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´╗┐Title: The Great Boer War
Author: Doyle, Arthur Conan, 1859-1930
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 "The Great Boer War" ***

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THE GREAT BOER WAR

By Arthur Conan Doyle



CONTENTS.

CHAPTER 1. THE BOER NATIONS.

CHAPTER 2. THE CAUSE OF QUARREL.

CHAPTER 3. THE NEGOTIATIONS.

CHAPTER 4. THE EVE OF WAR.

CHAPTER 5. TALANA HILL.

CHAPTER 6. ELANDSLAAGTE AND RIETFONTEIN.

CHAPTER 7. THE BATTLE OF LADYSMITH.

CHAPTER 8. LORD METHUEN'S ADVANCE.

CHAPTER 9. BATTLE OF MAGERSFONTEIN.

CHAPTER 10. THE BATTLE OF STORMBERG.

CHAPTER 11. BATTLE OF COLENSO.

CHAPTER 12. THE DARK HOUR.

CHAPTER 13. THE SIEGE OF LADYSMITH.

CHAPTER 14. THE COLESBERG OPERATIONS.

CHAPTER 15. SPION KOP.

CHAPTER 16. VAALKRANZ.

CHAPTER 17. BULLER'S FINAL ADVANCE.

CHAPTER 18. THE SIEGE AND RELIEF OF KIMBERLEY.

CHAPTER 19. PAARDEBERG.

CHAPTER 20. ROBERTS'S ADVANCE ON BLOEMFONTEIN.

CHAPTER 21. STRATEGIC EFFECTS OF LORD ROBERTS'S MARCH.

CHAPTER 22. THE HALT AT BLOEMFONTEIN.

CHAPTER 23. THE CLEARING OF THE SOUTH-EAST.

CHAPTER 24. THE SIEGE OF MAFEKING.

CHAPTER 25. THE MARCH ON PRETORIA.

CHAPTER 26. DIAMOND HILL--RUNDLE'S OPERATIONS.

CHAPTER 27. THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION.

CHAPTER 28. THE HALT AT PRETORIA.

CHAPTER 29. THE ADVANCE TO KOMATIPOORT.

CHAPTER 30. THE CAMPAIGN OF DE WET.

CHAPTER 31. THE GUERILLA WARFARE IN THE TRANSVAAL: NOOITGEDACHT.

CHAPTER 32. THE SECOND INVASION OF CAPE COLONY.

CHAPTER 33. THE NORTHERN OPERATIONS FROM JANUARY TO APRIL, 1901.

CHAPTER 34. THE WINTER CAMPAIGN (APRIL TO SEPTEMBER, 1901).

CHAPTER 35. THE GUERILLA OPERATIONS IN CAPE COLONY.

CHAPTER 36. THE SPRING CAMPAIGN (SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER, 1901).

CHAPTER 37. THE CAMPAIGN OF JANUARY TO APRIL, 1902.

CHAPTER 38. DE LA REY'S CAMPAIGN OF 1902.

CHAPTER 39. THE END.



PREFACE TO THE FINAL EDITION.

During the course of the war some sixteen Editions of this work have
appeared, each of which was, I hope, a little more full and accurate
than that which preceded it. I may fairly claim, however, that the
absolute mistakes made have been few in number, and that I have never
had occasion to reverse, and seldom to modify, the judgments which I
have formed. In this final edition the early text has been carefully
revised and all fresh available knowledge has been added within the
limits of a single volume narrative. Of the various episodes in the
latter half of the war it is impossible to say that the material is
available for a complete and final chronicle. By the aid, however, of
the official dispatches, of the newspapers, and of many private letters,
I have done my best to give an intelligible and accurate account of
the matter. The treatment may occasionally seem too brief but some
proportion must be observed between the battles of 1899-1900 and the
skirmishes of 1901-1902.

My private informants are so numerous that it would be hardly possible,
even if it were desirable, that I should quote their names. Of the
correspondents upon whose work I have drawn for my materials, I would
acknowledge my obligations to Messrs. Burleigh, Nevinson, Battersby,
Stuart, Amery, Atkins, Baillie, Kinneir, Churchill, James, Ralph,
Barnes, Maxwell, Pearce, Hamilton, and others. Especially I would
mention the gentleman who represented the 'Standard' in the last year
of the war, whose accounts of Vlakfontein, Von Donop's Convoy, and
Tweebosch were the only reliable ones which reached the public.

Arthur Conan Doyle, Undershaw, Hindhead: September 1902.



CHAPTER 1. THE BOER NATIONS.

Take a community of Dutchmen of the type of those who defended
themselves for fifty years against all the power of Spain at a time when
Spain was the greatest power in the world. Intermix with them a strain
of those inflexible French Huguenots who gave up home and fortune and
left their country for ever at the time of the revocation of the Edict
of Nantes. The product must obviously be one of the most rugged, virile,
unconquerable races ever seen upon earth. Take this formidable people
and train them for seven generations in constant warfare against savage
men and ferocious beasts, in circumstances under which no weakling could
survive, place them so that they acquire exceptional skill with weapons
and in horsemanship, give them a country which is eminently suited to
the tactics of the huntsman, the marksman, and the rider. Then, finally,
put a finer temper upon their military qualities by a dour fatalistic
Old Testament religion and an ardent and consuming patriotism. Combine
all these qualities and all these impulses in one individual, and you
have the modern Boer--the most formidable antagonist who ever crossed
the path of Imperial Britain. Our military history has largely consisted
in our conflicts with France, but Napoleon and all his veterans have
never treated us so roughly as these hard-bitten farmers with their
ancient theology and their inconveniently modern rifles.

Look at the map of South Africa, and there, in the very centre of the
British possessions, like the stone in a peach, lies the great stretch
of the two republics, a mighty domain for so small a people. How came
they there? Who are these Teutonic folk who have burrowed so deeply into
Africa? It is a twice-told tale, and yet it must be told once again if
this story is to have even the most superficial of introductions. No one
can know or appreciate the Boer who does not know his past, for he is
what his past has made him.

It was about the time when Oliver Cromwell was at his zenith--in 1652,
to be pedantically accurate--that the Dutch made their first lodgment at
the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese had been there before them, but,
repelled by the evil weather, and lured forwards by rumours of gold,
they had passed the true seat of empire and had voyaged further to
settle along the eastern coast. Some gold there was, but not much, and
the Portuguese settlements have never been sources of wealth to the
mother country, and never will be until the day when Great Britain
signs her huge cheque for Delagoa Bay. The coast upon which they settled
reeked with malaria. A hundred miles of poisonous marsh separated it
from the healthy inland plateau. For centuries these pioneers of South
African colonisation strove to obtain some further footing, but save
along the courses of the rivers they made little progress. Fierce
natives and an enervating climate barred their way.

But it was different with the Dutch. That very rudeness of climate
which had so impressed the Portuguese adventurer was the source of their
success. Cold and poverty and storm are the nurses of the qualities
which make for empire. It is the men from the bleak and barren lands who
master the children of the light and the heat. And so the Dutchmen at
the Cape prospered and grew stronger in that robust climate. They did
not penetrate far inland, for they were few in number and all they
wanted was to be found close at hand. But they built themselves houses,
and they supplied the Dutch East India Company with food and water,
gradually budding off little townlets, Wynberg, Stellenbosch, and
pushing their settlements up the long slopes which lead to that great
central plateau which extends for fifteen hundred miles from the edge
of the Karoo to the Valley of the Zambesi. Then came the additional
Huguenot emigrants--the best blood of France three hundred of them, a
handful of the choicest seed thrown in to give a touch of grace and soul
to the solid Teutonic strain. Again and again in the course of history,
with the Normans, the Huguenots, the Emigres, one can see the great hand
dipping into that storehouse and sprinkling the nations with the same
splendid seed. France has not founded other countries, like her great
rival, but she has made every other country the richer by the mixture
with her choicest and best. The Rouxs, Du Toits, Jouberts, Du Plessis,
Villiers, and a score of other French names are among the most familiar
in South Africa.

