrain_ admirably suited
to their methods of fighting. A considerable portion of the British
troops under Sir G. White were, moreover, mere units, lacking war
organisation except on paper, unknown to their leaders and staff,
unacquainted with the country, and with both horses and men out of
condition after their sea voyage. In the western theatre, the safety
of Kimberley and Mafeking mainly depended on the untried fighting
qualities of recently enlisted colonial corps, volunteers, and hastily
organised town-guards; detachments of regular troops dotted along the
northern frontier of Cape Colony were without hope of support either
from the coast or each other, and would be cut off and crushed in
detail in the case of serious attack or of a rising in their rear.
Thus, the initiative lay absolutely with the enemy, and, so far as
could be foreseen, must remain in his hands until the British army
corps and cavalry division should be ready to take the field about the
middle of December.

[Sidenote: Actual movement of Boers begins.]

According to the terms of the ultimatum of October 9th, a state of war
ensued at 5 p.m. on the 11th. The advance of the Boer forces destined
for the attack of Mafeking and Kimberley began on the following day,
and by the 14th both places were cut off from Cape Colony. On the 17th
the enemy occupied Belmont railway station. To meet these movements
the 9th Lancers, the squadrons of which disembarked at Cape Town from
India on the 14th, 15th, and 18th, were sent up to Orange River
station immediately on their arrival. The 1st battalion Northumberland
Fusiliers were also moved by train on the 15th from De Aar to Orange
River, being replaced at the former station by a half-battalion of the
2nd battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, which reached Cape
Town on the 14th, having been brought with extraordinary swiftness
from Mauritius by H.M.S. _Powerful_. The Orange River bridge garrison
was further strengthened by two 12-pr. B.L. guns manned by Prince
Alfred's Own Cape artillery. The first field artillery to land in Cape
Colony, the 62nd and half 75th batteries, were, on the evening of
their disembarkation, the 25th, entrained at once for Orange River.
The 1st Border regiment, which arrived from Malta on the 22nd, was
despatched immediately to De Aar, but subsequently, at the urgent
request of Sir George White, was sent by train to East London and
re-embarked for Natal. Steps were taken to make the Orange River
railway bridge passable by artillery and cavalry, by planking the
space between the rails. Meanwhile, on the advice of the local
magistrate, Colonel Money, who was in command at Orange River,
destroyed Hopetown road bridge, eleven miles to the westward, as it
was feared the enemy's guns might cross the river at that point.
Raiding parties of the Boers had overrun Bechuanaland and Griqualand
West and spread proclamations annexing the former district to the
Transvaal and the latter to the Free State. On the eastern side of the
colony the enemy made no move, but still hung back on the north bank
of the Orange River. The British garrison of Stormberg was reinforced
by two naval 12-pr. 8-cwt. guns, accompanied by 357 officers and men
of the Royal Navy and Marines, lent from Simon's Town by the Naval
commander-in-chief. In the opinion of General Forestier-Walker, this
reinforcement made this important railway junction, for the moment,
reasonably secure. Three months' supplies had been stored at all the
advanced posts.

[Sidenote: Cape volunteers called out.]

Two thousand of the Cape volunteer forces[60] were called out by the
Governor on the 16th October and placed at the disposal of the General
Officer Commanding the regular troops, on the understanding that they
were to be paid and rationed from Imperial funds. These corps were at
first employed as garrisons for Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East
London, Queenstown, and King William's Town; detachments of the
Kaffrarian Rifles being also stationed at Barkly East, Cathcart,
Molteno, and Indwe; but by the end of October the Colonial volunteers
were drawn upon to furnish military posts on the three lines of
railway from the coast, viz.: Touw's River, Fraserburg Road, and
Beaufort West, on the western system; at Cookhouse and Witmoss on the
central, and at Molteno and Sterkstroom, on the eastern. Arrangements
were made for patrolling the line between these posts by railway
employés. Having regard, however, to the great length of these lines,
it was obvious that protection of this description, although useful in
checking individual attempts to obstruct trains, or destroy bridges
and culverts, would be of no value against any armed bodies of the
enemy or of rebels.

         [Footnote 60: The corps mobilised were Prince Alfred's Own
         Cape Field artillery, the Cape Garrison Artillery, the
         Kaffrarian Mounted Rifles, Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard,
         the Duke of Edinburgh's Volunteer Rifles, and the Cape Town
         Highlanders. The Kimberley and Mafeking corps had been called
         out before the commencement of the war. Subsequently the
         Uitenhage Rifles and the Komgha Mounted Rifles were called
         out on the 10th of November, the Cape Medical Staff Corps was
         mobilised on the 16th of November, and the Frontier Mounted
         Rifles on the 24th of November, 1899.]

[Sidenote: General success of policy of bluff.]

Thus, in the western theatre of war, although the investment of
Kimberley, and, in a lesser degree, the attack on Mafeking, were
causes of grave alarm to the loyalists of Cape Colony, yet, from a
larger point of view, the forward policy of frontier defence
successfully tided over the dangerous weeks previous to the arrival of
the first units of the army corps from home.



         [Footnote 61: See general map of South Africa, Relief map,
         No. 2, and map, No. 3.]

[Sidenote: Three chapters dealing with the ground and the two armies

When the challenge to war, recorded in the first chapter, startled the
British people, it met with an immediate response alike in the home
islands, and in the Colonies, in India, or elsewhere, wherever they
happened to be. In order to understand the problems of no small
complexity confronting the statesmen at home and the generals who in
the field had to carry out the will of the nation by taking up the
gauntlet so thrown down, it is necessary, first, that the
characteristics of the vast area which was about to become the scene
of operations should be realised; secondly, that the strength of the
forces on which the challenger relied for making good his words should
be estimated; and, thirdly, that certain peculiarities in the
constitution of our own army, which materially affected the nature of
the task which lay before both Ministers and soldiers, whether in
London or in South Africa, should be recognised. The next three
chapters will deal in succession with each of these subjects. The
attempt which is here made to portray in a few pages the mountains,
the rolling prairies, and the rivers of the sub-continent must be
aided by an examination of the map which has been specially prepared
in order to make the description intelligible.

[Sidenote: General aspect of area.]

The tableland of South Africa is some 1,360,000 square miles in
extent, and of a mean altitude of 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level.
To the Indian Ocean on the east it shows a face of scarped mountains.
Following the coast-line at a distance inland of from 70 to 100
miles, these sweep round from north to south: then stretch straight
across the extreme south-west of the continent through Cape Colony,
dwindling as they once more turn northward into the sand-hills of
Namaqualand, and rising again to the eminences above Mossamedes in
Portuguese territory. The rampart, however, though continuous for a
distance of more than 1,200 miles, scarcely anywhere presents an
abrupt wall to the seaboard, but on the contrary descends to it in
some parts in one gigantic step, in others in a series of steps, or

[Sidenote: Cape Colony: the Karroos.]

Of the States within it, Cape Colony first claims consideration. In
the central section the step or terrace formation is so marked, and
the flats, which intervene between the rises, are of such extent, and
of a nature so curious, that they form one of the most remarkable
features of South Africa. They are known as "the Karroos," vast plains
stretching northward, firstly as the Little Karroo from the lower
coast ranges to the more elevated Zwarte Bergen, thence as the Great
Karroo to the still loftier Nieuwveld Mountains. In the rainless
season they present an aspect indescribably desolate, and at the same
time a formidable military obstacle to any invasion of Cape Colony on
a large scale from the north. They are then mere wastes of sand and
dead scrub, lifeless and waterless. The first fall of rain produces a
transformation as rapid as any effected by nature. The vegetable life
of the Karroos, which has only been suspended, not extinguished, is
then released; the arid watercourses are filled in a few hours, and
the great desert tract becomes within that brief time a garden of
flowers. Even then, from the scarcity of buildings and inhabitants,
and hence of supplies, the Karroos still form a barrier not to be
lightly attempted, unless by an army fully equipped, and carrying its
own magazines; or, on the other hand, by a band of partisans so
insignificant as to be able to subsist on the scanty resources
available, and to disappear when these are exhausted, or the enemy
approaches in strength.

[Sidenote: Hills above Karroos.]

The first noticeable feature of the hill systems which bind these
steppes is their regularity of disposition, and the second, their
steadily increasing altitude northwards to that mountain group which,
running roughly along the 32nd parallel of latitude, culminates in the
Sneeuw Bergen, where the Compass Peak (8,500 feet) stands above the
plains of Graaf Reinet. North of these heights, only the low Karree
Bergen, about 150 miles distant, and the slightly higher Hartzogsrand,
occur to break the monotonous fall of the ground towards the bed of
the Orange. All the geographical and strategical interest lies to the
north and east of the Compass Peak, where with the Zuurbergen
commences the great range, known to the natives as Quathlamba,[62] but
to the Voortrekkers, peopling its mysterious fastnesses with monsters
of their imagination, as the Drakensberg.[63] Throwing out spurs over
the length and breadth of Basutoland, this granite series, here rising
to lofty mountains, there dwindling to rounded downs, runs northward
to the Limpopo river, still clinging to the coast, that is to say, for
a distance of over 1,250 miles. The Zuurbergen, the western extremity,
are of no great elevation. They form a downward step from the Compass
and the Great Winterberg to the Orange river, whose waters they part
from those of the Great Fish and Great Kei rivers. The Stormbergen, on
the other hand, which sweep in a bold curve round to the north-east
until, on the borders of Basutoland, they merge into the central mass,
are high, rugged, and pierced by exceedingly few roads, forming a
strong line of defence.

         [Footnote 62: "Piled up and rugged."]

         [Footnote 63: "Mountains of the Dragons."]

[Sidenote: Passes.]

It may be said generally of the Cape highlands that the only passes
really practicable for armies are those through which, in 1899, the
railways wound upwards to the greater altitudes. These lines of
approach to the Free State frontier were as follows:--


These were connected by two transverse branches; elsewhere throughout
their length they were not only almost completely isolated, but divided
by great tracts of pathless mountains and barren plains, rendering,
except at the points mentioned, or by way of the sea, the transfer of
troops from one to the other a difficult process. Therefore the branch
lines (I. De Aar--Naauwpoort; 2. Stormberg--Rosmead) had a significance
hardly inferior to that of the three ports, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth,
and East London. These varied greatly in the facilities they afforded.
Table Bay, with its docks, wharves and store-houses, took rank among the
great commercial harbours of the world. Port Elizabeth, 430 miles
eastward, had no true harbour. Its open roadstead, although frequented
by the mercantile marine, was exposed to the dangerous south-east gales
prevalent on that coast. At East London, 140 miles yet further
eastwards, there was a small although excellent harbour. Its deep basin
allowed ocean steamers to moor alongside the railway wharf, but the
water area was limited and a sandbank at the mouth of the river Buffalo,
which flows in here, barred the approach of vessels exceeding 4,000 tons
in burden. On the east coast, Durban, at a distance of 300 miles from
East London and 830 miles from Cape Town, formed a satisfactory base.
The difficulties of a bar at the entrance to the harbour, similar to
that at East London, had been overcome by the energy and enterprise of
the colonial authorities. There was no direct communication by land
between these four ports, but this was of little consequence to a power
holding command at sea.

[Sidenote: The northern Drakensberg.]

North of the Stormbergen the Drakensberg range maintains its
north-easterly trend continuously until it breaks up in the valley of
the Limpopo. Along the eastern Basuto border, from the Natal to the
Free State frontiers, its characteristics, which have been always
grand, become magnificent. Here it is joined by the Maluti Mountains,
a range which, bisecting the domains of the Basuto, and traversing
them with its great spurs, has earned for the little state the title
of the South African Switzerland. At the junction of the Basutoland,
Free State, and Natal frontiers stands Potong, an imposing
table-shaped mass, called by the French missionaries Mont Aux Sources,
from the fact that it forms the chief water parting between the
numerous streams flowing west and east. Further south tower Cathkin
(or Champagne Castle), Giants Castle, and Mount Hamilton, the latter
within the Basuto border. All these and many lesser peaks are joined
by ridge after ridge of rugged grandeur.

[Sidenote: Drakensberg passes.]

Between the Basuto border and Laing's Nek lies the chief strategic
interest of the Drakensberg. Of less elevation than the lofty giants
which lie behind it to the southward, this portion still preserves,
with a mean altitude of 8,000 feet, the peculiar scenic beauty of the
system. From the Basuto border northwards the mountains formed the
frontier between Natal and the Orange Free State. They are pierced by
a number of passes of which none are easy, with the exception of
Laing's Nek, leading into the Transvaal. The best known, starting from
the southern extremity of this frontier section, are Olivier's Hoek,
Bezuidenhout, and Tintwa Passes at the head-stream of the Tugela
river; Van Reenen's, a steep tortuous gap over which the railway from
Ladysmith to Harrismith, and a broad highway, wind upwards through a
strange profusion of sudden peaks and flat-topped heights; De Beers,
Cundycleugh, and Sunday's River Passes giving access by rough bridle
paths from the Free State into Natal, abreast of the Dundee
coalfields; Müller's and Botha's Passes debouching on Newcastle and
Ingogo; and finally Laing's Nek, the widest and most important of all,
by which a fair road over a rounded saddle crosses the Drakensberg,
the Transvaal frontier lying four miles to the north of its summit.
Some of the eastern spurs thrown off from this section of the
Drakensberg completely traverse, and form formidable barriers across,
Natal. Such are the Biggarsberg, a range of lofty downs running from
Cundycleugh Pass across the apex of Natal to Dundee, and pierced by
the railway from Waschbank to Glencoe. Further to the south, Mount
Tintwa throws south-eastward down to the river Tugela a long,
irregular spur, of which the chief features are the eminences of
Tabanyama and Spion Kop. This spur, indeed, after a brief subsidence
below the last-named Kop, continues to flank the whole of the northern
bank of the Tugela as far as the railway, culminating there in the
heights of Pieters, and the lofty downs of Grobelaars Kloof, both of
which overhang the river. East of the railway another series of
heights prolongs the barrier, and joins hands with the lower slopes of
the Biggarsberg, which descends to the Tugela between Sunday's and
Buffalo rivers. Further south still, broad spurs from Cathkin and
Giants Castle strike out through Estcourt and Highlands, and connect
the Drakensberg with Zululand.

[Sidenote: Spurs of Drakensberg.]

North of Basutoland, the western spurs of the Drakensberg, jutting out
on to the Orange Free State uplands, are far less numerous and
pronounced than those in Natal, where the mountains dip steeply down
towards the sea; but the Versamelberg, the Witteberg, and the
Koranaberg further south, although of no great height, are strategical
features of importance.

[Sidenote: Drakensberg and Lobombo ranges.]

Beyond Laing's Nek, the Drakensberg, no longer a watershed, and losing
much both of its continuity and splendour, still preserves its
north-easterly trend, dropping still further to a mean altitude of
between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, and passing under many local
appellations, through the eastern Transvaal, until near Lydenburg, it
again rises in the Mauch Berg. Along its eastern edge the Drakensberg
here descends in the ruggedest slopes and precipices to the plains
which divide it from the Lobombo Mountains, a range which, commencing
at the Pongola river opposite Lake St. Lucia, runs parallel to the
Drakensberg, the two systems inclining inward to coalesce at the
Limpopo. South of that river the Lobombo formed throughout its length
the eastern frontier of the Transvaal State.

[Sidenote: The rands.]

North of the Oliphant river, which pierces both the Drakensberg and
Lobombo, the character of the Drakensberg becomes still more
fragmentary. Here its most important features are the transverse
ridges, or _rands_, thrown off from it in a direction generally
south-westerly. Chief amongst these are the Murchison and Zoutpansberg
Mountains, which, covering more than 350 miles of the country, unite
in the Witfontein Berg in the Rustenburg district. These ridges,
though of an elevation of over 4,000 feet above the sea level, rise
nowhere more than, and seldom as much as, 1,500 feet above the
terrain, and do little to relieve the monotony of the great prairies
they traverse and surround. The same type is preserved by the various
low ridges running parallel to and south of them towards the Orange
Free State border. One of these is the famous Witwaters Rand,
extending from Krugersdorp to Springs, and another the Magaliesberg, a
chain of more imposing character, connecting Pretoria and Rustenburg
to the north-east, and disappearing in the fertile Marico valley.
North of the Limpopo the Drakensberg, though becoming more broken and
complicated, still presents a bold front where the great
sub-continental plateau descends suddenly northwards to the Zambesi,
and eastwards to Portuguese territory, _i.e._, on the northern and
eastern frontiers of Mashonaland. Almost at the junction of these
boundaries it is joined by the Matoppo Hills, which rise from the
north-eastern limits of Khama's Country, bisect obliquely the region
between the Zambesi and the Limpopo, and culminate in Mount Hampden
(5,000 feet), near Salisbury.

[Sidenote: Rivers Limpopo and Orange.]

[Sidenote: The water-parting.]

Passing from the mountains to the great plateau they enclose, the
first point to be noted is that its surface is set at two opposite
"tilts," the portion north of the Witwaters Rand inclining downward to
the east, the other, south of that ridge, to the west. The drainage,
therefore, runs respectively east and west, and it is effected by the
two great streams of the Limpopo and the Orange, with their many
affluents. The general river system of the central plains is thus of
the simplest; the Indian Ocean receives their northern waters, the
Atlantic their southern; the remarkable factor of the arrangement
being that a physical feature so insignificant as the Witwaters Rand
should perform the function of water-parting for a region so

         [Footnote 64: There are, of course, in South Africa numerous
         minor and local watersheds (_e.g._, the Drakensberg, where
         they initiate the drainage of Natal in an easterly direction,
         and the mountains of southern Cape Colony, which send some of
         her rivers southward to the Indian Ocean). These have been
         necessarily almost disregarded in so general a survey of the
         sub-continent as that aimed at in the present chapter.]

[Sidenote: Course of Limpopo.]

The Limpopo, or Crocodile river, rises as a paltry stream in the
Witwaters Rand between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and flows into the
Indian Ocean, 80 miles north of Delagoa Bay, covering in its course
fully 1,350 miles.

[Sidenote: Course of Orange.]

The Orange has three distinct sets of headstreams from the western
flank of the Drakensberg, and a total length of 1,300 miles. From the
Basuto border to Ramah, on the Kimberley railway, about 220 miles, it
divided the Orange Free State from Cape Colony. The Orange receives on
its right bank its greatest affluent, the Vaal, which is between 500
and 600 miles in length. Commercially, both the Orange and the Vaal
are as useless as their smallest tributary, being entirely unnavigable
at all times of the year. Raging floods in the wet season, and mere
driblets in the dry, they are at present denied to the most powerful
or shallowest of river steamboats. The prospects of the Orange river
as a potential waterway are in any case practically destroyed by a
great bar which blocks approach to the estuary from the sea.

[Sidenote: Military character of streams of S.A.]

The streams of the South African plateau, whether river, spruit,
sluit, or donga, have, in addition to their extreme variability,
another marked and almost universal peculiarity. Running in deep beds,
of which the banks are usually level with the surrounding country, and
the sides terraced from the highest to the lowest water-mark, they
constitute natural entrenchments which are generally invisible, except
where rarely defined by a line of bushes, and, owing to the dead
uniformity of the surrounding country, are almost impossible to
reconnoitre. Nor, in 1899, were their defensive capabilities lessened
by the dearth of bridges, by the dangers of the drifts, and by the
absence of defined approaches to all crossing-places away from the
main roads. The "drifts," or fords, especially rendered the laying out
of a line of operations in South Africa a complex problem. Their depth
varied with the weather of the day; they were known by many names even
to local residents, and were of many types; but all alike were so
liable to sudden change or even destruction, that any information
concerning them, except the most recent, was practically useless.

[Sidenote: Effect of winds on climate.]

[Sidenote: The velds.]

To comprehend broadly the salient physiological features of a region
so enormous as South Africa, the causes of the climatic influences
which affect them must be understood. These causes on are simplicity
itself. The warm winds blow from the east, and the cold from the west;
the former, from the warm Mozambique current, skirting the eastern
seaboard, the latter, from the frigid Antarctic stream, setting from
south to north, and striking the western coast about Cape St. Martin.
It follows, therefore, that the climate and country become more genial
and fertile the further they are removed from the desiccating
influence emanating from the western seaboard. The dreariness of the
solitudes between Little Namaqualand and Griqualand West, the latter
slightly more smiling than the former, attests this fact. But the
comparative inhospitality of the Boer States--comparative, that is, to
what might be expected from their proximity to the warm Indian
Ocean--demands further explanation. From the Atlantic to the eastern
frontiers of these States no mountain ranges of any elevation
intervene to break the progress of the dry, cold breezes; from the
mouth of the Orange river to the Drakensberg the country is subject
almost uninterruptedly to their influence. But it is not so with the
milder winds from the east. The great screen of the Drakensberg meets
and turns them from end to end of South Africa; no country west of
this range profits by their moisture, whereas the regions east of it
receive it to the full. Hence the almost tropical fertility of Natal
and eastern Cape Colony, with their high rainfall, their luxuriance of
vegetation, indigo, figs, and coffee, and the jungles of cactus and
mimosa which choke their torrid kloofs. Hence, equally, the more
austere veld of the central tableland, the great grass wildernesses,
which are as characteristic of South Africa as the prairies and the
pampas of America, and, like them, became the home and hunting-ground
of a race of martial horsemen. Agriculture, following nature, divides
the veld into three parts, the "High," "Bush," and "Low" Velds; but it
is the first and greatest of these which stamps the central tableland
with its peculiar military characteristics. Almost the whole of the
Orange Free State, and the Transvaal east of the Natal railway, are
High Veld, which may be taken to mean any grassland lying at an
elevation of about 4,000 feet, upon which all vegetation withers in
the dry season, while in spring and summer it is covered with
nutritious herbage. The Low Veld lies properly between longitude 31°
and the tropical eastern coast; while the Bush Veld is usually
understood to mean the country lying between the Pretoria-Delagoa
railway and the Limpopo river. The terms, however, are very loosely
used. The Low Veld differs widely from the High Veld. Upon the former
is rich--almost rank--vegetation and pasture flourishing throughout
the year. But the climate is hot, moist, and unhealthy; and the Boer
farmers, forced by the course of the seasons to drive their flocks
from the sparkling, invigorating air of the uplands to the steamy
lowlands, were wont to take the task in turn amongst themselves, as an
unpleasant one to be performed as seldom as possible.

[Sidenote: Transvaal High Veld.]

The High Veld of the Transvaal differs slightly from that of the Free
State in appearance. It is more broken and undulating; the range of
vision, at times apparently boundless in the southern state, is rarely
extensive, except from the summit of a kopje, being usually bounded by
the low ridge-lines of one of those great, gentle, almost
imperceptible, rolls of the ground which are a feature of the
Transvaal veld, and with its hidden watercourses, its peculiar
tactical danger. A mountain range is seldom out of sight; and,
speaking generally, the Transvaal may be said to be less sombre than
the southern or western districts of the great plateau.

[Sidenote: The kopjes.]

If the veld can only be compared with the sea, the kopjes which
accentuate, rather than relieve, its monotony resemble in as marked a
degree the isolated islands which rise abruptly from the waters of
some tropic archipelago. Sometimes, indeed, the kopjes form a rough
series of broken knolls, extending over a space of several miles, as,
for instance, the ridges of Magersfontein and Spytfontein, between
Kimberley and the Modder; sometimes a group of three or four, disposed
irregularly in all directions, become a conspicuous landmark, as at
the positions of Belmont and Graspan; and it is not uncommon to find
larger masses, not less irregular, enclosing the river reaches which
their drainage has created, among which may be enumerated the heights
south-east of Jacobsdal, and by the river Riet, and those about
Koffyfontein and Jagersfontein on the same stream.

[Sidenote: Better for view than defence.]

But, as a rule, the kopje of the veld is a lonely hill, a mass of
igneous rock--flat-topped or sharp-pointed. From 200 to 800 feet in
height, without spur or underfeature, accessible only by winding paths
among gigantic boulders, sheer of face and narrow of crest, it is more
useful as a post of observation than as a natural fortress; for it can
almost always be surrounded, and the line of retreat, as a general
rule, is naked to view and fire.

[Sidenote: Boer States as defensive terrain.]

So far as tactical positions are concerned, any force on the defensive
upon the veld of the Boer States must be mainly dependent on the
rivers. Yet the spurs of the Drakensberg, blending in a range of
ridges, form a mountain stronghold admirably adapted for guerilla
warfare; and all along the Basuto border, at a distance of from 10 to
20 miles west of the Caledon, stands out a series of high, detached
hills, which form a covered way along the eastern boundary of the Free
State, crossing the Orange, and leading into the recesses of the
Stormberg Mountains.

[Sidenote: Natal features.]

For every wavelet of land upon the surface of the Boer States, a
hundred great billows stand up in Natal. Kopje succeeds kopje, all
steep, and many precipitous, yet not the bare, stony cairns of the
transmontane regions, but moist green masses of verdure, seldom
parched even in the dry season, and in the wet, glistening with a
thousand cascades; not severely conical or rectangular, like the
bizarre eminences which cover Cape Colony with the models of a school
of geometry, but nobly outlined. Many of the foothills, it is true,
are mere heaps of rock and stone; but even these are rarely such naked
and uncompromising piles as are found on the higher levels. Even where
northern Natal occasionally widens and subsides to a savannah, as it
does below the Biggarsberg, and again south of Colenso, the expanse,
compared with the tremendous stretches of the Boer veld, is but a

[Sidenote: Healthy theatre sole favour for invader.]

As a theatre of war South Africa had one advantage, that it was for
the most part eminently healthy. Enteric fever, the scourge of armies,
was bound to be prevalent amongst thousands exposed to hardships in a
country where the water supply was indifferent, where sanitation was
usually primitive amongst the inhabitants, and impossible to improvise
hurriedly. But the purity of the air, the geniality of the
temperature, the cool nights, the brilliant sunshine, and the hard dry
soil were palliatives of evils inseparable from all campaigning.
Otherwise, for regular armies of invasion, South Africa was
unfavourable. The railways were so few that the business of supply and
movement was always arduous; spaces so vast that large forces were
swallowed up; the enormous distances from one strategical point to
another, intensified, in difficulty by the almost entire absence of
good roads, the scarcity of substantial bridges, of well-built towns,
of commodious harbours, and of even such ordinary necessaries as flour
or fuel, all these complicated every military problem to a degree not
readily intelligible to the student of European warfare alone.

[Sidenote: The central plateau.]

It is not easy to sum up briefly the typical qualities as a fighting
area of a region so vast and diversified as South Africa; but its
dominant feature is undoubtedly the great central plateau comprising
southern Rhodesia, all the Transvaal, except a narrow fringe on the
eastward, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, the Orange Free State, and
the northern and central portions of Cape Colony. Westward this
tableland slopes gradually and imperceptibly to sea level; to the
south it reaches the Atlantic in the series of terraces and
escarpments already described. Eastward it is shut in by the
Drakensberg, whose spurs, projecting to the Indian Ocean, traverse at
right angles Natal, Zululand, Swaziland, and Portuguese East Africa.

[Sidenote: Effect on operations of plateau.]

Upon the central South African plateau tactical and strategical
success is dependent upon rapid manoeuvring. Positions are so readily
turned that they can seldom be resolutely held. It is difficult,
therefore, to bring an evasive enemy to decisive action, and the
fruits of victory must chiefly be plucked by pursuit. The horse is as
important as the man, and the infantry arm is reduced to the position
of a first reserve, or to the _rôle_ of piquets on the lines of
communication, which remain always open to attack. Superior numbers
and, above all, superior speed, are irresistible. There are no
first-class physical obstacles; the rivers, excepting only the Orange
and the Vaal, are, as a rule, fordable; the hill features for the most
part insignificant or easy to mask. Mobility is thus at once the
chief enemy and aid to military success.

[Sidenote: and of lower spurs.]

But on the stairway descending from the south of this plateau, and on
the spurs reaching up from the coast on the east, all this is
reversed. The approach of an army acting on the offensive, uphill or
across the series of ridges, is commanded by so many points, that a
small number of defenders can readily arrest its advance. Position
leads but to position, and these, prolonged almost indefinitely on
either flank, are not readily turned, or, if turned, still offer
locally a strong frontal defence, should the enemy be sufficiently
mobile to reach them in time. Streamlets, which would be negligible on
the plateau, become formidable obstacles in their deep beds. The
horseman's occupation is greatly limited, for he can neither
reconnoitre nor gallop. Marches must, therefore, be made painfully in
battle formation, for every advance may entail an action. Thus
strategy is grievously cramped by the constant necessity for caution,
and still more by the tedious movements of the mass of transport,
without which no army can continue to operate in a country sparsely
inhabited, and as sparsely cultivated.

[Sidenote: Variety of rainfall.]

In South Africa even the rainfall militates against concurrent
operations on a wide scale, for, at the same season of the year, the
conditions prevalent upon one side of the sub-continent are exactly
the opposite to those obtaining on the other. In the western
provinces, the rainy season occurs in the winter months
(May--October), in the eastern, including the Boer States, the rain
falls chiefly in the summer (October--March). Yet so capricious are
these phenomena that a commander, who counted absolutely upon them for
his schemes, might easily find them in abeyance, or even for a period

[Sidenote: Variety of S.A. climate.]

Beyond the broad facts stated above, the extent of South Africa
renders it as impossible to specify any typical climatic or scenic
peculiarities common to the whole of it, as to fix upon any
strategical or tactical character that is universal. Cape Colony alone
exhibits such antitheses of landscape as the moist verdure of the
Stormberg and the parched dreariness of Bushman and Little Namaqua
Lands, and a rainfall ranging from two to seventy-two inches per
annum. The variations in other parts are little less striking. The
temperature of the High Veld, for instance, is wont to rise or fall no
less than sixty degrees in twelve hours, or less. Thus, whilst one
portion of an army on a wide front might be operating in the tropics,
another might be in the snows, whilst a third was sheltering from the
sun by day, from the frost by night, conditions which actually
obtained during the contest about to be described. What effect such
divergencies must exercise on plans of campaign, on supplies of
clothing, shelter, food, forage, and on military animals themselves,
may be readily imagined.



[Sidenote: Many previous cases compare with Boer resistance.]

[Sidenote: Inherited faculties.]

Any force of irregulars which offers a prolonged resistance, not
unmarked by tactical successes, to a regular army of superior strength
is apt to be regarded as a phenomenon. Yet, from the earliest times,
history has shown how seasoned troops may be checked by an enemy who
is inferior in numbers, discipline and armament, but possessed of
certain counterbalancing resources, due either to the nature of his
country, to his own natural characteristics, or to a combination of
both.[65] Of such resources the Boers at the close of the nineteenth
century possessed, largely by inheritance, a full share. With their
forefathers, the early Afrikanders, loneliness had been a passion to
which their very presence north of the Orange river was due. Flying
from society, from burdens and responsibilities which they considered
intolerable, from pleasures which seemed to them godless, from a stir
which bewildered them, and from regularity which wearied them, they
had penetrated the wilds northward in bands as small as possible, each
man of which was wrapped in a dream of solitude, careless whither he
went so long as he went unseen. It troubled these pioneers little that
they were plunging into a sea of enemies. Society, with its
conventions and trammels, and most of all, perhaps, with its taxes,
was the only enemy whom they feared, the only one they could never
escape. But before it caught them up, their combats with corporeal
foes were incessant and deadly. Wild beasts prowled round their
herds; savages swooped upon their homesteads; all animated nature was
in arms against them; every farmhouse was a fortress, usually in a
state of siege. In the great spaces of the wilderness the cry for help
was but seldom heard, or if heard, only by one who had his own safety
to look to. The Boer farmer of the forties, therefore, had to work out
his rescue, as he worked out every other problem of his existence, for
himself, acquiring thereby, a supreme individuality and self-reliance
in the presence of danger. He acquired also other characteristics. The
fighting men of his nation were few in number; every mature life was
little less valuable to the State than it was to the homestead whose
existence depended upon it. The burgher's hope of injuring his enemy
was therefore subordinated to solicitude for his own preservation, and
he studied only safe methods of being dangerous. Even when in later
days the Boer expeditionary bands, reclaiming to the full from the
blacks the toll of blood and cruelty which had been levied on
themselves, were more often the attackers than the attacked, their
aggression was always tempered by the caution of the individual Boers,
who would still forego a chance of striking a blow should it contain
an undue element of hazard. The republican warriors relied, indeed,
less on attack than on defence. They trusted yet more to that weapon,
perfected by many small races which have been compelled to work out
their own methods of warfare, the weapon of evasion. Nearly always
outnumbered, never sure of victory, the burghers always provided, then
kept their eyes continually upon, a loophole of escape, for if that
were closed they felt themselves to be lost. These characteristics,
with many more which will be noted, the early Boer bequeathed to his
sons and grandsons; a legacy so strangely composed that many of the
very qualities which brought temporary victory to the campaigners of
1899 foredoomed them to ultimate defeat.

         [Footnote 65: _E.G._, the revolt of La Vendée, the resistance
         of the Maories, the Red Indians, the Achinese, the
         Montenegrins, of the Trans-Indus Highlanders, of Andreas
         Hofer's Tyrolese, of Shamyl's Caucasians.]

[Sidenote: Value of these in present warfare.]

Self-reliance and individuality are factors of extraordinary military
importance under any conditions, but especially under circumstances
involving such dispersion of combatants, such distances between
commanders and commanded, as were brought about by the conjunction of
long-range arms, an open terrain and the clearest atmosphere in the
world. South Africa was a country which gave the freest play to the
deadly properties of small-bore rifles. The new weapons fitted into
the Boer's inherited conceptions of warfare as if they were a part for
which his military organisers had long been hoping and waiting. He had
an antipathy to fighting at close quarters, but he knew the value and
necessity of striking; the Mauser enabled him to strike at the extreme
limit of vision, multiplying tenfold the losses and difficulties of
the enemy who attempted to close with him. The portability of the
ammunition, the accuracy of the sighting, the absence of betraying
smoke, all these increased the Boer's already great trust in himself,
and he took the field against the British regular infantryman with
more confidence than his sires had felt when they held their laagers
against the Zulu and the Matabele. The modern rifle, moreover, still
further increased his self-reliance by rendering avoidance of close
combat, which alone he feared, a much simpler matter than hitherto.
His father had escaped the bayonets of the British at Boomplaats; he
himself was no more willing or likely to be caught by the steel fifty
years later, when he could kill at two thousand yards instead of two
hundred, or failing to kill, had hours instead of minutes in which to
gain his pony and disappear. Yet the long-range rifle had improved his
weapon of retreat until it had become a danger instead of an aid to
his cause. Failing so completely to understand the military value of
self-sacrifice, that he actually pitied, and slightly despised it,
when he saw it resorted to by his enemies, his refusal to risk his
life often proved disastrous to his side at times when more resolution
might have turned the scale of battle in his favour.

There was much to be admired in the Boer defensive; up to a certain
point it was stubborn and dangerous. The musketry from a position,
poured upon zones of ground over which the British troops must pass
rather than upon the troops themselves, was heavy and effective, and
not easily quelled by bombardment. In battle, artillery may do its
work without causing a casualty; but so long as he had cover for his
body, the soul of the Boer rifleman was little shaken by the bursting
of projectiles; fierce firing came often from portions of a position
which appeared to be smothered by shrapnel, and invisible in the reek
of exploding lyddite.

[Sidenote: Special habits of fighting.]

Nor did the Boer armies, as regular armies have done, cling to strong
positions simply because they were strong. They considered a position
as a means to an end, and if it ceased to be the best, they discarded
it without hesitation, no matter with what toil it had been prepared.
Nevertheless, on ground of their own choosing, the abandonment without
a shot of strong, laboriously entrenched, positions by no means always
meant retirement. Much as they dreaded being enveloped, their flanks,
or what would have been the flanks of an European army, might be
threatened again and again only to be converted each time into new and
formidable fronts. The nature of the country, and the comparative
mobility of the opposing forces rendered these rapid changes of front
easy of execution, but they demanded promptness, and a genius for the
appreciation of the value of ground, not only on the part of the Boer
leaders, but also on that of the rank and file. In the ranks of the
commandos persuasion had to take the place of word of command; the
Boer soldier, before he quitted one position for another, had to be
convinced of the necessity for a repetition of the severe toil of
entrenching which had apparently been wasted. But his eye was as
quick, his tactical and topographical instinct as keen as those of his
commander, and if the new dispositions were not selected for him, he
often selected them himself.

[Sidenote: Their defences: strong points.]

Once on the ground the burghers' first care was to conceal themselves
quickly and cunningly, cutting deep and narrow entrenchments, if
possible upon the rearward crest, leaving the forward crest, of which
they carefully took the range, to the outposts. Upon the naked slope
between, which was often obstructed with barbed wire, they relied to
deny approach to their schanzes. A not uncommon device was the placing
of the main trench, not at the top, but along the base of the
position. Here the riflemen, secure and invisible, lay while the
hostile artillery bombarded the untenanted ridge lines behind them.
Such traps presented an enhanced danger from the fact that the Boers
would rarely open fire from them until the front of the attack was
well committed, though, on the other hand, they seldom had nerve or
patience to withhold their musketry until the moment when it might be
completely decisive. As regards the Boer artillery, its concealment
was usually perfect, its location original and independent, its
service accurate and intelligent. Dotted thinly over a wide front, the
few guns were nevertheless often turned upon a common target, and were
as difficult to detect from their invisibility, as to silence from the
strength of the defences, in the case of the heavy ordnance, and in
the case of the lighter pieces, from their instant change of position
when discovered.

[Sidenote: A weakness in defence.]

Nevertheless, with all these virtues, the Boer defensive, by reason of
the above-mentioned characteristics of the individual soldiers, was no
insurmountable barrier, but only an obstacle to a determined attack.
Many of the positions occupied by the Republicans during the campaigns
seemed impregnable. Prepared as skilfully as they had been selected,
in them some troops would have been unconquerable. But at the moment
when they must be lost without a serried front, the reverse slopes
would be covered with flying horsemen, whilst but a handful of the
defenders remained in the trenches. Nor, except on the feeblest and
most local scale, would the defenders at any time venture anything in
the nature of a counter stroke, though the attack staggered, or even
recoiled, upon the bullet-swept glacis, and victory trembled in the

[Sidenote: A weakness in attack.]

If the Boer defensive was force passive, their general attack became
force dissipated as soon as it entered the medium rifle zone.
Excessive individuality marked its every stage, the thought of victory
seldom held the first place. In the old days, when an assault had to
be attempted, as at Thaba Bosigo and Amajuba, it had been the custom
to call for volunteers. But when President Kruger pitted his burghers
against large armies, this expedient was no longer available; instead
of a few score such affairs required thousands, and they were not
forthcoming. The desire to close, the only spirit which can compel
decisive victory, entered into the Boer fighting philosophy even less
than the desire to be closed with; the non-provision of bayonets was
no careless omission on the part of their War department. During an
assault the Commandants might set, as they often did, a splendid
example of courage, but they could never rely on being followed to the
end by more than a fraction of their men. The attack, therefore, of
the Boers differed from that of a force of regulars in that it was
never made in full strength, and was never pushed home; and from that
of the Afghans, Afridis or Soudanese in that there was no strong body
of spectators to rush forward and assure the victory half won by the
bolder spirits in front. Their attack was, in consequence, little to
be feared, so long as the defence was well covered from the incessant
rifle fire which supported and accompanied it; for none but a few
gallant individuals would ever venture to close upon a trench or
sangar whose defenders yet remained alive behind it. Both in attack
and defence, therefore, the Boer army lacked the last essentials to

[Sidenote: As partisans.]

It was in the warfare of the partisan that the Boer excelled, in the
raid on a post or convoy, the surprise and surrounding of a
detachment, the harassing of the flanks and the rear of a column, and
the dash upon a railway. Their scouting has not often been excelled;
their adversaries seldom pitched or struck a camp unwatched, or
marched undogged by distant horsemen. How little the Boer generals and
Intelligence department knew how to utilise the fruits of this
constant watchfulness will be fully shown elsewhere, but the lack of
deductive power on the part of the leaders detracts nothing from the
unwearied cunning of their men.

[Sidenote: Use of ground.]

The combinations of scattered bands at a given rendezvous for a common
purpose were not seldom marvellous, effected as they often were by
rides of extraordinary speed and directness by night, when the men had
to feel with their hands for the goat and Kaffir tracks if astray, but
rarely astray, even in the most tangled maze of kopjes, or, still more
wonderful, on the broadest savannah of featureless grass. With the
Boer, direction had become a sense; not only were topographical
features, once seen, engraved indelibly on his memory, but many which
would be utterly invisible to untrained eyes were often detected at
once by inference so unconscious as to verge on instinct. He knew
"ground" and its secrets as intimately as the seaman knows the sea,
and his memory for locality was that of the Red Indian scout.

[Sidenote: Mixed qualities.]

Thus the Boer riflemen possessed many of the characteristics of the
same formidable type of irregular soldier as the backwoodsmen of
America or the picked warriors of the Hindustan border. Yet an exact
prototype of qualities so contradictory as those which composed this
military temperament is not to be recalled. No fighting men have been
more ready for war, yet so indifferent to military glory, more imbued
with patriotism, yet so prone to fight for themselves alone, more
courageous, yet so careful of their lives, more lethargic, or even
languid by nature, and yet so capable of the most strenuous activity.
Such were the Boers of the veld. In one particular they had never been
surpassed by any troops. No Boer but was a bold horseman and a skilled
horsemaster, who kept his mount ready at any moment for the longest
march or the swiftest gallop, in darkness, or over the roughest
ground. In camp the ponies grazed each one within reach of its master;
in action every burgher took care that his perfectly trained animal
stood, saddled and bridled, under cover within a short run to the
rear. In remote valleys great herds of ponies, some fresh, some
recouping their strength after the fatigues of a campaign, roamed at
pasture until they should be driven to the front as remounts.

[Sidenote: Mobility.]

The unrivalled mobility of the Boer armies, therefore, and the
vastness of its theatre of action, gave to them strength out of all
proportion to their numbers. A muster roll is little indication of the
fighting power of a force which can march three or four times as fast
as its opponent, can anticipate him at every point, dictating the hour
and place of the conflict, can keep him under constant surveillance,
can leave its communications without misgivings, and finally, which
can dispense with reserves in action, so quickly can it reinforce from
the furthest portions of its line of battle. Yet in this particular
again, the Boers' constitutional antipathy to the offensive robbed
them of half their power. They employed their mobility, their peculiar
strength, chiefly on the defensive and on tactics of evasion, often,
indeed, resigning it altogether, to undertake a prolonged and
half-hearted investment of some place of arms. Amongst their leaders
there appeared some who did all that was possible, and much more than
had seemed possible, with a few hundreds of devoted followers. But the
Republics possessed no Sheridan. Men who foresaw that in this mobility
might lie the making of a successful campaign, that the feats of the
raider might be achieved tenfold by large well-mounted armies, were
missing from their councils.

[Sidenote: Organisation.]

The Boer forces which took the field in 1899 were composed of two

   (I.) The Burgher Commandos.
  (II.) The Regular Forces.

Of the former the whole male population, black and white, between the
ages of sixteen and sixty, formed the material,[66] the "Wyk" or Ward,
the lowest electoral unit, the recruiting basis. Upon the Field
Cornet, the chief officer of a Ward, elected by its votes for a term
of three years, devolved many responsibilities besides the civil
duties of collecting the taxes, administering the law, and maintaining
order in his small satrapy. He was also the sole representative of
Army Headquarters. One of the most important of his functions was that
of compiling the registers of burghers liable to war service.[67]

         [Footnote 66: Exemptions similar to those which obtain in
         European schemes of universal service were sanctioned by the
         military law of the Boer Republics.]

         [Footnote 67: These lists were of three kinds, comprising:--

            (I.) Youths under 18 and men over 50.
           (II.) Men between 18 and 34.
          (III.) Men between 34 and 50.

         In the event of war, Class II. was first liable to service,
         then Class III., and, as a last resort, Class I.]

[Sidenote: Field cornet.]

It was his business, moreover, to see that each man of his levy took
the field with clothing, rifle, horse and ammunition in good and
serviceable order; and if, as was rarely the case, means of transport
were insufficiently contributed by the burghers themselves, to provide
them by commandeering from the most convenient source. The whole
military responsibility, in short, of his Ward fell on him; and though
the men he inspected annually were rather his neighbours than his
subordinates, their habitual readiness for emergencies smoothed what,
in most other communities, would have been the thorniest of official
paths, and rendered seldom necessary even the mild law he could

[Sidenote: Ward levy.]

The first acts of the Ward levy at the rendezvous were to elect an
Assistant Field Cornet and two or more Corporals, the former to serve
their commander during the campaign, the latter to serve themselves by
distributing rations and ammunition, and supervising generally their
comfort in laager, by performing, in fact, all the duties performed by
a section commander in the British infantry except that of command.

[Sidenote: The commando and commandant.]

The Field Cornet then rode with his burghers to the meeting-place of
the commando, usually the market town of the District. There a
Commandant, elected by the votes of the District, as the Field Cornet
had been by those of the Ward, assumed command of the levies of all
the Wards, and forthwith led them out to war, a Boer commando.

[Sidenote: A nation in arms.]

Thus, at the order to mobilise, the manhood of the Boer Republics
sprang to arms as quickly, as well prepared, and with incomparably
more zeal than the best trained conscripts of Europe. Not urged to the
front like slaves by the whips of innumerable penalties, their needs
not considered to the provision of a button, or a ration of salt,
shabby even to squalor in their appointments, they gathered in
response to a call which it was easy for the laggard to disobey, and
almost uncared for by the forethought of anyone but themselves.

[Sidenote: Defects of system.]

[Sidenote: In Boer army doubly dangerous.]

In so far, therefore, as it applied to the actual enrolment and
mobilisation of the commandos, the military system of the Boer
Republics appeared well-nigh perfect. Yet it had radical and grievous
defects, and these, being in its most vital parts, robbed it of half
its efficiency. The election of military officers by the votes of the
men they were destined to command would be a hazardous expedient in
the most Utopian of communities; it was doubly dangerous with a people
trained in habits formed by the accustomed life of the Boers in the
nineteenth century. Its evil effects were felt throughout their
armies. Officers of all grades had been selected for any other
qualities than those purely military. Property, family interest, and
politics had often weighed more heavily in the balance than aptitude
for command. In the field the results were disastrous. Few of the
officers had sufficient strength of character to let it be seen that
they did not intend to remain subject to the favour which had created
them. The burghers were not slow to profit by the humility of their
superiors. Jealous of their democratic rights, conscious of their own
individual value in a community so small, the rank and file were too
ignorant of war to perceive the necessity of subordination. Especially
were these failings of leaders and led harmful in the Krijgsraads, or
Councils of War, which, attended by every officer from corporal
upwards, preceded any military movement of importance. Since most of
the members owed their presence to social and civic popularity, sound
military decisions were in any case not to be expected. Moreover, as
the majority of the officers truckled to the electorate which had
conferred upon them their rank, it followed that the decisions of a
Krijgsraad were often purely those of the Boer soldiers, who hung on
its outskirts, and did not scruple, when their predilections were in
danger of being disregarded, to buttonhole their representatives and
dictate their votes. Finally, there were not wanting instances of
unauthorised Krijgsraads being assembled at critical junctures,
avowedly in mutinous opposition to a lawful assembly, and actually
overriding the latter's decision.

[Sidenote: Forms of discipline.]

[Sidenote: Uncertain number in units.]

There was, however, discipline of a theoretical kind in the commandos.
Two authorised forms of Courts-Martial existed to deal with offences
committed on active service. But Courts-Martial were an empty terror
to evil-doers. They were rarely convened, and when they were, the
burgher of the close of the nineteenth century knew as many methods of
evading the stroke of justice as did his father of escaping the stalk
of a lion or the rush of a Zulu spearman.

A serious defect inherent in this military system was the inequality
of the strength of the units created by it. A commando was a commando,
of whatever numbers it consisted; and these, contributed by districts
greatly varying in population, ranged from 300 to 3,000 men. Thus the
generals, placed in command of forces composed of many commandos of
which they knew nothing but the names, were ever in doubt as to the
numbers of men at their disposal, a difficulty increased tenfold by
the constantly shifting strength of the commandos themselves.
Straggling and absenteeism are evils incident to all irregular or
hastily enrolled armies, however drastic their codes of discipline, or
however fervent their enthusiasm; with the Boers these maladies were
prevalent to an incredible degree. Many and stringent circulars were
promulgated by the Boer Presidents to cope with this disastrous source
of weakness. But one and all failed in their object, from the
impotence of the officers whose duty it was to enforce them, and at
every stage of the campaign many more than the authorised 10 per cent.
of the fighting line were absent from their posts.

[Sidenote: Untrained staff.]

If such were the faults of the machine, those of the motive power were
not less glaring. No provision had been made in peace for the training
of men for the duties of the Staff. At Pretoria, the Commandant-General,
forced to reign alone over the twin kingdoms of administration and
command, had not unnaturally failed to govern either. The chain of
authority between Commander-in-Chief and private soldier, a chain whose
every link must be tempered and tested in time of peace, was with the
Boers not forged until war was upon them, and then so hurriedly that it
could not bear the strain. When prompt orders were most needed, there
was often no one to issue them, no one to carry them, or, even if issued
and delivered, no one present who could enforce them. Nor were the
ramifications of departmental duty, which, like arteries, should carry
vitality to every portion of the army, of any more tried material. In
most existing departments there was chaos; many that are indispensable
did not exist at all.

[Sidenote: Arms.]

The service arms of the burgher forces were the Mauser ·276 rifle and

The exact number of Mauser rifles brought into the Boer States is, and
will probably be always, uncertain. At least 53,375 can be accounted
for, of which 43,000 were imported by the Transvaal and the remainder
by the Orange Free State, the latter drawing a further 5,000 from the
stores of the sister Republic. These, with approximately 50,000
Martini-Henry and other rifles known to have been in the arsenals and
in possession of the burghers before the commencement of hostilities,
made up over 100,000 serviceable weapons at the disposal of the two
countries.[68] Ammunition was ample, though, again, it is idle to
discuss actual figures. Neither the stock in the magazines, nor that
in the possession of the farmers, was for certain known to any man.
The most moderate of the Republican officials in a position to form a
credible estimate placed it at seventy millions of rounds; it was more
probably nearer one hundred millions. The Boer farmer, still uncertain
of security in the outlying solitudes of the veld, still unaccustomed
to it in the more frequented districts, never wasted ammunition even
though a use for it seemed remote. He hoarded it as other men hoard
gold; for deeply rooted in him was the thought, sown in the perilous
days of the past, that cartridges, with which to preserve the lives of
himself and his family, might at any moment become of more value than
gold pieces, which could only give to life the comfort he somewhat
despised. Thus the arsenals of the larger towns were not the only, or
even the chief, repositories of small-arm ammunition. Every farm was a
magazine; lonely caves hid packets and boxes of cartridges; they lay
covered beneath the roots of many a solitary tree, beneath conspicuous
stones, often beneath the surface of the bare veld itself. Whatever
were the actual amounts of arms and ammunition at the disposal of the
Republican riflemen, it was plain they were not only adequate but
extravagant. There was significance in the excess. The Boers possessed
sufficient munitions of war to arm and equip 30,000 or 40,000 men over
and above their own greatest available strength. It will be seen in
due course for whose hands this over-plus was designed.

         [Footnote 68: The following is a fairly accurate estimate in

           Mausers               53,375
           Martini-Henry         35,875
           Westley-Richards       9,780
           Guedes                 6,049
           Lee-Metfords           2,850
           Krag-Jörgensen           200

         Besides the above, there were about 6,000 Webley pistols in

[Sidenote: Rifle practice.]

The Republican Governments had not been satisfied with the mere issue
of arms. As early as 1892 in the Transvaal, and 1895 in the Orange
Free State, rifle practice, at the periodical inspections of arms and
equipment, called Wapenschouws, had been made compulsory for the
burghers. For these exercises ammunition was provided free, and money
appropriated from the State funds for prizes. Every effort, in short,
was made to preserve the old skill and interest in rifle-shooting,
which it was feared would vanish with the vanishing elands and
gemsbok. If the skill had diminished, the interest had not. A rifle
had at all times an irresistible fascination for a Boer. The Bedouin
Arab did not expend more care upon his steed of pure Kehailan blood,
nor the medieval British archer upon his bow, than did the veld farmer
upon his weapon. Even he who kept clean no other possession, allowed
no speck of dirt on barrel or stock. On the introduction of the new
rifles, not only had shooting clubs sprung up in all quarters, but, in
aiding them with funds, ammunition, and prizes, the Republican
authorities, before they disappeared, had given at least one lesson to
Governments, that of fostering to the utmost any national predilection
which may be of service to the State.


Regular forces of similar, if not identical, composition were
authorised by the constitutions of both Republics, consisting in the
Transvaal of artillery and police, and in the Free State of artillery
only. These differed in no respects from similar units of any European
organisation, being raised, equipped, officered, instructed, and paid
in the ordinary manner, and quartered in barracks or forts.

[Sidenote: Regulars.]

The regular forces of the Transvaal consisted of:--

  (a) The State Artillery.
  (b) The South African Republic Police.
  (c) The Swaziland Police.

[Sidenote: Artillery.]

The State Artillery of the South African Republic was as complete and
efficient a unit as any of its kind in existence. Originally
incorporated with the Police at the inception of both in 1881, it was
reorganised on a separate footing in 1894, in which year it also first
saw active service against Malaboch in the Blue Mountains. At this time
the strength of the Corps was but 100 gunners, 12 non-commissioned
officers and 7 officers. After the Jameson Raid, however, the force was
quadrupled and reorganised; the field and fortress departments were
differentiated, larger barracks built, and steps taken generally to
ensure the greatest possible efficiency and readiness for instant
service, the avowed object of the Government being to make the Corps
"the nucleus of the military forces of the Republic."[69] The only
qualifications necessary for the 300 additional men required by the
scheme were citizenship, either by birth or naturalisation, age not to
be less than 16, and the possession of a certificate of good conduct
from the Field Cornet. Service was for three years, with the option of
prolongation to six years, after which followed a period of service in
the reserve until the age of 35 was reached.[70]

         [Footnote 69: Law of Reorganisation, 1896.]

         [Footnote 70: Pay of Officers of the State Artillery:--

           Commandant           £700 per annum.
           Major                 600    "
           Captain               500    "
           First Lieutenant      350    "
           Second Lieutenant     275    "

         All ranks received a horse from the Government, a special
         board supervising the purchase and issue of remounts. Rations
         and uniforms were also free issues, and on a most generous
         scale to officers and men alike.

         The pay of non-commissioned officers and men was as

           Warrant Officers             £180 and £150 per annum.
           Farriers and Sergeants       6s. 6d. a day.
           Corporals                    5s. 6d.   "
           Gunners                      5s. 0d.   "]

[Sidenote: Military courts.]

For the maintenance of discipline the Corps had three Military Courts
of its own, whose powers extended from detention to death. They
differed in no way from similar tribunals in the British army save in
one respect, that convicted prisoners had a right of appeal from a
lower Court to that above it. Drill was on the German model, but the
language was Dutch. The Boer gunners were ready pupils, having much
the same natural aptitude for the handling of ordnance as is
observable in British recruits. Only 20 rounds per gun were allowed
for the yearly target practice.

[Sidenote: Artillery divisions.]

The State Artillery was divided into the following principal

  (a) Field Artillery.
  (b) Fortress Artillery.
  (c) Field Telegraph.

         [Footnote 71: There were in addition an Intendance Service,
         Medical, Educational, Farriery, and Artificer staffs, and a
         band of 20 performers; all maintained in a high state of

[Sidenote: Artillery weapons.]

At the date of the outbreak of hostilities the modern armament of the
field artillery was as follows:--

  6 Creusot Q.F. 75 m/m (about 3 inches), supplied with 11,009[72] rounds.
  4 Krupp Howitzers 120 m/m (4·7-in.), supplied with 3,978 rounds.
  8 Krupp Guns Q.F. 75 m/m, supplied with 5,600 rounds.
  21 Vickers-Maxim (pom-pom) 37·5 m/m (about 1-1/2 inches),
    supplied with 72,000 rounds (14,000 pointed steel, 58,000
  4 Vickers Mountain Guns 75 m/m. Ammunition not known.
  4 Nordenfeldts 75 m/m, supplied with 2,483 rounds,
  1 Armstrong 15-pr. Ammunition not known.
  1 Armstrong 12-pr. Ammunition not known.

         [Footnote 72: During the war about 26,000 projectiles of
         various patterns were manufactured in Johannesburg. Both at
         that place and at Pretoria an immense amount of manufacturing
         and repairing of war material was effected, including the
         making of a new 120 m/m Howitzer and the shortening of a
         6-in. Creusot.]

In addition to this the field artillery possessed 12 Maxims for ·303
rifle ammunition, and 10 for the ·450 Martini-Henry. For the latter
1,871,176 rounds of nickel-covered ammunition were in store. The total
modern armament of the field artillery, therefore, capable of service
in the field, was--excluding the 22 Maxims--49 pieces. The following
more or less obsolete weapons were also in charge of the Corps:--

  4 Krupp Mountain Guns, 65 m/m.
  6 7-pr. Mountain Guns.
  3 5-pr. Armstrong Guns.

[Sidenote: Manning of artillery.]

The personnel of the field artillery was, on a peace footing, 12
officers and 394 N.C.O.s and men, but in the field this was found to
be very inadequate, and was eked out by the incorporation of
volunteers from the commandos.[73]

         [Footnote 73: As many as thirty-nine ordinary burghers were
         noticed doing duty with a battery in action.]

The fortress artillery had 9 officers and 151 N.C.O.s and men, but,
like the field artillery, drew many willing helpers from the burgher
ranks. Its armament consisted of:--

  4 Creusot 155 m/m (about 6 inches),[74] supplied with 8,745 rounds.
  6 Hotchkiss 37 m/m on parapet mounting, supplied with 3,663 rounds.
  1 Mortar 150 m/m. Ammunition not known,
  1 Howitzer 64-pr. Ammunition not known.

         [Footnote 74: The 6-in. Creusots were of somewhat peculiar
         construction, having narrow iron wheels, not at all promising
         the mobility which the Boers attained from them. The shell
         weighed 94 lbs., charge 20 lbs. black powder, bursting charge
         for shrapnel 5 lbs. melinite. Recoil was absorbed

Besides these, a few guns of odd and mostly obsolete patterns,
including three Krupp, were on the books of the Fortress department.

The third division of the State Artillery, the field telegraph
section, comprised 2 officers and 65 N.C.O.s and men.

The State Artillery of the Transvaal, to sum up, was (excluding
Maxims) armed with 61 effective and about 20 semi-effective weapons,
manned by a personnel of about 800 men (including reservists).


[Sidenote: The Police, Transvaal.]

The Transvaal Police consisted of two bodies:--

  (a) The South African Republic Police.
  (b) The Swaziland Police.

The former, whose _sobriquet_ of "Zarps" war made more famous with the
British than peace had rendered it infamous, numbered some 1,200
whites and 200 blacks under 13 officers and 64 non-commissioned
officers. In peace time they were stationed chiefly in Johannesburg,
with detachments at Pretoria, Krugersdorp, and a few outlying
stations. Qualifications for service were an age of 21 years, with
burgher rights by birth, and the term for three years, with subsequent
yearly renewals.

The S.A.R. Police, who were a purely regular force, were divided into
foot and mounted organisations of about 800 and 500 respectively. They
were thoroughly drilled, their fire discipline being on the most
approved German model. Their rigid training, however, had apparently
robbed them of much of the individual initiative which safeguarded the
persons and lost the battles of their less educated compatriots in the
ranks of the commandos.

[Sidenote: Police, Swaziland.]

The Swaziland Police were a small body of some 300 white and black
men, commanded by eight officers and 27 of non-commissioned rank.
Their formation was much more that of an ordinary commando than that
of the Europeanised "Zarps," and, in fact, from the commencement of
the war, they operated as a wing of the local commando.


[Sidenote: Free State Regulars.]

These consisted of artillery only, numbering some 375 men (including
200 reservists), and possessed of the following armament:--[75]

         [Footnote 75: Three Krupp and three Maxims were on order in
         Europe, but were not delivered in time to reach the Free
         State capital.]

 14 Krupp Guns 75 m/m, with 9,008 rounds.
  5 Armstrong Guns 9-pr., with 1,300 rounds,
  1 Krupp Q.F. 37 m/m. Ammunition not known.
  3 Armstrong Mountain Guns 3-pr., with 786 rounds.
  3 Maxim Guns.

With all furniture and wagons complete.

[Sidenote: Inferior organisation.]

The Corps was by no means so thoroughly organised as the artillery of
the Transvaal. There was no division into batteries, the guns being
entrusted to the care of any commando which "liked to have a gun with
it."[76] Yet there was considerable _esprit de corps_ amongst the
gunners, who maintained their material, as well as their discipline,
in surprisingly good order considering the lack of officers, and the
general slovenliness of their surroundings. The conditions of service
for the men were the same as those which obtained in the Transvaal

         [Footnote 76: Boer Account.]

The Corps also possessed a small but efficient telegraph section. The
barracks, at Bloemfontein, compared most unfavourably with the fine
buildings which housed the Transvaal artillery at Pretoria.


[Sidenote: Uncertainty of Boer figures.]

Figures of exact accuracy are, and must be for ever, unobtainable, for
none of the data from which they could be compiled were either
precisely recorded, or can be remembered. The Field Cornets' books,
and consequently the State lists, of those liable to service were all
alike full of errors and discrepancies. The statistical machinery of
the Republics, too primitively, and it may be added too loosely,
managed to be equal to the work of even a complete census in time of
peace, made no attempt to cope with the levy which crowded around the
Field Cornets in every market place at the issue of the Ultimatum in
October, 1899. Muster rolls of even those actually and officially
present in the field do not exist. Only one leader in either
Republican army ventured to call a roll of his command, and the loud
discontent of the burghers, scandalised at the militarism of the
proceeding, did not encourage other officers to follow his example.

[Sidenote: Total engaged.]

The estimate, however, of 87,365, has been arrived at after the
collation of so much independent testimony, that it may be taken as
fairly accurate.[77]

         [Footnote 77: See Appendix 4.]

The grand total does not, of course, represent the number of men in
the field at any one time. It is an estimate of the numbers of all who
bore arms against the British troops at any time whatever during the
campaign. The Boer army numerically was the most unstable known to
history,[78] varying in strength as it varied in fortune in the field,
varying even with the weather, or with that mercurial mental condition
of which, in irregular forces, the numbers present at the front best
mark the barometer. Those numbers, even in the heroic stages of the
campaign, ranged from about 55,000 men to 15,000, with every
intermediate graduation. It is impossible to trace the vicissitudes of
an army which lost, regained, then lost again fifty per cent. of its
strength within a week. Nor is a periodic enumeration of vital
military interest. With the Boers the numbers actually present in the
fighting line were not, as with European troops, the measure of their
effective force. For the Boer, whether as absentee at his farm, or
wandering demoralised over the veld, was often little less a portion
of the strength of his side than his comrade who happened to be lying
alert in a shelter trench at the same moment. He intended to fight
again; and instances were not wanting of parties of burghers, thus
deserting their proper front, being attracted by the sound or the news
of fighting in a totally different direction, and riding thither to
form a reinforcement, as little expected upon the new battle ground by
their friends as by their enemies.

         [Footnote 78: The armies during the war between North and
         South in America ran it close in this respect.]



[Sidenote: Various employments of British Army.]

Every army necessarily grows up according to the traditions of its
past history. Those of the Continent having only to cross a frontier,
marked by Royal, Imperial or Republican stones, have, in their rare
but terrible campaigns, to pursue definite objects that can be
anticipated in nearly all their details years beforehand. The British
army, on the contrary, throughout the nineteenth century, since the
great war came to an end in 1815, has had to carry out a series of
expeditions in every variety of climate, in all quarters of the globe,
amidst the deserts of North Africa, the hills, plains and tropical
forests of South Africa, the mountains of India, the swamps of Burma,
or the vast regions of Canada. Such expeditions have been more
numerous than the years of the century; each of them has differed from
the other in almost all its conditions. Amongst its employments this
army has had to face, also, the forces of a great Empire and troops
armed and trained by Britain herself. Accordingly, it has happened
that the experience of one campaign has almost invariably been
reversed in the next. To take only recent illustrations, the fighting
which was suitable for dealing with Zulu warriors, moving in compact
formations, heroic savages armed with spears or assegais, was not the
best for meeting a great body of skilled riflemen, mounted on
well-managed horses. Moreover, the necessary accessories of an army,
without which it cannot make war, such as its transport and its
equipment, have had to be changed with the circumstances of each
incident. Just as it has been impossible to preserve throughout all
its parts one uniform pattern, such as is established everywhere by
the nations of the Continent, so it has not been possible to have
ready either the suitable clothing, the most convenient equipment, or
the transport best adapted for the particular campaign which it
happened to be at the moment necessary to undertake. More serious than
this, and more vital in its effect on the contest about to be
described, was the fact that the services thus required continually of
British troops prevented the formation of larger bodies of definite
organisation in which the whole staff, needed to give vitality and
unity to anything more than a battalion or a brigade, was trained
together. For such wars as those in Egypt, or for the earlier wars in
South Africa, in Canada, or in many other countries, it was much more
practical to select for each enterprise the men whose experience
suited them for the particular circumstances, and form staffs as well
as corps of the kind that were needed, both in strength and
composition, for that especial work. This was a very serious
disadvantage, when it came to be necessary to make up a great host, in
which not a certain number of battalions, batteries, and cavalry
regiments had to be employed, but in which ultimately a vast
organisation of 300,000 men, many of whom were entirely new to army
life, had to be brought into the field. It is one thing for the army
corps of a great Continental State, in which everyone has been
practising his own special part precisely as he will be engaged in
war, to march straight upon its enemy in its then existing formation,
and it is quite another to draw together a staff formed of men, each
of them experienced both in war and peace, none of whom have worked
together, while few have fulfilled the identical functions which they
have to discharge for the first time when bullets are flying and
shells are bursting. It will so often appear in the course of this
history that the operations seriously suffered, because the necessary
links between a general in command and the units which he has to
direct were inadequate, that it is only fair to the many officers of
excellent quality who were employed on the staff that the nature of
this comparison should be clearly appreciated. It was no fault of
theirs, but a consequence of that past history which had built up the
British Empire, that they had neither previously worked together, nor
practised in peace time their special part in an organisation which
had, in fact, to be created anew for the immediate task in hand.

[Sidenote: The total forces of Empire.]

[Sidenote: Short service.]

When the war began, and when there were in South Africa, as already
narrated, 27,054 troops,[79] there nominally stood behind them, if all
those who were armed and equipped throughout the British Empire be
included, more than a million men. These were of every religion, of
many colours, types and classes. On the 28th July, 1899, the Prime
Minister had made for the kingdom a self-denying declaration by which
one vast body of these forces was eliminated from the campaign. He
announced that none but white soldiers would be employed by us. Of
white men, 67,921 were in India, 3,699 in Egypt, 7,496 in Malta, 5,104
in Gibraltar, 738 in Barbados, 570 in Jamaica, 1,599 in Canada, 1,896
in Bermuda, 962 in Mauritius, 1,689 in China and Hong Kong, and 1,407
in the Straits Settlements. Even these are only examples of the nature
of the duties on which the great mass of the British army was
employed. They are chiefly interesting, because the proportion between
the 67,921 men and the millions of the subject races of India, between
the 3,699 men and the vast regions throughout which they maintained
order under the sway of the Khedive, suggests to how fine a point had
been carried the doing of much with mere representatives bearing the
flag and little more. The extent of territory, the numbers of possible
enemies, the vastness of the interests which the 1,689 men in China
and the 1,407 men in the Straits Settlements had to watch, are
perhaps, to those who realise the geography, almost as significant.
Always it had been assumed that, if at any time some addition was
necessary to reinforce these far extended outposts of Empire, it was
to be provided from the regular army stationed at home. Up to the year
1888 no official declaration had ever been made of the purposes for
which the home army was to be used. In that year Mr. Stanhope issued
the necessarily often mentioned memorandum, which declared that,
though it was highly improbable that so large a force would ever be
required, yet two army corps, with a cavalry division, or a total of
81,952 men, were to be available for the purposes of action beyond the
seas. As will be seen from the chapter on the work of the Navy, it was
only in the year 1899 that the Admiralty, who necessarily would have
to transport whatever strength was thus employed, became aware for the
first time that the War Office would need shipping for more than one
army corps. The British army has had more, and more varied, service
during the nineteenth century than any other in the world. It
undoubtedly included more officers and men, who had experienced what
it meant to be under fire, than any other. But these experiences had
all been gained in comparatively small detachments, and each was so
unlike that of any other, that it was practically impossible that
those trainings by service, which are much more efficient in their
influence on the practical action of an army than any prescriptions,
should be uniform throughout it. At the same time, this had given both
to officers and men a habit of adapting themselves to unexpected
incidents which may perhaps, without national immodesty, be said to be
unique. In the year 1870 what is known as the short service system had
been introduced. Under that system there were, in 1899, in the British
Islands, 81,134 reservists available to be called up when required for
war, retained only by a small fee. The principle on which the scheme
was worked at the time was this: that as soon as the army was ordered
to be mobilised all those men who had not completed their training in
the ranks, or had not yet reached the age for service abroad, were
relegated to depôts; their places were taken by the trained men from
the reserve, and out of the excess numbers of the reservists and the
men who gradually each month in succession completed their training, a
supplementary reserve to maintain the cadres of the army in the field
was created. Inevitably, as the numbers ultimately employed in this
case far exceeded the two army corps for which alone provision had
been made, these supplies of men only lasted for the first twelve
months; but as long as they did so, the waste of war was compensated
to an extent such as never has been known in our campaigns before, and
hardly in those of any other Power except Japan, who appears to have
borrowed our methods exactly for her great struggle with Russia.

         [Footnote 79: See Chap. I., p. 2.]

At the time of Kruger's ultimatum of October 9, 1899, the British
regular army was composed as follows:--

[Sidenote: Regular White troops.]

                                         Officers.     Non-Commissioned
                                                        Officers, and
  Cavalry                                  780            18,853
  Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery    660            18,855
  Royal Garrison Artillery[80]             775            20,103
  Royal Engineers                          962             7,323
  Infantry                               4,362           144,103
  Army Service Corps                       240             3,858
  Army Ordnance Department and Corps       227             1,433
  Royal Army Medical Corps                 831             2,876
  Army Pay Department and Corps            205               582
  Army Veterinary Department               131                --

                                         9,173           217,986

                                  TOTAL, all ranks       227,159.

         [Footnote 80: Not including Royal Malta Artillery, 833 of all

[Sidenote: Their dispersion.]

These were all white troops; but it is essential that their
distribution over the surface of the globe should be realised. The
remarks which have been made as to the special cases quoted could
easily, with slight modification, be shown to apply in practically
every instance.

There were, including troops on the seas, on 1st October, 1899:--

  Aden (Naval base)                               1,092
  South Africa (Naval base at Simon's Bay)       22,179
  West Africa (Naval base at Sierra Leone)           38
  Barbados                                          738
  Bermuda (Naval base)                            1,896
  Canada (Naval bases at Esquimault and Halifax)  1,599
  Ceylon (Naval base at Trincomalee)              1,402
  China (Naval base at Hong Kong)                 1,689
  Crete                                           1,628
  Cyprus                                            116
  Egypt                                           3,699
  Gibraltar (Naval base)                          5,104
  Jamaica                                           570
  Malta[81] (Naval base)                          7,496
  Mauritius (Naval base)                            962
  St. Helena (Coaling station)                      211
  Straits Settlements (Naval base at Singapore).  1,407
  Particular Service                                 47
  India (less garrison of Aden)                  67,921
  United Kingdom (exclusive of Reserves)        108,098


         [Footnote 81: Includes Royal Malta Artillery.]

[Sidenote: White Officers with natives.]

This total does not include the white officers employed with native
troops, who numbered in all 1,814. The functions of these, however,
will be best understood when the figures which follow have been
considered, and the yet greater area of the earth's surface covered by
those who served under the British flag has been taken into account.
They are not matters for an appendix, but for the close study with a
map of every adult and every child in the realm.

[Sidenote: Total strength and dispersion.]

The effective strength of the armed land forces of the British Empire
(exclusive of the Royal Marines, but inclusive of local colonial naval
contingents for harbour defence), in September-October, 1899, was:--

                                                 Other       All
                                     Officers.   ranks.     ranks.

  _Regular Army (European) on
     Oct. 1st, 1899._
          With Colours                9,173     217,986     227,159
          Reserves                    1,803      81,134      82,937
          Royal Malta Artillery          31         802         833

  _Regular Army_ (Colonial Corps,
     European Officers, Native
     Troops)                            233       7,798       8,031
  _Regular Army of India._
    With Colours (European Officers,
      Native Troops)                  1,460     171,216     172,676
      Reserves                          --       18,644      18,644
  _Hyderabad Contingent._
     (Officered by Europeans)           121       7,386       7,507   7,507

  _Imperial Service Troops._
     (A few European Officers)          --       18,289      18,289  18,289

  _Auxiliary Troops of the United Kingdom._
     Militia                          3,036     106,515     109,551
     Yeomanry                           654       9,460      10,114
     Volunteers                       8,020     215,901     223,921
     Honourable Artillery Company        39         497         536

  _Indian Volunteers_                    --          --      29,219  29,219

  _Indian Military Police_               --          --      30,284  30,284

  _Channel Isles Militia_                150      3,278       3,428   3,428

  _Malta Militia_                         60      1,755       1,815   1,815
  _Cyprus Police_                         26        731         757     757

     Local regular troops                 91        936       1,027
     Militia                           2,398     28,463      30,861
     Police (including 92 Newfoundland)  105      1,191       1,296
     Naval Forces                         50        472         522

    New South Wales._
      Local regular troops                49        876         925
      Militia                            228      3,815       4,043
      Volunteers                          97      2,724       2,821
      Reserves                           111      1,535       1,646
      Police                              --         --       1,977
      Naval Forces                        39        576         615

     Local regular troops                 22        265         287
     Militia                             198      2,801       2,999
     Volunteers                           50        758         808
     Cadets                               --         --         875
     Police                               --         --         869
     Rifle Clubs                          --         --       2,520
     Naval Forces                         --         --         584

  _South Australia._
     Local regular troops                  3         31          34
     Militia                              72        625         697
     Reserves                             40        529         569
     Police                               --         --         349
     Rifle Clubs                          --         --       1,003
     Naval Forces                         --         --         120

  Local regular troops                     2         20          22
  Volunteers                              88      1,696       1,784
  Cadets                                   8        250         258
  Police                                  --         --          60
  Local regular troops                    24        349         373
  Militia                                158      2,867       3,025
  Volunteers                             110      1,598       1,708
  Naval Forces                            --         --         286

  _West Australia._
  Local regular troops                    15        261         276
  Volunteers                              46        883         929

  _New Zealand._
  Local regular troops                    11        277         288
  Volunteers                             330      6,368       6,698
  Naval Forces                            30        682         712

  Volunteers                              19        189         208
  Police                                  16        143         159

  _Cape Colony._
  Local regular troops                    38      1,028       1,066
  Volunteers                             186      3,486       3,672
  Cadets                                  --         --       2,000
  Police                                  --         --       1,401
  Mounted Rifle Clubs                     64        997       1,061

  Volunteers                             112      1,489       1,601
  Cadets                                  --         --       1,062
  Police                                  --         --         659
  Naval Forces                             6        116         122

   Protectorate Regt.   raised by Col.
   Rhodesian Regt.        Baden-Powell    92      2,387       2,479   2,479
   British South Africa Police

  Police                                  --         --         500     500

  Police                                  --         --         260     260

  _Bechuanaland Protectorate._
  Police                                  14        190         204     204

  _West Indies._
  Militia                                 23        574         597
  Volunteers                             122      1,845       1,967
  Police                                  54      2,924       2,978

  _Falkland Isles._
  Volunteers                               3         78          81      81

  _Colonies in Asia._
  Local regular troops (Malay State
     Guides)                               9        623         632
  Volunteers                              93      1,556       1,649
  Police                                  47      2,881       2,928

  _St. Helena._
  Volunteers                               4         51          55      55

  _West Africa._
  Local regular troops                   219      4,196       4,415
  Volunteers                              11        187         198
  Police                                  40      2,202       2,242
  Naval Forces                            15         87         102

                               GRAND TOTAL                        1,053,865


The local troops serving in Uganda, British East Africa, British
Central Africa, and Somaliland, are not given. The aggregate area of
these Protectorates is nearly four times that of Great Britain. The
majority of their inhabitants were, and still are, but semi-civilised
or wholly savage, and internal order has often to be maintained by
serious fighting. In 1899 the force included three and a half
battalions, but as it was then in process of reorganisation into one
corps, the "King's African Rifles," its precise strength at that time
cannot now be ascertained.



         [Footnote 82: For vessels serving on the Cape station during
         the war, see Appendix 5.]


The duty of the Navy in this, as in all war was:--

  (1) To acquire and keep the command of the sea.
  (2) To undertake, by full use of our great mercantile marine, all sea
  (3) To carry out the instructions of Government for stopping the enemy's
         supplies by sea.
  (4) To render any local or temporary assistance to the Army that
         circumstances might require.

[Sidenote: Command of Sea.]

[Sidenote: Transport.]

[Sidenote: Stopping supplies.]

During the Boer War the command of the sea was never disputed, so that
it gave rise to no anxiety after the first few months. The second
duty, that of transport, at once assumed extreme importance owing to
the 6,000 miles distance of the base of operations (Cape Town) from
England, the large number of men and animals, and the great quantity
of stores to be dealt with. The third duty, involving the much
disputed matter of contraband, etc., was, and is always likely to be,
a difficult one, owing to the rather nebulous state of International
Law on questions which were likely to, and did arise, and to the many
interests, belligerent and neutral, which might be involved. It was
further complicated by the fact that the enemy possessed no seaport
and no carrying trade of his own, so that all goods for him from over
sea had to be landed either at a neutral port or in a British colonial
port. The fourth duty, that of local assistance, was a simpler
matter. Owing to causes recorded elsewhere, the armed forces of Great
Britain in South Africa were not anything like adequate for the task
before them when the war broke out on October 9th, 1899. The grave
differences that existed between England and the Dutch Republics, and
the absolutely vital British interests involved, had, as the year 1899
wore on, been realised not only by the Government, but by all the
world. It was inevitable that the delay in strengthening the garrison,
due to extreme unwillingness to present even the appearance of forcing
on the quarrel, should throw an exceptional responsibility on the
Navy. It became necessary to develop to the utmost limit the strength
that could be spared for work on shore in order to gain time for the
arrival of reinforcements. Happily our public services, both civil and
military, have grown up in the traditions that each branch and
department, while it has special grooves in which its own particular
duty runs, is at all times on the look-out to help any other
department. The Navy and Army are no strangers to this practice of
mutual aid. Their special duties have in times past so often led to
each helping the other in some way, that perhaps there exists between
them in a rather special degree that feeling of comradeship which is
engendered by sharing the same duties and the same perils and
hardships; just as boys who have gone through the same mill at school,
and got into and out of the same scrapes together, are undoubtedly
imbued with an _esprit de corps_ which is often a valuable possession
in after-life.


The Army Sea Transport work was carried out by the Admiralty through
its Transport department, with the following exceptions. Arrangements
for the Indian contingent, the Remounts, and all else sent from India,
were made by the Director of Indian Marine, for the outward voyage; by
the Admiralty for the return voyage. For the Colonial contingents,
passage was provided partly in freight ships locally engaged by the
Colonial Governments and partly in Admiralty transports sent from the
Cape. The return voyage in all cases was regulated by the Admiralty.
Remounts (horses) from ports abroad were conveyed in freight ships
hired by the Remount department up to February, 1901; after that date
they were conveyed by the Admiralty. Stores from ports abroad were
delivered in South Africa by the contractors, from whom the War Office
obtained them at "C.I.F." rates; that is to say, that the price which
was paid for the stores included delivery. All other sea transport for
men, animals, and stores was organised by the Admiralty. The services
of the Admiralty shipping agents (Messrs. Hogg and Robinson) were
utilised as regards stores, but these agents worked under the
supervision of the Admiralty Transport department.

[Sidenote: "Freight" and "transport" ships.]

As the terms used above, "freight ships" and "transports," will
frequently recur in this chapter, it is necessary to give an
explanation of their meaning and of the distinction between them.
Troops are carried either in a transport or a freight ship. A
transport is a vessel wholly taken up by the Government on a time
charter. A freight ship is one in which the whole or a portion of the
accommodation is engaged at a rate per head, or for a lump sum for a
definite voyage. For a single voyage, freight, when obtainable, is
generally cheaper. But owners will not always divert their ships under
other than a time charter, and it is necessary that the bulk of the
engagements for the conveyance of troops should be on time charter in
order to secure control over the ships. Transports, when continuously
employed and utilised both ways, are cheaper than freight ships. Under
the transport charter the vessel, though engaged for a named period
certain, is at the disposal of the Admiralty so long as the Government
choose to retain her, except when it is expressly stipulated

[Sidenote: Govt. sea transport.]

The method by which the Government carries out the sea transport of
the Army is as follows:

The Board of Admiralty, as agents for, and on the requisition of, the
Secretary of State for War, undertakes all this work, except coastwise
conveyance in the United Kingdom.

[Sidenote: Office method.]

Since 1st April, 1888, Army Sea Transport has been always charged to
Army instead of to Navy Votes; but the control of the Admiralty over
the Transport service remains unimpaired. The Admiralty has always
held that the work can be efficiently and satisfactorily carried out
only by an Admiralty department, in connection with similar work for
the Navy. For convenience sake the Director of Transports is placed in
direct communication with the War Office as to all ordinary matters.
An officer of the Quartermaster-General's department visits the
Transport department frequently in peace time, and in war time he is
placed at the Admiralty to assist the Director of Transports in
military questions. All claims chargeable to Army Votes, after
examination in the Transport department, receive, before they are
passed to the War Office for payment, the concurrence of Army
examiners, who visit the Admiralty daily. The Director of Transports
is responsible for the whole work; administration, claims and
accounts, custody of Army Transport stores, such as troop-bedding,
horse-gear, etc., etc. The system by which one department does the
work, while another provides for the cost, seems somewhat anomalous.
But the experience of the Boer War, in which it was put to a test of
some magnitude, has conclusively proved that it works well. That
experience has, moreover, fully shown the necessity of the Sea
Transport service remaining as it always has been, under the control
of the Admiralty.

[Sidenote: Transport department at work.]

Ever since 1876 the Transport department has been organised in such a
manner as to be ready to ship a considerable force overseas at short
notice. The office establishment, both clerical and professional, was
intended to be a sufficient nucleus to admit of rapid expansion in
time of war. Full particulars of all ships suitable for the conveyance
of men and animals were kept recorded in special books. A stock of
troop-bedding, horse fittings, etc., etc., was kept in the Government
depôts, and standing contracts for putting these fittings in place,
etc., were in existence. Arrangements had been made with the Director
of Victualling and the War Office respectively for the food supply of
the troops to be embarked, and for the forage of the horses. Stocks of
printed forms ready for issue to the transports were also kept in
hand. All calculations were based on the understanding that the
Admiralty would not be called upon to convey much more than an army
corps without due warning. Bedding and horse fittings (of the old
kind) for 55,000 men and 10,000 horses were immediately available.
Moreover, a committee had recently met to provide for an increase of
the stocks in hand in consequence of information from the War Office
that two army corps could be ready to go abroad if required.

[Sidenote: Time needed.]

In August, 1899, the Director of Transports was asked how long it
would take to despatch 49,000 men and 8,000 horses. His reply was that
in the then state of the labour market, four to five weeks would be
required. Tentative enquiries of this kind, and the evidently critical
state of affairs in South Africa, had led the Transport department, as
early as July, to make for eventualities every preparation that was
possible within the department--such as conferring with contractors,
marine shipping superintendents, etc., and having all troop-bedding
and hammocks washed and overhauled, so that on receipt of any definite
instructions work might be commenced within an hour.

[Sidenote: 23rd Sept./99 First grant.]

On the 23rd September, 1899, the Secretary of State for War authorised
the expenditure of £25,000. This included money for a new pattern of
horse fittings which had been approved. On the same date came a
requisition for the conveyance of 7,000 mules from various foreign
ports. On 20th September the Quartermaster-General had sent to the
department a list giving details of the force proposed to be embarked
if it should become necessary. This list showed ports of embarkation,
and on receipt of it the Admiralty, without waiting for formal
requisition, and on their own responsibility, decided to engage two
large vessels of the Union-Castle Steamship Company, and to hold them
in readiness, and this was done.[83] Also on their own initiative the
Admiralty issued that same evening confidential circulars to
thirty-five leading ship owners, asking what ships now ready, or to be
ready shortly, they were prepared to place at Government disposal for
use as troop-transports, etc., for two months certain, asking for a
reply the following day.

         [Footnote 83: It is impossible, of course, to engage a ship
         beforehand without incurring expenditure.]

[Sidenote: Ships engaged Sept. 30/99.]

On 30th September there was a conference at the War Office, at which
the Admiralty was represented, and verbal authority was then given to
the Director of Transports to engage vessels for the conveyance of the
force. It was there stated by the Commander-in-Chief (Lord Wolseley)
that the troops would not be ready to begin embarking before the 21st
October. That same night, 30th September, twenty vessels were engaged
from those of which particulars were given in the replies already
received; and from that time the work of engaging and preparing the
vessels proceeded continuously. Immediately, additions were made to
the professional and clerical staff, and more office accommodation was
provided at the Admiralty. On the 9th October, 1899, an official
requisition was received for the conveyance of 46,000 men and 8,600
horses, and a notice that 24,000 of the men and 4,000 horses would be
ready to embark between the 21st October and the 25th October. By the
middle of November this whole force was embarked.

[Sidenote: Time for fitting up.]

A certain amount of time (ten to twelve days) and money (£2,000 to
£5,000, according to the kind of ship) is required to fit a vessel for
carrying either troops or animals after she is empty of cargo. The
vessel having been selected (sometimes even while she is still at
sea), has to be surveyed in order to decide details of the work
necessary, and also in order to obtain the Board of Trade's passenger
certificate if she is to carry men. Troops and horses cannot be
carried in ready-fitted accommodation. The space ordinarily devoted to
cargo or cattle is appropriated, and the requisite accommodation built
up. In the best cavalry ships, which are generally cattle ships
adapted, saloon and cabin accommodation has to be increased. This is
done at the owner's expense as part of the bargain. Height between
decks is an important factor. Even more height is required for horses
than for men. Ships otherwise good often have to be rejected for
failure in this respect. Mounted troops always travel men and horses
together. The men are for sanitary reasons placed on a deck below the
horses. In such cases the horses are not, as a rule, carried on
exposed decks. This is both for the sake of the horses and because the
deck space is required for exercising the men. For remount and mule
freight-ships the exposed decks are utilised, unless the nature of the
voyage renders it undesirable.

[Sidenote: Provision for horses.]

Horses must be carried either on wooden or wood-sheathed decks, or on
cemented decks, or on platforms over metal decks with the gangways
cemented. For men, in all cases, the decks must be wood or
wood-sheathed. As modern vessels, other than passenger ships, usually
have steel decks, this becomes a considerable item in the time and
cost of fitting. It is also frequently necessary to cut such extra
side-lights as are essential for carrying men or horses. Extra
lighting, ventilation and distilling apparatus, mess tables, stools,
and provision for men's hammocks must all be obtained. Latrines have
to be built, as well as a prison, a hospital, and the numerous
store-rooms and issue-rooms that are required. Horse stalls have to be
fitted, and sometimes even an extra deck has to be laid. A
considerable number of horse stalls are kept at the Government depôts,
and the contractors who work for the Government are bound to be ready
to fit up a certain number of transports at short notice. For this war
the stock of horse fittings in hand was only utilised to a small
extent, as it had been decided, a short time before the war broke out,
to adopt a longer stall (eight feet) without horse hammocks, instead
of the existing six feet six inches stall with hammock. There is no
doubt that the new fitting was a great improvement.

[Sidenote: "Transports." Mode of fitting up.]

[Sidenote: "Freight" ships. Different method.]

Transports are always fitted at the expense of Government. The work is
done either by (a) contractors who hold a standing contract, (b)
special supplementary contractors, or (c) the owners on behalf of the
Government. Freight ships, on the contrary, are fitted by the
shipowners, the cost being covered by the rate per head, whether they
take troops or animals. Horses in freight ships were provided with the
long stall under a modified specification. The fittings on these ships
were often required for one voyage only, whereas in the transports
they were used again and again. Mules were in all cases placed in
pens. These held, as a rule, five mules, and no detailed
specifications were necessary. Trade fittings were accepted if
satisfactory to the shipping officer. In all ships carrying animals,
whether transports or freight ships, spare stalls to the extent of
five per cent, were allowed to provide for sick animals and for
shifting the animals for cleaning purposes.

_Hospital Ships._--Eight transports in all were fitted up as hospital
ships. Two, the _Spartan_ and _Trojan_, each of about 3,500 tons
gross, were prepared in England for local service at the Cape. The
other six, ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 tons gross, were infantry
transports converted at Durban, as they were required, for bringing
sick and wounded from the Cape to England. All were equipped in
concert with the Army Medical Officers, in accordance with plans which
had been found suitable on previous expeditions. All ordinary fittings
were cleared out, and the ship was arranged in "wards," with special
cots; operating rooms, laundries, ice room, special cooking
appliances, radiators for warming, punkahs and electric fans, cot
lifts, and everything else that medical science suggested, were added.

[Sidenote: Special gifts to nation.]

These ships were not officially declared under the Geneva Convention
and did not fly the Red Cross flag, as they were occasionally employed
during the return voyage for the conveyance of combatants. Besides
these eight vessels there were available the _Maine_, lent by the
Atlantic Transport Company, and most generously and at great cost
fitted out and maintained by the American Ladies' Committee, who
spared no time, trouble, or expense in making her most efficient and
comfortable. Their kindly action will not soon be forgotten by the
officers and men who benefited by her, by their immediate friends, or
by the British nation. There was also the _Princess of Wales_,
similarly sent out by the Central Red Cross Society, to whom much
gratitude was naturally felt. H.M. Queen Alexandra, then H.R.H. the
Princess of Wales, took special interest in the equipment of this

[Sidenote: Not a ship available at once.]

It will be seen, therefore, that no ships exist which can be utilised
for sea transport without extensive adaptation and alteration. It is
perhaps hardly realised generally how much work has to be done both by
Government and the shipowner before a transport can be ready for sea.
In addition to all that has been described the ship must be docked and
her bottom coated with anti-fouling composition, and she must be
ballasted as needed. Boats, awnings and crews, efficient services of
fresh and salt water, and provision against fire, have to be secured,
and before any of the work can be started the ship herself must be
definitely engaged.

_Animals._--The units to be employed in the war were not carried by
sea complete with their transport animals. The cavalry and artillery
were accompanied by their horses, but nearly all the transport animals
were taken direct to South Africa from ports abroad. Remounts and
mules from abroad were conveyed by freight ships at rates per animal,
which included forage, attendance, horse-gear and fittings, and all

_Stores._--It was decided from the first not to utilise the spare
space in the transports for conveying stores, because on arrival it
might well be that the stores were urgently required at the first
port, while the troops were wanted elsewhere with equal urgency. This
would have led to delay and confusion. Moreover, if the cargo could
not be at once received, the transport would be hampered in her
movements and inconvenience and expense would follow. Stores from
England were therefore carried in freight ships, either in full cargo
ships engaged at a lump sum, with special terms for varying ports and
demurrage, or in the regular liners at rates per ton.