For a hundred more years the history of the colony was a record of the
gradual spreading of the Afrikaners over the huge expanse of veld which
lay to the north of them. Cattle raising became an industry, but in
a country where six acres can hardly support a sheep, large farms are
necessary for even small herds. Six thousand acres was the usual size,
and five pounds a year the rent payable to Government. The diseases
which follow the white man had in Africa, as in America and Australia,
been fatal to the natives, and an epidemic of smallpox cleared the
country for the newcomers. Further and further north they pushed,
founding little towns here and there, such as Graaf-Reinet and
Swellendam, where a Dutch Reformed Church and a store for the sale
of the bare necessaries of life formed a nucleus for a few scattered
dwellings. Already the settlers were showing that independence of
control and that detachment from Europe which has been their most
prominent characteristic. Even the sway of the Dutch Company (an older
but weaker brother of John Company in India) had caused them to revolt.
The local rising, however, was hardly noticed in the universal cataclysm
which followed the French Revolution. After twenty years, during which
the world was shaken by the Titanic struggle between England and France
in the final counting up of the game and paying of the stakes, the Cape
Colony was added in 1814 to the British Empire.

In all our vast collection of States there is probably not one the
title-deeds to which are more incontestable than to this one. We had it
by two rights, the right of conquest and the right of purchase. In 1806
our troops landed, defeated the local forces, and took possession of
Cape Town. In 1814 we paid the large sum of six million pounds to the
Stadholder for the transference of this and some South American land.
It was a bargain which was probably made rapidly and carelessly in that
general redistribution which was going on. As a house of call upon the
way to India the place was seen to be of value, but the country itself
was looked upon as unprofitable and desert. What would Castlereagh or
Liverpool have thought could they have seen the items which we were
buying for our six million pounds? The inventory would have been a mixed
one of good and of evil; nine fierce Kaffir wars, the greatest
diamond mines in the world, the wealthiest gold mines, two costly and
humiliating campaigns with men whom we respected even when we fought
with them, and now at last, we hope, a South Africa of peace and
prosperity, with equal rights and equal duties for all men. The future
should hold something very good for us in that land, for if we merely
count the past we should be compelled to say that we should have been
stronger, richer, and higher in the world's esteem had our possessions
there never passed beyond the range of the guns of our men-of-war. But
surely the most arduous is the most honourable, and, looking back from
the end of their journey, our descendants may see that our long record
of struggle, with its mixture of disaster and success, its outpouring
of blood and of treasure, has always tended to some great and enduring
goal.

The title-deeds to the estate are, as I have said, good ones, but there
is one singular and ominous flaw in their provisions. The ocean has
marked three boundaries to it, but the fourth is undefined. There is
no word of the 'Hinterland;' for neither the term nor the idea had
then been thought of. Had Great Britain bought those vast regions which
extended beyond the settlements? Or were the discontented Dutch at
liberty to pass onwards and found fresh nations to bar the path of the
Anglo-Celtic colonists? In that question lay the germ of all the trouble
to come. An American would realise the point at issue if he could
conceive that after the founding of the United States the Dutch
inhabitants of the State of New York had trekked to the westward and
established fresh communities under a new flag. Then, when the American
population overtook these western States, they would be face to face
with the problem which this country has had to solve. If they found
these new States fiercely anti-American and extremely unprogressive,
they would experience that aggravation of their difficulties with which
our statesmen have had to deal.

At the time of their transference to the British flag the
colonists--Dutch, French, and German--numbered some thirty thousand.
They were slaveholders, and the slaves were about as numerous as
themselves. The prospect of complete amalgamation between the British
and the original settlers would have seemed to be a good one, since
they were of much the same stock, and their creeds could only be
distinguished by their varying degrees of bigotry and intolerance. Five
thousand British emigrants were landed in 1820, settling on the Eastern
borders of the colony, and from that time onwards there was a slow but
steady influx of English speaking colonists. The Government had the
historical faults and the historical virtues of British rule. It was
mild, clean, honest, tactless, and inconsistent. On the whole, it might
have done very well had it been content to leave things as it found
them. But to change the habits of the most conservative of Teutonic
races was a dangerous venture, and one which has led to a long series
of complications, making up the troubled history of South Africa. The
Imperial Government has always taken an honourable and philanthropic
view of the rights of the native and the claim which he has to the
protection of the law. We hold and rightly, that British justice, if not
blind, should at least be colour-blind. The view is irreproachable in
theory and incontestable in argument, but it is apt to be irritating
when urged by a Boston moralist or a London philanthropist upon men
whose whole society has been built upon the assumption that the black
is the inferior race. Such a people like to find the higher morality
for themselves, not to have it imposed upon them by those who live under
entirely different conditions. They feel--and with some reason--that
it is a cheap form of virtue which, from the serenity of a well-ordered
household in Beacon Street or Belgrave Square, prescribes what the
relation shall be between a white employer and his half-savage,
half-childish retainers. Both branches of the Anglo-Celtic race have
grappled with the question, and in each it has led to trouble.

The British Government in South Africa has always played the unpopular
part of the friend and protector of the native servants. It was upon
this very point that the first friction appeared between the old
settlers and the new administration. A rising with bloodshed followed
the arrest of a Dutch farmer who had maltreated his slave. It was
suppressed, and five of the participants were hanged. This punishment
was unduly severe and exceedingly injudicious. A brave race can forget
the victims of the field of battle, but never those of the scaffold. The
making of political martyrs is the last insanity of statesmanship. It
is true that both the man who arrested and the judge who condemned the
prisoners were Dutch, and that the British Governor interfered on the
side of mercy; but all this was forgotten afterwards in the desire to
make racial capital out of the incident. It is typical of the enduring
resentment which was left behind that when, after the Jameson raid, it
seemed that the leaders of that ill-fated venture might be hanged,
the beam was actually brought from a farmhouse at Cookhouse Drift to
Pretoria, that the Englishmen might die as the Dutchmen had died in
1816. Slagter's Nek marked the dividing of the ways between the British
Government and the Afrikaners.

And the separation soon became more marked. There were injudicious
tamperings with the local government and the local ways, with a
substitution of English for Dutch in the law courts. With vicarious
generosity, the English Government gave very lenient terms to the Kaffir
tribes who in 1834 had raided the border farmers. And then, finally, in
this same year there came the emancipation of the slaves throughout the
British Empire, which fanned all smouldering discontents into an active
flame.

It must be confessed that on this occasion the British philanthropist
was willing to pay for what he thought was right. It was a noble
national action, and one the morality of which was in advance of its
time, that the British Parliament should vote the enormous sum of twenty
million pounds to pay compensation to the slaveholders, and so to remove
an evil with which the mother country had no immediate connection. It
was as well that the thing should have been done when it was, for had we
waited till the colonies affected had governments of their own it could
never have been done by constitutional methods. With many a grumble the
good British householder drew his purse from his fob, and he paid for
what he thought to be right. If any special grace attends the virtuous
action which brings nothing but tribulation in this world, then we may
hope for it over this emancipation. We spent our money, we ruined our
West Indian colonies, and we started a disaffection in South Africa, the
end of which we have not seen. Yet if it were to be done again we should
doubtless do it. The highest morality may prove also to be the highest
wisdom when the half-told story comes to be finished.

But the details of the measure were less honourable than the principle.
It was carried out suddenly, so that the country had no time to adjust
itself to the new conditions. Three million pounds were ear-marked for
South Africa, which gives a price per slave of from sixty to seventy
pounds, a sum considerably below the current local rates. Finally, the
compensation was made payable in London, so that the farmers sold their
claims at reduced prices to middlemen. Indignation meetings were held in
every little townlet and cattle camp on the Karoo. The old Dutch spirit
was up--the spirit of the men who cut the dykes. Rebellion was useless.
But a vast untenanted land stretched to the north of them. The nomad
life was congenial to them, and in their huge ox-drawn wagons--like
those bullock-carts in which some of their old kinsmen came to
Gaul--they had vehicles and homes and forts all in one. One by one they
were loaded up, the huge teams were inspanned, the women were seated
inside, the men, with their long-barrelled guns, walked alongside,
and the great exodus was begun. Their herds and flocks accompanied the
migration, and the children helped to round them in and drive them. One
tattered little boy of ten cracked his sjambok whip behind the bullocks.
He was a small item in that singular crowd, but he was of interest to
us, for his name was Paul Stephanus Kruger.