[Sidenote: Infantry and mounted troops.]

For infantry, passenger ships or large fast cargo boats are selected.
The latter are preferred as the former require more extensive
alterations. Mounted troops are usually carried in ships specially
designed for the conveyance of live stock; remounts and mules in
similar vessels, or in specially roomy cargo ships. The vessels
employed for infantry and mounted troops were, in fact, running ships
belonging to good lines, and they had to possess, or take out, a Board
of Trade passenger certificate. The owners naturally do not keep such
ships waiting on the off-chance of Government employment. They are in
full work and have to sacrifice their own lucrative business to accept
an Admiralty contract.

_Coaling Arrangements._--Whenever possible, space was appropriated in
the holds of the transports for additional coal bunkers, so that the
quantity of coal taken from England might be as great as possible. The
contractors at St. Vincent, Las Palmas and Teneriffe were also given
special instructions, and a constant stream of colliers was kept going
to the Cape. The transports were made to call at the three first-named
places in such rotation as should ensure there being no block at any
of them. A man-of-war was stationed at St. Vincent, one at Las Palmas,
and one at Teneriffe to supervise the arrangements and to make such
preparation and give such help as should preclude delay in dealing
with each of the ships as they arrived. This system proved to be a
good one. There was plenty of coal and no delay, but it was found that
the high-speed vessels, owing to their enormous coal consumption, were
not so suitable as others of more moderate speed. Eminently suited as
they were for the short run across the Atlantic, it was really hardly
worth while using them for the long voyage to the Cape.

_Victualling._--The first batch of troops sent out was victualled from
the Navy Yards, and this practice was partially continued till early
in 1900. But, owing to considerations of the reserve of stores, and to
the fact that the Navy salt meat ration was new to the troops and not
liked by them, this was then changed. The owners contracted to victual
the men at a rate per head per day, and this, though more expensive,
worked well. Moreover, it gave greater satisfaction to the men, as it
was more like what they were accustomed to on shore; and it was an
important point to land them in the best possible condition.
Volunteers and yeomanry when carried separate from the regulars were
fed on a slightly better scale than the latter. If carried in the same
ship all were fed alike on the better scale.

_Forage_ in transports was in all cases supplied from the Government
stores. In freight ships it was supplied by the owners, and was
included in the rate per animal.

_Troop-bedding and horse-gear_ are supplied by Government in all
transports. Though a large stock is always kept on hand, special
purchases of both had also to be made from time to time as the war
went on to meet unexpectedly great demands.

_Staff of the Transport Department._--To meet the requirements of this
sudden expansion of work, Naval staffs were sent out to Cape Town,
Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London, under Captain Sir Edward
Chichester, R.N., and at home--to assist the normal peace
establishment (which consisted of the Director of Transports,
Rear-Admiral Bouverie F. Clark, Captain F. J. Pitt, R.N., the Naval
Assistant, and Mr. Stephen J. Graff, the Civil Assistant, with their
respective staffs)--the clerical establishment was enlarged and two
captains, four lieutenants, engineers, and paymasters, and the
requisite staff were appointed--some to each of the three districts,
the Thames, Liverpool, and Southampton. These three places are, by
reason of local considerations such as dock and repair accommodation,
railway service and tidal conditions, the most suitable for such work,
and with few exceptions the embarking was done in those districts.

_General Remarks and Statistics._--Tables are given on pages 108-9,
showing the number of vessels employed and of the troops, etc.,
carried. The total number of voyages out and home with troops, animals
or stores was about 1,500, representing over 9,000,000 miles steaming,
exclusive of coast movements at the Cape, and in addition to about
1,000,000 miles of cross voyages by the transports to India,
Australia, Bermuda, etc. The ships selected for the conveyance of
troops were chosen as the best adapted for the special work they had
to perform, viz.: to deliver them at their destination with the least
risk and in healthy condition, fit to take the field at once. That the
choice was not unsuccessful is evidenced by the fact that throughout
these vast operations not a single life was lost at sea from causes
due to the ship, and the only serious casualties were the loss of one
cavalry transport, the _Ismore_, with guns and 315 horses; one mule
freight ship, the _Carinthea_, with 400 mules; and two store freight
ships, the _Denton Grange_ and the _Madura_, the latter by fire.
Looking to the mileage run, this is a wonderful record, and one which
reflects the highest credit on the mercantile marine in general, and
on the management of the shipping lines concerned in particular.

[Sidenote: The voyage to and fro.]

There was no delay in getting the troops off. From 20th October, 1899,
when the first units of the army corps were ready to embark, to the
30th November, 1899, no less than 58,000 men and 9,000 horses left
England, and a steady stream continued month after month, the largest
shipment in one month being February, 1900, when 33,500 men and 5,500
horses left this country. The removal from South Africa was even more
speedy. From 1st June, 1902, to 31st July, 53,800 men embarked. By the
end of August the number was 94,000 men, and by the end of September,
133,000 men had left South Africa. The homeward move was simplified by
there being no horses, and by the Government being able to utilise to
their full extent the resources of the Union-Castle Company, whose
large fleet of vessels, specially suitable for carrying troops, had an
important share in the work.

[Sidenote: Patriotism of shipowners.]

The shipowners, as a body, showed every desire throughout the war to
meet the wishes of the Admiralty, often (in the early days) placing
their ships at the disposal of the Government at great inconvenience
to their own trade, and making great personal exertions to expedite
the despatch of the troops and to ensure their comfort. In no case was
any vessel engaged, either for troops, animals, or stores, which was
not a registered British ship, and as far as possible the crews were
British subjects; practically the crews of all troop transports were
then exclusively so.

[Sidenote: Numbers conveyed.]

The following figures will convey an idea of the extent of the Sea
Transport work in connection with the war, from its commencement up to
the 31st December, 1902.

The numbers conveyed were:

         To South Africa.             Personnel.  Horses.     Mules.

  _From Home and Mediterranean:_
        Troops, &c.                   338,547      84,213      249
        South African Constabulary      8,482         --        --
        British South Africa Police       353         --        --
        Imperial Military Railways        320         --        --
        Colonial Office Details            59         --        --
        Various                            89         --        --

  _From India:_
        Troops, &c.                    19,438       8,611    1,117
        Natives                        10,528         --        --

  _From Ceylon, Mauritius, &c.:_
        Troops, &c.                       690         --        --
        Natives                            26         --        --
        Various                             8         --        --

  _From Colonies:_
        Contingents                    29,793      27,465       19
        South African Constabulary      1,249         --        --
        Remounts                          --       36,660       --

  _From other countries:_
        Remounts, &c.                     --      195,915  102,627
        Prisoners of War and Escorts   22,790         --        --

          Totals                      432,372     352,864  104,012

  _From South Africa:_
        To United Kingdom, Colonies,
        India, &c., including
        Boer prisoners                372,320       2,460       --

          Grand Total                 804,692 persons.     459,336 animals.

The tonnage of stores carried to South Africa was as follows,
exclusive of wagons, guns, baggage, and equipment accompanying the
troops, and of the vast quantities of supplies delivered by
contractors from abroad at rates inclusive of freight:

  In the Transports          4,990 tons.
  Otherwise              1,369,080 tons.

     Total               1,374,070 tons.

[Sidenote: Numbers of ships.]

The number of specially engaged ships employed on the work was as

  Transports engaged by the Admiralty           117
  Transports engaged in India                    41
                                               ----   158

Troop freight ships:

  Outwards.  {Engaged by Admiralty               115
             {Engaged by Colonial Governments     13

  Homewards. {Engaged by Admiralty               104
             {Engaged by P.T.O., South Africa     21
                                                ----   253

Remount freight ships:

  Engaged by Remount Department                  107
  Engaged by Admiralty                           201
                                                ----   308
  Mule Freight Ships engaged by Admiralty               98
  Full Cargo Freight Ships engaged by Admiralty        210

Nearly all the transports made several voyages, and some of them were
in continuous employment for over three years, and went to the Cape
and back as many as ten times besides coastal and colonial voyages.

[Sidenote: Tonnage, transports and owners.]

[Sidenote: Report of Royal Commission.]

The 210 full cargo ships carried 974,000 tons of the stores, besides
3,745 oxen. The remainder was conveyed in running ships at current
rates. The transports engaged by the Admiralty were the property of
thirty-six owners, mostly Liverpool or London firms; their average
size was 6,400 tons gross, ranging from 12,600 to 3,500 tons, the
range of speed from nineteen to eleven knots. The proportion of
tonnage per man and per horse turns out, over the whole, four tons per
man, twelve and a half tons per horse. This estimate is made by
calculating the tonnage per man on the infantry ships alone, and
allowing for the men at that rate by casting out the tonnage per horse
over the transports which conveyed both men and horses. The following
is an extract from the report of His Majesty's Commissioners appointed
to enquire into matters in connection with the war in South Africa,
dated 9th July, 1903, pp. 125, 126.


"The transport by sea to South Africa from the United Kingdom and the
Colonies of a force much larger than any which had ever crossed the
seas before in the service of this or any other country affords a
remarkable illustration not only of the greatness of British maritime
resources, but also of what can be done when careful forethought and
preparation is applied to the object of utilising rapidly in war
instruments which are in peace solely engaged in the purposes of civil
life. If the same forethought had been applied throughout, there would
have been little criticism to make with regard to the South African
War. A full account of the Sea Transport organisation will be found in
the evidence of Mr. Stephen Graff, Assistant Director of Transports at
the Admiralty, and of Captain F. J. Pitt, R.N., Naval Assistant
Director of Transports.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It had been represented by the Admiralty in a letter of the 4th
April, 1898 (in continuation of earlier representations), that the
stock of horse fittings and water tanks was inadequate even for one
Army Corps, inasmuch as one Army Corps, with a Cavalry Brigade and
Line of Communication troops, requires over 15,000 horses, and it was
represented that an expenditure of £25,000 to provide complete
fittings would be necessary. In April, 1899, there was a conference
between the Admiralty and War Office officials, who came to the
conclusion that 'the present stock of fittings, horse-gear, etc., is
dangerously insufficient and inadequate to ensure the rapid despatch
of even one Army Corps, one Cavalry Brigade and Line of Communication
troops.' At this time it had been intimated by the War Office that
transport for two Army Corps might be needed. On the 19th July, 1899,
the Committee recommended the purchase of 6,000 new pattern stalls,
and on the 23rd September the Secretary of State for War authorised
the expenditure of £25,000. The engagement and preparation of ships
began on the 30th September. It does not appear that the absence of a
sufficient stock of horse fittings caused any appreciable delay. To a
large extent the difficulty was met by fitting up with lighter
fittings the Liverpool cattle ships, which are in many ways so
constructed as to be admirable conveyances for horses. The plan of
using these ships, and the kind of fittings to be used on them, had
been worked out some time before the war by Captain Pitt, R.N.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The adjustment of ships to transport purposes involves much labour,
but the ships appear to have been ready as soon, or almost as soon, as
the troops were ready to start. The arrangements between the War
Office and the Admiralty for the embarkation of troops worked with
great success. Sir Charles M. Clarke, then Quartermaster-General,
stated that the demands of the War Office were 'most admirably met.'
The accommodation on the ships appears to have been well calculated.
The timing of the departures and arrivals, so as to regulate the
pressure on intermediate coaling stations and terminal ports, also
seems to have been satisfactory. The delays in disembarkation of men
and stores were slight, and, when they occurred, were due to
insufficient berthing accommodation at Cape Town. The accidents on
voyage were few, and only one ship, the _Ismore_, was entirely lost,
together with a battery of artillery."


[Sidenote: Effect on Army.]

[Sidenote: Questions of above record.]

The record above given of the splendid triumph of the Admiralty
administration of Sea Transport during the war has been compiled by
Capt. A. H. Limpus, R.N., with the cordial assistance of the Transport
department of the Admiralty. The conclusion that the work of carrying
the Army by sea could not have been in more competent hands is one
which admits of no doubt in the mind of any reader who studies it.
There are, nevertheless, certain deductions to be made in regard to
the passengers carried--the greatest army ever delivered by any
country over 6,000 miles of sea-way--which closely concern the
efficiency of the instrument with which the blow of Britain has to be
struck, at points so distant from her shores. It is essential that the
management of railways shall be in the hands of the officials of the
particular company which conveys an excursion; but in order that the
undertaking may be a great success many things are needed besides the
perfect management of the trains. No one who has seen the amount of
labour and the kind of organisation required by those who yearly send
to the country the holiday-children, for instance, will fail to know
that the passengers also need to be prepared beforehand for their part
in the day. Moreover, some knowledge on the part of the most admirable
railway officials of the special needs of those they carry is
required; and, further, if any sudden change is made in the carriages
themselves, in the sequence of trains, or in other matters strictly
belonging to the functions of the company, this, if not communicated
to the managers of the excursion, may introduce dire confusion.

[Sidenote: A new experience needs special training.]

An army has over the holiday travellers the advantage of its
long-established unity, its discipline, and its training, but
embarkation and disembarkation are entirely outside its ordinary
experience. It needs, therefore, being much accustomed to work by
habit, to be prepared both for getting on board ship, and, still more,
for getting off it, in the manner that will best enable it to fulfil
its duties, and, as time is very precious, to do this with the least
possible delay, both in order to play completely into the hands of the
officers in charge of the ships and in order to be itself at its best
when it lands. This is the more easily accomplished because a ship in
dock is virtually a part of the mainland. Everything that has to be
done by troops in embarking can be imitated perfectly on shore, if the
ordinary fittings of a ship are placed in a hut or other building
outside which such a gangway is erected as that over which men and
horses have to be passed in entering a ship. Now, by the willing
assistance of the Admiralty in furnishing the exact fittings used in
transports, this practice had been carried out by all arms--cavalry,
horse and field artillery, army service corps and infantry--at least
in some instances. Practical adaptations in the training of each
corps had been made by the experiments conducted on shore by each.
Printed regulations embodying these had been framed.

[Sidenote: Necessity for mutual understanding shown by incident.]

Unfortunately, the sudden improvement in the ship fittings mentioned
above, coming as it did at the very moment of war, completely, for the
Army, upset the conditions on which the drill had been framed. It had
been devised to make the passage of horses on board as rapid as it
could be when the horses had to be placed in slings. Men, specially
trained in slinging, were in each corps detailed to do the work. To
find, when the embarkation began, that there were no slings, naturally
involved at the last moment a change in method. Moreover, horses
always obey more kindly, especially in strange circumstances, the men
to whom they are accustomed, those by whom they are groomed and fed.
It was, nevertheless, not surprising that the shipping authorities,
unaware that the soldiers were dealing with conditions already
familiar to them, should have detailed men of the ship to place the
horses in their stalls. The horses did not like the unfamiliar hands;
the soldiers were puzzled by their horses being taken from them. In
some cases much delay and confusion occurred, and, indeed, it needed
all the tact and good-fellowship of the navy and army officers to
adjust things satisfactorily. Relatively to other matters the incident
was a small one, but it illustrates the importance of a thorough
understanding between the two services such as can only be gained by
continued practice during peace-time for war.

[Sidenote: Importance of the right stores being on top.]

In the matter of stores a difficulty, which had been very strongly
commented upon in the case of the Egyptian expedition of 1882, again
presented itself. In 1882, in the disembarkation at Ismailia in the
Suez Canal, where the facilities were much less than they were in the
several harbours of South Africa, it became a very serious point that
the stores required by the Army at once on landing were at the bottom
of the holds. The ample landing capacities of Cape Town, of Durban,
and almost, relatively to Ismailia, of East London and Port Elizabeth,
made this in the present war less serious; but even in this case it
drew a strongly-worded telegram of remonstrance. It would be
impossible to reckon upon our having always at our disposal
conveniences so great as these for disembarking an army. It becomes,
therefore, for future expeditions, important to note that the trouble
which became so grave in 1882 was not removed at the ports of
embarkation when this war began. To say the least, it was not the
universally established practice to give to the naval officer in
charge or to any one else a list showing the order in which the
material embarked would be required on landing; and to ask that those
things which would be first needed should be put in last, so that they
might be on the top.

[Sidenote: Co-operation in forcing a landing.]

The army in South Africa had not to land against an opposing enemy. It
is obviously important that in conjoint practice of the two services
the possibility of an opposed landing should be taken into account. It
was unfortunate, therefore, that as a consequence of the limited time
at disposal, the other duties of the fleet, and the cost of demurrage,
it became necessary for the Admiralty, when it was wisely decided to
have combined manoeuvres of navy and army in the autumn of 1904, in
order to practise embarkation and disembarkation, to direct that the
landing should be carried out under peace conditions. As a consequence
of this the first party landed on a shore, supposed to be hostile, was
one of unarmed sailors; and orders, at least in one instance, filled
the foremost boats with the clerks and clerkly paraphernalia of a
divisional Headquarters. That may have been the routine rightly
followed in many cases at Cape Town, but the true application of the
lessons of history does not consist in blind imitation of precedent
from the past in those respects in which the conditions have changed.
Joint action in manoeuvre will be valueless unless it is used to
familiarise each service with the work of the other as it will be in
the actual fighting of the time. During the great war at the end of
the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century failure
followed failure because the services had not practised together. At
last they did so and the result was a brilliant success. The Japanese
have undoubtedly owed many of their triumphs to their having profited
by _our_ historical records. Their disembarkations have been models of
combined action.

[Sidenote: Causes of delay, real and imaginary.]

[Sidenote: Limit of striking force.]

On one other point the Naval triumph is of great importance to the
Army. The passage quoted above (page 111) from the report of the
Commission on the War marks well the facts. "The ships appear to have
been ready as soon, or almost as soon, as the troops were ready to
start." It follows that the shipping was just ready and no more for
the Army, after mobilisation, when the reserves had been called in and
incorporated. Moreover, it is to be noticed (page 100) that this
result was only secured by a splendid audacity in expenditure by the
Naval authorities, supplementing an admirable organisation. Now, as in
every war we carry out abroad, the earliest time at which any armed
force can move towards its object is the hour when the ships are ready
to convey it, it follows that no delay whatever was caused by the
necessity for summoning to the colours trained men retained for
service by a small fee. On the other hand very great delay was caused
by the impossibility of preparing for the particular campaign without
threatening those whom we desired to conciliate. It, therefore,
further follows that if there were ready at all times a force which
did not need to be ostentatiously prepared, we should avoid the crux
of not being able to make war without preparing for it and of not
being able to prepare lest we should provoke war. On the other hand,
this instance admirably illustrates the invariable law that the
strength that can be so used is strictly limited by the number of
properly fitted ships that the Admiralty can have ready at any given
moment. An examination of Captain Limpus' careful statement will show
how very small this inevitably is, and how much time is needed to fit
those that are not available. Moreover, there is, on the Army side, as
has been shown in Chapter V., this further restriction, that the
equipment and transport, without which a campaign cannot be carried
on, must be of the kind suited to the particular case.



The task of the Navy in this matter lay so entirely outside the sphere
of the military operations on land that it will be sufficient to say
here that, despite the extreme delicacy of the situation created by
the fact that it was only through neutral ports that the Boers could
obtain supplies after the war had begun, the vigilance exercised was
remarkably effective. The amount of contraband which reached the enemy
was insignificant, yet very few claims for compensation were
successfully sustained by neutrals. Ordinary trade, through Lourenço
Marques, including, unfortunately, British trade, was uninterrupted
till, towards the end of 1900, in consequence of the progress of the
war, it died a natural death. In their careful watching of the coast
and river-mouths the sailors, under Captain W. B. Fisher, of the
_Magicienne_, had some trying experiences. Lieut. Massy Dawson, of the
_Forte_, and Lieut. H. S. Leckie, of H.M.S. _Widgeon_, who received
the Albert medal, did most gallant service.


[Sidenote: The Navy on shore.]

This is incorporated in the accounts of the several campaigns and
battles, but there were certain preparations made beforehand on
board-ship which must here be recorded. During a cruise up the east
coast in the month of July, 1899, Admiral Harris, the Naval
Commander-in-Chief, was convinced that there would be war and that the
Boers were only waiting till the grass was in fit condition for their
cattle, to invade the colonies. He therefore took steps to have all
the ships ready for service. He concentrated the fleet within easy
reach of call. Early in October he sent to the G.O.C. at the Cape a
list of small guns, etc., which he could furnish if needful. He was
then told that it was not anticipated that such assistance would be
necessary. Nevertheless, a Naval brigade of 500 men was exercised and
prepared for landing. When the ultimatum was delivered it was clear
enough that the troops were not in adequate strength to resist the
forces the Boers could place against them, and that the enemy were
bringing into the field guns of unusual calibre and range. The utmost
numbers which it was possible to land were about 2,500, but heavy guns
were the very weapons with which the sailors were most familiar. It
seemed likely that these might prove to be of great value. On
September 19th, the Admiral was informed that the _Terrible_, which
was to have relieved the _Powerful_, viâ the Canal, would, instead,
meet her on her voyage home at the Cape. On the 14th October the
_Terrible_ reached Simon's Bay. By October 21st, Captain Scott, her
commanding officer, had devised a field mounting for a long-range
12-pr. and, having put it through a satisfactory firing trial, was
authorised by the Commander-in-Chief to make several more. When, on
October 24th, the Admiralty telegraphed that the War Office would be
glad of all the assistance that the Navy could render, and that all
was to be given that would not cripple the ships, the order had been
so far anticipated that the upper decks of the _Terrible_, _Powerful_,
_Monarch_ and _Doris_, as well as the dockyard itself, had already
assumed the appearance of a gun-carriage factory.

[Sidenote: Preparation of heavy guns for landing.]

On October 24th, the day when this message was received from home, the
Admiral arranged with Sir A. Milner that the _Powerful_ should go to
Durban on the 26th. On October 25th the Governor of Natal telegraphed
to the Admiral that "Sir George White suggests that, in view of the
heavy guns with Joubert, the Navy should be consulted with the view of
sending a detachment of bluejackets with long-range guns firing heavy
projectiles." He also revealed to the Admiral the gravity of the
situation, and the scanty means available for defending Maritzburg and
even Durban itself. The Admiral replied at once, saying, "_Powerful_
arrives Durban 29th. She can on emergency land four 12-prs. and 9
Maxims." He then saw Captain Scott of the _Terrible_, and enquired if
he could design a mounting to take a 4·7-in. and have two ready for
the following afternoon, 26th. This Captain Scott did. By the next
evening two such mountings had been put on board the _Powerful_, and
before midnight she sailed for Durban. These 4·7-in. mountings were
meant for use as guns of position, and not as field guns. They
consisted--briefly described--of four 12-in. baulks of timber 14 feet
long, bolted together in the form of a double cross. This made a rough
platform to which was secured the plate and spindle which was used to
carry the ordinary ship mounting of the 4·7-in. guns. They were
intended to be placed in a hole in the ground 15 feet square and 2
feet deep, and the ends of the timber baulks were to be secured with
chains to weights sunk in the ground. But this securing of the timbers
was found to be quite unnecessary when a mounting of this kind was put
through a firing trial near Simon's Town, and so it was not
subsequently employed with these "platform" mountings, as they came to
be called. Sir George White, in Ladysmith, to which place the first
two "platform" mountings had been promptly taken by the _Powerful's_
Naval brigade, was, on October 30th, informed by telegram of the
result of the firing trial, also that no moorings had been found

[Sidenote: Scott's travelling carriage.]

Captain Scott now obtained permission to make a travelling carriage
for a 4·7-in. gun. It consisted of a double trail of 14-inch timber
fitted with plates and bearings to carry the cradle of the ordinary
ship mounting. A pair of steel wheels and a heavy axle were required,
and all the work was done in the dockyard under Captain Scott's
supervision. This mounting was satisfactorily tried and embarked on
the _Terrible_ for Durban on November 3rd.

In giving this brief description of the mountings which enabled
long-range guns to be put at the disposal of the General Officer
Commanding-in-Chief, the events which led to their use have been
anticipated. The foregoing explanation is necessary, because, though
the warships were already supplied with field mountings for the 12-pr.
8-cwt. and some smaller guns, and these were therefore available, and
to a certain extent were used during the war, yet when more powerful
guns were required it became necessary to extemporise a carriage for

[Sidenote: Numbers employed.]

The first long 12-pr. was tried on October 21st, and by November 3rd
there were already prepared for use, or actually in use:--

  21 field mountings for 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns.
   3 platform mountings for 4·7-in.
   1 travelling carriage for 4·7-in.

[Sidenote: Later developments.]

This number was, soon afterwards, largely increased, and a 6-in. Q.F.
7-ton gun was also mounted on a travelling carriage at the Durban
Locomotive Works under Captain Scott's supervision. As more mountings
were made and other people's ideas were enlisted, modifications were
introduced; some mountings, entirely of steel, were indeed used for
4.7-in. guns; but in the main these mountings resembled those which
were so hurriedly prepared in the last ten days of October.

To resume the sequence of Naval events at the Cape.

[Sidenote: Difficulties of Naval C.-in-C.]

The Commander-in-Chief found himself, when war broke out, with his
small squadron of ships ready for any service, and a Naval brigade of
500 of their crews ready whenever called for. He had informed the
military Commander-in-Chief to what extent he could give help on
shore, and his squadron was shortly increased as told above. He was
none too strong for the purely Naval duties which war would involve,
though a sufficient staff of officers was sent out to relieve him to a
large extent of the Sea Transport duty. Still he found himself with
the considerable responsibility of keeping the seaports--Table Bay,
Simon's Bay, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban, secure and
available for our troops, and in the case of Durban, as the situation
developed, this promised to be no light matter. The timely
distribution of the coal supply, both for his own reinforced squadron
and for the transports, had to be arranged. At one time the
unfortunate grounding of a transport, the _Ismore_, caused extra work
and anxiety. The enemy's supplies by sea had also to be stopped. There
were precautions to be taken for the safety of H.M. ships while lying
in harbour, for the arriving transports, and the Naval establishments.
Later on there was the care of a considerable number of Boer prisoners
until regular camps could be formed for them. Altogether, therefore,
if the squadron was to be kept always fit for sea, some circumspection
was required when determining to land men and guns for service on

[Sidenote: The Naval brigades.]

Although in detail the record of the services of the men actually
landed falls into its place in the course of the campaigns, it should
here be noticed that these contingents resolved themselves eventually
into three Naval brigades.

[Sidenote: Western brigade.]

First, the Western brigade, a force of 357 of all ranks and two short
12-pounders under Commander Ethelston of the _Powerful_. This was
originally employed to garrison Stormberg, was then withdrawn to
Queenstown, and finally recalled to Simon's Bay viâ East London, to be
reorganised, strengthened, and sent up under Captain Prothero with
four long 12-prs., and about 400 men, to join Lord Methuen's force for
the relief of Kimberley. It left behind two short 12-pr. field guns at
Queenstown for the use of the Army. After Graspan, where it suffered
considerably, Captain J. E. Bearcroft was sent to replace Captain
Prothero, who was wounded, and the brigade was much augmented. It then
accompanied Lord Roberts' main advance; parties with guns being sent
on various detached services--until by 17th October, 1900, the men of
this brigade had all been recalled to their ships.

[Sidenote: Ladysmith brigade.]

Second, the Ladysmith brigade. The _Powerful_ having been sent to
Durban to comply with Sir George White's request for guns, there were
landed on arrival on October 29th, and taken at once to Ladysmith, two
4·7-in. guns on platform mountings, three long 12-pounders, one short
12-pounder, and four Maxims, with 283 of all ranks under Captain the
Hon. Hedworth Lambton. They arrived on the 30th October, 9.30 a.m., in
time to take part in the action of Lombards Kop, and remained in
Ladysmith during the siege.

[Sidenote: Natal brigade.]

The third, or Natal brigade, had its origin in the _Terrible_ being
sent to Durban, where she arrived on November 6th. Her Captain, Percy
Scott, at once became Commandant and organised--from the _Terrible_,
_Thetis_, _Forte_, _Philomel_, and _Tartar_, the defence of that town.
Over thirty guns were placed in position and put under the command of
Commander Limpus, of the _Terrible_, while a pair of 12-pounders,
drawn from the _Powerful_, had been pushed on to Maritzburg and placed
under Lieutenant James, of the _Tartar_, with the men of that ship
already up there. It was from this force that, as troops arrived, Sir
Redvers Buller drew the Naval brigade which accompanied the Ladysmith
relief column. Captain E. P. Jones, of the _Forte_, commanded this
brigade, with Commander A. H. Limpus, of the _Terrible_, second in
command. After the relief of Ladysmith, Captain Jones reorganised the
Naval brigade with ranks and ratings from the _Forte_, _Philomel_, and
_Tartar_. The _Terribles_ and _Powerfuls_ rejoined their ships by
March 13th. So reconstituted, the brigade served on with the Natal
Field Force until June 24th, 1900, when all but the _Philomel's_ and
_Tartar's_ men, under Lieutenant Halsey, were recalled to their ships.
Lieutenant Halsey, with four officers and thirty-eight men of the
_Philomel_, one officer and eighteen men of the _Tartar_, remained
until October, 1900, when they also returned.

[Sidenote: All Naval brigades within recall.]

Essential as were the services rendered on shore[84] it was always
arranged that, if it had become advisable at any time to recall
officers and men to their ships, they should be able to rejoin them
long before their presence was needed on board. Also as soon as any
article, including guns and ammunition, was landed from the fleet it
was replaced from England. When it became clear that the safety of
Durban was assured, its naval defence force was re-embarked; but
Captain Percy Scott remained on shore with his staff as Commandant
until 14th March, 1900. His work there, in preparing and sending
additional guns to General Buller--among them a 6-in. gun on a wheeled
carriage--and also as an able Commandant of Durban under martial law,
was highly appreciated.[85]

         [Footnote 84: See despatches giving the views of Sir Redvers
         Buller, etc., on these.]

         [Footnote 85: See despatch from the Governor of Natal to
         Admiral Harris, dated 9.3.00, and letter from the Colonial
         Office to the Admiralty, dated 7.5.00.]

[Sidenote: Natal Naval Volunteers.]

A welcome addition was made to the strength of the Natal brigade by a
party of Natal Naval Volunteers, under Lieutenants T. Anderton and
Nicholas Chiazzari, who with forty-eight men of all ratings, joined
Captain Jones' force at Frere on 10th December, and reinforced the
crews of the 4·7-in. guns. Lieut. Barrett, N.N.V., also joined the
Naval brigade with the Natal Field Force after the relief of
Ladysmith. The Natal Naval Volunteers proved to be a most valuable
addition to the brigade, composed as they were of intelligent,
resourceful men, who were familiar with the ways of the country, and
many of whom spoke both the Taal and native languages. They were part
of a corps which had its origin in the previous scheme for the
defence of Durban, and possessed muzzle-loading 9-prs.

[Sidenote: Why they joined.]

They had been stationed at Colenso when the southward advance of the
Boers compelled the evacuation of that position on 3rd November, 1899.
Although told to abandon their guns they had carried them bodily away
with them in the retirement. Forced to recognise that such guns were
quite useless in the field, and unable to obtain better weapons
locally, they had eagerly volunteered to join the Naval brigade under
Captain Jones. Fortunately they obtained their wish, and the Naval
brigade gained the services of a body of men who soon proved their
sterling worth, and whose traditions will henceforth always be closely
associated with those of the Royal Navy.



         [Footnote 86: See maps Nos. 3, 5, and the panoramic sketch.]

[Sidenote: Connection with Chap. II.]

The last four chapters have dealt with subjects affecting the whole
course of the war, the theatre of operations, the two opposed armies,
and the British navy. The present one, which describes the first
action in the campaign, connects immediately with the second, that on
the outbreak of the war, taking up the narrative from the time when,
as a consequence of the conference at Maritzburg between the Governor
(Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson), Sir George White, Sir A. Hunter and
Maj.-Genl. Sir W. Penn Symons, the latter officer had been despatched
to take over the command at Dundee while Sir George White had gone to

[Sidenote: Arrival, Oct. 12th/99 of Symons at Dundee.]

On October 12th, the day when the British agent quitted Pretoria,
Major-General Sir W. Penn Symons arrived at Dundee, and took over
command of 3,280 infantry, 497 cavalry and eighteen guns from
Brigadier-General J. H. Yule.[87] He had gained his point. Dundee was
to be held, and held by him. As early as the 13th news came that a
strong commando was concentrating at the Doornberg east of De Jager's
Drift, and that small parties of the enemy had been sighted four miles
north of Newcastle, whilst to his left rear the Free Staters were
reported so close to Ladysmith, and in such strength, as to cause Sir
George White to recall one of Symons' own battalions, the 2nd Royal
Dublin Fusiliers, to strengthen a column which was pushed out on
October 13th towards Tintwa Pass to get touch with the enemy. This
column[88] failed, however, to observe even patrols of the enemy, and
the Dublin Fusiliers returned to Dundee by train the same night. On
this day the enemy fell upon a piquet of Natal Policemen posted at De
Jager's Drift, and made them prisoners. A patrol of the 18th Hussars
proceeding to reconnoitre the spot next day, the 14th, came upon a
scouting party of forty of the enemy a mile on the British side of the
Buffalo. On the 16th a fugitive from Newcastle announced the arrival
of a commando, 3,000 strong, before Newcastle, another in Botha's
Pass, whilst across Wools Drift, on the Buffalo, six miles of wagons
had been seen trekking slowly southwards. If the left, then, was for
the moment clear, it was plain that strong bodies were coming down on
Symons' front and right, a front whose key was Impati, a right whose
only bulwark was the hill of Talana.

         [Footnote 87: For composition of this force see Appendix 3.]

         [Footnote 88: Composition: 5th Lancers, detachment of 19th
         Hussars, Natal Mounted Rifles, three batteries Royal Field
         artillery, 1st Liverpool, 1st Devonshire, 2nd Gordon

[Sidenote: Oct. 12th Joubert also starts.]

Joubert quitted Zandspruit on the 12th October, and was at Volksrust
in the evening, with the forces of Generals Kock and Lukas Meyer
thrown widely forward on his right and left flanks respectively. Kock,
coming through Botha's Pass with his motley foreign levies,[89] halted
for the night at the mouth of the defile, whilst the units of the left
horn of the invading crescent, reinforced this day by the commandos of
Middelburg and Wakkerstroom, lay under Meyer some forty miles
eastward, some in Utrecht, some in Vryheid, and some already at the
concentration point, the Doornberg. On the 13th, whilst the wings
remained quiescent, Joubert, with the main column, occupied Laing's
Nek, having first, either by an excess of precaution, or from a fear
lest the gap between him and Meyer were too great, made good that
formidable obstacle by a turning movement around the left and over the
Buffalo at Wools Drift; this was executed by his advance guard
(Pretoria, Boksburg, part of Heidelberg, Standerton, Ermelo) under
Erasmus. But though a coal-truck drawn by cables through the long
tunnel, which penetrated the Nek, proved it to be neither blocked nor
mined, this stroke of fortune rather increased than allayed the
caution of the Boer General, to whom, grown old in Native wars,
nothing appeared more suspicious than an unimpeded advance against an
enemy. On the 14th he was still on the Nek, whilst Erasmus moved
timidly on Newcastle, and Kock, who remained on the Ingagane,
despatched a reconnoitring party of the German Corps along the
Drakensberg, to gain touch with Trüter's Free Staters at Müller's
Pass. This patrol, riding back next day, found Newcastle occupied by
the commandos of Erasmus. The little town was almost empty of
inhabitants, and the burghers wrought havoc amongst the deserted shops
and houses. Not all the remonstrances of their officers, nor the
general order from Headquarters, nor even the heavy wrath of their
Commandant-General, who arrived in the town on the 18th, could stop
their ruthless plundering, and by nightfall the township was a scene
of sordid devastation.

         [Footnote 89: See Appendix 4.]

[Sidenote: Joubert's net.]

On the afternoon of the 16th Joubert called a council of war. So far
he had been without any settled scheme, and, owing to the straggling
and indiscipline of his burghers, the march was rapidly becoming
unmanageable. The commander, whose plans and army require
consolidation after but four days, may well look with foreboding upon
the campaign he has taken in hand, and Joubert was as little hopeful
as any invader in history. Nevertheless, at Newcastle he devised a net
which, had it been cast as he designed, might by entangling one
British force beyond salvation, have weakened another beyond repair
and perhaps have laid Natal at his feet. Whilst Erasmus with his 5,000
men moved straight down upon Dundee, Kock with 800 riflemen, composed
of Schiel's Germans, Lombard's Hollanders, and 200 men of Johannesburg
under Viljoen, with two guns, was to reconnoitre towards Ladysmith,
gaining touch with the Free Staters at Van Reenen's and the other
passes of the Drakensberg. He was then to take up a position in the
Biggarsberg range, cutting the railway between Dundee and Ladysmith.
Thus isolated, the garrison of Dundee appeared to be at the mercy of
a combined attack by Erasmus from the north, and Lukas Meyer from the

[Sidenote: Slow movement of Boers.]

Kock and Erasmus had left the neighbourhood of Newcastle on the 17th,
and on the afternoon of the 18th the latter's advance guard came into
collision with a squadron of the 18th Hussars, from Dundee, north of
Hatting Spruit. Meanwhile Meyer, who was much behindhand with his
concentration, lay so close in his camp at the Doornberg, that the
British patrols scouted up to De Jager's Drift again without
opposition. Meyer still lacked two commandos (Krugersdorp and Bethel)
and four guns, and as his transport animals were in a deplorable
condition, it was with relief rather than with impatience that he
watched the tardiness of his coadjutors. His missing units arrived in
the evening, however; Erasmus' advanced guard was close behind Impati
on the morning of the 19th, and Meyer then issued orders for a march.

[Sidenote: Sir George White recalls Dundee detachment.]

Meanwhile, on the 15th October, an officer of the Headquarter staff
visited Dundee, and on his return to Ladysmith was questioned by Sir
G. White as to the state of the defences existing at the post. To his
surprise he learnt that, properly speaking, no defences existed at
all--no position, no entrenchments, and, most important of all, no
assured and defended supply of water. His instructions, in short,
conditional upon which alone he had consented to the retention of
Dundee, had not been carried out. Not until three days had elapsed,
however, did he telegraph to Sir W. Penn Symons that, failing an
assurance of compliance, Dundee must be evacuated at once. In answer,
Symons admitted that he could not give the required assurance, and
must therefore carry out the order to retire. At the same time he
stated his requirements in the matter of rolling-stock for the
withdrawal of military stores and the non-combatant inhabitants of
Dundee. This reply raised a new point. To send the whole of the
rolling-stock--and nothing less would suffice--would be to expose it
to the gravest danger, for the railway line was in hourly insecurity.
Two hours after the despatch of his first telegram, therefore, Sir
George White sent a second, which became the determining factor of
subsequent events.

"With regard to water, are you confident you can supply your camp for
an indefinite period? The difficulties and risk of withdrawing of
civil population and military stores are great. The railway may be cut
any day. Do you yourself, after considering these difficulties, think
it better to remain at Dundee, and prefer it?"

[Sidenote: Cancels recall.]

Sir W. Penn Symons replied as follows: "We can and must stay here. I
have no doubt whatever that this is the proper course. I have
cancelled all orders for moving."

The question thus finally decided for good or ill, Sir George White
sent a third telegram:

"I fully support you. Make particulars referred to by me as safe as
possible. Difficulties and disadvantages of other course have decided
me to support your views."

[Sidenote: Symons faces a known situation.]

Sir W. Penn Symons, his only fear about Dundee--that of being
withdrawn from it--thus finally removed, turned to the front again to
face the converging enemy with equanimity. His information continued
to be full and accurate. Erasmus' advance, Meyer's concentration at
the Doornberg, Kock's circuitous passage over the Biggarsberg, were
all known to him. On October 19th he received detailed warning that an
attack was to be made on him that very night by Erasmus from the
north, Meyer from the east, and Viljoen from the west. By midday,
communication by rail with Ladysmith was cut off--not, however, until
a party of fifty of the 1st King's Royal Rifles had returned in safety
from a visit to Waschbank, where they had rescued some derelict trucks
left by a train, which, having been fired on at Elandslaagte, had
dropped them for greater speed. Three companies 2nd Royal Dublin
Fusiliers, which had been railed to the Navigation Collieries,
north-east of Hatting Spruit, at 3 a.m., to bring back eight tons of
mealies which the General was unwilling to leave for the enemy, also
returned in safety.

[Sidenote: Meyer Oct. 19th moves forward.]

[Sidenote: Oct. 20th, 2.30 a.m., seizes Talana.]

At sundown on October 19th, Lukas Meyer left his bivouac with about
3,500 men and seven guns. De Jager's Drift was crossed about 9 p.m.;
then, pressing through the Sunday's[90] river south-west of Maybole
farm, Meyer's force emerged on to the bleak expanse of veld stretching
east of Dundee. The Boer scouts, moving parallel to and north of the
Landman's Drift road, drew with great caution towards Talana. At 2.30
a.m. a party of burghers came upon a British piquet of the Dublin
Fusiliers mounted infantry, commanded by Lieut. C. T. W. Grimshaw, at
the junction of the road with the track to Vant's Drift. Shots were
exchanged, the piquet disappeared, and the Boer advance guard was upon
the flat summit of Talana an hour before dawn, with Dundee sleeping
five hundred feet below. Close on the heels of the scouts pressed the
Utrecht and Wakkerstroom commandos, under Commandants Hatting and
Joshua Joubert, of about 900 and 600 men respectively, with some 300
Krugersdorpers under Potgieter in addition, and a few men of the
Ermelo commando. The rest of the main body, consisting of the Vryheid
commando (600 men, under Van Staaden), the Middelburg commando (some
900 men, under Trichardt), portion of the Swazi Police, portion of the
Piet Retief commando (170 men, under Englebrecht), and odd men of the
Bethel and other absent commandos, made their way rapidly across the
Dundee road, and took up position on the heights south of it. Of the
artillery, two field-pieces (Creusot 75 m/m) were hauled into a
depression nearly at the rear edge of the top of Talana, a "pom-pom"
(37·5 m/m Vickers-Maxim) pushed forward to the advanced crest of the
same eminence, and the remainder, consisting of two Krupps (75 m/m)
and two more pom-poms, sent across under charge of the Vryheid men to
their position to the south.

         [Footnote 90: See map No. 5.]

[Sidenote: The ground of Talana.]

Talana Hill, situated about 5,000 yards east of the British camp, from
which it was separated by the wire-intersected environs of Dundee and
by the sunken bed of the Sand Spruit, was peculiarly adapted for
defence. From the summit a precipitous rocky face dropped on the
Dundee side to a nearly flat terrace, 160 feet below it, whose fifty
to eighty yards of width were commanded throughout by the
boulder-strewn brow of the mountain. A low stone wall bounded this
terrace at its outer edge, immediately below which the hillside again
fell suddenly, affording from ten to fifteen yards of ground dead to
the crest directly above it, but vulnerable to fire, both from Lennox
Hill, a slightly higher eminence on the other side of a Nek to the
south-east, and from a salient protruding from the northern extremity
of the hill. From the wall bounding the upper terrace, however, other
walls, running downhill, intersected this face of the mountain at
right angles, and served as low traverses affording some protection
from flanking fire. These formed the enclosures of Smith's farm, a
group of tree-encircled buildings around an open space at the base of
the mountain, near its centre, and some 400 feet below its summit.
Below, and on either side of the homestead stood copses of eucalyptus
trees, which, roughly in all some 500 yards square, occupied the top
of the glacis whose base was the Sand Spruit, which 800 yards of bare
and open grassland separated from the edge of the wood.[91]

         [Footnote 91: A sketch of the position, as seen from the side
         of the British advance from Dundee, will be found in the case
         of maps accompanying this volume.]

[Sidenote: Symons receives the news.]

Such was the position crowned by the Boer commandos in the first light
of October 20th. Swift as had been its captors, news of their success
was at once in the hands of the British commander. At 3 a.m. a
sergeant from Grimshaw's piquet, which had been surprised at the cross
roads, hurried into camp and reported the approach of the enemy in
force across the veld. Sir W. Penn Symons thereupon ordered two
companies of the Dublin Fusiliers to turn out in support. The rest of
the camp slept undisturbed, and the two companies, stumbling through
the dark and obstructed suburbs of Dundee, gained the shelter of the
Sand Spruit, where they found Grimshaw already arrived. The first
shots had stampeded his horses, which had galloped back to Smith's
Nek, the col between Talana and Lennox Hills. Retiring on foot, the
piquet had gained the Nek, recovered its horses, and making its way
first to Smith's farm, and thence to the cover of the Sand Spruit, had
turned and faced the enemy as he appeared over the crest of Talana

[Sidenote: The morning parade dismissed.]

At 5 a.m. the British troops stood to arms as usual. It was a wet and
misty morning. As the men, few of whom knew of the occurrences of the
night, waited in quarter-column, to a few keen ears came the fitful
sound of musketry from the east. It was the fire of Grimshaw's piquet
just then at bay below Talana. The parade having been dismissed, at
5.20 a message from Headquarters assured commanding officers that all
was clear. A few companies moved directly from their lines for
skirmishing drill around the camp, the men of others hung about in
groups expecting the word to fall in for a similar purpose; the horses
of two of the three batteries, and all the transport animals, filed
out to water a mile and a half away. Suddenly at 5.30 a.m., the mist
upon Talana, wasting before the rising sun, lifted and revealed the
summit alive with figures.

[Sidenote: The Boers make their presence known.]

Ten minutes later the report of a gun sounded from the top, and a
projectile fell into the western enclosures of the town. Others,
better aimed, followed in quick succession; the camp came under a
rapid bombardment, accurate but harmless, for the small common shell
from the enemy's field-pieces failed to explode on impact with the
sodden ground. The cavalry and the mounted infantry, whose horses had
remained in camp, moved out of sight behind a stony kopje in front of
it; the infantry, already equipped, fell rapidly into their places,
each company before its own line of tents, and were immediately
marched at the "double" into the shelter of a ravine some 200 yards to
the south of the camp, where fighting formations were organised.

[Sidenote: Symons prepares to clear Talana.]

The General had already decided upon an assault. Before the infantry
were clear of camp he called out the artillery. Whilst the 67th
battery, whose horses were now hurrying back from water, replied to
the Boer shells from the gun-park itself, the 69th battery, already
horsed, waiting neither for its wagons nor an escort, galloped out
along the road to the railway station, swept through the town, and
swinging sharply to the right at the south-eastern extremity, came
into action on a roll of the veld immediately west of the colliery
extension railway line. As it advanced the Boers turned their guns
upon it, but within twenty minutes of the falling of the first shell
in camp, the 69th commenced a rapid and effective fire at 3,750 yards
upon the crest. Ten minutes later the 13th battery wheeled into line
alongside the 69th. In five minutes more the practice of the Boer
ordnance dropped to spasmodic bursts; in five more it was temporarily
silenced. Meanwhile the General, who had ridden out soon after the
batteries, had set his infantry in motion, and so fast did they go
forward that before the 69th had ended its first round they were
already almost beyond Dundee.

[Sidenote: He guards against Erasmus and gives orders for attack.]

To the 67th battery and the 1st Leicestershire regiment, with one
company from each of the other battalions, was now entrusted the
defence of the camp from the expected attack of Erasmus from Impati.
An officer of the King's Royal Rifles carried the orders to the
cavalry from the General: "Colonel Möller is to wait under cover, it
may be for one or two hours, and I will send him word when to advance.
But he may advance if he sees a good opportunity. The M.I. are to go
with the 18th Hussars." The Royal Dublin Fusiliers were first in the
bed of the spruit at about 6.30 a.m., picking up the two companies
which had lain there since 4.30 a.m. in support of Grimshaw's piquet.
By 7 a.m. the whole of the infantry were in security in the same
shelter, 1,600 to 2,000 yards from the crest of the position. General
Penn Symons himself then rode down thither, and sending for commanding
officers, detailed orders for the assault. The Dublin Fusiliers were
to form the first line, with the King's Royal Rifles in support, the
Royal Irish Fusiliers in reserve. Brigadier-General Yule would command
the attack.

[Sidenote: Infantry push up the hill.]

[Sidenote: A treacherous donga.]

At 7.20 a.m. the right-hand company of the Dublin emerged from the
Sand Spruit, the men extended to ten paces interval, and steadily in
quick-time moved towards the boundary of the wood. The other
companies, advancing in order from the right, soon followed. Before
the last of them was fairly clear, the King's Royal Rifles were
released and pressed forward. On the appearance of the first lines, a
hot fire, direct from Talana itself and crosswise from Lennox Hill on
the right, quickly caused casualties. Eager to be at closer quarters,
the men increased their pace, breaking from quick-time into the
double, and from that to a swift run upon the edge of the wood. A low
stone wall, topped by a broken-down fence of wire which ringed the
copse on this side, was tumbled flat, and the foremost soldiers of
the Dublin, pouring through the thicket, penetrated to the wall and
hedge on the farther side. Here their line was prolonged by the King's
Royal Rifles, who had come through the wood on the right. In front of
this line the crest of Talana was 550 yards distant. With the Dublin
Fusiliers, the general trend had been towards the left; now after a
short pause at the edge of the plantation they attempted to push on in
that direction. Enticed by a donga, which, quitting the wood at its
northern angle, looked like a covered way towards the crest of the
hill, the three leading companies ("A." "F." and "G.") worked steadily
along it in hopes of arriving within striking distance of the enemy
under comparative shelter. But the watercourse not only faded to
nothing before it reached the terrace wall, but was open to the
enemy's view and enfiladed by his musketry throughout its length. A
storm of bullets descending into it when it teemed with men, brought
down many and checked further progress.

[Sidenote: K.R.R. and Dublin reach edge of wood.]

[Sidenote: K.R.R. hold Smith's farm.]

Of the King's Royal Rifles, four companies, under Colonel R. H.
Gunning, advancing through the right-hand half of the plantation,
found themselves amongst the Dublin Fusiliers at its forward edge, and
became in part intermingled with them. The three remaining companies
moved upon the buildings of Smith's farm, and gained the front and
right edges. Somewhat ahead of the general line, this portion of the
force was enfiladed from the crest of Talana on its left, and from
Lennox Hill on its right, and received so hot a cross-fire that it was
ordered to fall back to the cover of the farm walls. This it did with
the loss of three officers and many men; but from their more secure
location the Rifles here began a telling reply, both upon the crest in
front and upon the clouds of sharpshooters which hung upon the summit
and slopes of Lennox Hill.

[Sidenote: "B." and "H." of R.I.F. on left of wood.]

[Sidenote: Maxims at S.E. angle.]

Lieut.-Colonel F. R. C. Carleton, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers,
immediately on entering the plantation, had detached two of his
companies ("B." and "H.") to line the left face of the wood, whence
they could watch the open ground beyond that flank. These sent volleys
against the enemy's right upon Talana. The remainder were held in
reserve, as ordered, amongst the small dongas and depressions in the
wood. The Maxim guns of all three battalions moved to the
south-eastern angle of the wood, and opened at 1,700 yards upon
Smith's Nek and Lennox Hill to their right front and right, doing much
to alleviate the musketry which came incessantly from these flanking
and partially invisible eminences.

[Sidenote: 69th and 13th batteries change their ground.]

[Sidenote: Reduced fire.]

[Sidenote: Symons gives impulse.]

[Sidenote: He receives his mortal wound.]

Such was the situation at eight o'clock. At that hour the 69th and
13th batteries, quitting the position from which they had silenced the
Boer artillery, moved through the town, and unlimbered on rising
ground between the eastern boundary of Dundee and the Sand Spruit.
Thence they opened again, the 69th upon Talana at 2,300 yards, the
13th upon Lennox Hill at 2,500. Though they and their escort of King's
Royal Riflemen were targets for both hills, their practice was
admirable, and had it been more rapid, must speedily have smothered
the enemy's fire. But the artillery commander, fearing to run short,
and knowing his inability to replenish, was obliged continually to
check expenditure.[92] For a time the fight remained stationary. The
momentum of the attack had died away, and Yule found it impossible to
get it in motion again at once, in spite of numerous messages he
received from Sir W. Penn Symons urging immediate advance. At 9 a.m.
the infantry being still inert, the patience of the General was
exhausted. Despite the remonstrances of his staff, he, with three
staff officers and orderlies, rode into the wood, and, dismounting,
hurried into the foremost lines of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, at its
northern angle. Calling to these to "push on!" he then pressed along
inside the boundary, animating by word and gesture all the troops he
passed, and halted for a moment to face the hill a little beyond where
the afore-mentioned donga disappeared into the wood. Here Major F.
Hammersley, of his staff, was wounded, and, immediately after, the
General himself was shot in the stomach. Directing Brigadier-General
Yule to proceed with the attack, he turned and walked calmly to the
rear. Then, meeting his horse, he mounted, and not until he had passed
entirely through the troops was any sign of suffering allowed to
escape him. At the station of the Bearer company he dismounted, and
was carried to the dressing station in a dhoolie. Five minutes later,
at 9.35 a.m., the surgeon pronounced his wound to be fatal, and the
news was telegraphed to Ladysmith.

         [Footnote 92: There were for each gun 154 rounds, including
         60 reserve.]

[Sidenote: His impulse tells.]

[Sidenote: K.R.R. seize wall of upper terrace.]

[Sidenote: R.I.F join and also threaten Boer right.]

The life of the General was not thrown away; his action had immediate
effect. Before he had quitted the wood a dying man, parties of
soldiers were already pushing forward from its front wall across the
100 yards of bullet-swept flat intervening between them and the first
slopes of Talana proper. On the right, the first to break cover, four
and a half companies of the King's Royal Rifles emerged in small
parties from Smith's farm. Leaving there two companies in support,
they pushed up along the right side of the transverse wall, in full
view of Lennox Hill, and suffering from its fire. So rapid were their
movements that the Boer shooting was hasty and ill-aimed, and the
losses were but few. Some distance forward they leapt across to the
left of the transverse wall, and reconnoitring that bounding the upper
terrace, found it, to their surprise, unoccupied by the enemy.[93]
Other groups, in response to signals, then worked their way upward,
until soon a considerable number of Riflemen were under the wall. On
their left the Royal Irish Fusiliers supported the attack. Two and a
half companies ("E.," "F." and half of "C.") of this battalion had,
when General Symons came to the front, been sent to the edge of the
wood, and these, seeing what the Rifles had done, streamed straight up
to the wall. "A." and half of "D." companies, which had been boldly
and independently handled wide on the left, avoiding the dongas,
pushed on gradually to well within five hundred yards of the enemy's
extreme right, on which they brought their rifles to bear. The other
half of "C." company, with men of other battalions, amounting to about
one hundred in all, had lain with the three companies of King's Royal
Rifles in the enclosure of Smith's farm, and advanced with them. One
company ("B.") Royal Irish Fusiliers had been ordered forward on the
left by General Symons himself immediately he arrived in the wood.
This company, perceiving the fallacious donga winding apparently to
the front, had dropped into it, and following it up with the same
expectations as had encouraged the Dublin Fusiliers, was speedily in
the same predicament at its open extremity. Another company ("H."),
taking this route with many losses, was similarly blocked at the same
point. But with the exception of these two companies, which could not
move for a time, the advance of the King's Royal Rifles to the wall
was strongly backed by the Royal Irish Fusiliers, whose men appeared
from all the near parts of the hill to join in with the rest. With
them ran many of the Dublin Fusiliers. This regiment, much entangled
in the watercourse already mentioned and in others equally exposed and
useless more to the right, could not progress, and, though a few men
managed to reach the upper wall direct, it was only possible to do so
by first going back to the edge of the wood, an attempt of great

         [Footnote 93: The omission of the Boers to man this
         breastwork, situated as it was within 400 yards of the edge
         of the wood, and commanding every inch of the ground in
         front, was not owing to any fears on the part of Lukas Meyer
         as to its not being tenable. The orders of that general had
         been plainly that the wall was to be held, but as he did not
         remain to see them carried out, the burghers, fearing to hold
         what appeared to them isolated and inadequate cover,
         neglected it entirely.]

[Sidenote: Two hours check.]

[Sidenote: Guns gallop forward.]

[Sidenote: The Infantry dash in.]

[Sidenote: The onslaught having weakened, the Artillery opens fire

The battle came to a standstill once more. The upper wall was won, but
the heavy and incessant fusilade directed upon it and upon the ground
below it, rendered its occupation precarious, and reinforcement a
matter of extreme difficulty. Not until two hours had passed were
sufficient men collected under it to render the last stage possible,
and the long delay cost many casualties. At 11 a.m. the officer
commanding the artillery received a request by flag-signal to cease
firing, as the assault was about to be delivered. He did so; but time
to acquire strength was still needed, and the artillery, itself
harassed by musketry, re-opened. At 11.30 a.m. the order was repeated,
and once more Colonel E. H. Pickwoad stopped his guns. Immediately
after, the batteries galloped forward, awaking against themselves the
full energy of all parts of the Boer line. They crossed a wide donga
and came into action again on the flat plain between the Sand Spruit
and Talana, sending their shells clear over and past the left edge of
the wood at a range of 1,400 yards from the crest of the enemy's
stronghold. Under the rapid bombardment the Mausers slackened and at
last were silent. For the third time the order was signalled to cease
firing. It was duly obeyed. Colonel Gunning, of the King's Royal
Rifles, who had called up his two supporting companies from Smith's
farm, passed the word, "Get ready to go over!" The men rose to their
knees; then, at the command "Advance!" scrambled and fell over the
obstacle. A blaze burst from the crest as the first figures wavered on
the wall, and many fell backward dead or wounded. Some could not
surmount the obstruction, which in parts was over-high for vaulting;
some, falling on the far side, picked themselves up and were struck
down in the first leap of their charge. A few, more fortunate, held
on. But the onset had not much weight, and losses quickly lightened it
still further. Many of the Boers had fled at the first sight of the
soldiers rushing forward, but of those who remained, not a few
actually came towards them, and shot rapidly point-blank at the
assailants, who were clawing their way up the last precipitous rampart
of the natural fortress. The artillery, therefore, knowing only that
the onslaught had been checked, about 12.30 p.m. re-opened with quick
and devastating rounds. But during the charge, the light had been bad,
and the gunners had not all observed the foremost groups of their
comrades lying amongst the rocks close to the crest. Soon shell after
shell burst amongst the latter.

[Sidenote: It checks both sides.]

A signaller of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, standing up near the top of
the hill, attracted the attention of the artillerymen, but was unable
to make them understand his message. Another of the same regiment
failed similarly from the wall. As the discharges, destroying both
combatants alike, became more overwhelming, both drew back. On the
extreme right a few of the Rifles still clung on. At first the Boers
melted from the front alone, but the shrapnel beat all over the hill,
and the retreat became a run before the rear edge was reached.

[Sidenote: The final charge.]

Behind the wall the regimental commanders, taking the cessation of
Boer fire as signal for a last successful attack, met in hasty
conference, and agreed to lead their men forward simultaneously. Soon
after 1 p.m. the whole British line surged over the wall, and
clambering up the hill, flooded its flat summit from end to end.

[Sidenote: The Boers abandon Lennox Hill.]

[Sidenote: Cavalry and guns both fail to make defeat crushing.]

[Sidenote: A fatal error.]

From Lennox Hill this final charge was marked, and in a few moments
it, too, was empty of Boers. Before 2 p.m. the entire position was
won, and Brigadier-General Yule, to whom the loss of General Symons
had given the command, at once ordered the artillery to the summit of
Smith's Nek, from whence they might shell the now flying foe. The
cavalry, looked for amongst the defeated Boers, who covered the plain
for miles in the direction of the Buffalo river, were nowhere to be
seen. On the guns then rested the last hope of confirming the victory,
but they, having gained the Nek, were, to the wonderment of all,
pointed silently at the receding commandos. Doubt had at this critical
moment assailed the artillery commander. Just before the final stroke,
about 1.30 p.m., a message, purporting to come from Lukas Meyer,
proposing an armistice to look for the wounded, had passed through his
hands on its way to the General. No authoritative information as to
its having been accorded or not having reached him, he, with other
officers, became uncertain as to the propriety of continuing the
battle. At this time a bystander exclaimed that the Boer hospital was
retreating before him, and believing that he himself saw red-crossed
flags waving over the Boer column moving slowly away within shrapnel
range, his hesitation deepened. He refrained from opening fire, and
the Boer army, defeated, but not crushed, made despondently, but
without further losses, for the laager under the Doornberg, from which
it had marched the night before.

[Sidenote: The return to camp.]

Brigadier-General Yule, beset with anxiety concerning the Boer army,
which had menaced his flank all day from Impati, had no thought but to
secure his men in quarters before night and the still expected attack
fell upon them together. The infantry, therefore, after searching the
hill for wounded, were sent from the field. By 6 p.m., as evening fell
amid a storm of rain, all were back in camp. The mounted troops alone,
unseen since the early morning, did not return to their lines, nor was
there any sign of them until, at 7 p.m., two squadrons of the 18th
Hussars, under Major Knox, reported themselves. No more came in that
night, nor next morning, nor at any time.

[Sidenote: Möller's disastrous day.]

The brief orders given to Colonel Möller at the commencement of the
action have already been detailed, and even before the enemy's guns
were silenced that officer began to put them into execution with
promise of brilliant results. As early as 5.45 a.m. he despatched a
squadron of the 18th Hussars, with instructions to move round the
northern extremity of Talana, and report if it were possible to take
ground on the flank from which the enemy's retreat or, at least, his
loose ponies might be threatened. The reconnaissance was perfectly
successful. Moving northwards a mile down an arm of the Sand Spruit,
under the harmless fire of two guns, Major E. C. Knox guided his
squadron across the watercourse, and hidden, by the mist from Impati,
by a spur from Talana, turned north-east. Then crossing the main
spruit, above the point where its northerly trend is deflected by the
spurs of the two mountains, he swung boldly south-east and,
unperceived by the enemy, seized a kopje from which he could actually
look into the right rear of their position upon Talana, only 1,200
yards distant to the south-west. Behind the mountain stood herds of
saddled ponies, whose masters lay out of sight in action along the
western crest. A message despatched to Colonel Möller informing him of
this achievement, and asking for reinforcements, brought to the spot
another squadron of the 18th and the regimental machine gun, with the
section of the King's Royal Rifles mounted infantry. These made their
way at first through a sharp fire from the pom-pom near the northern
end of Talana, but, like their predecessors, were neglected as soon as
they moved out of sight around the spur swelling up from the Sand
Spruit to the right flank of the Boer fastness. Shortly afterwards, in
response to a message from the General, who thought that the enemy's
guns, now suddenly silent, were being withdrawn, and that a general
retreat would shortly follow, Colonel Möller himself hurried after
with the remaining squadron of the 18th and the mounted infantry
company of the Dublin Fusiliers. The cavalry were now in rear of the
flank of an enemy already wavering, and certain to fly shortly, whose
lines of retreat would be at their mercy, whose means of retreat, the
ponies, they could already partially destroy. But here, Möller,
refusing the requests of his subordinates to be allowed to open fire
on the closely-packed ponies on Talana, first despatched a squadron
under Major Knox towards the rear of Talana, then himself quitted his
vantage ground and lined up his force in some plough land towards
Schultz' farm, and later in the open veld astride of the Landman's
Drift road, two and a half miles in rear of the centre of the Boer
position. Whilst moving in accordance with these dispositions, a
section of the Dublin Fusiliers mounted infantry, turning aside to
assail a party of Boers in a small farmhouse on the flank, captured
seven of them.

[Sidenote: Knox's happy charge.]

Meanwhile the squadron under Knox, reconnoitring towards the rear of
Smith's Nek, had been harassed by hostile patrols on its left flank.
These were speedily dispersed with a loss of ten prisoners by the
charge of a troop. But other and stronger patrols coming up from the
direction of Landman's Drift hung so persistently on the flank that a
charge by the whole squadron was necessary. It was completely
successful, two of the enemy being killed and about twenty-five
captured. The other patrols then drew off, and the squadron, finding
nothing more to do, returned to hand over the prisoners. But Möller,
seeing the enemy swarming about the rear of Lennox Hill, at once
ordered Knox out again in that direction, this time with two squadrons
and a troop, directing him to get behind the hill, which, in
prolongation of Lennox Hill to the south, overlooks the coalfields on
one side and on the other abuts on the heights of Halifax.

[Sidenote: Möller's surrender.]

He himself remained out in the open with his diminished force of
mounted infantry and two troops of cavalry. Now the enemy were
quitting Talana and Lennox Hills in numbers which increased
momentarily, and when the mounted infantry opened fire upon them, they
began to converge on the insignificant party which barred the road to
safety. Möller at length perceived his danger, and commencing a series
of rapid retirements towards the northern spur of Impati, fixed his
only hope on the possibility of riding completely around that
mountain, outwork though it was of the main Boer army in its descent
from the frontier. In a spruit, a branch of the Sand river, which runs
through Schultz' farm, the Maxim, outpaced and overdriven, stuck fast,
and it was promptly attacked and captured by a party of twenty-five of
the enemy who had descried its plight from Talana, its detachment
holding out until all were killed or wounded. In this affair nine Boer
prisoners were also released. About 1.15 p.m., a party of two hundred
Boers was seen descending Impati through the collieries at its
northern extremity. The mountain already held the enemy's van;
Möller's retreat was cut off. Adelaide farm lay close ahead, and here
for the first time he faced about for a stand. The men of the 18th
Hussars, with the section of the King's Royal Rifles mounted infantry,
and one of the Dublin mounted infantry, lined the farm walls; the
remaining two sections of the mounted infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers
held a small kopje, two hundred yards from the building. The Boers
closed around in force and poured a bitter fusilade upon the troopers.
A gun, which had opened ineffectively from the colliery, was then
brought forward to 1,400 yards, and its projectiles shattered the
buildings, and scattered the horses. In a few moments another gun
opened more to the left and 1,100 yards distant. At 4 p.m. the white
flag was by Möller's order waved in the farmyard, and he capitulated
to Commandant Trichardt. Nine officers and 205 men laid down their
arms after a loss of 8 men killed, 3 officers and 20 men wounded. This
affair all but doubled the day's casualties, which now numbered

         [Footnote 94: For detailed casualties, see Appendix 6.]

[Sidenote: Knox wins his way home.]

Meanwhile Knox's two squadrons were in little less danger in the
opposite direction. Attempting to intercept with dismounted fire
parties of the enemy, who were retiring towards Halifax, the little
force became the focus of every wandering party of the enemy, not only
of those evacuating the positions of Talana and Lennox Hill, but also
of many riding in from the Buffalo. For the hills and plain were full
of Boers who had taken no part in the battle. But Knox was not to be
trapped. Moving swiftly towards Malungeni, and favoured by a slight
mist, he slipped away, though nearly surrounded, and halted for half
an hour under cover. Then, whilst the Boers were puzzled by his
circuitous track, he dashed westwards through their intervals and



         [Footnote 95: See maps Nos. 3, 5 and 7.]

[Sidenote: Yule decides not to retreat, but shifts his ground.]

At 5, on the morning of October 21st, the troops again stood to arms.
There was no sign of life upon Talana; the cavalry scouted out
unmolested on that side. The mounted patrols, however, supported by
"F." company of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, reconnoitring northward,
discovered the enemy on the Dannhauser road, and the foremost scouts
were driven in. At the same time information came of a hostile
movement to the westward. Whatever illusions may have existed
previously about the strategical situation, none now remained. General
Yule himself had at no time shared them; yet he was disinclined to
retreat. He re-created a staff,[96] examined a fresh defensive
position, and determined to stand his ground. Sending for his
commanding officers shortly after midday, he pointed out the new site
he had selected below the sloping shoulder of one of the foremost
spurs of Indumeni, about a mile south of their present camp, and
desired them to rendezvous upon it with their commands at 2.30 p.m.,
less, however, with any intention of occupying it definitely than of
seeing how the troops "fitted into the ground." In view of the
expected bombardment from Impati, the whole of the tents except those
of the hospital had previously been lowered, and in them the men's
kits had been left ready packed for a move. The cavalry and artillery
started at once. Before the hour appointed for the march of the rest
of the troops the enemy made his presence on Impati felt. At 1.35 p.m.
a squadron of the 18th Hussars, reconnoitring near the Dannhauser
road, came suddenly under the fire of four guns and many rifles from
the north-western slopes of the mountain.

         [Footnote 96: Appointing Major A. J. Murray, Royal
         Inniskilling Fusiliers, (late D.A.A.G.I.) as A.A.G., Lieut.
         G. E. R. Kenrick, the Queen's Regiment, as acting D.A.A.G.,
         Captain C. K. Burnett, 18th Hussars, as Brigade Major to the
         8th infantry brigade, and Lieut. F. D. Murray, the Black
         Watch, as A.D.C.]

[Sidenote: Yule asks for reinforcements.]

The Royal Irish Fusiliers led off towards the rendezvous at 2 p.m. By
3 p.m. all were in their places, Royal Irish Fusiliers, Royal Dublin
Fusiliers, Leicestershire regiment and King's Royal Rifles, in the
order named from right to left. It was cold and dull, and the slight
rain turned to a heavy downpour, which filled the shallow trenches as
soon as they were made. At 3.30 p.m. Yule, receiving reports from his
patrols that the enemy was mounting guns upon Impati, and realising
more fully his peril, despatched a telegram to Ladysmith reporting his
arrangements, declaring his expectation of being attacked from both
sides, and asking for reinforcements. Before the message had reached
its destination, a shell from a heavy piece upon the western shoulder
of Impati burst in front of the new line. Others followed quickly,
some into the deserted camp where the hospital tents stood up as a
target, some into the entrenchments, others into the cavalry, who had
taken ground in the rear of the line of defence, and further up the
slopes of Indumeni. One falling into a tin house, which lay behind the
left, killed Lieut. W. M. J. Hannah, of the Leicestershire M.I., who
was sheltering from the storm, and wounded two of his men; elsewhere a
gunner was killed and another wounded. Another and a smaller gun then
opened from a point below the western crest of Impati. The accuracy of
the piece and the smallness of its calibre challenged the British
batteries to reply. But the first shrapnel burst at the foot of the
mountain, far below the Boer artillery, and when sinking the trails
failed to give the necessary elevation by some two thousand yards, the
gunners desisted.

[Sidenote: Reinforcements cannot be sent.]

Shortly before 4 p.m. Brigadier-General Yule received the compliments of
Sir George White upon his appointment to the rank of Major-General. An
hour later, a second telegram from Ladysmith informed him that the
reinforcements, which at this juncture he desired more than promotion,
could not be sent. The troops at Ladysmith,--telegraphed the Chief Staff
Officer,--were engaged at Elandslaagte and the Commander-in-Chief was in
the field with them. General Yule's request would be submitted to him on
his return, but little hopes could be held out of its being complied

[Sidenote: Yule will wait.]

Still the General was unwilling to retreat. Accompanied by his staff
officer, he was on his way to find new ground, out of range of Impati,
before that mountain had become indistinct in the twilight. He was
long in the saddle, examining the northern slopes of Indumeni for a
suitable spot. Night drew on, the rain increasing with the dying
light; the regular fire of the enemy's guns became intermittent, then
ceased, and darkness closed round the British force on the spur.

[Sidenote: He moves again.]

At midnight Yule gave instructions for a move at 3 a.m. to the spot he
had selected, a flat-topped foothill of Indumeni, on its northern
side, and some two miles south of the bivouac. Before that hour the
transport, escorted by the cavalry and mounted infantry, was quietly
withdrawn, and made its way safely to the place appointed, where it
found cover behind the reverse slopes. The remainder, marching
punctually, covered by a rearguard of the Royal Irish Fusiliers,
reached the new position at 5 a.m., and took up an open line along the
crest, facing generally north in the following order of units from
left to right: Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Leicestershire regiment, Royal
Irish Fusiliers and King's Royal Rifles.

[Sidenote: Receives news of Elandslaagte.]

At 8 a.m., October 22nd, two despatch riders arriving from Helpmakaar
delivered a message from the Prime Minister of Natal, announcing a
victory on the previous day at Elandslaagte. "The British force from
Ladysmith,"--telegraphed Sir Albert Hime,--"completely defeated Boer
force over a thousand strong at Elandslaagte, capturing guns, tents
and equipment. Cavalry in full pursuit."

[Sidenote: Yule marches to intercept fugitives.]

It was at once apparent to General Yule that he was directly on the
line of retreat of the Boers flying from Sir George White's cavalry,
and he determined to attempt to intercept them. Glencoe Junction, at
the mouth of the Biggarsberg, appeared to be the point most likely to
promise success; he immediately issued orders for a general march in
that direction.

[Sidenote: Catches a Tartar and returns.]

At 10 a.m. an advance guard of the 69th battery, the mounted infantry,
and the 18th Hussars moved off at the trot for Glencoe. A wounded
Boer, who had been pushed up along the railway from Elandslaagte on a
trolly, was their only capture, and less than a dozen rounds of
shrapnel at 3,800 yards dispersed the few scattered parties of the
enemy visible along the kopjes. The remainder of the column wended
their way across the lower spurs of Indumeni. Soon a portion of the
baggage, seeking an easier road too near the camp, was descried from
Impati by the Boer gunners, who turned their pieces on both camp and
troops, and opened a rapid fire. The 67th battery, which had
previously been directed upon the Glencoe kopjes, now endeavoured in
vain to silence the Impati battery from near the left of the Dublin
Fusiliers. The enemy's shooting was as accurate as it was impartial,
though it was singularly ineffective. Shells of 96 lbs. weight burst
between the guns of the 67th battery, amongst the troops and baggage,
and all over the camp, doing no other damage than to add to the
sufferings of the wounded lying, with the apprehension of helpless
men, in the field hospital.[97] The descent of mist, however, soon put
an end to the bombardment, and the mounted arms, pushing forward
towards Glencoe, endeavoured to carry out the original intention. But
instead of fugitives, they found the Boers showing a firm front on the
high land north and west of the station, and some slight interchange
of shots took place, during which a troop of the 18th Hussars,
reconnoitring too boldly, was cut off, and was seen no more that
day.[98] With the enemy in this attitude upon strong ground, General
Yule saw the inutility of further efforts of this kind, and gave the
order for retirement. At 1 p.m. the force was again below Indumeni, as
it had been in the morning, having effected nothing. As the men
climbed the last few yards of the precipitous ascent, the fog, rolling
for a short time from the summit of Impati, once more gave the Boer
artillerymen on their lofty platform a view of the plain below, and
again the sufferers in the hospital endured the explosion of the heavy
projectiles of the Creusot cannon close outside their shelter.

         [Footnote 97: The Red Cross flag was so placed, and so small,
         as to be invisible to the Boers.]

         [Footnote 98: This patrol, finding its retreat impossible,
         made straight for Ladysmith, where it arrived safely next

[Sidenote: Yule ordered to attempt retreat, prepares for it.]

Yule, whose health, previously bad, had given way under the toil,
anxiety and exposure, now unwillingly decided to retire on Ladysmith
whilst the road still remained open, and at 5.45 p.m. he dictated a
message acquainting Sir G. White with his determination. Before it
could be despatched, at 6.30 p.m. a telegram from Ladysmith was placed
in his hands. It was Sir G. White's reply to his request for
reinforcements, and it banished the last cause for hesitation. "I
cannot reinforce you without sacrificing Ladysmith and the Colony
behind. You must try and fall back on Ladysmith. I will do what I may
to help you when nearer." Acknowledging its contents, Yule prepared
for retreat.

[Sidenote: Retreat begins.]

No sooner had darkness fallen than Major Wickham, of the Indian
Commissariat, taking with him thirty-three wagons guarded by two
companies of the Leicestershire regiment, left the hill and moved with
great precaution into the deserted camp. The convoy performed its short
but dangerous journey without attracting the attention of the enemy, and
the wagons, after being quickly loaded with as many stores as the
darkness, the confusion of the levelled tents, and limited time made
possible, were drawn up on the outskirts to await the passing of the
column. At 9 p.m. the whole force fell in. The night was fine but
intensely dark, and the units had some difficulty in reaching their
stations in the carefully arranged order of march. At 9.30 p.m. all
being ready, the column, guided by Colonel Dartnell, went quietly down
the mountain side towards Dundee, the southern boundary of which it was
necessary to skirt to gain the Helpmakaar road. By 11.15 p.m. the last
company was clear of the mountain, and, striking the track to Dundee at
the foot of Indumeni, the troops passed close to the bivouac ground of
the 21st October. Outside the town Major Wickham's convoy stood
waiting, and when, at the right moment, the signal was given, the
above-mentioned wagons fell into their place in the line of march. The
pace was rapid, despite the impenetrable gloom. Skirting Dundee, the
route turned sharply south-east around the corner of the Helpmakaar
road. On the edge of the town the precaution was taken to cut the
telegraph wire to Greytown.[99] By 4.30 a.m. October 23rd, the leading
files having traversed safely the defile of Blesboklaagte[100], had made
good twelve miles of the road to Helpmakaar, fourteen miles from the
starting-point. Near Dewaas, Yule, sending a message to Ladysmith to
announce his progress, halted on open ground, over which piquets were at
once thrown out on every side, and the batteries formed up for action.
Ten a.m. was the hour of starting again, the Royal Irish Fusiliers
relieving the King's Royal Rifles as advance guard. A blazing sun
beating upon the treeless downs, and a rumour of the enemy having been
seen ahead, now made marching toilsome and slow. By 12.30 p.m., less
than five miles having been covered, Yule decided to halt again, until
darkness should arrive to lessen both the fatigue and the risk of
discovery by the enemy. His situation was hazardous in the extreme.
Behind him the Boers would be soon on his heels, if they were not so
already; before him lay a defile known as Van Tonders Pass, deep and
difficult, some six miles in length. But at the slow rate of movement,
necessitated by the nature of the route through it, the passage of this
dangerous ground would take so much time and cause such disorder, that,
balancing the evils, Yule, after reconnoitring the obstacle, bivouacked
at 2 p.m. on a high and open spur of the Biggarsberg, overlooking the
valley of the Waschbank river, two miles east-south-east of Beith, and
one mile west of the junction of the Helpmakaar and Ladysmith roads.
Here he waited anxiously for the night.

         [Footnote 99: See map No. 4.]

         [Footnote 100: See map No. 3.]

[Sidenote: The Boers occupy Dundee.]

Late on the morning of the 23rd the Boers, after reconnoitring the
camp and its vicinity as closely as they dared, opened once more from
Impati with their heavy gun. The first shell burst in the hospital
lines, and Major J. F. Donegan, the chief medical officer, who,
fearing to prejudice General Yule's operations, had done nothing to
inform the enemy that his marquees were the only inhabited tents, now
determined to spare the wounded the horrors of further bombardment.
Captain A. E. Milner was therefore sent with a white flag to ask that
the fire should be stopped. Thereupon Erasmus' men, to whom news of
Yule's evacuation was a complete surprise, filed down the mountain,
and approached, not without caution. There was soon no room for doubt;
Dundee had fallen, and Erasmus' prize was large in inverse proportion
to the share he had taken in capturing it. No sooner was the absence
of the British soldiers established beyond a doubt, than the burghers
made haste to sack the camp and town. In a short time every tent,
except those of the hospitals, which were scrupulously respected, was
ransacked, and every shop turned inside out. Commandant-General
Joubert now sent orders to Lukas Meyer to pursue Yule with a thousand
men. Meyer did so, but marching late and slowly, failed to come up
with the British.

[Sidenote: Night march Oct. 23rd Oct. 24th.]

At 11 p.m. Yule roused his men for a fresh effort. A hot day had given
place to a bleak and bitter night. But though the road was steep and
obstructed, and Van Tenders Pass plunged in profound gloom, the
column, headed by the Dublin Fusiliers, marched punctually and well.
By dawn the dangerous defile was safely threaded and the force
debouched on to the broad veld which rolls about the southern
buttresses of the Biggarsberg. At 6 a.m., October 24th, the vanguard
was at the Waschbank river, some thirteen miles from Beith, and on its
southern bank the troops were allowed to bivouac, the rearguard
closing up at 10 a.m., after ten weary hours' marching.

[Sidenote: Yule, Oct. 24th, moves to sound of guns.]

As they halted, heavy and prolonged reports of artillery sounded from
the westward. It was evident that Sir G. White was fighting an action
upon the flank near Elandslaagte or Modder Spruit, and, in response to
the urgent request of his senior officers, Yule determined to despatch
at once a portion of his command to co-operate. Yule himself, though
now almost prostrate with illness and fatigue, rode out westward at
the head of the 67th and 69th field batteries, two squadrons 18th
Hussars, and two companies M.I. The remainder of the troops were left
by the Waschbank under command of Lieut.-Col. Carleton, Royal Irish
Fusiliers, who took up a defensive position on the northern bank.

[Sidenote: Yule recrosses Waschbank Oct. 24th.]

Yule moved rapidly westwards over the shadeless tract lying between
the Sunday's and Waschbank rivers. Nine miles his mounted men pressed
towards the sound of the guns, but still the most advanced scouts saw
nothing, and when, about 2 p.m., the noise of the firing, still far
ahead, began to die away, he gave the order to retire to the
Waschbank. His men were back in bivouac at 4 p.m. No sooner had the
infantry from the height above filed over the muddy pools than a
storm, which had been gathering all day in the terrible heat, burst,
and cooled the sun-baked ground with a waterspout of rain. The
Waschbank, which had all but perished in the drought, in less than an
hour rose from three inches to a height of twelve feet of roaring
water, thirty-five yards in breadth. The rearmost infantry plunged
hurriedly across before it had attained its strength. A piquet of the
Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and a patrol of the 18th Hussars, who had
covered the passage, found themselves cut off, and remained long on
the enemy's side of the river.

[Sidenote: Oct. 25 Yule gets touch with White.]

At 4 a.m. on the 25th the march was resumed along the southern and
least direct[101] of the two routes, which bifurcate at the Waschbank.
At 8.30 a.m. the advance guard was at and over Sunday's river, seven
miles further on, the rearguard crossing by the steep drift at noon,
and here the column rested. At 1 p.m. it was on the move again,
breasting the gentler ascent which swells upwards from the southern
bank of the stream, and after covering some four and a half miles, was
again halted at 3.45 p.m. upon the summit of a high ridge due north of
Kankana Mountain. Here preparations were made to pass the night; the
piquets went out, rations were distributed and cooked. At 5 p.m.,
however, a patrol of the 5th Lancers from Ladysmith rode up with
orders from Sir G. White. Behind them a column under Lt.-Col. J. A.
Coxhead, R.A., was on the way from Ladysmith to assist the Dundee
detachment over the last stage. There were reports that the enemy was
about to close in from every side. General Yule was to effect a
junction with Coxhead at once, and to proceed without another check
into Ladysmith.

         [Footnote 101: The northern road had been reconnoitred and
         found to be without water.]

[Sidenote: Night march Oct. 25th-26th.]

At 6 p.m. began a night march of great distress and trouble. Soon
after the advance guard moved off, a heavy downpour converted the road
into a sea of semi-liquid mire, which the transport ploughed into
waves and furrows. These, invisible in the black darkness, almost held
down the soldiers plunging knee-deep into them. The teams of mules,
exhausted by prolonged labour and insufficient food, impatient by
nature of wet and darkness, strove with much suffering to drag the
rocking wagons through the mud, and, as is their habit when
overmastered by their load, threw themselves often in confusion
athwart the track and enforced a halt. At 9 p.m. the whole of the
transport stuck fast for more than two hours. The rearguard closed up,
but the troops in front of the baggage, knowing nothing of its
misfortunes, and travelling on a road not destroyed by its struggles,
pushed on and left it. With great efforts it was set in motion again,
but some half-dozen of the wagons, being imbedded hopelessly, had to
be abandoned.[102] Half a mile further the convoy was again in
difficulties. From this point all cohesion was lost. Some of the
wagons passed on, some remained; it was impossible for their escorts
to tell which were derelict and which they must still consider as in
their charge.

         [Footnote 102: They were recovered next day.]

[Sidenote: Coxhead's relief column.]

Throughout the night Lieut.-Col. Coxhead, R.A., who had left Ladysmith
at 9 a.m. on October 25th, lay waiting about a mile east of the Nek
between Bulwana[103] and Lombards Kop for the Dundee column to join
hands with his own. With him were the 5th Lancers, half a battalion
2nd Gordon Highlanders, half a battalion 1st Manchester regiment, the
21st battery R.F.A., and a convoy containing two days' supplies, which
General Yule had asked for, in a message despatched from the bivouac
at the Waschbank river on the 24th. Coxhead immediately gained touch
with Yule by means of his mounted troops, and learning that the food
would not be required, sent the wagons back. All day the troops from
Ladysmith remained on the Helpmakaar road. But night and torrents of
rain fell together, and Coxhead's men bivouacked in discomfort only
less than that of their comrades toiling towards them, still nine
miles distant.

         [Footnote 103: Or Umbulwana.]

[Sidenote: The retreat ends Oct 26th.]

At 3.30 a.m. on the 26th, just as the Ladysmith garrison was getting
under arms, in case a sally to bring in Yule might after all be
necessary, the foremost of the mounted men from Dundee rode up to
Modder Spruit. An hour later the Leicestershire regiment and the
King's Royal Rifles arrived, much exhausted, but in good order. After
a brief halt they went on into the town, which they entered at 6 a.m.
The other regiments, with the transport which had delayed them, coming
up to Coxhead between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., halted for two hours, and had
breakfast before pushing on.

[Sidenote: Cause of Rietfontein action, Oct. 24th.]

It is necessary now to revert to the action which had, on October
24th, been heard in the bivouac by the Waschbank, that action of which
a ride of nine miles westward had failed to disclose either the
purport or the scene. The arrival on the 23rd of Free State commandos
upon the heights north and west of the railway had redoubled Sir G.
White's already great anxiety for the safety of the retreat from
Dundee. In reality, the presence of the Free State forces on the
commanding ranges to the west of Elandslaagte was less dangerous than
it appeared, for Yule was marching in greater obscurity than either
he, or Sir G. White, imagined. When, indeed, on the morning of the
24th, the Free Staters saw troops issuing from Ladysmith, they
believed them to be the combined forces of Generals White and
Yule,[104] though the latter was at the moment still actually upon the
wrong side of the Waschbank. At still greater cross-purposes was
Erasmus, who set off on the morning of the 24th, with so little hope
of overtaking the retreat that he chose the only route by which it was
impossible for him to do so, the main road west of the railway.
Nevertheless, on the evening of the 25th, Erasmus' bivouac was near
Elandslaagte, and the wisdom of Sir G. White's order for the instant
continuance of the march of the column on that afternoon was
manifested. Had that march not been executed, Yule, the action of
Rietfontein notwithstanding, would have had the vanguard of Joubert's
army upon his flank next day, when only operations from Ladysmith on
the largest scale could have extricated him.

         [Footnote 104: C. de Wet, "Three Years' War."]

[Sidenote: The Rietfontein position.]

Some seven miles north-east of Ladysmith, Rietfontein[105] farmhouse
lay by a branch of the Modder Spruit, south-west of a long, low ridge,
which descended to the railway line in smooth and easy slopes dotted
with ant-heaps, with on its forehead a sparse eyebrow of stones.
Beyond the crest line, to the northward, the ground sank with a gentle
sweep, broken only by two rough under-features jutting from the
western extremity of the ridge, to rear itself again eight hundred
yards beyond into a line of abrupt heights. The southernmost of these,
called Intintanyoni,[106] leaped up steeply from the hollow, and
beyond and behind it stretched many leagues of rolling ground, with
scarce a subsidence until they merged in the tumultuous billows of the
Drakensberg. Two grassy pinnacles, nearly equal in height, flanked
Intintanyoni. Of these the western looked across a deep and narrow
gorge over to Nodashwana or Swaatbouys Kop, of a somewhat greater
elevation, whilst below the eastern, deep re-entrants, both on the
north and south, divided Intintanyoni from the magnificent curve of
highlands, which terminated west of Elandslaagte in the wooded mass of
Jonono's Kop.[107]

         [Footnote 105: See map No. 7.]

         [Footnote 106: Also called Tintwa Inyoni.]

         [Footnote 107: A freehand sketch of the position from
         Nodashwana to Jonono's Kop will be found in the case of maps
         accompanying this volume. Jonono's Kop is not shown in the
         plan of Rietfontein, no part of the battle having been near

[Sidenote: The Boer occupation of it.]

East of the twin peaks of Intintanyoni various lesser eminences and
hollow Neks completed the tempestuous irregularity of this singular
feature, along whose crest six Free State commandos lay waiting for
their first battle on the morning of October 24th. To the east, with
patrols upon Jonono's Kop, lay the men of Bethlehem, Vrede, and
Heilbron; about the eastern peak of Intintanyoni the Winburg commando
held the ground, in charge of two pieces of artillery; on their right,
occupying the rest of the mountain, the burghers of Kroonstad made
ready; whilst those of Harrismith disposed themselves partly upon a
supporting position in rear, and partly as piquets and observation
posts on outlying kopjes, amongst others the lofty Nodashwana. Some
6,000 riflemen in all filled the six-mile line of heights. They were
commanded by General A. P. Cronje, who had arrived only on this
morning, the 24th, to replace de Villiers, who had been in temporary

[Sidenote: Sir George marches out, Oct. 24th.]

Sir G. White moved out from Ladysmith at 5 a.m. with the 5th Lancers,
19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal Mounted Rifles, 42nd and
53rd batteries R.F.A., No. 10 Mountain battery R.G.A., 1st Liverpool,
1st Devon, 1st Gloucestershire regiments, and 2nd King's Royal Rifle
Corps, in all, some 5,300 officers and men, assuming himself the
direction of an operation certain to be delicate, likely to be
extremely dangerous. Moving up the Newcastle road from its rendezvous
near the junction of the Free State railway, the force had proceeded
six miles when the advanced screen of cavalry came under a dropping
rifle fire at 7 a.m. from the heights on their left. Their action was
prompt. Pushing rapidly across the Modder Spruit, a squadron of 5th
Lancers, supported by two others, drove back at the gallop the small
parties of Boers hovering in that neighbourhood, and themselves seized
and held this advanced position. The remainder of the cavalry,
stringing out along high ground dominating the western bank of the
spruit, and facing more to the eastward, formed a strong flank guard
towards Jonono's Kop. At 8 a.m., whilst fitful discharges of musketry
rose and fell along the widely-extended line of troopers, the infantry
had come up to Rietfontein. No sooner had they arrived at a point on
the road some five hundred yards east of the Modder Spruit, than a
loud report broke from the eastern peak of Intintanyoni, and a shell,
bursting on impact, fell into the head of the column. Thereupon the
British artillery wheeled out from the route, and in line of batteries
trotted towards a level crossing over the railway, some six hundred
yards west of the road. Arrived at this defile, and forming column
inwards to traverse it, the first gun had scarcely passed the rails,
when both the Boer guns on the high green rampart ahead opened upon
the point, which had been taken as one of their range marks. Five
hundred yards beyond it the artillery deployed behind a rise. The
second round from the 53rd battery, fused at 3,600 yards, burst full
upon one of the Boer pieces, and the gunners of both weapons fled.
After a few more rounds the 53rd limbered up and prepared to advance.

[Sidenote: The infantry seize ridge facing hill.]