It was a strange exodus, only comparable in modern times to the sallying
forth of the Mormons from Nauvoo upon their search for the promised laud
of Utah. The country was known and sparsely settled as far north as the
Orange River, but beyond there was a great region which had never
been penetrated save by some daring hunter or adventurous pioneer. It
chanced--if there be indeed such an element as chance in the graver
affairs of man--that a Zulu conqueror had swept over this land and left
it untenanted, save by the dwarf bushmen, the hideous aborigines,
lowest of the human race. There were fine grazing and good soil for
the emigrants. They traveled in small detached parties, but their total
numbers were considerable, from six to ten thousand according to their
historian, or nearly a quarter of the whole population of the colony.
Some of the early bands perished miserably. A large number made a
trysting-place at a high peak to the east of Bloemfontein in what was
lately the Orange Free State. One party of the emigrants was cut off
by the formidable Matabeli, a branch of the great Zulu nation. The
survivors declared war upon them, and showed in this, their first
campaign, the extraordinary ingenuity in adapting their tactics to their
adversary which has been their greatest military characteristic. The
commando which rode out to do battle with the Matabeli numbered, it is
said, a hundred and thirty-five farmers. Their adversaries were twelve
thousand spearmen. They met at the Marico River, near Mafeking. The
Boers combined the use of their horses and of their rifles so cleverly
that they slaughtered a third of their antagonists without any loss to
themselves. Their tactics were to gallop up within range of the enemy,
to fire a volley, and then to ride away again before the spearmen could
reach them. When the savages pursued the Boers fled. When the pursuit
halted the Boers halted and the rifle fire began anew. The strategy was
simple but most effective. When one remembers how often since then our
own horsemen have been pitted against savages in all parts of the world,
one deplores that ignorance of all military traditions save our own
which is characteristic of our service.

This victory of the 'voortrekkers' cleared all the country between the
Orange River and the Limpopo, the sites of what has been known as the
Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In the meantime another body of
the emigrants had descended into what is now known as Natal, and had
defeated Dingaan, the great Chief of the Zulus. Being unable, owing to
the presence of their families, to employ the cavalry tactics which had
been so effective against the Matabeli, they again used their ingenuity
to meet this new situation, and received the Zulu warriors in a square
of laagered wagons, the men firing while the women loaded. Six burghers
were killed and three thousand Zulus. Had such a formation been used
forty years afterwards against these very Zulus, we should not have had
to mourn the disaster of Isandhlwana.

And now at the end of their great journey, after overcoming the
difficulties of distance, of nature, and of savage enemies, the Boers
saw at the end of their travels the very thing which they desired
least--that which they had come so far to avoid--the flag of Great
Britain. The Boers had occupied Natal from within, but England had
previously done the same by sea, and a small colony of Englishmen
had settled at Port Natal, now known as Durban. The home Government,
however, had acted in a vacillating way, and it was only the conquest of
Natal by the Boers which caused them to claim it as a British colony.
At the same time they asserted the unwelcome doctrine that a British
subject could not at will throw off his allegiance, and that, go where
they might, the wandering farmers were still only the pioneers of
British colonies. To emphasise the fact three companies of soldiers
were sent in 1842 to what is now Durban--the usual Corporal's guard with
which Great Britain starts a new empire. This handful of men was waylaid
by the Boers and cut up, as their successors have been so often since.
The survivors, however, fortified themselves, and held a defensive
position--as also their successors have done so many times since--until
reinforcements arrived and the farmers dispersed. It is singular how in
history the same factors will always give the same result. Here in this
first skirmish is an epitome of all our military relations with these
people. The blundering headstrong attack, the defeat, the powerlessness
of the farmer against the weakest fortifications--it is the same tale
over and over again in different scales of importance. Natal from this
time onward became a British colony, and the majority of the Boers
trekked north and east with bitter hearts to tell their wrongs to their
brethren of the Orange Free State and of the Transvaal.

Had they any wrongs to tell? It is difficult to reach that height of
philosophic detachment which enables the historian to deal absolutely
impartially where his own country is a party to the quarrel. But
at least we may allow that there is a case for our adversary. Our
annexation of Natal had been by no means definite, and it was they and
not we who first broke that bloodthirsty Zulu power which threw its
shadow across the country. It was hard after such trials and such
exploits to turn their back upon the fertile land which they had
conquered, and to return to the bare pastures of the upland veld. They
carried out of Natal a heavy sense of injury, which has helped to
poison our relations with them ever since. It was, in a way, a momentous
episode, this little skirmish of soldiers and emigrants, for it was the
heading off of the Boer from the sea and the confinement of his ambition
to the land. Had it gone the other way, a new and possibly formidable
flag would have been added to the maritime nations.

The emigrants who had settled in the huge tract of country between
the Orange River in the south and the Limpopo in the north had been
recruited by newcomers from the Cape Colony until they numbered some
fifteen thousand souls. This population was scattered over a space
as large as Germany, and larger than Pennsylvania, New York, and New
England. Their form of government was individualistic and democratic to
the last degree compatible with any sort of cohesion. Their wars with
the Kaffirs and their fear and dislike of the British Government appear
to have been the only ties which held them together. They divided
and subdivided within their own borders, like a germinating egg.
The Transvaal was full of lusty little high-mettled communities,
who quarreled among themselves as fiercely as they had done with the
authorities at the Cape. Lydenburg, Zoutpansberg, and Potchefstroom were
on the point of turning their rifles against each other. In the south,
between the Orange River and the Vaal, there was no form of government
at all, but a welter of Dutch farmers, Basutos, Hottentots, and
halfbreeds living in a chronic state of turbulence, recognising neither
the British authority to the south of them nor the Transvaal republics
to the north. The chaos became at last unendurable, and in 1848 a
garrison was placed in Bloemfontein and the district incorporated in the
British Empire. The emigrants made a futile resistance at Boomplaats,
and after a single defeat allowed themselves to be drawn into the
settled order of civilised rule.

At this period the Transvaal, where most of the Boers had settled,
desired a formal acknowledgment of their independence, which the British
authorities determined once and for all to give them. The great barren
country, which produced little save marksmen, had no attractions for a
Colonial Office which was bent upon the limitation of its liabilities.
A Convention was concluded between the two parties, known as the Sand
River Convention, which is one of the fixed points in South African
history. By it the British Government guaranteed to the Boer farmers the
right to manage their own affairs, and to govern themselves by their
own laws without any interference upon the part of the British. It
stipulated that there should be no slavery, and with that single
reservation washed its hands finally, as it imagined, of the whole
question. So the South African Republic came formally into existence.

In the very year after the Sand River Convention a second republic, the
Orange Free State, was created by the deliberate withdrawal of Great
Britain from the territory which she had for eight years occupied. The
Eastern Question was already becoming acute, and the cloud of a great
war was drifting up, visible to all men. British statesmen felt that
their commitments were very heavy in every part of the world, and
the South African annexations had always been a doubtful value and an
undoubted trouble. Against the will of a large part of the inhabitants,
whether a majority or not it is impossible to say, we withdrew our
troops as amicably as the Romans withdrew from Britain, and the new
republic was left with absolute and unfettered independence. On a
petition being presented against the withdrawal, the Home Government
actually voted forty-eight thousand pounds to compensate those who had
suffered from the change. Whatever historical grievance the Transvaal
may have against Great Britain, we can at least, save perhaps in one
matter, claim to have a very clear conscience concerning our dealings
with the Orange Free State. Thus in 1852 and in 1854 were born those
sturdy States who were able for a time to hold at bay the united forces
of the empire.

In the meantime Cape Colony, in spite of these secessions, had prospered
exceedingly, and her population--English, German, and Dutch--had grown
by 1870 to over two hundred thousand souls, the Dutch still slightly
predominating. According to the Liberal colonial policy of Great
Britain, the time had come to cut the cord and let the young nation
conduct its own affairs. In 1872 complete self-government was given
to it, the Governor, as the representative of the Queen, retaining a
nominal unexercised veto upon legislation. According to this system
the Dutch majority of the colony could, and did, put their own
representatives into power and run the government upon Dutch lines.
Already Dutch law had been restored, and Dutch put on the same footing
as English as the official language of the country. The extreme
liberality of such measures, and the uncompromising way in which they
have been carried out, however distasteful the legislation might seem
to English ideas, are among the chief reasons which made the illiberal
treatment of British settlers in the Transvaal so keenly resented at the
Cape. A Dutch Government was ruling the British in a British colony,
at a moment when the Boers would not give an Englishman a vote upon a
municipal council in a city which he had built himself. Unfortunately,
however, 'the evil that men do lives after them,' and the ignorant Boer
farmer continued to imagine that his southern relatives were in bondage,
just as the descendant of the Irish emigrant still pictures an Ireland
of penal laws and an alien Church.

For twenty-five years after the Sand River Convention the burghers
of the South African Republic had pursued a strenuous and violent
existence, fighting incessantly with the natives and sometimes with
each other, with an occasional fling at the little Dutch republic to the
south. The semi-tropical sun was waking strange ferments in the placid
Friesland blood, and producing a race who added the turbulence and
restlessness of the south to the formidable tenacity of the north.
Strong vitality and violent ambitions produced feuds and rivalries
worthy of medieval Italy, and the story of the factious little
communities is like a chapter out of Guicciardini. Disorganisation
ensued. The burghers would not pay taxes and the treasury was empty. One
fierce Kaffir tribe threatened them from the north, and the Zulus on
the east. It is an exaggeration of English partisans to pretend that our
intervention saved the Boers, for no one can read their military history
without seeing that they were a match for Zulus and Sekukuni combined.
But certainly a formidable invasion was pending, and the scattered
farmhouses were as open to the Kaffirs as our farmers' homesteads were
in the American colonies when the Indians were on the warpath. Sir
Theophilus Shepstone, the British Commissioner, after an inquiry of
three months, solved all questions by the formal annexation of the
country. The fact that he took possession of it with a force of
some twenty-five men showed the honesty of his belief that no armed
resistance was to be feared. This, then, in 1877 was a complete reversal
of the Sand River Convention and the opening of a new chapter in the
history of South Africa.

There did not appear to be any strong feeling at the time against the
annexation. The people were depressed with their troubles and weary of
contention. Burgers, the President, put in a formal protest, and took
up his abode in Cape Colony, where he had a pension from the British
Government. A memorial against the measure received the signatures of a
majority of the Boer inhabitants, but there was a fair minority who took
the other view. Kruger himself accepted a paid office under Government.
There was every sign that the people, if judiciously handled, would
settle down under the British flag. It is even asserted that they would
themselves have petitioned for annexation had it been longer withheld.
With immediate constitutional government it is possible that even
the most recalcitrant of them might have been induced to lodge their
protests in the ballot boxes rather than in the bodies of our soldiers.

But the empire has always had poor luck in South Africa, and never
worse than on that occasion. Through no bad faith, but simply through
preoccupation and delay, the promises made were not instantly fulfilled.
Simple primitive men do not understand the ways of our circumlocution
offices, and they ascribe to duplicity what is really red tape and
stupidity. If the Transvaalers had waited they would have had their
Volksraad and all that they wanted. But the British Government had some
other local matters to set right, the rooting out of Sekukuni and the
breaking of the Zulus, before they would fulfill their pledges. The
delay was keenly resented. And we were unfortunate in our choice of
Governor. The burghers are a homely folk, and they like an occasional
cup of coffee with the anxious man who tries to rule them. The three
hundred pounds a year of coffee money allowed by the Transvaal to its
President is by no means a mere form. A wise administrator would fall
into the sociable and democratic habits of the people. Sir Theophilus
Shepstone did so. Sir Owen Lanyon did not. There was no Volksraad and
no coffee, and the popular discontent grew rapidly. In three years the
British had broken up the two savage hordes which had been threatening
the land. The finances, too, had been restored. The reasons which had
made so many favour the annexation were weakened by the very power which
had every interest in preserving them.

It cannot be too often pointed out that in this annexation, the
starting-point of our troubles, Great Britain, however mistaken she may
have been, had no obvious selfish interest in view. There were no Rand
mines in those days, nor was there anything in the country to tempt the
most covetous. An empty treasury and two native wars were the reversion
which we took over. It was honestly considered that the country was
in too distracted a state to govern itself, and had, by its weakness,
become a scandal and a danger to its neighbours. There was nothing
sordid in our action, though it may have been both injudicious and
high-handed.

In December 1880 the Boers rose. Every farmhouse sent out its riflemen,
and the trysting-place was the outside of the nearest British fort. All
through the country small detachments were surrounded and besieged
by the farmers. Standerton, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, Lydenburg,
Wakkerstroom, Rustenberg, and Marabastad were all invested and all
held out until the end of the war. In the open country we were less
fortunate. At Bronkhorst Spruit a small British force was taken by
surprise and shot down without harm to their antagonists. The surgeon
who treated them has left it on record that the average number of
wounds was five per man. At Laing's Nek an inferior force of British
endeavoured to rush a hill which was held by Boer riflemen. Half of our
men were killed and wounded. Ingogo may be called a drawn battle, though
our loss was more heavy than that of the enemy. Finally came the
defeat of Majuba Hill, where four hundred infantry upon a mountain were
defeated and driven off by a swarm of sharpshooters who advanced under
the cover of boulders. Of all these actions there was not one which
was more than a skirmish, and had they been followed by a final British
victory they would now be hardly remembered. It is the fact that they
were skirmishes which succeeded in their object which has given them
an importance which is exaggerated. At the same time they may mark the
beginning of a new military era, for they drove home the fact--only too
badly learned by us--that it is the rifle and not the drill which makes
the soldier. It is bewildering that after such an experience the
British military authorities continued to serve out only three hundred
cartridges a year for rifle practice, and that they still encouraged
that mechanical volley firing which destroys all individual aim. With
the experience of the first Boer war behind them, little was done,
either in tactics or in musketry, to prepare the soldier for the second.
The value of the mounted rifleman, the shooting with accuracy at unknown
ranges, the art of taking cover--all were equally neglected.

The defeat at Majuba Hill was followed by the complete surrender of the
Gladstonian Government, an act which was either the most pusillanimous
or the most magnanimous in recent history. It is hard for the big man
to draw away from the small before blows are struck but when the big man
has been knocked down three times it is harder still. An overwhelming
British force was in the field, and the General declared that he held
the enemy in the hollow of his hand. Our military calculations have been
falsified before now by these farmers, and it may be that the task
of Wood and Roberts would have been harder than they imagined; but on
paper, at least, it looked as if the enemy could be crushed without
difficulty. So the public thought, and yet they consented to the
upraised sword being stayed. With them, as apart from the politicians,
the motive was undoubtedly a moral and Christian one. They considered
that the annexation of the Transvaal had evidently been an injustice,
that the farmers had a right to the freedom for which they fought, and
that it was an unworthy thing for a great nation to continue an unjust
war for the sake of a military revenge. It was the height of idealism,
and the result has not been such as to encourage its repetition.

An armistice was concluded on March 5th, 1881, which led up to a peace
on the 23rd of the same month. The Government, after yielding to force
what it had repeatedly refused to friendly representations, made
a clumsy compromise in their settlement. A policy of idealism and
Christian morality should have been thorough if it were to be tried
at all. It was obvious that if the annexation were unjust, then the
Transvaal should have reverted to the condition in which it was before
the annexation, as defined by the Sand River Convention. But the
Government for some reason would not go so far as this. They niggled
and quibbled and bargained until the State was left as a curious hybrid
thing such as the world has never seen. It was a republic which was
part of the system of a monarchy, dealt with by the Colonial Office,
and included under the heading of 'Colonies' in the news columns of the
'Times.' It was autonomous, and yet subject to some vague suzerainty,
the limits of which no one has ever been able to define. Altogether, in
its provisions and in its omissions, the Convention of Pretoria appears
to prove that our political affairs were as badly conducted as our
military in this unfortunate year of 1881.