The infantry were already over the railway, and moving
forward--Gloucester regiment on the left, Liverpool regiment on the
right--up the gentle but protected slope, swelling to the summit of
the low ridge of Rietfontein. The 1st Devonshire regiment, in support,
lay at the base, whilst the 2nd King's Royal Rifles remained in rear
in charge of the baggage. On the appearance of the leading companies
upon the crest, firing broke out from the whole length of the crest of
Intintanyoni, to which the British infantry, lying prone, soon replied
as vigorously. Of the artillery, the 42nd battery was quickly in
action near the centre of the front, whilst the 53rd unlimbered some
six hundred yards to the left, and began shelling a rocky underfeature
of Intintanyoni, at a range of 1,500 yards. Sharp musketry assailed
them. Then the 42nd battery, being ordered further to the left, passed
behind the 53rd and the 10th Mountain battery, which had come into
line on the left of the 53rd, and opened 1,900 yards from the summit
of Intintanyoni. Thus began a severe fire fight at ranges varying from
one to two thousand yards. Especially was it hotly contested where the
Gloucester on the left of the British opposed the 1,400 Kroonstad men,
who, under Nel, maintained the Boer right. Heavy exchanges of rifle
fire swept across the valley in this part, and in spite of the steady
practice of the artillery, it became necessary to reinforce the
attackers. For this purpose the Devonshire regiment was pushed up on
the left of the Gloucester, half the King's Royal Rifles coming from
the baggage train to fill its place in support.

[Sidenote: An untoward incident.]

Sir G. White had all but accomplished his purpose, that of intervening
between the Free State commandos and Yule's line of march, when one of
those accidents of war, inexplicable because of the death of those who
alone could explain them, largely increased his hitherto insignificant
losses. Shortly before midday Colonel E. P. Wilford, commanding the
1st Gloucestershire, taking a company of his battalion and the
regimental Maxim gun, dashed out of cover down the open slope as if to
assault. Another half company of the battalion moved on ahead to cut
a wire fence which obstructed the front. The Boers, who for a time had
lain quiet under the shrapnel, which searched their position from end
to end, at once opened a fierce fusilade. Colonel Wilford was shot
dead, and his men fell rapidly, the detachment finally halting upon a
low ridge beneath Intintanyoni. Further advance was impossible. Only
with difficulty could both the Gloucestershire and "D." squadron
I.L.H., which had joined in the attack, be withdrawn. Fortunately, as
the attempt was promptly ordered to cease, though many had been
wounded, only six were killed in the adventure. Meanwhile the shooting
over their heads had been continuous. The enemy, encouraged by this
event, and by the immobility of Sir G. White's line of battle, which
they imagined to be awed from its purpose by their resistance, still
clung to their fastness, and maintained a heavy though spasmodic fire.
More than once the gunners of the still uninjured piece beneath the
eastern peak made efforts to drag it forward into action, but the
British artillerymen watched the spot narrowly, and each attempt was
blown back by shrapnel, under which Intintanyoni burst into flames.
Many of the Boer ponies herded in rear, terrified by the blaze,
stampeded. Then, up on Nodashwana, amongst the Harrismith men, a stir
was descried which seemed to threaten an outflanking manoeuvre against
the British left. Sir G. White, anxious for his communications with
Ladysmith, promptly countered the movement by calling the Natal
Mounted Rifles across from his right, and sending them on in front of
his left flank.[108] The Colonial riflemen went with such skill into
the maze of broken ground below the mountain, that they not only
succeeded in outflanking the outflankers, but actually drove by
enfilade fire all of the Kroonstad commando, who were upon the right
of Intintanyoni, far back across the hill to where the Winburgers lay
at the eastern extremity. All danger ceased definitely on this side
when two guns of the 42nd battery, turning towards the ridges of
Nodashwana, in a few moments cleared it of the enemy, and converted it
also into a huge bonfire of blazing grass. At 1.30 p.m. the Boer fire
had dwindled all along the main ridge, and an hour later it ceased
altogether. Only from the far right came the sound of musketry from
the cavalry still fencing with scattered detachments of the Heilbron,
Vrede and Bethlehem burghers, who clung to them pertinaciously.

         [Footnote 108: The situation at this time is depicted on map
         No. 7.]

[Sidenote: Return to Ladysmith.]

At 3 p.m. Sir G. White gave the order for a general retirement. His
object was accomplished, with the not undue loss of 114 casualties.
Yule was now safe for that day, and he believed the Free State army to
have suffered severely enough to keep it inactive on the next, when he
intended to assist the Dundee column by other means. But the Boers
watched the withdrawal of the British troops with very little
despondency. Unaware of the true situation of the Dundee column, they
misunderstood operations designed to keep them from it. The
demonstration against Intintanyoni seemed to them nothing less than a
serious attempt to drive them from their hold, and the retreat of the
British to be that of a baffled army. Thus, ignorant of their
strategical defeat, they rejoiced at what seemed a tactical victory.
Moreover, their losses[109] had been small. The cavalry alone, now
called upon to protect the rear--as all day they had covered the
right--had difficulty in returning. For some distance they had to
maintain a running fire fight, and it was nearly 7 p.m. before the
rearmost troopers entered Ladysmith, which the head of the infantry
column had reached two hours and a half earlier.[110]

         [Footnote 109: 13 killed, 31 wounded.]

         [Footnote 110: For detailed casualties, see Appendix 6.]



         [Footnote 111: See maps Nos. 3 and 6.]

[Sidenote: Early days in Ladysmith, Oct. 11th to 19th.]

During the time (Oct. 12th-Oct. 26th, 1899) occupied by the episode of
the Dundee detachment, including the action of Rietfontein fought to
assist it in retreat, much had happened elsewhere.

[Sidenote: Oct. 16th.]

[Sidenote: Oct. 17th.]

[Sidenote: Oct. 18th.]

[Sidenote: Oct. 19th.]

Sir G. White arrived in Ladysmith on the 11th October. On the 12th
telegraphic communication by Harrismith entirely ceased, and the mail
train from that town failed to arrive. Early on the 12th a telegram
from a post of observation of Natal Carbineers at Acton Homes gave
information that a strong column of Boers, with four miles of train,
was on the march through Tintwa Pass, the head of it being already
across the border; furthermore, that there seemed to be an advance
guard concealed in Van Reenen's Pass. Sir G. White prepared to strike
instantly; but a British detachment which reached Dewdrop next day saw
the Boer vanguard, halted in the mouth of Tintwa Pass, and as
previously described (p. 123) returned to Ladysmith. A cavalry
reconnaissance[112] in the same direction on the 16th found that the
commandos had not stirred and, though Olivier's Hoek, Bezuidenhout's,
Tintwa and Van Reenen's Passes were all occupied,[113] the country
east of them was as clear of the enemy as heretofore. There appeared
an unaccountable hesitation amongst the Free Staters. Rumours of
disagreement, and even of actual hostilities between the commandos,
reached the British camp. They were not altogether groundless, and Sir
G. White, utilising the respite, set himself to consider how his field
force might be turned into a garrison, and his place of rest into a
fortress, should it be necessary, as now seemed likely, to stand a
siege in Ladysmith. A complete scheme of defence was drawn up on the
16th, and a mobile column organised for instant service in any
quarter. But, whilst the real enemy lay idle on the west, rumour,
working in his favour far to the southward, troubled the British
general and robbed him of troops he could ill spare. On the 17th a
telegram from the Governor of Natal announced that there was evidence
of a contemplated Boer raid viâ Zululand upon Pietermaritzburg and
Durban,[114] and asked for reinforcements for the defenceless capital.
They were promptly sent,[115] and quitted Ladysmith just as the Free
Staters in the mountains received with much discussion the order to
cross the frontier. Before dawn of the 18th all the commandos were on
the move down the defiles, the men of Bethlehem in Olivier's Hoek
Pass, of Heilbron in Bezuidenhout's, of Kroonstad in Tintwa, of
Winburg in Van Reenen's, of Harrismith in De Beer's, of Vrede in
Müller's. By 8 a.m. Acton Homes was in the hands of 3,000 Boers, and
shortly after, west of Bester's station, a piquet of the Natal
Carbineers was sharply attacked by the Harrismith commando, and forced
to retire with loss. The Boers then occupied Bester's station, where
they halted for the night. The news of this rapid development caused a
great stir in Ladysmith. As early as the 15th Sir George White had
decided upon the evacuation of the camp, which lay outside the town,
but hitherto no orders had been issued to this effect. All the 18th
the work of removing the troops and stores from the camp to the town
defences previously selected was pushed on with such despatch, that by
10 p.m. these were well manned. The Pietermaritzburg column, which had
reached Colenso, was ordered back to Onderbrook. Next day the General
rode around Ladysmith, re-adjusting with great care the line of
defence selected on the 16th. Instructions were then sent to
Wolseley-Jenkins to resume his march to Pietermaritzburg, the Imperial
Light Horse alone being taken from the column and brought back into

         [Footnote 112: 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, M.I., 1st King's
         (Liverpool) regiment.]

         [Footnote 113: On the 15th the Intelligence estimate of the
         Free State forces in the Drakensberg was as
         follows:--Olivier's Hoek, 3,000; Tintwa, 1,000; Van Reenen's,
         1,200, with 15 guns; Nelson's Kop, 3,500, with detachments in
         the passes to the north. Total, 11,000 men.]

         [Footnote 114: Telegram No. 30 of 18th October, 1899,
         Ladysmith. Sir G. White to Secretary of State.]

         [Footnote 115: Strength: 19th Hussars, one field battery,
         five squadrons Imperial Light Horse (raised at Maritzburg in
         Sept. 1899), seven companies Liverpool regiment,
         half-battalion 2nd King's Royal Rifles, under
         Brigadier-General C. B. H. Wolseley-Jenkins. The other half
         of the latter battalion was already in Maritzburg.]

         [Footnote 116: The whole of Wolseley-Jenkins' column
         eventually returned to Ladysmith during the night of
         22nd-23rd October.]

[Sidenote: Kock Oct. 19th and night of Oct. 19th-20th seizes
Elandslaagte station.]

Meanwhile, the Boer General, Kock, having arrived on the summit of the
Biggarsberg on the 19th, promptly pushed patrols down the southern
slopes. Field Cornet Potgieter, the leader of one of these, pressing
on in company with a party of Viljoen's men, under Field Cornet
Pienaar, dashed into Elandslaagte station, some twenty miles
southward, and attacked and captured a supply train which was steaming
through the station on its way to Glencoe. Potgieter at once sent back
word to Kock, who, replying with the order: "Hold on to the trains at
any cost, I am following with the whole detachment," marched all
night, and joined his lieutenant near the looted train at break of day
on the 20th.

[Sidenote: French moves out Oct. 20th, but is recalled.]

News of the event was quickly received at Headquarters. At 11 a.m. on
the 20th Major-General J. D. P. French, who had only arrived at 5 a.m.
that morning, left Ladysmith with the 5th Lancers, the Natal Mounted
Rifles and Natal Carbineers, and a battery Royal Field artillery, to
ascertain the situation at Elandslaagte. An infantry brigade, under
Colonel Ian Hamilton, moved out in support. But whilst they were on
the march, the Free Staters at Bester's became so active that Sir
George White, fearing an attack whilst part of his force was absent,
sent orders to check the reconnaissance before it was half completed,
and by sunset French was back in Ladysmith, having seen nothing but
the German commando, Kock's screen.

[Sidenote: Encouraged by news of Talana.]

[Sidenote: White, Oct. 21st, sends French out again to Elandslaagte.]

[Sidenote: French retakes station.]

[Sidenote: but falls back.]

By this time news of the victory at Talana[117] had come in. Its
partial extent not fully understood at first, it not only lifted a load
from the General's mind, but showed him where he too could strike a
blow. The commandos at Elandslaagte, yesterday dangerous from their
position on Symons' line of retreat, were to-day in peril themselves,
and he determined to give them no time to remove into safety. At 4 a.m.
on the 21st French was again on the move towards Elandslaagte[118] with
five squadrons (338 men) Imperial Light Horse and the Natal Field
artillery. At 6 a.m. a half battalion (330 men) of the 1st Manchester
regiment, with Railway and Royal engineer detachments, followed by rail,
preceded by the armoured train manned by one company of the same
battalion. Moving along the Newcastle road, French made straight for the
high ground south-west of Elandslaagte station, and at 7 a.m. his
advance and right flank guards (Imperial Light Horse) came in touch with
the enemy, the former south of the collieries, the latter on the open
veld some four miles south of the railway. As the mist lifted, parties
of Boers were seen all about the station and colliery buildings, and
over the undulating veld, and it was observed that most of these, on
sighting the British scouts, drew back upon a group of kopjes situated
about a mile south-east of the station. French immediately ordered up
the Natal battery on to a flat hillock which rose between the railway
and the Newcastle road, south-east of Woodcote farm, and at 8 a.m. a
shot from the 7-pounders, sighted at 1,900 yards, crashed into the tin
out-buildings of the station. A crowd of Boers swarmed out at the
explosion and with them some of the British captured in the train the
day before, the former galloping for the kopjes, the latter making for
the protection of their countrymen at the battery. At the same time a
squadron of the Imperial Light Horse galloped for the station in
extended files, captured the Boer guard, and released the station and
colliery officials who were there in durance. But in a few moments
shells from the group of kopjes beyond the station began to fall into
the battery, one smashing an ammunition wagon. The gunners attempted in
vain to reply; their pieces were outranged by over 500 yards, and at
8.15, on the arrival of the infantry near at hand, they fell back
leaving the wagon derelict. At 8.30 a.m. French withdrew to a point four
miles south of Woodcote farm, and from here sent a report to Sir George
White, informing him that about 400 Boers with three guns were before
him on a prepared position, and asking for support. The enemy's
artillery continued to shell the troops, and French, after questioning
the prisoners and the released Britons, and examining more closely, came
to the conclusion that there were from 800 to 1,000 Boers in front of
him. When parties of the enemy began to appear also upon Jonono's Kop to
the north-west he judged it prudent to withdraw his weak detachment
still further, and by 11.30 a.m. was back nearly at the Modder Spruit.
On the way he fell in with a reinforcement from Ladysmith consisting of
one squadron 5th Lancers,[119] one squadron 5th Dragoon Guards, and the
42nd battery Field artillery, all under Colonel Coxhead, R.A., and with
these he retraced his steps to the Modder Spruit siding, where a halt
was called.

         [Footnote 117: Telegraphic communication by Greytown was
         still intact.]

         [Footnote 118: See map No. 3. Orders were to "clear the
         neighbourhood of Elandslaagte of the enemy and cover the
         reconstruction of the railway and telegraphic lines."]

         [Footnote 119: Another squadron, 5th Lancers, supported from
         Pepworth Hill by a company of the 1st Devonshire regiment,
         turned aside when four miles out to watch the Free Staters
         towards Bester's.]

[Sidenote: He asks for reinforcements and orders.]

It was now evident to General French that an action of great
importance could be fought or avoided before nightfall. At noon,
therefore, he communicated with Sir George White, and, after informing
him of his own and the enemy's situations, and the best line of
attack, stated that in his opinion the numbers required would be three
battalions of infantry, two batteries, and more cavalry than he had at
the moment. He would await instructions. They came with promptitude;
for Sir G. White had determined to ruin this commando, and sweep it
from Yule's communications, before it could separate. "The enemy must
be beaten, and driven off," he wrote to French. "Time of great
importance." Within a quarter of an hour of the receipt of the above
message, French had promulgated his orders; within half an hour, at
1.30 p.m., before the arrival of the reinforcements, the advance upon
the kopjes had begun.

[Sidenote: The ground held by Boers.]

Running south-east, with its northern extremity about a mile from the
station, the ground held by the enemy covered some 4,000 yards from
flank to flank, and consisted of four boulder-strewn kopjes. That
nearest the station was steep and rocky, its top 200 yards broad and
sloping rearwards; next and somewhat retired from the general line,
700 yards distant, on the far side of a deep cup scored with dongas,
arose one of those singular isosceles triangular eminences of which
South Africa almost alone possesses the mould. A Nek, carrying the
roadway to a farm behind, separated this from the main feature 500
yards away. This was a bluff and precipitous hill, thatched here and
there with long grasses on its northern face, on its eastern sloping
easily down to the veld which rolled in rounded waves towards
Ladysmith. Its summit was almost flat, a bouldered plateau, 400 yards
long by 200 wide, falling in rocky spurs to the river a mile and a
half in rear, and slanting at its southern extremity into a broad and
broken Nek. This climbed again 2,000 yards away up to the last kopje
of the position, whose top, also flat, swung first south, then sharply
west, to merge finally into the grassy rises which approached almost
to Modder Spruit. Though the general elevation was no more than some
300 feet from the ground level, so bare was the terrain about its
base, that the insignificant hills presented a formidable face to the
south-west. Across the railway, some six miles to the north-west,
Jonono's Kop looked over these low ridges, and threw great spurs,
dotted with Kaffir villages, down into the undulating prairie which
rolled between them. On one of these spurs, which came down to the
Newcastle road, 100 men of the German commando, under Schiel, had, on
the retirement of the British, taken post, supported on an
underfeature close to the eastward by Field Cornet Joubert's
Johannesburgers, and Vrede men (100) under De Jager. The rest of the
commandos occupied the main feature above described, the remainder of
the Germans the kopje nearest the station, strong skirmishing parties
being thrown out, under Field Cornet Pienaar, along the uplands which
ran out southward in front of their left flank. Slightly retired from
the forward crest of the main hill were posted the two guns, below
and behind the right of which, beside the roadway creeping between the
bluff and the tall triangular kopje, the laager had been pitched on a
flat of sun-baked mud.

[Sidenote: French attacks at once.]

[Sidenote: The infantry reinforcements arrive.]

Major-General French moved forward quickly without waiting for the
reinforcements from Ladysmith. A squadron 5th Dragoon Guards under
Major St. J. C. Gore on the west of the railway, and one of the 5th
Lancers on the east, each covering two miles, scouted in front of the
batteries and Imperial Light Horse, the 1st Manchester following
slowly in the train. The Lancers were first in touch with the enemy,
their progress being checked at 2 p.m. by Pienaar's piquets posted, as
already described, on the low ridge running parallel to the railway,
the ridge, indeed, which General French had selected as the
springboard for his attack. A gun, opening from the hills behind,
supported the skirmishers: the Lancer squadron had to retire. But
Colonel Scott Chisholme quickly brought up four squadrons Imperial
Light Horse, which, pressing forward in squadron-column with extended
files, with the 5th Lancer squadron on the right, stormed the ridge
and cleared it. The crest thus secured, the Manchester detrained under
its cover at 2.30 p.m. about three miles south-west of Elandslaagte.
Ten minutes later they were joined by a half-battalion 2nd Gordon
Highlanders and seven companies of the 1st Devonshire regiment, who
formed up on the veld in brigade-line of quarter-columns, facing
north-east, Devonshire on the right, Manchester on the left. Before
starting, the 7th brigade was addressed in inspiriting terms by its
commander, Colonel Ian Hamilton. The Manchester led the way, heading
for the ridge occupied by the Imperial Light Horse, with two companies
covering 500 yards in front line; the Devonshire supported, and the
Highlanders marched in reserve. As the brigade began to move, a burst
of musketry from across the railway to the north told that the
squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards had run into the enemy on the lower
spurs of Jonono's Kop. So strong did the opposition there appear that
the 42nd and 21st batteries, with a squadron 5th Lancers which had
just escorted the guns from Ladysmith, were despatched to the spot in
support. A few shrapnel from the 42nd battery sufficed to silence the
Mausers, and the artillery recrossed the railway, the 5th Dragoon
Guards also receiving an order to come in. The artillery were then
ordered to go on at once and open against the main position. On their
way to the front they passed the marching infantry, whose directions
were now somewhat altered; for whilst the Manchester in the van still
pushed eastwards for Scott Chisholme's captured ridge, the Devonshire,
diverging half left from this line, now led upon the enemy's right
flank, and behind, in the ever increasing interval thus created
between the two battalions, the Gordon Highlanders were extending in

[Sidenote: Sir George arrives and approves.]

[Sidenote: The Boer guns are silenced.]

Whilst the advance was in progress Sir G. White, who had ridden fast
from Ladysmith, arrived upon the field, escorted by a troop of Natal
Mounted Rifles. Recognising the excellence of General French's plans
and arrangements, he remained only as a spectator, leaving to his
subordinate complete control of the battle. A few moments later, at 4
p.m., the British guns came into action in front of the infantry at a
range of 4,400 yards. The enemy replied, shells bursting in the 21st
battery. So rapid a bombardment was at once delivered against the hill
that, after firing twenty rounds, all of which fell among the guns,
the Boer gunners fled from their pieces. Then the artillery, changing
their target continually, searched all the top with shrapnel. The 1st
Devonshire regiment, pushing west of the rise to a point 800 yards
north of the batteries, lay down on a front of 500 yards. At 3.30 p.m.
this battalion had received an order to move, when the artillery
preparation should cease, right across the open grass plain which
separated them from the enemy, and to hold him to his defences.

[Sidenote: Manchester with Gordons assail left.]

[Sidenote: Devonshire pin right.]

A thousand yards south-east of the Devonshire, beyond the batteries,
the Manchester had halted near the crest at the point of its curve
northward, and this curve they were ordered to follow until it brought
them upon the opposed left flank. A mile in rear, still, therefore, in
the plain below, the Gordon Highlanders halted, and orders came to
them to support the Manchester at the next stage. At 4.30 p.m. the
infantry rose and moved forward. On the left the Devonshire, with
three companies covering some 600 yards in front, and four companies
in reserve, in column, with 50 paces distance between the single
ranks, steered upon the tall cone which marked the right-centre of the
Boers. Their march led them at first downhill into the broad bowl
which lay below the foot of the kopjes, a hollow as smooth as a meadow
but for the infrequent ant-hills. Shrapnel began from the first to
burst over the battalion, but the soldiers pressed steadily onward
until, at a point some 1,200 yards from the enemy, severe rifle-fire
began to play upon them, and they were halted to reply to it. Their
section volleys soon beat heavily about the Boer right, and pinned the
burghers to their sangars. A little later, the Devonshire firing line,
now stiffened by the supports, advanced again down the bullet-swept
slope and gained a shallow donga about 850 yards from the crest. Here
Major C. W. Park disposed his battalion for a musketry fight. He had
carried out the first part of his orders, and it was necessary now to
await the development of the attack in progress against the other
flank. With some loss, therefore, the Devonshire lay within close
range of the hostile lines. So briskly, however, did they engage them,
that the attention of a great part of the Boer force was drawn to that
direction, and for a time the simultaneous movement against the other
flank proceeded almost unnoticed. The Manchester, indeed, during the
early portion of their advance, were not easily to be seen from the
Boers' left. Skilfully led, they made their way with two companies
extended in the firing line, over broken ground under the crest of the
ridge, and only some shells, aimed at the artillery, dropped amongst
them. Out of sight on the right the Imperial Light Horse and the
squadron 5th Lancers worked ahead on a parallel route, having drawn
towards the outer flank on the infantry coming up to them. In rear the
Gordon Highlanders, inclining to the right, followed in support of the
Manchester, in echelon of companies at 60 paces interval, the
companies marching in column of sections. A brisk shell fire assailed
this battalion as it crossed the rear of the batteries, but, like the
Manchester, the Highlanders for a time escaped the notice of the Boer
riflemen, and they pushed on with trifling loss.

[Sidenote: Guns silence Boer artillery.]

Thus by 4.30 p.m. the whole British force, 3,500 men in all, was in
motion, and Coxhead, during the temporary silence of the enemy's
artillery, ordered his command to support more closely. As the
batteries limbered up, the Boers re-opened and followed them with
shells. Only one horse fell, however, and the British guns, moving
swiftly between the Devonshire and Manchester regiments, were shortly
in action again three quarters of a mile nearer to the front. Under
their rapid rounds at 3,200 yards the hostile gunners relapsed
immediately and finally into silence.

[Sidenote: Difficulties of approach to Boer left.]

In approaching the occupied zone the cavalry on the right were first
closely engaged. A screen of skirmishers still lay out before the Boer
left, and these, as they fell back slowly, had an easy target in the
mounted men, who were working over ground of great difficulty. Then
the Manchester, emerging from their covered way, found themselves upon
the crest of a smooth and open plateau, which, sloping downwards for
200 yards from them almost imperceptibly, was traversed by a wire
fence, beyond which stony outcrops again gave promise of shelter. As
the foremost soldiers showed above the fringe of stones at the crest
line, a sudden rush of bullets drummed upon the sun-dried level in
front of them, and the men, in obedience to an order, dropped again
behind the protecting stones to reply. As they did so, some of the
officers of the Manchester, leaving their men in the security of the
rocks, ran through the storm of lead and severed the wires obstructing
advance. But the line was as yet too weak for a forward dash.

[Sidenote: The attack on Boer left.]

For a quarter of an hour the Manchester lay where they were, with
frequent casualties, but using their weapons so vigorously that soon the
Boers on their front, an advanced party of Lombard's commando, gave back
in spite of their leader's efforts to hold them, and at 5.20 p.m. the
Manchester poured from the stones after them. They were closely followed
by the Gordon, who, though under cover below them, had suffered somewhat
from the shots grazing the edge of the plateau. At their appearance
heavy musketry burst from the kopjes 1,200 yards ahead. The soldiers
were in a moment at the wire fence. This obstacle, only partially
destroyed, had been taken as a known range by the Boer marksmen, and so
accurate therefore was their shooting that soon there was scarce a
strand unrent by the bullets. In the crowding which ensued many men fell
amongst the now dangling wires, some pushed through, and some could find
no gap. Though the front of the brigade thus became broken and confused,
the advance continued uninterruptedly. Now Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Dick-Cunyngham sent the Gordon Highlanders forward into the gaps opening
in the lines of the Manchester, some to the left, some to the right,
some wherever they could find room. The Imperial Light Horse, who had
been contending every foot of their progress with the cloud of
skirmishers retiring slowly before them, here joined on to the right of
the Gordon. Once at the edge of the ridge, from which, as the troops
rushed forward, a detached party of Boers fell back, still shooting
bitterly, the brigade found itself facing due north, and the Boer left
flank lay exposed.

[Sidenote: Gore, dashing in, halts on Boer right rear.]

Meanwhile Gore, reinforced by a squadron 5th Lancers, had moved out
yet further to the left, cutting in between the Boer main body and
Schiel's Germans, so that the latter only saved themselves by a
circuitous gallop behind Woodcote farm, not drawing rein until they
arrived in rear of the left of the main position. Gore then gained a
secure foothold near the colliery 1,700 yards from the enemy's right
rear. Here he concealed his squadrons, and awaiting the development of
the infantry attack, watched the rear face of the enemy's kopjes for
signs of a break away.

[Sidenote: The position is captured.]

Strengthened by the arrival of Schiel, the Boer left poured their
bullets chiefly upon that portion of the line occupied by the right
companies of the Gordon Highlanders and the Imperial Light Horse.
Below the fence the ground sloped gently downward to the foot of the
kopjes, where it again rose more steeply to the summit, some 350 yards
distant. Down the incline the firing line went rapidly, for the most
part by rushes of sections, carried out independently, yet with great
dash and unanimity. But the slope was exposed throughout, and there
were many casualties. About 5.30 p.m. the line of battle had arrived
at the foot of the kopjes; then, swinging slightly towards the left,
so as to envelop still more the flank of the enemy above, all supports
and reserves being now absorbed, it began to make head upwards, still
by short rushes. It was now nearly dark; rain burst down on them in a
torrent: the men, breathless from their eager pace, began to slacken
somewhat in their difficult progress up the hill-sides. At this moment
Colonel Hamilton, who had previously ridden to where the Devonshire
still held fast the Boer right with their volleys, hurried back to the
main attack. He at once ordered the "charge" to be sounded, and
running to the front, himself led the last onset. The Devonshire
simultaneously leaped from the donga where they had lain more than an
hour, and, advancing by companies from the right, reached the base of
the final kopje. For an instant they halted to gain breath and fix
bayonets, then, coming to the charge, assaulted the portion before
them, and carried it without a check, four companies swinging to the
left against the northernmost kopje, and three moving straight upon
the main hill whereon stood the enemy's artillery. Here, as occurred
all along the Boer line, though many fled at the sound of the charge,
many stood and continued shooting at the troops until the latter were
within twenty yards of them. Below the main crest a bitter contest was
also maintained, for as at Talana, many Boers, seeing the soldiers
determined to win the summit, pressed forward to oppose them, and lay
firing behind the rocks until their assailants were almost upon them.
Some acting thus were made prisoners; some escaped to the rear at the
last moment; many were shot down as they ran. The assault poured on
unchecked, the two guns falling to the converging Devonshire. At 5.55
p.m. the infantry held all the upper part of the hill.

[Sidenote: Gore attacks the flying Boers.]

By that time the cavalry, lying in wait at Elandslaagte, had already
dealt their blow. A quarter of an hour before the infantry gained the
crest the majority of the defenders had begun to vacate the summit,
and, descending to the open ground behind, streamed raggedly across
the front, many within five hundred yards, of the concealed troopers.
The light was failing rapidly, and with it the chance of action.
Though the crowd in the loose disorder of retreat seemed to offer an
indefinite object for a charge, there was no likelihood of a better
whilst sufficient light remained. At 5.30 p.m. Gore gave the word and
pushed out eastwards with a squadron of the 5th Lancers on the right
of his line, and one of the 5th Dragoon Guards on the left, both in
extended files. The ground was difficult, boulders strewed the
surface, and a series of dongas, intersecting it at all angles,
seriously impeded progress. These obstacles once cleared, the cavalry
moved on rapidly and, topping a slight rise, came suddenly into full
view of the foremost Boers, some 300 in number, who were riding slowly
northward away from the ridges all but captured behind them. The
charge was instantly delivered, and the Boer retirement was dashed to
pieces in all directions. Then, having traversed completely the zone
of retreat, the cavalry were rallied and reformed into line. The
gallop had carried the squadrons more than a mile and a half from
their starting-place, and the intervening space was again covered by
the enemy, now in full flight from the kopjes. Once more, therefore,
the troopers charged, and, scouring in loose order back over the same
ground, cleared it of the enemy, and drew rein with many prisoners
near Elandslaagte, just as the last gleam of light died and gave place
to darkness.

[Sidenote: A Boer rally after "cease fire."]

Meanwhile there had occurred an anxious moment for the infantry,
victorious along the summit of the kopjes. Pressing forward from the
captured crest in pursuit, and firing fast, the soldiers were some
distance down the gentle reverse slope when a white flag was seen to
be waving from the conical kopje above the laager, and Colonel
Hamilton, believing it to signify a general capitulation, ordered the
"cease fire" to be sounded. Suddenly a body of some fifty Boers
charged boldly uphill against that section in which were the right
company of the Gordon Highlanders and the Imperial Light Horse, and,
seizing a small spur within twenty yards of the crest, turned their
rifles upon the surprised troops. For a moment there was some
confusion. The soldiers were scattered; some were continuing the
pursuit, some were seeking their units; many were resting; the cross
fire which thus assailed them was severe and accurate.

[Sidenote: The enemy is swept off.]

But the effect of this counter-attack was but momentary. Once more the
"advance" was sounded, and that part of the line, rallied by the voice
and example of Colonel Hamilton himself, surged forward again,[120]
and tumbled the last remnant of the enemy down the reverse slopes.
During this incident some of the Imperial Light Horse on the extreme
right, swinging round the enemy's left, surrounded a farmhouse which
had been the rallying point of the above counter-attack, and, after a
sharp encounter, stormed it, capturing twenty-one prisoners.

         [Footnote 120: For conspicuous gallantry in rallying their
         men for this advance the following officers received the
         Victoria Cross:--Captain M. F. M. Meiklejohn, Gordon
         Highlanders, whose wound on the occasion deprived him of an
         arm, and Captains C. H. Mullins and R. Johnstone, of the
         Imperial Light Horse. Sergt.-Major W. Robertson, Gordon
         Highlanders, was also awarded the Victoria Cross.]

[Sidenote: Effect of the action.]

Thus terminated an action of which there can be no greater praise than
that it was swiftly planned, carried out with determination, and that
its complete success was gained exactly as designed. That success,
moreover, was of more than local importance. Kock's hold upon the
communications of Dundee had been of the briefest. He himself was a
prisoner, mortally wounded, in British hands, and his force, rushing
headlong back to Newcastle from the battlefield, upon which it had
left over two hundred killed and wounded, nearly two hundred
prisoners, two guns and a complete laager, carried despondency into
the Boer Headquarters, so recently alarmed at the rebuff of Talana.
Moreover, the battle did more than clear Yule's rear; it also
safeguarded his front, by persuading Erasmus, already timorous upon
Impati, to cling to his mountain, at a time when Yule's exhausted
battalions were in no condition to resist the attack of 5,000 fresh

[Sidenote: French is recalled to Ladysmith.]

It formed no part of Sir G. White's plan to keep the ground that had
been won. The position of Elandslaagte was useless alike for
observation, defence, or offence. Even had it been of value, the
presence of the Free State army upon its flank rendered the occupation
of it too hazardous in the view of a General already impressed by the
dangers of detachments. Throughout the day, indeed, the Free Staters
themselves had been reminding him of these dangers. As early as 11
a.m. the piquets to the west of Ladysmith had reported significant
developments about Van Reenen's Pass, and these, as the day wore on,
became so threatening that at 5.30 p.m. General Hunter despatched a
message to Sir G. White, who was at that time still at Elandslaagte,
informing him that there was a hostile advance upon Ladysmith from
Bester's station. It was necessary, therefore, to recall French at
once, and at 9 p.m. he was so instructed by telephone.

[Sidenote: Bivouacs on ground night 21st-22nd.]

At 11 p.m. General French issued orders for the return to Ladysmith on
the morrow, and the troops bivouacked on the field, the infantry upon
the kopjes, the cavalry about the station. The day's losses amounted
to 263 officers and men killed and wounded.[121]

         [Footnote 121: For detailed casualties, etc., see Appendix

[Sidenote: All back in Ladysmith, Oct. 22/99.]

At 3 a.m. on the 22nd the three batteries, the 5th Lancers and the
Natal Mounted Rifles[122] left by road for Ladysmith, the loaded
ambulance train quitting the station at the same time. From that hour
onwards the trains, bearing the soldiers, steamed away from the
battlefield, the last to leave by rail being a portion of the
Manchester escorting forty prisoners. They were detained until 3.20
p.m. The 5th Dragoon Guards, who had reconnoitred northward, followed
last of all by road, and by evening the position was empty.

         [Footnote 122: This corps had remained as escort to the Natal
         Field artillery, and as support to Gore's cavalry, throughout
         the action.]



         [Footnote 123: See maps Nos. 3, 8 and 8 (_a_).]

[Sidenote: Boer forces unite Oct. 26th. French reconnoitres, Oct.

On the very day of Yule's junction with Coxhead[124], Erasmus was in
touch with A. P. Cronje, next day with Lukas Meyer, who, still feeling
the blow of Talana, had moved timidly, wide on the left. At 4 a.m. on
the morning of the 27th a brigade of cavalry left Ladysmith under
Major-General French, and, proceeding to scout along the Newcastle and
Helpmakaar roads, was sighted at dawn by Meyer, who was then in laager
about seven miles south of Elandslaagte. The Boer leader, anticipating
a general attack, at once signalled to Erasmus, upon which a strong
contingent of the Ermelo burghers, accompanied by guns, made their way
across to him from their camp. French reconnoitred boldly, and at
10.35 a.m. he was able to send in to Sir George White his estimate of
the numbers confronting him. On Intintanyoni were 4,000-5,000 men.
Other strong bodies hovered between Rietfontein and Pepworth Hill,
whilst the enemy to his immediate front appeared to separate
themselves into two laagers, whose sites could be clearly
distinguished. One, sheltering about 2,000 men, lay at the junction of
the Beith and Glencoe roads, some five miles south-east of Modder
Spruit station, whilst the other, a much larger encampment, was
situated four miles nearer to the railway, that is to say, one mile
south-east of it.

         [Footnote 124: See page 150.]

[Sidenote: Hamilton with Infantry and Artillery supports him.]

[Sidenote: Troops return to camp.]

Meanwhile Colonel Ian Hamilton had at 10 a.m. marched out of Ladysmith
to the Neks between Gun Hill, Lombards Kop and Umbulwana, with a
brigade consisting of the 1st Devonshire and 1st Manchester
regiments, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 2nd Gordon
Highlanders, with a brigade division of the 21st, 42nd and 53rd
batteries R.F.A., joined later by the 1st Liverpool regiment and the
13th battery R.F.A. This brigade, lying out all day in support of the
cavalry reconnaissance, caused continual apprehension to the enemy,
who covered all his positions with men and cannon in momentary
expectation of an attack. Altogether some 10,000 men with fifteen guns
were observed, and for the purpose intended by Sir George White, who
was only anxious to gain information, the object of the reconnaissance
was accomplished. The attack of the laagers was considered by Sir
George White, who rode out beyond Lombards Nek in the afternoon to
confer with General French and Colonel Hamilton; but after careful
examination it was ultimately decided to await a more suitable
opportunity, and the troops were withdrawn.

[Sidenote: Both Transvaalers and Free Staters approach Ladysmith, Oct.

On October 28th Lukas Meyer with 2,000 men and three guns pushed
forward to Modder Spruit, where he went into laager behind a long flat
kopje, now called Long Hill, situated some four thousand yards
south-east of Pepworth Hill, the summit of which the Ermelo commando
had already piqueted. The Free Staters, coming down from Intintanyoni,
rode westward and lay in the evening upon the farm Kleinfontein,
joining hands with their allies of the Transvaal across Surprise Hill
and the heights above the Bell Spruit. Through their main laager on
Kleinfontein ran the railway line to Van Reenen's Pass.

[Sidenote: Cavalry reports Boer dispositions. Oct. 29th.]

On the 29th the cavalry made a reconnaissance eastwards, and reported
as follows. The laager which had been close to the Modder Spruit
station on the 27th had disappeared, but there were now two
encampments to the east and south-east of Lombards Kop, of which the
lower appeared to command the road to Pieters, thus threatening the
line of communication. Pepworth Hill was strongly occupied, and
artillery were now upon it; a large camp lay close to the north-west
of the height. The enemy was numerous upon Long Hill. Upon its flat
top two or three guns were already emplaced, and an epaulment for
another was in course of construction. Behind the hill was a laager.

[Sidenote: White decides on attack.]

This reconnaissance seemed to Sir G. White to furnish the reasons he
desired for assuming the offensive. The capture of Long Hill would at
least throw back the investing line of Transvaalers. It might do
more--break through it altogether, when a sweep north against Pepworth
would bid fair to drive together the Transvaal commandos in upon their
centre, and roll up the whole. The Free Staters, strung out as they
now are, thinly north-west and west, would then be cut off from the

[Sidenote: Plan arranged, Oct. 29th.]

[Sidenote: Carleton to approach Nicholson's Nek that night.]

[Sidenote: Cavalry by dawn of 30th to be on ridges n.e. of Gun Hill.]

[Sidenote: Grimwood to seize Long Hill.]

[Sidenote: Hamilton then to capture Pepworth.]

At 4 p.m. on the afternoon of the 29th his plans were formulated. Long
Hill was to be the primary, Pepworth Hill the secondary object, and to
secure them the whole of the troops were to be employed. His main army
he divided into two bodies, with separate missions. One, consisting of
No. 10 Mountain battery, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 1st
Gloucester regiment, all commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel F. R. C.
Carleton, of the first-named battalion, was to move at 10 p.m. that
night northward along the Bell Spruit. The duties of this force were
twofold: first, to cover the left flank of the main operation;
secondly, to gain and hold such a position towards Nicholson's Nek (if
possible, the Nek itself) as would enable the cavalry to debouch
safely upon the open ground beyond, should opportunity arise for a
pursuit, or, better still, an interception of the Transvaalers as they
fell back on the Drakensberg passes. The left flank thus provided for,
a cavalry brigade, consisting of the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, and
Colonel Royston's regiment of Colonials, under Major-General French,
were to reach the ridges north-east of Gun Hill before dawn, from
which, by demonstrating against the enemy's left, they would cover the
British right. Between these wings, the main infantry attack was to be
carried out by the 8th brigade, which, in the absence of its proper
commander, Colonel F. Howard, was under Colonel G. G. Grimwood, 2nd
King's Royal Rifles, whose five battalions would include the 1st and
2nd King's Royal Rifles, the 1st Leicestershire, and 1st King's
(Liverpool) regiments and the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The 1st
brigade division Royal Field artillery and the Natal Field battery
were to be attached to Grimwood's command. A general reserve of the
7th brigade, consisting of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, 1st Manchester
and 1st Devonshire regiments, and, should it arrive from Maritzburg in
time, the 2nd Rifle Brigade, were to be under the command of Colonel
Ian Hamilton, who, besides his infantry, would have with him the 5th
Dragoon Guards, the 18th Hussars, the Imperial Light Horse, two
companies mounted infantry, and the 2nd brigade division of artillery.
Grimwood was to take Long Hill, and his path thereto was to be cleared
by the shrapnel of both brigade divisions. That position carried, he
was to hold it, whilst Colonel Hamilton, supported in turn by the fire
of the united artillery, was to throw his fresh infantry against
Pepworth Hill, and complete the victory.

[Sidenote: Carleton's column parades 11 p.m. Oct. 29th.]

At 10 p.m. Carleton left his parade ground with six companies (16
officers, 518 other ranks) and 46 mules, and at 11 p.m. arrived at the
rendezvous, the level crossing of the Newcastle road close to the
Orange Free State railway junction, where the rest of his command had
been awaiting him for an hour. It consisted of five and a half
companies (some 450 men) of the Gloucester regiment, with 57 mules and
a Maxim gun; the 10th Mountain battery, comprising 137 N.C.O.s and
men, 6 guns, with 100 rounds for each, 133 mules, with 52 Cape Boys as
muleteers, and 10 horses. The total strength of the column was thus
about 1,140 men and 250 animals.

[Sidenote: Grimwood starts same night at 12.30.]

[Sidenote: Grimwood's column broken by error.]

Half an hour after midnight Grimwood's brigade (8th) set out eastward
in the following order: 1st and 2nd battalions King's Royal Rifles,
1st Leicestershire regiment, 1st brigade division R.F.A., 1st King's
(Liverpool) regiment, and the Natal Field battery, with a rearguard of
the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers.[125] Another brigade division, the
2nd, joining the line of march soon after it was put in motion,
marched in front of the 1st Liverpool regiment. The whole pressed on
for a time quietly and in order. Soon, however, the last arrival, the
2nd brigade division of artillery, in pursuance of orders, when
between Flag and Limit hills, drew away from out of the column to the
left and passed under the shelter of Flag Hill. The two battalions
behind, not being aware of any special instructions given to the
artillery, followed it, whilst those in front still pursued their
proper route, so that Grimwood's force was cut in two and separated
whilst yet but half his march was over. An hour before dawn, Grimwood,
unconscious of the mishap to his rear, gained some low kopjes 1,800
yards from the south-eastern flank of Long Hill, and extended his
troops across them, the two battalions King's Royal Rifles in firing
line, Leicester in support, facing north-west. Here he waited for
light. One company, "F." of the 1st King's Royal Rifles, moved
cautiously forward to a small kopje, slightly in advance, to cover the

         [Footnote 125: These battalions were not complete. The King's
         Royal Rifles had left two companies in Ladysmith, the Dublin
         Fusiliers three, the Leicester regiment two, the King's
         (Liverpool) regiment two.]

[Sidenote: French starting 3 a.m. dismounts 4,000 yards in rear of

[Sidenote: Hamilton at 4 a.m. moves on Limit Hill.]

[Sidenote: First news of disaster to Carleton.]

At 3 a.m. Major-General French rode out of Ladysmith with his two
regiments and pushed for Lombards Kop, dismounting his command in a
hollow basin between Gun Hill and Lombards Kop, some 4,000 yards in
rear, and out of sight, of Grimwood's infantry. The Natal Volunteers,
who had been on the ground since the previous night, went on, and,
dividing right and left, secured the summits of Lombards Kop and
Umbulwana Mountain. Colonel Hamilton, quitting his rendezvous between
Tunnel and Junction Hills at 4 a.m., moved, as directed, on Limit
Hill, which had been piqueted throughout the night by "G." and "H."
companies Gordon Highlanders. As Hamilton rode at the head of his
brigade, a man was brought to him who proved to be a muleteer of the
10th Mountain battery. He reported that a sudden disturbance had
occurred in the midst of Carleton's night march; all the mules of the
battery had broken away, and, so far as he knew, had never been seen
again. A little further on an officer of the Scottish Rifles, who had
been attached to the Gloucester regiment a few hours previously,
appeared amongst the Gordon Highlanders. He, too, told of a stampede
amongst the battery mules, and, in addition, of resulting disturbance
of some of the infantry companies, amongst others that which he
accompanied. Yet a third warning of misadventure on the left was
received before dawn. In the early morning the sentries of the piquet
of the Leicester regiment at Cove Redoubt, one of the northerly
outposts of Ladysmith, became aware of the sound of hoofs and the
rattle of harness coming towards them from the north, and the
soldiers, running down, captured several mules bearing the equipment
of mountain guns. A patrol of the 5th Dragoon Guards,[126] which had
been despatched by Sir G. White to try to get news of Carleton's
column, was checked at the Bell Spruit, but met on the road a gunner
of the 10th Mountain battery, who related the same tale as had already
reached that General. This man said that the battery had been suddenly
fired on at 2 a.m.; the mules had stampeded and disappeared. Both its
ammunition and portions of most of its guns had been carried off.
Finally, a brief note from Carleton himself to the Commander-in-Chief
announced what had then happened.

         [Footnote 126: For gallantry on this occasion Second-Lieut.
         J. Norwood, 5th Dragoon Guards, was awarded the Victoria

[Sidenote: Pickwoad shells Long Hill.]

[Sidenote: Pepworth replies.]

[Sidenote: Downing moves the two Brigade Divs. against Pepworth.]

[Sidenote: and silences the Boer guns.]

At dawn Pickwoad's brigade division, which was now deployed 1-1/2
miles south-eastward of Limit Hill, opened at Long Hill at 3,700
yards. But Long Hill was silent. The three gun emplacements visible
upon the crest were empty. Instead, at 5.15 a.m., a heavy piece fired
from Pepworth Hill, and a 96-pound shell fell near the town, its
explosion greeting the 2nd Rifle Brigade, which, having detrained at
2.30 a.m., was marching out to join Hamilton's force at Limit Hill.
The next, following quickly, burst in Pickwoad's line of guns, and
Coxhead's artillery, which attempted to reply, found itself far
outranged, whilst Pickwoad's three batteries maintained for a time
their bombardment of Long Hill. In a few moments four long-range
Creusots of smaller calibre (75 m/m) joined in from either side of the
96-pounder, two others from lower ground about the railway below the
height. Both Coxhead's and Pickwoad's batteries were covered with
missiles. Colonel C. M. H. Downing, commanding all the artillery,
quickly assumed the offensive. Dissatisfied with his position, the
left of which, lying to the east of Limit Hill, was so encumbered with
rocks that of the 53rd battery only two guns could fire at all, and
those of the other batteries of the 2nd brigade division only by
indirect laying, he drew that part of his line clear, and moved
Coxhead's three batteries, the 21st, 42nd, and 53rd, out into the
open, facing north-west, to within 4,000 yards of Pepworth.[127]
Troubled, while the change was in course of taking place, by the
accurate shooting from that hill, Downing then ordered Pickwoad to
change front to the left and come into action against Pepworth on the
right of, but some distance from, the 2nd brigade division. The guns
on the low ground under the shadow of Pepworth were soon mastered. The
battery upon its summit, at distant range for shrapnel, withstood yet
awhile; but ere long the gunners there, too, temporarily abandoned
their weapons, and only returned when a slackening of Pickwoad's fire
gave opportunity for a hasty round. At 6.30 a.m., therefore, and for
some half hour more, the trend of battle seemed to the artillery to be
in favour of the British. After that, however, fresh hostile guns
opened, and the rattle of rifles arose in ever-increasing volume, not
only from the broken ground to the right, where Grimwood's infantry
lay lost to view amongst the low, rolling kopjes by the Modder Spruit,
but also far to the rear, towards Lombards Kop. Yet no British were
seen advancing. It was evident that the infantry and cavalry were not
delivering but withstanding an onslaught.

         [Footnote 127: This is shown on map 8 as the first artillery

[Sidenote: Grimwood expecting support from the right, suffers from
that quarter.]

The attack which Grimwood found to be developing rapidly against him
was less surprising from its suddenness than from the direction from
which it assailed him. Those with him, as described above, lay in the
precise position designed for them. He had taken the precaution of
covering his right rear, until it should be protected by the cavalry,
at first with a half company ("A.") of the Leicestershire regiment,
then with two more ("F." and "H.") of the same battalion and the Maxim
gun. Furthermore, a kopje to the right front, seen in the growing
light to command from the eastward that already occupied by "F."
company 1st King's Royal Rifles, was now crowned by "H." company of
the same battalion, and all had seemed safe on that side. But now a
raking fire from the right assailed all his lines, and Grimwood,
instead of outflanking, was outflanked.

Every moment this fire grew more severe; beyond the Modder, Boer
reinforcements were streaming in full view up to the line of riflemen
shooting along the Modder Spruit. Two guns, which began to shoot from
a well-concealed spot near the Elandslaagte road, now took the British
line in enfilade, and partially in reverse. The Boer gunners upon
Pepworth and the low ground east of it again fired, the smaller pieces
into the batteries and infantry, the great Creusot frequently into the

[Sidenote: Grimwood fronts the new danger.]

Instead of the anticipated change of front to the left for the
destruction of the enemy Grimwood had now, therefore, to prepare a new
frontage most speedily, almost to his present rear, for the safety of
his brigade. "H." company 1st King's Royal Rifles, on the advanced
kopje, first turned towards the east, and coming under heavy fire from
three directions, was later reinforced by "A." company of the same
battalion. "B." company, which had lain in support of "F.," moved to
the new right of "H." and "A.," and, with "E." company, lined up along
the rocks facing the Modder Spruit. Meanwhile the officer commanding
"F.," the other advanced company, who had turned east, now found his
left assailed, and threw back half his command in that direction. The
tripod Maxim gun of the 2nd King's Royal Rifles was placed in the
centre of this company.[128]

         [Footnote 128: It was found to be impossible to get the
         wheeled gun of the 1st King's Royal Rifles over the boulders
         of the kopje.]

[Sidenote: 2nd K.R.R. fills gap between 1st K.R.R. and Leicester

The 2nd King's Royal Rifles, which had lain in support whilst the
front circled round, were now sent to reinforce. Leaving two companies
still in support, the battalion changed front to the right, and,
extending from right to left, filled the gap between the right of the
1st King's Royal Rifles and the detached 2-1/2 companies of the
Leicester regiment. These, with a Maxim, somewhat isolated on the
kopje on what was now the right flank, were beginning to be hotly

[Sidenote: The arrival of two companies R.D.F. connects Grimwood with

Thus under incessant and increasing fire the 8th brigade swung round,
pivoting on the left company 1st King's Royal Rifles, with the
detachment of the Leicester as "marker," so to speak, to its outer
flank. Two companies of the missing Royal Dublin Fusiliers[129] now
arrived to assist the Leicester, and were immediately assailed by some
sharpshooters who had worked around the right flank. They therefore
prolonged the line to the right, towards the northern spurs of
Lombards Kop, and here about 7 a.m. they joined hands with the
cavalry, whose movements must now be related.

         [Footnote 129: See p. 176.]

[Sidenote: French's operations.]

Waiting until the artillery duel seemed to be going in favour of
Downing's batteries, French gave the word for advance about 5.30 a.m.
The 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars, who had been lying in mass in the
hollow, quickly extended in a north-easterly direction, with orders to
work round the Boer left. The route taken by the brigade lay for some
distance within rifle range of the western flank of a line of low
kopjes, which, running down north-east as an irregular spur of
Lombards Kop, and parallel to the Modder Spruit, pointed in the
direction of Long Hill. At the termination of this ridge, the high
ground, dropping sharply to the plain, offered an outlet to the
eastward. For this gateway French's two regiments were making. They
had all but reached it when a sharp blaze of rifles broke from the
kopjes to their right. The squadrons thereupon wheeled to the right,
the troopers dismounted, and running a short way to the new front,
they soon reinforced a ridge, already thinly held by the right of
Grimwood's infantry, from whence they replied to the sharpshooters on
the kopjes beyond. It was soon evident that the Mausers were becoming
the masters of the carbines, and French, seeing the impossibility of
breaking through, at any rate at this period, ordered his brigade to
retire. As the men took to their horses, a gun, opening from the
enemy's left, threw shell rapidly amongst them, and made the
inequality of the combat yet more apparent. The two squadrons of the
5th Lancers, who were on the left, drew back over the plain, whilst
the 19th Hussars retraced their path under the ridges, both rejoining
General French under the lee of Lombards Kop, north of Gun Hill and of
their original point of departure. French immediately threw his
command forward again, and his two regiments, with some of the Natal
Carbineers, all dismounted, crowned the high ridges running northward
and downward from the summit of Lombards Kop, and were soon deep in
action with superior numbers all along the line. About 8 a.m.
Major-General J. F. Brocklehurst, who had only reached Ladysmith at 3
a.m., arrived at Lombards Kop with two squadrons ("B." and "D.") of
the 5th Dragoon Guards, followed by the 18th Hussars; and Downing,
withdrawing the 69th battery from the line of guns still shelling
Pepworth, despatched it with all haste in the same direction. Of
Brocklehurst's reinforcement, the two squadrons 5th Dragoon Guards
came up on the right of the 19th Hussars on the crest, and found
themselves at once under fire from the front and right flank. Of the
three weak squadrons of the 18th Hussars--all that remained after the
catastrophe of Adelaide Farm[130]--one was directed to reinforce the
19th Hussars on the eastern slope of Lombards, the other two climbed
to the right of the 5th Dragoon Guards to the south. Sharp fire from a
pom-pom and many rifles met them on the shoulder of the ridge, and it
seemed as if the British right was to be overmatched. But the 69th
battery, which had moved up the Helpmakaar road, escorted by a
squadron of the 5th Lancers, now arrived, and, boldly handled, quickly
relieved the pressure in this portion of the field by drawing the
enemy's attention to itself. Pushing on through the Nek which joins
Lombards Kop to Umbulwana this battery came into action on an
underfeature south of the road one mile beyond it, and enfiladed the
Boer left. Soon, however, it found itself the focus of an increasing
fusilade, and its commander, Major F. D. V. Wing, saw that to continue
to work the guns would entail a grave loss of men. He therefore
determined to withdraw from his dangerously advanced position. It was
impossible to bring up the teams, but the gunners ran the guns back by
hand. The battery withdrew almost intact, and, coming into action
again, kept the balance level by steady practice carried on from the
Nek itself.[131]

         [Footnote 130: Following Talana, see p. 140.]

         [Footnote 131: This is the position shown on map 8 (_a_).]

[Sidenote: Grimwood receives Artillery support.]

Meanwhile, Grimwood was being hard pressed on the low kopjes to the
northward, and his line became thinner every moment as he endeavoured
to meet the continual attempts upon his flanks. Two Boer guns shelled
steadily the much exposed 8th brigade from various points, and when
about 8 a.m. a pom-pom, joining in the bombardment, killed with its
first discharges some of the ammunition mules and scattered the rest
far and wide, Grimwood sent urgent messages to the artillery for
support. Sir G. White was at that moment himself with the batteries,
which were being enfiladed again, this time by some guns on the low
ground below and south of Pepworth. He promptly despatched the 21st
and 53rd batteries to positions from which, facing eastwards, they
could support both the cavalry and Grimwood. The 21st moved far
southward, and from a gap in the hills between the infantry and
cavalry soon rendered for the left of the latter the same service as
the 69th was performing for the right. The 53rd battery, coming into
action near the Elandslaagte road, engaged the Boer guns on Grimwood's
front, and though kept at extreme range by Sir G. White's orders,
succeeded in much reducing their effect. At the same time the 13th
battery also left the line facing Pepworth, and, wheeling eastward,
shelled the hostile artillery on the left front of the infantry with
good results.

[Sidenote: 9 to 11 a.m. a stationary battle.]

For two hours, from about 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., the engagement continued
with little movement of either army. The Boers, being now within 800
yards of the British, could advance no further, but sent a steady
stream of bullets against the ridges, pinning the cavalry to Lombards
Kop and the infantry to their line of hillocks along the Modder. By
9.30 a.m. Grimwood's last available reserve was put into the firing
line, and he could prolong his front no more, though the enemy still
threatened his flanks. The artillery was strangely dispersed. Far on
the right the 69th battery stood in action upon Umbulwana Nek; the
21st battery on the northern side of Lombards Kop covered French's
left and Grimwood's right; out in the open to their left rear the 53rd
battery shot above the heads of the right wing of the infantry, whilst
farther northward the 13th sent shrapnel over the left wing. Only the
42nd and 67th batteries remained on the site first held by the
artillery facing north-west, where the former suffered considerable
losses from the heavy enfilade and frontal fire which recommenced. For
the Boer artillerymen, encouraged by the diminution of the British
gun-power at this point, had not only returned to the pieces upon
Pepworth, but placed fresh ones upon the northernmost spurs of Long
Hill itself.

[Sidenote: Reserve absorbed by action.]

The reserve on Limit Hill, under Colonel Ian Hamilton's command, had
been reduced considerably by the successive demands of the battle. He
had been early deprived of most of his cavalry and all his artillery,
and shortly after 8 a.m., on a report coming of a hostile advance
against the left flank, two squadrons ("E." and "F.") of his remaining
mounted troops, the Imperial Light Horse, had left him to occupy some
kopjes on either side of the railway close to Aller Park, from which
they could see the enemy moving in strength about the heights of Bell
Spruit. At 10 a.m. the 1st Manchester regiment was also withdrawn from
Hamilton's brigade, the right half-battalion proceeding towards
Lombards Kop, the left half passing into the open as escort to the
artillery. The former portion eventually became incorporated with
French's firing line, whilst the latter lay out upon the shelterless
ground between the original artillery position and the new one taken
up by the 13th battery, where they suffered somewhat severely from the
intermittent shells.

[Sidenote: Ladysmith threatened.]

Meanwhile Colonel W. G. Knox, who, in the absence of the army, had
been placed in charge of the defences of Ladysmith, was by no means
secure. Left with a garrison of a few companies of infantry, he
detailed two of these, with the 23rd of the Royal engineers, and the
two Boer guns captured at Elandslaagte, to cover the north of the
town, posting them upon a ridge north-west of Observation Hill. Here
he found himself confronted immediately by strong bodies and two guns
of the enemy, who manoeuvred about Bell's and the adjacent kopjes. He
was soon strengthened by two guns and 88 men of the 10th Mountain
battery, hastily collected and reorganised after their stampede from
Carleton's party. But at no time could Knox do more than hold his own,
and the strength and boldness of the Boers, who at one time
threatened the town, seemed the last confirmation of Carleton's fate.

[Sidenote: Sir George withdraws the troops.]

[Sidenote: 13th battery covers retreat.]

About 11 a.m. Sir G. White, having first despatched his Chief of the
Staff, Major-General A. Hunter, to investigate the situation, decided
to withdraw. To cover the movement he sent out three squadrons ("B.,"
"C." and "D.") of the Imperial Light Horse which remained in reserve
at Limit Hill. The 13th battery, receiving an order to support them as
closely as possible, galloped in and unlimbered 800 yards behind
Grimwood's line. So screened, the infantry began to retreat at 11.30
a.m. As the men rose from their shelters, a storm of fire broke from
the enemy's ridges. But the gunners of the 13th battery, turning the
hail of bullets from the infantry, faced it themselves. Almost the
whole volume of the enemy's fire soon centred on this battery. From
the right, four Boer guns concealed in the scrub raked the line; those
upon Long Hill bombarded from the left, whilst from the left rear the
heavy shells from Pepworth also struck in, hitting direct four of the
six guns. When twenty minutes had passed thus, and Grimwood's brigade
had almost removed itself into safety, the battery which had shielded
it looked as if it must itself be lost.

[Sidenote: 53rd battery relieves 13th.]

From their rear Major A. J. Abdy, commanding the 53rd battery, had
marked the perilous situation of the 13th and, obtaining permission
from Colonel Coxhead, advanced to succour it. Galloping to the front,
across a deep donga, the 53rd wheeled to the right of the 13th and
ranged upon some Boer artillery 2,350 yards to the eastward. By the
orders of Major-General Hunter, who was on the spot, the 13th retired
first, some 800 yards. But before it could come into action again, the
53rd, left alone on the plain, drew in its turn the fire of all the
Boer guns. A shell exploded beneath a limber, blowing the wheels to
fragments, so that the gun could not be removed, and had to be
temporarily abandoned. As soon as the 13th re-opened the 53rd was able
to draw back. In re-crossing the donga a gun upset, and the enemy's
shells burst over it, but whilst the battery fell back to a new site
to support the 13th, Lieutenant J. F. A. Higgins, having been left
with the team in the donga, succeeded in righting the gun, and
restored it to its place in the line. A few minutes previously,
Captain W. Thwaites, with six men, had ridden forward, and now
returned, bringing with him on a new limber the gun which had been
disabled in the open. Only the old limber and a wagon of stores
remained derelict.

[Sidenote: The Infantry, under the protection of the guns, get away.]

[Sidenote: The Naval guns appear and silence the Boers.]

So covered, the infantry had been getting away with unimpaired
discipline, but in great confusion, owing to the intermixture of units
and the extreme exhaustion of the men. Two Maxims were abandoned, but
useless, on the kopjes--those of the Leicestershire regiment and 2nd
King's Royal Rifles--the mules of both having been shot or stampeded
by the last outburst from the Boer lines. The enemy made no serious
attempt to follow up the retirement. Some Boers did indeed speed
forward to the now empty kopjes, and began shooting rapidly from
thence, but under the fine practice of the 13th battery the musketry
soon dwindled. The Creusot on Pepworth Hill sounded on the right, and
every part of the route to be traversed by the troops lay within range
of its projectiles. About noon, a report, as loud as that of the great
French cannon itself, came from the direction of the town, and the
batteries on Pepworth sank immediately to silence under the repeated
strokes of shells from British Naval guns. Captain the Honourable
Hedworth Lambton, R.N., had detrained his command of two 4.7-in.,
three 12-pr. 12-cwt. quick-firing guns, with some smaller pieces, 16
officers and 267 men at 10 a.m., the very time when the enemy's 6-in.
shells were bursting over the railway station.[132] After conferring
with Colonel Knox, he was in two hours on his way towards the fight
with the 12-pounders, reaching the place held by Hamilton's brigade.
But in view of the imminent retirement, this was too far forward, and
Lambton was ordered back. Whilst he was in the act of Withdrawing,
the gunners on Pepworth, descrying the strings of moving bullocks,
launched a shell which pitched exactly upon one of the guns, and
tumbled it over. Lambton, however, coming into action nearer the town,
opened heavily and accurately on his antagonist, and reduced him to
immediate silence.

         [Footnote 132: Rear-Admiral Sir R. Harris, K.C.M.G., in Naval
         command at the Cape, had been requested (October 24th) by Sir
         G. White to send a heavy gun detachment to Ladysmith "in view
         of heavy guns being brought by General Joubert from the
         north." It will be seen with what promptitude the request was
         acceded to and acted upon by the Naval commander. In
         ninety-six hours the guns were disembarked from H.M.S.
         _Powerful_ at Durban; seventeen hours later they were in

[Sidenote: The garrison reaches Ladysmith by 2.30 p.m.]

At 1 p.m. the cavalry on the right gave up the crests which they had
maintained so long, covered up to the last by the 21st battery on the
left, and on the right by the 69th battery, whose escort had been
strengthened by "C" squadron 5th Dragoon Guards taken from Limit Hill.
At 2.30 p.m. French's command was in Ladysmith, following the 1st
Manchester regiment, which had retired on the right of the cavalry.
With the exception of four companies of the 1st Devonshire regiment,
left upon Limit Hill, the rest of the troops engaged had reached their
camps a short time previously. Only the tents of Carleton's two
battalions were seen to be empty when evening fell.

[Sidenote: Carleton's night march begins 11.15 p.m. 29th Oct./99.]

[Sidenote: The disaster.]

Carleton's detachment had moved from the rendezvous at 11.15 p.m. in
the following order: first, under Major C. S. Kincaid, a small party
of 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, who marched with fixed bayonets; then
Colonel Carleton himself, with Major W. Adye, D.A.A.G. for
Intelligence, and the guides; behind them the 1st Royal Irish
Fusiliers, followed by their 46 mules; then the 10th Mountain battery,
with 133 mules; then the 57 mules of the 1st Gloucester regiment; next
five and a half companies of that battalion, and finally a small
rearguard, under Captain B. O. Fyffe, of the Gloucester. The valley of
the Bell Spruit was wrapped in profound darkness, yet the force pushed
on at a rapid pace, and, in spite of the noise of its progress, was
undetected by the Boer piquets on the hills on either side. Shortly
after 1 a.m. the van was opposite the southern spur of the height
called Kainguba, at the other extremity of which, some two miles due
north, lay the object of the expedition, Nicholson's Nek. The column
was here in perfect order, the road to the Nek was good, and there was
promise of about two hours of darkness to conceal the remainder of the
march. But Colonel Carleton, thinking more of the lateness of his
start than of the excellence of his progress, and remembering that his
orders had not bound him absolutely to Nicholson's Nek, came to the
conclusion at this point that, if, as seemed possible, he could not
reach the Nek before dawn, it would be extremely rash to be surprised
by daylight in a narrow defile. He decided, therefore, at least to
make good the dangerous high ground on his left by occupying the
nearest crest of Kainguba above him, intending, if time allowed, to
continue his march to the Nek from this vantage ground. He therefore
wheeled the leading files to the left, and at their head began the
boulder-obstructed and finally almost precipitous ascent of the
mountain, ordering guides to be left to indicate the point of the
change of direction to the units following the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
When the head of that battalion had climbed two-thirds of the steep a
mysterious and fatal incident occurred. Suddenly from the darkness
encircling the clambering soldiers broke out a roar "like that of an
approaching train,"[133] there was a rush of hoofs and the clatter of
scattering stones. In a moment a group of loose animals, whether
horses, mules or cattle, it was impossible to discern, bounding down
the rocky precipice, tore past the last companies of the Royal Irish
Fusiliers and disappeared as quickly as they had come into the gloom
of the valley. The rear of the Irish Fusiliers checked and staggered
back upon the long line of ammunition mules. The natural timidity of
these animals, many of them almost untrained, had been increased by
their long wait at the rendezvous, and by the fact that they were led
by strange and unskilled men. Now it became an uncontrollable panic.
Leaping round, dragging their muleteers with them, they plunged
backwards in terror, wrenched themselves loose, and thundered over the
steep slope upon all below them. The battery mules and those of the
Gloucester regiment were dashed downwards and joined the riot, and the
whole mass poured upon the Gloucester regiment, which had just begun
to breast the hill. A shout arose; the men of the front companies were
buffeted and swept from the track in every direction. A few shots rang
sharply from behind, and a few more faintly from a startled Boer
piquet on Surprise Hill. Then the uproar died away in the valley of
the Bell Spruit, leaving the column disordered and amazed at its own
wreck. It was a disaster complete, sudden, and incurred by no fault of
officers or men. Up to this point the night march, conducted in deep
darkness and between the enemy's piquets, had been a conspicuous
success, and now in one swift moment the hand of fate had changed
order into chaos, and success into destruction. But the troops quickly
recovered, and indeed but few had yielded to the shock. Many had
gathered about their officers with fixed bayonets; many, hurled to the
ground, had nevertheless gripped their weapons and looked not for
safety, but the enemy. Only fifty of the infantry, and these included
many who had been actually stunned by the onset of the frenzied mules,
failed to fall into the ranks at the summons of the officers, who,
even before the tumult had ceased, were strenuously working to
re-organise their commands.

         [Footnote 133: The simile of an officer present.]

[Sidenote: 2 a.m. the column reaches summit without guns or reserve

About 2 a.m. the leading files pressed over the crest on to the top of
the mountain. An hour of uncertainty and, had the enemy been near, of
extreme danger followed. Most of the Irish Fusiliers were now upon the
summit, disposed, as best could be, for defence. But the Gloucester at
the bottom were not yet formed, and when, about 3 a.m., they came up
in such order as they had been able to contrive, they brought only
nine of their fifty-nine mules with them. The Irish Fusiliers had
recovered but eight. The reserve of ammunition was thus practically
swept away. The Mountain battery did not appear at all. Only two of
the gun mules eventually arrived, carrying portions of two pieces.
Eighty-eight gunners and one hundred and thirty mules had dropped out,
and not a complete gun of all the six was available.

[Sidenote: bivouacks on southern edge and awaits dawn.]

[Sidenote: The ground.]

[Sidenote: Carleton chooses a defensive position.]

[Sidenote: Distribution of companies.]

When at last both regiments reached the top they were formed in line
of quarter-columns--Gloucester on the right. Guided by Adye, they
moved towards the southern extremity of the ridge, where they halted,
lay down around the crest, and waited for light. Dawn revealed the
nature of the position which the diminished detachment occupied.
Behind, the southern end of the mountain dropped almost sheer to the
valley. In front, to the northward, the hill-top first sloped downward
somewhat to a point, where, like Talana, it was narrowed by a deep
re-entrant on one side, then rose to a new sky line, which hid from
the British troops the remainder of the ridge some 1,200 or more yards
from the southern crest. Over it the hill-top narrowed, and ran on for
a mile and a half towards Nicholson's Nek. A jungle of tall grass,
hiding innumerable boulders, clothed the mountain up to and a little
beyond the sky line, ceasing some 700 yards from the southern crest,
and between this thicket and the British line were dotted a few ruined
stone kraals, of a circular shape and some two feet high. Across the
valley of the Bell Spruit, to the east, a group of kopjes stood within
long rifle range of, but lower than, Kainguba. In the midst of the
British position itself, a small knoll, crowned by two trees, and
nearly as high as the grass-grown sky line in front, arose at the end
of the mountain before it plunged into the depth behind. Carleton, now
decided to stand on the defensive where he was, despatched a message
at 3.55 a.m. by a native, acquainting Sir G. White with his mishap,
his position, and his plan, and issued orders for the disposition and
entrenchment of the troops. The left or western crest of the hill was
assigned to the Gloucester regiment, the right to the Irish Fusiliers,
a reserve, consisting of two companies ("G." and "H.") of the latter
battalion, taking post in front of the knoll at the southern extremity
of the summit. The men began at once to build sangars. The position of
the Gloucester, which it is necessary to describe in detail, was as
follows: Along half of the southern and south-western crest lay "A."
company, its right being prolonged by "B." company, and at first by
"C." This last-named unit, however, was soon extended across the north
of the hill, at right angles to the crest and "B." company, and had
half completed a defensive wall when it was again pushed forward about
100 yards to the front, "B." company increasing its extension along
the crest to maintain junction with the left of "C." The right flank
of "C." company was marked by a round kraal, behind which stood up a
small tree, and beyond this the line across the mountain-top was taken
up by a company ("E.") of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, which, in its
turn, linked on to the defenders ("A.," "B.," "F." companies Royal
Irish Fusiliers) of the eastern crest. The formation thus took the
shape of a semicircle, behind a diameter, composed of one company
Gloucester and one Royal Irish Fusiliers, facing the rise to the
northward. Some 700 yards back from these the arc followed the contour
of the mountain in rear. Thus back from the fighting line the ground
sloped upwards, hiding from it the reserves, and exposing
reinforcements from them, or men retreating back to them, to the full
view and fire of anyone upon the shoulder which arose in front. Over
the brow of this rise "D." company Gloucester entrenched itself in a
position to support both "C." company Gloucester and "E." company
Royal Irish Fusiliers. Though less than 150 yards in rear, "D."
company was, owing to the bulging ground, invisible to "C." company,
and the officers of the latter knew nothing of the proximity of its
support. The movements necessary to these dispositions had scarcely
begun when a slow rifle-fire, commencing from Surprise Hill to the
south-west, showed that the presence of the British on the mountain
was discovered, and from the very first the toiling soldiers thus
found themselves taken in flank and reverse. Stones of manageable size
were scarce, tools were lacking with which to move the large ones,
and, with the smaller, defences of but the most paltry dimensions
could be erected. At this time the danger of the dead ground ahead,
and below the left front, became apparent to Carleton, and "E."
company of the Gloucester, moving out beyond the front line, took post
upon the densely-grown summit of the rise, 400 yards in front of "C."
turning its left section to face west. Here it was shortly joined by
the half of "H." company, some twenty men in all, sent forward by the
O.C. Gloucester in response to Carleton's order (which did not name
any precise strength) to reinforce.

[Sidenote: 7 a.m. Boers appear.]

At 7 a.m. bands of mounted men came down from Intintanyoni to the
heights east of Bell Spruit, whence they opened fire upon the right
rear of the British position. An hour later a hostile battery of
apparently four guns suddenly appeared upon the northern end of these
heights, and, unlimbering for action, threatened Kainguba in silence
for some time, only to disappear northwards without firing a shot. A
number of horsemen were seen to ride away with it, and these, bearing
to the left, vanished behind Nicholson's Nek.

[Sidenote: 9 a.m. they threaten rear.]

At 9 a.m. a movement still more threatening was descried from the
lines of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Groups of horsemen, breaking away
from the main laager visible at Pepworth, came riding up the valleys
and behind the crests towards the northern end of Kainguba. On the
right, amongst the Irish Fusiliers, the Maxim of the Gloucester
regiment stood ready for action, and the officer in charge commenced a
slow fire upon the stream of Boers. Opening at 1,200 yards, he
gradually increased the range to 2,000 yards, and the trotting
horsemen had just broken into a gallop as the bullets began to lash
amongst them, when an order was received not to fire unless the enemy
showed in masses at closer distances, ammunition being scarce.

[Sidenote: Boer movements.]

At 2 a.m. Commandant Van Dam, lying in bivouac with his Johannesburg
Police[134] beneath Pepworth, received orders from Joubert in person
to proceed at once to the northern summit of Kainguba and hold the
ridge above Nicholson's Nek. The Boer officer thereupon galloped for
that spot with 400 men, being warned of the proximity of British
troops by a Field Cornet of the Pretoria commando, who lay with thirty
men on the northern slope of the high ground east of Bell Spruit.
Gaining the Nek, the Police found it occupied by 150 Free Staters, who
moved away further west on their approach. Van Dam's plan was quickly
made. Sending a message to the Free Staters that if they would ride
round to the flank and rear of the British, he would attack straight
over the top of the mountain, he left fifty burghers in the Nek in
charge of the horses, and led the remainder on foot in straggling
order up the hill. The crest was gained and half the summit traversed
before shots rang out from the shelters of the advanced companies of
the Gloucester. But the Boers fired no round until, at 800 yards, the
foremost British sangar was visible through the long grass. Meanwhile
the Free Staters, under Christian De Wet and Steenkamp, crept around
the foot of the steep ground under Van Dam's right, swinging
northward. Then they, too, began to climb, and by 10 a.m. Carleton's
column was entrapped.

         [Footnote 134: Or South African Republic Police (the

[Sidenote: Development of attack.]

The weak company and a half in front of the Gloucester, badly
sheltered from the converging fire, could do little more than check
the foremost burghers. This, however, they did so effectually for a
time that Van Dam, fearing for the issue of a merely frontal attack,
and hearing nothing of the Free Staters, who had not yet reached their
goal, ordered one of his officers, Lieutenant Pohlmann, to take fifty
men out of sight under the hill to the right, and not to fire a shot
until he arrived within decisive range of the British. Pohlmann moved
boldly and skilfully, and, appearing suddenly upon the left of "E."
company Gloucester, poured a destructive shower over the defences. The
captain of "E." company perceived at once the hopelessness of his
situation, asked and received permission to retire, and took his men
and those of "H." company back under a heavy fusilade and with severe
loss, passing the left flank of "C." company, into whose sangars many
dropped for shelter. The section detached to the left, not receiving
the order--unable to retire, if it had received it--was shot down to a
man. The commander was taken prisoner. Carleton, who had not
authorised this retirement, and placed as he was, knew nothing of the
necessity for it, then ordered Major S. Humphery to reinforce the
diminished companies, and send them back to the abandoned sangars.
This Humphery found to be impossible, and thus the front of the
position receded to the line of "C." company Gloucester and of "E."
company Royal Irish Fusiliers, slightly to their right rear. Nor was
this to remain long unbroken; for most of the men of this company of
Royal Irish Fusiliers, finding their feeble defences crumbling to
nothing under the tremendous fire, drew off gradually towards their
comrades on the right, and soon the officers of "C." company
Gloucester saw that the prolongation of their line had vanished, and
that their right was now completely exposed.

[Sidenote: 11:30 a.m. A heliograph cannot be answered.]

About this time (11.30 a.m.) a heliograph from Sir G. White's main
body was seen. Carleton called for signallers to read the message; but
so deadly was the fire that three men were wounded in succession, and
one man thrice, as they stood by Carleton spelling out the signal.
This ran:--"Retire on Ladysmith as opportunity offers." The only
heliograph with the column had vanished in the stampede, and Carleton,
encircled by musketry, knew that he was as powerless to obey the order
as to acknowledge it.

[Sidenote: A fatal misunderstanding.]

The Boers, who had turned "E." company, Gloucester, crawled on to
within forty yards of the right of "B." company, threatening to roll
it up, and Lieutenant C. S. Knox, its commander, surrounded by dead,
found it necessary to go back to fetch up more men. Near him, in the
sangar of "C." company, lay Captain S. Willcock of "H." company, and
Knox, before starting back, waved his arms to attract his attention,
shouting to him that the Boers were coming up from behind, that he,
Knox, had to go back, and that Willcock must look to his left. But
Knox, with a gesture of his arms, had unwittingly imitated the
military signal to retire, and the musketry, which was now one
sustained roar upon the mountain, drowned all of his shouting, except
the words "from behind." Willcock, therefore, imagining that he was
receiving an order to retire, which might have been sent forward from
the commanding officer, passed it on to Captain Fyffe, who, in turn,
communicated it to Captain Duncan, the senior officer in the sangar.
In the short retirement which followed nearly forty-five percent fell.

[Sidenote: Duncan occupies a kraal, and then surrenders.]

Following their retreating companies, Captains Duncan and Fyffe (the
latter wounded) halted by a small ruined kraal some fifty yards back,
leaped into it with six or eight men, and determined to make a stand.
Behind the kraal, the ground sloping upwards, hid the rest of the
British lines entirely from a man lying prone in the sorry shelter. So
close now were the Boers that the uproar of their rapid and incessant
shots overwhelmed all else. To the occupants of the kraal it seemed as
though silence had fallen over the British part of the position, and
this, though "D." company was shooting steadily, unshaken in the
sangar not fifty yards to their right rear. They thought that Colonel
Carleton had taken his column from the hill, and that they were alone.
For a few moments they lay, the helpless focus of hundreds of rifles,
and then, after a brief conversation with his wounded junior, Duncan
decided to surrender. Two handkerchiefs tied to the muzzle of an
uplifted rifle were apparently invisible to the Boers, whose fire
continued unabated. But the white rags, fluttering just clear of the
brow of the rise, were marked in an instant from the sangar of "D."
company, of whose proximity Duncan and his party were absolutely
unaware, and Captain R. Conner, who lay there with the commanding
officer of the Gloucester, rushed out towards them over some fifty
yards of bullet-swept ground shouting an enquiry. Meanwhile, as the
storm of lead still beat upon the shelter, Duncan, taking a towel from
a soldier near him, tied it to his sword and held it aloft. For a
minute or two the enemy did not desist, and in this interval Conner,
running by order of his commanding officer, across to Colonel
Carleton, acquainted him with the fact that the flag had been upraised
in Duncan's sangar. At the same time a bugle, whether British or Boer
will never be known, sounded the "cease fire" somewhere on the British
left. There was a hasty consultation between Carleton and Adye as to
the possibility of repudiating the surrender altogether, or of
applying it solely to the small party which had yielded. But the
former officer, raising his eyes towards the spot, saw that the enemy
had practically decided the question for him. Having passed by
Duncan's kraal they were close in front of his main line, moving
quickly forward with shouts and waving of hats, with rifles held
confidently at the "trail." Many were already on the flank of the
right portion of the British line, which, surrender or not as it
would, was thus placed in an utterly untenable position. This right,
consisting of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, absorbed in action to the
front, knew nothing of the events on the left.

[Sidenote: Carleton submits for all.]

There was yet time to disown the flag. The Boers had so far possessed
themselves only of Duncan's sangar; but Carleton shrank from doing
what he knew would be construed into the blackest treachery by his
opponents, which he knew, moreover, could but prolong the resistance
of his trapped and exhausted battalions some half an hour or less.
Calling a bugler to him he bade him sound the "cease fire," set a
match to his maps and papers, and, with Adye, walked out towards the
enemy. Some of the Irish Fusiliers still fought on whilst Carleton,
meeting Commandant Steenkamp, handed over to him his sword and
revolver; it was some time before the bursts of firing ceased
altogether on the right. At about 1.30 p.m. 37 officers and 917 men
became prisoners of war.[135]

         [Footnote 135: For detailed casualties, etc., see Appendix



[Sidenote: Hopes of Sir George White's strength felt at home.]

Reports of the concentration of large commandos of Transvaal and Free
State burghers on the Natal border had been telegraphed home by the
High Commissioner and the Governor of Natal on the 28th of September,
and reached the Colonial Office during the night of the 28th-29th. The
plan, therefore, of an advance through the Orange Free State, which
was adopted by the Cabinet on the following day, by implication
assumed that the force assigned to Sir George White for the defence of
Natal would be sufficient to check the threatened invasion until a
forward movement of the army corps in the western theatre of war
should draw away from the republican host the Free State men for the
protection of their own territory.

[Sidenote: Situation when Sir R. Buller arrived.]

The events of the first three weeks of the war showed that Sir George
White, without assistance, would not be able to protect Natal, and the
situation which met General Buller on his disembarkation in South
Africa on the morning of the 31st October could not but cause him
grave anxiety. The Natal Field Force, after three strenuous efforts at
Talana, Elandslaagte and Lombards Kop to repel the enemy's columns of
invasion, lay concentrated at Ladysmith, and to the north, east, and
west was already closely watched by the enemy in superior strength.
General Buller was convinced that the troops needed rest, and could
for a time only act on the defensive. He therefore telegraphed to
General White, on 1st November, suggesting that he should entrench and
await events either at Ladysmith or at Colenso. Sir George's reply
showed that he had already entrenched himself at Ladysmith, and could
not now withdraw. South of Ladysmith there were only very weak posts
at Colenso and Estcourt, and one regular battalion at Maritzburg. For
the moment, the safety of the capital of Natal appeared to be
precarious, and Sir Redvers even deemed it necessary to request the
Naval Commander-in-Chief to take steps for the protection of Durban
from land attack. In Cape Colony the Boer forces close to the Orange
river had been strengthened by reinforcements from the commandos
originally assigned to watch the Basuto border. Moreover, there was
some reason to believe that another commando from the north was moving
down upon Kimberley, and this report, coupled with the lack of news
from Mafeking, rendered it for the moment doubtful whether
Baden-Powell might not have been overwhelmed.[136] The first units of
the expeditionary force were not due at Cape Town for some ten days.
The complete disembarkation at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East
London would not be finished until early in December.[137] The British
Commander-in-Chief could not hope, therefore, for at least a month,
that his field army would be complete in organisation, equipment, and
transport, and ready to commence an advance into the Free State.
Notwithstanding these anxieties, General Buller was at first inclined
to adhere to the scheme originally designed, and to wait until he
could remove the pressure on Ladysmith and Kimberley by striking
straight at Bloemfontein. He so informed Lord Wolseley in a telegram
despatched from Cape Town on 1st November. Yet a few hours later it
became evident that the whole case was graver than Sir Redvers had at
first conceived. Both from the telegrams of Sir George White and from
those of Sir Archibald Hunter, from whom, as his own chief-of-staff,
Buller had called for a personal report on affairs in Natal, it was
manifest that Ladysmith was certain to be cut off from the outer
world. General White telegraphed: "I have the greatest confidence in
holding the Boers for as long as necessary," but he added that
"reinforcements should be sent to Natal at once. Ladysmith strongly
entrenched, but lines not continuous and perimeter so large that Boers
can exercise their usual tactics." General Hunter reported that
"Ladysmith lies in a hollow, commanded by heights too distant for us
to hold, and now possessed by the enemy"; and that "the Boers are
superior in numbers, mobility, and long-range artillery." In Cape
Colony the Intelligence officers at Naauwpoort and Stormberg
telegraphed that a commando, 800 strong, had crossed the Orange river
at Norval's Pont, and that another Boer force, stated to be 3,000
strong, with two guns and a Maxim, was crossing the Bethulie bridge.
The enemy's successes in Natal were, in fact, encouraging the Free
State commandos to establish connection with the disaffected in the
eastern and midland districts of Cape Colony. As regards the general
attitude of those in the Colonies who sympathised with the Boers,
General Buller was aware that for the most part they possessed arms
and ammunition, and that if their districts were invaded the young men
would join the enemy. The information in his possession led to a
belief that the greater number were for the moment still very
undecided, wondering which side would win, and that their whole
attention was fixed on Ladysmith and Kimberley. If the relief of those
places could be effected, the hostile elements, it was held, would not
stir; but if the two towns should fall, a dangerous rising was thought
probable. Meanwhile at Kimberley, although the reports of the officer
in command of the garrison did not appear to Sir Redvers to show any
immediate anxiety, yet the successful defence of that place depended
on other than the regular troops,[138] and there were indications that
the strain of the situation was being already felt. Urgent appeals
were addressed by the civil community to the High Commissioner,
drawing his attention to the large number of women and children
within the town, the possibility of the cattle, on which the meat
supplies of the invested population mainly depended, being captured by
the enemy, and the difficulty of maintaining order amongst the 10,000
"raw savages" employed in the mine compounds.

         [Footnote 136: See Sir R. Buller's despatch to Secretary of
         State for War, dated 1st November, 1899.]

         [Footnote 137: Before leaving England Sir R. Buller had
         informed the War Office that he proposed to disembark the 1st
         (Methuen's) division at Cape Town, the 2nd (Clery's) at Port
         Elizabeth, and the 3rd (Gatacre's) at East London; but,
         having regard to possible changes in the strategic situation,
         he requested that every ship should call at Cape Town for

         [Footnote 138: See Vol. II.]

[Sidenote: Difficulties to be dealt with.]

The consideration of these reports and representations made it evident
that the whole situation had changed from that contemplated when the
original plan of campaign had been drawn up. For an aggressive advance
on Bloemfontein there was as yet no adequate army. The component parts
of it were on the high seas. Even after they should have arrived, much
time and labour would be required, before they could be welded
together, and supplied with all that was needed for an offensive march
into a country so distant from the coast. On the other hand, if
Ladysmith should meanwhile fall, the Boer commandos at present
surrounding that town would be set free to seize not only Maritzburg
but probably also the seaport of Durban, the possession of which would
give to the republics direct access to the outer world, and would, as
was believed by both Boer and British, be a signal to all the
disaffected in Cape Colony to take up arms. In the western theatre of
war, the early relief of Kimberley was an object dear to the hearts of
all loyalists, and its loss would undoubtedly give an immediate
impetus to the wave of rebellion. The necessity for immediate action
was urgent, both in Natal and Cape Colony, but the former appeared for
the moment to present the more critical situation. Sir Redvers,
therefore, on the 2nd November, telegraphed to the War Office:

     "I consider that I must reinforce Natal, hang on to Orange River
     bridge, and give myself to organise troops expected from England.
     I am, therefore, withdrawing the garrisons at Naauwpoort and
     Stormberg. I shall send Gatacre's division on arrival to Natal,
     and with Methuen's and Clery's try to keep the main line open,
     and to relieve Kimberley. I do not wish to be pessimistic, but it
     seems to me I shall have to wait until March to commence active

[Sidenote: Messages from and to home. "Extreme gravity."]

On receipt of this report Lord Lansdowne telegraphed an enquiry
whether the division sent to Natal should be replaced by a fresh
division from England. On the 3rd November, in consequence of further
reports from Natal, Sir Redvers telegraphed to the Secretary of State:

     "Telegraphic connection with Ladysmith was interrupted yesterday,
     and White's force is isolated. He is well supplied with
     everything, except ammunition for his naval 12-pounders, which
     are the only guns that can compete with hostile artillery. I
     regard the situation as one of extreme gravity. Colenso bridge
     and Maritzburg are held by one battalion each; we are protecting
     Durban from the fleet. I shall despatch the first reinforcements
     I receive to Durban, but I cannot conceal from myself that if the
     enemy previously occupy, even with a small force, the country
     south of Mooi River, the relief of White by troops just landed
     will be an almost impossible operation, unless he can hold out
     six weeks at least from now."

[Sidenote: Nov. 4/99. Sir Redvers decides to go to Natal.]

By the following day, 4th November, General Buller had been able to
work out his plans more in detail. It had become more and more
apparent that Natal, where now the bulk of the enemy's strength lay,
was for the moment the scene of most difficulty and danger, and that
the relief of Ladysmith was all-important. For these reasons Sir
Redvers decided to proceed himself to Natal for a time to supervise
personally that critical operation. He telegraphed, therefore, to the
Secretary of State:

     "My intentions are as follows: I propose to send Clery and
     Headquarters 2nd division to Natal to command. With him will go
     the first three brigade Headquarters except Guards that arrive.
     These three brigades will be composed of the first line
     battalions that arrive. Headquarters 1st division will land at
     Cape Town, and Lord Methuen will command advance on Kimberley
     with Guards' brigade and one other. Headquarters 3rd division
     will land at Cape Town or East London, as circumstances require,
     and will be completed with a new brigade, under Fetherstonhaugh,
     formed of three extra regiments and one from line of
     communications, or else colonial regiment.

     "I propose to take charge of advance on Ladysmith. If under
     Providence we are successful there and at Kimberley, I think
     collapse of opposition possible. These proposals are subject to
     High Commissioner's views of state of Cape Colony, and to what
     may happen meantime anywhere else.

     "Preparation of extra division seems desirable, but I do not yet
     see need for its despatch from England. I shall speak with more
     confidence when I see French, who is, I hope, en route here from

[Sidenote: More hopeful views.]

On the 5th November Sir Redvers telegraphed further to the War Office
that 40 days' supplies for the force under orders for Natal should be
shipped direct from England to Durban. The more hopeful view the
General Commanding-in-Chief was already taking may be judged from the
fact that on the following day, the 6th of November, he requested the
War Office to read "January" instead of "March" in the last sentence
of his above quoted cypher of November 2nd. Five days later, in reply
to a telegram from Lord Lansdowne, stating that another infantry
division was being mobilised, and asking by what date it would be
required, General Buller reported:

     "The defence of Ladysmith seems to have so thoroughly checked
     advance of enemy, that I have some grounds for hoping the
     successful relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith may end opposition.
     On the other hand, reliable Dutch here predict guerilla warfare
     as a certainty. I think, therefore, that I ought to have another
     division as soon as possible. My great want at present is mounted
     men. I am raising as many as I can, and should like, as soon as
     possible, a few good special service officers."

To this despatch the War Office answered on 14th November that a fifth
infantry division would be sent out at an early date, under command of
Sir C. Warren.

[Sidenote: The original scheme of march through Free State to be
carried out after relief of Ladysmith.]