It was evident from the first that so illogical and contentious an
agreement could not possibly prove to be a final settlement, and indeed
the ink of the signatures was hardly dry before an agitation was on foot
for its revision. The Boers considered, and with justice, that if they
were to be left as undisputed victors in the war then they should have
the full fruits of victory. On the other hand, the English-speaking
colonies had their allegiance tested to the uttermost. The proud
Anglo-Celtic stock is not accustomed to be humbled, and yet they found
themselves through the action of the home Government converted into
members of a beaten race. It was very well for the citizen of London to
console his wounded pride by the thought that he had done a magnanimous
action, but it was different with the British colonist of Durban or Cape
Town, who by no act of his own, and without any voice in the settlement,
found himself humiliated before his Dutch neighbour. An ugly feeling of
resentment was left behind, which might perhaps have passed away had the
Transvaal accepted the settlement in the spirit in which it was meant,
but which grew more and more dangerous as during eighteen years our
people saw, or thought that they saw, that one concession led always
to a fresh demand, and that the Dutch republics aimed not merely at
equality, but at dominance in South Africa. Professor Bryce, a friendly
critic, after a personal examination of the country and the question,
has left it upon record that the Boers saw neither generosity nor
humanity in our conduct, but only fear. An outspoken race, they conveyed
their feelings to their neighbours. Can it be wondered at that South
Africa has been in a ferment ever since, and that the British Africander
has yearned with an intensity of feeling unknown in England for the hour
of revenge?

The Government of the Transvaal after the war was left in the hands of a
triumvirate, but after one year Kruger became President, an office which
he continued to hold for eighteen years. His career as ruler vindicates
the wisdom of that wise but unwritten provision of the American
Constitution by which there is a limit to the tenure of this office.
Continued rule for half a generation must turn a man into an autocrat.
The old President has said himself, in his homely but shrewd way, that
when one gets a good ox to lead the team it is a pity to change him.
If a good ox, however, is left to choose his own direction without
guidance, he may draw his wagon into trouble.

During three years the little State showed signs of a tumultuous
activity. Considering that it was as large as France and that the
population could not have been more than 50,000, one would have thought
that they might have found room without any inconvenient crowding.
But the burghers passed beyond their borders in every direction. The
President cried aloud that he had been shut up in a kraal, and he
proceeded to find ways out of it. A great trek was projected for the
north, but fortunately it miscarried. To the east they raided Zululand,
and succeeded, in defiance of the British settlement of that country,
in tearing away one third of it and adding it to the Transvaal. To
the west, with no regard to the three-year-old treaty, they invaded
Bechuanaland, and set up the two new republics of Goshen and Stellaland.
So outrageous were these proceedings that Great Britain was forced
to fit out in 1884 a new expedition under Sir Charles Warren for the
purpose of turning these freebooters out of the country. It may be
asked, why should these men be called freebooters if the founders of
Rhodesia were pioneers? The answer is that the Transvaal was limited
by treaty to certain boundaries which these men transgressed, while no
pledges were broken when the British power expanded to the north. The
upshot of these trespasses was the scene upon which every drama of South
Africa rings down. Once more the purse was drawn from the pocket of
the unhappy taxpayer, and a million or so was paid out to defray the
expenses of the police force necessary to keep these treaty-breakers in
order. Let this be borne in mind when we assess the moral and material
damage done to the Transvaal by that ill-conceived and foolish
enterprise, the Jameson Raid.

In 1884 a deputation from the Transvaal visited England, and at their
solicitation the clumsy Treaty of Pretoria was altered into the still
more clumsy Convention of London. The changes in the provisions were all
in favour of the Boers, and a second successful war could hardly have
given them more than Lord Derby handed them in time of peace. Their
style was altered from the Transvaal to the South African Republic, a
change which was ominously suggestive of expansion in the future. The
control of Great Britain over their foreign policy was also relaxed,
though a power of veto was retained. But the most important thing of
all, and the fruitful cause of future trouble, lay in an omission. A
suzerainty is a vague term, but in politics, as in theology, the more
nebulous a thing is the more does it excite the imagination and the
passions of men. This suzerainty was declared in the preamble of the
first treaty, and no mention of it was made in the second. Was it
thereby abrogated or was it not? The British contention was that only
the articles were changed, and that the preamble continued to hold good
for both treaties. They pointed out that not only the suzerainty, but
also the independence, of the Transvaal was proclaimed in that preamble,
and that if one lapsed the other must do so also. On the other hand,
the Boers pointed to the fact that there was actually a preamble to the
second Convention, which would seem, therefore, to have taken the place
of the first. The point is so technical that it appears to be eminently
one of those questions which might with propriety have been submitted to
the decision of a board of foreign jurists--or possibly to the Supreme
Court of the United States. If the decision had been given against Great
Britain, we might have accepted it in a chastened spirit as a fitting
punishment for the carelessness of the representative who failed to
make our meaning intelligible. Carlyle has said that a political mistake
always ends in a broken head for somebody. Unfortunately the somebody is
usually somebody else. We have read the story of the political mistakes.
Only too soon we shall come to the broken heads.

This, then, is a synopsis of what had occurred up to the signing of
the Convention, which finally established, or failed to establish, the
position of the South African Republic. We must now leave the larger
questions, and descend to the internal affairs of that small State, and
especially to that train of events which has stirred the mind of our
people more than anything since the Indian Mutiny.



CHAPTER 2. THE CAUSE OF QUARREL.

There might almost seem to be some subtle connection between the
barrenness and worthlessness of a surface and the value of the minerals
which lie beneath it. The craggy mountains of Western America, the arid
plains of West Australia, the ice-bound gorges of the Klondyke, and the
bare slopes of the Witwatersrand veld--these are the lids which cover
the great treasure chests of the world.

Gold had been known to exist in the Transvaal before, but it was only in
1886 that it was realised that the deposits which lie some thirty miles
south of the capital are of a very extraordinary and valuable nature.
The proportion of gold in the quartz is not particularly high, nor are
the veins of a remarkable thickness, but the peculiarity of the Rand
mines lies in the fact that throughout this 'banket' formation the metal
is so uniformly distributed that the enterprise can claim a certainty
which is not usually associated with the industry. It is quarrying
rather than mining. Add to this that the reefs which were originally
worked as outcrops have now been traced to enormous depths, and present
the same features as those at the surface. A conservative estimate of
the value of the gold has placed it at seven hundred millions of pounds.

Such a discovery produced the inevitable effect. A great number of
adventurers flocked into the country, some desirable and some very much
the reverse. There were circumstances, however, which kept away
the rowdy and desperado element who usually make for a newly opened
goldfield. It was not a class of mining which encouraged the individual
adventurer. There were none of those nuggets which gleamed through
the mud of the dollies at Ballarat, or recompensed the forty-niners in
California for all their travels and their toils. It was a field for
elaborate machinery, which could only be provided by capital. Managers,
engineers, miners, technical experts, and the tradesmen and middlemen
who live upon them, these were the Uitlanders, drawn from all the races
under the sun, but with the Anglo-Celtic vastly predominant. The best
engineers were American, the best miners were Cornish, the best managers
were English, the money to run the mines was largely subscribed in
England. As time went on, however, the German and French interests
became more extensive, until their joint holdings are now probably as
heavy as those of the British. Soon the population of the mining centres
became greater than that of the whole Boer community, and consisted
mainly of men in the prime of life--men, too, of exceptional
intelligence and energy.

The situation was an extraordinary one. I have already attempted to
bring the problem home to an American by suggesting that the Dutch
of New York had trekked west and founded an anti-American and highly
unprogressive State. To carry out the analogy we will now suppose that
that State was California, that the gold of that State attracted a
large inrush of American citizens, who came to outnumber the original
inhabitants, that these citizens were heavily taxed and badly used, and
that they deafened Washington with their outcry about their injuries.
That would be a fair parallel to the relations between the Transvaal,
the Uitlanders, and the British Government.