In arriving at the decisions recorded in the above official telegrams,
Sir Redvers Buller had not abandoned the intention of carrying out
ultimately the original plan of campaign. On the contrary, with a view
to its resumption, after the relief of Ladysmith had been effected, he
determined to instruct the General Officer Commanding the 1st
division, Lieut.-General Lord Methuen, as soon as he had thrust aside
the Boer commandos between the Orange river and Kimberley, to throw
into that town supplies and a reinforcement of one and a half
battalions of infantry and some naval long-range guns, and then move
back to the Orange river, withdrawing with him the women and children
and natives. Meantime, while the cavalry division, as its units
arrived from England, was being prepared for the front at a camp near
Cape Town, its commander, Lieut.-General French, who had been recalled
from Ladysmith, was to form a flying column at Naauwpoort, with
instructions to risk no engagement, but to manoeuvre and worry the
enemy, and thus check any invasion of the central districts of the
Cape. On the eastern side of that colony, the Commander-in-Chief
decided to assemble at Queenstown a force, under Lieut.-General Sir W.
Gatacre, the commander of the 3rd infantry division, whose duty it
would be to operate northwards, and endeavour to stop recruiting by
the enemy and protect the loyal. On Lord Methuen's return to Orange
River, it was Sir Redvers' intention that he should march eastwards in
conjunction with French, occupy the bridges of Colesberg, Norval's
Pont and Bethulie, and thus prepare for the advance on Bloemfontein,
which would be undertaken as soon as the relief of Ladysmith set him
(Sir Redvers) free from Natal.

[Sidenote: Dissolution of Army organisation.]

The decision to despatch to Natal the bulk of the earliest
reinforcements arriving from home has been often referred to as "the
break-up of the army corps." In a sense it was much more than that.
From the point of view of organisation, the transfer of one or more
intact divisions of the original army corps to Natal would have been
immaterial, since they would have remained still under the supreme
control of the General himself. But the urgency of the situation
compelled the British Commander not only to detach portions of the
army corps, but to improvise hastily, from the general officers and
regimental units as they arrived in transports at Cape Town, special
forces with hardly any regard to the composition of the divisions as
originally fixed by the War Office. Thus to the commander of the 2nd
division, Lieut.-General Sir C. F. Clery, who was selected by Sir
Redvers Buller to make preparation for the relief of Ladysmith, and to
act as his second in command in that enterprise, two cavalry
regiments, four brigades of infantry,[139] two brigade divisions of
field artillery, a company of Royal engineers, and a pontoon troop
were assigned. But of these units, only the 4th brigade, commanded by
Major-General the Hon. N. G. Lyttelton, and Lt.-Colonel L. W. Parsons'
brigade division, R.F.A. (63rd, 64th, and 73rd batteries), belonged to
Clery's division. The 2nd infantry brigade, under Major-General H. J.
T. Hildyard, and Lt.-Colonel H. V. Hunt's brigade division (7th,
14th, and 66th batteries), being the first units of infantry and
artillery to arrive from England, were removed from Methuen's
division, and sent on at once to Natal. To these were subsequently
added both the infantry brigades of the 3rd division (the 5th, under
command of Major-General A. FitzRoy Hart, and the 6th, under
Major-General G. Barton), the 13th Hussars, originally designated as
corps troops, the Royal Dragoons, drawn from the 2nd cavalry brigade,
and the pontoon troop of the army corps.

         [Footnote 139: The decision to despatch a fourth brigade to
         Natal was made about 22nd November, after the development of
         Joubert's raid south of the Tugela.]

[Sidenote: Various new distributions.]

The 3rd, or Highland brigade, under Major-General A. G. Wauchope, was at
first assigned by the Commander-in-Chief to Lord Methuen, to replace the
2nd brigade, transferred to Natal; but, as it was found later that
Wauchope's battalions would at the outset be needed to guard the railway
line in rear of Methuen's column, a 9th brigade, under Major-General
R.S.R. Fetherstonhaugh, was formed out of the infantry units already at
Orange River station, viz.: the half-battalion 1st Loyal North
Lancashire, 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st Northumberland
Fusiliers, and 2nd Northamptonshire. Lt.-Colonel F. H. Hall's brigade
division (18th, 62nd, and 75th batteries[140]) and the 9th Lancers were
also allotted to the 1st division.

         [Footnote 140: The 62nd and half the 75th had been sent up to
         Orange River in October; the other half of the 75th and the
         18th batteries were delayed on the voyage out by the breaking
         down of their transport, the _Zibenghla_, and did not land at
         Cape Town until 1st November.]

[Sidenote: French's command.]

For Naauwpoort, General French, in addition to the original garrison
of that place, was at first given the assistance of the 12th Lancers,
a battery of R.H.A., and a half-battalion of the Black Watch, besides
two companies of M.I. To these other units were to be gradually added,
as soon as they became available.

[Sidenote: Gatacre's.]

Sir W. Gatacre was instructed to develop a force on the eastern
railway line from the original Stormberg garrison,[141] the 1st Royal
Scots (originally allotted as corps troops), the 2nd Northumberland
Fusiliers (a lines of communication battalion), the 2nd Royal Irish
Rifles (detached from the 5th brigade[142]), and the brigade division
(74th, 77th and 79th batteries), of the 3rd division, supplemented by
such colonial corps as he could gather together locally.

         [Footnote 141: See Chapters II. and XVIII.]

         [Footnote 142: This battalion was replaced in Hart's brigade
         by the 1st Border regiment.]

The dates of the arrival of the various expeditionary units at Cape
Town and their disposal are shown in Appendix No. 7.

[Sidenote: Less serious injury of the recasting of army because of
ordinary British habit.]

The dislocation of the infantry divisions, which was caused by the
necessity for these sweeping changes, would have been even more
seriously detrimental had those divisions actually existed prior to
the embarkation of the troops from England; but, as has been shown in
an earlier chapter, one of the weak points of the British army in 1899
was the imperfect development in peace time of the higher organisation
of the troops. Except, therefore, in Major-General Hildyard's brigade,
which came direct from Aldershot,[143] and had been trained there by
its brigadier under the immediate eye of Sir R. Buller, that
confidence, which is established between troops and their superior
leaders by intimate mutual knowledge, did not exist, and could not be
affected by that reorganisation, which the strategical situation

         [Footnote 143: Major-Generals Lyttelton and Hart no longer
         had under their command the whole of the battalions which had
         composed their brigades at Aldershot.]

[Sidenote: Yet serious enough. Sir Redvers goes to Natal without a

Nevertheless, as regards staff arrangements, serious inconvenience was
for the moment inevitable. Sir F. Forestier-Walker, although appointed
officially to the post of General Officer Commanding the lines of
communication, had, through some oversight in London, not been given
the full staff, as prescribed by the regulations, for an officer
performing those onerous duties, and had been forced to improvise
assistants from such special service officers as he could lay hands
on. There was from the outset, therefore, a shortage of staff.
Officers were, moreover, urgently required for the development of
local troops and for censorship duties. The original Headquarter staff
had been calculated on the hypothesis that the whole of the
expeditionary corps would operate in the western theatre of war, Sir
George White being responsible for the Natal command. The
rearrangement carried out by Sir R. Buller created in Natal a second
field army. For this no Headquarter staff was available, without
robbing the Cape of needed men. He therefore kept with him only his
personal staff during his temporary absence in Natal, and issued
orders there through the divisional staff of General Clery. He decided
to leave the rest of the Headquarter staff at Cape Town to supervise
the disembarkation of the reinforcements from England and their
formation into a field army.

[Sidenote: Help from the fleet.]

The reports of the fighting during the opening phases of the war had
shown that our difficulties were mainly due to three causes--the
superior numbers of the enemy, their greater mobility, and the longer
range of their guns. In the operations he was now about to undertake,
Sir Redvers hoped partially to make good these deficiencies by
borrowing ships' guns from the Navy and by locally raising mounted
men. The Naval Commander-in-Chief had already lent one contingent,
under Commander A. P. Ethelston, R.N., to garrison Stormberg. Another
such contingent, under Captain the Hon. H. Lambton, R.N., was in
Ladysmith, and, at the request of Sir R. Buller, Captain Percy Scott,
R.N., in H.M.S. _Terrible_, had been despatched to Durban to arrange
the land defences of that port. Rear-Admiral Harris, with the approval
of the Admiralty, now consented to the Stormberg party being brought
back to Cape Town, with a view to its marching under the command of
Capt. R. C. Prothero, R.N., with Lord Methuen's column, to Kimberley
and there remaining as a reinforcement of the garrison. The Naval
Commander-in-Chief further agreed to organise yet a third detachment
to assist in the relief of Ladysmith. The cheerfulness with which the
Naval authorities rendered assistance to the army in this time of
stress and strain was only in conformity with the traditions of both
services; yet the readiness shown by the officers and men of the Royal
Navy and Marines in adapting themselves and their weapons to the
circumstances of a land campaign won the profound admiration even of
those who were best acquainted with the practical nature of the
normal training of the personnel of the fleet.

[Sidenote: Raising colonial corps, for Natal.]

The calling out of colonial mounted corps, both in Cape Colony and
Natal, is mentioned in Chapter I. and Chapter II. Mounted men were
urgently needed by all the columns in process of preparation, but,
adhering to his opinion that success in the relief of Ladysmith was
the most crucial matter, Sir Redvers decided to despatch to Natal the
first unit enlisted at Cape Town--the South African Light Horse. The
first party of "Light Horse" embarked at Cape Town for Natal on the
22nd November. In Natal itself two mounted corps, under the command of
Major (local Lieut.-Colonel) A. W. Thorneycroft, Royal Scots
Fusiliers, and Major (local Lieut.-Colonel) E. C. Bethune, 16th
Lancers, were already being formed.

[Sidenote: Brabant in eastern districts.]

Mr. Schreiner, the Prime Minister of Cape Colony, had, at the
suggestion of General Buller, endeavoured to raise in the districts of
Middleburg, Cradock, and Somerset East, a burgher force to maintain
internal order and repel invasion, but the local civil authorities
were unanimous in advising that an application of the Cape Burgher law
would furnish some recruits for the enemy. Captain Brabant (now
Major-General Sir E. Brabant), an ex-Imperial officer, was, with the
concurrence of the Cape Government, instructed to raise a mounted
corps from the loyalists in the eastern districts.

[Sidenote: Work now done.]

It will readily be conceived from the brief summary of the facts which
have been above recorded that the tasks which the Commander-in-Chief,
assisted by the Headquarter and lines of communication staffs, had to
carry out during the first three weeks of November were of an
overwhelming nature. These included the reorganisation of the various
bodies of troops which, from the 9th November onwards, arrived daily
in Table Bay from England; the disembarkation of the units; their
equipment for the field and despatch to the front; the issue of
operation orders to the troops in Natal and Cape Colony already in
touch with the enemy; the establishment of supply depôts for the field
forces, the defence of Maritzburg and Durban from the Boer raid, which
threatened those very important towns; the protection of the lines of
railway through Cape Colony, with the mere handful of troops at first
available; and the checking of the invasion of the Free Staters across
the Orange river. To these must be added the anxious watching of the
signs in disaffected districts of smouldering rebellion, which a
single success of the enemy might fan into a burst of flame; these and
other cares formed an accumulation of pressing duties and heavy
responsibilities, which fully justify the frank statement of Sir R.
Buller to Lt.-Gen. Forestier-Walker on 20th November that "Ever since
I have been here we have been like the man who, with a long day's work
before him, overslept himself and so was late for everything all
day."[144] The position of affairs in South Africa throughout these
anxious weeks, in fact, forcibly proved the truth of Lord Wolseley's
warning, addressed on 3rd September, 1899, to the Secretary of State
that: "We have committed one of the greatest blunders in war, namely,
we have given the enemy the initiative. He is in a position to take
the offensive, and by striking the first blow to ensure the great
advantage of winning the first round."

         [Footnote 144: See the end of this chapter.]

[Sidenote: Improved prospects.]

Yet by the 22nd November the labours of the Headquarter staff of the
army in South Africa, assisted by the fullest co-operation of the two
Governors, Sir Alfred Milner and Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson, and aided by
the strenuous exertions of the lines of communication staff in Cape
Colony and Natal, had sensibly improved the general situation in both
the western and eastern theatres of war. In Cape Colony, no part of
Bechuanaland and Griqualand West, it is true, except the areas
defended by the garrisons of Mafeking, Kuruman and Kimberley, remained
under British authority. But cheery reports from Colonel Baden-Powell
gave promise of a prolonged stand at the little northern town, while
Lord Methuen's column had on the previous day (the 21st November)
crossed the Orange river and made good the first eleven miles of its
march on Kimberley. Southward, Major-General Wauchope's brigade was
holding the section of the railway line from Orange River station, viâ
De Aar, to Naauwpoort, the latter station having been re-occupied, and
the formation of a column, to harass and menace the enemy in the
direction of Colesberg, had commenced under the direction of
Lieut.-General French. On the eastern side of the Colony only had the
Boers made any substantial advance; a strong Free State commando had
seized Burghersdorp and detached parties to Aliwal North and Lady
Grey. Sir W. Gatacre, on the other hand, had assumed command of
colonial corps and one and a half battalions of regular troops at
Queenstown, and was preparing to move northward, to check the
commandeering of British subjects, which Commandant Olivier had
instituted in the territory occupied by his burghers. The Basuto
chiefs remained true to their allegiance to the "Great White Queen,"
and by tacit consent their territory was treated by both sides as
neutral. In Griqualand East and the native territories east of Cape
Colony, the Pondo, Tembu and Fingo tribes continued loyal, and
arrangements for the defence of these great masses of native
population against Boer raids were being made by Major Sir H. Elliott,
who as Commandant-General, under the sanction of the Governor, was
defending the passes leading from Barkly East with the Cape Mounted
Rifles and some Volunteers.

[Sidenote: Natal. Sir G. White detains bulk of Boers. Time thus

In Natal Sir George White was holding his own at Ladysmith, and, as he
had anticipated, detaining north of the Tugela the main strength of
the enemy's army. After some hesitation on the part of the Boer
leaders, a raid in force had been made to the south, and had for the
moment caused much alarm. But the delay in the movement had greatly
diminished its chances of reaching Maritzburg, although the local
condition was still one of some anxiety. Reinforcements as they
arrived at Durban had been pushed rapidly up by rail north of
Maritzburg, and the British troops were now echeloned along the
railway up to Estcourt. The vanguard of the enemy's raiding column had
reached Mooi River, and his scouts had even penetrated as far as
Nottingham Road, but a day's ride from Maritzburg. The Boers were,
therefore, well in rear of the British advanced posts, and
Lieut.-General Clery felt some doubt whether a temporary retirement
from Estcourt might not prove necessary. The chief difficulty was the
lack of mounted troops to bring the enemy to action and put a stop to
his pillaging the outlying farms of the Natal colonists.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers, 22nd Nov./99, starts for Natal.]

Such were throughout South Africa the facts known to him when Sir
Redvers Buller, having issued instructions for the guidance of the
senior officer in Cape Colony, Sir F. Forestier-Walker, and for the
three commanders in the field, Lieut.-Generals Lord Methuen, French,
and Sir W. Gatacre, embarked at 7 p.m., the 22nd November, in the S.S.
_Mohawk_ for Natal. His military secretary, Col. the Hon. F. Stopford,
and aides-de-camp accompanied him. The rest of the Headquarter staff
remained at Cape Town.

[Sidenote: His views at that time.]

The appreciation of the situation written by the General
commanding-in-chief forty-eight hours earlier will place the reader in
possession of his views on the eve of his embarkation for Durban. The
memorandum ran as follows:--

                                   Cape Town,
                                        _November 20th, 1899_.

     Before starting for Natal I think I should leave you my
     appreciation of the situation.

     1. Ever since I have been here we have been like the man, who,
     with a long day's work before him, overslept himself and so was
     late for everything all day.

     2. In disposing the troops which arrived from England I have
     considered that it was of the first importance to keep Cape
     Colony from rebellion, even if by so doing I temporarily lost

     3. I consequently have formed a strong column under Lord Methuen
     which is in a position to take the field and I am forming a force
     of mounted men and horse artillery under General French, which
     will, I hope, be able to meet any commandos which may invade the
     Colony. I have also done all I can to safeguard the western and
     eastern lines of railway.

     4. The state of Kimberley necessitated the first employment of
     Lord Methuen's force in that direction. He starts to-day. General
     French is at Naauwpoort, organising a column to attack Colesberg
     at the earliest possible date.

     5. My hope is that the Boers at Colesberg will have been defeated
     before Lord Methuen returns from Kimberley.

     On his return he should send a force to attack the Boers at
     Burghersdorp. There should then be 1,000,000 rations at Orange
     River and 1,000,000 at De Aar, and I have directed that supply
     should be accumulated at Port Elizabeth and East London. He can
     then open new lines of supply as he moves eastward.

     6. As soon as they can be occupied General Gatacre's force should
     be advanced to Molteno or Stormberg, and any force at
     Burghersdorp should be attacked.

     If the Burghersdorp force has meanwhile advanced south it would
     be attacked by Lord Methuen, aided by part of General French's
     force, the two being based on Naauwpoort or Middleburg.

     7. The exact nature of this operation must depend on the actual
     circumstances at the time. The main point is, there will be
     rations at De Aar and near it to enable a force under Lord
     Methuen to move along the line eastward, repairing it as he goes,
     and strong enough to clear the northern districts.

     8. As soon as ever circumstances admit the bridges at Norval's
     Pont and Bethulie will, of course, be seized; in short, the plan
     is, clear the northern districts by working from west to east,
     seize the bridges, and, as occasion admits, bring the shorter
     lines of supply into use. Then concentrate for an advance on

     9. I think there are enough troops in the Colony to work this
     programme, except that:

       (1) There should be a battalion at Port Elizabeth.

       (2) General Gatacre wants another battalion and a battery of
       field artillery.

       (3) General French should have the second battery Royal Horse
       artillery, and eventually three cavalry regiments, and, if
       possible, one more battalion.

     10. With regard to Natal, I propose to send the 6th Dragoon
     Guards and 10th Hussars, the 63rd, 64th, and 73rd batteries Royal
     Field artillery, the remainder of General Hart's Brigade, _i.e._,
     three battalions, as soon as they come in. We must do with them
     the best we can.

     11. I think the Colonial contingents had better go to Natal.

     12. In my opinion, so long as General White holds Ladysmith the
     force able to attack you from the Orange Free State is not likely
     to be serious, but if Natal goes you will have to concentrate for
     defence, and you should make up your mind what positions to hold.
     Probably the best military positions about Queenstown,
     Middleburg, and Beaufort West will be found most convenient.

                                   REDVERS BULLER,



[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's instructions. Nov. 10/99.]

On the 10th of November Lord Methuen, with his staff, left Cape Town
for Orange River station, where he arrived two days later. The orders
which he had received from Sir Redvers Buller ran as follows:--

                                   November 10th, 1899.

     1. You will take command of the troops at De Aar and Orange River
     stations,[145] with the object of marching on Kimberley as
     rapidly as possible.

         [Footnote 145: See map No. 9.]

     2. In addition to the troops now at De Aar, the infantry of which
     are being formed into the 9th brigade under Colonel
     Fetherstonhaugh, you will have under your command:--

         i. The 1st Infantry Brigade.--Major-Gen. Colvile.
        ii. The Highland Brigade.--Major-Gen. Wauchope.
       iii. The 9th Lancers.
        iv. The Brigade Division, Royal Field Artillery, under
            Colonel Hall.
         v. The Divisional Troops except Cavalry of the Division.
        vi. Certain Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps and
            Medical Details which have been collected at the
            two stations.

     I wish you to march from the Orange river to the Modder river,
     communicate with Kimberley, and to hold the line De Aar, Modder
     river, so that we shall be able to bring up stores and heavy guns
     and pass them into Kimberley.

     3. The half-battalion Loyal North Lancashire regiment, which will
     form part of the 9th brigade, is to be left in Kimberley.

     4. You will afford help to Kimberley to remove such of the
     natives as they wish to get rid of, and, generally, you will give
     such advice and assistance in perfecting the defences as you may
     be able to afford.

     5. You will make the people of Kimberley understand that you have
     not come to remain charged with its defence, but to afford it
     better means of maintaining its defence, which will at the same
     time be assisted by an advance on Bloemfontein.

                                   REDVERS BULLER, General.

Four days later, the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa addressed the
following letter to General Methuen:--

[Sidenote: Personal advice from Sir Redvers, Nov. 14th.]

                                   Cape Town,
                                        November 14th, 1899.

     I do not want to tie your hands in any way, but I send this
     letter for such use as you choose to make of it.

     1. I think that you will find that the Guards and the 9th Brigade
     and two batteries Royal Field Artillery will be as large a
     portion of your force as you can take with advantage.

     2. As to mounted men, you will of course take what you require. I
     think it will be advisable to leave one-half of Rimington's
     Guides, the party at Hanover Road, and sufficient others to scout
     20 to 25 miles on all sides of the line held by General Wauchope.

     3. On your departure General Wauchope will have, including the
     two half-battalions of Berkshire and Munster, four battalions;
     and if you leave him one battery, six guns Royal Field Artillery,
     with them he should be able to hold the line to Belmont with
     perfect safety. Orange River bridge must of course be held at all
     costs. I hope you will not remain a day longer at Kimberley than
     you can help.

     5. I have already told you that I am sending with you a Naval
     brigade with four 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns; these guns range 6,000
     yards. You will not start without them, will leave them at
     Kimberley, and such reinforcements not exceeding one-and-a-half
     battalions as the commandant may require.

     6. I have said in my instructions that you will proceed to Modder
     river. If you can from there get a clear road to Kimberley, so
     much the better, but you will act according to circumstances. The
     main object is to save time.[146]

         [Footnote 146: The remainder of the letter contains
         suggestions on tactics and so forth, which are not directly
         relevant to the subject of this chapter, and are therefore

       *       *       *       *       *

                                   R. BULLER.

[Sidenote: Information gathered before the march, up to Nov. 21st.]

Before Lord Methuen's arrival at Orange River station, the mounted
troops had been engaged in reconnoitring and sketching the country in
the neighbourhood of the railway bridge. On the 6th of November a
party of the 9th Lancers and mounted infantry, accompanied by guns,
had scouted up the railway to within five miles of Belmont. On the 9th
another reconnaissance was made up the line, past Belmont, to Honey
Nest Kloof, 37 miles from Orange River station. No Boers were seen
about Belmont, though they had left traces of their presence in broken
culverts and other damage to the railway. After falling back for the
night to Witteputs, the patrol marched north-eastward on the morning
of the 10th, and encountered several hundred Boers, with field guns, a
few miles to the east of Belmont. A skirmish ensued in which Lt.-Col.
C. E. Keith-Falconer was killed, Lt. C. C. Wood mortally wounded, and
Lts. F. Bevan and H. C. Hall and four men wounded. To the westward of
the railway line a detachment of thirty of Rimington's Guides
successfully reconnoitred as far as Prieska. Though the information
brought back by these reconnaissances was mainly negative, on the 18th
November Major R. N. R. Reade, Lord Methuen's Intelligence officer,
was able from various sources of information to report that a force,
estimated at from 700 to 1,200 men, with four guns, was at or near
Belmont; and that a small commando under Jourdaan had been
successfully recruiting from the disloyal farmers in the districts of
Barkly West, Campbell, Douglas, and Griquatown, which lay to the west
and north-west of the line of advance to Kimberley.

[Sidenote: Constitution of 1st Division.]

Thanks to the strenuous efforts of the staff and the departmental
corps, the reconstituted first division[147] was by the 20th of
November ready to take the field. Equipped with mule transport, and
marching with a minimum of baggage, Lord Methuen's column consisted of
about 7,726 infantry, 850 cavalry and mounted infantry, two batteries
of Royal Field artillery, four companies of Royal engineers and a
Naval brigade.

         [Footnote 147: For the causes which led to the partial
         dispersion of the 1st division on its arrival in South
         Africa, see Chapter XI.]

It was thus composed:--

  Naval brigade--Captain R. C. Prothero, R.N.:--
    Four naval 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns, with 363 officers and men of the
      Royal Navy, sailors, Royal Marine artillery and Royal Marine Light

         [Footnote 148: Owing to difficulties with transport, the
         Naval brigade did not reach the 1st division until 1 a.m. on
         the 23rd.]

  Mounted troops:--
    9th Lancers.
    One company mounted infantry Northumberland Fusiliers.
    One company mounted infantry Loyal North Lancashire.
    Half company mounted infantry King's Own Yorkshire
    Light Infantry.
    New South Wales Lancers (30 of all ranks).
    Rimington's Guides.

  Royal Field Artillery:--
    Brigade division R.F.A.--Lt.-Colonel F. H. Hall.
    18th and 75th Field batteries (15-pr. guns).[149]

  Royal Engineers--Lt.-Colonel J. B. Sharpe:--
     7th Field company.
     8th Railway company.
     11th Field company.
     30th Fortress company.
     Telegraph section.

         [Footnote 149: The 62nd Field battery, which formed part of
         Colonel Hall's brigade division of artillery, was left on the
         line of communication, and did not rejoin until the battle of
         Modder River.]

  1st (Guards) brigade--Major-General Sir H. E. Colvile:--
    3rd battalion Grenadier Guards.
    1st battalion Coldstream Guards.[150]
    2nd battalion Coldstream Guards.
    1st battalion Scots Guards.

         [Footnote 150: The 1st battalion Coldstream Guards landed
         from Gibraltar on 16th November, and was detained at Orange
         River, guarding the railway until the 22nd, when it was
         relieved by the 1st battalion Highland Light Infantry and at
         once pushed on to Belmont, where it arrived late on the night
         of the 22nd.]

  9th Infantry brigade--Maj.-Gen. R. S. R. Fetherstonhaugh:--[151]
    1st battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.
    Half-battalion 1st Loyal North Lancashire.[152]
    2nd battalion Northamptonshire.
    2nd battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

         [Footnote 151: Two companies of the Royal Munster Fusiliers
         also arrived at Belmont from Orange River on the 22nd
         November, and were attached to the 9th brigade.]

         [Footnote 152: The remainder of this battalion formed part of
         the garrison of Kimberley.]

The medical services for the 9th infantry brigade were furnished by
the divisional Field Hospital of the 1st division, and the 3rd brigade
Field Hospital formed the new divisional Field Hospital. Subsequently,
when the 3rd (Highland) brigade joined Lord Methuen's force at Modder
river, its Field Hospital was provided by the 2nd division Field
Hospital and the Bearer company by "A." company Cape Medical Staff
Corps, under Lieut.-Col. Hartley, V.C.

[Sidenote: Supporting forces. Wauchope. French.]

Behind the 1st division, the Highland brigade, under Maj.-Gen. A. G.
Wauchope, guarded the railway up to the Orange river, and overawed the
disaffected element among the inhabitants along the line of
communication. In the neighbourhood of Colesberg, Lieut.-General
French, with a mixed force of all arms, was engaged in stemming the
tide of invasion from the Free State, and by incessantly occupying the
attention of the commandos opposed to him, prevented their massing
against Lord Methuen's right flank as he advanced towards Kimberley.

[Sidenote: March fully known by Boers. They prepare to meet it.]

The Boers were not taken by surprise by Lord Methuen's preparations
for an advance. Their spies and sympathisers kept them fully informed
of all the steps taken. In anticipation of a dash upon Kimberley they
had carefully prepared defensive positions along the railway at
Belmont and at Rooilaagte, or, as we term it, Graspan. To some 2,500
burghers, under Commandant Jacobus Prinsloo, was entrusted the duty of
thrusting the British back towards the Orange; and, if the task should
prove beyond their strength, De la Rey, who, with his commando was
then investing the southern defences of Kimberley, could easily
reinforce them. A large supply of stores had been collected at
Jacobsdal, while subsidiary depôts had been formed at Graspan and in
the neighbourhood of Koffyfontein.

[Sidenote: 4 a.m., Nov. 21st., march begins.]

At 4 a.m., on the 21st of November, the 1st division marched from
their bivouac on the northern bank of the Orange river. The General
followed the course of the railway in order to facilitate the carriage
of supplies, not only for his own column, but also for the inhabitants
of the town into which he was to throw stores and reinforcements. The
troops halted about 8 a.m. at Fincham's farm, near Witteputs, twelve
miles north of the Orange River bridge. The 9th Lancers and mounted
infantry were at once thrown forward with orders to reconnoitre
northwards on a front of about twelve miles. They found the enemy in
some strength among the hills which lie to the east of Belmont
station, and drew fire, fortunately with very slight loss.
Lieut.-Colonel Willoughby Verner, D.A.A.G., for topography to the army
corps, sketched the Boer position from the low hills east of Thomas'
farm, about a mile and a half south-east of Belmont station.[153]
These sketches were subsequently reproduced and distributed among the
officers of the column before the action of the 23rd. Later in the day
Lord Methuen himself studied the ground from the hills near Thomas'
farm, and then returned to Witteputs, followed by the mounted troops,
many of whom had covered forty miles during the day.

         [Footnote 153: See map No. 10.]

[Sidenote: Approach to Belmont.]

In the grey of the morning of the 22nd of November, the mounted
infantry swooped from Witteputs upon Thomas' farm, occupied it, and
threw out a chain of posts facing the station of Belmont and the hills
to the east. Lord Methuen, with his staff, the brigadiers commanding
the infantry brigades, Lt.-Col. Hall, C.R.A., and Lt.-Col. Sharpe,
C.R.E., arrived shortly afterwards, and again reconnoitred the Boer
position from the high ground above Thomas' farm. When the General had
completed his reconnaissance, he dictated the orders for the attack
which he proposed to deliver on the morrow. Then, leaving the mounted
infantry to hold the ground they occupied, and to protect the
companies of Royal engineers who were on their way from Witteputs to
repair the railway, Lord Methuen returned with his staff to the
column, to prepare for a further advance that afternoon. During the
morning there was intermittent firing between the mounted infantry
outposts and parties of the enemy, who occasionally showed themselves
for a short time, and then disappeared without affording any clue as
to the strength of the force concealed among the kopjes. In the
afternoon the Boers brought two guns into action, chiefly directed
against the 7th Field company R.E., then employed in improving the
supply of water at the site selected for that night's bivouac near
Thomas' farm. To silence this artillery fire the 18th and 75th
batteries were hurriedly despatched from Witteputs, and in order to
save the troops at Belmont as quickly as possible from this annoyance,
the Officer Commanding trotted nearly the whole distance. The horses,
still weak from the effects of the long sea voyage, suffered severely
from the strain. Five indeed actually died of exhaustion, and all were
so weary that during the engagement of the 23rd, the artillery was
unable to move with any degree of rapidity.

[Sidenote: Division gathers before Belmont, Nov. 22nd.]

At 4.30 p.m. the remainder of the troops marched from Witteputs and
reached their bivouac at Thomas' farm just before nightfall.



         [Footnote 154: See maps Nos. 10 and 10 (a).]

[Sidenote: The Boer position Nov. 23rd/99.]

Lord Methuen's dispositions for attack were necessarily determined by
the ground which the Boers had taken up to oppose his advance. Some
two miles to the south-east of Belmont station a hill, in form like a
sugar-loaf, rises abruptly about 280 feet above the veld. From it
extends northwards a broken line of kopjes which for several miles
runs parallel with the railway in its course from Orange River station
to Kimberley. Twelve hundred yards to the north of the "Sugar Loaf"
there is a precipitous hill of nearly equal height, which acquired the
name of the "Razor Back." The northern side of it overhangs a steep
ravine, some 600 yards wide. The most important feature of the range,
termed "Mont Blanc" by Lord Methuen, stretches northward from beyond
this ravine for three miles. It is irregular in outline and broadens
on its northern face to a width of a mile. Its average height may be
taken at 300 feet above the plain. To the south and west its slopes
are very steep; on the east they present fewer difficulties; on the
north they are comparatively easy. Between Mont Blanc and the railway
is a secondary line of heights about a mile and a half long, of an
average width of 1,200 yards. The northern portion of this western
range is a steep-sided, flat-topped hill, called "Table Mountain" in
the orders for the battle; it lies about a mile due west of the
central portion of Mont Blanc. Its average height is perhaps 100 feet
lower than Mont Blanc, but here and there its surface is broken by
knolls which dominate not only the plateau itself, but the surrounding
country in every direction. A well-defined depression, almost
amounting to a valley, running from south-east to north-west,
separates Table Mountain from the southern half of the western
heights. To these the name of "Gun Hill" has been given. Gun Hill
consists of a series of undulations, bounded on the west and south by
kopjes, in places as precipitous as the sides of Table Mountain, and
varying in height from 80 to 120 feet above the plain. After the
engagement the most southerly of these knolls became known to Lord
Methuen's force as "Grenadier Hill." The valley between Mont Blanc and
the western range is open, but intersected by deep dongas running from
the north and north-east. The hills in both lines of heights are
covered with huge iron-stone boulders, in places so steeply piled that
men have to climb them on hands and knees, and their indented outlines
form many salients from which cross fire can be poured on troops
advancing to the attack.

[Sidenote: Position as presented to the assailants Nov. 23rd.]

As seen from the railway, the direct line of advance on Kimberley, the
Mont Blanc range stands out of the veld like a fortress. This, the
main range, is surrounded on the south and east by a level plain which
affords advancing troops no cover from fire. Its western face,
fronting the railway, has as natural outworks the heights of Table
Mountain and Gun Hill. Thus, when Lord Methuen at first designed to
drive off the Boers who flanked and menaced his further progress, the
nearest part of the enemy's position to him was Gun Hill, and beyond
this, further north, was Table Mountain, while supporting these from
the east was the main ridge of Mont Blanc. Therefore, in order to
clear away the enemy thus threatening him on his right, it was
necessary first to arrange the positions of rendezvous so that the
division should be arrayed against the hills about to be assailed.
Thus the 9th brigade on the left of the attack looked towards Table
Mountain. The Guards on the right, that is, to the south of the 9th
brigade, similarly faced Gun Hill. The Guards were both nearer to the
part to be assailed by them, and more immediately opposite to it,
than was the 9th brigade to the object of its attack.

[Sidenote: Mode of attack as designed.]

The 9th brigade was to assault the western face of Table Mountain,
while the Guards' brigade attacked Gun Hill. As soon as the enemy had
been driven off Table Mountain, the 9th brigade was to move eastwards,
swinging its left round so as to attack Mont Blanc from the north,
while supported by the fire of the Guards from the eastern side of Gun
Hill. The 75th battery on the left, the Naval guns and the 18th
battery on the right, were to co-operate with the infantry by
searching the heights with shrapnel. The mounted troops were to guard
the flanks, prevent the escape of the enemy to the east, and, if
possible, capture the Boer laager. With this object, two squadrons of
the 9th Lancers under Colonel B. Gough were to be on the left flank of
the 9th brigade, with one and a half companies of mounted infantry;
while the remaining squadron of the 9th Lancers, a company of M.I. and
Rimington's Guides, the whole under Major M. F. Rimington, were to
work on the outer flank of the brigade of Guards. The troops were to
march off from their respective rendezvous at 3 a.m. By this attack on
Mont Blanc from the north, after the outworks of Table Mountain and
Gun Hill had been carried, the Boers would be driven, not back along
the railway towards Kimberley, but eastwards, well off Lord Methuen's
proposed line of advance.

[Sidenote: Strength and disposition of Boers.]

The enemy under Jacobus Prinsloo consisted of the Jacobsdal, Winburg,
Fauresmith and Bloemfontein commandos, with detachments from
Kroonstad, Hoopstad and Boshof. It is difficult to arrive at an exact
conclusion as to their strength, for the Boers themselves do not agree
as to the number of burghers who took part in the action. Their
estimates vary from 2,100 to 2,500 men, with two field guns and a
pom-pom. Their artillery, however, hardly fired at all, nor were the
reinforcements which De la Rey brought from Kimberley actively
engaged. The exact ground held by each commando cannot be accurately
stated, but their approximate dispositions are shown upon the maps No.
10 and 10(a). There is some reason to believe that the Boer general
had intended to throw part of his right wing across the railway, as
trenches were found west of the line, so constructed as to bring
flanking fire against an attack on Table Mountain; but whether these
works were occupied on the morning of the 23rd cannot be ascertained.
That the enemy had posts along the line to the north of Belmont is
proved by the fact that one of these parties was captured by Colonel
Gough's detachment of mounted men.

[Sidenote: 3.15 a.m. Nov. 23rd. Attack begins.]

The troops left their bivouacs about 2 a.m. on the 23rd, reached their
respective rendezvous at the time appointed, and at about 3.15 moved
off towards the various parts of the enemy's position, to the attack
of which they had been assigned.

[Sidenote: Guards move against Gun Hill.]

In the assault on Gun Hill by the brigade of Guards, the two
battalions of the Coldstream Guards were in reserve; the 1st battalion
Scots Guards and the 3rd battalion Grenadier Guards were detailed to
deliver the attack. As the latter battalions, moving in line of
quarter-column, reached the wire fences along the railway line, they
demolished them or scrambled through them as best they could[155] and
then deployed into fighting formation. Four half companies, extended
to five paces, formed the firing line of each battalion, supported at
200 paces distance by the remainder of these four companies, also
extended to five paces. The battalion reserve, which followed about
200 paces behind the supports, consisted of four companies, which
moved in the same formation as the leading companies but with a
smaller extension between the men. As soon as the deployment was
completed the advance began, and the troops moved forward through the
darkness, over ground fairly open, but here and there made difficult
by rocks and ant-bear holes. The only sound to be heard was the steady
tramp of feet, which in the stillness of the night could be
distinguished many hundred yards away by the 9th brigade. In admirable
order, with their intervals and distances well maintained, the long
lines of men advanced, straining their eyes to catch a glimpse of the
kopjes they were to attack, and wondering when the Boers would open
fire upon them. They had not long to wait. Towards 4 a.m., when the
outlines of the hills began dimly to appear against the first glimmer
of dawn, a violent burst of musketry rang out. Each rifle as it
flashed against the dark background showed where it had been
discharged. The enemy were thus seen to be dotted at irregular
intervals in two tiers on the skyline and the upper slopes of the

         [Footnote 155: In some cases it was found that the wires were
         too strong to be cut by the wire-cutters.]

[Sidenote: Attack of Scots Guards.]

The Scots Guards, who were marching on the point marked +c+ on map No.
10, were within about 150 yards of the foot of the kopje, and had
hardly fixed bayonets, when the enemy opened upon them. Col. A. H.
Paget ordered the charge to be sounded, and, with a ringing cheer, his
men carried the hill with comparatively small loss, to find themselves
exposed, not only to frontal but to cross fire from both flanks. The
musketry from the right ceased as soon as the Grenadiers stormed the
kopjes which they attacked, while, thanks to the initiative of Bt.
Lt.-Col. W. P. Pulteney, that from the left was checked. This officer,
whose company was on the left of the line of the Scots Guards, found
himself under heavy fire from the kopje marked +d+. Advancing against
it he dislodged its defenders, who, in their precipitate retreat to
Table Mountain, left some thirty ponies behind them. Colonel Pulteney
mounted as many of his men as possible upon them, galloped in pursuit
across the valley, then dismounted and worked up the kopje at the
south-western angle of Table Mountain (+b+ on map No. 10), until he
was stopped by the enemy concealed amongst its boulders.

[Sidenote: of Grenadiers.]

The front line of the Grenadiers was about 350 yards from the kopjes
when they first came under fire. To close with their enemy, the men
were ordered to double and then instinctively quickening their pace
they arrived panting at the foot of the hills, which loomed black and
threatening before them. Under a very heavy fusilade, which at times
came from both flank and front, the Grenadiers carried the position,
but not without considerable loss in officers and men. They were led
by Col. E. M. S. Crabbe, who fell wounded within a few feet of the top
of the kopje, and were reinforced as they reached the summit by the
battalion reserve under Major D. A. Kinloch. The Boers fought
gallantly on this part of the field; some indeed, as was also the case
on Table Mountain, clung so tenaciously to their defences that they
perished by the bayonet. As soon as the ground to the front of the
Grenadiers and Scots Guards had been cleared of the enemy, both
battalions were re-assembled by their commanding officers.

[Sidenote: The left attack.]

Thus on the right the battle so far had developed in substantial
agreement with Lord Methuen's plans. On the left also matters were
going well, but more slowly than the General had anticipated. At the
time when fire was opened on the Guards, the leading battalions of the
9th brigade were crossing the railway line which lay between their
rendezvous and their object, the western side of Table Mountain. They
were guided by Lieut. F. L. Festing, Northumberland Fusiliers. The
Northampton was on the right, the Northumberland Fusiliers on the
left, both in column of double companies, with increased distances
between the companies. In the same formation the Yorkshire Light
Infantry followed as reserve to the brigade about 1,000 yards in rear.
In rear of this battalion were two companies of the Royal Munster
Fusiliers.[156] After passing through the railway fence both the
leading battalions extended from their left, with the result that the
Northumberland Fusiliers somewhat overlapped the Northampton. To
correct this, the former battalion was ordered to take ground towards
Belmont station, and in doing so was exposed to heavy, but ill-aimed,
fire. The direction of the Northampton advance exposed the right of
their leading line to the Boer musketry on Gun Hill, from which they
suffered until the Guards captured that part of the position. The
greater part of the Northumberland Fusiliers pushed forward against
the south-west corner of Table Mountain, but were temporarily checked
by heavy fire from outlying rocks and knolls. One or two misdirected
British shells also contributed to delay the progress of the
battalion, but the forward movement of the Northampton, some of whom
charged with the bayonet, against the northern end of Gun Hill drove
away the parties of Boers opposing the Northumberland Fusiliers, who
were then able to continue their attack on Table Mountain. Two
companies of the Northumberland Fusiliers, under Major the Hon. C.
Lambton, had been left in reserve on the western side of the railway
near Belmont station. When, about 5 a.m., the sun rose just behind
Table Mountain, Major Lambton realised that, with the light shining
straight in their faces, his men could not see to shoot. He therefore
moved his two companies up the railway to the point marked +a+, and
then across the open veld to ground from which, unbaffled by the
morning sun, he was able to pour heavy volleys upon the burghers
opposed to the main attack of his battalion. His flanking fire largely
contributed to dislodge the Boers from Table Mountain, while the 75th
battery, from the neighbourhood of the railway, played upon the
north-west face of this portion of the western range. The positions
occupied by the detachment of Northumberland Fusiliers and by this
battery will be found on map No. 10 (a).

         [Footnote 156: The half-battalion Loyal North Lancashire
         regiment had been left at Witteputs as baggage guard.]

[Sidenote: Left attack continued.]

The stubborn resistance of the defenders of Table Mountain greatly
delayed its complete occupation by the British troops; indeed, it
required the united exertions of the Northumberland Fusiliers, of part
of the Northampton, of several companies of the Guards, and of two
companies of the Yorkshire Light Infantry to drive the Boers
completely off the plateau. When the attack of the Northumberland
Fusiliers upon the south-western corner of Table Mountain was checked,
the Brigadier had brought up from his reserve half a battalion of the
K.O.Y.L.I. under Col. C. St. L. Barter. It had entered the depression
between Table Mountain and Gun Hill in the formation which the
battalion had assiduously practised for several years--waves of double
companies, in single rank, with an interval of 8 to 10 paces between
the men. Being struck in the flank by musketry from Table Mountain,
two companies turned and joined in the attack on that plateau. In the
course of the fight on Table Mountain Major-General Fetherstonhaugh
was severely wounded, and the command of the brigade devolved upon
Lieut.-Col. C. G. C. Money, Northumberland Fusiliers.

[Sidenote: Coldstream are diverted from support of 9th brigade.]

[Sidenote: They carry Razor Back and Sugar Loaf.]

The original orders for the battle had directed that, when the
Grenadier and Scots Guards had carried Gun Hill, the two Coldstream
battalions should reinforce them and support the 9th brigade in the
attack on Mont Blanc. When, therefore, Gun Hill appeared to be
occupied by his leading battalions, Major-General Colvile ordered the
Coldstream to advance, the 1st battalion on the right, the 2nd on the
left, but as they approached Gun Hill they came under a heavy fire
from the Razor Back and the Sugar Loaf. To meet this attack they
changed front half right, and gradually inclined still more to this
direction until the Razor Back and Sugar Loaf Hills became the objects
of their attack. General Colvile, desiring to arrest this movement,
which threatened to become a purely frontal attack over most
unfavourable ground, despatched his brigade-major, Captain H. G.
Ruggles-Brise, to halt these two battalions. Ruggles-Brise succeeded
in reaching the 2nd battalion, and led part of them back to Gun Hill,
whence a portion of them, under command of Major H. Shute, were
immediately despatched by Major-General Colvile to re-establish
connection with the 9th brigade. This detachment gradually worked
northwards towards Table Mountain, and joining hands with Brevet
Lieut.-Col. Pulteney's company of Scots Guards, to which reference has
already been made, took part in the capture of the northern extremity
of the western range. But the remainder of the 2nd battalion of the
Coldstream under Lieut.-Col. H. R. Stopford, and the 1st battalion,
under Lieut.-Col. A. E. Codrington, were beyond recall; they pressed
forward, and, materially aided by the fire of the 18th battery,
assaulted and carried the Razor Back and Sugar Loaf kopjes. Captain J.
T. Sterling, who commanded a company of the reserve of the 1st
Coldstream, marching in rear of the remainder of the battalion, became
aware that the hills to the south of the Sugar Loaf were occupied by
Boers. Fearing that these burghers might attack Codrington in flank,
Sterling, deviating from his proper line of advance, moved his men
against them, in rushes of sections, at five paces interval, and
using independent fire. That there were many of the enemy opposed to
him is proved by the fact that he lost 20 men out of his company, 110
strong; but his prompt action prevented the counter-stroke which he
had anticipated.

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen therefore changes his plan of attack.]

[Sidenote: Capture of Table Mountain and Mont Blanc.]

In consequence of this unexpected development in the battle, Lord
Methuen, abandoning his intention of attacking Mont Blanc from the
north, determined to support the Coldstream battalions, by launching
every available man to reinforce their attack upon the main ridge. The
Grenadiers and Scots Guards moved down into the valley which lies
between the two ranges, and, to minimize the effect of the plunging
cross fire from the heights of Mont Blanc and Table Mountain, passed
it as rapidly as possible in three widely-extended lines. The valley
once traversed, the Boer musketry ceased to be dangerous, but its
passage cost the Grenadiers nearly as dear as their capture of the
kopjes of Gun Hill. He also called up his last reserve, half a
battalion of the Yorkshire Light Infantry, and the two companies of
the Munster Fusiliers, and threw them into the fight, on the left of
the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream Guards. Thus, on the right of the
field of battle were long lines of skirmishers, either crossing the
valley or actually ascending its northern heights, while on the left a
fierce fight was raging between the 9th brigade and the stalwart
defenders of the crags and works on the plateau of Table Mountain.
Gradually the Boers at these points weakened, and then retreated in
all haste to the valley, where, pursued by long-range volleys, they
mounted their ponies and disappeared among the kopjes of the main
range. Then the 9th brigade, following them across the valley, scaled
the steep slopes of Mont Blanc, and those of the enemy who were still
holding this kopje, fell back before them, and galloped off to the
east and north-east, under the heavy fire of the infantry.

[Sidenote: Boers escape untouched by shells or cavalry.]

Neither of the field batteries from their positions could see the
Boers as they fled from Mont Blanc. The Naval guns, which had been
successfully co-operating with the 18th battery[157] in shelling the
Boers on the crest line of Mont Blanc, were the artillery nearest to
Lord Methuen's hand as, from the summit, he watched the retreating
Boers. He called upon the Naval brigade to bring one of their guns on
to the top of Mont Blanc, by the deep gorge which cuts into the
western face of the main range. But the ground was impossible; the
heavy gun could not be dragged up the mountain side, and the Boers
effected their retreat without molestation from artillery fire. The
18th battery indeed joined with Major Rimington in a pursuit of the
Boers eastwards, from the extreme south of the hills, but with horses
exhausted by thirst and fatigue, nothing could be effected. The
detachment of cavalry and mounted infantry on the left of the British
line pushed some distance to the north-east; its appearance scattered
considerable parties of the enemy who otherwise might have harassed
the left flank, but with this exception its influence on the fight was
small. About midday its progress was arrested by a very well handled
flank or rearguard of the enemy in the neighbourhood of Swinkpan.[158]

         [Footnote 157: The 18th battery fired 141 rounds. For the
         greater part of the day it was in action at 1,375 yards.]

         [Footnote 158: This water-hole is not shown on map No. 10; it
         appears on map No. 9.]

[Sidenote: End of action. Casualties, Nov. 23rd.]

By 10 a.m. the engagement was over, and by noon the greater part of
the British force had returned to camp. After the action the outposts
were furnished by the Northampton regiment, and half a battalion of
the Scots Guards held Belmont station with a detached post on Table
Mountain. The total loss of Lord Methuen's command was 3 officers and
51 N.C.O.s and men killed; 23 officers and 220 N.C.O.s and men
wounded. The Grenadiers suffered more heavily than any of the other
battalions. They lost 1 officer killed and 8 wounded, 2 mortally; 21
N.C.O.s and men killed and 107 wounded, 24 mortally. Of the Boers, it
is known that more than 80 were killed, and 70 were taken prisoners. A
large amount of cattle, a considerable number of ponies, and much
ammunition were captured.

[Sidenote: An indecisive but in some ways satisfactory engagement.]

Though from the insufficient number of his mounted troops and from the
want of horse artillery, Lord Methuen was unable to convert his
successful engagement into a decisive victory, the action was
satisfactory in many ways. The first advance was made in darkness, in
a formation more extended than any practised at the same period in
broad daylight by continental nations. Such men as became detached
from their battalions promptly rallied upon the nearest officer of
another corps. The leading of company officers when, in the stress of
battle, they became separated from their battalions, and had thus to
act entirely on their own initiative, was most satisfactory. As an
instance of the manner in which troops become dispersed in modern
engagements, it is well to record the movements of the companies of
the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream Guards. One company joined or
closely followed the Grenadiers in their attack on Gun Hill. Two
companies worked with the Grenadiers in their attack on Mont Blanc.
Three companies fought on Table Mountain. One company kept touch with
the 1st battalion; another acted independently in clearing the eastern
side of Gun Hill, and then fought on Table Mountain. The fire
discipline proved distinctly good. Long range supporting fire, when
the light permitted it, was freely employed. The arrangements by the
R.A.M.C. for the removal of the wounded from the field of battle to
the base hospitals were admirable.



         [Footnote 159: See maps Nos. 9 and 11.]

[Sidenote: Boers gather at Graspan. Nov. 23rd/99.]

Eleven miles north of Belmont station the road and railway leading to
Kimberley enter a network of kopjes, which dominate the line until the
plain through which the Modder river flows is reached. These rough
outcrops of rock and boulders from the plains of the open veld have
been arranged by nature in clusters of small hills, the most southern
group being so shaped as to form a natural redoubt astride of the
railway, midway between Graspan and Enslin, thus barring any advance
from the south along the line. The larger portion of the Boer force,
defeated at Belmont, had fallen back under Prinsloo, on the 23rd of
November, across the Free State border to Ramdam, about 13 miles east
of Enslin station. De la Rey, however, whose commando had taken but
little part in that action, halted his men at Graspan, and occupied
the excellent position which this redoubt offered for a further stand.
That same evening the Transvaal General sent an urgent despatch to his
Free State colleague, imploring him to return to the railway line, and
in compliance with this request Prinsloo on the following day left
Commandant T. van der Merwe with 800 men at Ramdam, and moved to
Graspan with the rest of his men. On the arrival of the Free State
commandos at Graspan, a Krijgsraad assembled, and decided to remain on
the defensive for the next twenty-four hours, after which period, if
no forward move were made by the British troops, the two republican
leaders would themselves assume the offensive.

[Sidenote: Character of position.]

The natural redoubt, which the Boer leaders had thus determined to
hold, rises abruptly from the level, and commands the approaches
across the veld on the south, east and west; the even surface of the
plain, the sandy soil of which was barely concealed by dry tufts of
coarse grass, presented not an inch of cover, save for a few
ant-mounds dotted about here and there: their hard sun-baked walls
afford good protection from bullets for a skirmisher lying close
behind them. The kopjes are so grouped as to facilitate the
reinforcement of either the front face or the flanks from a centrally
placed body. They overlook, moreover, the only water available in the
vicinity, a few muddy pans and wells within the hills to the rear. The
southern face of the stronghold, tracing it from west to east, has a
length of about a mile. The flanks of this face are very definitely
marked by two razor-backed kopjes, the one on the east and the other
on the west, rising some 150 feet above the surrounding ground; both
these kopjes run approximately from the south to the north. In the
centre of the southern face lies a third kopje, oval in shape, 200
yards in length and 30 feet higher than the flank hillocks with which
it is connected by re-entrant ridges.

[Sidenote: Its one weakness.]

The left flank mentioned above consists mainly of that eastern
razor-backed kopje already referred to, which runs northward for a
distance of some 1,200 yards, its crest line broken by a series of
small knolls. Further north on this flank are one or two smaller
kopjes, then a mile of valley, on the far side of which, nestling
under another cluster of hills, lie the Rooilaagte homestead and a
Kaffir kraal. On the right flank in like manner the western razor-back
is similarly continued in a northerly direction by two other small
kopjes, the more northern of which is situated on the west side of the
railway. A Nek of land connects this kopje with the apex of a
triangular patch of broken ground, stretching several miles northward,
with its eastern side at right angles to the railway. Yet further
north, beyond the base or northern side of this third cluster of
hills, a valley some two miles broad runs from the railway on the east
to the open veld on the west, and thus completely separates the
quadrilateral redoubt, the Rooilaagte, and the triangular clusters of
hills already described, from a fourth group termed Honey Nest Kloof
Kopjes, which stretch northward to the Modder valley.[160] Strong,
therefore, although this whole position, or rather series of
positions, was on the front and flanks, it will be understood that if
the valley in rear could be seized by a sufficient mounted force,
while the front and flanks were threatened by infantry and guns, the
defenders would be cut off from their line of retreat, and their
safety seriously imperilled.

         [Footnote 160: Only the southern groups of kopjes are shown
         on map No. 11.]

[Sidenote: 23rd & 24th Nov. Preparation for advance.]

On the afternoon and night of 23rd of November Lord Methuen's division
rested at Belmont. The forenoon of the 24th of November was spent in
preparing for another march, supplies of ammunition being replenished
by railway from Orange River station. Meanwhile an armoured train,
escorted by the mounted company of the Loyal North Lancashire, had
been despatched up the line to reconnoitre, and came under artillery
fire from the Boers on Graspan. Its escort pushed on, the foremost
scouts riding up to within fifty yards of the kopjes, and
ascertaining, although with the loss of an officer (Lieutenant
Owen-Lewis, I.S.C.) and two men, that these hills were held by a Boer
force of about 400 to 500 men, with two guns. The mounted infantry,
together with the train, then returned to Belmont.

[Sidenote: Forward to Swinkpan. Nov. 24th.]

On receipt of their report at 2.30 p.m. the General Officer commanding
the division ordered the 9th Lancers and the whole of the mounted
infantry to move forward, covering the front for three miles on each
side of the railway, and further reconnoitring the enemy's position.
Under cover of this reconnaissance, the rest of the division were
directed to march at once to Swinkpan, so that they might be within
easy striking distance of Graspan on the following morning.
Intelligence, however, having reached the British commander that a
party of Boers, stated to be 500 strong, were on his right flank, the
Scots Guards and the two companies of Royal Munster Fusiliers,
together with the Naval guns, remained at Belmont to protect the
railway and the rear of the column, but were ordered to march to
Enslin the next day.

[Sidenote: Swinkpan lacks water.]

[Sidenote: Methuen's intentions.]

This information as to the enemy and an unfounded rumour of a Boer
movement to the westward somewhat delayed the start of the whole
division; the troops, therefore, did not reach Swinkpan until after
dark. On arrival barely sufficient water was found in the pan for the
men, and none could be spared for the battery horses, a hardship which
told against them severely in the fight of the morrow. The cavalry
reconnaissance, which Lord Methuen personally accompanied, tended to
confirm the original report that the strength of the Boer force
holding the position did not exceed five hundred men. He considered,
therefore, that on the following day he would be able to shell the
enemy out of the kopjes, and hoped that by despatching his cavalry and
mounted infantry well forward on both flanks he might have the good
fortune to capture the entire detachment.

[Sidenote: Advance on Graspan. Nov. 25/99, 3.30 a.m.]

With this design the mounted troops, the Field artillery, and the 9th
brigade under command of Lieut.-Col. Money, marched from Swinkpan
bivouac on Graspan at 3.30 a.m. on the 25th of November, the Guards'
brigade, under Major-General Sir H. Colvile, following in rear with
the baggage train at an interval of more than an hour. The Naval guns
at Belmont, mounted on goods trucks, simultaneously moved forward up
the line with the armoured train, followed by the Railway Troops,
viz., the 8th, 11th and 31st companies of the Royal engineers. The 1st
Scots Guards and two companies Munster Fusiliers went by road as

To the 9th brigade had been attached this day a small Naval battalion,
commanded by Captain Prothero, R.N., consisting of a company of
bluejackets, one company of Royal Marine artillery, and two companies
of Royal Marine Light Infantry, the total strength of the battalion
being about 240 men. Besides this unit the brigade comprised the 1st
Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Northamptonshire regiment, 2nd King's
Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and a half-battalion of the Loyal North

[Sidenote: Metheun tries to intercept Boer retreat.]

[Sidenote: 6.15 a.m. 18th and 75th batteries open fire.]

In conformity with his plan of action Lord Methuen directed Colonel B.
Gough to pass beyond the enemy's position on the east with two
squadrons of the 9th Lancers, one company of mounted infantry, and
Rimington's Guides; to pass beyond it on the west he likewise sent Major
Milton with the third squadron of the 9th Lancers, the mounted company
of the Northumberland Fusiliers, the mounted half company of the
Yorkshire Light Infantry, and a detachment (thirty strong) of the New
South Wales Lancers. The batteries (18th and 75th) moved at first with
the main body of the 9th brigade, the Northumberland Fusiliers
furnishing the advance guard, but, when the sun rose at 5 a.m. and the
Boer position was approached, the guns were ordered forward and came
into action about 6.15 a.m. against the kopjes held by the enemy east of
the railway. The 75th on the left engaged in a duel with the Boer guns,
but owing to the careful concealment of the latter was unable to produce
much effect; the 18th on the right, at a range of 2,200 yards, searched
carefully with shrapnel the sangars on the kopjes. The four companies of
the Loyal North Lancashire were detailed as an escort to this battery,
two of them lying down close to the guns, the other two being in support
some distance in rear. The 75th battery at first lacked an escort, but
later on a half-battalion of the Northamptonshire was sent to it, and
remained near the railway until the end of the day.

[Sidenote: Naval guns and field batteries shell the hills to drive out

Meanwhile the remainder of the 9th brigade halted out of the enemy's
range midway between the two batteries, with a half-battalion of the
Northumberland Fusiliers extended in front. The armoured train and the
Naval guns, four 12-prs., commanded by Lieut. F. W. Dean, R.N.,
arrived in sight of the Boer position a little before 6 a.m.,
accompanied by the Royal engineer companies, who were in a repair
train in rear. The leading train halted at Graspan station, from
whence by means of field-glasses a large number of Boers could be seen
standing on the crests of the kopjes commanding the line. Almost
immediately a puff of smoke appeared on the ridge a little to the east
of the railway, and a shell whistled over the train, bursting some 200
yards beyond. Lieutenant Dean at once detrained two guns (the strength
of his party being insufficient to man-handle more than two in the
soft ground), and with them ranged on the crest line, finding the
distance to be about 5,000 yards. The trains were then sent back about
half a mile, leaving, however, a trolly with ammunition. The Naval
guns, in conjunction with the field batteries, which had now come up,
continued to shell the Boer guns, and by 6.30 a.m. these for a time
ceased fire.

[Sidenote: Boers, reinforced, are stronger than expected.]

The estimate of the enemy's strength made by the reconnaissance of the
24th was not inaccurate, but the fact was that the situation had been
entirely changed by the arrival of Prinsloo with large reinforcements
later on that afternoon. The exact numbers of the Boers engaged in
this fight are, as in other cases, difficult to state with any
precision, but they were probably not less than about 2,300 men, with
three Krupp guns and two pom-poms. This force was disposed as
follows:--General De la Rey's commando of Transvaalers, consisting of
700 men and two Krupp guns, held the northern end of the kopjes on the
western flank, and was therefore on the north-western side of the
railway. Next on the western central kopje to the south-east of the
railway came the Winburg commando, about 250 with a Krupp gun, under
Commandant Jourdaan. These three Krupp guns were, however, controlled
by Major Albrecht, the officer commanding the Free State artillery.
The long kopje, at the southern end of which the western meets the
southern face, was held by the Bloemfontein commando, 500 strong,
under General J. Prinsloo. East of him, in the centre of the front
face, was placed the Jacobsdal commando, 300 strong, under Commandant
Lubbe. The eastern razor-backed kopje, which formed the left flank and
part of the frontal defence, was assigned to detachments of the
Bloemfontein, Hoopstad, and Fauresmith commandos under Commandants P.
Fourie and H. van der Venter. Two pom-poms were mounted on this side
of the defences. It will be seen from map 11 that the Graspan ground
differed in a marked way from the majority of the positions selected
by the Boers, being salient instead of re-entrant. It did not,
therefore, lend itself readily to the adoption of those enveloping
tactics which their forefathers learnt originally from the Zulus.
Prinsloo sought to remedy this defect by ordering up from Ramdam a
detachment to menace the eastern flank of the British advance.

[Sidenote: Boer strength involves attack instead of mere shelling.]

It was now seen that the enemy available for the defence of the main
position was too strong to be driven out there from by a brief
artillery bombardment, and it soon became clear to the British
Commander that an attack in due form had become necessary. Lord
Methuen determined, therefore, to direct the 9th brigade to go forward
and carry the kopjes. The artillery was to prepare the way for attack
at closer range, while the Guards' brigade was ordered to come up in
support and to hold the right flank, the presence of the Ramdam
detachment to the south-east having already been discovered by the
mounted troops.

[Sidenote: 7.15 a.m. 18th battery prepares for infantry attack on
south-east. One section (two guns) against eastern face.]

[Sidenote: 2 companies L.N.L., halted before eastern kopje, await 9th

These orders were issued at about 7 a.m. The 18th battery started off
eastward, and a quarter of an hour later came into action under
infantry fire at a range of 1,425 yards against the southern end of
the long eastern kopje. Lord Methuen had already chosen that kopje as
the main object of the infantry attack. A section of the battery was a
little later moved round yet further east to search with shrapnel the
eastern face. Although all the guns of the 18th battery were thus for
a considerable period in action within long-range rifle fire of the
enemy, it did not suffer a single casualty during the whole
engagement. Two companies of the Loyal North Lancashire regiment
followed the battery, and continued to act as escort; the other two
companies of that half-battalion under Major Churchward were ordered
personally by Lord Methuen to move forward, the right company against
the eastern kopje, and the left against the central kopje of the
southern face. But, soon after they had started to do this, they were
instructed by a subsequent order to halt and await the arrival of the
rest of the brigade.

[Sidenote: Northumberland Fusiliers leads 9th brigade.]

Five companies of the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was still
leading the 9th brigade, were ordered to protect the left of the
attack and remained lying down 2,000 yards from the enemy, where the
half-battalion as advance guard had been originally halted.[161] Two
of the remaining companies were directed to reinforce the escort of
the guns (Naval and 75th battery) on the left flank, and the other one
moved to the right to support the 18th battery.

         [Footnote 161: See p. 233, 2nd par.]

[Sidenote: 75th battery and Naval guns join in.]

The 75th battery advanced at the same time parallel to the line. It
was accompanied by the two Naval 12-prs., and took up two successive
positions 4,000 and 2,300 yards from the enemy's guns, which now
re-opened fire. The Naval guns during these movements were dragged
forward by the seamen, assisted by sappers lent from the Royal
engineer companies. The fire of the enemy at the British as they came
into action at the nearer range was accurate. The Naval guns,
nevertheless, remained in action until the conclusion of the day.
When, a little later, the 75th battery was moved to the eastward,
Lieut. Dean held his ground. By making his men lie down as each flash
at the enemy's battery was seen, he was able to save them from any
heavy casualties. The effect of the British on the Boer artillery was
also very slight, the enemy's casualties being limited to one gunner
wounded and three horses killed.

[Sidenote: Advance of Guards.]

The Guards' brigade, in its march from Swinkpan, had been drawn to the
north-west by the sound of the guns and had moved in extended lines in
that direction, until the left company of its leading battalion, the
3rd Grenadier Guards, crossed the railway close to the spot where the
Naval guns were stationed; but at this moment Lord Methuen's order to
march to the south-east to protect the right rear of the main attack
reached the Brigadier by heliograph. In compliance with this
instruction Sir H. Colvile turned about the 3rd Grenadier Guards and
2nd Coldstream Guards, and moved them to the other flank; throughout
this movement from left to right behind the 9th brigade, the two
battalions were in extended order and beyond the range of the enemy.
The 1st Coldstream Guards were still protecting the transport column;
the 1st Scots Guards, which came up from Belmont, were also held back
on the left, under the immediate orders of the Lieut.-General, and
acted as a divisional reserve. Lord Methuen's preliminary
dispositions, therefore, of the troops not actually employed in the
assault, included the use of six field guns, two Naval guns, seven
companies Northumberland Fusiliers, four companies Northamptonshire,
and three companies Royal engineers, in facing the enemy's right and
centre; two battalions of the Guards watched the right flank, in
support of the main attack, and the other two battalions were
available as a final reserve.

[Sidenote: 9th Brigade prepare to attack eastern kopje.]

Meanwhile the units of the 9th brigade, intended to deliver the
assault, had extended in front of the centre of the position. The
Brigadier was, however, then instructed by Lord Methuen that he was to
act against the eastern kopje, and a little later was further informed
that the attack should also overlap its eastern face. Lieut.-Colonel
Money accordingly moved his brigade to the right in extended order,
and thus brought it to a point from whence a direct stroke could be
made at the assigned object. There the brigade halted for a moment;
the Naval battalion was immediately facing the eastern kopje and now
slightly in advance of the other units. The latter had somewhat
intermingled during the movement to the flank, with the result that
two companies of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and one
company of the Northampton were on the left of the Naval contingent,
the remaining six companies of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
and three of the Northampton being on its right. These preparations
for the attack occupied nearly two hours, and were not completed until
9 a.m. The situation at this hour is shown on map No. 11. Meanwhile,
an hour earlier, the 75th battery had by Lord Methuen's order been
brought over from the western flank and co-operated with the 18th in
shelling the eastern kopje. All being now ready for the attempt, the
order to move was given by the Lieut.-General in person, and the Naval
battalion pushed on to a level with the two companies of the Loyal
North Lancashire regiment extended in their front.[162] Accompanied by
these on the left flank, and supported by the three Yorkshire Light
Infantry and Northamptonshire companies on that side, the Naval
contingent steadily and rapidly pressed on against the eastern kopje.
The sailors and marines had originally been extended to four paces,
but had somewhat closed in during the manoeuvring which preceded the
attack. The enemy remained silent until the assailants approached to
within 1,000 yards, but then began to pour in a rapid and effective
fire from the kopje attacked, and the ridge to the westward. At 600
yards the British line halted to return this, and then from that point
onward advanced by rushes of from 50 to 100 yards at a time, the left
company of the Loyal North Lancashire, supported by the companies of
King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, moving on the centre kopje, and
the Naval brigade with the other North Lancashire company, under the
command of Lt. A. J. Carter, still leading towards the eastern kopje
with the Northamptonshire company in support. The enemy's fire
meanwhile increased in intensity, and both officers and men were
falling fast on the British side. The last 200 yards to the foot of
the hill were therefore traversed in a single rush. At the base of the
kopjes a certain amount of dead ground allowed of a short breathing
space, during which a consultation between the company officers left
in command took place. They determined to scale the hill and ordered
the men to fix bayonets.

         [Footnote 162: See p. 235, par. 2. The brigade, to the front
         of which the Naval battalion had passed during the flank
         movement, was now advancing to support these two companies in
         the attack.]

[Sidenote: Losses of attackers on south front.]

The Naval contingent had already suffered heavily. Captain R. C.
Prothero, R.N., was wounded; Commander A. P. Ethelston, R.N., Major J.
H. Plumbe, R.M.L.I., and Captain Guy Senior, R.M.A., had been
killed;[163] the command of the battalion thus devolving on Captain A.
E. Marchant, R.M.L.I. The two companies of the North Lancashire, more
fortunate, owing to their wide extension and their use of such cover
as the ant-hills afforded, reached the base of the kopjes with
considerably less loss than the Naval battalion.

         [Footnote 163: The officers of the Naval brigade wore the
         same headgear as their men, and, except Captain Prothero and
         Midshipman Wardle, all carried rifles.]

[Sidenote: Preparations for attack on east front.]

While this advance against the southern face of the kopje was being
executed, the six companies of the King's Own Yorkshire Light
Infantry, and the three remaining companies of the Northamptonshire
regiment, had gradually worked round the enemy's left flank. The two
pom-poms posted on this side proved troublesome, although endeavours
were made to reach them by the two guns of the 18th battery[164] and
by long-range rifle-fire. The Yorkshire Light Infantry were being
carefully manoeuvred in successive lines extended at ten paces
interval, and having pivoted on the left flank, succeeded,
notwithstanding the pom-poms and a heavy rifle-fire, in crossing the
open plain to the foot of the eastern face of the kopje with only
moderate losses.[165] The Northampton supported this attack on the
right, the two companies of the Loyal North Lancashire, which formed
the original escort of the 18th battery, joining in on the left.

         [Footnote 164: See p. 235, par. 2.]

         [Footnote 165: The K.O.Y.L.I. throughout the day lost only 7
         men killed, 3 officers and 34 men wounded, and 4 men

[Sidenote: The assault, 9.30 a.m. Nov. 25th, carries the eastern

The moment had now come for the assault. Under cover of a final
artillery preparation the bluejackets, marines, and North Lancashire
men began to climb the boulders which covered the front face of the
kopjes. A third of the way up a momentary halt again became necessary,
as the British shells were bursting just in front of the assaulting
line. Then the Royal artillery ceased fire and the assailants, having
been joined by their Brigadier, Lieut.-Col. Money, and the supporting
Northamptonshire and Yorkshire companies, eagerly dashed on up to the
crest. The eastern face of the position was carried at the same time.
The enemy had no desire to await this final onslaught and had already
retired to the broken ground further to the north. If the times were
correctly recorded, the advance and capture of this kopje did not take
more than half an hour, the final assault having been delivered at
9.30 a.m.

[Sidenote: The Boers retreat.]

The commando on the Boer right had had but little share in this fight,
being held in check by the force on the British left detailed
expressly for that purpose. The loss of the razor-backed kopje
rendered the whole position untenable; De la Rey and Prinsloo
therefore fell back with their men northwards, pursued by long-range
volleys from the British infantry. As soon as he was informed that the
infantry had made good the crest line, Lieut.-Col. Hall, commanding
the Royal artillery, pushed on with both the field batteries to the
ridge between the central and eastern kopjes, but the enemy had by
this time retreated too far for the fire of the British guns to be
effective. The batteries then were taken to water, of which the
animals were in dire need.

[Sidenote: The attempt to cut off the fugitives.]

Meantime the two bodies of mounted troops, which, according to Lord
Methuen's scheme, were to seize ground in the path of the now
retreating Boers, had set out on their mission.

[Sidenote: The western march.]

Major Milton, in the early morning, had led his small force of one
squadron and one and a half companies of mounted infantry by a
circuitous march well to the westward of the railway and thence
northward until he reached that previously described valley which
separates the three southern clusters of hills from Honey Nest Kloof
Kopjes. On a sugar loaf hill at its entrance he left an observation
piquet and, extending the Northumberland Fusiliers company very
widely, with instructions to hold its southern side, he pushed up the
valley eastward with the remainder (amounting now to less than two
hundred men) and reached Honey Nest Kloof station. This small
detachment had thus ridden completely across the Boer line of retreat,
and was now six miles in rear of their captured position. Moving
further to the east, Milton observed, in the plains beyond the distant
end of the valley, the two squadrons under Colonel Gough, but failed
in an attempt to attract their attention by heliograph. There were
already signs of Boers coming to him, and, hoping to intercept
fugitives, Milton moved back on the Fusilier company extended on the
southern side. But the Boers swarmed out of the kopjes on this very
side in greatly superior numbers, and opened a heavy fire upon the
weak line of the Northumberland Fusiliers. The audacity of their
position in the open with their horses some 1,000 yards in rear was
apparent to the enemy. About 400 Boers, moreover, detached themselves
from the main body and approached Milton's men. The situation thus
became very critical, and the cavalry squadron fell back to the
western entrance, covered by the mounted infantry, who succeeded in
seizing a kopje on the northern side. The Boers continued their
advance against the defending party to within three hundred yards of
this kopje, but then swerved off to the east, thus enabling Major
Milton to withdraw the whole of his detachment in safety. Any further
attempt at pursuit would have ended in disaster, because of the great
strength of the enemy, and the unbroken front they still presented.

[Sidenote: Lt.-Col. Gough on the east.]

Lieut.-Col. B. Gough's force on the east had similarly found itself to
be insufficient in strength to reap the fruits of victory. During the
earlier part of the fight it had done good service in holding back the
Ramdam detachment of Boers which occupied a kopje about two and a
quarter miles to the south-east of the battlefield. This detachment
was reported at first to be about 500, but Major Rimington, who
reconnoitred close up to it, saw other Boers advancing westwards to
support it, and it is not improbable that the whole of van der Merwe's
commando may have ridden out from Ramdam in the course of the morning.
Fortunately, however, the Boers were not at this period of the war
disposed to attack mounted troops in the open plain; the
demonstration, therefore, of Rimington's Guides and the Lancers'
squadrons sufficed to chain them to the kopje.

[Sidenote: Gough fails to stop Boers.]

As soon as the main attack had succeeded, Gough moved northward and
sighted the Boer laager, which had been observed at Enslin the
previous night, now retiring north-east along the road to Jacobsdal.
The escort appeared, however, to be too strong to be charged. Urgent
requests for guns were therefore sent back to Headquarters and
ultimately the 18th battery, which had reached the bivouac at Enslin,
was sent out to join Gough, but the horses were too exhausted for
rapid movement and the guns only arrived in time to fire a dozen
rounds at the last Boer wagons, which were now 5,000 yards away.[166]

         [Footnote 166: This battery fired in all 482 rounds during
         the action.]

[Sidenote: Want of cavalry and horse artillery make Belmont and
Graspan indecisive.]

Yet at Graspan, as at Belmont, the open plains across which the enemy
was compelled to retire after his defeat were singularly favourable to
cavalry action and, had a satisfactory mounted brigade with a horse
artillery battery been available, the Boers could not have effected
their escape without suffering very heavy losses. Not only were the
mounted troops at Lord Methuen's disposal insufficient numerically,
but their horses were already worn out by the heavy reconnaissance
duty, which had of necessity been carried out by them day after day
without relief, under the adverse conditions of a sandy soil, great
heat, and a scarcity of water. The results of this deficiency in
mounted men were far-reaching. Not only did the enemy avoid paying the
material penalties of successive failures on the battlefield, but his
_moral_ was stiffened by these demonstrations of the immunity from
disaster conferred by his superior mobility.

[Sidenote: Losses at Graspan, Nov. 25th.]

The casualties suffered by the 1st division on this day amounted to 3
officers and 15 men killed, 6 officers and 137 men wounded, and 7

[Sidenote: Heavy Naval losses.]

The proportion of these losses which fell on the Naval brigade was
very high, their returns showing 3 officers and 6 men killed and 3
officers and 89 men wounded. The Marines, who took part in the actual
attack, lost 47 per cent. of their strength. It is remarkable that the
North Lancashire, two of whose companies shared in that assault, had
only 1 man killed, 6 wounded, and 2 missing. The Guards' brigade did
not suffer and did not fire a shot all day.

[Sidenote: Boer losses.]

The enemy's losses are not accurately known; the bodies of 23 Boers
were found by the British troops, and buried after the fight; the
total republican casualties probably, therefore, amounted to about 80
or 90. Forty prisoners and a few ponies were captured.

[Sidenote: After the action. Night of Nov. 25th.]

Lord Methuen's division bivouacked the night of the 25th November at
or near Enslin station; the scarcity of water again caused much
discomfort to men and animals. Under the supervision of Colonel E.
Townsend, principal medical officer of the division, the wounded were
collected and entrained during the afternoon, the less severe cases
being sent off to Orange River, and the graver to Cape Town.



         [Footnote 167: As a point of historical accuracy it should be
         noticed that, for the battle of the 28th November, the
         "Modder River" is a misnomer. The fighting, as will be seen
         in this chapter, took place on the banks of the Riet; but
         since the battle honours for the engagement have been given
         for "Modder River," the name has become officially
         recognised, and is therefore used here. See map No. 12.]

[Sidenote: Boers learn to change their ideas of a "strong position."]

[Sidenote: The ground chosen by De la Rey. Nov. 26th.]

When the Boers, after their defeat on the 25th November, retreated
from the heights of Graspan,[168] the greater part of their force
withdrew to Jacobsdal, little inclined to renew the combat. But
General De la Rey induced the burghers to make another effort to
arrest the British march on Kimberley, at a position of his own
selection at the confluence of the Riet and the Modder rivers, where
the terrain differed in character from that which had been occupied at
Belmont and Graspan. In those engagements the Boers had entrenched
themselves upon high and rugged kopjes, of which the apparent strength
became a source of weakness. The hills afforded an excellent target
for the British artillery. The riflemen who held the works had to aim
downwards at the enemy as he advanced to the attack, and a "plunging"
fire never yields satisfactory results. At their base was dead ground,
inaccessible to the musketry of the defenders. Here the attacking
infantry, after their rush across the open, could halt for breathing
space before delivering the final assault. For these reasons De la Rey
decided to adopt completely new tactics and to fight from the bed of a
river, surrounded on every side by a level plain, destitute of cover
over the surface of which the burghers could pour a continuous and
"grazing" fire upon the British from the time they first came within
range, up to the very moment of their final charge. The plain, across
which the railway from Orange River to Kimberley runs nearly due north
and south, is intersected by the devious windings of two rivers, the
Riet and the Modder. From Bosman's Drift (see map 12) the Riet, the
more southerly of the two, runs north-west for about a mile and a
half, and then for the same distance turns to the north-east. Its
course next changes abruptly to the north-west for nearly two miles
when, increased in volume by the waters of its affluent, the Modder,
it gently curves to the westward for about a mile and a half. The
meanderings of the Modder are even more remarkable. Its most southern
elbow is half a mile north-east of the spot where the Riet turns for
the second time north-west. Thence it runs for a mile to the north,
then about the same distance to the west; it turns southward for a
mile, and then flows westward for three-quarters of a mile, where, a
few hundred yards above the railway bridge, it merges into the Riet.
Both these streams have cut themselves channels so wide as to allow a
thick growth of trees and scrub to line their sides, so deep that the
vegetation which they contain hardly shows above the level of the
surrounding plain. There are few practicable fords across the Riet.
One exists at Bosman's Drift; there is a second near the railway
bridge; among the group of islets at Rosmead there is a natural ford,
while the retaining wall of the weir which dams the river at this
village can be used, not without difficulty, by active men in single
file. Elsewhere the depth of the water and the mud at the bottom of
the Riet effectually combine to prevent the passage of troops. Thus
the Riet and the Modder together formed not only a gigantic moat
across the approaches to Kimberley from the south and south-east, but
a covered way, by which its defenders could move unseen to any part of
the position.

         [Footnote 168: See map No. 9 and freehand sketch.]

[Sidenote: Two hamlets on the Riet. Other details.]

On the right bank of the Riet there are two hamlets. One, known as
Modder River village, is clustered round the station; the other,
Rosmead, lies a mile further down the river. In both are farms and
cottages with gardens, bounded by trees, strongly-built mud walls, and
fences of wire and prickly cactus. On the left bank, close to the
river, there are two or three farms, surrounded by gardens and
substantial enclosures. About five miles to the north-east of the
Modder River village the Magersfontein kopjes loom dark and frowning,
a landmark for all the country round; while still further to the north
the heights of Scholtz Nek and Spytfontein lie athwart the railway to
Kimberley.[169] A glance at the reproduction of Captain Erskine's
freehand sketch of the ground will help the reader to appreciate the
strength of the Boer position.

         [Footnote 169: See map No. 13.]

[Sidenote: Nov. 26th/99. Halt at Enslin.]

On the 26th November, Lord Methuen halted in the neighbourhood of
Enslin,[170] while supplies and ammunition were brought up by the
railway. As far as the exhausted condition of his horses permitted, he
reconnoitred in the direction of the Riet, and a strong patrol of
mounted men, led by Lt.-Colonel Verner, ascertained that the Boers
were in occupation of Honey Nest Kloof station (map No. 9), and saw
considerable numbers of the enemy moving across the veld, trekking, as
it seemed, from the river southwards towards Ramdam. But so tired were
the artillery horses that, when the leader of the patrol sent back a
request for guns with which to shell the Boers out of the railway
station, Lord Methuen thought it better to give them absolute rest,
and ordered the patrol to retire.[171]

         [Footnote 170: See map No. 9.]

         [Footnote 171: At the end of this reconnaissance Lt.-Col.
         Verner was so severely injured by his horse falling with him
         that he was invalided home.]

[Sidenote: 1st Division marches, Nov. 27th to Wittekop.]

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's first intention.]

[Sidenote: His purpose in moving on Modder River.]

[Sidenote: 4.30 a.m. Nov. 28th the march begins.]

At 4 a.m. on the 27th the division marched to Wittekop, about six
miles to the south of the Modder River bridge. Here the artillery and
infantry bivouacked while the cavalry and mounted infantry
reconnoitred on a front of six miles along the railway towards the
river. In the distance, lines of wagons could be seen leaving
Jacobsdal, apparently moving towards Modder River station, and at
about 1 p.m. the advance patrols of the 9th Lancers reported that they
had been forced to halt by the enemy's musketry from the direction of
the railway bridge, which had been wrecked by the Boers at the
beginning of the war. In the afternoon Lord Methuen joined Major
Little, commanding the 9th Lancers, in a reconnaissance towards the
Riet, but observed nothing to cause him to change the plan he had
already formed. This was to mask the Modder River bridge by a
reconnaissance in force, while he marched to Jacobsdal, and thence by
Brown's Drift across the Modder river to Abon's Dam, lying about
sixteen miles north-east of Jacobsdal, and thus turn the position of
Spytfontein (see map No. 9), on which he was convinced the burghers
intended to give him battle. The cavalry did not reconnoitre up the
Riet river towards Jacobsdal, and therefore the existence of the ford
at Bosman's Drift remained unknown to him. His only large scale sketch
of the ground near the Modder bridge did not include the windings of
this stream.[172] But in the course of the night much information came
in. Major Little reported that he estimated the number of Boers near
the Modder River village to be 4,000. Major Rimington ascertained that
the Boers expected reinforcements, and that they were making
entrenchments on the south bank near Modder River bridge. A loyal
British subject, at great personal risk, succeeded in sending a
message to the effect that the Boers were in force at the village, and
were "digging themselves in like rabbits." On this evidence Lord
Methuen concluded, and he continued to hold his opinion till the
battle began, that Modder River village was merely used as an advanced
post to cover the burghers' main position at Spytfontein. But as he
did not wish to leave even a detachment of the enemy threatening his
lines of communication, he decided to postpone his flanking movement
on Abon's Dam until he had captured the entrenched village. Before
dawn the orders were recast, and by 4.30 a.m. on the 28th, the
division was on the march,[173] but unfortunately the men were not
all of them adequately prepared for the work which lay before them,
for owing to the change of plan many started without their breakfasts.

         [Footnote 172: This sketch had been made a few days before
         the outbreak of war by an officer who was ordered to report
         on the best method of defending the Modder River bridge with
         one or two companies of infantry. It was executed under
         circumstances which, even had his instructions been more
         comprehensive, would have prevented him from effecting any
         extensive reconnaissance of the Riet and Modder rivers.]

         [Footnote 173: The Northamptonshire was detailed to guard the
         baggage at Wittekop. The 1st battalion Argyll and Sutherland
         Highlanders joined Lord Methuen's column on the night of the
         28th from the lines of communication.]

[Sidenote: The cavalry stopped by concealed riflemen before division

[Sidenote: The real dispositions of defenders.]

The cavalry, who had moved off at 4 a.m., were brought to a standstill
by the enemy's fire at about 5.30 a.m. Major Little then reported to
Lord Methuen, who had accompanied the mounted troops, that all the
information sent in by the officers of the advance squadrons showed
that the river was strongly held from the railway bridge eastward to a
clump of high poplars. Major Little's deduction, as far as it went,
was perfectly correct; but he did not know, nor did anyone else in
Lord Methuen's force suspect, that admirably concealed entrenchments
had been thrown up along the left bank of the Riet, from Rosmead east,
to the bend where the bed of the river turns sharply southwards. At
many places on the northern bank shelter trenches had been
constructed. The farms on the southern bank had been prepared for
occupation by riflemen; the houses of Rosmead and Modder village had
been placed in a state of defence. At various points behind the Riet,
epaulments had been thrown up for the six field guns which the enemy
had with them, while among the foliage on the bank three or four
pom-poms were cunningly concealed. It is uncertain whether the whole
of the long series of trenches was actually manned when the cavalry
first appeared before the river, or whether the Boers only occupied
the western works after it had become clear that Lord Methuen did not
propose to force a crossing at Bosman's Drift, and that his line of
attack was to be roughly parallel to the railway. But there is no
doubt that the fear of being outflanked caused the burghers to take up
a very wide front, and that the manoeuvres of the mounted troops near
Bosman's Drift, and of the 9th brigade at Rosmead, forced them still
further to extend it on both flanks. When the whole position was taken
up, Free Staters under Prinsloo were posted on the right; the centre,
through which ran the railway line, was defended by De la Rey with
part of the Transvaal commandos; to the left stood another contingent
of Transvaalers, composed of some of the men who, two days earlier,
had arrived at Edenburg, weary with the forced march and long railway
journey by which P. Cronje had brought them from the siege of Mafeking
to protect the Riet. In all, between three and four thousand burghers
were in array.

[Sidenote: Cronje fears for Bosman's Drift, which is unknown to

[Sidenote: Mounted infantry seize farm a mile above this drift, on

Noticing the direction of the British advance towards Modder River
village, Cronje at first believed that Lord Methuen was about to cross
the Riet at Bosman's Drift. He therefore hurriedly despatched a gun
and a pom-pom from the delta formed by the junction of the two rivers,
to support the outlying detachments of riflemen, already posted in the
neighbourhood of the ford and of a farmhouse a mile further up the
river. The 18th battery drove back the pom-pom and gun, and then, at
about 7.15 a.m. supported the mounted infantry who had been despatched
to capture the farm. Aided by the well-placed shells of the artillery,
the mounted infantry carried it, and established themselves so solidly
under cover of the mud walls of its kraal that a Boer gun, which later
in the day played upon them for several hours, failed to dislodge
them. The duty of watching the right rear was entrusted to the 9th
Lancers. By their repeated attempts to cross the Riet they prevented
the men who guarded it from reinforcing the main Boer positions; and
they warded off the threatened attack of detachments of the enemy who,
based on Jacobsdal, hovered on the right flank. Rimington's Guides at
the beginning of the action were sent to the west, where they
similarly covered the left flank. Among the first to cross the river
was a party of the Guides, and these did good service during the
subsequent fighting on the right bank.

[Sidenote: 7 a.m. Guards attack east of railway bridge: 9th brigade
towards bridge.]

The infantry began to arrive on the battlefield at about 7 a.m., and
Lord Methuen directed Major-General Colvile with the Guards' brigade
to attack the left flank of the supposed frontage of the enemy, viz.,
the space from the railway bridge eastward to the clump of high
poplars on the Riet. Major-General R. Pole-Carew[174] was meanwhile to
lead the 9th brigade astride of the railway upon the broken bridge,
conforming his advance to that of the Guards. A verbal message was at
the same time sent by Lord Methuen to say that he thought that there
were along the river bank no Boers except possibly some 400 men who
might be covering the broken bridge itself.

         [Footnote 174: Major-General Pole-Carew had reached Lord
         Methuen's column on the 27th to assume command of the 9th
         brigade, of which Lieut.-Colonel Money, Northumberland
         Fusiliers, had been in temporary charge since the 23rd, when
         Major-General Fetherstonhaugh was wounded at Belmont.]

[Sidenote: Development of Guards' attack.]

[Sidenote: Scots Guards attempting outflanking attack are checked by
concealed riflemen.]

It will be convenient to describe the operations of the Guards'
brigade throughout the day, before touching upon those of the 9th
brigade. On receipt of his instructions, Major-General Colvile formed
his troops, then at some distance east of the railway, into two lines;
the first consisted of the Scots Guards on the right, the Grenadiers
in the centre, the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream on the left; the
first battalion of the Coldstream was in reserve as second line. The
clump of high poplars was selected as the point of direction. As the
Guards deployed they were smitten by artillery, and later by rapid
musketry. As soon as the deployment was completed, the Scots Guards
were ordered to advance at once, swing round their right, and take the
enemy in flank. Lieut.-Colonel Pulteney with two companies and a
machine gun was pushing round to the right, to carry out the turning
movement, when, at about 8.10 a.m. he came under a sudden and violent
fire from the enemy concealed in the low bushes of the Riet or in the
trenches on its left bank. The companies suffered considerably; and of
the men forming the detachment with the Maxim all were killed or
wounded by a well-concealed pom-pom. Colonel Paget, who commanded the
Scots Guards, sent four companies to Colonel Pulteney's assistance,
but even with this reinforcement it was impossible to make further
progress across the plain.

[Sidenote: 1st Coldstream, thrown in on right, are stopped by Riet.]

[Sidenote: but move along it and entrench upon it.]

When Major-General Colvile saw that the Boers had thus arrested the
march of the Scots Guards, he determined to employ his reserve, the
1st Coldstream, in prolonging the line of the brigade to the right so
as to extend beyond the enemy's left. The 1st Coldstream was then on
the right rear of the leading battalions and was formed in two lines,
one behind the other, each in echelon of companies from the left.
Lt.-Colonel Codrington, who commanded it, accordingly moved to the
right, where he was unexpectedly stopped by the Riet, of the existence
of which he was unaware. Major Granville Smith's company, which was
one of those that first reached the river, was ordered to line part of
the left bank, to repel an expected attack in flank from burghers who
had been seen on the plain beyond the further bank. In this part of
its winding course the right of the Riet is higher than the left, so
that Major Granville Smith's field of view was very limited. He
therefore sought for a ford by which he could reach the dominant bank.
Finding traces of a disused drift, he waded alone over a narrow spit
of rock through water which reached to his chin, to the right side of
the river, where he was soon joined by Lt.-Colonel Codrington with two
other officers and 18 non-commissioned officers and men. After driving
away some Boers by musketry, the little party reconnoitred up and down
the stream in the vain hope of finding a more practicable ford, and
was then ordered by a staff officer to recross and return. During the
time employed in this unsuccessful quest the greater part of Colonel
Codrington's battalion had pushed down the river, some companies in
the bed, others along the bank. As they scrambled on, fording was
attempted at many points, but in every case the deep water, and the
almost equally deep mud at the bottom of the stream, proved
impassable. The leading company reached the angle of the bend where
the Riet breaks away to the westward, but there, shot down by
invisible Boers, some hidden along the right bank, others holding a
farm and garden on the left bank, they could get forward no further. A
patrol worked down stream sufficiently far to the west of the bend to
be able to see the railway bridge, but was driven back by musketry.
The battalion took up a position along the left bank, entrenching
itself with the Slade-Wallace tools, carried as part of the soldiers'
equipment. Some companies faced to the west, the remainder to the
north and east. Here they remained till nightfall. They were a target
for the defenders of the banks of the Riet, for a detachment which
lined the Modder near the northern reservoir, and for a pom-pom. This
latter was, however, quickly driven away by a few well-aimed section
volleys. Some time after 9 a.m. two companies of Scots Guards, by
order of Major-General Colvile, fell back from where they were on the
plain, and forming up along the river bank prolonged the line of the
1st Coldstream to the south-west. At dusk a handful of officers and
men succeeded in making their way to the Scots Guards' machine gun
which had been silenced in the morning, and brought it back, together
with one or two wounded men of the detachment who lay around it. At
intervals during the day the British right flank was annoyed by shots
from Boers on the plain to the east of the Riet. These men several
times appeared to be about to make a serious attack upon this part of
the line, but their purpose always withered up under the fire of the
Grenadiers' Maxim gun, of detachments of the Guards left to hold the
southern reservoir, and of the mounted infantry and 9th Lancers on the
extreme right rear.