That these Uitlanders had very real and pressing grievances no one could
possibly deny. To recount them all would be a formidable task, for their
whole lives were darkened by injustice. There was not a wrong which had
driven the Boer from Cape Colony which he did not now practise himself
upon others--and a wrong may be excusable in 1885 which is monstrous
in 1895. The primitive virtue which had characterised the farmers broke
down in the face of temptation. The country Boers were little affected,
some of them not at all, but the Pretoria Government became a most
corrupt oligarchy, venal and incompetent to the last degree. Officials
and imported Hollanders handled the stream of gold which came in from
the mines, while the unfortunate Uitlander who paid nine-tenths of the
taxation was fleeced at every turn, and met with laughter and taunts
when he endeavoured to win the franchise by which he might peaceably
set right the wrongs from which he suffered. He was not an unreasonable
person. On the contrary, he was patient to the verge of meekness,
as capital is likely to be when it is surrounded by rifles. But his
situation was intolerable, and after successive attempts at peaceful
agitation, and numerous humble petitions to the Volksraad, he began at
last to realise that he would never obtain redress unless he could find
some way of winning it for himself.

Without attempting to enumerate all the wrongs which embittered the
Uitlanders, the more serious of them may be summed up in this way.

1. That they were heavily taxed and provided about seven-eighths of the
revenue of the country. The revenue of the South African Republic--which
had been 154,000 pounds in 1886, when the gold fields were opened--had
grown in 1899 to four million pounds, and the country through the
industry of the newcomers had changed from one of the poorest to the
richest in the whole world (per head of population).

2. That in spite of this prosperity which they had brought, they, the
majority of the inhabitants of the country, were left without a vote,
and could by no means influence the disposal of the great sums which
they were providing. Such a case of taxation without representation has
never been known.

3. That they had no voice in the choice or payment of officials. Men of
the worst private character might be placed with complete authority over
valuable interests. Upon one occasion the Minister of Mines attempted
himself to jump a mine, having officially learned some flaw in its
title. The total official salaries had risen in 1899 to a sum sufficient
to pay 40 pounds per head to the entire male Boer population.

4. That they had no control over education. Mr. John Robinson, the
Director General of the Johannesburg Educational Council, has reckoned
the sum spent on Uitlander schools as 650 pounds out of 63,000 pounds
allotted for education, making one shilling and tenpence per head per
annum on Uitlander children, and eight pounds six shillings per head
on Boer children--the Uitlander, as always, paying seven-eighths of the
original sum.

5. No power of municipal government. Watercarts instead of pipes,
filthy buckets instead of drains, a corrupt and violent police, a high
death-rate in what should be a health resort--all this in a city which
they had built themselves.

6. Despotic government in the matter of the press and of the right of
public meeting.

7. Disability from service upon a jury.

8. Continual harassing of the mining interest by vexatious legislation.
Under this head came many grievances, some special to the mines and some
affecting all Uitlanders. The dynamite monopoly, by which the miners had
to pay 600,000 pounds extra per annum in order to get a worse quality
of dynamite; the liquor laws, by which one-third of the Kaffirs were
allowed to be habitually drunk; the incompetence and extortions of the
State-owned railway; the granting of concessions for numerous articles
of ordinary consumption to individuals, by which high prices were
maintained; the surrounding of Johannesburg by tolls from which the town
had no profit--these were among the economical grievances, some large,
some petty, which ramified through every transaction of life.

And outside and beyond all these definite wrongs imagine to a free born
progressive man, an American or a Briton, the constant irritation of
being absolutely ruled by a body of twenty-five men, twenty-one of
whom had in the case of the Selati Railway Company been publicly and
circumstantially accused of bribery, with full details of the bribes
received, while to their corruption they added such crass ignorance that
they argue in the published reports of the Volksraad debates that using
dynamite bombs to bring down rain was firing at God, that it is impious
to destroy locusts, that the word 'participate' should not be used
because it is not in the Bible, and that postal pillar boxes are
extravagant and effeminate. Such obiter dicta may be amusing at a
distance, but they are less entertaining when they come from an autocrat
who has complete power over the conditions of your life.

From the fact that they were a community extremely preoccupied by
their own business, it followed that the Uitlanders were not ardent
politicians, and that they desired to have a share in the government of
the State for the purpose of making the conditions of their own industry
and of their own daily lives more endurable. How far there was need of
such an interference may be judged by any fair-minded man who reads the
list of their complaints. A superficial view may recognise the Boers as
the champions of liberty, but a deeper insight must see that they (as
represented by their elected rulers) have in truth stood for all
that history has shown to be odious in the form of exclusiveness and
oppression. Their conception of liberty has been a selfish one, and they
have consistently inflicted upon others far heavier wrongs than those
against which they had themselves rebelled.

As the mines increased in importance and the miners in numbers, it
was found that these political disabilities affected some of that
cosmopolitan crowd far more than others, in proportion to the amount of
freedom to which their home institutions had made them accustomed. The
continental Uitlanders were more patient of that which was unendurable
to the American and the Briton. The Americans, however, were in so great
a minority that it was upon the British that the brunt of the struggle
for freedom fell. Apart from the fact that the British were more
numerous than all the other Uitlanders combined, there were special
reasons why they should feel their humiliating position more than the
members of any other race. In the first place, many of the British were
British South Africans, who knew that in the neighbouring countries
which gave them birth the most liberal possible institutions had been
given to the kinsmen of these very Boers who were refusing them the
management of their own drains and water supply. And again, every Briton
knew that Great Britain claimed to be the paramount power in South
Africa, and so he felt as if his own land, to which he might have looked
for protection, was conniving at and acquiescing in his ill treatment.
As citizens of the paramount power, it was peculiarly galling that they
should be held in political subjection. The British, therefore, were the
most persistent and energetic of the agitators.

But it is a poor cause which cannot bear to fairly state and honestly
consider the case of its opponents. The Boers had made, as has been
briefly shown, great efforts to establish a country of their own. They
had travelled far, worked hard, and fought bravely. After all their
efforts they were fated to see an influx of strangers into their
country, some of them men of questionable character, who outnumbered
the original inhabitants. If the franchise were granted to these,
there could be no doubt that though at first the Boers might control
a majority of the votes, it was only a question of time before the
newcomers would dominate the Raad and elect their own President, who
might adopt a policy abhorrent to the original owners of the land. Were
the Boers to lose by the ballot-box the victory which they had won by
their rifles? Was it fair to expect it? These newcomers came for gold.
They got their gold. Their companies paid a hundred per cent. Was not
that enough to satisfy them? If they did not like the country why did
they not leave it? No one compelled them to stay there. But if they
stayed, let them be thankful that they were tolerated at all, and not
presume to interfere with the laws of those by whose courtesy they were
allowed to enter the country.

That is a fair statement of the Boer position, and at first sight an
impartial man might say that there was a good deal to say for it; but
a closer examination would show that, though it might be tenable in
theory, it is unjust and impossible in practice.

In the present crowded state of the world a policy of Thibet may be
carried out in some obscure corner, but it cannot be done in a great
tract of country which lies right across the main line of industrial
progress. The position is too absolutely artificial. A handful of people
by the right of conquest take possession of an enormous country over
which they are dotted at such intervals that it is their boast that one
farmhouse cannot see the smoke of another, and yet, though their numbers
are so disproportionate to the area which they cover, they refuse to
admit any other people upon equal terms, but claim to be a privileged
class who shall dominate the newcomers completely. They are outnumbered
in their own land by immigrants who are far more highly educated and
progressive, and yet they hold them down in a way which exists nowhere
else upon earth. What is their right? The right of conquest. Then the
same right may be justly invoked to reverse so intolerable a situation.
This they would themselves acknowledge. 'Come on and fight! Come on!'
cried a member of the Volksraad when the franchise petition of the
Uitlanders was presented. 'Protest! Protest! What is the good of
protesting?' said Kruger to Mr. W. Y. Campbell; 'you have not got the
guns, I have.' There was always the final court of appeal. Judge Creusot
and Judge Mauser were always behind the President.