[Sidenote: Grenadiers and 2nd Coldstream move at 7 a.m., Nov. 28th,
straight for river east of bridge.]

[Sidenote: They are stopped at 1,000 yards from it.]

When the Scots Guards commenced their turning movement, the Grenadiers
and the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream began their frontal attack,
and arrived within 1,000 or 1,100 yards of the enemy who lined the
river bank.[175] At this range the hostile fire was so severe that it
became impossible to get nearer and, as the day wore on, the
difficulty of keeping the men supplied with ammunition grew more and
more serious. When night put an end to the engagement, in many
companies the soldiers had but ten cartridges left in their pouches
with which to cover an attack, or repel a counter-stroke. So long as
the men lay flat on the ground they were little molested, as a growth
of thistles hid them from the enemy's view, but any attempt to move
brought upon them a shower of bullets, to which they were unable to
reply with any effect, as the Boers, perfectly protected by their
trenches or concealed by the vegetation which lined the river bank,
suffered little from the shrapnel of the supporting British guns, and
could not be seen by the infantry.

         [Footnote 175: A few groups of officers and men were able to
         win their way three or four hundred yards nearer to the Boer
         defences, but with heavy loss.]

[Sidenote: 18th and 75th batteries support Guards.]

[Sidenote: Naval guns engage Boer guns.]

The 18th and 75th batteries came into action to the east of the
railway, and after various short duels with Boer guns which appeared
and disappeared on different parts of the field, they covered the
movements of the brigade of Guards. The 75th battery was to the left
rear of the 2nd Coldstream, first at 1,700, then at 1,200 yards,
range. There it remained till 4 p.m. when, owing to casualties and
want of ammunition, it was ordered to fall back a few hundred yards.
The 18th battery, two hundred yards to the left rear of the 75th,
opened fire at 1,400 yards range; the targets for both batteries were
the buildings and enclosures stretching eastward for a mile from the
railway bridge. The Naval brigade, about 250 strong, under the command
of Major A. E. Marchant, R.M.L.I., had been brought up by rail from
Enslin under the escort of an armoured train. At about 7 a.m. their
four 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns began to engage the enemy's artillery from a
knoll, a little to the west of the line, distant 4,800 yards from the
broken bridge.

[Sidenote: The 9th brigade advance.]

While the Guards, covered by the fire of the artillery, were preparing
for the already described movements, Major-General Pole-Carew, as
ordered by Lord Methuen, led the 9th brigade towards the broken
railway bridge, the point assigned as his object. The Northumberland
Fusiliers and the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were ordered to
advance along the railway, the former on its east, the latter on its
west, each supported by half a battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders, while the half-battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire
was to prolong the line to the left, and if possible cross the river
and threaten the enemy's right. But Pole-Carew speedily realised that
by the time the first line of the Guards' brigade had fully extended,
their left would almost reach the railway, and would therefore overlap
his right. To obtain more room, and also in the hope of being able to
turn the right flank of the enemy, he marched westward, and, thanks to
a slight swell in the ground, was able to reach the railway, some
2,000 yards south of the broken bridge, without attracting much
attention. But as soon as the Northumberland Fusiliers were in the act
of crossing the line from east to west, the Boer guns opened upon them
and a few minutes later, about 7.30 a.m., the whole river bed, west of
the bridge, burst into one wide fusilade. In order to maintain touch
with the Guards, and to protect the westward march of his brigade, the
Major-General ordered the Northumberland Fusiliers to change
direction to their right, extend, and endeavour to beat down the
enemy's enfilading musketry, which was pouring across the plain, here
smooth as a glacis and as destitute of cover. Soon afterwards he found
it necessary to leave half the battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders to prolong the line of the Northumberland Fusiliers to the
left; and, later, he was compelled to direct the King's Own Yorkshire
Light Infantry yet further to prolong the covering force, behind whose
protection he was making the westward march. The continual necessity
thus to increase the numbers employed in this protective work now left
him only the half-battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire and the
half-battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders available for
carrying out the original design.

[Sidenote: Attempt to take Boer outposts.]

The left of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry made their way to
within a few hundred yards of a farmhouse and kraal, some 300 yards
south of the river. These buildings and a patch of rocky ground to the
west were strongly held as outworks by the Boers; and Major-General
Pole-Carew, being convinced by a report from Captain E. S. Bulfin, his
brigade-major, that they covered a ford across the Riet, endeavoured
to take them, but without success. In the hope of bringing enfilade
fire upon the defenders, he sent a small party of Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders into a donga, which runs into the river between
the farmhouse and the nearest Boer trench on the left bank. Advancing
with a rush, this detachment reached the river bed without loss, and
was subsequently reinforced by another handful of the same battalion.

[Sidenote: After some delay they are captured.]

About 11 a.m. an order reached Pole-Carew telling him that as the
Guards were crossing the river, his battalion near the railway was to
cease fire so as to avoid the possibility of injuring their comrades.
This order was with the greatest difficulty conveyed to the right of
the 9th brigade, but as soon as it was obeyed, the musketry of the
Boers so redoubled in intensity that in self-defence the troops had to
re-open fire. Almost immediately after the message had arrived, Lord
Methuen came up and told Pole-Carew that the Guards had not succeeded
in their attempt to cross. His purpose was to arrange for concerted
action on the left flank. The Major-General explained to him the local
situation, and said that he proposed to reinforce the little party of
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the river bank, and under cover
of their fire on the farm, rush it, and then make every effort to
cross the river by the islands at Rosmead. Lord Methuen approved, and
some twenty or thirty more of the Argyll and Sutherland rushed down
into the donga. A strong flanking patrol of the King's Own Yorkshire
Light Infantry, under Lt. R. M. D. Fox, supported by a detachment of
the Argyll and Sutherland, was now utilised for the attack on the
house and kraal. The Boers did not make a vigorous resistance but
retreated across the river as the British advanced, and at about 11.30
the farm and the rocky ground were in Major-General Pole-Carew's
hands. The enemy on the north bank had been so greatly shaken by the
fire of two guns of the 18th battery, under Capt. G. T.
Forestier-Walker, that they were already in retreat from Rosmead when
the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry attacked the farmhouse. This
section, which at 10.15 a.m. was sent to assist the 9th brigade by
Col. Hall, the officer commanding the artillery, had come into action
on a small knoll south-west of the village of Rosmead, on the extreme
left of the line, and its shells had dislodged a party of about 300
Boers, who were seen galloping away northwards from Rosmead and from
the wood to the east of it.

[Sidenote: Situation at 11.30 a.m. Nov. 28th.]

At 11.30 a.m. the general situation was as follows:--the half
battalion Loyal North Lancashire was close to the southern bank facing
a ford, to which it had been sent by Capt. Bulfin. The farm covering
the weir was in our hands; thence eastwards to the railway stretched
the 9th brigade, immovable under the fire of the Boers entrenched
along both banks. The small detachment of Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders held the donga between the farm and the nearest Boer
trench on the south bank.

[Sidenote: Lodgments on further bank.]

[Sidenote: Rosmead is captured.]

A few minutes later Lieut.-Col. Barter, K.O.Y.L.I., followed by a few
men of various corps, began to cross the river by the weir, while a
quarter of a mile lower down the stream two companies of the Loyal
North Lancashire under Major Coleridge commenced the passage of the
drift. Major-General Pole-Carew now despatched a messenger to inform
Lord Methuen, who had returned to the centre of the line, that he had
made a lodgment on the right bank and required reinforcements. But
there were no troops in hand. No battalions had been retained as final
reserve, and the only troops not engaged were the baggage guard of six
companies of the Northampton regiment and three companies of Royal
engineers. All that could be done was to direct various officers to
convey orders to the 9th brigade, and to the companies of the Guards
in its immediate neighbourhood to move westward, in support of the
movement on the extreme left. But their efforts served to prove once
more the truth of the axiom that when once troops are heavily engaged
in the fire-fight, they can only advance or retire; for it was found
impossible to withdraw any large number of men from the right and
centre of the 9th brigade. Without waiting for the reinforcements he
had asked for, the Major-General, as soon as he had collected about
150 men of various corps, dashed into the river, and partly by wading
through water up to the men's armpits, partly by scrambling along the
wall of the weir, brought his party safely into Rosmead.

[Sidenote: Pole-Carew moves against Modder River village.]

After making preparations to repulse any attempt by the enemy to
recapture the village, the Brigadier began to organise a force with
which to push up the right bank towards Modder River village, and thus
attack the heart of the defence. In about an hour he had collected
some five hundred men of various corps, and leaving part of the Loyal
North Lancashire to guard Rosmead, he advanced eastward to capture
this important post. On his right, in the brushwood, were some of the
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. On the left were parties of the
King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry under Colonel Barter, and some of
the Loyal North Lancashire. A company of Northumberland Fusiliers,
commanded by Major the Hon. C. Lambton, followed in support; and a
patrol of Rimington's Guides scouted on the left flank.

[Sidenote: Vigorous resistance by Albrecht.]

At first his men were little exposed to fire, but when they reached
the neighbourhood of Fraser's farm they found the enemy prepared for
them. A storm of bullets, and of inverted shrapnel from Albrecht's
guns[176] (at the spot where these guns are shown 500 yards north-west
of the bridge), fell upon them as they endeavoured to cross long
hedges of prickly pear, and to climb through strong wire fences. Nor
were other Boer artillerymen, posted close to the railway station,
unobservant of the British flanking movement. Their shells fell thick
among the ranks of the detachment, while the burghers in the trenches
on the south side of the river, turning their aim from the right and
centre of the 9th brigade, poured their fire against those who were
the more dangerous enemy, because threatening to cut off their
retreat. The Brigadier had expected that the party of Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders, placed in the donga on the left bank of the
river, would have kept these Boers in check by flanking fire; but
owing to a mistake either in the delivery, or in the interpretation,
of an order, the officers had brought their men across the Riet and
had joined in the advance along the right bank.

         [Footnote 176: Major Albrecht fought his guns with great
         determination; his infantry escort, according to Boer
         accounts, retreated when they saw the advance of the British,
         and his ammunition was almost exhausted, but his gunners
         stood their ground.]

[Sidenote: Pole-Carew is obliged to fall back to Rosmead.]

[Sidenote: Nov. 28th/99.]

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen being wounded command devolves on Colvile.]

Captain Forestier-Walker, who was now in action with the section of
the 18th battery near the farm which had been carried earlier in the
day by the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, vigorously shelled the
trees and brushwood in front of our men as they advanced, but his
efforts were much hampered by the fact that the undergrowth was so
thick that it was impossible to see exactly how far forward they were.
All attempts to establish communication by signal, between the officer
commanding the 9th brigade and the troops on the south side of the
river, failed. The attack broke down from want of strength to drive it
home, and the baffled troops sullenly fell back to Rosmead. They were
so closely pressed by the enemy's musketry that, in order to cover the
retreat, two officers, Major H. F. Coleridge, North Lancashire, and
Captain T. Irvine, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, each with ten or
eleven men of different battalions, threw themselves into farmhouses,
which they stubbornly defended until, many hours later, after their
detachments had suffered severe loss, they were ordered to evacuate
their posts. On his return to the village Major-General Pole-Carew
found that the British strength on the north bank had been increased
by the arrival of 300 officers and men of the Royal engineers, and of
part of a company of the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream Guards. After
writing to Lord Methuen to report his failure to force his way up the
right bank, and to ask for co-operation in the fresh attempt for which
he was then rallying his troops, Pole-Carew heard a rumour that Lord
Methuen had been wounded, and that Major-General Colvile was now in
command of the division. The rumour was true. Lord Methuen had been
wounded at about 4 p.m. near the centre of the line, and one of his
staff officers, Colonel H. P. Northcott, had previously fallen
mortally wounded, while conveying orders for the reinforcement of the
troops on the north bank. Not long after this news came in, the
officer commanding the two guns of the 18th battery, still in action
near the farm to the south of Rosmead, reported that he heard through
the officer commanding the artillery that Major-General Colvile had
issued orders for a vigorous bombardment of the position by the
artillery till dusk, when the Guards were to attack the left of the
Boer line with the bayonet. Pole-Carew then considered whether, in
view of the projected movement of the Guards' brigade, his local
attack was still feasible. He decided that, owing to the configuration
of the ground over which both bodies of troops would have to move in
the darkness, the danger was so great lest his detachment should
enfilade the Guards as to prohibit an advance from Rosmead. All,
therefore, that could be done was to secure firmly that village.

[Sidenote: 62nd battery with four guns arrives after forced march.]

While the little column had been striving in vain to force its way up
the right bank of the river, the situation on the left bank had
remained unchanged. The infantry lay prone on the ground, engaged in a
desultory fire-fight with an unseen enemy, while the artillery
continued to shell the buildings and the river-banks near the railway
bridge. During the course of the afternoon Colonel Hall, commanding
the artillery, had received a welcome reinforcement of four guns of
the 62nd battery, under Major E. J. Granet. The 62nd, which had been
left to guard the Orange River bridge, received orders late on the
26th to leave two guns at that camp, and proceed with all speed to
rejoin Lord Methuen's division. Owing to a deficiency in rolling
stock, no railway transport was available, and it became necessary for
the battery to march the whole way. Starting at 10 a.m. on the 27th,
Major Granet reached Belmont, thirty miles distant, at dusk. He halted
there till 6 a.m. on the 28th, when, escorted by twenty-five of the
Royal Munster Fusiliers mounted infantry, he marched to Honey Nest
Kloof, where he decided to water and feed his horses. He had but just
halted, when a message reached him that there was fighting on the Riet
river and that guns and ammunition were urgently required there. He
started immediately, and despite the heavy ground over which he had to
pass, reached the battlefield a little after 2 p.m. In twenty-eight
hours the 62nd battery had covered sixty-two miles, at the expense of
six horses which fell dead in the traces, and of about forty more,
which never recovered from the fatigue of this forced march. The
battery was first sent to the left to support the advance up the north
bank of the river, but before it had opened fire, Colonel Hall ordered
Major Granet more to the eastward, as he was afraid that the shells
might fall among the detachment during its progress through the trees
and brushwood which concealed its movements. At 2.45 p.m., the 62nd
came into action 1,200 yards from the south bank, behind a swell in
the ground which covered the gunners from the waist downwards. Its
fire, aimed first at the north bank, was distributed laterally, and
then for depth, with good results, as the enemy's musketry slackened,
and numbers of men were seen stealing away. About 5 p.m., to support
the projected attack by the Guards, the battery was moved close to a
sandpit on the west of the railway, where it was joined by the section
of the 18th from the left of the line.

[Sidenote: Colvile breaks off the fight.]

After considerable delay, caused by the difficulty of sending
messages across the shot-swept plain, Major-General Colvile was
informed that Lord Methuen had been wounded, and that the command of
the division had devolved upon him. He handed over the Guards' brigade
to Colonel Paget, Scots Guards, with orders to collect his battalions
for the attack upon the left of the Boer line, but soon afterwards
decided that it was too late to risk the passage of the river at night
with troops exhausted by hunger, thirst, and the burning heat of an
exceptionally hot day. He therefore resolved to break off the fight
till daybreak next morning, and directed Colonel Paget to form up his
brigade for the night at the southern reservoir.

[Sidenote: Pole-Carew holds Rosmead, and concentrates 9th brigade on
north bank.]

[Sidenote: Boers abandon position. Night, Nov. 28-29.]

As soon as Major-General Pole-Carew reluctantly abandoned the idea of
renewing his attack along the north bank of the Riet, he posted his
troops for the defence of Rosmead. He realised the risks which he ran
in holding so isolated a position throughout the night, but he and his
staff considered that the importance of maintaining the lodgment,
which had been effected on the enemy's side of the Riet, made it worth
while to incur the danger. To the Royal engineers, under Major G. F.
Leverson, was allotted the western face of the village; the Yorkshire
Light Infantry held the north, and the Loyal North Lancashire the
north-east; the Argyll and Sutherland guarded the east. The men lined
the walls, banks, and houses at a yard and a half apart, in groups of
six, of whom five rested while one stood sentry. In the centre of the
village was the reserve, two companies of the Northumberland
Fusiliers, and a company of the 2nd battalion Coldstream Guards. The
remainder of the 9th brigade was ordered to cross the river. To guide
them, two fires were lit at the drift; and by daybreak the whole
command was concentrated on the north bank. It was reinforced by the
1st Highland Light Infantry, who had arrived during the night by rail
from Orange River. In the grey of the morning, while the Guards were
preparing to support the 9th brigade, the guns[177] re-opened fire
upon Modder River village, but it was soon discovered that during the
night the enemy had abandoned his position, and had disappeared with
all his guns and pom-poms. With horses utterly tired out, immediate
pursuit was impossible, though by midday patrols of mounted men had
regained touch with such of the Boers as had fallen back upon
Magersfontein. By the afternoon, the whole division had crossed the
Riet, and was concentrated on its northern bank.

         [Footnote 177: On the 28th, the field batteries expended
         ammunition as follows:--

           18th            1,029 rounds
           62nd              247   "
           75th            1,008   "
           The Naval guns    260   "]

[Sidenote: Casualties of Nov. 28th.]

The British casualties consisted of four officers killed (among whom
was Lieut.-Colonel H. R. Stopford, commanding the 2nd battalion
Coldstream Guards) and 19 wounded; among the other ranks 67 were
killed, and 370 wounded.[178] The losses among the Boers are not
accurately known, but 23 burghers were found dead in Rosmead and
buried near the village, while 27 bodies were subsequently found in
the river itself.

         [Footnote 178: For details as to casualties, see Appendix 6.]



         [Footnote 179: See map No. 4.]

[Sidenote: The relation of Ladysmith to the defence of Natal.]

Throughout the operations in Natal during the opening phase of the
war, Sir G. White had held that a mobile force, concentrated north of
the Tugela, afforded better protection to the central and southern
portions of the colony than any number of detachments stationed on the
lines of communication. Face to face as he was with an enemy in
superior strength, the retention with his field force of every
available unit was essential to the British commander's plan of
striking at his opponents whenever an opportunity offered. Sir W.
Hely-Hutchinson, although anxious as to the security of Maritzburg and
Natal from Boer raids, accepted Sir George's decision, telegraphing to
the General on 26th October: "I shall do my best in consultation with
General Wolfe Murray.... I think we shall be able to deal with any
small raid, but a raid in force, especially if supported by guns, will
be a serious matter. We must take the risk, and hope for the best." On
October 30th, the date of the battle of Lombards Kop,[180] the only
regular unit on the Natal line of communication was the 1st Border
regiment, which had arrived at Maritzburg that morning from East
London. Detachments of colonial troops held Colenso bridge and
Estcourt. To the eastward the Umvoti Rifles, a mounted corps rather
more than one hundred strong, had been ordered to fall back from
Helpmakaar and watch the ferry, by which the Dundee-Greytown road
crosses the Tugela. A battalion of mounted infantry was being raised
at Maritzburg by Lieut.-Colonel Thorneycroft, Royal Scots Fusiliers,
and another at Durban by Lieut.-Colonel Bethune, 16th Lancers.

         [Footnote 180: See Chapter X.]

[Sidenote: Threatened siege changes situation.]

The result of the battle of 30th October made it probable that the
field force at Ladysmith would be soon cut off from its
communications. To keep the road open to the south, Sir George White
that evening reinforced the garrison of Colenso by despatching thither
by rail from Ladysmith the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a company of
mounted infantry, and the Natal Field battery, whose obsolete
7-pounder guns had been grievously outranged at Elandslaagte. On
arrival at Colenso, the commanding officer of the Dublin, Colonel C.
D. Cooper, assumed command of that post, finding there one squadron of
the Natal Carbineers, one squadron Imperial Light Horse, a party of
mounted Police, and the Durban Light Infantry (about 380 strong), and
a detachment (fifty strong) of the Natal Naval Volunteers, with two
9-pounder guns. The total strength of the command, including the
reinforcements from Ladysmith, was approximately 1,200 men. The Natal
Royal Rifles (150 strong) were encamped at Estcourt, twenty-five miles
in rear.

[Sidenote: An anxious fortnight, Oct. 31st-Nov. 14th.]

On the following day General White telegraphed to the Governor of the
colony: "My intention is to hold Ladysmith, make attacks on the
enemy's position whenever possible, and retain the greatest number of
the enemy here." Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson and the officer commanding the
Natal line of communication, Brigadier-General J. S. Wolfe Murray,
were thus confronted with a difficult and anxious situation. It was
obvious that, having regard to the numerical superiority and greater
mobility of the enemy, the British force at Ladysmith would, in all
probability, be unable to retain the whole of the Boer army. A raid on
southern Natal was therefore to be expected immediately, and the
strength of that raid might well be such as to overwhelm, or, at any
rate, to ignore, the weak garrisons which so imperfectly covered
Maritzburg and Durban. Moreover, General Murray was aware that even if
Sir R. Buller should think fit to divert from Cape Colony any portion
of the expeditionary force now on the high seas, a fortnight must
elapse before a single man could be landed at Durban.

[Sidenote: Provisional steps in case of Boer raid.]

Maritzburg, from its topographical environment, is even less adapted
by nature for defence than Ladysmith. Lying in a deep depression
surrounded by high hills, the positions covering the capital of the
colony are so extensive that a very large force would be needed for
their effective occupation. Nevertheless, after consultation on the
afternoon of 31st October with the Governor and the Prime Minister of
the colony (Colonel Hime), the Brigadier-General decided that,
although it was impossible to protect the town itself, it was
advisable to prepare the cantonments, so-called "Fort Napier," for
defence, and for that purpose to borrow Naval guns from the ships at
Durban. As regards Durban, a telegram was received from Sir Alfred
Milner stating that arrangements had been made by Sir Redvers Buller
with the admiral for the immediate despatch to that port of H.M.S.
_Terrible_ and _Forte_ as a reinforcement to the _Tartar_ and
_Philomel_, already in the harbour, and suggesting that in the case of
a complete disaster to Sir G. White's force it would be wise to retire
on the seaport and there make a stand.

[Sidenote: Changes of stations, Nov. 2nd and 3rd, in expectation of

But the responsible military authorities were by no means inclined to
take a pessimistic view of the situation. The final instructions,
dated 1st November, received from Sir G. White's Chief of the Staff,
directed General Murray "to remain and defend Maritzburg to the last,"
and on the following day Sir R. Buller telegraphed from Capetown that
a division would be despatched as soon as possible to Natal, adding:
"Do all you can to hold on to Colenso till troops arrive." Meanwhile,
a warning had been received from the Intelligence staff at Ladysmith,
that a considerable body of Free Staters was moving on Colenso, and
Brigadier-General Murray, realising that the situation of Colonel
Cooper's force at the bridge, commanded by the heights on the northern
bank of the Tugela, was becoming precarious, directed that officer to
fall back on Estcourt, should he consider his position no longer
tenable. On the afternoon of November 2nd, telegraphic communication
between Colenso and Ladysmith was cut off by the enemy, and a large
Boer commando, having occupied the high ground near Grobelaars Kloof
(map No. 15), opened fire on the two little works, Forts Wylie and
Molyneux, which had been constructed by the Natal Volunteers on the
left bank of the Tugela to cover the crossings of that river, and the
approaches to Langewacht Spruit. The Natal Field battery and Natal
Naval Volunteers' guns were again seriously outranged by the Boer
artillery, and Colonel Cooper decided that, having regard to his
instructions, he must fall back on Estcourt. The withdrawal to that
town was effected on the night of November 2nd-3rd without molestation
from the enemy, the infantry being conveyed in special trains, the
mounted troops and field artillery moving by road. The 1st battalion
Border regiment was simultaneously pushed forward by rail from
Maritzburg to Estcourt, and Brigadier-General Murray proceeded, on 3rd
November, to the latter station to take personal command of the force
there concentrated, which now amounted in all to about 2,300 men. With
this force, weak though it was in guns and mounted troops, he intended
to dispute the Boer advance from the north, falling back, if
necessary, on the prepared position at Maritzburg. A telegram, dated
4th November, conveyed General Buller's approval of these
dispositions, but added: "Do not risk losing Durban by over-prolonged
defence of Maritzburg, but hold the latter so long as you safely can.
I fear it will be at least ten days before I can send you substantial

[Sidenote: After much delay, on Nov. 13th/99, 4,200 Boers under
Joubert and Botha reach Colenso.]

Fortunately, until the last but one of these ten days, the enemy held
back on the north bank of the Tugela. A Krijgsraad, at which all the
Boer generals and commandants attended, had assembled in front of
Ladysmith on 1st November to decide whether the main effort of the
Boer army should be concentrated on the attack of that town, or
whether, leaving a detachment to hold Sir G. White's troops, they
should at once advance on Maritzburg and Durban. Some of the younger
leaders, including Louis Botha, as yet only plain commandant, were in
favour of the latter course. The majority of the council decided that,
so long as 12,000 effective British troops remained at Ladysmith, the
commandos were not numerous enough to allow them to win the
much-coveted prizes of the capital and seaport of Natal. It was
believed that General White's troops would be unable to withstand an
assault. On the 9th November, therefore, an abortive and ill-arranged
attack was made. It sufficed to show that the Ladysmith garrison was
by no means disposed to yield, and that a formal and perhaps prolonged
investment would be needed to weaken its powers of resistance. To this
task, therefore, the main body of the Boer commandos was assigned;
but, as an erroneous report had come in that 5,000 English troops had
concentrated at Frere, it was decided that a strong reconnaissance,
under the personal command of General Joubert, should cross the Tugela
to ascertain the disposition and strength of the British column. On
the evening, therefore, of the 13th November, a force about 4,200
strong was assembled at Colenso with orders to push to the south. As
agreed, Joubert, although Transvaal Commandant-General, went with it.
Louis Botha, promoted to the rank of "Fighting General," was second in
command. There is reason to believe that the presence of the senior
General was due to a desire to restrain the impetuosity of his

[Sidenote: Defensive measures taken during the time of grace given by
Boer delay.]

The fifteen days' breathing space which the authorities in southern
Natal had thus been given, after receipt of the disquieting
intelligence of the battle of Lombards Kop, had been of great value.
Captain Percy Scott, H.M.S. _Terrible_, had reached Durban on November
6th, and was appointed commandant of that town. A defence scheme was
prepared and a battalion of "Imperial Light Infantry" was raised to
assist the Naval contingent,[181] and guns (including two 4.7-in. guns
and sixteen 12-pr. 12-cwt.) were landed for its protection. At
Maritzburg a position in the vicinity of Fort Napier had, under the
supervision of Col. C. C. Rawson, C.R.E., been prepared for defence,
the work being executed by a hastily improvised Pioneer Corps of
artisans, assisted by native labour. In selecting this position and
planning its defence, it was assumed that if the force at Estcourt
fell back on Maritzburg, 4,000 men in all would be available for its
occupation. Meanwhile, in addition to Thorneycroft's corps, the
recruiting and training of which were proceeding satisfactorily, a
provisional garrison was arranged for Maritzburg by the despatch of
two 12-pounders and a Naval detachment from the fleet at Durban, by
the withdrawal of the detachment of the Naval Volunteers from
Estcourt, and by the organisation into a Town Guard of all able-bodied
citizens willing to carry a rifle. Moreover, some 150 loyal and
zealous Natal colonists volunteered for scouting duties, and were
formed into a corps under the command of the Hon. T. K. Murray,
C.M.G., finding their own horses, saddlery, and rifles, and serving
without pay. This body of patriotic men did useful work to the north
of Maritzburg, in the neighbourhood of Mooi River, from the 4th to the
16th November, when on the arrival of reinforcements from the Cape
they were released from further duty, and thanked in General Orders
for their "excellent service."

         [Footnote 181: This contingent consisted of parties from the
         _Terrible_, _Forte_, _Thetis_, _Philomel_ and _Tartar_, of a
         total strength of 35 officers and 423 men. Commander Limpus,
         R.N., was placed in command of the guns (see p. 120).]

[Sidenote: Nov. 11th/99. Reinforcements begin to disembark. Sir F.
Clery takes command, Nov. 15th.]

On 11th November General Murray, with the approval of Sir R. Buller,
handed over the command of the Estcourt garrison to Colonel Charles
Long, R.H.A., and returned to Maritzburg to direct personally the
heavy work falling on the line of communication staff in arranging for
the disembarkation and equipment of the reinforcements, whose arrival
at Durban was now hourly expected. He had been warned by Headquarters,
on the 7th, that these reinforcements would be made up to three
brigades and divisional troops, and that Lieut.-General Sir C. F.
Clery would be sent in command. On the evening of the 11th the first
battalion, the 2nd West Yorkshire, arrived at Durban with the
Brigadier of the 2nd brigade, Major-General Hildyard, and was sent on
the following day to Estcourt, accompanied by two naval 12-prs. and a
7-pr. manned by a detachment of bluejackets under the command of Lt.
H. W. James, R.N.[182] These units reached Estcourt on the 13th.
Lt.-General Clery reached Durban on November 15th, and assumed command
of the troops south of the Tugela. By the 17th five more battalions
and a brigade division of field artillery had landed at that port. The
British troops in southern Natal were thus in numerical superiority
to the Boer column, moving south of the Tugela. The dates of the
disembarkation of the remaining units of the corps for the relief of
Ladysmith, to which a fourth brigade was ultimately assigned by Sir R.
Buller, are shown in Appendix 7.

         [Footnote 182: The 12-prs. were replaced at Maritzburg by two
         others sent up from Durban under command of Lieut. A. Halsey,

[Sidenote: Nov. 14th. The raid begins.]

On the morning of the 14th November, Joubert's men crossed the Tugela
and off-saddled on the Colenso plain, pushing patrols forward to Frere
and finding there only an observation post of eight of the Natal
Mounted Police. These patrols, as well as the large number of horses
grazing near Colenso, were observed and reported by the armoured
train, which, according to the daily practice of the Estcourt
garrison, was sent up the line to reconnoitre in the direction of the
Tugela. No mounted troops accompanied these train reconnaissances, but
doubtful ground was, as a rule, made good by flankers on foot,
detailed when required from the infantry in the train.

[Sidenote: Nov. 15th. Disaster to the armoured train.]

Early on the following morning, 15th November, the armoured train,
carrying a 7-pounder M.L. gun, manned by five bluejackets, one company
Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and one company Durban Light Infantry, was
again despatched to reconnoitre northward from Estcourt. Captain J. A.
L. Haldane, Gordon Highlanders, was placed in command. The train,
after a brief halt at Frere to communicate with the police post,
pushed on to Chieveley station. No flanking patrols appear to have
been sent out; but as Chieveley station was reached a party of 50
Boers was seen cantering southward about a mile to the west of the
railway. An order was now received by telephone from Estcourt: "Remain
at Frere, watching your safe retreat." The train accordingly commenced
to move back on Frere, but on rounding a spur of a hill which commands
the line, was suddenly fired at by two field guns and a pom-pom. The
driver put on full steam, and the train, running at high speed down a
steep gradient, dashed into an obstruction which had been placed on a
sharp curve of the rails. A detachment of about 300 men of the
Krugersdorp commando had concealed themselves and their guns behind
the hill during the train's outward journey, and blocked the line in
its rear by filling the space between the doubled rails at the curve
with earth and small stones, thus forcing the wheels off the metals.

[Sidenote: The reconnoitring party with train suffers severely.]

An open truck and two armoured trucks were derailed, one of the trucks
being left standing partly over the track. An engagement ensued, in
which the British troops fought under great disadvantages. Mr. Winston
Churchill, a retired cavalry officer, who had been allowed to
accompany the train as a war correspondent, having offered his
services, Captain Haldane requested him to endeavour, with the
assistance of the Durban Light Infantry company, to clear the line.
Haldane meanwhile with the naval gun and the Dublin kept back the
enemy. The naval gun was almost at once put out of action. After an
hour's work under a heavy shell and rifle fire, Mr. Churchill
succeeded in his task, but the coupling between the engine and the
rear trucks had been broken by a shell, the engine itself injured, and
its cab was now filled with wounded. Captain Haldane accordingly
ordered the engine to move back out of fire towards Frere, and,
withdrawing his men from the trucks, directed them to make a dash for
some houses 800 yards distant, where he hoped to effect a further
stand. During this movement across the open veld two privates, without
orders, held up white handkerchiefs; the Boers ceased fire, galloped
in on the retreating soldiers, and called upon them to surrender. Thus
Captain Haldane, a subaltern of the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, Mr. Winston
Churchill, and 53 men were captured. One officer and 69 men succeeded
in making their way back to Estcourt, their retirement being covered
by a detachment of mounted troops sent out to their assistance. The
remainder of the 4 officers and 160 men, of whom the original party
consisted, were killed or wounded. General Buller, in commenting
subsequently on this unlucky affair, recorded his opinion that the
officer in command "acted in trying circumstances with great judgment
and coolness." A Boer account mentions that the British troops fought
"with exceptional gallantry."

[Sidenote: Joubert divides his column and pushes south.]

Emboldened by this success, General Joubert determined to carry
onwards his raid to the south. For this purpose he divided his force
into two columns, 3,000 men being retained under his personal orders
to operate on the west side of the railway, and 1,200 detached to the
eastward under the command of his son, David Joubert. The western
column reached Tabanhlope, a hill thirteen miles west of Estcourt, on
the 16th, and there remained for two days, reconnoitring Estcourt with
patrols. The eastern column occupied Weenen on the 18th, and on the
following day both columns continued their movement southward,
inclining somewhat towards each other. On the 20th Piet Joubert
arrived at Hlatikulu, and, having halted there a night, he further
divided his command, sending forward a detachment with a field gun
towards Mooi River, where they skirmished at long range on the 22nd
and 23rd with the force which, under Major-General Barton, had
recently been concentrated at that station. Some scouts of this
detachment even pushed on as far as Nottingham Road. The remainder of
the Commandant-General's column moved eastward, seized the railway
between the Highlands and Willow Grange, and joined hands with David
Joubert's commando, which since the 19th had remained halted at Warley
Common, a farm three or four miles to the east of Highlands station.

[Sidenote: Situation. Night of Nov. 22nd.]

The situation, therefore, on the night of the 22nd was remarkable. The
British collected at Estcourt, whither General Hildyard had been sent
on the 15th to take command, now amounted to 800 mounted troops
(including Bethune's newly-raised battalion), one battery of R.F.A.,
the Natal Field battery, two naval 12-prs., and 4,400 infantry.
Major-General Barton, who had reached Mooi River on the 18th, had, by
the night of the 22nd, under his orders Thorneycroft's mounted
infantry (490 strong), a battery and two sections of R.F.A., and about
4,000 infantry. Estcourt and Mooi River stations are 23 miles apart.
Although, therefore, the Boers had cut the railway and telegraphic
communication between the two stations, yet the situation of Gen.
Joubert (halted between two British forces, each equal in strength to
the two Boer commandos), was audacious, if not dangerous. Moreover, in
rear of Mooi River, further British reinforcements were disembarking
at Durban, and being pushed up to the front in a continuous stream.
The composition and exact distribution of the troops actually in
southern Natal on the 23rd November is given in Appendix 8. The
pendulum had thus swung completely over. The armoured train incident
was of no importance either tactically or strategically, and that
momentary success was the only one achieved by Joubert. The slow and
hesitating movements of the Boer columns had but hastened the
disembarkation and concentration of the troops destined for the relief
of Ladysmith. Finally, a tardy fit of rashness had induced the old
Commandant-General to place his burghers in peril.

[Sidenote: Exaggerated estimate of Boer strength causes hesitating
British action.]

The danger of Joubert's situation was not fully realised by the
British staff. The strength of the enemy's invading columns had been
magnified by rumour to 7,000, and the number of their guns doubled.
Moreover, the units at Mooi River, and in a lesser degree those at
Estcourt, had for the most part only just arrived from a long sea
voyage, and as yet lacked the organisation, transport, and physical
fitness necessary for rapid movements in the field. At Mooi River,
General Barton was without Intelligence staff, guides, or even a map.
Under these circumstances, the instructions issued by General Clery
from Maritzburg to his subordinate commanders were based on a policy
of cautious defensive, although he hoped that in a few days an
opportunity for striking at the enemy might arise. Thus, the six days,
from the 17th to the 22nd, were marked on the British side by advances
to, and withdrawals from, posts between Estcourt and Mooi River, which
showed a strong desire to avoid all risks. A detachment of the West
Yorkshire, with some mounted men, was despatched from Estcourt on the
17th to occupy Willow Grange, and on the following day a similar mixed
garrison was sent up to the Highlands from Mooi River; but on the
20th, under instructions from Maritzburg, both these garrisons were
withdrawn. The position of David Joubert's laager to the east of
Willow Grange was ascertained by the mounted troops of both Barton's
and Hildyard's forces, and on the night of the 20th the latter
despatched to Willow Grange eight companies of infantry and 430
mounted men under the command of Colonel Hinde, 1st battalion Border
regiment, intending an attack. But the enemy was judged by General
Hildyard to be too strongly posted, and the party was withdrawn to
Estcourt on the following day.

[Sidenote: Hildyard sends force against Brynbella, Nov. 22nd, under
Col. W. Kitchener. Action of Willow Grange.]

[Sidenote: Kitchener seizes Brynbella.]

On the morning of the 22nd, it was reported that the Boers had
occupied Brynbella, a commanding hill to the south of Estcourt about
700 feet above the level of the surrounding plateau, as an advanced
post. General Hildyard considered that this development offered a good
opportunity for striking a blow at the enemy, and he determined to
attempt the capture of the post, and of some guns it was reported to
contain. That afternoon, therefore, he moved a Naval 12-pr., the 7th
Field battery, a half-battalion 2nd West Surrey, 2nd battalion West
Yorkshire, Durban Light Infantry, and seven companies of the 2nd
battalion East Surrey regiment, to a height called Beacon Hill, which
lay between Estcourt and the enemy's position, about 3,000 yards
distant from the latter. Colonel W. Kitchener was entrusted with the
command of this force and directed to seize Brynbella by a night
attack. Beacon Hill was occupied without opposition, and the Naval
gun, Field battery, and 2nd Queen's were detailed to hold it as a
support to the attack; to these was subsequently added the 1st Border.
A thunderstorm of great severity now delayed the advance upon
Brynbella; the night was intensely dark; the rocky nature of the
ground and the absence of beaten tracks made the task of assembling
the troops and directing their movements extremely difficult. It was
not, therefore, until after midnight that the column, led by Colonel
Kitchener, moved forward under the guidance of a Natal colonist, Mr.
Chapman, who was unfortunately killed in action after he had
successfully accomplished his task. The march was made in column of
double companies. Owing to the darkness of the night and the broken
ground, the difficulty of keeping touch between the companies was
great; firing had been forbidden, but when half the distance had been
covered, a company reached a wall and rushed it, thinking that it was
the enemy's position; the next company was thrown into confusion, and
a third in rear and on higher ground opened fire and began cheering.
Colonel Kitchener with great coolness succeeded in restoring order,
but not before eight soldiers had been hit by bullets from their
comrades' rifles. The advance was then continued and Brynbella Hill
was occupied at 3.30 a.m. without further casualties. The Boer party,
which consisted of eighty Johannesburg policemen, under Lieut. van
Zyl, retired to a ridge about 1,500 yards further to the south. A
Creusot field gun had been withdrawn the previous evening after a
brief exchange of shots with the Naval gun on Beacon Hill.

[Sidenote: He falls back to Estcourt, Nov. 23rd.]

At daybreak next morning Kitchener's men came under the fire of the
Boer commando holding the southern ridge, and after some two hours'
skirmishing at long range the enemy began to creep forward, and the
rifle and gun fire gradually became very effective. Kitchener,
perceiving that no supports were being sent forward to him, decided to
retire, and in this carried out the Major-General's intentions. A
gradual withdrawal from the hill in groups of two or three was
therefore commenced. Mounted troops, which had left Estcourt at
daybreak under command of Lt.-Colonel C. G. Martyr, were now
protecting Kitchener's right flank; the squadron of Imperial Light
Horse, under Capt. H. Bottomley, dismounted and ascended Brynbella
Hill, where with much coolness and gallantry they covered the
retirement of the infantry. The Border was also moved forward from
Beacon Hill to support the retreating troops. In this manner the whole
was withdrawn and subsequently fell back on Estcourt, General Hildyard
having decided that it was better to keep his brigade concentrated,
ready to move in any direction that might be necessary. The total
British loss in this action was eleven men killed, one officer and
sixty-six men wounded, and one officer and seven men taken prisoners.
A considerable portion of these losses was due to the attempts of
combatants to assist the wounded to the rear during the

         [Footnote 183: This practice had grown up in the British
         service through the large number of wars with savages, who
         killed the wounded and mutilated the dead.]

[Sidenote: Joubert, Nov. 25th, retreats.]

The action of Willow Grange brought home to Joubert the fact that his
commandos were in a hazardous situation, and in that way, therefore,
tended to clear south Natal of the enemy. If the Estcourt and Mooi
River forces could have closed on the Boer laager simultaneously, it
is probable that more important results would have been achieved. To
gain this object Major-General Hildyard despatched on the 22nd a
written message to Major-General Barton, stating his plan of attack,
and asking for his co-operation. Unfortunately this message was not
sent in duplicate, and the native to whom it was entrusted did not
deliver it until 10.30 a.m. on the following morning; by that time
Hildyard's troops had withdrawn from Brynbella, and were retiring on
Estcourt. The Boer Commandant-General was not disposed to run any more
risks, and by the 25th the burghers were in full retreat back to the
Tugela, taking with them much cattle and many valuable horses, which,
in spite of the vehement remonstrances of Piet Joubert, had been
looted from the rich grazing grounds of central Natal. The main body
of the Boers moved eastward to gain the crossing of Bushman's river at
Weenen. A small detachment passed round Estcourt about twelve miles to
the westward.

[Sidenote: Boers escape over Tugela unscathed. Nov. 28th.]

A reconnoitring column, consisting of about 300 of Thorneycroft's
regiment and four guns, with two infantry battalions left close to the
camp, in support, was pushed out on the 24th November by General
Barton from Mooi River to feel for the Boers. It came in touch with
the enemy, but the force was not deemed sufficiently strong to press
an attack. On the 26th General Hildyard, with the bulk of his troops,
advanced to Frere, hoping to intercept the Boers' eastern column, and
on the following day General Barton marched from Mooi River to
Estcourt. But the burghers, now disorganised and alarmed, fell back
too fast to be seriously molested, and on the 28th, when Lord
Dundonald advanced with a field battery and all available mounted
troops on Colenso, the Boer rearguard merely withdrew across the road
bridge. The demolition that evening of the railway bridge was a proof
that any lingering hope, which the Boers may up to that date have
cherished of mastering southern Natal, was abandoned.

[Sidenote: Boers on east hold Helpmakaar and patrol from it.]

On the eastern side of northern Natal,[184] a Boer force about 800
strong, under Commandant Ferreira, consisting of the Piet Retief and
Bethel commandos, and about 120 Natal rebels, was still in occupation
of Helpmakaar, patrolling country on the left bank of the Tugela from
below Colenso. They went as far as Rorke's Drift. One of these patrols
attempted to cross the river at the Tugela Ferry on the 23rd November,
but was repulsed by the Umvoti Rifles, commanded by Major Leuchars.
Further east again small parties of Boers had raided into Zululand,
but their movements were of no importance.

         [Footnote 184: See map No. 3.]



         [Footnote 185: See maps Nos. 9 and 16.]

[Sidenote: Schoeman at Norval's Pont Nov. 1st.]

[Sidenote: Colesberg Nov. 14th, is annexed.]

A Boer force seized the passage of the Orange river at Norval's Pont
on the 1st November.[186] It consisted of the Philippolis and Edenburg
commandos, with a detachment from the Bethulie district and some
burghers from the Transvaal, and was commanded by a Transvaaler named
Schoeman. Schoeman's subsequent advance was extraordinarily cautious
and hesitating, a caution probably more due to the existence amongst
the Free State burghers of a strong party opposed on political grounds
to the invasion of the colony than to strategical considerations.
Although on the withdrawal of the British garrison from Naauwpoort on
the 3rd, there was for the moment not a single British post between
Port Elizabeth and the frontier, it was not until the 14th that the
little town of Colesberg was occupied by the enemy. That this Boer
force was not the advance guard of any large army had been shown by
the destruction on the 5th of two railway bridges, at Van Zyl and
Achtertang, between Colesberg junction and Norval's Pont; on the other
hand, the aggressive intention of Schoeman's movement had been
demonstrated by the issue on the 9th of a Boer proclamation, declaring
the Colesberg district to be Free State territory. The main object of
this proclamation, as well as of similar announcements made in the
Aliwal, Albert, and Barkly East districts, was to apply the Free State
commando laws to British subjects, and under that legal pretext force
them to join the invading columns. Nor did this policy at first lack
encouragement, for a public meeting held at Colesberg on the day of
its occupation passed a resolution in favour of throwing in its lot
with the Orange Free State. These facts were duly reported to the
Intelligence staff at Cape Town. The strength of Schoeman's column was
variously assessed, one report placing it as high as 3,000, but the
estimate considered most reliable stated that the Boer commandant had
at this time under his orders 1,200 men, two field guns, and a Maxim.
On the 17th the Intelligence department was informed that the column
intended to occupy Naauwpoort, and there divide into two sections, one
pushing across country to the south-west for the purpose of cutting
the railway at Richmond Road, and the other moving south on a
recruiting mission to Middleburg.

         [Footnote 186: See page 198.]

[Sidenote: Danger of the raid. French ordered to check it.]

A series of boldly-conducted raids on the long line of railway from
Cape Town to De Aar might at this period have paralysed Lord Methuen's
advance on Kimberley, while a Boer column in the central districts of
the Colony would have formed a nucleus round which the disaffected and
lawless might have rallied, before the loyal farmers could be armed
and organised to defend their own homes. It was thus evident that
immediate steps must be taken to check the commando at Colesberg, and
it was for these reasons that the orders, already mentioned,[187] were
issued by Sir R. Buller for the re-occupation of Naauwpoort by a
half-battalion of the 2nd Berkshire, a half-battalion of the Black
Watch, the New South Wales Lancers (40 all ranks), 25 Cape Police, and
a party of Royal Garrison artillery manning two 9-pr. R.M.L. guns, and
for the despatch of Lieut.-General French to organise as a combined
force these and such further troops as Wauchope could spare, so as to
oppose Schoeman's operations.

         [Footnote 187: See Chapter XI.]

[Sidenote: French confers with Wauchope Nov. 19th.]

General French, accompanied by Major D. Haig as his Chief Staff
Officer, and Captain the Hon. H. A. Lawrence as Intelligence Officer,
left Cape Town by train on the evening of the 18th November, reaching
on the following night De Aar, where he had been instructed to confer
with Major-General Wauchope (at that time commanding the lines of
communication from De Aar to Orange River) as regards the plan of
campaign and as to the units that could be given him. In telegraphic
orders sent to French on the 19th Sir R. Buller laid down his mission
in the following terms:--

[Sidenote: French's instructions, Nov. 19th.]

"I shall reinforce you as rapidly as possible; meanwhile do your best
to prepare for a flying column, strength say, nearly 3,000 men, with
which as soon as I get more troops, I mean you to attack the Boers
about Colesberg. I think such an attack should be based on Hanover
Road. Do all you can to reconnoitre the country, to obtain guides and
information, and to be prepared to start; keep your men in condition,
and exercise horses and mules."

[Sidenote: French reports on situation, Nov. 20th.]

As a result of his conference with Wauchope, General French reported
to Headquarters on the 20th that Naauwpoort, which had already been
re-occupied by the troops above-named, would be a better base than
Hanover Road for a movement on Colesberg, considering both the
flatness of the country, the fewer wire fences, and the railway and
direct road. But for the moment Wauchope could spare no more troops
except two companies of M.I. The telegram added that arrangements were
being made for the formation at Naauwpoort of a depôt containing
thirty days' supplies for 3,000 men, 600 horses, and 500 mules. After
the despatch of this report General French, accompanied by his staff,
proceeded by train to his destination, and immediately on his arrival
issued orders for a reconnaissance on the following day.

[Sidenote: Nov. 21st. French reconnoitres towards Colesberg. He asks
for reinforcements.]

On the morning of the 21st, the General Officer commanding pushed
forward up the railway with the N.S.W. Lancers, followed by a section
of infantry in a train. The line was found to be broken one mile north
of Tweedale siding, but the cavalry advanced to within eight miles of
Colesberg without meeting the enemy (see map No. 10). On reporting by
telegram the result of this reconnaissance, General French added that,
on the arrival from De Aar of the two companies M.I., he proposed to
occupy a strong position north of Arundel, and that he considered
that, with a view to an attack on Colesberg, he should be reinforced
by two and a half battalions and a few squadrons of cavalry, "most
necessary for reaping fruits of victory in this country." The same
afternoon R. battery R.H.A. and an ammunition column reached
Naauwpoort by train from Cape Town. The two companies M.I., under
Lieut.-Colonel R. J. Tudway, marched in from De Aar, but were found to
be so insufficiently trained in their mounted duties that they were as
yet unfit to take the field as complete units against the enemy.[188]

         [Footnote 188: These two companies were part of the M.I.
         battalion of the cavalry division, and were composed of
         sections drawn from various infantry battalions, and trained
         in different districts in different ways.]

[Sidenote: Steps taken Nov. 22nd and 23rd. Reinforcements arrive.]

On the 22nd, culverts north of Tweedale siding were repaired, and an
obstruction on the line was removed. A patrol of the N.S.W. Lancers
was pushed on to a kopje north of Arundel, but no sign of the enemy
was seen. On the 23rd the other half-battalion Black Watch came in
from General Wauchope, and a reconnaissance of New South Wales Lancers
and a picked detachment of the M.I., supported by a company of
infantry in a train, was despatched up the line towards Arundel, with
a view to observing by patrols the vicinity of Colesberg; the kopjes,
however, north of Arundel station were found to be now occupied by the
Boers in sufficient strength to check further progress. In reporting
this to Cape Town by telegraph, General French stated that he did not
think that the enemy intended to attack Naauwpoort, but considered
that the Boers should be dislodged from Colesberg as soon as possible,
as they were obtaining recruits there. Naauwpoort had meantime been
placed in a thorough state of defence.

[Sidenote: French's command extended.]

Reconnaissances continued to be made almost daily towards Arundel.
Meanwhile General French's sphere of command had been increased by the
addition to it of the central line of communication down to Port
Elizabeth, volunteer corps, including the Prince Alfred's Guards, of a
strength of 900 all ranks, being placed at his disposal. Some
difficulty, however, arising as to the movement of these colonial
troops north of Cradock, detachments of regulars were sent temporarily
from Naauwpoort to hold Rosmead Junction and the railway bridges near
it against small rebel parties, which were reported to be under arms
in that neighbourhood. The force at Naauwpoort was gradually augmented
by the arrival of the 12th Lancers on the 25th, and O. battery R.H.A.,
and another ammunition column on the 27th. On the other hand, by the
1st December the whole battalion of the Black Watch had been, at the
urgent request of Major-General Wauchope, returned to Orange River to
replace infantry sent forward to Lord Methuen. The 1st Suffolk
regiment arrived at Naauwpoort that afternoon, and on the 2nd December
the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, a fine corps 400 strong, and the 26th
company R.E., joined General French.

[Sidenote: Nov. 26th to Dec. 7th. The "policy of worry."]

[Sidenote: Arundel occupied, Dec. 7th.]

On the 26th November Sir R. Buller had telegraphed to Sir F.
Forestier-Walker: "French should attack Arundel as soon as he feels
strong enough, but not before, and he should be sure that he is strong
enough. We can now afford to wait;" and on the following day he added:
"Tell French to maintain an active defence, not running any risk." On
the 30th another despatch from the General Commanding-in-Chief to
General Forestier-Walker ran: "suggest to French that a policy of
worry, without risking men, might have a good effect on the enemy at
Colesberg and keep him occupied." Meanwhile the constant appearance of
patrols from Naauwpoort had not only completely chained to the
vicinity of Colesberg the main body of the enemy, but had made him
nervous for the safety of his advance party on the kopjes north of
Arundel station; and on the 29th November a squadron of the 12th
Lancers discovered that those kopjes had been evacuated. On this, two
days later, two squadrons of that regiment were sent forward to
Arundel station to bivouac there that night with a view to a
reconnaissance being pushed on to Colesberg on the following morning.
But at 10 p.m. the Lieutenant-General received a telegram from the
Chief of the Staff ordering the 12th Lancers to join Lord Methuen on
the Modder river. The squadrons were, therefore, recalled from Arundel
and the regiment entrained for the Modder on the following day, as
soon as sufficient rolling-stock could be obtained. Its departure left
French for the moment with insufficient mounted men to keep touch with
the enemy, but the arrival of the New Zealanders on the 2nd December
enabled active operations to be renewed, and on the 5th the
Carabiniers, commanded by Colonel T. C. Porter, increased the
Naauwpoort force sufficiently to warrant the adoption of the "policy
of worry" suggested by Sir R. Buller. Moreover, arrangements had now
been completed for the protection of the railway line from Cradock to
Rosmead by part of the Port Elizabeth Volunteer Corps. The details of
the Suffolk regiment and M.I., which had been guarding these
localities, were thereupon recalled to Naauwpoort and rejoined on the
afternoon of 5th December. On the 6th orders were issued for the
occupation on the following day of a position near Arundel with
mounted troops "with the object of pushing forward detachments to
observe the enemy, and clear up the situation near Colesberg next
day." In pursuance of these orders the New Zealand Mounted Rifles
moved out to the ridge to the south of Arundel early on the morning of
the 7th, and later in the day the Carabiniers, mounted infantry (less
a detachment holding Hanover Road station), the N.S.W. Lancers, a
detachment of the R.E. company, and Field Telegraph section were
brought out by train from Naauwpoort under the command of Colonel
Porter; and, having detrained at Hartebeestfontein farm, covered by
the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, advanced with that regiment to Arundel
without meeting any opposition. There the force bivouacked for the
night, the enemy's piquets watching them from a ridge three miles
north of the station.

[Sidenote: Dec. 8th to Dec. 11th, 1899. Schoeman's strength
ascertained. French seizes hill north of Arundel.]

At dawn on the 8th, Colonel Porter sent forward his mounted infantry,
with some cavalry, and seized a hill three miles north of Arundel.
General French, accompanied by his staff and two Berkshire companies,
arrived at Arundel by train from Naauwpoort at 6 a.m., and by his
orders the reconnaissance was then pushed home. The Boers were found
to be now occupying a series of kopjes called Taaiboschlaagte which
run in a south-easterly direction from Rensburg, and extend to the
westward, across the line. The cavalry was sent round both flanks of
the enemy, while the mounted infantry held him in front. This movement
caused the Boers to fall back and disclose a second position athwart
the railway, with a wide frontage both to the east and west. Artillery
fire was opened on the British troops from three points of this new
post, and a large gun was seen being dragged into action near
Rensburg, which appeared to be the centre of the Boer line. It was
estimated that the opposing commando was on this occasion about 2,000
strong. A prisoner was captured, who alleged that he was adjutant to
the officer commanding a reinforcement just arrived from Pretoria. He
stated that the total force under Schoeman's orders was now 3,000,
exclusive of local rebels, that it included four field guns and three
smaller pieces, and that Grobelaar's commando of 1,700 men at
Burghersdorp would shortly receive a reinforcement of 600 men from the
Free State and intended then to co-operate with Schoeman. A telegram,
despatched by Major Haig in the evening to Cape Town, reported the
above information and the day's operation, adding: "General French
desires me to say that in face of attitude of enemy to-day he cannot
do more than reconnoitre with forces here." The mounted troops, who
had now been joined by R. battery R.H.A., continued in occupation of
the kopjes north of Arundel, and on the 11th December, the railway
having been repaired, three companies of the Royal Berkshire, under
Major McCracken, were moved by train to that station, and a detachment
of 50 M.I. was sent to Tweedale to patrol and guard the line; the
remainder of the troops continued to garrison Naauwpoort under command
of Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Watson, 1st Suffolk regiment.

[Sidenote: French seizes Vaal Kop and repels Boer advance. Dec 11th.]

Two squadrons of the Inniskilling Dragoons reached Naauwpoort on the
10th, and with two squadrons of the 10th Hussars, arriving on the
11th, were sent on to Arundel. Early on the morning of the 11th the
British patrols reported that the Boers had seized Vaal Kop, an
isolated hill some six miles west of Rensburg, with open ground all
round it, and Kuilfontein farm, one and a half miles to the north-west
of the kop. By the Lieut.-General's directions a squadron of the 10th
Hussars and two Horse artillery guns were sent out against these
detached posts, and having forced the enemy back remained in
possession of Vaal Kop. Some anxiety was still felt as regards
Schoeman's designs on his left side, as it was surmised that his
continued occupation of a position so much in advance of Colesberg was
probably due to an intention of holding out a hand to Grobelaar in the
Burghersdorp district. Colonel Porter was, therefore, ordered to
patrol widely to the east and north-east to discover whether any
movements were taking place in those quarters. Early on the morning of
the 13th his patrols reported that about 1,800 Boers were leaving
their laagers in three detachments and pushing southward towards
Naauwpoort. By 7 a.m. Colonel Porter had made the following
disposition to meet this development--Vaal Kop on his extreme left was
still occupied by a squadron and two guns, and the kopjes to the north
of Arundel were held by the three companies of the Berkshire and two
9-pr. R.M.L. guns, supported by the M.I. on the right and the New
Zealand Mounted Rifles on the left, with the N.S.W. Lancers at the Nek
near the railway. The main body of the cavalry (six squadrons) with
four guns of R. battery was concentrated on the threatened flank two
to three miles to the east of the remainder. In a skirmish which
ensued, the enemy brought up two guns, but these were quickly silenced
and the Boer commandos were driven back by the cavalry. By 2 p.m. the
bulk of the enemy's forces had returned to their old ground; a party,
which about that hour occupied Kuilfontein farm on the western flank,
was driven away by the shell fire of the two British guns on Vaal Kop,
suffering considerable loss. The British casualties during the day
were limited to one officer and seven men wounded. A congratulatory
telegram, received by General French from Sir R. Buller next day,
commented: "You are following the right policy. Worry them." The
tactics prescribed by General French at this period can be best
realised from the following extract from the instructions issued by
his Chief Staff Officer on the 14th to Major-General Brabazon, who, on
his arrival on that date, was placed in command at Arundel:--

[Sidenote: French's method.]

     "Your task is to prevent the enemy moving from his present
     positions closer to Naauwpoort, or reaching the railway
     connecting that place with Arundel. The Lieut.-General
     Commanding considers that the best method to pursue to attain
     this end is:

     "(a) Hold Arundel as a pivot.

     "(b) Using that as a pivot, act energetically with your mounted
     troops against any of the enemy's detachments which may leave his
     main position and cross open ground.

     "(c) Select and hold certain points (such as Vaal Kop), to retain
     the enemy and make him fear an offensive movement against his
     line of retreat; (which is viâ Colesberg wagon bridge)."

[Sidenote: French, because of effect of "Black Week," takes command at
Arundel and reorganises. Dec. 16th.]

[Sidenote: Dec. 17th.]

On the 16th, however, notwithstanding these instructions, the officer
commanding the detachment on Vaal Kop fell back from that post on its
being threatened by distant artillery fire, and the whole of the
troops at Arundel were turned out on a false alarm that the enemy was
advancing. The defeats at Stormberg, Magersfontein, and Colenso,
recorded in later chapters, had meantime darkened the prospect, so
that manifestly the utmost care must be taken by all commanders to
obviate mistakes which might lead to further misfortunes. General
French, therefore, moved his Headquarters to the front, and assumed
personal command of the troops at Arundel. He had telegraphed on the
previous day offering to despatch all his cavalry to the Modder river,
but this suggestion was negatived "on account of scarcity of water."
He reorganised the Arundel command into a division as follows,
appointing Major-General Brabazon second in command:--

    _1st Cavalry Brigade (under Colonel T. C. Porter)._

    The Carabiniers.
    New South Wales Lancers (40 men),
    1 company mounted infantry.

    _2nd Cavalry Brigade (under Lieut.-Colonel R. B. W. Fisher)._

    The Inniskilling Dragoons (2 squadrons),
    10th Hussars (2 squadrons),
    1 company mounted infantry.

    _Divisional Troops._

    Brigade division R.H.A. (under Colonel F. J. W. Eustace).
    New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
    R.E. company.
    Bearer company.
    Half-battalion Royal Berkshire }
      regiment.                    }   under Major F. W. N.
    2 guns R.G.A.                  }        McCracken.

[Sidenote: French pivoting on certain strong points continues "policy
of worry." Dec. 16th-17th 1899.]

Major McCracken was directed to fortify the kopjes north of Arundel,
and to hold them "at all costs" as a pivot of manoeuvre. The country,
for purposes of reconnaissance, was divided into two zones, the
railway being taken as the line of demarcation. The 1st brigade was
assigned to the western zone, the 2nd to the eastern; the Brigadiers
were instructed to occupy certain tactical points towards the front
and flanks, and were made responsible that the enemy was not allowed
to establish himself unmolested on any kopje south of the Arundel
ridge. The Horse artillery and New Zealand Rifles were kept in reserve
under the personal orders of the General Officer Commanding. With
these arrangements the Lieut.-General felt assured that his position
was secure, and hoped to be able to continue to pursue a bold and
aggressive policy, a duty to which he was now able to devote his whole
attention, as other arrangements had been made for the command of the
lines of communication to Port Elizabeth.



         [Footnote 189: See maps Nos. 9 and 14.]

[Sidenote: The Boers occupy Stormberg, Nov. 25/99.]

President Steyn early in November ordered an invasion of the
north-eastern portion of Cape Colony. In doing so he acted against the
advice of a Krijgsraad held at Bethulie to discuss the project. A
considerable party of the Free State burghers was, in fact, opposed to
an offensive plan of campaign, but the President held that success in
the struggle against Great Britain could not be attained without
enlisting in his favour all the external support he could obtain. The
mission of the invaders was therefore to incite the discontented in
the colony to open rebellion. Under these circumstances, although many
communications passed between the disaffected amongst the local
farmers and Olivier, the commandant of the Boer contingent which had
crossed Bethulie bridge early in November, the movements of the
burghers were at first slow and hesitating. Aliwal North was occupied
on the 13th, and Burghersdorp--a town without any great reputation for
loyalty--two days later. The districts of Aliwal North, Albert and
Barkly East were at once proclaimed to be Free State territory. It was
not until the 25th that the Boer commando seized the important railway
junction of Stormberg, from which the British garrison had three weeks
earlier been withdrawn by Sir R. Buller to Queenstown.[190]

         [Footnote 190: Chapter XI.]

[Sidenote: Sir W. Gatacre reaches East London, Nov. 16th.]

Lieut.-General Sir W. Gatacre, with the staff of the 3rd division, the
two brigades of which had been sent on to Natal, disembarked at East
London on 16th November. The tasks assigned to that General were to
prevent British subjects from being persuaded or compelled to take up
arms against their Sovereign, to encourage and protect the loyal, and,
so far as possible, to stem the Boer invasion until the return of Lord
Methuen's division from Kimberley enabled the country south of the
Orange river to be swept clear of the enemy, preparatory to the
general advance through the Free State.

[Sidenote: Moves to Queenstown. His available strength.]

Sir W. Gatacre moved immediately up to Queenstown, taking with him the
2nd Royal Irish Rifles (898 all ranks), who had landed the same day at
East London. On arriving at Queenstown he found at that station the
half-battalion and a mounted company of the 2nd Berkshire regiment
(strength, 574 all ranks), a small detachment of Royal Garrison
artillery, and a half company of Royal engineers, which, with the
Naval contingent, had formed the original garrison of Stormberg. The
_personnel_ of the Naval contingent had been ordered to return to Cape
Town, but had left with the Royal artillery their two 12-pr. guns.
Besides these, the gunners had two obsolete field guns belonging to
the armament of the naval base, but owing to the lack of mules and
equipment none of the guns were mobile. In addition to these troops
the local volunteers, consisting of the Kaffrarian Rifles, the
Frontier Mounted Rifles (about 229 strong), and the Queenstown Rifle
Volunteers (285), had been called out; a corps of mounted infantry was
being raised locally from the farmers of the Eastern province by
Colonel Brabant, and a contingent of the Cape Mounted Rifles and Cape
Police had been placed at the Lieut.-General's disposal. The
Kaffrarian Rifles, 285 all ranks, held the base at East London. The
remainder of the local troops, except some posts of observation at
Cathcart, Indwe and Molteno, were concentrated at Queenstown. An
armoured train, commanded by Lieutenant F. J. Gosset, 2nd Berkshire,
patrolled the railway.

[Sidenote: Pushes on to Putterskraal, Sterkstroom.]

[Sidenote: and Bushman's Hoek, Nov. 27th-28th.]

For the moment it was obvious that no forward movement could take
place; indeed, a telegram despatched by Sir R. Buller to General
Gatacre, on 18th November, reminded him that "the great thing in this
sort of warfare is to be perfectly certain that one position is safe
before you advance to another, and that we are not yet strong enough
in troops to play tricks." Yet patrols, furnished by the Cape Police,
were sent out to Dordrecht, Stormberg and Tarkastad, and the
employment of reliable native scouts was arranged. In a telegram,
dated 21st November, Sir Redvers suggested that a portion of General
Gatacre's force might be moved to Stormberg for the purpose of
covering the coal mines at Indwe. Sir W. Gatacre replied on the same
day that he had not sufficient men as yet to advance to Stormberg,
but, as soon as more troops arrived, he intended to occupy that
junction and clear the country round it. Meanwhile, as a result of a
personal reconnaissance of the district, he proposed to occupy
Putterskraal, a position which, with outposts at Bushman's Hoek and
Penhoek, would "command Sterkstroom junction with the colliery line,
reassure loyal farmers, and steady disloyal men." The arrival from
England of two companies of mounted infantry (part of the mounted
infantry of the cavalry division), under Capt. E. J. Dewar, King's
Royal Rifles, on the 22nd, and of the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers on
the 27th November, enabled a concentration of all the mounted troops,
the detachment of Royal Garrison artillery, the 2nd Northumberland
Fusiliers, and the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, to be effected at
Putterskraal on the latter date. Sterkstroom was also occupied as an
advanced post, and on the following day the Berkshire mounted
infantry, four companies of the Irish Rifles, and the Kaffrarian
Rifles, brought up from East London, were pushed on to Bushman's Hoek.

[Sidenote: Situation graver. Buller suggests closing with enemy.]

The enemy was becoming bolder. A considerable number of disaffected
farmers had joined the commando at Burghersdorp; more were known to be
on their way up from Cradock, while at Barkly East a disloyal field
cornet was issuing Government arms and ammunition to rebels. The Boer
occupation of Stormberg on the 25th was followed immediately by the
destruction of the railway and telegraph line to the westward. Thus
French's force at Naauwpoort and Gatacre's troops at Putterskraal were
cut off from each other, and the latter were left for the moment
entirely dependent on their own resources. Sir Redvers, who was kept
daily informed of these developments, felt "anxious," and telegraphed
orders from Maritzburg on 26th November to Sir F. Forestier-Walker:
"Caution Gatacre to be careful. I think he is hardly strong enough to
advance beyond Putterskraal, until Methuen's return;" and on the
following day he telegraphed instructions to reinforce General Gatacre
by one, or, if possible, by two battalions, "and any mounted men that
can be spared." Barkly East was reported to be in open rebellion,
although Sir H. Elliott's action in defending the passes leading south
to Griqualand East continued to be effective.[191] The "annexation" of
Dordrecht to the Free State, proclaimed officially on its occupation
by the enemy, further complicated the situation. General Gatacre
accordingly telegraphed direct to the General Commanding-in-Chief:--

         [Footnote 191: Chapter XI.]

     "Military situation here requires dealing with extreme
     carefulness. Boers have occupied Dordrecht and enemy is advancing
     in a southerly direction, evidently pointing for Queenstown. I
     have two British regiments only, and I am 33 miles to the north
     of Queenstown--I am holding Bushman's Hoek range to endeavour to
     prevent descent into Queenstown district, which would mean
     general state of rebellion of Dutch. Force will be strengthened
     at Queenstown by next British regiment which should arrive at
     Queenstown 5th December, but Queenstown is indefensible position.
     Are there any orders especially as regards my movements?"

Sir Redvers replied the same day (2nd December) from Maritzburg:--

     "Your No. A 514. We have to make the best of the situation, and
     if the enemy is advancing by Dordrecht, the importance of
     Bushman's Hoek is diminished. You have a force which altogether
     is considerably stronger than the enemy can now bring against
     you. Cannot you close with him, or else occupy a defensible
     position which will obstruct his advance? You have an absolutely
     free hand to do what you think best."

[Sidenote: Gatacre seizes Molteno and Penhoek, Nov. 29th.]

Meanwhile, on the 29th November, a raid by train had been made from
Putterskraal on Molteno, and a large amount of corn removed from a
mill which it was feared might fall into the enemy's hands. An officer
and 50 men of the Cape Police were left in observation at Molteno, and
detachments of Cape Mounted Rifles and of the newly-raised corps,
Brabant's Horse, of a total strength of 400 men, was pushed out to
Penhoek, a pass through the hills ten miles east of Sterkstroom.

[Sidenote: Dec. 7th Gatacre tells C.O.s of intended night march.]

By the 6th December, Sir W. Gatacre had been reinforced by two
batteries of his divisional artillery, the 74th and 77th, the
divisional ammunition column, the 12th company R.E., the 1st Royal
Scots, the 33rd company Army Service Corps, and 16th Field Hospital.
The greater portion of his detachment was unfortunately only just free
from the confinement of the voyage from England. Every effort had been
made on board ship to keep the infantry in good condition by
gymnastics and physical drill, but they were naturally not in the best
trim for a long march. The horses of the artillery had suffered from a
somewhat stormy passage of 31 days, during which 14 had died of
influenza. They, too, therefore, were hardly yet ready for hard work.
Nevertheless, the G.O.C. considered that, in the existing strategic
situation, any further prolongation of the defensive attitude he had
hitherto been obliged to maintain would be injurious.[192] He
determined, therefore, to take advantage of the free hand left to him
by Sir R. Buller, and to follow the further suggestion that he should
close with the enemy. On the evening of the 7th he informed the
commanding officers of units that he intended to make a night march on
Stormberg and attack the Boer laager. It will be seen from map No. 14
that the buildings and sheds which mark the railway junction lie at
the foot of a steep razor-back hill, called Rooi Kop, and on the
eastern edge of a valley or vlei, about two miles in length from north
to south, and one in breadth. This vlei, in which the enemy's main
body was known to be, is shut in on the east by the Rooi Kop, which
dominates all of the surrounding country. To the south and south-west,
it is enclosed by a lower hill, named the Kissieberg, and on the north
by a flat-topped kopje on which forts had been constructed by the
British garrison when in occupation of the junction. Between this
kopje and the northern point of the Kissieberg, there is a gap of a
mile through which pass out the spruit, which drains the vlei, and
the branch line to Naauwpoort. The railway from East London to
Bloemfontein and the main road from Molteno to Burghersdorp, viâ
Stormberg, cross a Nek between the Kissieberg and Rooi Kop,
subsequently skirting the latter hill very closely. This Nek, on which
the intelligence scouts reported the Boer guns to be posted, and the
Rooi Kop, Sir W. Gatacre planned to seize before dawn on the morning
of the 9th by a night march from Molteno. He proposed to employ on the
enterprise the whole of the mounted infantry, one field battery, the
R.E. company, the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles,
and a detachment of Cape Police. The mounted troops from Penhoek were
also to co-operate on the right flank. Arrangements were also made
with Sir H. Elliott for an advance of the Headquarters of the Cape
Mounted Rifles in the direction of Dordrecht. By concentrating at
Molteno late on the day previous to that chosen for the attack,
General Gatacre hoped to surprise the enemy. Owing, however, to some
difficulties in obtaining rolling stock, the movement was postponed
till the 9th.

         [Footnote 192: The Intelligence reports of General Gatacre's
         staff show that they at this time believed that Olivier was
         expecting a large reinforcement from the Transvaal.]

[Sidenote: Move postponed to Dec. 9th.]

[Sidenote: Concentrates at Molteno, Dec. 9th.]

Early on the morning of that day, camp was struck at Putterskraal, and
the baggage packed, the wagons being ordered to travel by road to
Molteno. The assembling of the troops at that village was effected
during the afternoon in the following manner:--

  _By Train from Putterskraal._

    Divisional Staff.
    R.A. Staff, 74th and 77th batteries R.F.A.
    R.E. Staff, 12th company R.E.
    2nd Northumberland Fusiliers.
    Headquarters and 4 companies Royal Irish Rifles.
    Field Hospital and Bearer company.

  _By Train from Bushman's Hoek._

    4 companies Royal Irish Rifles.

  _By Road from Putterskraal._

    2 companies mounted infantry.
    42 Cape Mounted Police.

  _By Road from Bushman's Hoek._

    1 company Royal Berkshire mounted infantry.

Besides these, three companies Royal Scots were sent by rail from
Putterskraal. One of them was dropped at Bushman's Hoek, the other two
being taken on to Molteno. The units that went by train had with them
their first line transport. Although the entraining of the troops
began about 12 noon, it was not completed till after 5 p.m., owing to
the lack of sufficient sidings. The movement to Molteno was covered by
the armoured train, and was carried out without interruption. The
detachments of Brabant's Horse and Cape Mounted Rifles ordered in from
Penhoek to Molteno failed, however, to appear. A message to the
officer commanding at Penhoek, conveying the order, had been handed in
at the telegraph office at Putterskraal at midnight on the 8th, but
owing to some carelessness had not been forwarded by the telegraph
clerk. The precaution of demanding an acknowledgment of the receipt of
this important order, or of sending a duplicate, does not appear to
have been taken by the divisional staff.

[Sidenote: Arrangements for feeding men.]

The troops had dined before leaving Putterskraal, and took with them
one and a half day's rations, the half ration to be eaten in the train
on the way to Molteno, and the remainder to be carried by the men on
the march. The preserved meat had been issued in 6lb. tins. These were
very inconvenient. Therefore many of them were thrown away.

[Sidenote: Dec. 9th, 1899. Orders for night march issues. Lack of

On arriving at Molteno, Sir W. Gatacre assembled the commanding
officers and issued personally to them his orders for the movement
against Stormberg. His Intelligence staff had ascertained that the
actual strength of the Boers in laager at that moment was about 1,700,
and that the southern face of the Kissieberg and the Nek between that
hill and Rooi Kop were entrenched. The General, on receipt of this
information, determined to modify his original plan. Although
Stormberg had been occupied for more than a month by British troops,
no systematic sketching of the surrounding country had been
undertaken. Except a plan made more than a year before of the ground
in the immediate neighbourhood of the junction, and reproduced in one
of the Intelligence handbooks, the only map at the disposal of the
Staff was the Cape Survey, the scale of which, 12-1/2 miles to an
inch, was too small for tactical purposes.

[Sidenote: The method of march.]

The local Cape Police, the Berkshire mounted infantry, and others were
very well acquainted with the country; and, after a personal
examination of Sergeant Morgan, Cape Police, and several native
policemen, who had previously been selected as guides, Sir W. Gatacre
determined to move his force out from Molteno by the Steynsburg road,
and to diverge from that road by a cross track, leading northwards
from a point near D. Foster's farm to Van Zyl's farm,[193] which was
situated immediately in rear of the western face of the Kissieberg.
Thus the position on the Nek would be turned. The distance to be
covered during this flank march was said by his informants to be about
nine miles. The actual distance was about ten miles. Allowing for
intermediate rests for the men, the General anticipated that he would
be able so to order the time as to place his men in a position to rush
the Kissieberg with the bayonet before dawn, and then, as soon as
daylight appeared, to plant the guns on that kopje, thus commanding
the whole of the Stormberg valley. Sir W. Gatacre informed commanding
officers verbally of these intentions, and arranged the following

         [Footnote 193: It will be observed that four houses marked
         Van Zyl's are shown in map 14, but, except when otherwise
         specified, the most northern of these is the one referred to
         throughout in the text.]

  Royal Irish Rifles.
  Northumberland Fusiliers.
  74th and 77th batteries, escorted by
  Two companies M.I. and the Cape Police.
  Berkshire M.I. company.
  Machine guns, ammunition reserve, and
  Field Hospital, escorted by 12th company R.E.

[Sidenote: Dependence on guides.]

The column was to move off in three echelons, the first consisting of
the divisional staff and the infantry, the second the artillery and
mounted infantry, and the third the field hospital, machine guns, etc.
Guides were allotted to each unit. Complete reliance was placed on the
efficiency of these guides, and the precaution of causing the road to
be previously reconnoitred by a staff officer had not been taken. Both
Sir W. Gatacre's intelligence officers, one of whom knew the ground
intimately, had duties on the line of communication, and were thus
unable to accompany the column. The General, with all the rest of his
staff, took his place at the head of the leading battalion, which was
preceded by eight infantry scouts under a subaltern. The remainder of
the infantry marched in fours. The batteries were in column of route.
The wheels of the 77th were covered with raw hide. The wheels of the
74th had not been so padded, as that battery was only added to the
column at the last moment. The hide proved to be of but little value
for the purpose of deadening the sound, and only made the draught

[Sidenote: Mistake at starting.]

The head of the column moved off about 9 p.m., somewhat later than had
been originally planned. The artillery and mounted infantry followed
in due course along the Steynsburg road, but the machine guns, field
hospital, and R.E., owing to a lack of staff supervision, took the one
direct on Stormberg, and, finding that there were no troops in front
of them, halted where they were until daylight, having first
ascertained from the officer left in command at Molteno that he did
not know the route by which the main column was advancing.

[Sidenote: The guides miss the road.]

Meanwhile, the infantry of that column had pressed on with the
keenness of soldiers eager for their first fight, and at 1 a.m. a
homestead, which proved to be that of Mr. J. Roberts. The guides had
in fact passed the branch road leading to Van Zyl's farm, but on being
interrogated, the head guide, Sergeant Morgan, assured Sir W. Gatacre
that he and his assistants knew the way perfectly, and that they were
leading the column by a road which, though slightly longer than that
originally selected, avoided wire and a bad piece of track which the
guns would have found it difficult to cross at night. They added that
they were within one and a half miles of the spot, to which the
General desired to be guided. The map and freehand sketch show that
the guides now proposed to lead the column to the rear of the
Kissieberg by the wagon-track which leaves the Steynsburg road at
Roberts' homestead, and after crossing the Bamboosberg Spruit and the
colliery branch line, strikes, near Van Zyl's house, the track by
which General Gatacre had intended to approach the enemy's position.
The distance still to be traversed was, as will also be noticed, not
one and a half, but about two and a half miles. Moreover, after
crossing the spruit and the railway, the track traverses the northern
slopes of a stony irregular underfeature which guards the approaches
to the Kissieberg from the south and west. Progress over this ground
was unlikely to be rapid. Roberts' homestead is 10-1/2 miles from
Molteno. The troops had, therefore, already marched rather further
than was originally anticipated; and, as they had halted for a short
time every hour, their rate of marching had been fast for night-work
over such country. The men were somewhat weary owing to the march.
They were out of condition. They had been engaged on heavy fatigue
work on the morning of the 9th. Whether, therefore, the guides had
missed the true road in the dark, a supposition which is favoured by
the fact that they had previously assured the General that the whole
route was fit and easy for wheeled transport, or whether, not
realising the importance in military operations of obedience to
orders, they had, on their own judgment, diverted the column to the
longer route in the belief that it would be easier, the effect on the
General's plan of attack was serious. Sir W. Gatacre, nevertheless,
decided that he would give his men an hour's rest, and then push on.

[Sidenote: The march resumed. Column arrives at dawn at destined

About 2 a.m. the march was resumed in the same order as before, except
that the guns and mounted infantry had closed up to the infantry. But
after crossing the railway the roughness of the ground added to the
fatigue of the troops; moreover, doubt as to the manner in which the
column was being guided had spread discouragement. The General, moving
at the head of the leading battalion, constantly questioned the
guide, but was as constantly assured by Sergeant Morgan that the right
road was being followed, although the distance was greater than he had
estimated. The column, therefore, trudged on until at length, as the
first signs of dawn were beginning to appear, it reached the cross
roads near Van Zyl's house, and thus was on the very ground from
whence General Gatacre intended to make his assault on the Kissieberg.
If the assault had been delivered at once, the ridge might have been
carried and command over the Stormberg valley have been thus secured.

[Sidenote: Boers quite unprepared for the surprise march. All
circumstances favourable.]

[Sidenote: The column is taken away two miles further. _En route_ it
is surprised.]

The Boers in and near Stormberg on the morning of the 10th December were
under the command of Olivier: they consisted of about 1,700 burghers of
the Bethulie, Rouxville and Smithfield commandos, with two guns and a
Maxim. A detachment under Commandant Swanepoel, with one gun, held the
Nek between the Kissieberg and Rooi Kop. A piquet of about fifty men was
stationed on the western ridge of the former hill, and another piquet
watched the north end of the vlei; the remainder of the burghers slept
on the lower inner slopes of the two hills. The Boer accounts of the
fight all agree in stating that Gatacre's night march was a complete
surprise to them. So secure did Olivier feel in his position that on the
9th he had detached a commando of colonial rebels, amounting to some 500
or 600 men, under Grobelaar and Steinkamp, to Steynsburg to beat up more
recruits in that direction. In consequence of a dispute about a gun,
which was referred to President Steyn by telegram for settlement,
Grobelaar had outspanned for the night some seven or eight miles away on
the Stormberg-Steynsburg road, and his commando lay about a mile
north-west of Roberts' farm. Sir W. Gatacre's information, therefore, as
to the strength of the Boers in the Stormberg valley was accurate, their
dispositions favoured the plan he had formed for a surprise, and the
British assailants, notwithstanding the circuitous march, had now
arrived in time, though only barely in time, at the spot for its
execution. But either the chief guide did not fully comprehend the
General's intentions, or he had lost his bearings, for he pointed to a
kopje nearly two miles off, and said that that was the real place. The
wearied men continued to trudge along the road, which, skirting the
lower western slopes of the Kissieberg, leads to Stormberg junction. Day
was breaking,[194] but no change was made in the formation of the
troops. The infantry remained in fours, with no flankers out, and still
only eight men were in front as an advance guard. The Boer piquet on the
Kissieberg saw the grey thread as it wound its way slowly along the foot
of the hill within effective range of the crest. A single shot echoed
through the valley, and a corporal of the leading company of Irish
Rifles fell dead. A rapid fire, although from but a few rifles, was then
opened on the British troops at a range of about 400 yards. It was
impossible to convey orders to a long column of route, thus taken at a
disadvantage. Each company officer had to act on his own initiative, and
as few, if any of them, knew where they were, or where was the enemy
they were required to attack, confusion inevitably arose.

         [Footnote 194: The sun rose at Stormberg on December 10th at
         4.38 a.m. (Cape Government Railway time).]

[Sidenote: A confused attack on Kissieberg.]

The three leading companies of the Irish Rifles, under their
commanding officer, Lieut.-Colonel H. A. Eagar, front-formed, extended
rapidly at right angles to the road, and dashed forward and seized the
underfeature +a+ (map No. 14), which faces the extreme northern spur
of the Kissieberg. In pushing on towards this point, the men were much
exposed to enfilade fire from their right, and a good many casualties
occurred. The other five companies of the Irish Rifles and the
Northumberland Fusiliers faced to the right, confronting the main
ridge, against which they scrambled upwards by successive stages. The
companies extended as they moved on, and gradually opened out into
firing line and supports. The western face of the Kissieberg was found
to be exceedingly steep and difficult to climb. A series of krantz, or
perpendicular walls of rocks, barred the ascent, except at certain
gaps, while between these krantz were interspersed bushes and large
boulders. The company officers ordered their men to unfix bayonets,
and to help each other up the rocks. The enemy's fire for the moment
had ceased to be effective, as the British soldiers were more or less
under cover of the krantz, but the clamber through the gaps in the
first barrier, nearly twelve feet high, took a considerable time. On
the top a halt was made to let men get their breath, and then began
again the onward advance of small groups of twos and threes in the
direction of the shoulder of the hill, where the burghers had managed
to place a gun. The Boers' shooting from the crest now again became
effective, whilst they themselves, carefully concealed, offered no
target to the British rifles. The rocks and bushes made communication
between the different parts of the line of the attack very difficult.

[Sidenote: Artillery come into action. A gun lost.]

At the moment when the first shot killed the corporal, the batteries,
under the command of Lieut.-Colonel H. B. Jeffreys, had rapidly moved
off to the left by sub-divisions for about 1,000 yards, and then
onward up the valley. There was no good position for the British guns,
except the ridge 2,000 yards to the west of the Kissieberg. But the
infantry's need of immediate support was too pressing to allow time
for that ridge's occupation. Lieut.-Colonel Jeffreys therefore, by the
direction of General Gatacre, caused the 77th battery to come into
action near kopje +a+, the 74th unlimbering on the open veld to the
westward. The mounted infantry continued to escort the batteries. In
getting into place a gun of the 74th battery had stuck in a donga,
owing to a horse being struck. It was smothered by a hail of bullets.
The three drivers were almost immediately wounded, and all the rest of
the team were shot down. The gun had therefore to be abandoned, part
of its breech mechanism being first removed.

[Sidenote: The course of the attack on Kissieberg.]

[Sidenote: Retreat.]

Meanwhile the three companies of the Irish Rifles, which had seized
kopje +a+, had made their way step by step up the northern extremity
of the Kissieberg, and had struggled on to within close proximity of
its crest line. The Boers from the main laager had now manned the
hill, but the British artillery was bursting shells on the threatened
crest, and a Boer gun which had come into action was for a time
silenced. The attack had lasted about half an hour, and progress up
the hill was being slowly made by the British infantry, when the five
companies of the Northumberland on the right of the line were ordered
to retire by their commanding officer. He considered that his
battalion must leave the hill. The three foremost companies, who were
nearly on to the summit, did not hear of this order, and, under the
command of Capt. W. A. Wilmott, remained with the Irish Rifles,
clinging on as they were. The fire of the enemy appeared to be
slackening, and for the moment the groups of British officers and men
were convinced that, if they were supported, they could gain the
crest. But the withdrawal of a portion of the attacking line had made
any further success impossible. Nor was that all. Seeing the five
companies of the Northumberland Fusiliers falling back to the west,
the batteries conceived that all the assailants were retreating, and
exerted themselves to the utmost to cover the movement by their fire.
The sun was now rising immediately behind the western face of the
Kissieberg, so that all the upper part presented to the British guns a
black target, on which neither friend nor foe could be distinguished.
Thus a fatal mischance came about. A shell fused for explosion just
short of the Boer defensive line burst over the foremost group of the
Irish Rifles, and struck down Lieut.-Colonel Eagar, Major H. J. Seton,
the second in command, Major H. L. Welman, Captain F. J. H. Bell, and
three men. A conference had a few moments before been held between
Lieut.-Colonel Eagar and Captain Wilmott as to the steps which should
be taken to protect the men from the shells of their own gunners. The
former officer had stated that as the situation of the infantry was
evidently unknown to the batteries, and was masking their fire, it was
necessary to fall back. Captain Wilmott, on the other hand, urged that
if the men were once ordered to withdraw it would be very difficult to
get them up the hill again. Colonel Eagar replied that there was no
help for it. Therefore a general retirement now began from the main
ridge of the Kissieberg downwards towards the rising ground a mile to
the westward. The movement was made by rushes. The enemy had been
reinforced by Swanepoel's detachment from the Nek, and coming down the
slopes of the hill poured in a hot fire on the retiring infantry. The
material effect of this was not great, because the Boers' shooting
throughout the day was remarkably indifferent. But under its
influence a large proportion of the British troops took cover in the
donga which drains the valley between the Kissieberg and the height to
the westward. As an eye-witness describes it:--

[Sidenote: Word-sketch of retreat.]

     "This donga was too deep to be used as a line of defence, being
     six feet deep at least, with both banks washed away underneath,
     and with nothing for the men to stand upon to enable them to
     bring their rifles to bear. It was here that the trouble in the
     retirement commenced. The men retiring from the hill rushed to
     this donga for cover from the heavy rifle-fire, and on getting
     into it, and thinking they were safe from immediate danger, laid
     down and many went to sleep, and the greatest difficulty was
     experienced to get them on the move again and to leave the donga.
     Many men were by this time thoroughly done up and did not appear
     to care what happened to them. Many men still remained on the
     hill, some because they had not heard the order to retire, and
     some because, utterly weary, they had sunk down in sleep in the
     dead angle at the foot of the height."

[Sidenote: Stages of retreat.]

On the extreme left the retreat to the western ridge was effected in
good order, the three companies of the Irish Rifles moving back first,
then the batteries in succession, the mounted infantry covering the
first stage, and remaining in close touch with the enemy, until
Colonel Jeffreys was able again to bring his guns into action on the
spur marked +b+ on the map. During this withdrawal, Major E. Perceval
was severely wounded, but continued to command the 77th battery until
the close of the day's operations. The artillery held this second
position for over an hour, the infantry forming up in rear. The enemy
now re-opened with a very long range gun, which made excellent
practice, but fortunately the large majority of its shells only burst
on impact, or not at all.

[Sidenote: New foes appear, but are driven off.]

[Sidenote: An ill-starred order.]

At about 6 a.m. a further development began, one which might have
proved fatal to the British force had the Boers then possessed the
discipline and vigour in counter-attacks they acquired in the later
stages of the war. Grobelaar and Steinkamp with the Burghersdorp
commando had been roused by the sound of the guns from their bivouac
on the Steynsburg road, and, riding back, lined the crest of the hill
to the west of Bamboosberg Spruit, and thence opened a long-range fire
threatening the line of retreat. Against this fresh enemy five guns of
Major Perceval's battery were brought into action facing west, and
with well-directed shrapnel at a range of 1,200 yards, drove back the
dangerous force. The remaining gun of that battery and the 74th
battery continued to check the Boers' pursuit from the eastward. Yet
it was evident that the whole plan had failed, and that the troops
were not in a physical condition to renew the attack on the
Kissieberg. Sir W. Gatacre therefore decided to retire on Molteno, and
directed the retreat on Van Zyl's farm, 1,200 yards to the north-west
of D. Foster's homestead, the mounted infantry and artillery covering
the retirement. The General, when he gave this order, had received no
report that a considerable proportion of the infantry had failed to
rejoin their proper units. He had remained with the mounted infantry
throughout the action, and having seen numbers of men of both
regiments crossing the valley, was under the impression that the
battalions were now intact behind the western ridge. An extraordinary
number of them were, in fact, still missing. The largest proportion of
these had probably never left the Kissieberg. The equivalent of two
companies of the Northumberland Fusiliers are known to have been taken
prisoners there. Of those who had retired, some had remained in the
donga. Besides all these, there was a considerable number of officers
and men dispersed about the valley, and particularly in the enclosures
near the northern Van Zyl's farm. It seems possible that, if the
general retreat from the position at +b+ could have been delayed even
for a comparatively short time, some of the scattered parties of men,
who were afterwards taken prisoners, might have rejoined their

[Sidenote: The course of the retreat.]

The line of the retreat to Molteno was to the west of the ridge which
rises between the colliery line and the Kissieberg, and so gave some
shelter from the enemy's fire. The minished battalions struggled
along, some of the companies being able at first to keep their
formation, though, long before they arrived at Molteno, almost all had
fallen into disarray. The fatigue of the men had reached its climax,
and most of them could hardly keep on their feet. Whenever there was a
necessary halt, not a few fell down, asleep almost before they
reached the ground, and it was with difficulty that they could be
again roused. They suffered very much from thirst as there were no
water-carts, and they had had no opportunity of drinking during many
hours. The batteries of artillery remained in action at +b+ for some
time. They then retired alternately, and by their steadiness and the
excellence of their practice held the enemy at bay.

[Sidenote: Boers gain a second gun, but do not seriously pursue.]

The Boers followed in the rear sufficiently close to necessitate the
abandonment of a second gun, which stuck in a water course, but there
was no determined attempt at vigorous pursuit, and when once the
kopjes had been passed, the mounted infantry were able to keep at a
distance those of the enemy who did not linger in the valley to loot.

[Sidenote: Distribution of troops after action.]

The various units of Sir W. Gatacre's force reached Molteno between 11
a.m. and 12.30 midday. In the evening they were moved as follows:

_To Cypher Gat:_ Divisional staff and Royal artillery, by train;
mounted infantry, by road.

_To Sterkstroom:_ Northumberland Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rifles, by

_To Bushman's Hoek:_ Royal engineers and two companies Royal Scots, by

[Sidenote: British losses, Dec. 10th/99.]

The British casualties in the action at Stormberg were:

                                 Killed.     Wounded.     Missing.

  Officers                          ---            8           13
  Other Ranks                        25          102          548
                                    ---          ---          ---
  Total                              25          110          561
                                    ---          ---          ---

Colonel Eagar, Royal Irish Rifles, died some months later of the
wounds received in this action.

[Sidenote: Boer losses.]

The casualties of the Boers were 8 killed and 26 wounded. Commandant
Swanepoel afterwards died of his wounds.

[Sidenote: Points to be noted.]

Sir W. Gatacre's decision to advance on Stormberg was fully justified
by the strategical situation. General Buller's telegram, although it
left him a free hand as to time and opportunity, had suggested that
operation. The plan, though bold, was sound in its design, and would
have succeeded had not exceptional ill-fortune attended its execution.
Several of the causes of failure stand out conspicuously in the
narrative: the mistake of the guides in taking the longer route, which
unduly fatigued the men; the failure to realise that the Kissieberg
was within striking distance, when the cross roads near Van Zyl's farm
were reached; the premature withdrawal of the five companies of one of
the battalions from the attack, and the subsequent shelling of the
British infantry who still clung to the hill. Without these
accumulated mishaps a blow would in all probability have been struck
at the enemy, such as would have had an important influence on the
general situation in South Africa. Yet it cannot be held that chance
was alone responsible for this miscarriage. A long night march to be
followed by a night attack involves, under the most favourable
circumstances, a considerable element of hazard, and it is therefore
essential that every possible precaution should be taken to obviate
mistakes and to ensure that the column should not, in its mission to
surprise, be itself taken at a disadvantage. Careful reconnaissance by
the staff of the route to be followed can, therefore, never be
neglected with impunity. If a staff officer had examined beforehand
the Steynsburg road, at least as far as the branch track which it was
intended to follow, and if he had been made responsible for the
supervision of the guides, the mistakes as to the route would in all
probability have been avoided. This omission is the more remarkable in
that one of the Intelligence staff, upon whom the duty of this
reconnaissance would naturally have devolved, was well acquainted with
the ground in the neighbourhood of Stormberg. It is perhaps doubtful
whether in view of the fatigue shown by the troops on their arrival at
Roberts' farm, and the uncertainty of the staff as to the situation,
it was wise to persist in the enterprise. In any case, it is clear
that the neglect to change the formation of the column, and to send
out flank and advance guards when dawn appeared whilst the movement
was being carried along a road surrounded by hills, was a dangerous
and unnecessary risk. Finally, the abandonment of large detachments of
infantry, when retreat was ordered, implies a serious lack of
supervision both by the staff and by the officers then left in command
of the battalions. Yet in weighing the responsibility for these
errors, it must be borne in mind that the units composing the force
had only just come together for the first time, that General, staff,
and troops were all new to one another, and that the men engaged were
not yet in hard condition.



         [Footnote 195: Map No. 13 and freehand sketch.]

[Sidenote: Reasons for the halt on the Modder.]

The Modder River battle (November 28th, Chap. XV.) had placed the 1st
division within twenty miles of Kimberley. Signals were made to that
town by a Naval searchlight fitted "with a flasher."[196] Lord
Methuen[197] halted for a short time on the banks of the Modder.
Horses and men, worn out by the fighting and marching of the last six
days, required rest. Reinforcements of troops and supplies were on
their way to him along the lines of communication with the coast.
Moreover, before he could attempt to carry out his orders to remove
the non-combatant population of 8,000 Europeans and 25,000 natives
from Kimberley, it was necessary to restore or replace the railway
bridge which had been wrecked by the Boers. A message from Colonel
Kekewich, who commanded at Kimberley, reached the General on the 4th
December. It was to the effect that the town could hold out for forty
days more. His fears for the immediate safety of the place thus
allayed, Lord Methuen was able to concentrate his energies on the
construction of the temporary (or "deviation") bridge across the Riet.
He also threw up a series of redoubts on both sides of the river to
enable a small garrison to defend the bridge when the column should
resume its march on Kimberley. By dint of great exertions on the part
of the Royal engineers and the infantry employed with them, the
temporary bridge was completely finished by the 10th December.

         [Footnote 196: It was not until the 3rd December that the
         signals were clearly understood, and an exchange of messages
         properly established.]

         [Footnote 197: Wounded at the action of the Modder on 28th,
         he left hospital on 29th, but had to return there from 2nd to
         6th December.]

[Sidenote: Boers select their position for stopping further advance.]

[Sidenote: Its nature.]

After the engagement of the 28th November, Lord Methuen had reason to
believe that the Boers would make their next stand at Spytfontein,
twelve miles south of Kimberley. This was at first their intention,
but on the 29th November a Boer council of war was held at Jacobsdal,
at which two different plans of action were discussed. P. Cronje
wished to take up a flank position at Jacobsdal, so as to compel the
British troops to attack him, and thus diverge from their direct line
for Kimberley. With the Boers so placed, if Lord Methuen had marched
straight upon the town, he would have exposed himself to the danger of
being cut off from his line of supply over the Modder bridge. De la
Rey, on the other hand, desired to make one more effort to bar the
direct road, and his scheme was eventually adopted. At first the
heights of Spytfontein were chosen. Preparations for their defence
were taken in hand on the afternoon of the 29th, when Cronje and the
bulk of his force arrived from Jacobsdal. But De la Rey realised that
if the heights of Magersfontein, which lay between Spytfontein and the
river, were allowed to fall into the hands of the British, Lord
Methuen could utilise them as artillery positions for a bombardment of
the Spytfontein range. Under cover of this he would be able to deliver
an infantry attack. De la Rey suggested that the Magersfontein heights
should themselves be held as the cornerstone of the defence. His views
prevailed, and the fortification of a position nearly nine miles in
length was at once begun. The fight at Modder River had demonstrated
the advantage of placing the main firing line so that it should just
be able to graze the surface of the country over which the British had
to advance. He therefore proposed to hold the ground, now to be
occupied, in a similar manner. In the centre, Magersfontein Hill, a
grim and rock-bound kopje, rises precipitously from the veld and
dominates the plain, six miles in width, which stretches from its foot
to the Modder River bridge. From this hill the Boer line extended five
miles north-west to Langeberg farm along the foot of a series of
kopjes, in some places sufficiently well defined to be marked on map
No. 13, in others mere hillocks, but together forming a continuous and
formidable line of defence across the railway. From the south-east of
Magersfontein Hill a low scrub-covered spur, or ridge, three miles in
length, runs southward to Moss Drift on the Modder. Though not of
sufficient height to be fully shown upon the map, it exercised an
important influence upon the course of the battle. From the river the
ground rises gradually towards the heights of Magersfontein. There are
two well-marked knolls upon its surface; one, equidistant between the
kopjes and the railway bridge, was chosen by Lord Methuen to be his
Headquarters for the coming battle; the other, about a mile to the
southward of the main hill, was held by the Horse artillery battery
during the engagement. The greater part of the plain was comparatively
free from scrub, but in the neighbourhood of the low ridge the bush
was thick enough to retard the movement of the troops, and in places
it was so dense as to limit the range of vision to a few yards. Nor
was the scrub the only obstacle for the assailants--two high wire
fences crossed the plain; one, stretching away towards the north-east,
marked the frontier of the Orange Free State; while the other ran
across the trenches which guarded the centre of the Boer position. The
reproduction of the freehand sketch of Magersfontein will show the
strength of the ground taken up by the enemy.

[Sidenote: Boers gather from all quarters. Their occupation of the

During the twelve days which elapsed between the engagement at the
Modder and the battle of Magersfontein large reinforcements reached
General Cronje. These additions to his army were chiefly due to the
energy of President Steyn, who ordered up every available burgher to
oppose the British advance. Parties of men summoned from the commandos
watching the Basuto border; the Bloemhof and Wolmaranstad commandos,
and detachments of Free Staters, were marched southward from the
investment of Kimberley; and the Heilbron, Kroonstad, and Bethlehem
commandos, detached from the Boer camps in Natal, increased Cronje's
righting power. Nor were the exertions of the President of the Orange
Free State confined to hurrying fresh troops to the point of immediate
danger, for realising that the _moral_ of the Boers had been shaken
by the losses they had already sustained, he went down to the laager
on the 5th December, and by his fiery eloquence infused fresh life
into the somewhat depressed burghers. By the 10th December the right
and centre of the enemy were entrenched along the line of kopjes which
runs south-east from Langeberg farm on the west to Magersfontein Hill
on the east; their left held the low scrub-covered ridge which extends
from Magersfontein Hill to Moss Drift on the Modder. Owing to the fact
that many of the Boer field-works at Magersfontein were constructed
after the battle of the 11th December, it is impossible to describe
with accuracy the defences which they had thrown up before that date.
On the right and centre these appear to have consisted of narrow
trenches, dug about 150 yards in front of the hills. They were three
or four feet in depth, and owing to the peculiar nature of the soil it
was possible to make them with perpendicular sides--mere narrow slits
in the ground which afforded complete protection from shrapnel fire.
These trenches were not in one continuous line, but were dug along the
waving foot-line of the hills, and so arranged that they flanked one
another. The parapets, slightly raised above the ground, were well
concealed by bushes and stones. On the Boers' left but little work had
been done, and the men who held this section were largely dependent on
natural cover. Cronje's dispositions were as follows: When the action
of the 11th December began, the right was held by part of the
Potchefstroom commando, who were soon afterwards ordered to reinforce
the left wing. The works in the right centre were manned by another
detachment of the Potchefstroom and part of the Fauresmith commandos;
while further to the south-east the Ladybrand, Hoopstad, Kroonstad,
Bloemhof, and Boshof commandos defended Magersfontein Hill. The
Scandinavian corps, about sixty strong, connected the centre with the
left wing, which was posted on the low ridge running southward to the
river. The remainder of the Fauresmith and the Wolmaranstad commandos
held the northern end of this low ridge, the centre of which was
occupied by those of the Potchefstroomers who were transferred from
the right wing. The south end was defended by the men of Lichtenburg,
while across the Modder river near Brown's Drift was posted a
detachment of 200 Jacobsdalers with a gun, under Albrecht. On the
right the supervision was entrusted to A. Cronje, on the left to De la
Rey, while the supreme command was vested in Piet Cronje. As regards
the Boer numbers there is the usual conflict of evidence. A Boer
general says that there were from 5,000 to 6,000 burghers present; an
ambulance officer reckons them in all at 7,000; while two commandants
estimate them at 4,000. The Boers had five field guns, distributed
along their line; two pom-poms were posted on Magersfontein Hill;
while three more pom-poms were allotted to the defence of the low

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's reinforcements and detachments.]

By the 10th December all the reinforcements expected by Lord Methuen
had gradually reached the Modder River camp. These consisted of the
2nd battalion Black Watch and the 2nd battalion Seaforth Highlanders,
who, together with the 1st battalion Highland Light Infantry[198] and
the 1st battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, composed the
Highland brigade, commanded by Major-General Wauchope. The 12th
Lancers, G. battery R.H.A., the 65th (Howitzer) battery R.F.A., and
some details of mounted infantry, also joined the relieving column.
Drafts of sailors and marines raised the strength of the Naval
brigade, now under command of Captain Bearcroft, R.N., to 375 officers
and men, with one 4·7-in. gun, and four 12-pr. 12-cwt. Naval guns. The
latest arrival, that of the 1st battalion Gordon Highlanders, placed
under Lord Methuen's command a total of about 15,000 officers and men.
The lines of communication with Orange River were held by the 2nd
battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, the 2nd battalion
Shropshire Light Infantry, and part of the 1st battalion Royal Munster
Fusiliers, strengthened at various points by sections of P. battery
R.H.A. The Royal Canadian regiment of infantry garrisoned Belmont, and
a mixed force of Australians, consisting of a detachment of Victorian
Mounted Rifles, and infantry companies from Victoria and South
Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, occupied Enslin.

         [Footnote 198: This battalion reached the Modder battlefield
         on the evening of the 28th November.]

[Sidenote: Minor engagements.]

During the halt on the Modder river small affairs had been of daily
occurrence. The patrols had frequently come into collision with the
enemy. On the 7th December, Prinsloo, the Free State Commandant-General,
with about a thousand Boers and three guns had attacked Enslin station,
which at that time (prior to the arrival of the Australians) was held by
Captain H. C. Godley, with two companies of the Northamptonshire.
Prinsloo did not press home the assault, and when the 12th Lancers and
the 62nd battery arrived from the camp on the Modder, followed by an
armoured train carrying the Seaforth Highlanders, he withdrew to
Jacobsdal. Some damage was done by the enemy to the railway and
telegraph lines, but this was quickly made good.

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's information Dec. 10th.]

When Lord Methuen, on the 10th December, issued orders for an advance,
the information which he had been able to obtain from a reconnaissance
by Major G. E. Benson, D.A.A.G., and from the reports of scouts,
patrols, and strong reconnoitring parties, showed that the enemy's
main line of defence ran along the foot of the hills stretching from
Langeberg farm to Magersfontein Hill. It was known that the Boers had
outposts on the low ridge, that they held Moss Drift, that they had
detachments to the south of the river, and that near Langeberg farm
and Brown's Drift were laagers of considerable extent. The General
estimated the numbers opposed to him at 12,000 to 15,000 men, with six
or eight guns.

[Sidenote: Plans proposed and rejected.]

Various projects for the further movement upon Kimberley had been
weighed and found wanting. A purely frontal attack upon the kopjes
between Langeberg and Magersfontein Hill involved the crossing of a
wide extent of open and level ground, with the danger of a
counter-attack by the enemy from the low ridge held by the left wing
of Cronje's army. To the west of Langeberg farm the country was so
waterless as to preclude any attempt in that direction. A flank march
up the Modder river to Brown's Drift, and thence to Abon's Dam, about
16 miles N.E. of Jacobsdal, seemed feasible, for the British column
would turn the works of Magersfontein and then fall upon the eastern
flank of Spytfontein, the northern of the two lines of heights which
lay athwart the railway between the Modder and Kimberley. But before
the relieving column could thus swing clear of Magersfontein and
strike off thirteen or fourteen miles to the eastward through a
country cut up by wire fences, the consequent exposure of Modder River
camp, with all its accumulation of stores and its newly-restored
railway bridge, had to be taken into account. Lord Methuen considered
its safety, and that of the line of communication along the railway to
the nearest post at Honey Nest Kloof, essential to his enterprise. Now
the adequate defence of the station and this section of the railway
required a far larger detachment than he could spare from his division
engaged in making a flank march and an attack on Spytfontein. The idea
of assaulting the left flank of the Boers was discussed, but
abandoned, because it was thought that the bush-covered ground would
diminish the effect of the artillery and cause an undue loss of life
among the infantry. Therefore, it was finally decided to carry the
heights of Magersfontein, and after their occupation and entrenchment
to make a turning movement against the left flank of the Spytfontein
range. The tactics of Belmont were to be repeated. After a vigorous
bombardment of the hill of Magersfontein in the late afternoon of the
10th, the Highland brigade was to march at night to its foot, and at
dawn on the 11th attack this, the key of Cronje's position.

[Sidenote: The plan finally chosen for Dec. 10th night attack.]

Lord Methuen's orders, which are textually quoted at the end of the
chapter, may be thus summarised. A preliminary bombardment of the main
Boer position was fixed for the afternoon of the 10th; and to
facilitate this a column, consisting of the 9th Lancers, mounted
infantry, G. Battery R.H.A., the 18th, 62nd and 75th Field batteries,
the 65th (Howitzer) battery, the Highland brigade, and the 2nd
Yorkshire Light Infantry, was to move forward from the Modder river
towards the southern end of Magersfontein Hill. The main body of
infantry was to halt behind Headquarter Hill, while the 2nd Yorkshire
Light Infantry was to proceed to Voetpads (or Bridle) Drift, and
entrench there against attack from all sides. The cavalry and mounted
infantry were to cover the advance on a line from the railway to the
river. After the reconnaissance they were to retire to the right of
the Highland brigade, protect it, and leave a party to watch the outer
flank of the artillery. Major-General Pole-Carew, with two battalions
of the 9th brigade (1st battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and 2nd
battalion Northampton), was to move with the 4·7-in. Naval gun, which
from a position west of the railway was to co-operate with the
artillery engaged in the bombardment. Major Rimington, with his
Guides, was to guard the left of this column. On the following morning
(the 11th December) fire was to be re-opened, care being taken that
the guns were not directed against Magersfontein Hill, the point at
which the Highland brigade was to break into the enemy's line. The
camp on the Modder river was to be garrisoned by the half-battalion of
the North Lancashire regiment, by details, and by the greater part of
the Naval brigade, whose four 12-pr. guns were mounted in the works on
the south side of the river. The supply column, with five days'
rations, under the escort of half the Gordon Highlanders, was to move
off at 4 a.m. on the 11th December, and to follow the route taken by
the Highland brigade for two miles. Major-General Colvile, with the
12th Lancers, the 7th company Royal engineers, the Guards' brigade,
with its Bearer company, the Field Hospitals of the Guards' and
Highland brigades, and the ammunition column, by 3 a.m. on the 11th
was to be 500 yards to the left rear of the ground to be occupied by
the brigade division of Field artillery, _i.e._, somewhat in rear of
Headquarter Hill.

[Sidenote: Wauchope with Methuen, Dec. 9th.]

On Saturday afternoon, December 9th, Major-General Wauchope had a
conversation with Lord Methuen in the hotel which was used for
Headquarters. When he came out he said to Colonel Douglas, Lord
Methuen's Chief Staff Officer: "I do not like the idea of this night
march." Colonel Douglas urged him to see Lord Methuen again and
frankly tell him so. He, however, did not go back again to Lord
Methuen. The written orders for the march were received at General
Wauchope's quarters at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning, December 10th. Later
in the day, Major-General Wauchope assembled the officers commanding
the four battalions of his brigade, and explained to them the manner
in which he proposed to carry out his mission. The brigade was to form
a mass of quarter-columns, the battalions marching in the following
order. The Black Watch was to lead, with the Seaforth and the Argyll
and Sutherland Highlanders following in succession. The Highland Light
Infantry was to close up the rear. The deployment from mass for attack
was to be to the left. The Seaforth would thus be on the left of the
Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland on the left of the Seaforth.
The Highland Light Infantry was to remain in reserve.

[Sidenote: Wauchope issues his orders.]

[Sidenote: Bombardment of Dec. 10th.]

[Sidenote: Metheun sees Wauchope again.]

Late in the afternoon of the 10th December, the preliminary
bombardment took place. The 4·7-in. gun came into action to the west
of the railway, near the Ganger's Hut, two miles and a half north of
Modder River bridge. The Howitzers went to a point near Headquarter
Hill, the three field batteries took up a position somewhat more
forward and to the east. As the artillery was brought into action the
infantry was withdrawn, and the guns shelled Magersfontein Hill for
two hours. At 6.30 p.m. Lord Methuen ordered the fire to cease. Soon
after the bombardment was over he visited General Wauchope at his
quarters. Shortly afterwards he told Colonel Douglas that General
Wauchope thoroughly understood his orders and appeared to be quite
satisfied with the work he had to do. Though his guns had provoked no
reply from the Boers, Lord Methuen felt confident that they had not
only inflicted loss, but had produced considerable moral effect on the
Boer commandos. This, however, was not the case. The fire had but one
important result, that of warning the enemy that an attack was


1. Enemy in occupation of kopjes to N. and N.E. of camp and also high
ground between Modder and Riet rivers.

2. It is intention of G.O.C. to hold enemy on north, and to deliver an
attack on southern end of Magersfontein ridge (see map). On the
afternoon of 10th December the position will be bombarded; it will be
assaulted on the 11th. With this end in view three columns will be

[Sidenote: No. 1 Column.]

3. No. 1 Column will assemble on ground N.E. of 9th brigade camp at 3
p.m. on 10th December in following formation:--

  9th Lancers.
  Mounted Infantry.
  G. Battery R.H.A.
  Brigade Division R.F.A. and Howitzer Battery.
  Highland Brigade (in mass).
  Bearer Company, Highland Brigade.
  2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry.
  Sec. T.B., R.E.
  Balloon Sec. R.E.

The C.R.A. will arrange for a portion of the ammunition column to
accompany this force.

4. The advance will be directed on the southern end of Magersfontein

5. At 3 p.m. the R.H.A., cavalry and mounted infantry will advance
covering the front from railway to Modder river; the mounted infantry
forming escort to R.H.A. After the reconnaissance the cavalry will
withdraw to the right flank of Highland brigade and protect that
flank, leaving a party to watch the left of artillery.

6. At 3.10 p.m. the remainder of the column will advance on the
southern end of Magersfontein ridge, keeping well under shelter of
Outpost ridge (concealed from view of enemy) in following order:

Advance Guard--half-battalion; followed at 2.30 p.m. by
half-battalion, R.F.A., remainder of force (except 2nd Yorkshire L.I.)
in the order of parade.

7. The R.F.A. will, when within range, open fire on the ridge,
applying to G.O.C. Highland brigade for an escort.

8. The remainder of column will form up concealed to right rear of
artillery in action.

9. The 2nd Yorkshire L.I. will proceed from place of assembly along
the northern bank of Modder river (under guidance of Rimington's
Guides) to Bridle Drift[199] four miles up river, where they will
entrench themselves against attack from all sides--especially from
north-east to south.--Entrenching tools to be carried. Signal
communication to be established (if possible) with Highland brigade,
and with Modder River camp.

         [Footnote 199: This was another name for Voetpads Drift; the
         latter name is used on map No. 13.]

10. The Sec. T.B., R.E., will lay a field cable from 9th brigade camp
to Highland brigade as they proceed.

11. G.O.C. will receive reports at head of main body of Highland

12. Half rations for 11th December will be carried in haversacks; and
half forage for animals on them. These rations and forage not to be
consumed before 11th.

13. One blanket per man will be carried (rolled by dismounted troops).
Great coats will not be taken, but will be stored in tents or brigade
stores, under charge of details left behind.

14. Tents will not be struck.

15. All horses will be watered immediately before starting.

[Sidenote: No. 2 Column.]

16. On the 10th December No. 2 Column, under the command of
Major-General Pole-Carew, C.B., composed of 1 battalion, 9th brigade,
Naval brigade (with 4.7-in. gun), and Rimington's Guides, will
assemble at such hour and place as may be fixed by him, so that the
column will be in position at 4 p.m. to co-operate with No. 1 Column,
making a diversion against Magersfontein ridge (along the railway).

This force will remain in position on the night of 10th, and will
recommence the bombardment on the morning of 11th; but the fire is _on
no account to be directed on the southern end of the ridge which the
infantry will be assaulting_.

[Sidenote: No. 3 Column.]

17. No. 3 Column, under command of Major-General Sir H. Colvile,
K.C.M.G., C.B., composed as under, will assemble on the same ground as
No. 1 Column at such hour as the commander will direct, so as to
enable the column to reach 500 yards to the left rear of the R.F.A.
brigade division position (of No. 1 Column) by 3 a.m. on the 11th
December, where the commander will report to an officer of the
Divisional Headquarter Staff sent to meet the column. A Staff Officer
of No. 3 Column will accompany No. 1 Column to ascertain the position
of artillery brigade division.

The orders regarding great coats, blankets, and tents (paragraphs 13
and 14) for No. 1 Column will apply to No. 3 Column.

No. 3 Column will consist of 12th Lancers, No. 7 Field Company R.E.,
Guards' brigade, Bearer Company Guards' brigade, Field Hospitals
Guards' and Highland brigades and divisional troops, ammunition

[Sidenote: Supply column.]

18. The Supply Column (with five days' rations), escorted by half
Gordon Highlanders, will assemble at the place of assembly of Nos. 1
and 3 Columns at 4 a.m. on the 11th December, and will follow the
route taken by No. 1 Column for two miles, and await orders.

[Sidenote: General.]

19. The Divisional Signalling Officer will arrange for signalling
communication being kept up between Nos. 1 and 2 Columns on the 10th

20. Outposts protecting Modder River camp will be taken over by 9th
Brigade at 8 a.m. on 10th December.

21. No light is to be lit or smoking allowed from 7 p.m. on 10th to 4
a.m. on 11th.

22. During the absence of the Lieut.-General Commanding, the command
at Modder River will, after departure of No. 3 Column, devolve on
Major-General Pole-Carew, C.B., details of Nos. 1 and 3 Columns being
attached to 9th brigade.

23. Arrangements will be made by G.O.C. Cavalry brigade for the care
of all horses belonging to Nos. 1 and 3 Columns left at Modder River.
Horses and men of Divisional Headquarter Staff left behind will be
attached to 9th brigade.

24. If any of these orders are not understood, a Staff Officer should
attend at Divisional Headquarters.

By Order,
                                        C. W. DOUGLAS, Col., C.S.O.

Modder River, 10th December, 1899.



         [Footnote 200: See maps Nos. 13, 13(a), 13(b) and free hand

[Sidenote: The 1st Division takes up assigned places, Dec. 10th, for
night march.]

The preliminary movements for the attack on Magersfontein Hill, the
orders for which are given at the end of the last chapter, were duly
executed. Major-General Wauchope's brigade spent the first part of the
night of the 10th December bivouacked near the dam behind Headquarter
Hill. Close to the Highlanders lay the artillery, the 9th Lancers, the
detachment of New South Wales Lancers, the Balloon section, R.E., and
the mounted infantry. The covering outposts were furnished by the
mounted infantry and the Seaforth Highlanders. The brigade of Guards
in the evening crossed the Modder and halted on its northern bank,
while the 12th Lancers remained south of the river until midnight,
when, though originally directed to accompany the brigade of Guards,
they joined the 9th Lancers at their bivouac in accordance with a
later order.

[Sidenote: Highland Brigade starts 12.30 a.m. Dec. 11th.]

The night was of a darkness such as might be felt. A drizzle in the
afternoon had been succeeded by pouring rain, and a thunderstorm was
imminent before the start was made. The ground between the bivouac and
Magersfontein Hill was known to be obstructed by boulders, ant-heaps,
and patches of bush. These various conditions strengthened
Major-General Wauchope in his conviction that for the Highland brigade
to advance in any but the most compact formation was impossible. At
12.30 a.m. he therefore marched from his bivouac in mass of
quarter-columns--or in other words in a column of thirty[201]
companies, one behind the other. To minimise the chances of loss of
connection during the night, the ranks were closed up as densely as
possible, and each soldier was ordered to grasp the clothing of his
neighbour. As an additional precaution, the left guides (_i.e._, the
non-commissioned officers on the left of each company) held ropes
which ran from front to rear of the mass. At the head of the column
was Major-General Wauchope with part of his staff, all afoot. The
mounted officers' horses were led by grooms in rear. Major Benson,
D.A.A.G., during his reconnaissances of the enemy's position, had
taken the compass bearing of Magersfontein Hill, and to him was
assigned the duty of guiding the troops to the foot of this kopje,
towards which the march was made. On the directing flank, the
brigade-major, Lt.-Colonel J. S. Ewart, continually passed up and
down, having the names of the officers repeated to him in an
undertone, so that he might identify the several companies, and see
that they were not losing close touch.

         [Footnote 201: The two companies of Seaforth Highlanders, who
         had been on outpost, did not accompany their battalion, but
         worked their way to the front later in the day.]

[Sidenote: The Highland Brigade night march.]

To maintain regularity in the march occasional short halts were
necessary; but at 2 a.m. there was a more serious check. The
torrential rain had clogged Major Benson's compass, and he became
uncertain whether the column had not trended away towards the left.
Major-General Wauchope sent back for Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart. After a
brief consultation, a slight change of direction to the right was
made. In daylight and on a level parade ground this is a very simple
matter; but in darkness and during a South African tempest, it was by
no means easy. The inclination to the right was given to the column.
The advance was resumed. Nothing else occurred seriously to retard
progress until, just as the top of Magersfontein Hill was first made
visible by the lightning, a growth of mimosa bush brought the brigade
to a standstill. Major-General Wauchope, had already decided to
deploy. To hasten this, he himself led the Black Watch in single file
through the bush, and desired Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart to guide the
remainder of the brigade round the obstruction. The three battalions
in rear, easily avoiding the small patch of thorny shrubs, rejoined
more quickly than had been expected, and soon fell into their proper
places. When the brigade-major reported their arrival, Major-General
Wauchope issued instructions for deployment on the Black Watch, but
not in the same order of battalions as he had laid down on the
previous day.[202] The Seaforth Highlanders were now to come up on the
left, the Argyll and Sutherland on the right, of the battalion of
formation. Major-General Wauchope had originally intended that both
the Seaforth and the Argyll and Sutherland should prolong the left of
the Black Watch, each having two companies in the firing line, two in
support and four in reserve. According to this design the twelve
reserve companies were to have been formed in two ranks, and were to
have occupied approximately the same space from flank to flank as that
covered by the six companies in the firing line. The Highland Light
Infantry was intended to act as the reserve to the brigade. The
presumption is that he changed his plan at the last moment, in the
hope of ensuring that his right should completely overlap the eastern
flank of Magersfontein Hill.

         [Footnote 202: See p. 312.]

[Sidenote: 4 a.m. the Boers smite the brigade in the act of deploying.
The consequent rush forward.]

At about 4 a.m., almost before the officers commanding battalions had
issued executive orders for the deployment, a well-sustained fire from
the Boer trenches a few hundred yards away, at the foot of
Magersfontein Hill, was suddenly poured into the serried ranks of the
Highlanders. The brigade was thus assailed at a most inopportune
moment, when in the act of changing from mass of quarter-columns into
fighting formation, a manoeuvre which under the most favourable
circumstances always requires time. To carry it out under the close
range of magazine rifles was impossible. By a common impulse, such
officers and men as were able to extricate themselves from the mass
rushed towards the enemy. In the confusion caused by the unexpected
bullets, and by the partial disintegration of the column, due to the
onward dash, battalions became intermixed, and regular formation,
though not discipline, was lost. Though the dull grey of early dawn
nearly put a stop to all supervision, though the Major-General, while
leading the two foremost companies of the Black Watch,[203] was almost
instantly shot dead, and no one knew who was present to assume the
chief command--the crowd pushed forward. A mixed body of soldiers from
various battalions succeeded in making their way to within 200 or 300
yards of the enemy. Then, unable to advance further, they flung
themselves on the ground behind such scanty cover as there was, and
opened fire. In the centre of the group were many of the Black Watch.
Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. J. Goff, who commanded the Argyll and
Sutherland, was killed, but his officers and men came up, some on the
left, some on the right. Lieut.-Colonel J. W. Hughes-Hallett, in
accordance with his instructions, brought the greater portion of the
Seaforth towards the right. Such was, broadly speaking, the character
of the movement, though all were greatly intermixed. The result was
that Magersfontein Hill, originally assigned as the object to be
assailed, had now an irregular line of Highlanders in the plain at its
foot, lapping round its eastern extremity and spreading somewhat to
the west of it. Those of the Highland Light Infantry who had not
joined the men in front, extended as a reserve in rear.

         [Footnote 203: These companies of this, the leading battalion
         of the brigade, had actually deployed when the Boers opened

[Sidenote: The course of The Highlanders' attempt on Magersfontein

The Scandinavians, posted on the level ground at the junction of the
Boer left and centre, had, from the first, enfiladed the British
troops. When some of the Highlanders came round the foot of the hill
the opposing forces were at close quarters. The Scandinavian commando,
resisting bravely, was destroyed by mixed detachments as they pressed
onwards. Having thus succeeded in getting round the key of the whole
position, Magersfontein Hill itself, these composite parties several
times attempted to storm it. Some ninety or a hundred of the Black
Watch, under Captain W. Macfarlan, made some progress up its steep
slopes. A body composed of Seaforth and Black Watch, perhaps a hundred
in all, under Lieut. R. S. Wilson, was also struggling upwards, as was
Lieutenant E. Cox, with another party of the Seaforth. It was now
daylight, and the British artillery, knowing that the Highland brigade
had sustained a check, and unaware that their comrades were on the
kopje, scourged the Boer position with shrapnel. Some of the shells
burst over the assailants. Though, owing to this mischance, the rest
of the stormers could not advance further, the men under Lieutenant
Wilson, probably less exposed to the guns, pressed onwards till they
were unfortunately taken in flank. Cronje, who had been sleeping at a
farm six miles from the centre of his line, was aroused by the sound
of battle, and galloping to the hill, chanced to arrive at this
moment. The rifles of his escort suddenly smiting Wilson's men from an
unexpected direction at short range, checked them and possibly changed
the issue of the day. At the same time Boers from the northern end of
their left wing, who had hurried up to fill the gap caused by the
destruction of the Scandinavians, between the low ridge and the hill,
opened upon Wilson's detachment from the rear. Thus assailed from two
quarters at once, the attack withered away and all fell back. Some
were captured; the remainder made good their retreat to the right of
the brigade. The Boers, following up this success, pressed the right
wing of the most advanced Highlanders in flank, and gradually drove it
back.[204] The brigade came to a halt, and, although the greater part
of the Highland Light Infantry was brought up on the right by
Lt.-Colonel H. R. Kelham, no further progress could be made. The front
line was now dissolved into groups of men, who lay grimly under the
storm of bullets poured upon them by the well-concealed riflemen four
or five hundred yards away. Then followed from time to time a series
of gallant but spasmodic efforts by successive detachments, who
attempted to storm as opportunity offered. Senior regimental officers
led some of these; subalterns rushed forward with others, but all were
equally unsuccessful. As soon as they moved they were fully exposed to
a hail of lead, and after a short rush were arrested under close fire
by the wire fence which ran across the central defences. Not a few as
they attempted to struggle through it were caught by their clothes and
accoutrements, and held there, targets for the defenders. The burghers
who manned the trenches, though greatly harassed by the artillery,
were therefore still able to hold their own against the troops who
faced them, and the attack was brought to a complete standstill. For
many hours this situation continued. The wearied soldiers remained,
fasting and without water, exposed to the blazing sun of a South
African midsummer's day and pinned to the ground by an unseen enemy.

         [Footnote 204: An officer in the Highland brigade who took
         the time fixes the hour of this retirement at about 8 a.m.]

[Sidenote: The artillery saves the brigade, and with other corps, the

The accurate and well sustained shooting of the artillery now saved
the brigade from destruction. The resolute action of the cavalry and
mounted infantry, of the brigade of Guards, and of the Yorkshire Light
Infantry on the right, prevented the reverse from becoming a disaster
for the whole division. The Naval 4·7-in. gun, under Captain
Bearcroft, R.N., with two officers and 80 men, occupied the same
ground as during the bombardment of the 10th, the ground, namely, on
the west of the railway near the Ganger's Hut. To its right front was
the Howitzer battery, while the three field batteries came into action
to the north-east of Headquarter Hill, at a range of 2,000 yards.
Their first target was Magersfontein Hill, on which they opened about
4.50 a.m., as soon as they could see to lay their guns, but the
officers, soon realising that the Boers were holding, not the kopje
itself, but trenches cut at its foot, reduced their range to 1,700
yards, with the result that the volume of the enemy's fire sensibly
decreased. Half an hour later the officer commanding the artillery,
Lieutenant-Colonel Hall, pushed the 18th battery to within 1,400 yards
of the entrenchments, and shortly afterwards supported it with the
62nd battery. There these two batteries continued in action for the
rest of the day and, thanks to a slight swell in the ground in front
of the guns and to a favourable background, with exceedingly small
loss. The 75th, which had been supporting the bombardment of the
trenches by the other two batteries, was despatched between 9 and 10
a.m. to reinforce G. battery Royal Horse artillery, whose movements
will now be recorded.

[Sidenote: Babington's mounted column on the east.]

Shortly before 4 a.m. Major-General J. M. Babington led the 12th
Lancers, with G. battery and the greater part of the mounted infantry,
to the eastward, hoping to turn the enemy's left flank. In a few
minutes the sudden roar from the trenches warned him that fighting had
begun, and soon afterwards his patrols were shot at from the low ridge
which stretches from Magersfontein Hill to the Modder. He accordingly
ordered G. battery to shell this ridge from the ground shown on the
map, No. 13. In twenty minutes, the defenders had been at least
temporarily silenced. About the time that G. battery opened
Major-General Babington sent the 9th Lancers also eastwards, with
instructions to force their way along the river to Brown's Drift and
thus turn the enemy's left. Very early in the morning they reached
Moss Drift, but their repeated efforts to advance further up the
Modder were beaten back by musketry. While G. battery was employed
against the low ridge, it became evident to Major-General Babington
that the Highlanders not only had failed to carry the Magersfontein
heights, but that they required instant reinforcement. He accordingly
desired Major R. Bannatine-Allason, the battery commander, to move
north-east over the scrubby ground, and not to come into action until
he was stopped by the bullets or could get a clear view of what was
going on at the front. The battery, with an escort of 12th Lancers and
mounted infantry, advanced at a trot, and its commander, having
obtained information from scattered Highlanders, pushed on towards the
low knoll called on the map Horse Artillery Hill, the name by which it
became known during the battle. Whilst the wire fence[205] which ran
sixty or seventy yards to the south of Horse Artillery Hill was being
cut to clear the way the battery came under infantry fire.[206] The
commander, on reconnoitring the knoll in preparation for the battery,
decided to run the guns up by hand and place them on the reverse
slope.[207] Having taken up this situation he was able to continue in
action there for twenty-four hours with the loss of only four men. The
selected spot was 2,200 yards from the Boer trenches at the foot of
Magersfontein Hill, and 1,400 yards from the low ridge, which was a
few feet higher than Horse Artillery Hill. In consequence of the
position being on the reverse slope there was, between the hill on
which the guns were, and the low ridge, "dead ground." That is to say,
that no shells from the battery could reach the space which lay
nearest in the valley below. Therefore, on the one hand, this could be
safely occupied by protecting troops, and on the other, unless some
were there, the Boers could almost without risk have assailed the
battery and perhaps have carried it by surprise. Before Major
Allason's arrival there were on this dead ground many of the Highland
brigade. Very soon after G. battery opened fire these men were
reinforced by part of two dismounted squadrons of the 12th Lancers
under Lieut.-Colonel the Earl of Airlie, who passed between the guns,
and by parties of mounted infantry who came up on the right under
Major P. W. A. A. Milton. During the early hours of the morning, Major
Allason distributed his shells over the trenches at the foot of
Magersfontein Hill and along the low ridge down to the river; but on
the arrival of the 75th battery R.F.A. on his left, the target was
divided. From that time, the 75th ranged upon the Magersfontein
trenches and the northern end of the low ridge, while the Horse
artillery battery kept down the musketry from its centre and south.

         [Footnote 205: The fence which runs north-west from Moss

         [Footnote 206: See map No. 13(a).]

         [Footnote 207: See Footnote at the end of the chapter.]

[Sidenote: The night-march of the Guards and their entry into the

At 1 a.m. the brigade of Guards fell in and moved towards its
rendezvous, near the previous bivouac of the Highland brigade; the two
battalions of the Coldstream were followed by the Grenadiers and the
Scots Guards. Owing to the extreme darkness of the night, the storm,
and difficulties similar to those experienced by Major-General
Wauchope's brigade, connection was not maintained in the rear half of
the column. The battalion of Scots Guards, in consequence of some
confusion during the march, which they attribute to the fact that two
companies of the regiment in front of them had lost connection, became
detached from the column, and therefore halted till dawn. The two
companies in question went on to the place ordered, but the Scots
Guards marched to Headquarters, where they were detailed to act as
escort to the Howitzers and Field artillery, and did not rejoin their
brigade until the 12th. The three other battalions pushed on to the
rendezvous which they reached about half an hour before the Boers
opened on the Highlanders. After Lord Methuen had realised that the
attack had failed, he ordered Major-General Colvile to occupy the
often mentioned low ridge, but to avoid committing himself to a
decisive engagement. Keeping the Grenadiers as a general reserve,
Major-General Colvile directed the two battalions of Coldstream, the
1st on the right, the 2nd on the left, towards Horse Artillery Hill.
The 2nd battalion moved in echelon from the right with four half
companies in the firing line, four half companies in support, and four
companies in reserve. The 1st battalion was in much the same
formation, but being on the immediately exposed flank, took the
precaution of posting two companies in echelon on the right rear. As
the brigade approached the low ridge it was seen that the 1st
battalion was in danger of being enfiladed. The direction was
accordingly changed to the right; and, as the new line of advance
would necessarily carry the brigade to the south of Horse Artillery
Hill and therefore connection with the Highland brigade would not be
established, unless special provision for it were made, Major H. G. D.
Shute was ordered to move half his company of the 2nd Coldstream to
the left, to keep touch with Major-General Wauchope's right. This
half-company reached Horse Artillery Hill, and passing the battery,
pushed forward against the ridge about the same time as Major Milton
with his mounted infantry and the dismounted 12th Lancers entered the
dead ground in front of the guns. At about 6 a.m. Major-General
Colvile was ordered to reinforce the right of the Highland brigade,
and accordingly sent forward the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream.
Several hours later he also sent two companies of the 1st battalion to
strengthen this part of the line. Lt.-Colonel the Hon. A. H.
Henniker-Major, who commanded the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream
Guards, received urgent appeals for help from the dismounted Lancers
and mounted infantry, then hotly engaged at very short range with the
enemy, who were hidden behind the bush and boulders on the northern
end of the low ridge. In order to enable them to retain this ground,
so important because of the protection its possession by infantry
afforded to the two batteries on the hill behind it, he was compelled
to send almost half of his battalion to their assistance. Later in the
day the 12th Lancers and M.I. were withdrawn. From that time onwards,
the portion of the 2nd Coldstream occupied the place hitherto held by
these mounted troops, and remained there until the next morning; the
rest of the 2nd Coldstream was more to the right, and like the 1st
battalion, which prolonged the line towards the river, was engaged
against the enemy's left wing until nightfall. During the course of
the day two companies of the Grenadiers were sent up to reinforce the
firing line, and to connect the 1st and 2nd battalions of the
Coldstream.[208] Many of the Guards, the dismounted cavalry, and the
mounted infantry, were fighting all day at exceedingly short range. In
some cases barely 100 yards separated the skirmishers from the Boer
riflemen, but Major-General Colvile had not sufficient strength to
push home a decisive attack upon the ridge, even had his instructions
not forbidden him to do so.

         [Footnote 208: See map No. 13 (a).]

[Sidenote: Lt.-Col. Barter and Major Little at Voetpads, Moss Drift
and elsewhere.]

The right bank of the Modder was guarded by the King's Own Yorkshire
Light Infantry. Early in the morning their commanding officer,
Lt.-Colonel C. St. L. Barter, whilst holding the works he had thrown
up at Voetpads Drift, ascertained that a commando was passing along
the left bank down stream towards Moss Drift, thereby threatening to
turn the right of the Guards' brigade. Though the letter of his orders
limited him to the defence of Voetpads Drift, he, on his own
responsibility, marched up the river with five companies towards Moss
Drift.[209] Owing to the severity of the Boer fire, the K.O.Y.L.I.
failed to reach this ford; yet their presence not only frustrated the
outflanking movement, but checked an intended demonstration on the
left bank, and set free two of the three squadrons of the 9th Lancers,
who, unable to make headway on horseback, had been fighting
dismounted. Major M. O. Little, who was thus released for more
suitable service, left one squadron to connect the K.O.Y.L.I. with the
right of the 1st Coldstream, and led the remainder of his regiment to
the neighbourhood of Horse Artillery Hill, where they remained until
ordered back to support the extreme right flank.

         [Footnote 209: See map No. 13 (a).]

[Sidenote: Fresh troops available up to 7 a.m. Dec. 11th.]

[Sidenote: Pole-Carew's dispositions.]

[Sidenote: Lt.-Col. Downman leads half of Gordons to support Highland

[Sidenote: He is joined by Lt.-Col. Macbean and three more companies.]

Though the early failure of the attack had compelled Lord Methuen to
throw the Guards, his reserve, into the fight almost from its
beginning, a considerable number of his troops had not been engaged up
to 7 a.m. Major-General R. Pole-Carew, to whom had been entrusted the
double duty of guarding the camp and, without seriously committing
himself, of demonstrating along the railway line, had disposed of his
men in the following manner. The Headquarters of his brigade (the
9th), with the Northumberland Fusiliers and three companies of the 2nd
Northamptonshire regiment, were near the railway. The other five
companies of the Northampton remained in the camp, which was further
protected to the north-west by outposts of the half-battalion of the
Loyal North Lancashire regiment. Two companies of Royal Munster
Fusiliers guarded the armoured train. Besides these, three companies
of the Royal engineers and about 240 of the Naval brigade with four
12-pounder 12-cwt. Naval guns were available to man the works if
necessity should arise. Close to Headquarter Hill six companies of the
Scots Guards lay in rear of the field guns as their escort. A wing of
the Gordon Highlanders, under Lt.-Colonel G. T. F. Downman, detached
by Lord Methuen's orders from the original duty assigned to the
battalion, that of convoying the transport of the division, was also
at hand. On his arrival at Headquarter Hill, Lieutenant-Colonel
Downman was ordered to march this half-battalion towards the extreme
eastern point of Magersfontein Hill and to despatch a message to
Lieutenant-Colonel F. Macbean, who was in charge of the rear wing,
telling him to leave one company with the convoy and hasten with three
companies to Headquarters.[210] When within 2,200 yards of the enemy
Lieutenant-Colonel Downman extended, and in successive waves of
skirmishers passed through various parties of the Highland brigade. In
this formation he pressed forward until the leading line of the Gordon
was within 290 paces of the Boers, when further advance became
impossible, and a halt was ordered.[211] The supporting skirmishers
also halted, and joined the groups which were nearest to them. The
movement of these reinforcements across the plain attracted the
enemy's attention and caused a recrudescence of his fire, which had
been dying down. When the three companies of the rear half-battalion
reached Headquarter Hill they were sent to report to Major-General
Babington, then at Horse Artillery Hill. Finding that he was not
required there, Lieutenant-Colonel Macbean rejoined the remainder of
his corps.

         [Footnote 210: This order was despatched to
         Lieutenant-Colonel Macbean at 7.40 a.m.]

         [Footnote 211: The distance is verified by Capt. W. E.
         Gordon, V.C., Gordon Highlanders, who, while in the leading
         line, fell wounded at a spot which many months later he was
         able to identify. Thence he paced to the Boer trench. Lt. H.
         E. M. Douglas, R.A.M.C., crept forward to inject morphia into
         various wounded officers and men at this very spot. He was
         awarded the V.C. for this act. This decoration was given to
         Capt. E. B. Towse, Gordon Highlanders, and Corporal J. Shaul,
         H.L.I., for gallantry during the action.]

[Sidenote: A grave misunderstanding takes Highlanders to rear of

[Sidenote: Scots Guards protect dispersed Highlanders.]

About 1 p.m. the Boers began to outflank the right and right rear of
the Highland brigade. Colonel Hughes-Hallett, Seaforth Highlanders,
who was on this side of the line, thereupon gave orders to the men
near him, intending to throw back the flank so as to meet the
threatened attack. Colonel Downman, Gordon Highlanders, who was in the
centre, seeing what was Colonel Hughes-Hallett's intention, raised
himself to give to those in his neighbourhood the necessary directions
for its execution. He at once fell mortally wounded. The officers
strove hard to effect an orderly change of front; but their signals
were misconstrued by many of the rank and file, who began to retire.
First the right gave way; then at about 1.30 p.m. the movement became
general and, covered by a very rapid and well aimed hail of shells
from the Field artillery against the works at the foot of
Magersfontein Hill, nearly all the Highlanders who were immediately in
front of the Boers, gradually and with considerable loss, ebbed away
to the guns. The men were reformed at about 3.30 p.m. in rear of the
18th and 62nd batteries.[212] Some groups, however, perhaps altogether
amounting to two or three hundred officers and men, held on where
they were till nightfall. As soon as Lord Methuen saw the situation,
he sent forward the only formed unit that was near enough to the much
dispersed troops to cover their retirement. This was that body of six
companies of Scots Guards which had been detailed to act in support of
the Field artillery. Passing through the broken ranks they halted
about 1,500 yards from Magersfontein Hill.

         [Footnote 212: During the battle the 18th battery fired 940
         rounds, the 62nd about 1,000 rounds, the 75th, 721, G.
         battery R.H.A., 1,179, and the Naval 4·7-in. 73.]

[Sidenote: A lost battle.]

The unfortunate incidents of the early morning had gravely compromised
Lord Methuen's battle array. The attack on the key of the enemy's
position, on the success of which his later combinations depended, had
failed. The brigade employed in it had fallen back with heavy loss,
and was for the moment not available for further employment. Of the
three battalions of Guards left to Major-General Colvile, two were
fully engaged in holding the right of the British line; the third, or
reserve battalion, could not be withdrawn from their support.
Major-General Pole-Carew's brigade was so weakened by the absence of
the K.O.Y.L.I., who were keeping the enemy back at Moss Drift, and by
the number of troops retained in the neighbourhood of the camp for its
defence, that it could not be called upon for reinforcements. To
oppose the centre of the Boer line Lord Methuen had to rely entirely
upon his guns, and on the battalion of Scots Guards which formed their
escort. The greater part of his cavalry was fighting dismounted in the
bush on his right flank, and of other infantry immediately available
he had none. Fortunately the Boers were unenterprising. After rapid
shooting at the Highlanders, while they were retreating, the hostile
musketry practically ceased, though against the right flank heavy
bursts of spasmodic energy occasionally broke out, notably at 5.30,
when for a short time it appeared as though an attack threatened
Major-General Colvile's brigade. As the afternoon wore on, it became
possible to withdraw the cavalry from their dismounted duties, and,
although the enemy suddenly opened fire with their guns and pom-poms,
these did but little damage before they were silenced by the British
artillery. Yet some shells fell among the Highland brigade during its
reorganisation behind the field batteries, and it was found necessary
to remove it to the original bivouac, which was well out of range.

[Sidenote: Arrangements for night of Dec. 11th.]

At nightfall the 75th battery was transferred from Horse Artillery
Hill to the left of the 18th battery. The guns of the brigade
division, and of G. battery R.H.A., which was left on Horse Artillery
Hill, were kept ready for instant action all night. The Scots Guards
established outposts within 1,100 yards of Magersfontein Hill, and the
2nd Coldstream continued to hold the ground they had gained during the
day's fighting. The mounted troops were withdrawn to the river, and
such of the Guards' brigade as were not on outpost bivouacked on the

[Sidenote: The part of 9th brigade and use of the balloon on Dec.

The 9th brigade were unable to play any important part in the battle.
Major-General Pole-Carew, hampered by the necessity of leaving a
considerable body of men to guard the camp, could only demonstrate
along the railway in small force. This feint caused Cronje no anxiety,
and did not prevent him from withdrawing many of the Potchefstroom
commando from his right to strengthen his left during the action. The
officer in charge of the balloon, despite a strong wind which impeded
his operations, observed and reported this movement. He also informed
Lord Methuen of the gradual trickling back of the Highlanders, and of
the arrival of reinforcements for the enemy from Spytfontein and the
north-east. Thanks also to the help of the balloon, the howitzer
battery obtained the range of Boer ponies, concealed behind the low
ridge, and accounted for more than 200 of them.

[Sidenote: British and Boer losses.]

The British casualties amounted in all to 22 officers and 188 other
ranks killed, 46 officers and 629 other ranks wounded, and 1 officer
and 62 other ranks missing. Of this total the Highland brigade lost 15
officers killed and 30 wounded, 173 other ranks killed, 529 wounded
and missing. Among the battalions engaged the Black Watch suffered
most severely: 7 officers were killed, and 11 wounded; 86 men were
killed, and 199 wounded. The Boers are believed to have lost 87 killed
and 188 wounded.

[Sidenote: Dec. 12th. Lord Methuen decides to fall back to Modder.]

Soon after daylight on the 12th, Lord Methuen made a personal
reconnaissance. He hoped to find that, as at Modder river, the Boers
had withdrawn before dawn. His own observations confirmed reports he
had received during the night, showing that the ground was still
strongly held. Major R. N. R. Reade, his intelligence officer,
accompanied by a colonial scout named Harding, making his way across
the battlefield, had investigated the Boer trenches, and found them
occupied. A patrol from the Scots Guards had been received with many
shots from the foot of Magersfontein Hill. The General then summoned
his brigadiers and the Headquarter Staff to discuss the situation.
Major-General Colvile suggested that the troops should continue to
retain what had been gained; but Lord Methuen, agreeing with the
remainder of his subordinates who took a different view, gave orders
for a retirement to the Modder River camp at noon. He left the
execution of the operation to Major-General Colvile.

[Sidenote: The gathering in of the wounded.]

While the dead and wounded were being gathered in, a messenger,
bearing a flag of truce from the Boers, arrived at the outposts of the
Scots Guards to say that the British might send ambulances for those
who were lying near the foot of Magersfontein Hill. This was done, and
the Royal Army Medical Corps worked side by side with the Boer
doctors. For a moment this unofficial armistice was broken by the fire
of a gun. The officer in charge of it had not been informed of the
suspension of hostilities. A medical officer was sent with an apology,
explaining the incident, and the labour of mercy proceeded unhindered.

[Sidenote: The retreat carried out by 4 p.m. Dec. 12th/99.]

When the truce was over, a rearguard, composed of the cavalry brigade
and mounted infantry, G. battery R.H.A., and the 62nd Field battery,
the Guards' brigade and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was
detailed to cover the retreat. The enemy's guns, which during the
battle had been notably silent, sent a few shells after the column,
but they were soon stopped by the batteries of the rearguard, and by
the 4·7-in. gun, which fired 50 rounds during the 12th. By 4 p.m. Lord
Methuen's division, not otherwise molested, was once more collected
round Modder River station.

       *       *       *       *       *

     The successful choice of the reverse slope at Horse Artillery
     Hill by Major Allason raises a point of considerable interest.
     During the war of 1870 the Germans habitually preferred the slope
     facing their enemy. Though as yet we have not had sufficient
     details as to the action of the Japanese to enable us to draw
     definite conclusions, it is practically certain that they will,
     at least at first, have followed their German instructors in this
     matter. Yet the two experiences, those of Magersfontein and of
     the greater wars, are not really in conflict. The reason of the
     selection of the forward slope during these was that when the
     battles began the two opposed artilleries were engaged against
     one another. The shell taking the curve of the hill was found to
     produce deadly effects both upon the guns, when placed on the
     reverse slopes, and on the limbers and wagons in rear. The target
     for the hostile layers against those placed on the slope nearest
     to them was much more difficult. Moreover, the Germans wished to
     be able to depend on the arm itself for the protection of its
     immediate front. For that purpose it was essential that the guns
     should be able to cover with their shells all the ground that lay
     before them: there must be no "dead ground." But at Magersfontein
     the Boer artillery was insignificant, the rifle fire exact and
     deadly. The circumstances therefore bore no analogy to one
     another, and Major Allason's judgment was unquestionably right.
     The infantry were not about to carry out any aggressive movement,
     and could without injury to the conduct of the whole operation
     occupy the "dead ground," and so render the position safe.
     Furthermore, the long array of the guns of a vast army affords
     very much more security for the artillery front than is given to
     a solitary battery which could be approached much more easily by
     skirmishers, so that some independent guardians were needed. It
     would, however, be a misfortune if this example were taken as one
     of general application under conditions different from those of
     this particular day.



         [Footnote 213: See maps Nos. 3, 4, 15, and freehand sketch.]

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers, 25th Nov./99, to 6th Dec./99, in Natal.]

[Sidenote: The force available for him at Frere.]

Sir Redvers Buller reached Durban on 25th November. He was greeted by
the good news that the invaders were falling back from Mooi river,
that Lord Methuen had driven the Boers from Belmont and Graspan, and
that Generals French and Gatacre were holding their own at Naauwpoort
and Queenstown. He spent a few days at Maritzburg in inspecting this
advanced base of the Natal army, and in directing preparations for the
reception of a large number of wounded. He then pushed on to Frere,
reaching that place on 6th December. The enemy's raiding columns had
now retired across the Tugela, and by the 9th a well-equipped British
force of all three arms was concentrated at Frere. The mounted
brigade, commanded by Colonel the Earl of Dundonald, consisted of the
Royal Dragoons, 13th Hussars, Thorneycroft's and Bethune's
newly-raised regiments of mounted infantry, the South African Light
Horse, also only just enlisted and brought round from Cape Town, a
squadron of the Imperial Light Horse, detachments of the Natal
Carbineers and Natal Police, and one company of British mounted
infantry. The Naval brigade, commanded by Capt. E. P. Jones, H.M.S.
_Forte_, was composed of detachments (or landing parties) from H.M.S.
_Terrible_, _Forte_, and _Tartar_; to it were attached the Natal Naval
Volunteers; its armament consisted of two 4.7-in. and fourteen 12-pr.
12-cwt. guns. The Field artillery consisted of the 1st brigade
division (7th, 14th, and 66th batteries) under Lt.-Col. H. V. Hunt,
and the 2nd brigade division (64th and 73rd[214]) under Lt.-Col. L.
W. Parsons. The infantry formed four brigades: the 2nd brigade, under
Major-General H. J. T. Hildyard, consisting of the 2nd Royal West
Surrey, 2nd Devonshire, 2nd West Yorkshire, and 2nd East Surrey; the
4th brigade, under Major-General the Hon. N. G. Lyttelton, comprising
2nd Scottish Rifles, 3rd King's Royal Rifle Corps, 1st Durham Light
Infantry, and 1st Rifle Brigade; the 5th brigade, under Major-General
A. FitzRoy Hart, composed of 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 1st
Border, 1st Connaught Rangers, and 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers; the 6th
brigade, under Major-General G. Barton, formed of the 2nd Royal
Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and
2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers. The 17th company R.E. and A. Pontoon troop
were with the command.

         [Footnote 214: The 3rd battery of this brigade division had
         not yet arrived, having been shipwrecked on its voyage out.]

[Sidenote: Tabular statement of strength.]

The following table shows the approximate strength of the force:--

  Arms.              Officers.  Other   Horses,                Guns
                                Ranks.  Riding &  Naval.   Naval Field  Machine.
                                        Draught.  4·7-in. 12-pr. 15-pr.
  Staff                  34      137     123        --       --    --     --
  Naval brigade          31      297       6         2       12    --     --
  Mounted Troops        126    2,561   2,700        --       --    --      2
  Royal Artillery        39    1,074     869        --       --    30     --
  Royal Engineers        14      419     255        --       --    --     --
  Infantry(4 brigades)  416   13,521     716        --       --    --     16
  A.S. Corps             16      217     550        --       --    --     --
  R.A.M. Corps           30      464     336        --       --    --     --

       Total            706   18,672   5,555         2       12    30     18

[Sidenote: On line of communication.]

Two battalions of regular infantry (the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers and
the 2nd Somerset Light Infantry), and three Colonial corps (the Natal
Royal Rifles, the Durban Light Infantry and the Imperial Light
Infantry), with four Naval 12-pounders, manned by detachments from
H.M.S. _Philomel_ and _Forte_, and the Natal Field battery, held the
line of communication with Durban.

[Sidenote: Method of issuing orders.]

Although Sir Redvers Buller had assumed personal command, it was
arranged that, in the absence of the Headquarter staff, his orders
should be issued by the divisional staff of Lieutenant-General Sir C.
F. Clery, who had hitherto been the senior officer south of the

[Sidenote: Boers in the Natal region Dec. 6th-Dec. 14th.]

In the chapter dealing with the constitution of the Boer army, it has
been pointed out that any statement of the strength of a Boer force at
a particular period is quite misleading, if regarded like a formal
"daily state" of a European force in the field. Subject to this
reservation, the aggregate strength of the original commandos, which
invaded Natal on the outbreak of war, has already been assessed at
23,500, and it has been stated that Transvaal reinforcements,
amounting to some 3,000 men, had subsequently been added; but this
increase was reduced by the departure at the end of November of three
Free State commandos to oppose Lord Methuen's advance on Kimberley.
The commandos remaining in Natal were, moreover, much weakened by the
practice of burghers returning to their farms to visit their families
without leave, and, although some Natal Dutchmen had been commandeered
to take up arms, the total Boer forces actually serving in Natal at
this period did not probably much exceed 20,000 men. A detachment of
800 was at Helpmakaar,[215] watching the Tugela Ferry and the western
frontier of Zululand, from which, throughout the middle of the month,
the Boer Intelligence department expected an attack. Another
detachment of 500 piqueted the river from the Tugela Ferry up to
Colenso. To the west four commandos were stationed near Potgieters and
Skiet's drifts, and detachments watched the intermediate crossings.
The attacks of the Ladysmith garrison on Gun Hill and Surprise Hill
and the destruction of the Waschbank bridge produced a considerable
feeling of uneasiness at Boer Headquarters soon after Sir Redvers
reached Frere. Their own official records show that there was a
reluctance to detach any more burghers than were deemed absolutely
necessary to the Tugela. Having regard to these facts, although no
exact figures can be given, it is probable that an estimate made on
13th December by General Buller's Intelligence staff, that about
6,000 to 7,000 men had been concentrated under Louis Botha in the
neighbourhood of Colenso, was not far from the mark. On the other
hand, the Boer official telegrams of that date put the number as low
as 5,000.

         [Footnote 215: Map No. 3.]

[Sidenote: Close connection between Boer main army in Natal and

Botha's detachment and the Boer main army were, however, within an
hour's ride of each other, and thus could readily render mutual
assistance, unless an attack from the south should be combined with an
exactly-timed sortie by the Ladysmith garrison. Yet the Boers had
reason to fear this combination against them. The troops under Sir
George White were still mobile, and the enterprises against Gun Hill
and Surprise Hill, in the second week of December, had shown that both
officers and men were keen to be again let slip at the enemy.[216]
Moreover, the large number of mounted men, who, though shut up in
Ladysmith, were in fact astride of the Boers' lines of communication,
both with the Transvaal and with the Free State, would be likely to
prove a serious danger in the event of Botha's defeat by Sir Redvers.

         [Footnote 216: See Volume II.]

[Sidenote: A formidable natural fortress.]

Nevertheless, the task which the British commander-in-chief had decided
to undertake was not an easy one. From Potgieters Drift on the west to
the junction of the Tugela with Sunday's river, about 30 miles east of
Colenso, a ridge of hills, broken only by narrow kloofs and dongas, line
like a continuous parapet the northern bank of the former river.
Westward the ridge is connected by the Brakfontein Nek with that spur of
the Drakensberg which is entitled the Tabanyama Range. This was
destined, a month later, to bar the advance of the relieving army on
that side. The eastern flank was guarded by the lower slopes of the
Biggarsberg, which run parallel to Sunday's river and fill the area
lying between that stream and the Buffalo. The approaches to the
beleaguered town from the south were thus covered by an immense natural
redoubt. Opposite to the very centre of the front face of this redoubt
lay Colenso. Behind this centre, and at right angles to the parapet, a
cluster of hills was flung back to the ridge of Cæsar's Camp,
immediately to the south of Ladysmith. Through this confused mass of
broken ground, so favourable to the methods of fighting of its
defenders, ran the three roads which connect Colenso and Ladysmith. Of
these roads the western passed over three very strong and presumably
entrenched positions. The central had become by disuse impassable.[217]
Much of the eastern was only fit for ox-wagons. Along the face of this
strategic fort ran the Tugela, an admirable moat, as completely
commanded by the heights on its left bank as is the ditch of a permanent
work by its parapet. West of Colenso this moat was traversable by guns
and wagons at only five places, _i.e._, Robinson's, Munger's, Skiet's,
Maritz, and Potgieters drifts. Of these the four first named were
difficult for loaded wagons. Eastward of Colenso the only practicable
drift was that by which the Weenen road crosses the river. Other fords,
through which single horsemen or men on foot, breast-high, could wade,
existed both to the east and to the west, but with the exception of a
bridle drift near Colenso they were not marked on the maps in possession
of the troops, and could only be discovered by enquiry and

         [Footnote 217: This central road, or old track, is not shown
         on maps 3 and 4, but is shown on map 15.]

[Sidenote: Botha depends on mobility for holding his long line of

The commandos assigned to General Louis Botha for the defence of the
line of the Tugela were obviously insufficient to man the whole of
this immense position; yet he was able to rely on the mobility of his
burghers; and on this, also, that he was so situated that his
assailant would, in order to attack him anywhere, have to traverse
distances greater than Botha need cover to reinforce from the centre
either flank as soon as threatened. Moreover, not only did the heights
he held afford a perfect view for miles over the country to the south,
but the Tugela hills are precipitous and rocky as to their southern
faces, while the approaches to them from the north present, as a rule,
easy slopes and gentle gradients.

[Sidenote: Difficulty of finding out where the Boers were.]

In ascertaining the exact localities occupied by the enemy, Sir
Redvers Buller was handicapped by many circumstances. A considerable
space along the river could in the daytime only be approached by
reconnoitrers under the close view and fire of the picked riflemen of
the veld. The whole of the original Intelligence staff and the
subordinate personnel of scouts and guides, organised for the Natal
Field Force before the outbreak of the war, had been left locked up
with the troops in Ladysmith. The nucleus of a fresh Intelligence
staff had, however, been started by 2nd Lieut. A. N. Campbell, R.A.,
and was subsequently taken over by Mr. T. K. Murray, C.M.G., after the
disbandment of his corps of scouts. The reports of Mr. Murray, who was
subsequently created a K.C.M.G. for his services, as well as
information sent out by runners, heliograph, and pigeon post from
Ladysmith, agreed that the main body of Botha's force was concentrated
immediately in front of Colenso. A reconnaissance, suggested by a
Ladysmith message, dated 17th November, had been conducted by Captain
H. De la P. Gough towards Potgieters drift on the 29th November, but
had failed to get touch with the enemy. Intelligence scouts had,
however, reported the Boer commandos at Potgieters and Skiet's drifts,
and it was also known that Boer patrols were watching the intermediate
crossings. It might therefore be assumed that the whole line of the
river was kept under Boer observation.

It will be seen that the topographical conditions, though not at the
time fully known, made it impossible to turn either flank of the great
crescent of hills which barred an advance on Ladysmith. On the other
hand, it seemed probable that a sudden march, eastward or westward,
would find some passage of the river, and of the natural parapet
beyond, unentrenched and but slightly guarded. An examination of the
map, and a study of the country to the eastward, showed that a flank
movement in that direction would be compelled to follow a circuitous
route, and to traverse broken ground, covered with bush and
exceedingly favourable to ambuscade and to surprise attacks. Sir
Redvers judged that to commit troops, untrained to manoeuvre over
terrain of this description and hampered by many ox-wagons, to a
rather long flank march in presence of a mobile enemy, would be too
dangerous an enterprise. Moreover, the ground to the east was
unfavourable for any sortie from Ladysmith, and in a telegram dated
the 30th November, Sir George White had definitely reported that he
could give most help to the relieving force if it advanced viâ
Onderbrook Spruit (_i.e._, by the western of the two possible
Colenso-Ladysmith roads) or viâ Springfield and Potgieters drift.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers' view of the choice open to him.]

Sir Redvers thought that he must either assault the strongly
entrenched position of Colenso or make a flank march to Potgieters. If
that drift and the Brakfontein Nek were seized, the way would be
opened to the rolling plain which lies westward of Ladysmith, between
that town and the Tabanyama range. This course, though it presented
difficulties of its own, was tactically by far the easier method of
attempting the task before him. On the other hand, this flank movement
would, for some days, expose the British line of communication with
the coast.

[Sidenote: He decides to march by Potgieters, 7th Dec./99.]

A review of all these considerations led General Buller to decide in
favour of the route viâ Potgieters drift, and on the 7th December he
so informed Sir George White. He told him that he hoped to start on
the 12th, and would probably take five days in bringing the operation
to a successful conclusion. Sir George, in reply, reported by
heliograph that he proposed to sally out from Ladysmith the night
before the relieving force attempted its crossing of the Tugela at
Potgieters, and to "work towards you as far as I can." He added: "As
time is an all-important factor in co-operation, you will, I am sure,
inform me of any change." On the 11th December, Sir Redvers answered
that he could not be certain of his dates till his transport arrived,
so that Sir George had better not try to help him until the relieving
force had reached Lancer's Hill,[218] a point about six or seven miles
west of Ladysmith, "unless you feel certain where I am." This limit
was imposed by General Buller, as he was unwilling that Sir G. White's
troops should be committed to a serious action against the enemy until
his own army was within supporting distance. On the 12th December Sir
Redvers moved the 6th brigade, accompanied by two 4·7-in. and six
12-pr. 12-cwt. Naval guns, to a camp two miles north of Chieveley, so
as to cover the flank march to the west. He sent that day a despatch
to the Secretary of State reporting that, after a careful
reconnaissance by telescope, he had come to the conclusion that "a
direct assault upon the enemy's position at Colenso would be too
costly," and that he had therefore decided to "force the passage of
Potgieters drift."

         [Footnote 218: See map No. 3.]

[Sidenote: News of Magersfontein and Stormberg changes his purpose,
Dec. 13th.]

Only a few hours later telegrams, reporting the serious check suffered
by Lord Methuen at Magersfontein, were placed in his hands. This
disquieting intelligence, coupled with news of the reverse at
Stormberg, in the opinion of Sir Redvers Buller, so entirely changed
the situation that he no longer considered the movement by Potgieters
advisable. "This operation," he told the Secretary of State, "involved
the complete abandonment of my communications, and in the event of
want of success, the risk that I might share the fate of Sir George
White, and be cut off from Natal. I had considered that, with the
enemy dispirited by the failure of their plans in the west, the risk
was justifiable, but I cannot think that I ought now to take such a
risk. From my point of view it will be better to lose Ladysmith
altogether than to throw open Natal to the enemy."[219]

         [Footnote 219: See despatch, Sir R. Buller to Secretary of
         State for War, dated 13th December, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Informs Sir George that Dec. 17th is probable date of
attack on Colenso. Sir George prepares to sally out.]

Accordingly, on the 13th December he heliographed to Ladysmith: "Have
been forced to change my plans; am coming through viâ Colenso and
Onderbrook Spruit"; and later on the same day, in reply to an enquiry
from Sir George White as to the probable date of his advance, he
informed that officer: "Actual date of attack depends upon
difficulties met with, probably 17th December." On receipt of these
messages the commander of the Ladysmith garrison, after detailing some
weak detachments to continue manning the defences, prepared the whole
of the rest of his troops for fighting their way out southward under
his personal command, at the moment of the attack on Colenso by the
relieving army. No further notification of the date of that attack
reached him until the 16th, when he was informed by the
Commander-in-Chief that he had "tried Colenso yesterday and failed."
The sound of very heavy artillery firing on the 15th was, it is true,
heard in Ladysmith, but the Colenso position had been shelled by the
Naval guns on the two previous days, and in face of Sir Redvers'
message that the actual attack would probably be made on the 17th,
there was doubt whether the firing heard on the 15th might not be
merely a continuation of the preliminary bombardment. A premature
sortie before the signal had been given might seriously hamper, or
possibly entirely frustrate, concerted action between the two forces.

[Sidenote: Features of Colenso position.]

Map 15 and the hand sketch show that the hills facing Colenso from the
north form a great amphitheatre, the western horn of which reaches
down to the river near E. Robinson's farm about four miles due west of
the village, the eastern horn being Hlangwhane. Immediately after
completing the loop in front of the village, in which lie the
road[220] and railway bridges, the Tugela turns sharply to the north
for two miles, and then dashes north-eastward down a series of rapids
through an abrupt gorge in the hills, ultimately resuming its course
towards the east.

         [Footnote 220: Shown on map No. 15 as the Bulwer bridge.]

[Sidenote: Hlangwhane.]

[Sidenote: The Colenso kopjes.]

[Sidenote: Fort Wylie.]

Hlangwhane, the eastern horn of that amphitheatre, which, with its
included area, formed the Boer position, lies on the southern bank of
the river; and, as soon as the occupation of Chieveley by Barton's
brigade denied the use of the Colenso bridges to the enemy, was for
the time only accessible to the Boers by two bridle drifts near the
rapids. It was not until after the Colenso fight that a bridge was
thrown across the river near its junction with the Langewacht Spruit.
The northern portion of the hollow of the amphitheatre is crossed from
west to east by the Onderbrook Spruit. To the south of this spruit
stand the Colenso kopjes, described by Sir Redvers as "four
lozenge-shaped, steep-sided, hog-backed hills, each, as it is further
from the river, being higher and longer than the next inner one."[221]
The southernmost of these kopjes, Fort Wylie, had been used as a
bridge-head by the British troops prior to their retirement from the
Tugela. The Onderbrook road to Ladysmith runs north-west from the
bridge across the arena of the amphitheatre and then ascends through
the steep gorge of Grobelaar's Kloof, a defile of forbidding
appearance. The other road and railway run north, following at first
the general trend of the great bend of the Tugela, then penetrating
the mass of hills and making their way eventually into the Klip

         [Footnote 221: Sir R. Buller's despatch, dated 17th December,

[Sidenote: The river as known, and unknown to the staff.]

In this section of the Tugela, the only crossings which seem to have
been known to Sir Redvers Buller's staff, before the battle, were the
two bridges, the drifts immediately above and below that over which
the road passes, and the "Bridle Drift" four miles up stream to the
south-east of E. Robinson's farm. There were other fords which will be
mentioned later; but the river, in consequence of the difficulty of
approaching it, had not been systematically reconnoitred, nor had the
known drifts been tested, although, as elsewhere in South Africa, they
are subject to sudden variations, here dependent on the rainfall in
the Drakensberg. The Tugela is, as a rule, fordable at this season of
the year at the regular passages, and has an average breadth of some
120 to 150 yards. The banks, fringed in places with low bushes, are
near Colenso twenty feet above the summer level of water. Immediately
to the south and to the south-west of the bridges the ground runs down
to the bank in gentle glacis-like slopes, which, except where the
Doornkop Spruit and a few dongas traverse them, afford no cover to
troops advancing towards the river. East of the railway the terrain is
more broken, and the fringe of bush country is soon reached. For this
reason, but still more on account of its isolation on the south bank
of the river, Hlangwhane Hill, which looked down on the Colenso
kopjes, was tactically weak and has generally been regarded as the
true key of the whole position. Nevertheless, even if Hlangwhane and
the crossings close to Colenso had been captured, only one stage of
the task would have been accomplished. Further severe fighting would
have been necessary before the defiles and the very difficult country
to the north-west or north could have been forced.

[Sidenote: The Boer defences.]

[Sidenote: Their occupation.]

[Sidenote: The story of the Boers on Hlangwhane. 1st stage.]

The whole of the mountain redoubt had been elaborately fortified under
the personal direction of General Louis Botha. A special commission,
consisting of Generals Erasmus and Prinsloo, had been nominated by a
Krijgsraad, held on 2nd December, to supervise the defence
arrangements on the Tugela, but the commission made but one inspection
and Louis Botha was given practically a free hand. Three weeks of
incessant labour had been spent on this task, the work being continued
up to the very eve of the battle. The trenches had been constructed
with remarkable ingenuity, so as to be almost invisible from the south
bank. They ran for the most part along the lower slopes of the great
hills on the west and across the flats round which circled the
amphitheatre. The only part of these defences which caught the eye
from the far side of the river were the tiers of entrenchments
covering the Colenso kopjes, and especially Fort Wylie. Emplacements
had been constructed in many more places than there were guns
available to fill them, and, in order to ensure that the exact
positions from which shells would be actually thrown should be unknown
to the British commander, the guns were shifted from gun-pit to
gun-pit the night before the battle. The artillery at the disposal of
General Botha was far less numerous than that of his opponent. On the
day of the fight a 120 m/m howitzer was mounted on the crest of
Vertnek (or Red Hill) on the right, a field gun being posted lower
down on its south-eastern slope. Two field guns were placed in pits in
proximity to the western Ladysmith road. This group of four guns was
intended to command the crossings in, and near, the western salient
loop of the river, including the Bridle Drift, a mile to the west of
that loop. Four or five 75 m/m field guns and one or two pom-poms,
posted on the Colenso kopjes, swept the bridges and drifts in front.
The whole of these guns were under the command of Captain Pretorius,
Transvaal Staats Artillerie. General Botha had placed his riflemen as
follows:--on his right, which extended to the west of H. Robinson's
farm, was stationed the Winburg commando of Free Staters under van der
Merwe, supported by detachments of Ben Viljoen's Johannesburgers, and
of the Middelburg commando; east of these, men of the Zoutpansberg,
Swaziland, and Ermelo commandos, under the orders of Christian Botha,
continued the line to the head of the western loop of the Tugela,
where a donga enters the river on its left bank. The eastern face of
this loop was also manned by portions of the Ermelo, Standerton, and
Middelburg corps. The ground intervening between the two re-entrants
was considered to be sufficiently protected by the unfordable river in
its front, save that a small detachment was posted in the building
shown as "Barn" on map No. 15, thus acting as a connecting link. The
centre, facing the Colenso crossings, was very strongly held. Here lay
the Boksburg and Heidelberg commandos, the Johannesburg Police, and
the burghers of Vryheid and Krugersdorp districts, the two last-named
units being placed in the trenches along the flats immediately in
front of Fort Wylie. Neither on the centre nor on the right were there
any men posted to the south of the river. The story of the successive
changes in the garrison of the eastern extremity of the crescent of
hills, across the river on the left of the Boer position, is a curious
one, and shows forcibly how much the element of chance at times
influences the operations of war. From the 30th November to the 13th
December, Hlangwhane, which was known to the Boers as "the Boschkop,"
had been occupied by part of the Wakkerstroom commando under a
commandant named Dirksen. A Boer deserter informed Sir Redvers' Field
Intelligence department on the 9th December that the strength of this
detachment was then about 700; but the real numbers were not more than
400 to 500. The arrival of Barton's brigade at Chieveley intimidated
the commando, and on the night of the 13th the burghers, against
Dirksen's orders, withdrew across the river. Botha at first acquiesced
in this abandonment, but Dirksen himself telegraphed to Kruger what
had happened. "If we give this Kop over to the enemy," he added, "then
will the battle expected at Colenso end in disaster."

[Sidenote: 2nd stage.]

The acting commandant-general, Schalk Burger, supported Dirksen's
appeal,[222] and, as a result, a Krijgsraad was held the same evening,
at which, with the concurrence of General Botha, it was unanimously
resolved that Hlangwhane should be re-occupied. A fresh garrison about
800 strong, chosen by lot from the Middelburg, Ermelo, Standerton,
Wakkerstroom and Zoutpansberg commandos, was therefore placed under
the orders of Commandant J. J. Joubert, and moved to the hill during
the night of the 14th. The burghers, on whom this duty fell, accepted
it with much reluctance as they feared that they would be cut off from
their main body. In a Boer official telegram dispatched during the
battle of the 15th, Hlangwhane was referred to as "the dangerous

         [Footnote 222: A telegram despatched by Schalk Burger to
         Botha on 14th December directed that "Under no circumstances
         must Dirksen's position be abandoned.... If this position be
         abandoned, all others are endangered." President Kruger
         telegraphed the same day to Botha, through Burger: "The Kop
         on the other side of the river must not be given up, for then
         all hope is over.... Fear not the enemy, but trust in God."]

[Sidenote: The Boers hide themselves and reserve their fire.]

The details of the Boers' line of battle would have been difficult to
discover even by the fullest reconnaissance and by the best trained
Intelligence department. General Louis Botha was so sanguine of
success that he had even proposed at a Krijgsraad, on 9th December,
that a detachment of burghers should be sent again across the river to
entice the British troops to advance against the prepared positions;
but the Council held that this device was unnecessary, as the British
commander was "bound to attack, and it was thought better to await the
attack." The Boer commander so fully realised the advantage of
reserved fire, that, giving effect to a telegram from General Piet
Joubert,[223] he had issued stringent orders to ensure that his men
indulged in no casual shots. He made no reply whatever to a heavy
bombardment maintained by the British Naval guns during the 13th and
14th December, intended to compel him to disclose his dispositions.
The same system of silence was to be adopted when the real attack was
delivered. Not a shot was to be fired against the British advance
until he himself had given the signal by firing the great howitzer. He
even hoped to be able to allow portions of the attacking columns to
cross the river, and there to overwhelm them utterly by well-sustained
fire at close range. The use of the Naval guns on the 13th and 14th
and the accumulation at Chieveley, had convinced General Botha that a
frontal attack was about to be made. Although his burghers were
anxious, and even inclined to be despondent, Botha himself hoped not
only to repulse the British troops, but also to envelop them with
counter-attacks, from Hlangwhane on the east and the Wagon Drift on
the west.

         [Footnote 223: 7.12.99. Telegram despatched by
         Commandant-General P. Joubert to Assistant-General Botha:--

              "I cannot neglect to reiterate pointing out to you and
              begging you to insist sternly with the officers and men
              against wild firing at long and almost impossible
              distances. Our greatest good fortune in the Freedom war
              was the immediate nearness (of positions), so that the
              smoke from the two forces made one cloud through which
              our men were better enabled to defeat the enemy. It was
              always my endeavour as long as the enemy blustered with
              his guns to conceal my men as much as possible and to
              strengthen them in their positions till the enemy's guns
              were tired and they then advanced and attacked us; then
              and not before, when they were between their own guns
              and our men, the burghers sprang forwards and shot them
              away by batches. Now our burghers with their rapid-fire
              rifles begin to shoot at so great a distance, and it is
              much to be feared that in a fierce fight lasting a whole
              day, they fire away all their ammunition to no purpose
              without hurting the enemy, and the enemy is then able to
              make use of lance and sword after exhausting their
              ammunition. Warn your men thus and work against this
              error. You must also take good thought for your reserve
              ammunition, and its position and the way it can be
              brought up to firing line. You know yourself how often
              we have already captured the English ammunition mules;
              do not let the same take place with ours. Now secondly,
              I am certain Buller will not operate against you with
              his whole force at once; he will place supports in his
              rear and again and again bring up fresh men. His cavalry
              will wait as far as possible, to make their attack from
              the rear, or to try to move round to our rear. So be on
              your guard. Place your supports so that at such times
              new forces can advance; let some one be just on some
              high and visible place so as to send support in time to
              the spot where it is required. It is bitter to lie here
              on my back and think and advise from such a distance,
              but God's Will be done, just in Heaven as on Earth. Best

[Sidenote: The army, in full view of the Boers, gathers for the fray.]

The advance of Barton's brigade on the 12th had been unopposed, and
during the two following days the remainder of the Natal army was
moved up to the north-west of Chieveley, and collected in a large camp
on the western side of the railway, near Doornkop Spruit. It was, of
course, impossible to conceal this movement from the Boer commander on
the heights north of the river.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers, Dec. 14th, issues his orders for attack.]

On the afternoon of the 14th Sir Redvers Buller, who had spent the
earlier part of that day in examining the enemy's positions through a
telescope, assembled his subordinate commanders and their staffs, to
communicate, and personally explain to them his instructions for the
operations of the following day. His plan was to try to force the
passage of the river by direct attack. The written orders signed by
the Assistant Adjutant-General of the 2nd division were not issued
until late in the evening, and did not reach the Brigadiers until
about midnight. They will be found at the end of this chapter. The
first paragraph of these orders appears to imply that the enemy's
entrenchments were limited to the Colenso kopjes; at any rate, it is
clear that the extent and strength of the Boer entrenchments westward
were not then known. These kopjes were selected as the object of the
main attack, and this duty was assigned to the 2nd brigade
(Hildyard's). The crossing of this brigade "by the iron bridge," that
is, the Bulwer bridge, was to be prepared by the fire of No. 1 brigade
division Royal Field artillery, less one field battery which was
replaced by six Naval guns. This artillery preparation was to be
assisted by the fire of the remaining Naval guns, two 4·7-in. and four
12-pounders,[224] and by that of the 2nd brigade division, which was
instructed to "take up a position whence it can enfilade the kopjes
north of the iron bridge." This latter artillery unit was also to "act
on any orders it receives from Major-General Hart."

         [Footnote 224: Two Naval 12-prs. had been left at Frere; the
         remaining two 12-prs. were placed on Shooter's Hill, at a
         distance of about 6,000 yards from the bridge.]

[Sidenote: Orders for Hart.]

To Major-General Hart's brigade (the 5th) had been assigned a special
rôle; it was ordered to cross the river at the "Bridle Drift,
immediately west of the junction of Doornkop Spruit and the Tugela,"
and subsequently to move down the left bank of the river towards the
Colenso kopjes. The Commander-in-Chief hoped that this supplementary
crossing would be accomplished before the central attack was
delivered, and that the 5th brigade would thus be able to render
substantial assistance in the assault on the bridge; even if General
Hart did not succeed in passing his battalions across the river, Sir
Redvers anticipated that he would, in any case, be able at least to
cover the left flank of the main attack by engaging the enemy on the
western side.[225]

         [Footnote 225: See despatch to the War Office, dated 17th
         December, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Orders for right flank.]

[Sidenote: and for watching left flank.]

The right flank of the main attack was to be guarded by the 6th
brigade (Barton's), less half a battalion on baggage guard duty, and
the mounted brigade. Lord Dundonald, who was in command of the latter
unit (the total effective strength of which was about 1,800), was
instructed to detail 500 men to watch the right flank of the enemy,
and 300 to cover Buller's right flank and protect the baggage. With
the remainder of his brigade, and a battery detached from No. 1
brigade division, "he will," said the order, "cover the right flank of
the general movement and will endeavour to take up a position on
Hlangwhane Hill, whence he will enfilade the kopjes north of the iron

[Sidenote: for 6th brigade.]

The 6th brigade was further charged with covering the advance of No. 1
brigade division.

[Sidenote: for 4th brigade.]

The 4th brigade was directed to remain in reserve midway between the
left and main attacks, ready to support either if required.

[Sidenote: for ammunition columns, pontoons, hospitals, engineers,
bearer companies.]

The ammunition columns and Pontoon troop were to be parked in the
first line of the baggage in rear of Shooter's Hill, behind which the
four Field Hospitals were also pitched. Two sections of the 17th
company R.E. were attached to General Hart's brigade, the remainder of
the company being allotted to General Hildyard's. The Bearer companies
marched with their brigades.

Verbal instructions were given to general officers at the conference
that if the Colenso kopjes were carried the force would bivouac among
them on the night of the 15th.


                                   14th December, 1899. 10 p.m.

1. The enemy is entrenched in the kopjes north of Colenso bridge. One
large camp is reported to be near the Ladysmith road, about five miles
north-west of Colenso. Another large camp is reported in the hills
which lie north of the Tugela in a northerly direction from Hlangwhane

2. It is the intention of the General Officer Commanding to force the
passage of the Tugela to-morrow.

3. The 5th brigade will move from its present camping ground at 4.30
a.m., and march towards the Bridle Drift, immediately west of the
junction of Doornkop Spruit and the Tugela. The brigade will cross at
this point, and after crossing move along the left bank of the river
towards the kopjes north of the iron bridge.

4. The 2nd brigade will move from its present camping ground at 4
a.m., and passing south of the present camping ground of No. 1 and No.
2 Divisional troops, will march in the direction of the iron bridge at
Colenso. The brigade will cross at this point and gain possession of
the kopjes north of the iron bridge.

5. The 4th brigade will advance at 4.30 a.m., to a point between
Bridle Drift and the railway, so that it can support either the 5th or
the 2nd brigade.

6. The 6th brigade (less a half-battalion escort to baggage) will move
at 4 a.m., east of the railway in the direction of Hlangwhane Hill to
a position where it can protect the right flank of the 2nd brigade,
and, if necessary, support it or the mounted troops referred to later
as moving towards Hlangwhane Hill.

7. The Officer Commanding mounted brigade will move at 4 a.m., with a
force of 1,000 men and one battery of No. 1 brigade division in the
direction of Hlangwhane Hill; he will cover the right flank of the
general movement, and will endeavour to take up a position on
Hlangwhane Hill, whence he will enfilade the kopjes north of the iron

The Officer Commanding mounted troops will also detail two forces of
300 and 500 men to cover the right and left flanks respectively and
protect the baggage.

8. The 2nd brigade division, Royal Field artillery, will move at 4.30
a.m., following the 4th brigade, and will take up a position whence it
can enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. This brigade
division will act on any orders it receives from Major-General Hart.

The six Naval guns (two 4·7-in. and four 12-pr.) now in position north
of the 4th brigade, will advance on the right of the 2nd brigade
division, Royal Field artillery.

No. 1 brigade division, Royal Field artillery (less one battery
detached with mounted brigade), will move at 3.30 a.m., east of the
railway and proceed under cover of the 6th brigade to a point from
which it can prepare the crossing for the 2nd brigade.

The six Naval guns now encamped with No. 2 Divisional troops will
accompany and act with this brigade division.

9. As soon as the troops mentioned in preceding paragraphs have moved
to their positions, the remaining units and the baggage will be parked
in deep formation, facing north, in five separate lines, in rear of
to-day's artillery position, the right of each line resting on the
railway, but leaving a space of 100 yards between the railway and the
right flank of the line.

In first line (counting from the right):--

  Ammunition column, No. 1 Divisional troops.
  6th brigade Field Hospital.
  4th brigade Field Hospital.
  Pontoon troop, Royal Engineers.
  5th brigade Field Hospital.
  2nd brigade Field Hospital.
  Ammunition column, No. 2 Divisional troops.

In second line (counting from the right):--

  Baggage of 6th brigade.
  Baggage of 4th brigade.
  Baggage of 5th brigade.
  Baggage of 2nd brigade.

In third line (counting from the right):--

  Baggage of mounted brigade.
  Baggage of No. 1 Divisional troops.
  Baggage of No. 2 Divisional troops.

In the fourth and fifth lines (counting from the right):--

Supply columns, in the same order as the Baggage columns in second and
third lines.

Lieut.-Colonel J. Reeves, Royal Irish Fusiliers, will command the
whole of the above details.