Again, the argument of the Boers would be more valid had they received
no benefit from these immigrants. If they had ignored them they might
fairly have stated that they did not desire their presence. But even
while they protested they grew rich at the Uitlander's expense. They
could not have it both ways. It would be consistent to discourage him
and not profit by him, or to make him comfortable and build the State
upon his money; but to ill-treat him and at the same time to grow strong
by his taxation must surely be an injustice.

And again, the whole argument is based upon the narrow racial
supposition that every naturalised citizen not of Boer extraction must
necessarily be unpatriotic. This is not borne out by the examples
of history. The newcomer soon becomes as proud of his country and
as jealous of her liberty as the old. Had President Kruger given the
franchise generously to the Uitlander, his pyramid would have been
firm upon its base and not balanced upon its apex. It is true that the
corrupt oligarchy would have vanished, and the spirit of a broader more
tolerant freedom influenced the counsels of the State. But the republic
would have become stronger and more permanent, with a population who,
if they differed in details, were united in essentials. Whether such a
solution would have been to the advantage of British interests in South
Africa is quite another question. In more ways than one President Kruger
has been a good friend to the empire.

So much upon the general question of the reason why the Uitlander should
agitate and why the Boer was obdurate. The details of the long struggle
between the seekers for the franchise and the refusers of it may be
quickly sketched, but they cannot be entirely ignored by any one who
desires to understand the inception of that great contest which was the
outcome of the dispute.

At the time of the Convention of Pretoria (1881) the rights of
burghership might be obtained by one year's residence. In 1882 it was
raised to five years, the reasonable limit which obtains both in Great
Britain and in the United States. Had it remained so, it is safe to say
that there would never have been either an Uitlander question or a great
Boer war. Grievances would have been righted from the inside without
external interference.

In 1890 the inrush of outsiders alarmed the Boers, and the franchise was
raised so as to be only attainable by those who had lived fourteen years
in the country. The Uitlanders, who were increasing rapidly in numbers
and were suffering from the formidable list of grievances already
enumerated, perceived that their wrongs were so numerous that it was
hopeless to have them set right seriatim, and that only by obtaining the
leverage of the franchise could they hope to move the heavy burden which
weighed them down. In 1893 a petition of 13,000 Uitlanders, couched
in most respectful terms, was submitted to the Raad, but met with
contemptuous neglect. Undeterred, however, by this failure, the National
Reform Union, an association which organised the agitation, came back to
the attack in 1894. They drew up a petition which was signed by 35,000
adult male Uitlanders, a greater number than the total Boer male
population of the country. A small liberal body in the Raad supported
this memorial and endeavoured in vain to obtain some justice for the
newcomers. Mr. Jeppe was the mouthpiece of this select band. 'They own
half the soil, they pay at least three quarters of the taxes,' said he.
'They are men who in capital, energy, and education are at least our
equals.

What will become of us or our children on that day when we may find
ourselves in a minority of one in twenty without a single friend among
the other nineteen, among those who will then tell us that they wished
to be brothers, but that we by our own act have made them strangers to
the republic?' Such reasonable and liberal sentiments were combated by
members who asserted that the signatures could not belong to law-abiding
citizens, since they were actually agitating against the law of the
franchise, and others whose intolerance was expressed by the defiance of
the member already quoted, who challenged the Uitlanders to come out and
fight. The champions of exclusiveness and racial hatred won the day. The
memorial was rejected by sixteen votes to eight, and the franchise law
was, on the initiative of the President, actually made more stringent
than ever, being framed in such a way that during the fourteen years of
probation the applicant should give up his previous nationality, so that
for that period he would really belong to no country at all. No hopes
were held out that any possible attitude upon the part of the Uitlanders
would soften the determination of the President and his burghers. One
who remonstrated was led outside the State buildings by the President,
who pointed up at the national flag. 'You see that flag?' said he. 'If I
grant the franchise, I may as well pull it down.' His animosity against
the immigrants was bitter. 'Burghers, friends, thieves, murderers,
newcomers, and others,' is the conciliatory opening of one of his public
addresses. Though Johannesburg is only thirty-two miles from Pretoria,
and though the State of which he was the head depended for its revenue
upon the gold fields, he paid it only three visits in nine years.

This settled animosity was deplorable, but not unnatural. A man imbued
with the idea of a chosen people, and unread in any book save the one
which cultivates this very idea, could not be expected to have learned
the historical lessons of the advantages which a State reaps from a
liberal policy. To him it was as if the Ammonites and Moabites had
demanded admission into the twelve tribes. He mistook an agitation
against the exclusive policy of the State for one against the existence
of the State itself. A wide franchise would have made his republic
firm-based and permanent. It was a small minority of the Uitlanders who
had any desire to come into the British system. They were a cosmopolitan
crowd, only united by the bond of a common injustice. But when every
other method had failed, and their petition for the rights of freemen
had been flung back at them, it was natural that their eyes should
turn to that flag which waved to the north, the west, and the south of
them--the flag which means purity of government with equal rights and
equal duties for all men. Constitutional agitation was laid aside, arms
were smuggled in, and everything prepared for an organised rising.

The events which followed at the beginning of 1896 have been so thrashed
out that there is, perhaps, nothing left to tell--except the truth. So
far as the Uitlanders themselves are concerned, their action was most
natural and justifiable, and they have no reason to exculpate themselves
for rising against such oppression as no men of our race have ever been
submitted to. Had they trusted only to themselves and the justice of
their cause, their moral and even their material position would have
been infinitely stronger. But unfortunately there were forces behind
them which were more questionable, the nature and extent of which have
never yet, in spite of two commissions of investigation, been properly
revealed. That there should have been any attempt at misleading inquiry,
or suppressing documents in order to shelter individuals, is deplorable,
for the impression left--I believe an entirely false one--must be that
the British Government connived at an expedition which was as immoral as
it was disastrous.

It had been arranged that the town was to rise upon a certain night,
that Pretoria should be attacked, the fort seized, and the rifles and
ammunition used to arm the Uitlanders. It was a feasible device, though
it must seem to us, who have had such an experience of the military
virtues of the burghers, a very desperate one. But it is conceivable
that the rebels might have held Johannesburg until the universal
sympathy which their cause excited throughout South Africa would have
caused Great Britain to intervene. Unfortunately they had complicated
matters by asking for outside help. Mr. Cecil Rhodes was Premier of the
Cape, a man of immense energy, and one who had rendered great services
to the empire. The motives of his action are obscure--certainly, we
may say that they were not sordid, for he has always been a man whose
thoughts were large and whose habits were simple. But whatever they may
have been--whether an ill-regulated desire to consolidate South Africa
under British rule, or a burning sympathy with the Uitlanders in their
fight against injustice--it is certain that he allowed his lieutenant,
Dr. Jameson, to assemble the mounted police of the Chartered Company, of
which Rhodes was founder and director, for the purpose of co-operating
with the rebels at Johannesburg. Moreover, when the revolt at
Johannesburg was postponed, on account of a disagreement as to which
flag they were to rise under, it appears that Jameson (with or without
the orders of Rhodes) forced the hand of the conspirators by invading
the country with a force absurdly inadequate to the work which he had
taken in hand. Five hundred policemen and three field guns made up the
forlorn hope who started from near Mafeking and crossed the Transvaal
border upon December 29th, 1895. On January 2nd they were surrounded by
the Boers amid the broken country near Dornkop, and after losing many
of their number killed and wounded, without food and with spent horses,
they were compelled to lay down their arms. Six burghers lost their
lives in the skirmish.