10. The position of the General Officer Commanding will be near the
4·7-in. guns.

The Commander Royal Engineers will send two sections 17th company,
Royal Engineers, with the 5th brigade, and one section and
Headquarters with the 2nd brigade.

11. Each infantry soldier will carry 150 rounds on his person, the
ammunition now carried in the ox wagons of regimental transport being
distributed. Infantry greatcoats will be carried in two ox wagons of
regimental transport, if Brigadiers so wish; other stores will not be
placed in these wagons.

12. The General Officer Commanding 6th brigade will detail a
half-battalion as Baggage Guard. The two Naval guns now in position
immediately south of Divisional Headquarter camp will move at 5 a.m.,
to the position now occupied by the 4·7-in. guns.


                                        B. HAMILTON, Colonel,
                                   Assistant Adjutant-General,
                                   South Natal Field Force.


COLENSO, DECEMBER 15th, 1899.[226]

         [Footnote 226: See maps Nos. 15 and 15(a), and freehand

[Sidenote: The move begins. Power of the Naval guns.]

In the cool of the early morning of December 15th, 1899, while it was
yet dark,[227] the British troops were set in motion. The day was to
prove intensely hot, a sign, at this period of the Natal summer, of
the approaching rains. Captain E. P. Jones, R.N., commanding the Naval
brigade, moved with two 4·7-in. and four 12-pounder guns to a site
pointed out to him personally by Sir Redvers on the previous day, to
the west of the railway and about 4,500 yards from Fort Wylie. From
thence, at 5.20 a.m. he began to shell the kopjes on the far side of
the river. For more than half an hour no reply was made and, even when
the Boers opened fire, no guns appear to have been directed on Captain
Jones' six pieces until about 7 a.m. These Naval guns with their
escort, a company of the 2nd Scottish Rifles, remained on the same
spot until the close of the action, suffering no loss. Their
telescopes made it easy to see, their long range and powerful shells
to silence, guns unseen by others.

         [Footnote 227: Sunrise at Colenso on 15th December is at 5

[Sidenote: The march of the 14th and 66th batteries and six Naval

[Sidenote: and 6th brigade.]

[Sidenote: Dundonald and 7th battery.]

[Sidenote: 2nd and 4th brigades.]

Meanwhile the larger units had begun to carry out their orders. The
14th and 66th Field batteries of No. 1 brigade division, under command
of Lieut.-Colonel Hunt, and six Naval 12-pounders, under the command
of Lieutenant F. C. A. Ogilvy, R.N., moved across the railway line at
3.30 a.m., accompanied by the officer commanding the whole of the
Royal Artillery then in Natal, Colonel C. J. Long, who had been
directed by General Buller personally to supervise the movements of
these batteries. East of the railway these guns joined the 6th brigade
and advanced at 4 a.m. with that unit, northward. Lord Dundonald's
brigade moved also at 4 a.m., accompanied by the 7th Field battery.
The 2nd brigade, at the same hour, left camp and marched towards
Colenso, followed at 4.30 a.m. by the 4th brigade.

[Sidenote: 5th brigade. 2nd brigade division.]

The 5th brigade moved off at the same time. Lieut.-Colonel Parsons,
commanding No. 2 brigade division, although directed by the written
operation orders to follow the 4th brigade (Lyttelton) in order to
enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge, had received verbal
instructions from Sir R. Buller through Colonel Long that at least one
of his batteries was to cross the river with Hart's brigade. He
accordingly marched with his guns on the right rear of the 5th

[Sidenote: Hart's instructions, guide, and map.]

Major-General Hart had been provided with a tracing of a map, a Kaffir
guide, and a colonist as interpreter to assist him in finding "the
Bridle Drift immediately west of the junction of the Doornkop Spruit
and the Tugela," by which he was to cross the river. This map was a
plane-table sketch, prepared by an engineer officer shortly before the
action. It was an attempt to fill into a farm survey, made for land
registration, as many of the topographical features as could be seen
from a distance. Unfortunately it had not been verified by any close
reconnaissance of the river, and thus both the sketch and the orders
were misleading. A Bridle Drift, used by natives in the dry season of
the winter but uncertain in the summer, did indeed exist, although on
that particular day it was unfordable. But the sketch, on which the
order relied, showed the Doornkop Spruit as running into the Tugela at
the western bend of the remarkable loop which that river makes to the
north-west, about one mile east of E. Robinson's farm; it showed,
moreover, the Bridle Drift close to the junction of the spruit, and
placed, also immediately to the west of the Drift, another loop of the
river. On all three of these points the sketch was defective. Only a
short but deep donga enters the river at this western end of the loop,
near 2 on map No. 15. The Doornkop Spruit joins the river at the
eastern, not the western bend of the loop. The Bridle Drift lies, not
near to the western bend of the loop, but a mile to the westward.
Finally, the Tugela makes no second loop for several miles to the
westward. The effect of these topographical errors in the map, and in
the written orders was further enhanced by another serious
misapprehension. Major-General Hart had been informed on the previous
evening that the Kaffir guide lived close to the drift where he was to
cross, and could be relied on not to make any mistake about it.
Unfortunately the native misunderstood his instructions, or had been
given wrong instructions, for he conceived that he was intended to
lead the column, not to the Bridle Drift, but to a point (marked 4 on
map No. 15) close to his own kraal, at the head of and inside the
loop, where, owing to the existence of rapids, the river was fordable,
breast-high, by men on foot. The practicability of this drift had been
personally verified by the native on the two previous nights, but no
staff officer had accompanied him. Another similar foot-ford might
have been found at point 6 immediately below the junction of the
Doornkop Spruit with the Tugela, but the existence of neither of these
fords was known to Major-General Hart or to the Headquarter

         [Footnote 228: General Buller's telegram to the War Office,
         dated 15th December, 1899, states: "There are two fordable
         places in the Tugela ... they are about two miles apart ...
         General Hart was to attack the left drift, General Hildyard
         the right."]

[Sidenote: The march of Hart's (5th) brigade.]

The 5th brigade marched from its parade ground in mass of
quarter-columns, the battalions being arranged in the following

  2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, commanded by Col. C. D. Cooper.
  1st Connaught Rangers, commanded by Col. L. G. Brooke.
  1st Border regiment, commanded by Col. J. H. E. Hinde.
  1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, commanded by Lt.-Col. T. M. G.

Half of the 17th Company, R.E., under the command of Major H. H.
Massy, followed in rear. A squadron of the Royal Dragoons acted as
advance guard as far as Doornkop Spruit, where the cavalry moved off
to the left.

[Sidenote: Hart's intention.]

The Brigadier had informed the commanding officers on the previous
evening that he intended the leading battalion to line the right bank
of the Tugela, while the remainder crossed. After passing, the brigade
was to move eastward, and attempt to close the enemy into the Colenso
loop of the river.

[Sidenote: Hart plunges into the loop.]

[Sidenote: The Boer artillery opens fire, shortly after 6 a.m.]

[Sidenote: Unseen riflemen enfilade the attack.]

Hart, following the directions of the Kaffir guide, led his brigade in
a north-westerly direction to the first drift over the Doornkop
Spruit,[229] and thence northward, the formation of the leading
battalion being now changed to an advance in fours from the right of
companies at deploying interval, the three rear battalions continuing
in mass of quarter-columns. A few cavalry scouts preceded the brigade:
the main body of the Royal Dragoons, under Lieut.-Colonel J. F.
Burn-Murdoch, watched the left flank, his officers' patrols moving
down to the river's bank, without provoking any fire. Colonel
Burn-Murdoch despatched three successive gallopers to inform General
Hart that these patrols reported the enemy in force on his front and
left. General Hart replied that he intended to cross by the drift in
front of him, and would ignore the enemy on his left, unless they
attacked in strength. The column, therefore, continued to move
steadily on the point, near to the western bend of the loop, where the
sketch had placed the Bridle Drift. But, as the brigade was crossing a
newly-ploughed mealie-field, within 300 yards of the entrance of the
loop, the Brigadier riding at its head perceived that the map was
misleading, and on enquiry, the Kaffir guide pointed up the loop, and
stated, through the interpreter, that it was in that direction that
the ford lay. Almost simultaneously a Boer gun opened on the column
from the underfeature below Grobelaar Mountain, and its shell, passing
over the whole depth of the brigade, burst behind the rear battalion.
A second shell, passing over the heads of the Dublin Fusiliers, fell
in front of the Connaught Rangers. A third almost immediately followed
and knocked over nine men of that battalion. These, the first shots
from the Boer side, were fired by their artillery, in disobedience to
the orders of Louis Botha, who had not given the signal, and hoped to
entice the attack to closer range. The time was now a little after 6
a.m. The Dublin Fusiliers immediately front-formed and extended to the
right; the battalions in rear were deployed to the left in single rank
in quick time, and were subsequently opened out with from two to three
paces interval, the enemy meanwhile continuing to shell them with
shrapnel. The ground on the far side of the river presented a
formidable appearance to these troops while deploying. It rose rapidly
from the left bank to a line of hills, which, towards their crest,
seemed steep, rugged, and inaccessible. After Hart had deployed, his
brigade moved on the same point by rushes, the right half-battalions
being directed on the gorge of the loop, while the left
half-battalions overlapped this gorge, and were cramped by the bank on
their western flank. As the brigade came near the river it was
subjected to a very heavy fire from the long Boer trench to the north,
occupied by the Standerton commando. The battalions were also
enfiladed from trenches on the right and left. At the time it was only
possible to guess from the course of the bullets where these shelter
trenches were. The left half-battalions temporarily obtained a certain
amount of cover from the bank of the river. The right half-battalions,
when a little further on, gained for the moment some shelter from a
long, narrow underfeature, towards the centre of the loop. With the
exception of the 1st Border regiment, which was on the extreme left,
the units rapidly intermingled. This mixture of commands was soon
increased when the left half-battalions of the Dublin Fusiliers and
Connaught Rangers, followed by two companies of the Border regiment,
came up. They had been ordered to cross the donga, near 2 on map No.
15, and move eastward in succession in support of those in front. The
passage to the flank in file of these half-battalions was carried out
under a severe and accurate cross musketry fire, while the Boer guns
continued to make excellent practice with shrapnel on the extended
British lines.

         [Footnote 229: It is noteworthy that Major-General Hart is
         emphatic in asserting that "he did not cross the Doornkop
         Spruit." It will be understood from the explanation given in
         the text that he did not cross what was marked for him on the
         map as the spruit. The map was wrong. He crossed the spruit
         shown as "Doornkop Spruit" on map 15.]

[Sidenote: The guide disappears.]

As the Kaffir guide had disappeared, the actual position of the ford
was unknown. Major C. R. R. McGrigor, King's Royal Rifle Corps,
General Hart's brigade-major, had ridden up the river in search of the
Bridle Drift, and, finding a spot where there appeared to be a ford,
entered the river on foot, but was soon out of his depth, and was
compelled to swim back to the right bank.

[Sidenote: Hart's brigade struggles forward up the loop.]

Meanwhile parties of the Connaught Rangers, the Dublin, and
Inniskilling, Fusiliers, had worked their way up the loop by a series
of rushes in extended order at about three to four paces interval,
suffering heavy loss. Each group followed the nearest officer,
irrespective of his corps, of its own volition, and worked forward, as
it were, automatically, the rushes, however, varying in length,
sometimes carrying the men through the group in front, sometimes not
reaching it. There was very little shooting, as nothing could be seen
to aim at. The enemy's fire was too heavy to allow of any combined
command of the movement. Nevertheless, there was little or no
confusion, and the advance continued with the steady progress of an
incoming tide. Eventually a detachment of the Dublin Fusiliers, under
Lieut. T. B. Ely, and Major M. G. Moore's company of the Connaught,
mingled with men of other regiments, reached the kraal, about two
hundred yards from the head of the loop; others of the Inniskilling,
and Dublin, Fusiliers and of the Connaught Rangers pushed on to the
river bank; there these handfuls of men remained for several hours,
little more than one hundred yards from the Boer trenches on the far
bank, but in face of the storm of bullets it was impossible to cross
the river, nor were either officers or men aware that they were near a
ford. The rest of the brigade, except the left half-battalion of the
Inniskilling Fusiliers and one or two companies of the Border regiment
who lined the river bank west of the loop, were on, or in rear of, the
knoll, the cohesion of units being now almost entirely lost. The
artillery and rifle fire, concentrated on the British troops from the
far bank, was too continuous and accurate to permit of any further
advance being attempted for the moment. The shrapnel of the two field
guns, posted in emplacements on the lower ridge to the north-west, was
particularly effective, and the Boer riflemen did not disclose whence
their deadly shots came. Volleys were fired from time to time by the
British infantry, but comparatively little ammunition was expended.
Yet, notwithstanding these trying conditions, the men clung on
steadfastly, each group being well under the control of the officer
nearest to them, whether of their own corps or of another.[230]
Meantime, Parsons' batteries, the 64th and 73rd, had come into action
on the right bank of the Doornkop Spruit, and were busily engaged in
shelling a kraal immediately in front of the loop, and in endeavouring
to silence the Boer guns. These somewhat outranged the Field
artillery, and an attempt to cross over the spruit so as to come into
closer action on its left bank was for the moment frustrated by a Boer
shell bursting on the team of the leading gun, killing two horses,
upsetting the gun, and thereby blocking the ford of this stream. On
this the two batteries re-opened fire from the right bank of the

         [Footnote 230: In consequence of the heavy losses suffered by
         the commissioned ranks in previous actions all the +infantry+
         officers had been ordered to discard their swords, and for
         the most part carried a rifle and men's equipment.]

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers recalls Hart.]

Sir Redvers Buller had watched from Naval Gun Hill the original
advance of the 5th brigade. As soon as he observed the movement into
the loop, he despatched a galloper to order General Hart to halt; the
messenger was caught in a bog and failed to reach his destination. A
second officer was sent, but was unable to find the Brigadier.
Finally, when the brigade had become heavily engaged, Colonel Stopford
was instructed by Sir Redvers to direct Major-General Hart to retreat,
and to inform him that his retirement would be covered by artillery
fire. Major Cooper, A.D.C. to General Clery, conveyed orders to
Lieut.-Colonel Parsons to move his guns across the spruit and divert
the fire from Hart's brigade during the withdrawal. Subsequently,
fearing a flank counter-attack on the left, General Buller directed
Major-General Lyttelton to support the 5th brigade with two battalions
of the 4th.

[Sidenote: Barton's (6th) brigade marches.]

[Sidenote: Col. Long's guns move off with Barton, then diverge.]

Major-General Barton at 4 a.m. had moved off with the 6th brigade on
the east side of the railway in the following order: the 1st Royal
Welsh Fusiliers, with six companies in line, each company having a
sub-section in its front, and two companies in support; the
half-battalion of the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers in echelon of
companies on the left flank, the 2nd Royal Fusiliers in echelon of
companies on the right flank, and the half-battalion 2nd Royal Irish
Fusiliers in rear, at a distance of 1,500 yards from the leading
battalion.[231] The direction of the brigade's advance was to the
north-east, towards Hlangwhane Hill, in conformity with the operation
orders of the previous evening.

         [Footnote 231: The other half-battalion of the Royal Irish
         Fusiliers, under command of Lieut.-Col. J. Reeves, was on
         baggage guard. Headquarters and four companies of the 2nd
         Royal Scots Fusiliers were at Frere.]

Colonel Long's guns accompanied the brigade for some distance, the
field batteries leading, with the Naval guns, dragged by spans of
oxen, in rear. After a time, however, the respective directions
assigned by Sir R. Buller to the guns and the infantry brigade were
found to diverge, and General Barton accordingly detailed two
companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers to continue with the guns as
escort. At 5.30 a.m. the Brigadier halted his command, his leading
battalion being then about two miles from the river.

[Sidenote: Col. Long's mission.]

The specific task assigned to No. 1 brigade division by the operation
orders was, "to proceed to a point from which it can prepare the
crossing for the 2nd brigade." Sir Redvers Buller, at the conference
of the previous afternoon, had thought it desirable to supplement and
anticipate this written order with verbal instructions as to the exact
point at which the batteries should come into action. He had intended
to convey to Colonel Long by these verbal instructions that the
purposed preparation should be carried out at long range. But the
impression left on the subordinate officer's mind, when he left the
conference, was that medium range was meant. As he rode therefore with
Lieut.-Colonel Hunt and Lieut. Ogilvy, R.N., at the head of the field
artillery, now marching in battery column, Long was on the look out
for a suitable position at a distance of not less than 2,000 yards and
not more than 2,500 yards from Fort Wylie, the southernmost of the
kopjes which had been pointed out as the brigade division's targets.
Had a site between those limits been selected, the batteries would not
have been seriously molested by the Boer riflemen entrenched on the
far bank of the river, and could, by superior strength, have crushed
the enemy's gunners posted among the Colenso kopjes.

[Sidenote: Long brings his guns into action, after Boer guns open on
Hart, _i.e._, about 6.15 a.m.]

It was not until after 6 a.m. that Long arrived at the distance from
the river at which he had intended to come into action. The batteries
were still at a walk, with the Naval guns in rear, when suddenly heavy
firing was heard on the left flank. It was evident that part of the
British force was closely engaged. Anxious to afford immediate
effective support, and deceived by the light as to his actual distance
from Fort Wylie, Long ordered Hunt's brigade division to push on, and
come into action at a point about eighty yards to the north of a broad
and shallow donga, which runs at right angles to the railway and was
just in front of his guns. Ogilvy's Naval guns were to follow with the
infantry escort and to unlimber on the left of the field batteries.
The ground scouts of the brigade division had by this time reached the
bush, lining the south bank of the river, and had ascertained that
this bank was clear of the enemy. A section of the infantry escort had
also been sent forward to reconnoitre Colenso. Not a sign had been
given by the Boer guns and riflemen concentrated in front of Hunt, on
the far side, for the defence of the Colenso crossings. As soon as the
batteries approached the spot selected by the artillery commander, it
proved to be within 1,250 yards of Fort Wylie, and not much more than
1,000 yards from the Boer infantry entrenchments between that work and
the river. Then Louis Botha, fearing that their further advance would
intimidate his inexperienced burghers, gave the order to fire.
Immediately a storm of bullets and shells burst on the British guns,
both field and Naval. The Boers knew the exact range from whitewash
marks on the railway fence and adjacent stones; their fire was
therefore from the outset accurate.[232] The field batteries, led by
Lieutenant-Colonel Hunt, continued to go forward at a steady trot and
came into action at the chosen place in an excellent line. The limbers
were taken to the rear and wagons were brought up in the ordinary

         [Footnote 232: In addition to the field guns on the Colenso
         kopjes, a heavy gun, north of them, was observed by the Naval
         officers of Capt. Jones', R.N., battery.]

[Sidenote: The Naval guns also come into action.]

The two leading Naval guns, under Lieutenant James, R.N., had at this
moment just crossed the drift of a deep donga, about 400 yards behind
Hunt. The central section of the battery was still in the drift, and
the rear section on the south side. The leading section, by direction
of the battery commander, Lieutenant Ogilvy, moved a little to the
left and opened fire against Fort Wylie. The native drivers of the
ox-spans of the other four guns had bolted, and the central guns were,
for the moment, jammed with their ammunition wagons in the drift, but
eventually the oxen were cut loose, and the guns, together with those
of the rear section, brought into action on the south side of the
donga, whence they also fired on Fort Wylie. During all this delay the
enemy's artillery, and in particular a pom-pom, had maintained a
well-directed fire on the drift.

[Sidenote: The batteries suffer severely.]

[Sidenote: The arrival of fresh ammunition being delayed, the gun
teams are withdrawn to the donga.]

Meanwhile, the personnel of the field batteries in the open, 400 yards
in front of Ogilvy's guns, was beginning to suffer from the accurate
shrapnel and rifle fire concentrated on them. The escort of "A." and
"B." companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, under command of Captain
D. H. A. Dick, extended on the immediate left of Long's guns up to the
railway line; four companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, under Major
C. R. Rogers, were sent in extended order by General Barton, two
companies in advance and two in support, to aid this escort. Of these,
one company halted in rear of the Royal Scots Fusiliers companies; one
company remained in the donga near Ogilvy's guns, and the other two
lay down about 300 yards to the right rear of the field guns. The
Royal Scots Fusiliers companies[233] endeavoured to subdue the enemy's
riflemen, but unsuccessfully. After a few minutes Colonel Long was
very severely wounded. A little later Lieut.-Colonel Hunt was also
wounded, and the command devolved on Major A. C. Bailward. Casualties
amongst the men, especially in the centre gun detachments, were
frequent. Nevertheless, the batteries continued to be served with
great efficiency, the guns being worked steadily by sections with
accurate elevation and fuse. Notwithstanding the heavy fire of the
enemy, the second line ammunition wagons were brought up to the guns,
and the empty wagons removed in strict conformity with regulations.
The requisition, however, for further supplies for the batteries from
the ammunition column three miles in rear was delayed by the death of
Captain A. H. Goldie, 14th battery, and by the wounding of Captain F.
A. Elton, 66th Battery. Officers and men the while, soldiers and
sailors alike, fought their guns with the utmost determination, and
with great effect. Fort Wylie became a mass of bursting shell and red
dust, and for a time the Boer guns on the kopjes some 500 yards in
rear of that work were silenced. The infantry fire of the enemy had
been also greatly reduced,[234] but after being in action for an hour
the ammunition of the British batteries began to run short, each gun
having now fired from 80 to 100 rounds. Major Bailward therefore,
after first obtaining Colonel Long's approval, decided to withdraw the
gun detachments temporarily into the donga, and keep them under cover,
pending the arrival of reinforcements of men and ammunition.

         [Footnote 233: The two companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers
         subsequently ran short of ammunition, but a further supply
         was brought up to them under a heavy fire by Sergeant-Major
         J. Shannon, 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers.]

         [Footnote 234: Three burghers of the Krugersdorp commando,
         who were manning the trenches near the river, stated
         subsequently that it would have been impossible for them to
         have maintained "any sort of fire" on the infantry, if these
         had advanced while the guns were in action.]

[Sidenote: Two messengers sent to Sir Redvers.]

The effective strength of the detachments was by this time reduced to
an average of about four men per gun.[235] The remaining men were
accordingly formed up and marched quietly to the donga at about 7.15
a.m. All the wounded were placed under cover in small dongas, close to
the outer flanks of the batteries, but no attempt was made to disable
the guns, as the officer in command only awaited fresh supplies of men
and ammunition to open fire again. Captain G. F. Herbert, R.A.,
Colonel Long's staff officer, and an Australian officer attached to
his staff, were instructed to ride at once to Sir Redvers Buller and
report the situation and the needs of the batteries.

         [Footnote 235: Exclusive of prisoners, the 66th battery's
         losses throughout the day were 1 officer and 10 men killed,
         and 2 officers and 30 men wounded; these casualties include
         those incurred in the attempts to carry away the guns.]

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers receives various reports and leaves Naval Gun

Sir Redvers had already felt some anxiety as to Long's guns, as
Colonel Stopford had already pointed out to him that they were not in
the intended position. An aide-de-camp had been despatched to
ascertain their exact situation, and, having observed the guns in
action from a distance through field-glasses, that officer had
reported that they were "all right and comfortable," but under a
certain amount of fire. Sir Redvers' anxiety as to the guns was not
relieved, and a little later he left Naval Gun Hill with the intention
of seeing himself what was going on. On his way he met the Australian
officer, who stated that the batteries, including the Naval guns, were
all out of action, their ammunition exhausted, and every officer and
man of the gun detachments killed or wounded. Shortly afterwards
Captain Herbert rode up, and was understood by General Buller to
confirm the previous report, with the exception that he estimated that
six rounds per gun were still left. It was not until the following day
that the General Commanding knew that men had been all along available
to fight the guns. He had already ordered the retirement of Hart's
brigade, but, until hearing of this fresh mishap, had still hoped to
succeed with his main attack. The operation orders had contemplated
that the fire of the whole of the Naval guns and of both brigade
divisions of Royal artillery (amounting in all to 44 guns) should be
concentrated on the Colenso kopjes, so as to pave the way for an
attack upon them. The 2nd brigade division had been diverted to assist
Hart's brigade and, conceiving from the reports now made that the 1st
brigade division and six of the Naval guns were permanently out of
action for the day, Sir Redvers immediately decided that the artillery
left to him was insufficient and that "without guns it would be
impossible to force the passage of the river."[236] He determined,
before falling back, to make an effort to save Long's guns from what
seemed to him their desperate position.

         [Footnote 236: See despatch to Secretary of State, dated 17th
         December, 1899.]

[Sidenote: He decides to withdraw from the attack. 8 a.m.]

[Sidenote: The distribution of the troops at 8 a.m.]

He came to this decision, which marks the crucial point of the action,
a little before 8 a.m.[237] Hart's brigade was at that moment slowly
beginning to carry out the order to retire from the western loop of
the river. Barton's brigade, save the two companies Royal Scots
Fusiliers and the half-battalion Irish Fusiliers, which had been
pushed forward to support Long's guns, had not been engaged, although,
to meet any advance of the enemy from the bush near the river on the
right front, the Brigadier had moved the Royal Welsh Fusiliers some
1,000 yards beyond the point where they had first halted. Neither the
2nd nor the 4th brigade had yet fired a shot. The former had been
halted by Major-General Hildyard a little in front of Naval Gun Hill,
with its right on the railway and its left near some kraals, awaiting
the completion of the artillery preparation. Two battalions of the 4th
brigade, the 2nd Scottish Rifles and the 3rd King's Royal Rifles, were
lying close beside Hildyard's brigade, in rear of Captain Jones' Naval
artillery. Two other battalions, 1st Rifle Brigade and 1st Durham
Light Infantry, were moving in accordance with Sir R. Buller's orders
to the left flank to cover the withdrawal of the 5th brigade; one
company, however, of the latter battalion had been left with the Naval
guns. The mounted brigade, whose proceedings will be narrated later,
was advancing against Hlangwhane Hill, but no report of their progress
had yet reached Sir Redvers Buller.

         [Footnote 237: The positions of the troops at this period of
         the action are given in detail on map No. 15.]

[Sidenote: Hildyard moves 2nd brigade forward.]

[Sidenote: He occupies Colenso, and joins hands with Barton.]

He himself now considered it advisable to go in person to the critical
point, and ascertain by his own inspection the true facts about the
guns. On his way to the front, he informed Major-General Hildyard that
the attack, as originally planned, was to be given up, and instructed
him to advance two of his battalions to cover the extrication of the
guns, taking care not to get involved in any engagement with the enemy
that could be avoided. The G.O.C., 2nd brigade, had already extended
his two leading battalions, the 2nd Queen's and 2nd Devon, for the
attack on the bridge, as first ordered. Both these battalions being to
the west of the railway, Hildyard directed the 2nd Devon to pass
through the Queen's and cross over to the east side of the line. The
two battalions then advanced, the 2nd Queen's on Colenso and the Devon
on Long's guns, the formation adopted being columns of half companies
at from fifty to eighty paces distance, the half companies being
deployed in single rank, with six to eight paces interval. The 2nd
East Surrey formed a second line in rear; the 2nd West Yorkshire was
in third line. In this formation, the 2nd brigade moved forward across
the open plain under a heavy fire, experiencing but slight loss. By
9.30 a.m. five companies of the Queen's, under the command of Major W.
S. Burrell, had occupied the village of Colenso. About two sections of
"C." and "G." companies of the Devon, accompanied by their battalion
commander, Lieut.-Colonel G. M. Bullock, had reached the donga
immediately in rear of Long's guns, the rest of that battalion being
echeloned in the open, further back as a support. A little later "E."
and "F." companies crossed the railway, and seized some farm
buildings, close to the road near the village. Part of these were
already occupied by the 2nd Queen's. Between Bullock's two foremost
Devon sections and Burrell's five companies lay the companies of the
Royal Scots Fusiliers, which formed the original escort to the guns,
and behind them, in support, were those two other companies of R. S.
Fusiliers which had been despatched by General Barton, when he
observed that an attempt was being made to withdraw the field guns. To
the right, and on the left rear of Bullock, four companies of Irish
Fusiliers were still extended. At this time, therefore, nearly ten
companies of infantry were in the firing line. Three companies of the
Queen's, about seven of the Devon, two of the Irish, and two of the
Scotch Fusiliers were in immediate support, and the remainder of the
2nd and 6th brigades and a battalion of the 4th brigade (the King's
Royal Rifles) were near at hand in rear. During this period of the
fight, Lieutenant R. E. Meyricke, Royal Engineers, of his own
initiative, worked down the spruit above the Bulwer bridge to the
river, and thence along its bank to the bridge, which he tested under
heavy fire, and found not to be mined.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers, in zone of fire, orders Naval guns to retire.]

After giving his orders to General Hildyard's brigade, Sir Redvers
rode forward with Lieut.-General Clery and his staff into the zone of
fire, Captain M. E. Hughes, R.A.M.C., being killed, and Sir Redvers
himself hit by a shrapnel bullet. On reaching that donga, where
Lieutenant Ogilvy's Naval guns were still in action, General Buller
ordered their retirement. Two of these guns, whose oxen had been kept
at hand, went off to join the main Naval battery under Captain Jones.
The remaining four were withdrawn out of range one by one with the
help of artillery horses, and were eventually brought back to camp by
fresh spans of oxen. This withdrawal was covered by "C." squadron of
the 13th Hussars. The casualties among Ogilvy's party during the day
only amounted to three men wounded, and twenty-eight oxen killed,
wounded or lost.

[Sidenote: He stops despatch of ammunition to Long's guns.]

The field guns were still in the open, beyond the further donga, under
cover of which the surviving officers and men of the brigade division
were lying, hoping for ammunition to enable them to resume the action.
Major W. Babtie, R.A.M.C., who had volunteered to go forward to the
gun line, was attending to the wounded. Captain Herbert, on his
return, after his interview with the General Commanding-in-Chief, had
again been despatched to the rear by Colonel Long to seek for
ammunition. At his request Major W. Apsley Smith, commanding No. 1
ammunition column, ordered forward nine wagons, and to cover their
advance Captain Jones, R.N., concentrated the fire of his Naval guns
on Fort Wylie, but the wagons were stopped on their way by General

[Sidenote: Gallant attempts to rescue guns.]

Sir Redvers, by the time he arrived at the Naval donga, had decided
that it was impracticable to re-man the guns of the field batteries.
Since the batteries ceased fire, Fort Wylie had been re-occupied by
the enemy, and the fire therefrom, and from the neighbouring trenches,
was so heavy that he considered that it was impossible that troops
could live in the open by the guns. He sanctioned a series of gallant
attempts being made by volunteers to withdraw them. Limber teams were
collected for this purpose, in the rear donga. The first of these
attempts was made by Captains Schofield and Congreve, both serving on
Sir Redvers' staff, Lieut. the Hon. F. H. S. Roberts (who was acting
as an extra A.D.C. to General Clery, until he could join Sir George
White's staff), Corporal Nurse and others, gathered from the drivers
of the 66th battery. Two guns were limbered up and brought back to the
rear donga under a very severe fire, but Lieutenant Roberts fell
mortally wounded, and was carried into some shelter on the left flank
by Major Babtie, R.A.M.C., Major W. G. Forster, R.F.A., and Captain
Congreve. One of the limbers which had been brought for the guns had
been reduced to a standstill by the enemy's fire. Lieutenants C. B.
Schreiber and J. B. Grylls, both of the 66th battery, accompanied by
Bombardier Knight and two gunners, thereupon made a valiant endeavour
to assist the endangered drivers. Schreiber was shot dead, and Grylls
severely wounded, but the bombardier and gunners succeeded in bringing
back two wounded men.

[Sidenote: The last effort.]

Later in the morning a final effort was made by Captain H. L. Reed, of
the 7th Field battery, who, with three wagon-teams, came across from
the eastern flank, but before the teams could reach the guns, Captain
Reed was wounded and his horse killed. Of his thirteen men, one was
killed and five wounded, while twelve of their horses were shot. After
this failure Sir Redvers refused to allow any more volunteering to
withdraw the guns.[238] Captain Reed, by General Buller's direction,
and with the assistance of Major F. C. Cooper, A.D.C., withdrew from
the rear donga the unwounded drivers and horses of No. 1 brigade
division, and took them back to the wagons of the 7th Field battery.
No order to retire appears to have been sent to the artillery officers
and men in the front donga. A written message--"I am ordered to
retire; fear that you cannot get away"--was sent by Lieut.-Col. E. O.
F. Hamilton, commanding 2nd Queen's, to the donga, addressed to
"O.C.R.A., or any other officer," but it did not reach an officer's

         [Footnote 238: For conspicuous gallantry displayed in the
         attempt to carry away the guns, the following were awarded
         the Victoria Cross: Captain W. N. Congreve, Rifle Brigade;
         Captain H. L. Reed, 7th battery R.F.A.; Captain H. N.
         Schofield, R.F.A.; Lieutenant the Hon. F. H. S. Roberts,
         King's Royal Rifle Corps (posthumous); Corporal G. E. Nurse,
         66th battery R.F.A.; and Private C. Ravenhill, Royal Scots
         Fusiliers. For devotion to the wounded under very heavy fire,
         Major W. Babtie, C.M.G., Royal Army Medical Corps, also
         received the Victoria Cross.]

[Sidenote: The mounted brigade.]

Whilst the fortunes of the day had thus been proving unfavourable to
the main attack, the mounted brigade had been endeavouring to carry
out its part in the programme. The 7th battery R.F.A., according to
orders, reported before daylight to Lord Dundonald. Lord Dundonald
detached the Royal Dragoons to watch the left flank of the general
advance, detailed Bethune's M.I. to act as baggage guard, and moved
off from his rendezvous on the west side of the railway at 4 a.m.
Crossing the line at the platelayer's cottage about 4.30 a.m., he
advanced on Hlangwhane, employing the Composite regiment[239] to
reconnoitre to the front and flanks.

         [Footnote 239: This regiment was made up of one squadron
         Natal Carbineers, a detachment of Natal Police, one squadron
         Imperial Light Horse, and one mounted company formed from 2nd
         King's Royal Rifles and Dublin Fusiliers; Major R. L. Walter,
         7th Hussars, was on that day in command.]

[Sidenote: The mission of the mounted brigade.]

The Commanding Officers were informed by the Brigadier that their
mission was "to prevent the enemy working round on the right, to
occupy Hlangwhane Mountain if possible, and to assist the main attack
on Colenso by a flank fire." A little before 7 a.m., when the main
body of the brigade was still about two miles from Hlangwhane, the
scouts reported that the hill was held by the enemy. The 7th battery,
commanded by Major C. G. Henshaw, had already come into action, at
about 6 a.m., close to the right battalion of the 6th brigade, the
Royal Fusiliers, on an underfeature to the north of Advance Hill,
about 3,000 yards from Hlangwhane. The targets selected for the
battery were at first Fort Wylie and the other Colenso kopjes, the
range of the former being about 3,100 yards; but when Hlangwhane was
found to be occupied by the enemy, the fire of the right section, and
later on of another section, was directed on its south-western slopes
at a range of from 2,400 to 2,600 yards.

[Sidenote: It tries to capture Hlangwhane but finds Boers in full

Meanwhile, the Brigadier had despatched the South African Light Horse,
under Lt.-Colonel the Hon. Julian Byng, to demonstrate against the
southern slope of the hill, and had directed Thorneycroft's and the
Composite regiment to work round by the Gomba Spruit, and to endeavour
to push through the dense thorn-bush up the eastern face. The 13th
Hussars were held in reserve close to Advance Hill. Deducting the
horse-holders, the force thus launched for the attack of Hlangwhane
was somewhat less in strength than the commando defending it; the
Boers were holding entrenched and well-concealed positions on the
lower southern slopes of the hill, with their left flank prolonged for
a considerable distance to the eastward. Lieut.-Colonel Thorneycroft's
men gained ground to the north-east for about a mile, under cover of
the spruit, and then moved through the bush northwards until they came
in contact with the enemy at a distance of about 300 yards from the
base of the hill. The two leading companies of Thorneycroft's corps
still tried to push on, but they were stopped by finding that they
were outflanked by Boers occupying the ridge to the eastward. The
advance of the South African Light Horse against the southern spur of
the hill was also checked. It was now about 7.40 a.m.

[Sidenote: Dundonald asks for infantry support, but does not get it.]

On receiving Lieut.-Colonel Thorneycroft's report that he could make
no further progress, and that the enemy was outflanking him, Lord
Dundonald sent "A." squadron of the 13th Hussars towards Green Hill to
strengthen his right flank, and asked Major-General Barton to support
his attack on Hlangwhane with some infantry. General Barton was unable
to comply with this request. The Royal Fusiliers were at this moment
his last reserve, and having regard to his instructions, the G.O.C.,
6th brigade, did not feel justified, without the specific sanction of
General Buller, in committing this battalion to what appeared to him a
doubtful enterprise on intricate ground.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers decides that Hlangwhane would be useless
without Colenso.]

[Sidenote: The decision 11 a.m. to abandon the guns and return to

On receipt of this reply, Lord Dundonald directed his troops to hold
on to the positions they were occupying, and reported the situation to
the General Commanding-in-Chief, who now (about 10 a.m.) had left the
donga and ridden over to the mission station at the cross roads
between Advance Hill and Hussar Hill. There he received Lord
Dundonald's and General Barton's reports; the former was of the
opinion that, with the help of one or two battalions, he could carry
Hlangwhane, while the latter considered that his whole brigade,
including the eight companies now in the firing line by Long's guns,
would be needed if the hill was to be taken. Sir Redvers decided that
the occupation of Hlangwhane would be useless unless he had first
forced the passage of the Tugela at Colenso, and of this he had
already relinquished all hope. He therefore ordered the Commander of
the mounted brigade to keep his men well in hand, and not to allow
them to become too closely engaged in the bush. As regards the 6th
brigade, General Buller considered the Royal Fusiliers already too far
forward on the right flank, and ordered that the battalion should be
drawn in. Five companies of the battalion were accordingly moved to
the south; the other three companies remained with the commanding
officer, Lt.-Colonel C. G. Donald, in support of Thorneycroft, and
were advanced to a point half a mile in front of the position of the
7th battery. General Buller now went back to the donga, and thence
watched Captain Reed's effort to save Long's guns. After its failure,
Sir Redvers, sending away his staff and escort, rode personally
through part of the extended battalions of the 2nd brigade, and formed
the opinion that the men were too exhausted with the extreme heat to
be kept out all day, with the probability at nightfall of a severe
fight at close quarters for the guns. He therefore decided to abandon
the guns, and to withdraw the whole of his force forthwith to camp.
The decision was given about 11 a.m.

[Sidenote: Parsons and Lyttelton successfully cover the retreat of
Hart's brigade.]

The retirement of the 5th brigade, which had been ordered more than
three hours earlier, was now approaching completion. Lieut.-Colonel
Parsons[240] had succeeded in moving the 64th and 73rd Field batteries
across the Doornkop Spruit, somewhat higher up than the place of his
first attempt; to afford the infantry better support, he advanced to a
low ridge near a kraal, as close in rear of the left of the brigade as
would permit of sufficient command to fire over them. Thence, at a
range of 2,800 yards, the batteries searched with shell the kopjes on
the north bank of the Tugela, and, assisted by the fire of Captain
Jones' Naval guns, silenced the two Boer guns near the Ladysmith road,
using for this purpose shrapnel with percussion fuse. Parsons'
batteries were at this time only 1,200 yards from the river, and came
under the rifle fire of the enemy. Their casualties were but slight.
The 1st Rifle Brigade and the 1st Durham Light Infantry, which, under
the personal command of Major-General Lyttelton, had gone to assist in
covering Hart's retreat, had reached the Doornkop Spruit. The 1st
Rifle Brigade and four companies of the Durham Light Infantry crossed
it and opened out to six or eight paces interval on the far side, four
companies of the Rifle Brigade and two of the Durham forming a firing
line at a distance of about 500 yards from the river. The three
remaining companies of the Durham Light Infantry lined the spruit.

         [Footnote 240: See p. 357.]

[Sidenote: The retreat down the loop.]

The order to retire appears to have reached some of the units of the
5th brigade as early as 7.30 a.m., but under the heavy fire which
still continued, the transmission of orders up the long salient of the
loop was difficult, and the foremost detachments of the intermingled
battalions did not begin to fall back until nearly 10.30 a.m. One or
two small bodies of officers and men, who had reached the bank at the
farthest end, never received the order, and were so absorbed in their
duel across the Tugela that, failing to observe the withdrawal of
their comrades until too late, they were eventually cut off and taken
prisoners. The rest of the brigade retired slowly in small groups, the
1st Border regiment covering the movement. Thanks to the artillery
fire of No. 2 brigade division and the presence of the two battalions
of the 4th brigade, the Boers made no attempt at direct pursuit, and
many of the British rank and file thought that they were engaged in a
counter-march to bring them to another crossing, which their comrades
had already found. Others, especially the Irish soldiers, were with
difficulty induced to turn their backs on the enemy. Gradually the
whole brigade, except the unlucky parties already mentioned, passed
through the files of the Riflemen and Durham Light Infantry, and
formed up out of range. The battalions were then marched back to camp.
The men were in the best of spirits and eager for battle.

[Sidenote: Botha orders right wing to cross river and attack Hart's
brigade. They do not obey.]

Louis Botha had directed that the Middelburg and Winburg commandos,
who had been posted to the west of the salient loop, and had hardly
fired a shot all day, should cross higher up and attack the flank of
the Irish brigade as it fell back. The Free Staters, who at this
period of the war were inclined to resent the control of a Transvaal
Commandant, declined to take part in the enterprise. But as,
irrespective of the Irish brigade, a cavalry regiment, two batteries,
and two fresh battalions were available to repel any counter-attack,
it was perhaps fortunate for the Boer Commandant-General that his
orders were disregarded. A few Boers did actually pass the river, and
were seen working round Parsons' left flank, just as Hart's rear
companies came level with the guns. The work of the artillery as a
covering force was then finished, and Colonel Parsons recrossed the
spruit, moved somewhat to the eastward, and then again came into
action for a short time. Colonel Parsons subsequently moved his
brigade division further to the eastward, near Captain Jones' Naval
guns and remained with them to the end of the day, till ordered by Sir
Redvers Buller to return to camp. The gun of the 73rd battery, upset
in Doornkop Spruit at the commencement of the attack, was retrieved by
Captain H. S. White, of that battery, during the afternoon and brought
back in safety.

[Sidenote: Burrell asks leave to hold Colenso and recover the guns,
but the order to retire is general.]

The G.O.C. the 2nd brigade at 10 a.m. had sent written orders to his
two leading battalions that they were to retreat on the Naval guns, as
soon as the Field artillery had been withdrawn. Sir Redvers' order
that the guns were to be abandoned, and that the force was to return
to the camp of the previous night, was received by Major-General
Hildyard at 11.10 a.m., and was immediately sent by him to
Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton, commanding the 2nd Queen's, with instructions
to pass it to Colonel Bullock, commanding the 2nd Devon on his right.
Major Burrell had previously asked to be allowed to hold Colenso until
nightfall, in the hope of bringing away the guns; but in face of this
definite order to retire, the O.C. the 2nd Queen's felt unable to
sanction his request. The same difficulty in sending such messages
under modern quick-fire, which had made itself felt on the left flank,
again arose. Colonel Hamilton passed the order to the officer
commanding the rear half-battalion of the Devon, who received it about
12.30 p.m. and sent it on to the front companies, but it failed to
reach Colonel Bullock, who, with two sections of his battalion, the
remnant of the Royal Scots Fusilier companies, and the survivors of
No. 1 brigade division, was still in the donga, behind the ten guns
remaining in the open.

[Sidenote: The fate of those in the donga.]

[Sidenote: Hildyard's (2nd) brigade, 3.30 p.m., reaches camp except
Major Pearse's half-battalion which arrives 4 p.m.]

The remainder of the Devon conformed to the movement on their left. Of
the infantry scattered in the donga, the curves of which hid one small
party in it from another, some saw what was going on and also fell
back. The retirement was carried out with coolness and precision under
cover of the 2nd East Surrey, who were holding a shelter trench on the
west and a donga on the east of the railway. The officers and men of
the Queen's and Devon doubled back in small groups through their
files. By 2.30 p.m. the 2nd brigade, except a half-battalion of the
East Surrey, was beyond the range of the enemy's guns, and by 3.30
p.m. had reached camp. This half-battalion of the East Surrey, under
command of Major H. W. Pearse, remained for more than an hour in
position near the platelayer's hut, hoping to cover the withdrawal of
the detachments near the guns. Finally, finding that no more men fell
back, and that his command was becoming isolated, Major Pearse also
marched back to camp.

[Sidenote: Gen. Lyttelton's (4th) brigade falls back, covering the

Of General Lyttelton's battalions, the 1st Rifle Brigade and the
Durham Light Infantry had already been drawn in from the left flank
after the completion of the duty of covering Hart's brigade. The
foremost of the two remaining battalions was the 3rd King's Royal
Rifles. This unit, about 8.30 a.m., had advanced and extended some 800
yards in rear of Long's guns. When the general retreat was ordered,
the senior officer with the battalion, Major R. C. A. B.
Bewicke-Copley,[241] was told to furnish the outposts. He therefore
held his ground. Each half company occupied a suitable knoll, with its
supporting half company in rear; the left of the battalion rested on
the railway. At 2 p.m. he was directed to fall further back. On this
Major Bewicke-Copley twice submitted a request to Lieut.-Colonel R. G.
Buchanan-Riddell that he might be allowed to stay where he was, with
a view to saving the guns, when dusk came. He was informed that Sir
Francis Clery had issued definite instructions that the battalion must
place all of the outposts further back and more to the west. The
battalion accordingly retired by companies to a line in the immediate
front of the camp. The Scottish Rifles on the left had covered the
retirement of the 2nd brigade, and as soon as the last battalion had
passed through its extended files, it also withdrew to camp.

         [Footnote 241: Lieut.-Colonel Buchanan-Riddell was the
         commanding officer of the 3rd K.R.R., but on the movement of
         General Lyttelton to the western flank he had assumed command
         of the battalions left in the centre (Scottish Rifles and
         King's Royal Rifles).]

[Sidenote: Captain Jones' guns withdraw from Naval Gun Hill, 2.30

The Naval guns under Captain Jones received the order to retire at
12.40 p.m., but as they had to send back to Shooter's Hill for their
oxen, it was not until nearly 2.30 p.m. that the last gun limbered up
and moved off. The central Naval battery had during the day fired 160
rounds of 4·7-in. and 600 rounds of 12-pounder ammunition. Lieutenant
Ogilvy's six guns expended about 50 rounds per gun.

[Sidenote: Mounted brigade retreats, fighting.]

The order to retreat reached the officer commanding the mounted troops
about noon. The brigade was still hotly engaged with the enemy, and
its gradual disentanglement took nearly three hours. Colonel
Thorneycroft was told by Lord Dundonald to fall back slowly along the
Gomba Spruit, protecting the flank of the South African Light Horse.
His retreat, which was covered by the 13th Hussars and three companies
of the Royal Fusiliers, was a good deal harassed by the enemy, who
crept up through the bush on the east and on the north. The
well-directed fire of the 7th battery checked this attempt at pursuit.
Eventually, Lord Dundonald succeeded in extricating his whole force
safely, except a small section of two officers and sixteen men of the
South African Light Horse, who were taken prisoners. The Royal
Dragoons had been recalled from the left flank by Sir Redvers Buller
at noon, and were employed in conjunction with Bethune's mounted
infantry in screening the retreat of the centre.

[Sidenote: Barton's brigade reaches camp, 3.30 p.m.]

Major-General Barton began to draw back his brigade about noon, and
arrived with it in camp about 3.30 p.m. His order failed to reach the
detachment of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the survivors of which, some
38 men in all, had about noon been placed under cover in the donga
behind Long's guns. After five and a half hours fighting in the open,
their ammunition, except the rounds in their magazines had been

[Sidenote: Boers hesitate to take guns till Naval guns are withdrawn.]

[Sidenote: Mounted brigade sees capture, but cannot fire because of

[Sidenote: Mounted brigade reaches camp 4.30 p.m.]

But though the guns now stood unprotected on the open veld, save for
the handful of gunners, Devon, and Scots Fusiliers left in the donga
in rear, the Boers feared a trap, and could not at first realise their
good fortune. A telegram despatched at 12.40 p.m., by Botha to
Pretoria had reported that "we cannot go and fetch the guns, as the
enemy command the bridge with their artillery." When the Naval battery
had been withdrawn the burghers ventured across the river and made
prisoners of the party in the donga, Colonel Bullock making a sturdy
resistance to the last. Then the guns, with their ammunition wagons,
were limbered up and taken leisurely over the river as the prizes of
the fight. Lord Dundonald's brigade on its way back to camp had made a
detour northward to help in stragglers, and, approaching to within
2,600 yards of Long's guns, had observed the Boers swarming round
them. The 7th battery unlimbered and was about to open, when British
ambulances approached the donga, and men in khaki were seen
intermingled with the Boers. Under these circumstances it was judged
impossible to fire, and the mounted brigade withdrew to camp, arriving
there about 4.30 p.m. The 7th, Henshaw's, battery had expended 532
rounds in all.

[Sidenote: Casualties.]

The total casualties on the British side throughout were 74 officers
and 1,065 men; of these seven officers and 136 men were killed; 47
officers and 709 men were wounded, and 20 officers and 220 men
returned as prisoners or missing.[242] The Boer losses were six
killed, one drowned, and 22 wounded, the relative smallness of these
figures being largely due to their admirable system of entrenchment
and to the invisibility of smokeless powder.

         [Footnote 242: For detailed casualties, see Appendix 6.]

[Sidenote: Two views of the course of the day.]

The British Commander's plan for the passage of the Tugela was
undoubtedly so hazardous that only the most exact sequence of the
phases of its execution, as conceived by Sir R. Buller, could have
brought it to a successful issue.[243] Imperfect knowledge of the
topographical conditions of the problem, and of the dispositions of
the enemy, combined with misapprehension of orders, sufficed to wreck
it at the outset.

         [Footnote 243: This is Sir Redvers' own view. On the other
         hand Botha, after the war, said that the loss of the guns and
         the mistakes as to Hart's brigade deprived him of the
         opportunity of inflicting a ruinous defeat upon the British
         army. He had hoped to induce his assailants to cross the
         river without a shot being fired.]

[Sidenote: Good points in a day of misfortune.]

The gallant conduct and bearing of the regimental officers and men
were conspicuous through this day of ill-fortune. The reservists, who
formed from 40 to 50 per cent. of the men of the infantry battalions,
displayed a battle-discipline which supported that of their younger
comrades, while the newly-raised colonial corps gave a foretaste of
the valuable services which such units were destined to render
throughout the war.

[Sidenote: The heavy Naval guns and telescopes.]

The influence of the telescopes and long-ranging heavy guns of the
navy has been noticed in the course of the narrative; but the subject
is an important one and it was not only at Colenso that this influence
was felt. It will be more convenient to deal with the general question
when other instances of the same kind have been recorded.



[Sidenote: Realisation at home of the magnitude of the task before the

[Sidenote: Danger of possible Boer offence.]

After three reverses at Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso, it was
clear to all that forces far larger than had been estimated would be
now required for the war. Much had already been done before the news
of Colenso arrived. Another division--the 5th--prepared at home early
in November for service in South Africa, was due in a few days' time
at Cape Town. A sixth division had been mobilised at the end of
November and was on the point of embarkation,[244] and the
mobilisation of a seventh had been ordered as soon as the news of
Stormberg and Magersfontein had reached England. Yet there was cause
for anxiety. Until the 5th division actually landed, not a man was
available to be sent forward to reinforce either Lord Methuen on the
Modder, or the troops under Sir R. Buller's immediate command facing
the Tugela. After Stormberg, Sir W. Gatacre had been strengthened with
the 1st Derbyshire from the lines of communication. He had now a weak
brigade to cover all the eastern province, from Queenstown northwards.
Lt.-General French had, it is true, successfully checked the Boer
advance into the Colesberg district, but his success had been due to
skilful tactics and audacity, not to any superiority in strength. The
true strategy for the enemy would be to assume the offensive, and,
using his superior mobility, attack the lines of communication with
the coast of one or more of the three British columns in Cape Colony,
each of which was in fact in a sense isolated. Bold raids executed for
this purpose would have probably secured the active support of a large
number of disaffected colonists, whose loyalty had been seriously
impaired by the recent victories of their kinsmen. The attitude of
many in the districts through which the Cape lines of communication
passed was already very unsatisfactory.

         [Footnote 244: The despatch of a 6th division to South Africa
         had been offered to, and accepted by, Sir R. Buller. His
         telegram is dated 1st December, 1899. He wished this division
         to arrive in Cape Colony on 1st January, by which date he
         then hoped to begin his advance into the Free State by

[Sidenote: Dec. 15th, after Colenso Buller sends message home, "I
ought to let Ladysmith go."]

Nor was this all: for the moment Sir R. Buller thought that, by direct
order of the Cabinet, the 5th division had been assigned to the task
of relieving Kimberley,[245] and he judged that without reinforcements
the relief of Ladysmith was impracticable. Late, therefore, in the
evening of the 15th December, when the work of that exhausting and
disheartening day was drawing to a close, he telegraphed in the
following terms to the Secretary of State for War:--

     "My failure to-day raises a serious question. I do not think I am
     now strong enough to relieve White. Colenso is a fortress, which
     I think, if not taken on a rush, could only be taken by a siege.
     There is no water within eight miles of the point of attack, and
     in this weather that exhausts infantry. The place is fully
     entrenched. I do not think either a Boer or a gun was seen by us
     all day, yet the fire brought to bear was very heavy. Our
     infantry were quite willing to fight, but were absolutely
     exhausted by the intense heat. My view is that I ought to let
     Ladysmith go, and occupy good positions for the defence of South
     Natal, and let time help us. But that is a step on which I ought
     to consult you. I consider we were in face of 20,000 men to-day.
     They had the advantage both in arms and in position. They admit
     they suffered severely, but my men have not seen a dead Boer, and
     that dispirits them. My losses have not been very heavy. I could
     have made them much heavier, but the result would have been the
     same. The moment I failed to get in with a rush, I was beat. I
     now feel that I cannot say I can relieve Ladysmith with my
     available force, and the best thing I can suggest is that I
     should occupy defensive positions, and fight it out in a country
     better suited to our tactics."

         [Footnote 245: On 14th December Lord Lansdowne had
         telegraphed to Sir F. Forestier-Walker: "On arrival, Warren
         is to be sent immediately to assume command of the forces
         under Methuen. Buller will be informed of this by telegraph."
         This telegram did not prescribe the disposal of the 5th
         division, but that of Lt.-General Sir C. Warren, its

[Sidenote: Sir R. Buller's arrangements for Natal;]

[Sidenote: for the western theatre of war.]

In pursuance of this policy Sir R. Buller sent Sir G. White, next
morning, a cipher message, which, with the reply, will be recorded in
another chapter.[246] He also directed the Natal line of communication
staff to select, on the route Eshowe-Greytown-Estcourt, positions for
camps, which the Natal army could occupy "until the weather is
cooler." As regards the western theatre of war, he was more sanguine.
On receiving the news of the repulse at Magersfontein he had, it is
true, at first considered that, if the British troops remained on the
Riet, they might be enveloped by Cronje's force, with disastrous
results. He sent instructions, therefore, to Forestier-Walker that
Lord Methuen must be told either to attack Cronje again or to fall
back at once on the Orange river. This order was received with dismay
by Lord Methuen, for, after consultation with his brigadiers, he was
convinced that, until reinforcements arrived, his force was not in a
fit state to resume the offensive. He prepared to fall back. But in a
telegram, dated 14th December, Sir F. Forestier-Walker urged Sir
Redvers to support Methuen with the 5th division[247] and with a
brigade of cavalry from Naauwpoort, so as to enable him promptly to
relieve Kimberley. He added: "Methuen reports his force in safe
position, and well supplied. His communications are held by
detachments posted at no great distance apart, and can be further
protected by mounted troops. The effect of retirement upon the spirit
of Methuen's force after such hard fighting, and upon the general
military and political situation, appears to me to justify my placing
this alternative before you." Forestier-Walker's proposal was
immediately accepted by Sir Redvers, with the exception that he forbad
the reduction of French's strength at Naauwpoort. A telegram to that
effect had been despatched from Headquarters at Chieveley to the
General Officer Commanding Cape Colony the evening before the day of

         [Footnote 246: See Vol. II. Siege of Ladysmith.]

         [Footnote 247: Sir R. Buller had directed, on 9th December,
         that a brigade and a battery of this division should be sent
         to East London to reinforce General Gatacre, and that the
         remainder should disembark at Port Elizabeth and proceed to
         Rosmead junction.]

[Sidenote: The Cabinet answers Sir Redvers' proposal to give up
Ladysmith, Dec. 16th, 1896.]

Meantime the Cabinet had received and considered General Buller's
suggestion that Ladysmith should be abandoned. They felt that to leave
the invested troops to their fate would be equally injurious in its
strategical, political, and moral effect on South Africa; a blow to
British prestige throughout the world. Sir R. Buller was therefore
informed by a cipher telegram, dated 16th December, that "Her
Majesty's Government regard the abandonment of White's force and its
consequent surrender as a national disaster of the greatest magnitude.
We would urge you to devise another attempt to carry out its relief,
not necessarily viâ Colenso, making use of the additional men now
arriving, if you think fit." A War Office telegram of the same date
advised Sir Redvers that the embarkation of the 6th division for South
Africa had already begun, that the 7th division would begin to embark
on the 4th January, that another cavalry brigade would be sent out as
soon as ships could be provided, and that additional field artillery
would replace the guns lost at Colenso. In reply to a request made by
him that morning by telegram that 8,000 irregulars "able to ride
decently, but shoot as well as possible," should be raised in England,
the General Commanding-in-Chief was told that "a considerable force of
militia and of picked yeomanry and volunteers will also be sent."

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers, being promised reinforcements, prepares for
new effort.]

These promises, and the assurance that the 5th division was at his
free disposal, though that had always been the home view, greatly
strengthened Sir Redvers Buller's hands. He decided to make another
effort to break through the barriers round Ladysmith. He therefore
ordered Warren's division to Natal. Warren himself, with two
battalions of the 10th brigade, had disembarked at Cape Town, and been
despatched by train up country. These battalions, the 1st Yorkshire
and 2nd Warwick, were subsequently, at Forestier-Walker's request,
left in Cape Colony for duty on the line of communication at De Aar.
The rest of the 5th division, together with Sir C. Warren and his
staff, went to Durban.

[Sidenote: The nation roused.]

The immediate response made by the Cabinet to Sir R. Buller's request
for reinforcements, and their instant rejection of the proposal to
abandon Ladysmith, expressed the spirit in which the nation received
the news of "the black week"[248] in South Africa. The experiences of
such contests as had been waged by Great Britain since the great
Indian mutiny had led public opinion to expect, in time of war, no
strain on the national resources, no call for national effort. War was
regarded as a matter for which the War Office and the army should make
preparation, but not the nation. The despatch of the largest British
Army ever sent across the seas had been regarded as ensuring rapid
success. A decisive termination of the campaign before the end of the
year was anticipated. The disappointment of these hopes at first
caused dismay; but this was quickly replaced by a stern determination
to carry through the South African undertaking, and, at all costs, not
to shirk troublesome responsibilities in that sub-continent. It was
realised that the task to be faced was serious, and that the time had
come to devote to it the best resources of the Empire. The manhood of
the country was eager to assist by any possible means, and therefore
learnt with satisfaction that not only would the 6th and 7th divisions
be sent out at once, but that nine militia battalions had been asked
to volunteer for foreign service, and that yeomanry and select
companies of volunteers had had their eager demands to be allowed to
help gladly granted. With even greater pleasure was the announcement
received, two days after the battle of Colenso, that the General in
command in South Africa had been given _carte blanche_ to raise mounted
troops locally; that the self-governing Colonies, again with true
patriotism rallying round the mother country, had proposed to send
further military contingents, and that these also were to join in the

         [Footnote 248: The popular name for the week in which
         occurred the defeats of Stormberg, Magersfontein and

[Sidenote: Lord Roberts is appointed to command, Dec. 16.]

The action of the Cabinet in dealing with the difficult question of
the command, in South Africa was prompt. The size of the army which
would in a few weeks be assembled at the seat of war, and the nature
of the work which lay before it, made it necessary that an officer of
the highest standing and experience should be selected for the supreme
control. It was apparent that the direction of the operations for the
relief of Ladysmith would absorb all the attention and energies of
Sir R. Buller. Field-Marshal Lord Roberts, V.C., then commanding the
forces in Ireland, was therefore asked to undertake the duty of
Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, a responsibility which he
instantly accepted. As Lord Roberts' Chief of the Staff the Cabinet,
with the Field-Marshal's approval, recommended to the Queen the
appointment of Major-General Lord Kitchener, who was still serving as
Sirdar of that Egyptian army with which, stiffened by British troops,
he had destroyed the power of the Mahdi little more than a twelve
month earlier. The decision to make these appointments was notified to
Sir R. Buller, in the telegram quoted below.[249] Sir Redvers, to use
his own words, had "for some time been convinced that it is impossible
for any one man to direct active military operations in two places
distant 1,500 miles from each other."[250]

         [Footnote 249: "In Natal and in Cape Colony distinct
         operations of very great importance are now in progress. The
         prosecution of the campaign in Natal is being carried on
         under quite unexpected difficulties, and in the opinion of
         Her Majesty's Government it will require your presence and
         whole attention. It has been decided by Her Majesty's
         Government, under these circumstances, to appoint
         Field-Marshal Lord Roberts as Commanding-in-Chief, South
         Africa, his Chief of Staff being Lord Kitchener."]

         [Footnote 250: See letter from Sir Redvers Buller to
         Under-Secretary of State for War, dated 20th December, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Lord Roberts embarks Dec. 23/99.]

Within a few days Lord Roberts nominated the rest of his staff,[251]
and, accompanied by the majority of them, embarked for South Africa on
23rd December, arrangements being made for Lord Kitchener to join him
at Gibraltar.

         [Footnote 251: In a telegram dated 21st December, Sir R.
         Buller recommended that Lord Roberts should bring out a fresh
         Headquarter staff, reporting that there was already a lack of
         senior staff officers throughout the theatre of war. His own
         Headquarter staff left Cape Town to join him in Natal at the
         end of December.]

[Sidenote: Weakness of defence in Cape Colony.]

The fact that it had been decided to send the 5th division to Natal
involved in Cape Colony the resumption of the policy of bluff which
had proved so successful earlier in the war. It was now attended with
greater risk, owing to the spread of disaffection amongst the
sympathisers with the Boer Republics. Three distinct areas in the "old
colony" were already in the actual occupation of the enemy, and had
been annexed by Boer proclamations. The first of these areas included
Griqualand West, Barkly West, Taungs, Vryburg, and Mafeking districts,
in fact, with the exception of the besieged towns of Kimberley,
Kuruman,[252] and Mafeking, the whole of the colony north of the Riet
river and of the Orange river below its junction with the Riet. East
of this came the Boer enclave round Colesberg, the extent of which was
being much diminished by General French's operations. Further east
again, the north-east angle of the colony, including the districts of
Herschel, Aliwal North, Barkly East, Wodehouse, and Albert, had for
the time being become _de facto_ Free State territory. Kruger
telegraphed to Steyn on the 20th of December: "I and the rest of the
War Commission decide that every person in the districts proclaimed,
so far as the annexed portions shall extend, shall be commandeered,
and those who refuse be punished. So say to all the officials south of
Orange river and in Griqualand West, that while we are already
standing in the fire they cannot expect to sit at home in peace and
safety." In all these areas, therefore, extraordinary pressure was
placed on the colonists to renounce their allegiance and take up arms
against their Sovereign. Indeed, but six weeks later the whole of the
inhabitants of the Barkly West district who refused to be commandeered
were, irrespective of nationality, removed from their homes by the
Boers' Landrosts and thrust across the Orange river in a state of
absolute destitution.[253] The number of recruits which had accrued to
the enemy's commandos by these means was already, by the end of
December, considerable; it was assessed at the time by the British
authorities as high as ten thousand. But the danger for the moment was
not so much the numerical strength of the actively disloyal as the
attitude of the disaffected in the districts which the enemy had not
reached. Here, again, the areas which caused special anxiety fell into
three groups. In the eastern province certain of the farmers of the
Stockenstroom and adjacent districts had gathered together in a laager
on the Katberg Pass across the Winterberg Mountains, a strong position
some forty miles in rear of General Gatacre at Queenstown. In the
thinly-populated and backward regions bordered by the Orange river on
the north, the Roggeveld and Nieuwveld Mountains on the south, and the
main line from Cape Town to De Aar on the east, racial feeling was
known to be greatly inflamed, and it was reported that, if a few
recruiters crossed the Orange river from the districts occupied by the
enemy to the north of the river, a rising would probably take place.
Even nearer to Cape Town, in the fertile and wine-producing districts
of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Ceres, Tulbagh, and Worcester, all most
difficult to deal with, owing to the broken character of the ground
and its intersection by rough mountain ranges, a portion of the
inhabitants had shown signs of great restlessness. If even small bands
of insurgents had taken up arms in these parts, the British lines of
communication would have been imperilled. A very large force would be
required for their protection.

         [Footnote 252: A detachment of thirty-five Cape police and
         thirty-three civilians made a gallant defence of Kuruman,
         under Capt. A. Bates, against a Boer commando much superior
         in strength. The garrison held out from 12th November until
         their last redoubt was destroyed by artillery fire on 1st
         January (see General map of South Africa and map No. 17).]

         [Footnote 253: For the details of this wholesale eviction see
         article in _Cape Times_, dated 16th February, 1900, enclosed
         in High Commissioner's despatch No. 85, dated 21st February,
         1900 (p. 194-195 of C.O. White Book Africa 629).]

[Sidenote: The enthusiasm of the loyal furnishes large numbers of

On the other hand, although the loyalty of a portion of the population
was shaken, there were large numbers not only steadfast in their
allegiance, but anxious to fulfil the duty of good citizens.
Considerable advantage had already been taken of this patriotic
spirit. Practically the whole of the Volunteer forces of the colony
had been called out in the first phase of the war and were still under
arms. The good services of the South African Light Horse and of
Brabant's Horse, raised respectively in the western and eastern
province, showed that the time had now come to make fuller use of the
admirable recruiting material that was available.

[Sidenote: Full advantage taken of this by Sir A. Milner and Sir

On the 17th December Sir A. Milner telegraphed to Sir Redvers: "As
rebellion in the colony is still spreading and our latest
reinforcements are wanted elsewhere, I hope you will authorise G.O.C.
here to raise all the men he can get in loyal districts. Mounted
corps are being increased, and are no doubt what we most want. But for
defence of ports, which we must hold at all costs, and of places like
King William's Town and Grahamstown, even unmounted men, if otherwise
fit, will be useful, and I think considerable numbers might be
obtained. Where resistance is at all practicable I think it should be
offered, if only to gain time." This suggestion that a large increase
should be made in the forces raised locally was not a new one. Sir
Redvers had already been in communication on the subject with the War
Office, and had been informed by the Secretary of State, in a
telegram, dated 16th December, that: "I hope that you understand that
we are greatly in favour of the policy indicated in your telegram
(10th December) of raising local mounted corps and that you are free
to carry it out." On receipt of the High Commissioner's message
General Buller gave Forestier-Walker a free hand to raise both mounted
and dismounted men for the defence of Cape Colony, directing him to
consult Sir A. Milner as to details. On the 27th of December the
General Commanding-in-Chief was in a position to telegraph to Lord
Lansdowne that, exclusive of the colonial troops belonging to
Kimberley and Mafeking garrisons, 2,100 mounted and 4,300 dismounted
irregulars were under arms in Cape Colony besides a Railway Pioneer
regiment, 500 strong, in process of organisation.[254]

         [Footnote 254: The strength of the corps was soon afterwards
         raised to 1,000, and eventually expanded to four battalions.]

[Sidenote: Large numbers of Volunteers.]

He hoped to increase still further these numbers by 2,000 mounted and
2,000 dismounted men. In Natal the Volunteers who had been called out,
and the special service corps enrolled since the war, numbered in all
6,700 men, and efforts were being made to raise another 700.
Including, therefore, the 4,000 colonial and local troops besieged in
Kimberley, the 1,000 defending Mafeking, and 1,500 Southern
Rhodesians, there were at this time 20,000 South African colonists
employed in the defence of their country, and arrangements were being
made to augment this total to about 25,000 men. The men who thus
served their Sovereign were not all of British descent. Some were
loyal Dutchmen. The figures no doubt include as "South Africans,"
because present in local units, Johannesburg Uitlanders,[255] as well
as others who flocked to South Africa from various parts of the Empire
to fight for the maintenance of equal rights for all white men. These
large bodies might, had the Imperial Government thought fit, have been
almost indefinitely reinforced by native levies; but such a course was
impossible without danger to the future welfare of South Africa. It
was deemed legitimate to sanction the organisation of the tribes of
British Kaffraria, under Sir H. Elliott, for the defence of their own
homes against the Boer commandos.

         [Footnote 255: The term used by the Boers for all

[Sidenote: Methuen since Magersfontein.]

After withdrawing from the battlefield of Magersfontein, Lord Methuen
had directed the whole of his energy to strengthening his hold on the
Riet and establishing his troops firmly astride that river. General
Buller had finally decided to retain Lord Methuen in that forward
situation, for on reflection he perceived that a retirement would
leave Cronje free to concentrate his whole force against Kimberley.
Moreover, he foresaw that the so-called "Modder position" could be
utilised later on as a pivot of manoeuvre, or as a screen behind which
a turning offensive movement might be made to the east into the Free
State. With this end in view he proposed to begin constructing a
railway from Honey Nest Kloof to Jacobsdal, to be extended eventually
to Bloemfontein after the arrival of the 6th division. The occupation
of Jacobsdal would, General Buller anticipated, "frighten" Cronje out
of Magersfontein.[256] Lord Roberts, however, in telegraphing to Sir
Redvers from Gibraltar on 26th December his concurrence in the
retention of Methuen on the Modder, added: "As regards railway
extension, I fear that construction of line will so seriously
interfere with the utility of present working line that I should ask
you to consult Girouard[257] on this subject before coming to any
decision." The execution of this project was therefore suspended
pending Lord Roberts' arrival.

         [Footnote 256: Telegram to Secretary of State, dated 23rd
         December, 1899.]

         [Footnote 257: Bt.-Maj. (local Lieut.-Col.) E. P. Girouard,
         R.E., who had at the outbreak of the war been appointed
         Director of Railways on the lines of communication staff.
         After Lord Roberts' arrival the Director of Railways worked
         under the immediate orders of the Chief of the Staff.]

[Sidenote: Cronje remains passive.]

Meanwhile, although with the mobile force at his disposal General
Cronje might have struck at the British communications, the Boer
commander remained passive, and devoted himself to the improvement and
extension of his defences. He was indifferent to the fact that his
line of supply to the eastward was exposed and almost entirely
unguarded. Enterprises proposed by De Wet and others of his
subordinates against the British connection with the sea he sternly

[Sidenote: Activity in the west.]

[Sidenote: Pilcher's raid on Douglas.]

[Sidenote: Alderson threatens Prieska.]

In the more western theatre of war, on the contrary, the Boers made
some attempt to take advantage of the situation. Recruiting parties
were sent across the Orange river, and visited Prieska. The village of
Douglas, lying south of the Vaal, a little below its junction with the
Riet, and commanding the road from Griqualand West to Belmont, was
also occupied by a small commando. The section of Lord Methuen's line
of supply from De Aar to Honey Nest Kloof was at this time held by
some 11,000 men under the command of Major-General E. Wood.[258] The
greater part of this force was distributed in strong posts at Honey
Nest Kloof, Enslin, Belmont, Witteputs, Orange River bridge, and De
Aar. The garrison of Belmont was under command of Lt.-Colonel T. D.
Pilcher, and consisted of two guns of P. battery, R.H.A., a half
company of the Munster Fusiliers mounted infantry, 250 Queensland
M.I., two companies of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, and the
Royal Canadian regiment, amounting in all to about 1,600 men. General
Wood determined to use a portion of this garrison to brush away the
hostile gathering on the left flank. With this object, Colonel Pilcher
was directed to move out from Belmont on the afternoon of the 31st
December with a flying column, composed of the two guns of P. battery,
42 officers and men of the Munster Fusiliers M.I., 12 officers and 187
men of the Queensland M.I. under command of Lt.-Colonel P. R. Ricardo,
and a company of the Canadian regiment, the last-named unit being
carried in ten buck wagons with mule transport. The two companies
D.C.L.I. formed a supporting column and followed later. In order to
deceive the enemy, Pilcher on the previous day had made a feint from
Belmont towards the Free State, returning ostensibly on the ground
that a mistake had been made as to supply arrangements; the real
object of the column was Douglas, and it had been arranged to cover
Pilcher's right flank, by moving Babington with his mounted brigade
and G. battery westward from Modder camp. His left flank was protected
by the despatch of the Scots Greys from Orange River station to Mark's
Drift, a point close to the junction of the Vaal and Orange rivers. On
the night of the 31st December, Colonel Pilcher halted at Thornhill
farm, eighteen miles north-west of Belmont, and thence moved on the
following morning to Sunnyside, where in a cluster of kopjes a small
laager had been formed by an advance party of the enemy. This commando
(about 180 strong), was surprised, and defeated, with a loss of
fourteen killed and thirty-eight prisoners, after a brief engagement,
in which the Canadian and Queensland troops proved their fitness to
fight side by side with British regulars. On the 2nd January, the
flying column pushing on to Douglas, found the village evacuated by
the enemy. Meanwhile, a strong commando, detached by Cronje, had
eluded the cavalry brigade and crossed the Riet river near
Koodoesberg. Lt.-Colonel Pilcher had already fallen back on Thornhill
on 3rd January, and evading the enemy by a night march, regained
Belmont unmolested. Ninety loyalist refugees from Douglas accompanied
him on his return. Simultaneously with this successful raid, a patrol
of about a company of M.I. under Lieut.-Colonel Alderson had been sent
to Prieska from De Aar, and on the 3rd January exchanged shots at that
place with the enemy across the river, falling back subsequently on De

         [Footnote 258: Colonel H. S. G. Miles had been in command of
         this section up to 26th December, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Wood seizes Zoutpans Drift.]

Lord Methuen now determined, in conjunction with Major-General E.
Wood, to demonstrate to the eastward against the enemy's line of
communication, which was known to run through Jacobsdal, Koffyfontein,
and Fauresmith. On the 7th January Major-General Wood therefore, with
a force of all three arms, seized Zoutpans Drift, a ford across the
Orange river twenty miles above the railway bridge. The ford had been
reconnoitred as early as 13th December. Here General Wood placed a
permanent post on favourable ground on a hill, to protect the drift
from the Free State side, and to command the road leading thence to
Fauresmith. A Boer detachment remained in observation of this post on
the adjacent farm of Wolvekraal, but did not attack. Further to the
north, reconnaissances into the Free State, made by the cavalry
brigade, and by Pilcher's troops at Belmont, ascertained that the
enemy was not yet in great strength on the right flank, but that
Jacobsdal was occupied. The Field Intelligence department at Cape Town
had already (3rd January) received information from a trustworthy
source that Cronje had at and near Magersfontein 8,000 to 9,000 men,
and that he was relying on being attacked there. The report stated:
"An advance on Bloemfontein up the right bank of Riet river by
Kaalspruit would draw off the main Boer forces towards Bloemfontein.
President O.F.S. is stated in district to have said that he 'could not
cope with such a movement.' ... Bloemfontein is undefended except by
two forts, the guns of which have been moved to Kimberley."



         [Footnote 259: See maps Nos. 9 and 16.]

[Sidenote: French's operations during Lord Roberts' voyage.]

[Sidenote: He worries Schoeman out of Rensburg.]

[Sidenote: and pursues him to Colesberg.]

Whilst Lord Roberts was on his voyage to the seat of war, the three
portions of the army which had sustained severe checks were chiefly
employed in recuperating and receiving reinforcements. General French,
on the other hand, was continuing his successful operations. These,
therefore, with the exceptions mentioned in the last chapter, alone
represent the active work in the field in South Africa between the time
of the decision of the Cabinet appointing the new Commander-in-Chief and
his arrival at Cape Town. The task of General French at Arundel was now
as important as the strength of his command seemed inadequate to perform
it. The enemy on his front formed one of four invading columns, three of
which had already been victorious. Schoeman had, therefore, strong
reasons for wishing to emulate the prowess of Cronje at Magersfontein,
of Botha at Colenso, and of the fortunate trio at Stormberg. French had
to deal with an opponent whose confidence must now be presumed to be at
its height. Moreover, reinforcements might reach the Boer leader at any
moment. It had become more than ever necessary to paralyse him before he
could initiate even the semblance of an organised incursion into
territory where disloyalty might largely increase his numbers in a
night. Only by incessant activity could French hope to attain this
object, and fortunately the force under his command, if small, was
suitable both in composition and spirit to that most difficult of
military operations, the surveillance and protection of a large area by
mobility alone. His dispositions, detailed in Chapter XVII., whilst they
denied a front of nearly forty miles to the enemy, effectually covered
the Hanover Road-Naauwpoort-Rosmead line of railway. The area occupied
by the Boers round Rensburg was, like that of the British, bisected by
the railway. It was roughly as follows:--On the west of the line lay
some 800 Transvaalers with a long-range gun; on the east about 2,000
Free Staters, with two guns, were partly entrenched, whilst 600 burghers
guarded the Boer Headquarters at Colesberg and their line of retreat.
Against the enemy, thus distributed, French now began a series of
reconnaissances and rapid movements in force, which, directed against
Schoeman's flanks and rear, and often against his convoys, left him no
peace. Some of these expeditions, notably an attack by the New Zealand
Mounted Rifles and a battery R.H.A. on December 18th against the Boer
left rear, led to brisk skirmishing; but the British losses were always
trifling, and Schoeman, continually forced to show his hand, eventually
wearied of his insecurity. On the 29th he abandoned Rensburg, and fell
back by night upon Colesberg. At daybreak on the 30th, French followed
in pursuit with the Carabiniers, New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and two
guns R.H.A. and, reaching Rensburg at 7 a.m., soon regained touch with
the enemy upon the ridges south-west of Colesberg. A demonstration by
the artillery disclosed a strong position, strongly held. Colesberg town
lies in a hollow in the midst of a rough square of high, steep kopjes,
many of them of that singular geometrical form described in Chapter III.
Smaller kopjes project within rifle range from the angles of the square,
whilst 2,000 yards west of its western face a tall peak, called Coles
Kop, rises abruptly from the encircling plain, and dominates the entire
terrain. The isolation of this hill was doubtless the reason why it was
not occupied by the Boers. They were in strength everywhere along the
hilly ramparts around Colesberg. French, therefore, perceiving the
formidable nature of this "natural fortress,"[260] contented himself
with seizing a group of hills (Porter's Hill) 2,000 yards south-west of
the south-western angle. Here he planted artillery, and, leaving Porter
with the above mounted troops in observation, himself returned to
Rensburg siding, which he made his Headquarters, calling up the main
body from Arundel.

         [Footnote 260: Despatch, February 2nd, 1900.]

[Sidenote: French decides to attempt Colesberg.]

The rearward concentration of the enemy at Colesberg, in itself a
partial triumph for the British Commander, had now cleared the
situation, and opened to General French the final object defined by
his instructions.[261] The arrival of reinforcements, moreover, seemed
to warrant a serious attempt upon Colesberg. The third squadrons of
the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and 10th Hussars, which had been
wrecked in the transport _Ismore_, had joined on the 18th and 21st
December, the 1st Suffolk regiment from Naauwpoort on the 26th, and
Rimington's Guides (173 strong) on the 28th, the 1st Essex regiment
from De Aar relieving the Suffolk at Naauwpoort.

         [Footnote 261: "To seize and hold Naauwpoort, and whenever
         possible to push on and gain possession of Colesberg."
         Despatch, February 2nd, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Dec. 31st/99 to Jan. 1st, 1900, makes night attack on
McCracken's Hill and takes it.]

At daybreak on the 31st the General made in person a close
reconnaissance of the enemy's position, and at noon he issued orders
for an offensive movement. The most vulnerable, indeed, the only
vulnerable portions of the bulwark of hills, seemed to be the kopjes
previously described as projecting from the square, especially those
upon the western face. These gained, it would be possible to push
northward along the flank, threatening the Colesberg road bridge and
the enemy's line of retreat, regarding the safety of which the Boers
had shown themselves peculiarly sensitive. Seeking a base from which
to attack these outlying kopjes, French settled upon Maeder's farm,
lying five miles west-south-west of Colesberg, and at 4 p.m. a
squadron 10th Hussars moved thither as a screen to the main body,[262]
which marched an hour later, and arrived at the farm between 8 p.m.
and 9 p.m., the troops bivouacking there under arms. At midnight the
men were roused, and at 12.30 a.m., January 1st, the column, led by
the wing of the Royal Berkshire, set out in thick darkness towards the
enemy.[263] The route taken ran for two and a half miles on Colesberg,
and then north-east across the veld, past the east of Coles Kop. The
infantry marched in profound silence; even the regimental carts were
dropped behind, lest the noise of the wheels should betray the design.
It was not until the leading companies at 3.30 a.m. were close to the
base of the hill to be attacked, that a loud shout and a scattered
fire of rifles from the right front broke the stillness, and showed
that the enemy had detected the advance. Major McCracken, who had so
organised the march of the Berkshire as to be ready for this, extended
his ranks to two paces interval, and, without awaiting his supports,
which had been delayed by the darkness, ordered the charge. Thereupon
the enemy's piquet fled, and the Royal Berkshire, just as day dawned
on January 1st, 1900, gained, without opposition, the crest of the
hill, henceforward to be known as McCracken's Hill.

         [Footnote 262: Composition:--Inniskilling Dragoons, 10th
         Hussars, ten guns R.H.A., one company M.I., with four
         companies, 2nd Royal Berkshire regiment, under Major F. W. N.
         McCracken, the whole under command of Lieut.-Col. R. B. W.
         Fisher, 10th Hussars. Two days' supplies, went with the force
         and half the infantry were carried in wagons.]

         [Footnote 263: Order of march:--Point of M.I., half battalion
         R. Berkshire, remainder M.I., 10th Hussars, R.H.A.,
         Inniskilling Dragoons.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 1st, 1900. Colesberg is shelled whilst Fisher works
round the north towards the bridge road on Boer right, and Porter acts
against their left.]

This point being won, General French immediately despatched Colonel
Fisher on from the place, where he had halted with his cavalry, past
Coles Kop towards the north-west corner of the heights encircling
Colesberg, with orders to establish a squadron at the corner, and to
work round the northern face against the Boer right. In this duty
Fisher was only so far successful as to get his patrols astride the
track to Colesberg road bridge, failing to secure the hills commanding
the northern exits from the town. To distract attention from this
movement, and to clear the kopjes on McCracken's front, ten guns had
previously been placed opposite the western face of the Colesberg
heights, and as soon as it became light enough, these opened a heavy
bombardment. The enemy responded at once with field guns and a pom-pom
from higher ground, and for three hours the batteries endured a
galling fire of great accuracy, the Boer pom-pom especially
bespattering the line of guns with a continuous stream of projectiles.
Not until the Horse artillery had expended 1,043 rounds of shrapnel
did the enemy's gunners desist. During this time Colonel Porter, based
on Porter's Hill, was operating vigorously against the enemy's left.
He had moved out overnight with two squadrons 6th Dragoon Guards
(Carabiniers), one company New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and two guns,
R.H.A. Reinforcing these mounted troops, Porter made a determined
effort against the outworks of the Schietberg at the south-western
angle of the Colesberg heights. But the Boers were here in strength,
and the New Zealanders, after a gallant attack up the stiff slopes,
were compelled to fall back upon Porter's Hill, whence for the rest of
the day Porter engaged, though he could not dislodge, large numbers of
the enemy.

[Sidenote: Boers try to retake McCracken's Hill, but fail.]

Meanwhile the wing of the Royal Berkshire regiment had not been left
in peaceful possession of McCracken's Hill. To the east, and between
this hill and Colesberg, another height of similar command was
strongly held by the enemy, who not only opened a troublesome fire at
daybreak, but a little later attempted first a counter-attack up the
steep re-entrants to the north-east, or left, of the infantry, and
next an enveloping movement around the right.

[Sidenote: The first attempt stopped by Fisher's appearance, after
evacuation of the hill had been ordered.]

[Sidenote: Rimington's Guides and Porter's men stop the second.]

Both enterprises finally failed; but about 7 a.m., so insecure seemed
the situation of the Berkshire, that the General sent orders to
McCracken to evacuate. At that moment Fisher's appearance upon the
heights to the north-west somewhat after relieved the pressure, and
McCracken, receiving to his satisfaction permission to retain what he
had won, soon had his command so safely entrenched against musketry
and shell fire, that, for the next forty-three days, during which it
never ceased, his casualties numbered but eighteen. So passed the day
without further incident until, late in the afternoon, Schoeman
suddenly led a column, about 1,000 strong, out of the south-eastern
corner of the Colesberg _enceinte_, making as if to envelop the
British right. Fortunately, Rimington's Guides, who had been posted
overnight at Jasfontein farm, six miles east of Rensburg, to watch
this flank, detected the Boer advance. Simultaneously the troops at
Porter's Hill saw it also, and Schoeman, confronted by both
detachments, retired to Colesberg. Thus by evening French, though
disappointed with the results north of the town, where he had hoped to
secure "Grassy" (later Suffolk) Hill, had cut off Colesberg from the
rest of the colony on the south and west. His intercepting line ran
north as far as Kloof camp.[264] As all the troops were thus fully
occupied, French asked for reinforcements with which to "manoeuvre the
enemy out of his position." Schoeman himself, at the same time, was
demanding assistance from the Boer Headquarters to enable him to hold
his ground.[265]

         [Footnote 264: Casualties, January 1st:--Killed, one officer;
         wounded, six officers, twenty-one N.C.O.s and men; missing,
         one man.]

         [Footnote 265: The former received the 1st Essex regiment,
         two companies 1st Yorkshire regiment, 4th battery R.F.A., and
         the Household cavalry composite regiment; the latter the
         Johannesburg Police under Van Dam, and a commando under
         Commandant Grobelaar. The reinforcements reached the two
         opponents on January 4th, 5th and 6th.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 4th, 1900. Schoeman attacks French's left, obtains a
momentary advantage, but completely fails.]

Next day (January 2nd) General French delegated the command of the
left attack to Major-General Brabazon, with Headquarters at Maeder's
farm, and relieved the cavalry at Kloof camp by four companies of the
1st Suffolk regiment, one squadron alone remaining there to act as a
screen to the northern flank. This day and the next passed
uneventfully. Early in the morning of the 4th, Schoeman, baulked in
his attempt of the 1st January against the British right, dashed
suddenly from his lines with a thousand men against the left, and all
but rolled it up. Eluding the cavalry piquets posted on the outer
flank of the Suffolk, the burghers galloped for a line of kopjes which
ran east and west across the left and left rear of Kloof camp, into
which they therefore looked from the flank, and partially from the
rear. The enemy's artillery at once opened fiercely from their main
position upon the entrenchments of the Suffolk, who, assailed from
three directions, were for some time seriously threatened. Much
depended upon the action of the next few minutes. French's front line
was for the moment truly outflanked, and, were the enemy to establish
himself where he was, nothing would remain but a speedy and difficult
evacuation of the ground hitherto held, right back to Porter's Hill.
The tables were quickly turned. General French, who was riding up from
Rensburg, at this moment reached Porter's Hill, and immediately
telegraphed to Maeder's farm for all the troops to turn out and move
on Coles Kop. He also ordered two companies of the Royal Berkshire
regiment from McCracken's Hill to reinforce the threatened point, and
the 10th Hussars, a squadron 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, and two guns
R.H.A. to advance upon the right of the Boer attack. Four guns had
already opened against their centre from in front of Coles Kop. These
movements chilled the Boers, who, especially alarmed at the approach
of the cavalry from the direction of Windmill camp, abandoned the most
advanced points they had reached, hotly pursued by the 10th Hussars on
one flank and "B." squadron Inniskillings on the other. Yet some of
them soon turned, and, standing on rocky hills, attempted to cover the
flight of the rest, by checking the 10th Hussars. Colonel Fisher
thereupon dismounted his men, and leading a charge on foot,
brilliantly drove off the Boer rearguard and sent them after their
comrades, whilst the Inniskillings continued the pursuit, getting
amongst the fugitives with the lance. Still a part of the enemy, about
200 in number, clung stoutly to the broken hills in spite of the
severe cross fire of the artillery. About 1 p.m., therefore, the
General ordered Capt. H. de B. de Lisle to dislodge this remnant with
200 mounted infantry. De Lisle, using all the advantages of the
ground, skilfully manoeuvred his men, mounted, till he was within a
distance convenient for attack. His dismounting was the signal for
another break away of at least half of those fronting him, and the
mounted infantry, in open order, scaled the hill with fixed bayonets
against the remainder. There was a short encounter, but De Lisle's men
were not to be denied, twenty-one prisoners falling into their hands
as they cleared the summit. The rest of the Boers scattered in flight,
and by 2 p.m. Schoeman's attempt was over. His failure had cost him
ninety killed and wounded, and the loss of some forty prisoners.[266]

         [Footnote 266: Casualties, January 4th:--Killed, one officer,
         six N.C.O.s and men; wounded, two officers and thirteen
         N.C.O.s and men.]

[Sidenote: French, Jan. 5th, issues orders for attack on Grassy Hill
next day.]

During this (January 4th) and the two following days, the requested
reinforcements, in number some 1,500 men of all arms, arrived. With
this accretion of strength it was now possible to renew the offensive,
and General French at once turned his attention to the capture of
Grassy Hill (Suffolk Hill on map No. 16), which he had early marked as
the key to the Boer stronghold. This height lay at the junction of the
roads leading respectively to Colesberg road bridge and to Norval's
Pont, both of which it commanded. Fisher's operations on the left
flank on January 1st had been designed to seize this important point,
and without it there was little hope of forcing the enemy from
Colesberg. On the 5th, whilst all the artillery shelled the hill,
French made a personal and careful reconnaissance,[267] and on his
return to Headquarters issued orders for an attack next day. It was to
be based on Kloof camp, whence a force of all arms[268] under the
command of Lieutenant-Colonel F. J. W. Eustace, R.H.A., was to be in
readiness to start at 5 a.m. As before, the 1st cavalry brigade and
the post at Porter's Hill were to co-operate to the southward, both to
divert attention from the true attack, and to prevent the enemy
withdrawing his guns.

         [Footnote 267: During the reconnaissance, Lieutenant Sir J.
         P. Milbanke, Bart., 10th Hussars, the General's A.D.C., was
         severely wounded whilst rescuing a dismounted trooper under
         heavy fire, an act for which he subsequently received the
         Victoria Cross.]

         [Footnote 268: Composition:--

           10th Hussars, 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, eight guns R.H.A.
           4th battery Royal Field artillery, three companies M.I.
           Detachments 1st Suffolk and 2nd Royal Berkshire regiments.]

[Sidenote: Lt.-Col. Watson volunteers to take the hill, and is granted
leave to try.]

[Sidenote: Watson during night, 5th to 6th Jan. attacks and fails.]

Lt.-Colonel A. J. Watson, commanding the 1st Suffolk regiment at Kloof
camp, who had frequently reconnoitred Grassy Hill in company with
General French, had from the first expressed his belief that he could
capture it with his battalion. On the previous day (5th January) his
remaining half-battalion had joined him, and during an interview with
Eustace in the evening regarding the arrangements for next day, he
asked the latter to obtain from the General leave for him to rush the
position in the night with four companies. Eustace, though he did not
share the confidence of the infantry commander, nevertheless carried
the request to Headquarters. As a result, about 8 p.m., a message was
sent to Watson authorising him to attack the hill if he saw a
favourable chance. He was first, however, to inform the General and
all troops in the vicinity of his intention. No more was heard of
Watson and the Suffolk regiment until, about 3 a.m. on the 6th, a
crash of rifle fire, breaking the silence from the direction of Grassy
Hill, proclaimed that the attack had been delivered. The sound was
clearly heard by General French and his staff who were riding up from
Headquarters to witness the day's operations. Halting below Coles Kop,
French immediately sent Eustace forward to get the guns into action,
but soon afterwards received intelligence that the Suffolk were
returning to camp, and that their colonel and 120 officers and men
were missing. The attempt on Grassy Hill had failed, and the plan for
the day was shattered before it had been properly set on foot.

[Sidenote: Watson's attempt.]

Having obtained the General's sanction, Watson, overlooking perhaps
the attached conditions, had eagerly prepared to avail himself of it.
The key of the whole situation seemed to be within his reach, and he
determined not to lose the chance of seizing it. Not until 11.30 p.m.,
when they were roused from sleep to form up their companies, had even
his own officers any inkling of the project on foot, and when, an hour
later, under cover of profound darkness, four companies (305 officers
and men) moved noiselessly out of camp, the soldiers for the most part
marching in soft deck shoes, the least sanguine felt assured at least
of secrecy. The formation was quarter-column in the following order of
companies, "H." "D." "A." "B."; the men's bayonets were fixed. The
Colonel, who was carrying a long white stick as a distinguishing mark,
moved in front of his command and felt for the route. When about half
way, a halt was called and Watson, sending for his officers, told them
for the first time on what they were bent, and ordered, as the attack
formation, column of companies at fifty paces distance. The advance
was then resumed. The march seemed unduly long. The route to Grassy
Hill from the British lines was more than twice the supposed length.
In the darkness and over the difficult ground, it was impossible to
maintain distances for any time at all, so that column had again
contracted to quarter-column before the hill was reached. Arrived at
the foot, there was a short halt in a donga. Then the ascent, which
from the halting-place was at once very steep and covered with
boulders, was essayed. Higher up, more gentle gradients led to the
summit. Scarcely had the leading companies, somewhat disordered by the
severe climb, emerged upon the easier ground near the top, when a
single shot from a Boer sentry rang out close in front of the foremost
files. It was instantly followed by a blaze of musketry which leaped
from the whole crest. A volley so sudden and heavy could only come
from men prepared for action; it was evident that the advance of the
Suffolk was not only detected but awaited. Nevertheless, "H." company,
supported by "D.," immediately dashed forward, at once losing both its
officers and many men, the regimental adjutant and another officer
being struck down at the same moment. Watson, recognising the
preparations made to receive him, seeing from the confusion which had
arisen the futility of so informal an attack, directed a retirement,
intending, doubtless, no more than that his men should temporarily
seek the cover of the dead ground from which they had just climbed.
But such instructions, at such a time, were more easy to obey than to
understand. Whilst some fell back but a short distance, many made
their way to the foot of the hill, and so to the camp. Some again were
unable to retreat under the tremendous fusilade, and together with
those who had not heard the word of command, or did not credit it,
held on in front, and suffered losses rapidly. In short, for a few
moments, though the officers worked hard to restore regularity,
confusion reigned in the column, whilst the Boer fire continued to
rake it without cessation. Watson then desired the commander of the
third company, ("A."), to support "H." company upon the crest. Captain
C. A. H. Brett, having extricated about half his men from the press,
pushed out to the right flank and advanced. A storm of fire, delivered
at a few yards' range, met this attempt, and here, as before, all the
officers (three) and many of the rank and file fell before they could
close. Still Watson, whose gallantry compelled order wherever his
influence could be felt, strove to retrieve the situation. Going back
a little, he called up the rear company ("B.") and led it forward in
person, making for the right front. Again a murderous fire shattered
the effort, and no sooner had Watson disposed the remnants of "B."
company on the crest, than he himself fell dead just as dawn appeared.
Only about 100 officers and men were now scattered over the hill, many
of them wounded, but opposing as hot a fire as they could deliver to
the invisible enemy who was firing point blank into them. The pouches
of the dead were rifled for cartridges with which to continue the
struggle; but no hope remained; even the shrapnel of Eustace's
artillery, which now opened from Kloof camp, became an added danger:
while the Boers, aided by the increasing light, shot with
ever-increasing accuracy. About 4.30 a.m. the survivors, ninety-nine
in number, of whom twenty-nine were wounded, surrendered.[269]

         [Footnote 269: Casualties, January 6th:--

           Killed: Five Officers; thirty-two N.C.O.s and men.
           Wounded and taken prisoners: Three Officers; twenty-six
             N.C.O.s and men.
           Unwounded and taken prisoners: Two Officers; sixty-eight
             N.C.O.s and men.
           Wounded and returned to camp: One Officer; twenty-two
             N.C.O.s and men.
           The Boers stated their losses as one officer and eight men
             killed, seventeen men wounded.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 6th.]

In the evening the 1st Essex relieved the 1st Suffolk at Kloof camp,
the latter battalion being sent first to Rensburg, and subsequently to
the lines of communication to be re-officered.

[Sidenote: Jan. 7th, 1900. French reconnoitres Boer left.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 9th. Slingersfontein Farm on Boer left occupied.]

It was now evident to General French that the Boer right was so strong
and so watchful as to be proof against either stratagem or open
attack. He therefore turned at once to the other flank for
opportunities, seeking by a reconnaissance on the 7th January a
suitable point to the eastward from whence to threaten the enemy's
rear along the line of the Norval's Pont railway. The operation, which
was carried out under long-range fire both of artillery and
rifles,[270] disclosed the fact that owing to lack of water none of
the kopjes that were near enough to the line were tenable as
permanent posts. At Slingersfontein farm, however, eleven miles
south-east of Colesberg, and seven miles from the nearest point of the
Norval's Pont line, an excellent position was found. On January 9th it
was occupied by two squadrons Household cavalry, three squadrons the
6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers), the N.S.W. Lancers and four guns,
under command of Colonel Porter. To divert attention from this
movement, the whole of the enemy's western flank was bombarded by
twelve guns disposed from Kloof camp to Porter's Hill, whilst a
section R.H.A. and a squadron 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons made an
attack on the southern front above Palmietfontein farm, drawing in
reply the fire of two field guns and two pom-poms.[271]

         [Footnote 270: Casualties, January 7th:--One officer and four
         men missing.]

         [Footnote 271: Casualties, January 9th:--Two men wounded;
         seventeen battery horses were struck by shells during this

[Sidenote: Feeling the enemy's left, Jan. 11th.]

During the 8th and 9th the 1st Yorkshire regiment arrived, and was
posted at Rensburg. On the 10th Schoeman also received reinforcements
from Norval's Pont, and these he placed so as to cover the railway
south of Joubert siding, opposite to Porter, who turned out his men at
Slingersfontein to stop further advance southward. French, on the 11th
January, made a reconnaissance, employing the whole of Porter's force
in an attempt to turn the left of this new development of the enemy.
But the Boers, after a short retirement, received further strong
reinforcements from Norval's Pont, and prolonging the threatened left,
showed a bold front. French, therefore, who had no intention of
becoming seriously engaged, ordered Porter to return to
Slingersfontein. An attempt by Major A. G. Hunter-Weston, R.E., to
reach the railway line round the enemy's left flank, and destroy the
telegraph wire, was foiled at Achtertang when on the very point of
success. A Boer laager was in fact close at hand. At the same time
Captain de Lisle, pushing out from the extreme left towards Bastard's
Nek, reconnoitred the country to the northward, and found the enemy in
strength along the line Bastard's Nek--Wolve Kop--Spitz Kop--Plessis

         [Footnote 272: Casualties, January 11th:--Wounded, five men;
         missing, one man.]

[Sidenote: Butcher places 15-pr. on precipitous height. Jan 11th.]

Whilst these affairs were in progress, a feat astonished both sides
alike by its triumph over difficulty. Major E. E. A. Butcher, R.F.A.,
commanding the 4th Field battery, placed a 15-pr. gun upon the peak of
Coles Kop, a kopje already described as standing by itself in the
plain to the west of Colesberg. Rising to a height of 600 feet, its
sides varying from the almost perpendicular to a slope of 30°, and
covered with boulders, the hill presented a formidable climb even to
an unhampered man, and its use for any purpose but that of a look-out
post seemed impossible. Nevertheless, aided by detachments of the
R.A., R.E., and Essex regiment, Butcher had his gun on the summit in
three hours and a half. The supply of ammunition for it, and of
rations for the gunners, were more serious problems even than the
actual haulage of the piece itself. These were ingeniously solved by
the installation of a lift composed of wires running over
snatch-blocks affixed to standards, which were improvised from steel
rails, and driven in, in pairs, five yards apart, both at the top and
bottom of the kopje. Those at the top were wedged into natural
fissures in the rocks, the bottom pair being driven twelve inches into
the ground, and held upright by guy-ropes fixed to bollards or
anchorages. To the top of each upright was lashed a snatch-block, over
which, from summit to base of the hill, were stretched the carrying
wires. Along these, suspended by blocks and tackle, loads up to thirty
pounds in weight were hauled by means of a thin wire, which was wound
upon a drum fixed between, and passed through, pulleys attached to the
top of each of the two upper standards. The lift was so contrived as
to be double-acting, the turning of the drum and a ratchet causing one
wire bearing its load of supplies to ascend, whilst another descended,
the hill.

[Sidenote: It has immediate effect. Jan. 12th.]

At 6 o'clock next morning this gun opened upon a laager in the very
midst of the enemy's main position. The effect was instantaneous; the
Boers, thunderstruck by the sudden visitation of shrapnel, which came
they knew not whence, abandoned their camp and fled to the kopjes for
shelter. Another laager, 2,000 yards more distant, then became the
target with the same result, the enemy's doubt as to the situation of
the gun being deepened by the simultaneous practice of two 15-prs.
fired from the plain below the kop. A few days later Butcher succeeded
in getting a second gun up the hill, and by means of his great
command, forced the Boers to shift every laager into sheltered kloofs,
and caused them considerable losses.

[Sidenote: Jan. 14th. A flying column under Allenby threatens Boer
connection with the bridge.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 15th. Boers attack Slingersfontein.]

[Sidenote: The Boers are repulsed.]

On Jan. 14th, a flying column[273] under Major E. H. H. Allenby
(Inniskilling), marched northward along the Seacow river. Turning to
the east, he demonstrated against the enemy's communications at the
Colesberg road bridge, at which about twenty shells were fired at
5,000 yards' range. The Boers thereupon appeared in three bodies in
greatly superior numbers, and Allenby, having taken five prisoners,
fell back, easily avoiding an attempt to cut him off. This
reconnaissance had the effect of causing the enemy to cease to use the
wagon road for transport purposes. Next day (15th) the Boers
retaliated by a determined attack on the isolated post at
Slingersfontein, held on that day by a half company 1st Yorkshire
regiment,[274] commanded by Captain M. H. Orr and a company (58 men)
New Zealand Mounted Rifles under Captain W. R. N. Madocks, R.A.
(attached). These had their trenches above the farm, the New
Zealanders upon the eastern and the Yorkshire upon the western sides
of a steep and high hill, the lower slopes of which were largely dead
ground to those in the defences. Other kopjes, accessible to the
Boers, were within rifle range. The position was thus to the Boer
rifleman an ideal one for the most exceptional of his fighting
practices, the close offensive. In the subsequent attack, every detail
was typical of his methods on such occasions. At 6.30 a.m. a
long-range sniping fire began to tease the occupants of the hill. They
vainly searched amongst the broken kopjes for sight of an enemy.
Growing, certainly, but almost imperceptibly, in volume and accuracy,
this fire was directed chiefly at the New Zealanders on the east, and
by 10 a.m. had become so intense that an attack in that direction
seemed imminent. Meanwhile, a body of the enemy had been crawling from
exactly the opposite quarter towards the western side, upon which they
succeeded in effecting a lodgment unseen. They then began to climb,
scattering under cover of the boulders. Not until they were close in
front of the sangars of the Yorkshire regiment was their presence
discovered by a patrol which Madocks had sent from his side of the
hill. Thereupon the Boers opened a hot fire, striking down both the
officer and the colour-sergeant of the Yorkshire, whose men, taken by
surprise and suddenly deprived of their leaders, fell into some
confusion. The Boers then occupied the two foremost sangars. The hill
seemed lost. Then Madocks, hearing the outburst on the further side
from him, took a few of his men and hurried round to assist, appearing
amongst the Yorkshire just as the enemy were all but into them.
Rallying the soldiers, and perceiving the Boers a few yards away
behind the rocks, he immediately ordered a charge, and followed by a
few, cleared the enemy out of the nearer of the two abandoned sangars.
The Boers continued to shoot rapidly from the wall beyond, and
Madocks, a few moments later, charged again. Accompanied this time by
but three men, he closed to within a few feet of the more distant
sangar. Two of the men with him were here killed, and Madocks, seeing
the uselessness of remaining, made his way back again to the sangar in
rear with his sole companion, called together the rest of the
Yorkshire detachment, and began hurriedly to strengthen the wall under
a searching fire. At this moment a party of his own New Zealanders,
for whom he had sent back, doubled up to the spot, and led by himself,
whilst a storm of bullets broke over them from the surrounding kopjes,
charged down on the Boers with fixed bayonets. The enemy fled at once,
rising from behind the stones upon the hillside. Pursued by volleys
from the crest of the British position, they made their way back to
their lines, leaving twenty-one dead upon the field.[275]

         [Footnote 273: Composition: One squadron 6th (Inniskilling)
         Dragoons, one squadron 10th Hussars, two companies M.I., and
         two guns R.H.A.]

         [Footnote 274: This battalion had joined on January 8th and
         9th. On January 12th, 1st half-battalion Welsh regiment and a
         squadron 10th Hussars had also arrived; they were followed on
         the 14th by half a battalion, 2nd Worcestershire regiment.]

         [Footnote 275: Casualties, January 15th:--

           Killed, six N.C.O.s and men; wounded, one officer, five
           N.C.O.s and men. Boer losses: twenty-one killed: about
           forty wounded.]

[Sidenote: Arrival, Jan. 15th, of Clements, and fresh troops then and
later to Jan. 21st, causes changes in dispositions.]

Whilst this affair was in progress, a welcome reinforcement arrived.
Major-General R. A. P. Clements brought with him the 1st Royal Irish
and the remainder of the 2nd Worcestershire of his brigade (12th), in
all an addition of 18 officers and 874 men. Clements was immediately
placed in command of the Slingersfontein area.[276] This increase of
strength enabled French to extend his right still further by moving
Porter's command[277] south-eastward to Potfontein farm, and that of
Rimington,[278] hitherto stationed at Jasfontein farm, to Kleinfontein
farm, five miles north of Porter. For a time Rimington was able to
station some Household cavalry in close touch with the enemy at
Rhenoster farm, on the Bethulie road, but it was thought prudent to
withdraw them on January 21st, as a commando of 1,000 men had gathered
opposite the post. A demonstration by Porter towards Hebron farm on
the 19th disclosed, about Keerom, south of Achtertang, a large Boer
laager, which was shelled with effect. A deserter reported the enemy
in this direction to consist of 6,000 men. During the next two days
the following reinforcements reached the camp:--2nd Bedfordshire
regiment, 2nd Wiltshire regiment, detachments of the 1st Essex and 1st
Yorkshire regiments and details of Royal engineers and Army Service
Corps, a total accession of about 50 officers and 1,900 men. Two
howitzers,[279] which had come up on the 18th, shelled Grassy Hill on
the 19th and following days with effect, their fire being directed by
telegraph from Coles Kop.

         [Footnote 276: With the following:--1st Royal Irish and 2nd
         Worcestershire regiment, one squadron cavalry, one company
         New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and four guns.]

         [Footnote 277: Three squadrons Carabiniers, two squadrons
         Household cavalry, N.S.W. Lancers, one company New Zealand
         Mounted Rifles and four guns.]

         [Footnote 278: Rimington's Guides, one squadron Household
         cavalry, one company New Zealand Mounted Rifles.]

         [Footnote 279: A section of the 37th Howitzer battery, from
         Modder River.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 24th. French seizes Bastard's Nek.]

Recognising that he was blocked to the eastward by the superior and
apparently constantly increasing commandos, French now turned once
more to the westward for a chance of gaining commanding positions,
such as alone could enable him to manoeuvre the enemy from Colesberg.
An opening seemed to offer, because of the reported partial or entire
abandonment of the important defile known as Plessis Poort, through
which ran the road from Colesberg northward to the bridge and Botha's
Drift. The possession of this pass would not only cut the Boers' line
of retreat and northerly communications, but would seriously imperil
those leading to Norval's Pont; for high ground, running
south-eastward from the Poort, in parts parallel to the road and
railway, in parts impinging on them, practically commanded both for a
distance of some twenty miles from Colesberg. French, therefore,
determined to lose no time in reconnoitring and, if possible, seizing
on so valuable a point, and on the evening of January 24th, despatched
de Lisle to occupy Bastard's Nek, a defile cutting the same range as
Plessis Poort, and five miles to the westward of it. This being safely
effected, early on the 25th a strong column[280] concentrated at the
Nek. French's plan was as follows:--

         [Footnote 280: Composition:--6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons,
         10th Hussars, a battery R.H.A., under Major-General Brabazon;
         four companies 1st Yorkshire, four companies 1st Essex, the
         2nd Wiltshire regiment, the M.I., and a field battery, under
         Colonel T. E. Stephenson, 1st Essex regiment.]

[Sidenote: Jan. 25th. He strikes at Plessis Poort.]

[Sidenote: French avoids a trap, and returns to camp.]

Whilst the infantry, covered by a cross fire of artillery, pushed
along the high ground towards Plessis Poort, the cavalry, diverging
north-eastward, were to turn the Poort by the Boer right, and at the
same time watch for any counter attack from the direction of the road
bridge. To draw attention from these movements, demonstrations were to
be made from every part of the British lines about Colesberg. As soon
as it was light these operations began. Whilst McCracken, under cover
of the howitzers and the two guns on Coles Kop, advanced from Kloof
camp, whilst Clements, pushing out from Porter's Hill and
Slingersfontein, shelled once more the laager at Keerom, and Porter
from Kleinfontein, made as if to fall upon the railway towards Van Zyl
siding, Brabazon's mounted force drew out to the northward, and
Stephenson sent the infantry, the Essex leading, along the ridge
towards the Poort. By 10 a.m. the four R.H.A. guns were in action
against the Poort at a point 2,400 yards north-west of it. Brabazon's
cavalry started late, owing to a delay on the part of the battalion
told off to relieve the intermediate posts: the enemy, getting wind of
his presence, advanced from the north with two guns, and from the
east, and so delayed him that his turning movement was completed too
late in the day to be utilised. Meanwhile the infantry, covered by the
fire of the 4th battery, worked rapidly towards the Pass, driving
scattered parties before them, and by 2 p.m. had reached favourable
ground within 1,500 yards of it. Here Stephenson deployed the 2nd
Wiltshire regiment, and sent it forward with orders to establish
itself within 800 yards of the enemy, unless heavily fired upon whilst
advancing. This the Wiltshire, moving in six lines 100 yards apart,
did without loss, under a fire so trifling that the enemy seemed to be
falling back, and Stephenson sent word to the General requesting
permission to push the attack home. But French, who knew his
opponents, had grown suspicious because of their silence. The hour was
late, the cavalry turning movement had not been carried out, and
finally instructions from the Commander-in-Chief had enjoined him to
avoid serious fighting.[281] At 4 p.m., therefore, he gave the order
to retire, and the Wiltshire firing lines rose to obey. Scarcely had
they done so, before a burst of fire, both of rifles and guns, from
the enemy's ridges, showed the nature of the trap that had been
prepared. But in spite of the heavy fusilade which followed them back,
the Wiltshire, retiring as steadily as they had advanced, rejoined the
column with a loss of but ten men wounded. The whole force then
returned to its bivouacs.

         [Footnote 281: See pages 434-5.]

[Sidenote: French, Jan. 29th, is summoned to Cape Town.]

This reconnaissance, though it failed to give General French the
Poort, succeeded in disclosing to him the nature of the enemy's
dispositions in this neighbourhood, especially of those behind the
hitherto impenetrable Grassy Hill. Such knowledge might have gone far
towards a solution of the problem which had so long engaged his
energies, the ousting of the Boers from their stronghold on British
territory. The more vital portion of his task, the prevention of a
further inroad into the colony, he had already performed. He was now
to be called away to a wider field. On January 29th he went down to
Cape Town to receive instructions from the Commander-in-Chief. He
returned to Rensburg on the 31st to break up his command. On February
6th he finally left Rensburg, after issuing an order in which he paid
full tribute to the courage and energy of staff and troops, who had so
long held in check "an enemy whose adroit skill in war demands the
most untiring vigilance."[282] With French went all the Regular
cavalry, except two squadrons, and also the 1st Essex and 1st
Yorkshire regiments, the half-battalion 1st Welsh regiment, and O. and
R. batteries, R.H.A. Major-General Clements was left at Rensburg with
the remainder.[283]

         [Footnote 282: Despatch, February 2nd, 1900.]

         [Footnote 283: General Clements' command was as follows:--

           Two squadrons 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons.
           J. battery, R.H.A.
           4th battery, R.F.A.
           A section, 37th Howitzer battery, Royal Field Artillery.
           The Australian M.I. (490 men).
           The Victorian M.I. (175 men).
           Mounted infantry (450 men).
           2nd Bedfordshire regiment.
           1st Royal Irish regiment.
           2nd Worcester regiment.
           Half battalion 2nd Royal Berkshire regiment.
           2nd Wiltshire regiment.]



         [Footnote 284: See maps Nos. 9 and 17.]

[Sidenote: 10th Jan. 1900. Lord Roberts lands. Situation at that

Field-Marshal Lord Roberts landed at Cape Town on the 10th January,
1900, and assumed the supreme command.

The situation with which he was confronted will be more easily
realised if a brief summary be here given of the facts as they now
presented themselves at each of the several widely separated points of
contact between the opposed forces.

[Sidenote: French before Colesberg.]

[Sidenote: Gatacre at Sterkstroom.]

[Sidenote: Boers in front of him.]

[Sidenote: Mafeking and Kimberley.]

[Sidenote: Natal.]

[Sidenote: Ladysmith.]

As described in detail in the last chapter, the Boer commandos in
front of General French having fallen back on Colesberg at the end of
December, he had, on the 1st January, seized a group of hills on the
south-western edge of the plain in which the town lies, and was
continuing his tactics of active defence with constant success, save
that a night attack made by the Suffolk regiment on 6th January had
been repulsed with somewhat heavy loss. The Cavalry Lieut.-General's
never-ceasing energy had not only foiled the enemy in his attempt to
advance into the central districts of Cape Colony, but had appreciably
diminished the pressure in other portions of the theatre of war.
Gatacre was firmly established at Sterkstroom, with an advanced post
at Cypher Gat, the main body of those fronting him remaining passively
at Stormberg. A Boer commando had made a demonstration towards Molteno
on 3rd January, and another party, about the same date, had driven out
of Dordrecht a patrol of British mounted troops, which had occupied
that place on the 23rd December. At Mafeking and Kimberley the
garrisons were still gallantly holding their own against the enemy,
although in the latter town the hardships of the siege were telling
much on the spirits of the civilian portion of the population. In
Natal the 5th division had landed; and an attack, made by the Boers on
Ladysmith on 6th January, had been repulsed after a severe struggle in
which the fighting efficiency of the British troops was shown to be
unimpaired. Yet disease, coupled with losses in action, was beginning
seriously to reduce their effective strength and their capacity for
active co-operation in the field with the relief force.

[Sidenote: Boers.]

[Sidenote: In Natal.]

[Sidenote: Cape Colony. 1. With Grobelaar at and near Stormberg. 2.
With Schoeman at Colesberg. 3. Reinforcements on road. 4. With Cronje.
5. With Ferreira before Kimberley. 6. With Snyman before Mafeking, and
in the west. 7. Under Botha fronting Plumer.]

The Boer scheme for the whole war still centred on the capture of
Ladysmith. For the siege of that town, and for the repulse of the
British relieving force, at least 21,000 burghers appear to have been
still employed under the supreme command of Joubert. In the western
theatre Grobelaar had probably 4,000 men under his control at
Stormberg and in the adjacent areas: facing French at Colesberg were
some 5,000 men, with Schoeman as leader; Boer reinforcements, gathered
from various sources, amounting in all to some 2,000, were on their
way, or would shortly be on their way, to that threatened point. The
strength of Cronje's commando at Scholtz Nek may be estimated at
8,000, while 3,000 men, under Wessels and Ferreira, were investing
Kimberley. Snyman had under his orders some 2,500, most of whom were
encircling Mafeking, although a few detachments patrolled and
dominated those western districts of Cape Colony which lie to the
north of the Orange river. North of the frontier of the colony about
1,000 men, under Commandant Botha, opposed Plumer's efforts to relieve
Baden-Powell's garrison from southern Rhodesia. Thus the total
effective strength of the Boer forces actually in the field at this
time may be approximately set down as nearly 46,500 men. Of these
probably 1,000 were Natal rebels, and 5,000 British subjects belonging
to Cape Colony, the latter being mainly distributed between the
Stormberg, Colesberg, Kimberley, and Mafeking commandos. Of the Boer
leaders, some, notably De Wet, had realised the folly of remaining on
the defensive, but Joubert, whose appreciation of the conditions of
the contest can be judged from his circular letter printed at the
close of this chapter, was opposed to any forward movement, and
Joubert's views prevailed. Sir Redvers Buller personally, although the
Field Intelligence staff in South Africa did not agree with his
estimate, assessed the strength of the enemy in the field at far
higher figures than those above given;[285] and on 9th January he
telegraphed to the Secretary of State that there was reason to believe
that it was not less than 120,000 men, of whom 46,000 were in Natal.

         [Footnote 285: The views of the Field Intelligence department
         as to the actual strength of the enemy may be gathered from
         Lord Roberts' report to the War Office on 12th January, that
         in his opinion the total strength against us had never been
         more than 80,000 men (telegram to Secretary of State for

[Sidenote: Buller's memorandum for Lord Roberts of Dec. 28th/99.]

Lord Roberts received on landing a memorandum, written by Sir R.
Buller at Frere camp on 28th December, the following extracts from
which will serve to explain the views of Sir Redvers:

     "The whole Tugela river is a strong position; there is no
     question of turning it; the only open question is whether one
     part of it is easier to get through than another. I tried
     Colenso, because, though unaided I could not have forced the
     defile north of Colenso, it was the only place in the whole line
     in which Sir George White's force could aid me in my advance from
     the Tugela. I am now waiting for reinforcements, and am going to
     try and force a passage at Potgieters Drift. If I can find water
     to use in the subsequent advance, I think I ought to just pull
     through: but the difficulties are very great. If I succeed, it
     should be about the 12th January, and if then I join hands with
     Sir G. White, I think together we shall be able to force the
     enemy to retire and so free Sir G. White's force."

After stating that, in the event of success in the relief of
Ladysmith, he hoped to be able to spare a division from the Natal
army, and after referring Lord Roberts to instructions issued from
time to time to Sir F. Forestier-Walker as regards the general plan of
his operations in the western theatre, Sir R. Buller continued:

     "You will see that my original idea was to bring Methuen back,
     but as his task has grown harder I have proposed a railway to
     Jacobsdal and thence to Bloemfontein. I think that for many
     reasons you would find such a line of advance easier and quicker
     than one up the main railway. Up that line the enemy will have a
     rail behind them, and will tear it up as you advance, and occupy
     positions that you must attack and from which they can escape. If
     I could have had my own way on arrival I should have pushed
     through Bethulie to Bloemfontein, but the fat was in the fire
     before I got out. Kimberley I believe will be saved. Ladysmith is
     a terrible nut to crack, but I hope it will (? be relieved). Then
     I would propose to attack Bloemfontein from Kimberley, and I
     think an army holding Bloemfontein based on Kimberley will be
     better off than one which holds Bloemfontein but has allowed
     Kimberley to be again invested. Time, after all, is in our
     favour. The Boers cannot reproduce their horses which are being
     used up, and if they lose their mobility, they lose their power.
     I believe that French and Gatacre are strong enough to prevent
     the spread of disaffection, and that when the 7th division
     arrives they will join hands, and the disaffected Dutch will go
     back to their homes."

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers telegraphs, Jan. 10th, 1900, that he is about
to try to reach Ladysmith by Potgieters or Trickhardts.]

This written memorandum was supplemented by a telegram, in which
General Buller reported that he was leaving Chieveley the next day
(11th January), and would operate towards Ladysmith from Potgieters
Drift or Trickhardts Drift. From the larger point of view Lord Roberts
would have preferred that the forward movement in Natal should have
been delayed a little longer; but he felt that he was not in a
position to judge how far Sir R. Buller was committed to an immediate
stroke, or whether the situation before him or Ladysmith itself
demanded prompt action. He decided, therefore, to give General Buller
an absolutely free hand to carry out the operations he had

         [Footnote 286: See p. 461, Vol. I., Minutes of Evidence
         before War Commission.]

[Sidenote: Lord Roberts prepares to carry out his plan of campaign.]

Before he left England Lord Roberts had determined on the line for the
advance of the army which he had to command in person. Though in
detail his scheme was somewhat modified afterwards, he began to
prepare for the execution of it as soon as he had landed. For reasons
which will be more fully recorded in his own words, he had decided to
choose the route along the western line of railway, on which side
alone a bridge over the Orange river was in his possession. In order
to possess the freedom of movement essential to the execution of any
sound schemes of war, he determined to make such arrangements as would
enable him to cast himself loose from the railway and to march across
the Free State eastward. His first idea was to strike the central
railway as close as possible to Springfontein junction. He believed
that the Boers would thus be compelled to evacuate their positions at
Stormberg and Colesberg, and to abandon to him the Norval's Pont and
Bethulie bridges over the river. The Commander-in-Chief was convinced,
moreover, that this course, by menacing Bloemfontein, would oblige the
enemy to relax his hold on the Modder river and Natal.[287] But, on
the 27th January, increasing anxiety as to Kimberley led him to decide
that the prompt relief of that town had become necessary. This
involved, not a change of plan, but merely a modification of details.
The initial march eastward was still to be carried out, but as soon as
Cronje's flank had thus been effectively passed, a wheel northward
would bring the British troops athwart the Boer line of communication,
and, when the passage of the Modder was made, the way to Kimberley
would be opened.[288] After relieving Kimberley the Field-Marshal's
movements would depend on the situation, as it might then present
itself, but should such a march appear possible, he determined to make
straight for Bloemfontein.[289] The occupation of that capital would,
he thought, make it easy to re-establish direct railway communication
with Cape Colony through Norval's Pont and Bethulie. The
considerations which guided Lord Roberts to the adoption of this plan,
as finally formulated, were explained by him in detail nearly three
years later to the War Commission in the following terms:[290]

         [Footnote 287: Telegram, Lord Roberts to Secretary of State,
         26th January, 1900.]

         [Footnote 288: Telegram, Lord Roberts to Secretary of State,
         27th January, 1900.]

         [Footnote 289: Telegram to Secretary of State, dated 30th
         January, 1900.]

         [Footnote 290: Minutes of Evidence of War Commission, Vol.
         I., pp. 460-1.]

     "Before leaving England I had practically determined that the
     advance must be through the Orange Free State, but by one, not by
     three lines through Cape Colony, as was originally intended;[291]
     and the western line commended itself to me for the following

         [Footnote 291: This would seem to be a misapprehension. Sir
         R. Buller's intention had been to advance by Bethulie (see
         page 411).]

     "1. It was on that line only that we had possession of a railway
     bridge over the Orange river:

     "2. It was by that line only that Kimberley could be relieved in
     time, and had Kimberley fallen, Mafeking must have fallen also:

     "3. It was by that line only I could deal with the Boer forces in
     detail, and defeat Cronje before he could be reinforced.

[Sidenote: Lord Roberts' explanation why he chose the route he took.]

     "Both the Norval's Pont and Bethulie bridges were in the hands of
     the enemy, and by the time I had forced them back into the Orange
     Free State, and had been able to repair either of these bridges
     (which I was certain would be destroyed, and which actually
     happened), and I had occupied Bloemfontein, I should have between
     me and Kimberley, not only Cronje, but the whole of the Boer
     force which was not engaged in Natal. I should have then been
     obliged either to march across the veld against this increased
     force, or to have transported the greater portion of my troops by
     rail to the Modder River camp (if the railway could have been
     kept intact, which was hardly likely, seeing how weakly it was
     necessarily guarded and the number of Boers who would have been
     available to destroy it), and then to turn the Magersfontein
     position. To carry out either of these operations, and for the
     onward advance on an extended front to Pretoria, at least the
     same amount of transport would have been required as was needed
     for the march from Modder River camp to Bloemfontein. But this
     would not have been forthcoming had I adopted the railway line to
     Bloemfontein and not organised the system of transport directly I
     arrived at the Cape.

       *       *       *       *       *

     "I felt convinced that an advance on Bloemfontein must draw the
     Free Staters back from Kimberley and Natal, and that the
     occupation of their capital would render the Boer positions to
     the south of the Orange river untenable. To carry out this
     scheme, as large a force as could be collected was necessary, as
     the enemy had through railway communication (about two days'
     journey) between Natal and Bloemfontein, and could transfer a
     considerable portion of their forces from one of the theatres of
     the war to the other in infinitely less time than we could.
     Moreover, rapidity was essential in concentrating this force and
     making an advance towards Bloemfontein, as Ladysmith and
     Kimberley were, so far as I know, only provisioned for a very
     limited time."

[Sidenote: His reason for deciding against the railway through

It will be seen that Lord Roberts rejected Sir R. Buller's suggestion
that a railway should be made through Jacobsdal to Bloemfontein.
Colonel Girouard had estimated that this line could be constructed at
the rate of a mile a day without interfering with the traffic for the
supply of the troops, and, in an offer made to the Home Government by
a private firm, hope had been held out that the work might be carried
through at the rate of five or six miles a day, or in other words,
that, assuming fighting conditions to be favourable, the whole would
be finished in about a month. The latter estimate seemed altogether
too sanguine. Moreover, the practical difficulty of guarding those
employed on the required task from the raids of a mobile enemy would
have been very great. Finally, the chance of surprise would have been
lost, and, hard to secure as secrecy in, military projects had been
found in South Africa, Lord Roberts was certain that to obtain
decisive results the complete concealment of his plan of operations
was essential.

[Sidenote: Reinforcements from home.]

Great exertions had been made during the period of his voyage to South
Africa, both by the Government and by private individuals, to provide
the troops needed for the success of these schemes. He was informed of
the result of these exertions by the following telegram from Lord
Lansdowne of 9th January:

     "Please let us know what you think about further reinforcements
     as soon as you have thoroughly examined the situation. We have
     arranged for the following reinforcements in addition to the 7th
     Division, viz.:

     "1. Four brigade divisions Field Artillery, embarking as soon
     after the 20th January as possible.

     "2. One volunteer company for each line battalion, amounting in
     all to about 7,000.

     "3. The City of London regiment of Volunteers, and the battery of
     the Honourable Artillery Company.[292]

         [Footnote 292: The City of London Imperial Volunteers was
         formed as a special regiment under a Royal Warrant, dated
         24th December, 1899, and organised under a Special Army
         Order, dated 6th January, 1900. The regiment was raised by
         the Lord Mayor and his committee under instructions
         informally given between the 16th December and the date of
         the Order of 6th January, which embodied these instructions.

         The employment of the Service companies of the Volunteers was
         regulated by a Special Army Order, dated 2nd January, 1900.]

     "4. One Field Artillery battery of Volunteers from Elswick.

     "5. Colonial contingents, inclusive of four artillery batteries,
     mostly mounted, and amounting in all probably to about 3,000.

     "6. Seven Militia battalions.

     "Of these some have already started. As to the Imperial Yeomanry,
     it is not yet possible to say what number will be raised, but
     4,000 at least will probably be the total, and the material,
     though raw, is good.[293] We have also mobilised a cavalry
     brigade which could embark at once. If, however, it is sent, only
     the remainder of the Household cavalry and five line regiments
     will be left at home. Do you wish to have it? We are also
     mobilising the 8th division, which could begin to embark about
     the 20th February, but if it goes there will only be seven
     infantry battalions left, and unless the 8th division is urgently
     required this reduction of the home garrison does not appear
     desirable, in view of the general outlook. It might answer your
     purpose if we sent for the lines of communication eight or more
     Militia battalions instead."

         [Footnote 293: The original proposal to organise regiments of
         Yeomanry for service in South Africa was made by Lord Chesham
         and other Yeomanry officers in October, 1899. Sanction for
         the formation of the corps of "The Imperial Yeomanry" was
         given by Royal Warrant, dated 24th December, 1899. Under a
         Special Army Order of 4th January, 1900, a committee of
         Yeomanry officers was constituted to administer the force.
         This committee was dissolved in May, 1900, the administration
         being then taken over by the War Office. The first
         contingent, which went out early in 1900, numbered about
         10,000. A second contingent went in the spring of 1901,
         numbering about 17,000; and a third contingent, of about
         7,000, in the winter of 1901-1902.]

To this telegram Lord Roberts replied on the 12th January:

     "As to reinforcements that may be required, I am a little
     diffident about giving a definite opinion until matters still
     further develop and the result is known of Buller's operations to
     relieve Ladysmith. I trust that if White and Buller succeed,
     without very heavy losses, in joining hands, it will not be
     necessary to send the 8th division or another brigade of cavalry.
     For the lines of communication I shall require eight Militia
     battalions, in addition to the seven already detailed, but I
     should prefer thirteen Militia battalions, and if Lord Cromer
     agrees, the two Highland battalions which are now in Egypt, two
     of the Militia battalions to be sent there, taking the places of
     the latter. I hope, with the regular forces already under orders,
     the 4,000 Imperial Yeomanry, and the volunteer battalion, and the
     Colonial details referred to in your telegram, that the force in
     South Africa will be sufficient, and am most reluctant to request
     the despatch of more troops from home."

[Sidenote: Large numbers of mounted corps raised.]

Immediately on his arrival the Field Marshal strove to systematise and
support the efforts of the many South African colonists who were
pressing to be allowed to take up arms in self-defence. Their
embodiment had already been sanctioned by Sir R. Buller and approved
by the Home Government. Colonel Brabant's corps was expanded into two
regiments, and their leader appointed a brigadier-general to command a
Colonial division, composed of his own two regiments (Brabant's
Horse), the Cape Mounted Rifles, Kaffrarian Rifles, Border Horse, and
Queenstown Rifle Volunteers. Two new mounted corps, entitled Roberts'
Horse and Kitchener's Horse, were raised, besides numerous local
defence corps, such as Nesbitt's and Bayley's from the eastern
province, and Orpen's from the Hopetown district. The mounted troops
at Lord Roberts' disposal were further substantially increased by the
formation of mounted companies from all battalions of the line serving
in Cape Colony.[294] By this means sufficient units were formed to
make up eight additional mounted infantry battalions, but, owing to
the difficulty in procuring remounts, the greater part of these did
not receive their horses until the first week of February.

         [Footnote 294: It had for many years been the practice in
         South Africa to mount at least one company of each battalion
         in the command, but this had not been carried out at the
         commencement of the war in battalions as they arrived from

[Sidenote: The transport arrangements.]

The provision of sufficient and suitable transport for the new army
now being organised was a question which naturally needed the
consideration of Lord Roberts and his staff. From the first, even
before war was generally regarded as inevitable, the subject had been
found to be beset with difficulties. The nature of the country
permitted little deviation from, or modification of, that form of
transport which experience has taught the dwellers in the land to
adopt. The roughness of the tracks across the veld, which were given
the deceptive name of roads, necessitated a particular build of
vehicle, while the draught animals which could be employed were almost
exclusively oxen and mules. The pace at which oxen are able to move,
and the fact that they must graze in the daytime, limit the length of
a march and the hours of working. Nevertheless, oxen can draw far
greater loads than mules, can work over heavy ground in wet weather,
and for most of the year depend for their sustenance on grazing alone.
On the other hand, mules travel more quickly, and can feed at any time
of the day or night, but forage for them must be carried, since
grazing alone is not sufficient to keep them in working condition--and
their loads must be lighter; their use, therefore, increases the
amount of transport and the length of the column. With mixed
transport, drawn partly by mules and partly by oxen, the daily
distance is regulated by the slower animal. In ordinary circumstances
mules may do sixteen to eighteen miles a day, but oxen can hardly be
counted on for more than twelve for many days in succession. It was
because of such considerations that Sir R. Buller reported to Lord
Roberts on his arrival that "there is no such thing as a rapid advance
anywhere in South Africa, except by railway."[295]

         [Footnote 295: Memorandum dated December 28th, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Difficulties in providing both kinds of transport.]

Ox-transport could only be obtained in South Africa itself. A system
of contracts organised by Colonel Bridge and the officers who
accompanied him had hitherto enabled all troops to be fully supplied
on their arrival with such ox-transport as was necessary for
them.[296] The Bechuanaland district of Cape Colony was the best
ox-wagon country, but as this was occupied by the enemy there remained
only the eastern parts of the Colony upon which to draw. In default of
a general application of Martial Law, "commandeering" was not
possible. Prices consequently ruled high, and at one time some doubt
existed whether all demands could be met. By the middle of November,
the steady influx of imported mules dispelled this anxiety, and
numbers in excess of the contracts were also assured. The local supply
of mule-wagons could not, however, keep pace with the demand, and was
supplemented by the despatch of vehicles from England. These began to
arrive in December, and on the 11th January the General Officer
Commanding the lines of communication was able to report to the
Secretary of State that "... speaking in general terms, units of all
sorts have been completed with authorised or extempore regimental
transport and equipment on arrival."

         [Footnote 296: Col. C. H. Bridge, Army Service Corps, took up
         the duties of Director of Supplies and Transport on July
         30th, 1899, and held this position until the arrival of Col.
         W. Richardson on October 3rd.]

[Sidenote: Ox-transport, left by troops moved to Natal, available for
reinforcements expected. Mule-wagons gradually received from England.]

The transference to Natal of a large part of the field force,
originally destined to advance from Cape Colony, released the
ox-transport prepared for those troops and left it available for the
reinforcements which were on their way from England. The Transport
staff had, therefore, no difficulty in providing a sufficient amount
of ox-transport to meet Lord Roberts' needs. Of mules there was a
large number in hand. These, for the sake of economy, had been
collected in batches, at various places where they could be kept
without heavy expenditure, pending the receipt of mule-wagons and
harness. But although, as troops were placed under orders at home,
every effort was made to provide both wagons and harness for them in
advance, the supply reaching South Africa, especially of mule-harness,
was necessarily intermittent. Transport and equipment for the 7th
Division had been shipped from England in December, and was coming in
daily. Sir F. Forestier-Walker reported on January 14th that, as far
as could be foreseen, "the provision of wagons already made is much
more than our known requirements," _i.e._, on the scale which had
hitherto been accepted.

[Sidenote: System existing. "The Regimental."]

The allotment of transport which had been made prior to the
Field-Marshal's arrival was based on principles worked out by the
Mobilisation branch of the War Office, and embodied in the regulations
entitled, "War Establishments, 1898." Under these rules the
distribution was as follows:[297]

         [Footnote 297: This system was commonly termed in South
         Africa the "Regimental System," although the regimental
         transport was in fact only about one-eighth of the whole.]

(A.) Regimental transport, _i.e._, transport allotted to regiments and
battalions, and placed under charge of an officer and small staff
furnished by the unit. This was available for the general service of
the station where the unit was posted.[298] It was sub-divided into:

         [Footnote 298: Para. 10A, "Instructions regarding Regimental
         Transport, South African Field Force," issued October, 1899.]

     1. First Line Transport--for ammunition, entrenching tools,
     medical stores, signalling equipment, machine gun, and

     2. Second Line Transport--for regimental equipment, blankets,
     baggage, and rations and forage for one day or more.

(B.) The Supply Column.--An Army Service Corps organisation forming
the first reserve, and carrying at least one day's ration, an
emergency ration for every man, and one day's forage for every animal.

(C.) The Supply Park.--Under the supply and transport officers of the
Army Service Corps. The park carried at least three days' rations and
forage, but this amount could be increased as circumstances might

(D.) Auxiliary Transport.--To be composed of excess or reserve
transport organised in companies under Army Service Corps officers.
It was intended primarily for use on the lines of communication.[299]

         [Footnote 299: A scheme for this existed and regulations had
         been issued, but prior to Lord Roberts' arrival there had
         been no excess transport to enable the scheme to be put into

(E.) Technical Transport.--To meet the requirements of ammunition
columns, Royal engineers, technical equipment, medical units, and any
special purpose, such as the Naval heavy guns.[300]

         [Footnote 300: Excepting for the last-named, transport for
         each of these units had been issued in Cape Town, October,

[Sidenote: Proportion drawn by oxen and mules.]

Arrangements had been made in South Africa that (A) the regimental
transport and (B) the supply column should be entirely drawn by mules.
The supply park (C) consisted solely of ox-wagons with spans of
sixteen oxen. The remainder of the transport had partly ox and partly
mule draught, although in Natal ox-transport was mainly used. Under
the conditions of the local contracts all ox-wagons were grouped in
sections of ten, with a conductor and sub-conductor for each section.
These sections of ten were organised in sub-divisions of fifty and
divisions of one hundred wagons, respectively under a sub-inspector
and an inspector.

[Sidenote: Lord Roberts recasts the transport system.]

[Sidenote: S.A. Army orders of Jan. 24th, 1900, and Jan. 29th
determine details of change.]

This system had the advantage that, being prescribed in the existing
regulations, it was more or less familiar to staff and regimental
officers; moreover, the organisation of the Army Service Corps for
field service had been adapted to it. But against this had to be set
the serious objection of its extravagance. Under the regulations, the
transport allotted to units employed as garrisons or for other reasons
remaining stationary, would be idle and wasted. Without the transport
so lost the mobility needed to carry out the Commander-in-Chief's plan
would be unattainable. Lord Roberts therefore decided that in order to
equip his army, so as to enable it to operate with rapidity at a
distance from the railway, the transport must be reorganised.[301] The
regimental mule-transport from units was to be called in and formed
into transport companies, which could be attached to brigades or
columns in whatever manner the circumstances of the moment required.
In short, decentralisation was to be replaced by concentration of the
transport for redistribution in proportion to the wants of the
service. The change of system was effected successfully under the
supervision of Lord Kitchener and Major-General Sir William Nicholson
whose experience of similar arrangements in Egyptian and Indian
campaigns were of much assistance to the Commander-in-Chief. Returns
of the mule-transport in possession of units were called for, and on
January 24th an Army order was published withdrawing mule-transport
with certain exceptions. On the 29th January a further order was
issued, giving the details of the vehicles which were to remain with
units and stating how their draught was to be provided. The general
transport obtained by this withdrawal was formed into companies of
four sections each, each company consisting of forty-nine wagons, one
Scotch cart, and a water-cart; it was calculated that one of these
companies would suffice to carry the baggage and two days' supply of
food and forage for an infantry brigade of four battalions or a
cavalry brigade of three regiments. The ox-transport was organised in
companies of one hundred wagons each, from which convoys could be
formed, as required, to fulfil the functions of the supply columns of
the previous system.[302] These transport companies were placed under
Army Service Corps officers, and the administration of the whole was
at first undertaken by the Deputy Adjutant-General for Supplies and
Transport, Colonel Richardson, who had been transferred from the lines
of communication to the Headquarter staff. The general principles now
adopted were that complete transport, and transport animals for
certain vehicles still left in charge of units, should be placed at
the disposal of the commander of any force when it was ordered to
move; such transport was to remain with that force during the move,
but on its completion was to be returned to the transport department,
so as to be again available for whatever duty was most urgent.

         [Footnote 301: The "regimental" system was, however, retained
         by the force under Sir R. Buller until the break up of the
         Natal army, in October, 1900.]

         [Footnote 302: Mule companies had 520 mules; ox companies,
         1,600 oxen.]

[Sidenote: Difficulties in practice.]

Some difficulties naturally arose. By the abolition of regimental
transport the services of the regimental officers and non-commissioned
officers hitherto employed on that duty were regained by their corps,
but were lost to the transport department. The personnel of the Army
Service Corps was not equal to the demands thus made upon it, and it was
found necessary to allot two transport companies to one company of Army
Service Corps, and to attach to these so-formed companies officers of
other branches as they happened to be available. Moreover, to ensure the
requisite amount of mule-transport for the combatant portion of the
troops that of bearer companies and of field hospitals was cut down. In
the former the number of ambulances was reduced from ten to two, and for
the latter only two wagons could be allowed in place of four. On the
other hand, owing to fear of a scarcity of water on the intended march,
the number of water-carts with the medical units was doubled. The
mule-transport was speedily assembled at the places ordered. The
concentration of the ox-transport for convoy purposes took a longer
time, but partly by rail and partly by march route it was completed soon
enough to enable the Field-Marshal to carry out his plan of operations.

[Sidenote: Supplies on the coast ample. The difficulty of getting them
forward and distributing them.]

Owing to the efforts of the Quartermaster-General's department of the
War Office, a steady stream of supplies had, since the beginning of
the war, been poured into the country, and had removed all anxiety as
to the possibility of food or forage running short at the coast. The
difficulty was the transmission of these up country simultaneously
with the troops and their equipment. Arrangements were made by the
railway staff which enabled sufficient quantities to be forwarded from
the sea bases and to be accumulated at Orange River, De Aar, and at
depôts between the Orange and Modder rivers. For the forward move into
the Orange Free State two days' supplies were to be carried by the men
and two days' in the mule-transport allotted to brigades; the brigade
supplies were to be filled up from convoys moving in rear of the
troops, and for this purpose some five hundred ox-wagons, carrying ten
days' rations and forage, were assembled.[303]

         [Footnote 303: The cavalry division was accompanied by a
         supply park on the old system.]

[Sidenote: Separation of supply and transport.]

These changes foreshadowed the separation of supply and transport into
two departments, a separation which, shortly after the advance into
the Free State had begun, was carried out by the transfer of
Major-General Sir W. G. Nicholson from the appointment of Military
Secretary to that of Director of Transport. Colonel Richardson still
continued to have charge of supplies.

[Sidenote: Increase of heavy artillery.]

Meantime, steps were taken to improve the artillery equipment of the
army in South Africa. Prior to the war it had been ascertained by the
Intelligence department that the Boers had in their possession several
150 m/m Creusots and a battery of 120 m/m howitzers, but the
cumbersome carriages on which the former weapons were mounted had led
to the belief that they were intended solely for use in the forts and
positions near Pretoria and Johannesburg. The howitzers had been
classified in the intelligence reports as field artillery armament,
because in the year before the war the French, Austrian, and German
armies had added howitzers to their field equipment. The enterprise of
the Boers in bringing 150 m/m (6-in.) guns into the field at the
outset of the campaign formed in a sense a new departure in modern
warfare, although in 1870 fortress guns had been taken from Belfort
and used in the fighting on the Lisaine. On the receipt of Sir George
White's report that one of these guns had been employed against the
troops at Dundee, telegraphic orders, at the suggestion of
Major-General Sir John Ardagh, were sent out by the War Office to Cape
Colony to insure the immediate despatch to Natal of two 6·3-in. R.M.L.
howitzers, lying at King William's Town, the property of the Cape
Government.[304] The arrangements made by the Naval Commander-in-Chief
for the despatch to the front of Naval contingents, placed at the
disposal of the military authorities, both in the western and eastern
theatres of war, a number of long-range guns which, in the skilled
hands of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines who
accompanied them, rendered valuable service. The War Office also took
immediate action to reinforce the arm. On the 9th of December a
battery of four 4·7-in. Q.F. guns, manned by a company of R.G.A., was
despatched from England to South Africa, together with eight 6-in.
B.L. howitzers, which formed part of the approved siege train of the
army. On the 22nd two companies with eight 5-in. B.L. followed. On the
22nd January two more companies with eight 4·7-in. Q.F., mounted on
6-in. howitzer carriages, were embarked for the Cape, and supplemented
on the 28th by six additional guns of the same type, intended to
replace any naval guns which might be showing signs of deterioration.
On the 3rd of February another batch of eight 5-in. B.L. guns,
accompanied by two companies R.G.A., left Southampton in order to
relieve some of the naval contingents; on the previous day a battery
of four 9·45-in. B.L. howitzers had been embarked with the necessary
personnel. The only further additions made during the war to the heavy
armament were four 6-in. howitzers sent out at Lord Roberts' request
on 27th April, 1900, and two 5-in. B.L. guns despatched at the end of
the same year to replace two which had become unserviceable. With the
exception of the howitzers the whole of these guns were taken from
forts. Carriages for them were improvised by the Ordnance department.
The use by the Boers of the 37 m/m Vickers-Maxim Q.F. guns,[305]
nick-named "pom-poms" by the men, was met by the despatch of
forty-nine of these weapons from England. Another important change was
the introduction of a longer time-fuse for use with field guns. The
regulation time-fuse at the outbreak of the war burnt in flight for
twelve seconds only, suited to a range of 4,100 yards for the 15-pr.
B.L. guns and 3,700 yards for the 12-pr. B.L. Experiments had been
already made by the Ordnance Committee to obtain a satisfactory
time-fuse effective for longer ranges, and on receipt of reports of
the extreme distance at which the Boers were using their field
artillery, these were rapidly pushed on, with the result that by the
middle of January fuses capable of burning twenty-one seconds,
corresponding to a range of 6,400 yards, were sent to South Africa.

         [Footnote 304: As will be seen in the account of the siege of
         Ladysmith (Vol. II.), these howitzers arrived in time and
         proved most useful.]

         [Footnote 305: It was known before the war that the Boers had
         purchased a considerable number of "pom-poms." The artillery
         authorities of the army did not at that time attach much
         importance to them, but, as their fire was found to produce
         great moral effect, guns of this type were sent out at Sir R.
         Buller's request.]

[Sidenote: Railway system.]

At no time was a heavier call made on the personnel and material of
the Cape Government railways than during the concentration for Lord
Roberts' advance into the Free State. At an early date an organisation
for the control of the transport of troops and stores by rail had been
instituted, and had gradually been perfected by experience.
Lieutenant-Colonel Girouard, R.E., the Director of Railways, had
arrived with a staff of fifteen officers at Cape Town towards the end
of October, 1899, and had, under the orders of the General Officer
Commanding the lines of communication, initiated a system based on the
principle that it was the controlling staff's duty to keep in close
touch with the permanent traffic officials of the railway and to act
as intermediaries between them and the military commanders. Much to
his satisfaction, the Director of Railways had found on his arrival
that "all the British lines were in good working order and
administered by a highly loyal, capable, and enthusiastic staff
prepared for any emergency, including risks of war."[306] In
conjunction with this permanent staff, of whom Mr. C. B. Elliott was
the General Manager and Mr. T. R. Price the Traffic Manager,
uniformity of military administration throughout the whole railway
system of Cape Colony was speedily established.[307] The technical
working of the railways was left entirely in the hands of the civil
officials, supported and protected by the military controlling staff
from interference by officers or men. Repairs to the line were
undertaken by the railway troops of the R.E.,[308] with such of the
British employés of the Orange Free State railway as had not, at the
outbreak of the war, been absorbed into the permanent staff of the
Cape Government railways. The number of skilled artisans thus
available was insufficient for the reconstruction of the Norval's Pont
and Bethulie railway bridges and other extensive works which it was
foreseen would be necessary in order to make good the damage done by
the enemy in his retreat. The Director of Railways accordingly
obtained leave to avail himself of the offer of Messrs. L. I. Seymour
and C. A. Goodwin, leading mining engineers of Johannesburg, to form a
corps of the miners and artisans, thrown out of employment by the war.
With the title of the Railway Pioneer regiment, it was placed under
the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. E. Capper, R.E., Messrs. Seymour
and Goodwin being appointed wing commanders, having the rank of major.
The material needed for the construction of temporary bridges at
Norval's Pont and Bethulie and for the rapid reconstruction of the
permanent bridges at these points was, during the month of January,

         [Footnote 306: General Report on Military Railways, South
         Africa, by Lieut.-Col. Sir E. P. C. Girouard.]

         [Footnote 307: The conditions in Natal differed considerably
         from those in Cape Colony, and the system of railway
         administration was modified accordingly, but here, too, the
         military staff received the most loyal assistance in every
         way from Sir David Hunter and the rest of the civil staff.]

         [Footnote 308: The 8th and 10th Railway Companies, 20th, 31st
         and 42nd Fortress companies R.E.]

Joubert's circular letter, referred to on p. 410 as having had great
importance because it enjoined a passive defensive attitude on all
Boer commanders at the very time when Lord Roberts was designing an
active offence, ran as follows:--




It is obvious that England is exasperated that her army is not able,
against the will of our God, to annihilate us and to overwhelm us as
easily as they had expected. While they were governed and inspired by
this thought, the name of Sir Redvers Buller was on the lips of
everybody and his praise and prowess were elevated to the clouds. Now
that our God and Protector has revealed His will, and Buller has not
succeeded in crushing the hated Boers, or, as Sir Alfred Milner has
it, the Boerdom, and to subjugate them and to banish from the face of
the earth the name which God, as it were, had given them--now they,
instead of admitting and acknowledging their fault and looking for it
in the right place, want to have a scapegoat, and for this purpose Sir
Redvers Buller must serve; he is not brave enough, not wise enough; he
is not strong and powerful enough to carry on the war for them against
the will of the High God of Heaven and to annihilate the Africander in
South Africa. Many a person now deems it well that Buller has been
humiliated; but I have to say in regard to this that when I withstood
General Colley in the same way in the War of Independence, he was
urged to attempt a successful battle before his successor could
arrive, as he would otherwise lose all military honour and fame. He
was moved to such an extent that he acted on the suggestion, ascended
Amajuba Hill, which is to-day still so intensely hated by the blinded
Englishman and Jingo, where the Lord then said, "Thus far and no
further." And now, my friends, you may suspect and expect that Mr.
Buller will receive the same advice, and that he may attempt to do as
the late Sir George Colley had done. Therefore, he will issue orders
either here at Colenso, at Ladysmith, Scholtz Nek, or elsewhere where
there is an English force in South Africa, to attempt a successful
action, either by means of a sortie or attack, or in some other way,
in order, if possible, to regain his good name and military fame. For
this reason we must, in firm faith in the help of our faithful and
beloved God, be on our guard against such action. I very much fear a
night attack, when our men are not alert and on their guard. The
fright in case of a false alarm, when so much ammunition is blindly
wasted, makes me fear that a disaster may be in preparation, and
demonstrates that the burghers are not organised properly on outpost
duty. On dark nights the outposts should be strengthened to such an
extent that they could almost independently hold their position. In
all cases at least the half of the outpost guard, if not two-thirds,
must remain awake, so that the men are not aroused from sleep with
fright and confusion, but, being on the alert, can independently offer
defence. Therefore, let the words of our Lord be impressed on the mind
of everyone: "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Our
enemy is not only powerful, but also artful, and treason is
continually taking place, for it appears from the newspapers that the
enemy is even cognisant of our most secret plans, and we cannot
advance, but remain stationary, while the enemy is continually
strengthening himself.

Your sincere friend,

                                   P. J. JOUBERT,



[Sidenote: The intended stroke.]

The first stage in the realisation of Lord Roberts' plan of campaign
must necessarily be the transfer to the neighbourhood of Lord
Methuen's camp of the army with which it was his purpose to manoeuvre
Cronje out of Magersfontein, to relieve Kimberley, and strike for

[Sidenote: The problem. How solved.]

The problem was to carry out this transfer without allowing the Boer
General to suspect the design with which it was made, and, till this
first movement was completed, in order to gain time for it, to keep
him as long as possible uncertain whether the real advance would not
be, as he had always hitherto supposed, along the railway which runs
directly from Colesberg by Norval's Pont to Bloemfontein. Both
purposes were accomplished with rare success. It becomes, therefore,
in all ways interesting, as a study of the larger scope of the
campaign, to realise by what means this result was secured. In all
war, and in every campaign, so far as the two opposing commanders are
concerned, it is the play of mind upon mind which is the ruling
factor. To put himself in the place of the man whom he must outwit, if
he is to give his soldiers the best chance of victory, is for each
commander the essential preliminary. To take such steps as will tend
to confirm that man in any false impressions he is known or reasonably
suspected to have received, and to conceal as far as possible those
measures which are preparing the way for the real stroke, are common
characteristics of all triumphant achievement. The means by which the
end is gained--reticence, the movement of troops in such a way as
will suggest that they are placed with one object when, in fact, the
posts chosen will make it easy to use them for another, the allowing
of subordinate, even high, commanders, to misconceive, until it is
necessary for them to know, why orders are given--all these are the
well-tried methods. The fact that rumours spread almost automatically
and quite invariably from camp to hostile camp, so that what is
believed on one side largely affects belief on the other, is one of
the fixed data on which much depends. The issue openly of fictitious
orders, cancelled by cypher messages, is another available means of
throwing a cloud over what is being done. The art lies in applying
these well-known principles to the particular case to be dealt with.
It will be found that in practice Lord Roberts took advantage of every
one of them; but without a clear understanding of the methods which
the long experience of war has taught those whose duty it is to study
it, the underlying motive of much that has now to be described would
not be clear.

[Sidenote: Causes tending to deceive Cronje.]

Many things tended to convince Cronje that it was along the railway
direct on Bloemfontein that the march into the Free State would be
made. The capture at Dundee, in October, 1899, of certain Intelligence
department papers by the Boers had shown them that this had been the
first design. During the weeks which had immediately followed Lord
Roberts' appointment to command, when, though he had not reached Cape
Town, at least the wider scope of manoeuvres might be supposed to be
directed by him, or to be in accordance with his wishes, the only
fierce fighting which had taken place was round Colesberg, and much of
it suggested a wish to secure the passage of the Orange river at
Norval's Pont, an obvious necessity if the great movement was to be
made along the Colesberg--Norval's Pont--Bloemfontein route. Outside
Natal this continued, after Lord Roberts arrived, to be even more the
case, and so far as Cape Colony was concerned, the distribution of
troops showed Norval's Pont as the central point of the front of
attack. Lord Methuen's line of communications, supply and
reinforcements through Orange River station marked the left, Gatacre's
slowly gathering division the right, and French, now close to
Norval's Pont, the centre. Without delaying the progress over Orange
River bridge, it was possible to strengthen the conviction in Cronje's
mind that it was at Norval's Pont that danger threatened.

[Sidenote: and means taken to hoodwink him.]

In the first place, the great number of wagons, horses and stores
which had to be passed up under the protection of Lord Methuen's
division, and of the troops immediately engaged in guarding the line,
needed ample time, and, as it was not easy for the Boers to
distinguish between what was required for Lord Methuen's army and the
accumulations that were being made for a very different purpose, this
necessary preparation for the decisive move was not likely to attract
much notice. If, therefore, a freshly-arrived division were sent to
French's neighbourhood, say from Port Elizabeth to Naauwpoort
junction, since its coming there was sure to be reported to the Boers,
it would not merely meet the need for having a reinforcement for
French available in case of emergency, which, as will be seen further
on, was the reason assigned at the time by Lord Roberts for sending
it, but it would help to confirm the idea that it was towards Norval's
Pont that the whole concentration was trending. The division and the
whole of French's command could be kept in this district to the last
moment, because of the cross railway which from Naauwpoort junction
runs to connect the railway from Port Elizabeth with that from Cape
Town to Kimberley. The troops moving up by this the most westerly line
would draw the less attention as long as the force at and near
Colesberg was formidable and active. When the right time was
come--that is, as it worked out, when French handed over to Clements
those who were to remain round Colesberg--all the rest, including the
new division, could be carried from Naauwpoort junction and so on
towards the Riet, being, during their passage, far in rear of the
fighting line around Colesberg. It will be easily seen from the map
how greatly the trace of the railways facilitated the removal of
strong bodies from the Naauwpoort--Colesberg region to the Kimberley
railway, the whole movement being screened by the fighting forces left
round Colesberg.

[Sidenote: Further causes of success.]

Cronje himself was a Transvaaler, and his principal line of supply
ran northwards through the ground held by the besiegers of Kimberley.
Although, therefore, many of those under him were from the Orange Free
State and likely to be disturbed by a movement against Bloemfontein,
any such danger appeared to be remote as long as the Orange river,
both at Norval's Pont and Bethulie, was in the hands of the Boers. His
retreat northwards was at all events quite secure. The reports of the
arrival of ever increasing numbers south of Lord Methuen's camp seemed
to imply that, whatever might be done elsewhere, his entrenchments
were to be again attacked, and as he wished for nothing better than
this, he very naturally interpreted the information he received in
accordance with his hopes. It was not difficult, therefore, to impose
on him, in this respect also, by demonstrations against the opposite
flank to that which Lord Roberts intended--not to attack but to pass
by on his route northwards--so placing his army ultimately athwart
Cronje's line of retreat. The execution of this scheme, the guiding
principles of which have thus been sketched, will perhaps now be more
easily followed in detail. It only remains to add here that the
fictitious orders, cancelled by cypher telegrams, were actually sent,
and were very useful in their effect of imposing on the Boers.

[Sidenote: A railway scheme. Facilities and difficulties.]

The interest of the whole scheme for modern soldiers lies in the fact
that it was an application of very ancient principles of war to the
times of railways and telegraphs. Everything turned upon the
facilities afforded by the railways on the one hand, upon the
difficulties which the railway authorities had to surmount on the
other, and, above all, upon this: that where accumulation of rolling
stock, vast in proportion to the resources of the country, had to be
collected from every direction upon a single line, it needed much tact
and management to make the preparations required to enable the
transport of troops, when once begun, to continue rapidly without
interruption, and yet not to disclose the secret. Engines were more
essential than anything else, and to obtain them in sufficient number
the Port Elizabeth lines had to be swept almost bare, although the
supply of the troops round Naauwpoort junction and Colesberg largely
depended on that railway. It may, therefore, be imagined how hard it
was to placate the zealous civil officials, who, without understanding
why it was done, found themselves deprived of the very instruments
needed for their work, and had as best they could to make bricks
without straw. All the organisation of this fell upon Colonel
Girouard, who had promised Lord Roberts to have the immense volume of
stores necessary for the campaign, as well as the troops, delivered at
the assigned stations by February 14th, on two conditions: one, that
absolute secrecy as to all that was being done should be strictly
observed, Girouard himself naming the men to whom he must disclose his
plans; the other, that when he had received his instructions as to the
places where delivery was to be made by the railway these should not
be changed. Unfortunately this latter condition could not be kept.
Honey Nest Kloof, which had been at first selected as the place for
the great camp and depôt, was found to be inadequately supplied with
water, so that Graspan and Belmont inevitably replaced it.

[Sidenote: The nature of task.]

The fact that, with the exception of the two Generals, Kelly-Kenny and
French, who knew the scheme after French's visit to Cape Town, none of
the officers in the trains had any idea where they were going or what
was intended, and did not realise what was essential for the success
of the undertaking, occasionally gave trouble to the railway
authorities. For instance, water for the troops bivouacking at Graspan
was some two miles from the station, but the water indispensable for
the service of the railway was close to the spot where the
disembarkation from the carriages had taken place. Colonel Girouard
himself found to his horror that this, without which he could send no
train forward, was being freely expended by men and officers for their
own use. There was some delay before he secured an adequate guard to
protect it. Despite many incidents, equally inconvenient to this, time
was well kept and Lord Roberts' reliance on the silence and efficiency
of the officials was fully justified.

[Sidenote: Secrecy and orders adapted to case.]

Throughout the month of January Lord Roberts so directed the conduct
of operations and disposed of reinforcements arriving from England as
to mislead the Boer General as to his designs. His real intentions
were, in fact, known only to his Chief of the Staff (Lord Kitchener),
his Military Secretary (Major-General Sir W. G. Nicholson), to the
Director of Military Intelligence (Local Colonel G. F. R. Henderson),
and to those who had to make the railway arrangements, Colonel
Girouard, Major D. Murray, Assistant Director of Railways, Mr. T. R.
Price, Chief Traffic Manager, Major H. Hamilton, who acted as
intermediary for Lord Kitchener, and to Colonel C. P. Ridley, in
charge of the western line of communications. To Lord Methuen the
Commander-in-Chief wrote on the 11th January:--

     "I have come to the conclusion that I must ask you to act
     strictly on the defensive, and as it may be even necessary for me
     to withdraw a portion of your force, you should consider how your
     line of entrenchments could be sufficiently reduced to enable you
     to hold the position with two, instead of three, brigades, and
     possibly with one or two batteries and one regiment of cavalry
     less than you have at present. Your request for four of the siege
     4·7-in. guns will be complied with, and when these reach you, you
     will doubtless be able to make your position practically
     impregnable. That the relief of Kimberley cannot be immediately
     effected I am as sorry for, as I am sure you must be, but I trust
     that it will still be possible for you to give the brave garrison
     at that place a helping hand before they run short of supplies
     and ammunition."

To the central line of operations where, owing to the activity of
French, the strength of the enemy had increased, Lord Roberts
despatched the 6th division and placed a portion of one of its
brigades (the 12th, under Maj.-Gen. R. A. P. Clements) at French's
disposal. It was decided to give Lieut.-General Kelly-Kenny a separate
command from Naauwpoort southward, leaving French to continue his
previous campaign against the enemy round Colesberg.[309] To General
French, therefore, the Field-Marshal addressed the following
instructions on the 12th January:--

         [Footnote 309: Lt.-General Kelly-Kenny was very much senior
         in the army to Lt.-General French, but the latter's local
         commission as Lt.-General was of older date.]

     "As I see no chance of being able to leave Cape Town just at
     present, and cannot therefore offer you my congratulations in
     person, I write to let you know the satisfaction it has given me
     to hear of the good work you have been doing in the neighbourhood
     of Colesberg.

     "You will have learnt by telegram that we have sent you three
     battalions of the 12th brigade under Clements. Kelly-Kenny, who
     commands the 6th division, sails to-morrow for Port Elizabeth,
     and the whole of his eight battalions will, I hope, be collected
     shortly at Naauwpoort junction, I gather that the Boers are
     increasing in strength between Colesberg and the river. It seems
     almost certain that their numbers will be still further augmented
     if Buller succeeds in relieving Ladysmith, for Joubert's force
     will then be free, and he is almost certain to hurry his men to
     the south-west in order to try and block our way into the Orange
     Free State.

     "This may make the seizure of the Norval's Pont bridge out of the
     question; as it would, however, be of such supreme importance to
     get possession of this crossing of the Orange river, I shall be
     greatly obliged if you will inform me whether you think the
     operation in any way feasible. We could increase your force still
     more, or what would probably be of even greater assistance to
     you, we could threaten the enemy from the Orange River station
     direction. The greatest secrecy and caution would be required,
     and the seizure of the bridge could only be effected by a very
     carefully-thought-out and well-planned _coup de main_, for, if
     the Boers had the slightest inkling of our intention, they would
     assuredly blow it up. There would, moreover, be no object in our
     getting possession of the bridge, and thus risking a number of
     valuable lives, unless it could be made perfectly secure on its
     immediate northern bank, and this, from the nature of the ground,
     might be impossible.

     "I hope that your men and horses are keeping thoroughly
     efficient. Please take every care of them and save the horses as
     much as possible, for, until we can get hold of some of the
     regiments now in Ladysmith, yours is almost the only cavalry we
     have to depend upon."

The seizure of the bridge[310] would have been useful both in
deceiving Cronje and in facilitating later movements, but the
intricate ground on the northern bank of the river at that point would
have rendered further advance costly, and the defence of the bridge
itself difficult, and as yet it was unnecessary. French, therefore,
though he at the time knew nothing of the intended scheme, exactly
carried out what was the purpose of Lord Roberts' instructions when,
as recorded in Chapter XXIV., he, after the demonstration of January
25th, abandoned further efforts against Norval's Pont. It was not till
January 30th, during his brief visit to Cape Town, that he was given
two copies of the complete plan of operations, one for himself and one
for General Kelly-Kenny. It was no doubt due to these careful
precautions that the secret was so admirably kept as it was, and that
the Boers were so completely deceived as they were as to what was
going on.[311]

         [Footnote 310: See map No. 9.]

         [Footnote 311: President Steyn telegraphed to C. De Wet as
         late as the end of January that the British advance would be
         made by Colesberg, and suggested the despatch of
         reinforcements to that point from Magersfontein. But De Wet,
         who was now in command of all Free State troops in the
         western theatre, having been transferred from Natal early in
         December, refused, on the ground that if Magersfontein were
         weakened, the British would make Kimberley their point of
         attack. The records of the O.F.S. railway at this period show
         how much anxiety was felt as to Colesberg. Between the 27th
         December and 13th January 2,700 burghers passed through
         Bloemfontein _en route_ to Norval's Pont, and between the
         25th January and 8th February (including a Heidelberg
         commando over 500 strong between 6th and 8th) another 1,442;
         not until the 9th was the stream of reinforcements for the
         south stopped at Bloemfontein. By that time Lord Roberts
         himself, and nearly all the army, including Kelly-Kenny's and
         French's divisions, had reached their destination south of
         the Riet.]

Kelly-Kenny, with his division, less Clements' brigade, was to cover
the communications south of Naauwpoort, allay unrest and disaffection,
and open up the railway line as far as possible from Rosmead in the
direction of Stormberg, thus diverting attention from Gatacre. A
proposal made on the 23rd by him that French should be instructed to
seize Bethulie bridge by a forced march was refused by the
Field-Marshal, who, not to disclose his real reasons, told him that
the enterprise was a doubtful one; the country difficult, and strong
opposition would be offered to the move. To Sir W. Gatacre the
Commander-in-Chief issued orders on the 19th January that Dordrecht
should be garrisoned, and that Brabant's newly-formed Colonial
division should use that town as a base, and thence operate towards
Jamestown so as to menace the line of retreat of the Boer force at
Stormberg. Meanwhile Gatacre himself was to act strictly on the
defensive. Brabant was placed under his orders, but was to be given a
"perfectly free hand" and be allowed to report direct to Army

[Sidenote: Enemy perplexed. Move begun.]

These various orders and instructions successfully effected Lord
Roberts' purpose. The distribution of the British troops perplexed and
confused the enemy, and the Boer leaders remained passive, making no
substantial change in their dispositions save to increase the strength
of the body covering the crossing to the north of Colesberg. By the
end of January Lord Roberts' staff had nearly finished the work of
preparation, and the Commander-in-Chief directed the concentration of
all available troops between the Orange river and the Modder for the
delivery of the stroke he had designed, leaving before Colesberg and
Magersfontein sufficient forces under the respective commands of
Major-General Clements and Lord Methuen to hold the enemy, at each of
these points, in check. It was on January 29th that General French was
summoned to Cape Town.[312] Immediately after his return the actual
transfer northwards of an army corps, made up of a cavalry division,
three infantry divisions, and some corps troops, was carried out. A
few details had started as early as the 28th.

         [Footnote 312: It is one of the sequels of any attempt to
         preserve in war that secrecy which is the very master-key of
         the house of success that the evidence of much that has been
         done during the period of reticence is conflicting. The
         actual motive which led Lord Roberts to desire General
         French's presence at Cape Town was anxiety as to the
         expenditure of horses and ammunition, which the brilliant
         operations around Colesberg had involved. He did not summon
         him in order to discuss with him the plan of campaign, which
         was only incidentally disclosed to him during his visit. The
         demonstration that in all essentials that plan had been
         definitely formed; and that Lord Kitchener and Sir W.
         Nicholson had been engaged in making the necessary changes in
         the distribution of transport in order to carry it out; and
         that they began this work about two or three days after Lord
         Roberts arrived, is complete. Moreover, there is not a trace
         in the records or in the memory of any of those at Cape Town
         of an idea of employing in command of the cavalry division
         anyone else but the man who had given so much cause to put
         trust in him. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that General
         French acquired the impression, from his conversations with
         Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener, that he only with difficulty
         persuaded them on January 29th to send the cavalry division
         and himself in command of it. What, other things apart, makes
         it certain that this cannot have been so is that the cavalry
         division moved at once when General French returned to
         Colesberg. To make so sudden a change was a physical
         impossibility. The preparations had required weeks of
         strenuous work.]

[Sidenote: The cavalry division.]

The commander of the cavalry division was Lieut.-General J. D. P.
French. It consisted of three cavalry brigades and two M.I. brigades;
of these the 1st cavalry brigade (Brig.-Gen. T. C. Porter) was formed
of the 6th Dragoon Guards, 2nd Dragoons, one squadron of the
Inniskilling Dragoons, one squadron of the 14th Hussars, New South
Wales Lancers, and T., Q., and U. batteries R.H.A.; the 2nd cavalry
brigade (Brig.-Gen. R. G. Broadwood) was made up of the composite
regiment of the Household cavalry, 10th Hussars, 12th Lancers, and G.
and P. batteries R.H.A.; the 3rd cavalry brigade (Brig.-Gen. J. R. P.
Gordon), of 9th and 16th Lancers, and O. and R. batteries R.H.A. To
the 1st M.I. brigade (Colonel O. C. Hannay) were assigned the 1st,
3rd, 5th, and 7th regiments M.I., the New South Wales Mounted Rifles,
Roberts' Horse, Kitchener's Horse, and the Grahamstown Volunteers
M.I.; the 2nd M.I. brigade, commanded by Colonel C. P. Ridley, was
made up by the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th M.I. regiments, the City
Imperial Volunteers, Queensland M.I., and Nesbitt's Horse.[313] Each
cavalry brigade had an ammunition column, detachment of A.S.C., field
hospital, and bearer company. The division was given a field troop
R.E. and six transport companies.

         [Footnote 313: The New Zealand Mounted Rifles joined the
         brigade on 14th February.]

[Sidenote: The infantry divisions.]

The infantry divisions were the 6th (Kelly-Kenny), the 7th
(Tucker[314]), which had landed from England during the fourth week of
January, and a new division, the 9th, to be formed under command of
Lt.-Gen. Sir H. Colvile. Of these divisions the 6th comprised the 76th
and 81st Field batteries, an ammunition column, the 38th company R.E.,
the 13th infantry brigade, under Major-General C. E. Knox (composed of
2nd East Kent, 2nd Gloucester, 1st West Riding, and 1st Oxfordshire
L.I.), and a new brigade, the 18th, made up of the 1st Yorkshire, 1st
Welsh, and 1st Essex, under the command of Brigadier-General T. E.
Stephenson. The 7th division retained its original constitution, viz.:
the 14th brigade, under Major-General Sir H. Chermside (consisting of
2nd Norfolk, 2nd Lincolnshire, 1st King's Own Scottish Borderers, and
2nd Hampshire), the 15th brigade under Major-General A. G. Wavell
(including 2nd Cheshire, 2nd South Wales Borderers, 1st East
Lancashire, and 2nd North Staffordshire), and as divisional troops,
the 18th, 62nd, and 75th Field batteries, an ammunition column, and
9th company R.E. The new 9th division, under Lieut.-General Colvile,
had as its nucleus the 3rd, or Highland brigade, now under
Major-General H. A. MacDonald (2nd Black Watch, 1st Highland Light
Infantry, 2nd Seaforth, and 1st Argyll and Sutherland). The other
brigade, to be termed the 19th, was assigned to Colonel H. L.
Smith-Dorrien, and was to be organised from the 2nd Duke of Cornwall's
L.I., 2nd Shropshire L.I., 1st Gordon Highlanders, and the Royal
Canadian regiment. The 65th (howitzer) and 82nd Field batteries, an
ammunition column, and 7th company R.E., formed Colvile's divisional
troops. Each of the infantry brigades included a bearer company, a
field hospital, and a detachment of the Army Service Corps. From each
of these divisions the cavalry was withdrawn and included in the
cavalry division. Two naval guns were attached to each of the 6th and
9th divisions, but the remainder of the naval brigade, under Captain
J. Bearcroft, R.N., was at first ordered to remain with Lord Methuen.
The only corps troops retained by the Commander-in-Chief were the 15th
company Southern division R.G.A., the 1st Telegraph division, and the
balloon section, Royal Engineers. Rimington's Guides were distributed
amongst the various columns. The total effective strength of the
force, including the Guards' and 9th brigades, which remained before
Magersfontein to hold Cronje in check, was a little under 40,000 men
and 108 guns. The battalions at this time much varied in strength,
those of the 13th brigade averaged but 721, those of the Highland
brigade 780, the battalions of the 15th brigade were as high as 900,
and the Guards' battalions reached the figure of 938. The cavalry
regiments had an average of about 473 all ranks. For details of units,
see Appendix 10.

         [Footnote 314: Lt.-General C. Tucker.]

[Sidenote: Reinforcements asked for.]

The intelligence of the failure of Sir R. Buller's operations against
Spion Kop forced the Field-Marshal on 28th January to telegraph to the
War Office that the despatch of the 8th division and another cavalry
brigade from England had become advisable, but, in deference to
reluctance felt by the Cabinet to denude further the home garrisons of
regular infantry, Lord Roberts suspended his request for them at
present until the result of later operations in Natal should be
known.[315] The brigade of cavalry was at once promised.

         [Footnote 315: The 8th division was again definitely asked
         for on 28th February, and then granted.]

[Sidenote: Demonstrations westward. MacDonald seizes Koodoesberg, Feb.
5th, 1900.]

Lord Roberts did not wait for it, for his advance could no longer be
delayed. As the troops were pushed forward successively, it was
certain that the enemy must become aware of the assembly of so large a
number very close to Magersfontein, even though the concentration was
screened by Lord Methuen's and General Clements' forces. It was
essential, therefore, to distract Cronje's attention from the flank,
eastward of which the Field-Marshal meant to aim his blow. Nor were
there lacking ample excuses for demonstrations to the westward. The
very unsatisfactory condition of the districts south of Orange river
west of the Kimberley railway was known to the Boer leaders. Cronje
had already detached to Douglas 200 men and two guns, under Commandant
Liebenberg, to support a Cape rebel, L. F. Steinkamp, in raising the
standard of revolt in those regions. To counteract this effort,
Prieska had been re-occupied on 27th January by Lieut.-Colonel
Alderson with a battery and 600 M.I., but their immediate return to De
Aar was necessary, as the mounted men were needed for the general
advance. A diversion on a larger scale was now planned. By Lord
Roberts' order Lord Methuen temporarily attached to the Highland
brigade two squadrons of the 9th Lancers, the 62nd Field battery, and
the 7th company R.E., and directed Major-General MacDonald to march at
5.30 on the morning of the 4th February to Koodoesberg Drift, where
the road from Kimberley to Douglas crosses the Riet at about twenty
miles below its junction with the Modder, and to begin the
construction of a fort covering this passage of the river. The column
halted at Fraser's Drift, seven miles out, and there bivouacked for
the night. Koodoesberg Drift was reached the following day. The hot
season was at its height. A reconnaissance was pushed to the
north-west. The top of the Koodoesberg, a long, flat-topped kopje,
about 1,200 yards from the river, was seized. It completely commanded
the drift. A mounted patrol of fifteen Boers retired from this hill as
the British cavalry approached. General MacDonald's force passed that
night on the south bank, being covered by two companies of infantry on
the far side of the river. At daylight, on the 6th of February, the
construction of a redoubt suitable for 200 men on a small knoll to
the north of the drift was begun. Almost immediately a patrol of 9th
Lancers reported that about 300 of the enemy[316] were creeping up the
northern slope of the Koodoesberg. The Major-General accordingly
ordered his brigade-major, Lieut.-Colonel Ewart, to advance rapidly
with the working parties on the hill and try to anticipate the
assailants at the summit. Ewart, supported by the Highland Light
Infantry under Lt.-Colonel Kelham, succeeded in doing so. A Boer
detachment which had already reached the top retired hastily. It was
then found that the plateau was some two miles in length, and
therefore too extensive for complete occupation. Kelham was
accordingly ordered to hold its southern edge, and the R.E. began to
build sangars across the narrow Nek which divided the south of the
hill from the main plateau. The Black Watch was moved over the river
to the right bank in support. In the afternoon arrived large
reinforcements, which had been despatched by Cronje from Scholtz Nek
to aid De Wet. These, estimated by the British troops to be about
2,000 strong,[317] enabled the enemy to push on again up the reverse
slopes of the Berg and definitely establish themselves on the northern
and western edges of the plateau. On this the British field-works were
further strengthened. Visser's homestead, a farmhouse lying in the
plain to the south-east of the kopje and to the north of the drift,
was placed in a state of defence, and occupied by two companies of the
Black Watch. The two squadrons of 9th Lancers during this time were
manoeuvred by Major Little near to the farm, with the object of
inducing the Boers to come out into the open and attack, but they
confined themselves all that afternoon to heavy sniping. At dusk the
companies of the H.L.I. on the eastern extremity of the Berg were
relieved by another company of that battalion and four companies of
the Seaforth.

         [Footnote 316: The actual strength of this force was 350. Its
         leader was C. De Wet.]

         [Footnote 317: General De Wet officially reported that he
         only received a reinforcement of 200 men. Other Boer accounts
         give his total strength during the action as 800.]

[Sidenote: Course of struggle.]

As soon as it was dark the Boers dragged a gun, which, with a further
reinforcement of 200 men, had been received from Cronje, up the
north-western slopes of the hill, and at 9 a.m. (7th February) they
opened with shrapnel on the breastworks at the eastern edge of the
plateau. The troops holding that ground were now reinforced by two
more companies of the H.L.I. and four of the Black Watch,
Lieut.-Colonel Hughes-Hallett being placed in command. A little later
the cavalry patrols reported that a party of Boers was passing across
Painter's Drift, two miles down the river, to attack the left flank.
The defence of the bank of the Riet had been entrusted to Lt.-Colonel
A. Wilson, commanding the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and that
officer despatched two and a half companies of his battalion with two
guns, under Major E. B. Urmston, to meet this movement. The rest of
Major Granet's battery was in action on the left bank of the river
against the enemy's artillery. On the Koodoesberg itself there was a
sharp fight, and a few of the burghers crept within 300 yards of the
British sangars. The heat of the day was intense, and considerable
difficulty was experienced in conveying water and ammunition up the
steep slopes of the kopje to the British fighting line. Unfortunately,
this steepness at the same time rendered it almost impossible to
withdraw the wounded. Meanwhile Major Urmston's detachment frustrated
the attempt of the enemy, a Ladybrand commando under Commandant
Froneman, to work down the bed of the river from Painter's Drift.

[Sidenote: MacDonald receives reinforcements.]

[Sidenote: MacDonald withdrawn.]

General MacDonald had early in the morning telegraphed to the Modder
camp for reinforcements. In response to this request a cavalry
brigade, with two batteries R.H.A. had been sent out under
Major-General Babington,[318] and about 3.15 p.m. could be seen at a
distance of about four or five miles to the north approaching the
river. MacDonald now hoped to assume the offensive, and reinforced
Hughes-Hallett with the remaining half-battalion of the Seaforth,
preparatory to a direct attack upon the Boers on the plateau, but,
owing to some misunderstanding, concerted action with the cavalry
brigade was not arranged until too late, and the general advance was
accordingly postponed until the following morning. The enemy,
meanwhile, fully realised that the arrival of the cavalry brigade
rendered his isolated position on the plateau no longer tenable. The
burghers, therefore, began slipping away from the hill, and by
nightfall had practically evacuated it, leaving their gun for some
time on the kopje unprotected save by a small escort. General
Babington tried to follow them up, but the Household cavalry, which
was in front, was checked by wire fences and came under heavy rifle
fire. Their attempt to cut off the gun was also quite stopped by
musketry from some thick bush and broken ground. The Boers
subsequently succeeded in removing the piece during the night,
although its descent from the kopje was a task of some serious labour
and took two hours. The Commander-in-Chief's object in making this
feint against the enemy's right had been gained. He had arrived that
morning at the Modder camp, and now ordered the two brigades to
return. General MacDonald therefore withdrew on the evening of the 8th
of February, having first ascertained by a reconnaissance that the
enemy had completely evacuated both the Berg and Painter's Drift.

         [Footnote 318: O. and R. batteries R.H.A., composite regiment
         of Household cavalry, 16th Lancers, one squadron 10th
         Hussars, one squadron 12th Lancers, and two troops of the
         Scots Greys.]

[Sidenote: Results of demonstration.]

The British losses during this action were two officers and four men
killed, and five officers and forty-two men wounded. The Boers
admitted a loss of five killed and six wounded. Locally the results of
the engagement were hardly satisfactory, but nevertheless its effect
was exactly what had been hoped for, as General Cronje at once began
to reinforce his right and further strengthen his entrenchments on
that side. A simultaneous demonstration, also made to the westward, by
a body of 1,500 men under Brig.-Gen. Broadwood, helped to confirm the
Boer leaders' assumption that the relief of Kimberley would be
attempted by the west route. Broadwood reached Sunnyside on the 7th,
hoping to strike a blow at Liebenberg's commando at Douglas; but it
had already fallen back across the river, and the British, unable to
spare the time to pursue, retired on the 8th to Richmond, a farm
thirteen miles west of Graspan.

[Sidenote: Numbers in South Africa, 4th Feb. 1900.]

The Commander-in-Chief had at first intended to leave Cape Town for
the north on 30th January, but postponed his departure, as he found
that a little more time was required to collect between the Modder and
Orange rivers the troops he designed to employ. On the 4th February,
"to correct any misapprehension which may exist at the War Office as
to the total force at my disposal," the Field-Marshal informed the
Secretary of State by telegram that the effective strength of fighting
men in Cape Colony, exclusive of seven militia battalions and of the
garrisons of Kimberley and Mafeking, was 51,900, and that the entire
fighting strength of the force in Natal was estimated at 34,830, of
whom 9,780 were invested in Ladysmith. Under these circumstances Lord
Roberts recommended that the number of militia battalions in the
country should be increased to thirty, and that, if possible, two more
regular battalions should be sent, one from Malta and the other from
Egypt. Four days later Lord Roberts informed the War Office that he
would be glad if the whole of the 8,000 Imperial Yeomanry originally
asked for by Sir R. Buller could be sent out, and more, if available.
He suggested that additional mounted men should be raised in the
colonies, and added,

"I trust you will make arrangements to supply us with horses from
Australia, India, and America. Our wants will, I fear, be

[Sidenote: Details of movement. 25th Jan. to 12th Feb. 1900.]

On 6th February the Field-Marshal, accompanied by his Chief of the
Staff, left Cape Town for Lord Methuen's camp. Meanwhile the
concentration had gone on. The details of the moves by rail had been
worked out by the Director of Railways and the General Traffic
Manager; ten miles of additional sidings had been laid down between
Orange River and the Modder, and at these sidings, between the 28th of
January and the 12th of February, there were detrained some 30,000
troops, with horses, guns, equipment, and transport, besides an
immense amount of supplies. Clements' brigade, with two squadrons
Inniskilling Dragoons, 660 Australian infantry who were in process of
being converted into mounted troops, 450 mounted infantry, two
batteries (J., R.H.A. and 4th R.F.A.) and a section 37th Howitzer
battery, lay round Rensburg to face General Schoeman's commandos. The
rest of Kelly-Kenny's