The Uitlanders have been severely criticised for not having sent out a
force to help Jameson in his difficulties, but it is impossible to see
how they could have acted in any other manner. They had done all they
could to prevent Jameson coming to their relief, and now it was rather
unreasonable to suppose that they should relieve their reliever. Indeed,
they had an entirely exaggerated idea of the strength of the force which
he was bringing, and received the news of his capture with incredulity.
When it became confirmed they rose, but in a halfhearted fashion
which was not due to want of courage, but to the difficulties of their
position. On the one hand, the British Government disowned Jameson
entirely, and did all it could to discourage the rising; on the other,
the President had the raiders in his keeping at Pretoria, and let it
be understood that their fate depended upon the behaviour of the
Uitlanders. They were led to believe that Jameson would be shot unless
they laid down their arms, though, as a matter of fact, Jameson and
his people had surrendered upon a promise of quarter. So skillfully did
Kruger use his hostages that he succeeded, with the help of the British
Commissioner, in getting the thousands of excited Johannesburgers to
lay down their arms without bloodshed. Completely out-manoeuvred by the
astute old President, the leaders of the reform movement used all their
influence in the direction of peace, thinking that a general amnesty
would follow; but the moment that they and their people were helpless
the detectives and armed burghers occupied the town, and sixty of their
number were hurried to Pretoria Gaol.

To the raiders themselves the President behaved with great generosity.
Perhaps he could not find it in his heart to be harsh to the men who
had managed to put him in the right and won for him the sympathy of the
world. His own illiberal and oppressive treatment of the newcomers was
forgotten in the face of this illegal inroad of filibusters. The true
issues were so obscured by this intrusion that it has taken years
to clear them, and perhaps they will never be wholly cleared. It was
forgotten that it was the bad government of the country which was the
real cause of the unfortunate raid. From then onwards the government
might grow worse and worse, but it was always possible to point to
the raid as justifying everything. Were the Uitlanders to have the
franchise? How could they expect it after the raid? Would Britain object
to the enormous importation of arms and obvious preparations for war?
They were only precautions against a second raid. For years the raid
stood in the way, not only of all progress, but of all remonstrance.
Through an action over which they had no control, and which they had
done their best to prevent, the British Government was left with a bad
case and a weakened moral authority.

The raiders were sent home, where the rank and file were very properly
released, and the chief officers were condemned to terms of imprisonment
which certainly did not err upon the side of severity. Cecil Rhodes was
left unpunished, he retained his place in the Privy Council, and his
Chartered Company continued to have a corporate existence. This was
illogical and inconclusive. As Kruger said, 'It is not the dog which
should be beaten, but the man who set him on to me.' Public opinion--in
spite of, or on account of, a crowd of witnesses--was ill informed upon
the exact bearings of the question, and it was obvious that as Dutch
sentiment at the Cape appeared already to be thoroughly hostile to us,
it would be dangerous to alienate the British Africanders also by
making a martyr of their favourite leader. But whatever arguments may be
founded upon expediency, it is clear that the Boers bitterly resented,
and with justice, the immunity of Rhodes.

In the meantime, both President Kruger and his burghers had shown a
greater severity to the political prisoners from Johannesburg than to
the armed followers of Jameson. The nationality of these prisoners is
interesting and suggestive. There were twenty-three Englishmen, sixteen
South Africans, nine Scotchmen, six Americans, two Welshmen, one
Irishman, one Australian, one Hollander, one Bavarian, one Canadian,
one Swiss, and one Turk. The prisoners were arrested in January, but the
trial did not take place until the end of April. All were found guilty
of high treason. Mr. Lionel Phillips, Colonel Rhodes (brother of Mr.
Cecil Rhodes), George Farrar, and Mr. Hammond, the American engineer,
were condemned to death, a sentence which was afterwards commuted to the
payment of an enormous fine. The other prisoners were condemned to two
years' imprisonment, with a fine of 2000 pounds each. The imprisonment
was of the most arduous and trying sort, and was embittered by the
harshness of the gaoler, Du Plessis. One of the unfortunate men cut
his throat, and several fell seriously ill, the diet and the sanitary
conditions being equally unhealthy. At last at the end of May all the
prisoners but six were released. Four of the six soon followed, two
stalwarts, Sampson and Davies, refusing to sign any petition and
remaining in prison until they were set free in 1897. Altogether the
Transvaal Government received in fines from the reform prisoners the
enormous sum of 212,000 pounds. A certain comic relief was immediately
afterwards given to so grave an episode by the presentation of a bill to
Great Britain for 1,677, 938 pounds 3 shillings and 3 pence--the greater
part of which was under the heading of moral and intellectual damage.

The raid was past and the reform movement was past, but the causes which
produced them both remained. It is hardly conceivable that a statesman
who loved his country would have refrained from making some effort to
remove a state of things which had already caused such grave dangers,
and which must obviously become more serious with every year that
passed. But Paul Kruger had hardened his heart, and was not to be moved.
The grievances of the Uitlanders became heavier than ever. The one
power in the land to which they had been able to appeal for some sort
of redress amid their grievances was the law courts. Now it was decreed
that the courts should be dependent on the Volksraad. The Chief Justice
protested against such a degradation of his high office, and he was
dismissed in consequence without a pension. The judge who had condemned
the reformers was chosen to fill the vacancy, and the protection of a
fixed law was withdrawn from the Uitlanders.

A commission appointed by the State was sent to examine into the
condition of the mining industry and the grievances from which the
newcomers suffered. The chairman was Mr. Schalk Burger, one of the most
liberal of the Boers, and the proceedings were thorough and impartial.
The result was a report which amply vindicated the reformers, and
suggested remedies which would have gone a long way towards satisfying
the Uitlanders. With such enlightened legislation their motives for
seeking the franchise would have been less pressing. But the President
and his Raad would have none of the recommendations of the commission.
The rugged old autocrat declared that Schalk Burger was a traitor to
his country for having signed such a document, and a new reactionary
committee was chosen to report upon the report. Words and papers were
the only outcome of the affair. No amelioration came to the newcomers.
But at least they had again put their case publicly upon record, and it
had been endorsed by the most respected of the burghers. Gradually in
the press of the English-speaking countries the raid was ceasing to
obscure the issue. More and more clearly it was coming out that no
permanent settlement was possible where the majority of the population
was oppressed by the minority. They had tried peaceful means and failed.
They had tried warlike means and failed. What was there left for them
to do? Their own country, the paramount power of South Africa, had never
helped them. Perhaps if it were directly appealed to it might do so. It
could not, if only for the sake of its own imperial prestige, leave its
children for ever in a state of subjection. The Uitlanders determined
upon a petition to the Queen, and in doing so they brought their
grievances out of the limits of a local controversy into the broader
field of international politics. Great Britain must either protect them
or acknowledge that their protection was beyond her power. A direct
petition to the Queen praying for protection was signed in April 1899 by
twenty-one thousand Uitlanders. From that time events moved inevitably
towards the one end. Sometimes the surface was troubled and sometimes
smooth, but the stream always ran swiftly and the roar of the fall
sounded ever louder in the ears.



CHAPTER 3. THE NEGOTIATIONS.

The British Government and the British people do not desire any direct
authority in South Africa. Their one supreme interest is that the
various States there should live in concord and prosperity, and that
there should be no need for the presence of a British redcoat within the
whole great peninsula. Our foreign critics, with their misapprehension
of the British colonial system, can never realise that whether
the four-coloured flag of the Transvaal or the Union Jack of a
self-governing colony waved over the gold mines would not make the
difference of one shilling to the revenue of Great Britain. The
Transvaal as a British province would have its own legislature, its
own revenue, its own expenditure, and its own tariff against the mother
country, as well as against the rest of the world, and England be none
the richer for the change. This is so obvious to a Briton that he has
ceased to insist upon it, and it is for that reason perhaps that it is
so universally misunderstood abroad. On the other hand, while she is no
gainer by the change, most of the expense of it in blood and in money
falls upon the home country. On the face of it, therefore, Great Britain
had every reason to avoid so formidable a task as the conquest of the
South African Republic. At the best she had nothing to gain, and at the
worst she had an immense deal to lose. There was no room for ambition or
aggression. It was a case of shirking or fulfilling a most arduous duty.

There could be no question of a plot for the annexation of the
Transvaal. In a free country the Government cannot move in advance of
public opinion, and public opinion is influenced by and reflected in the
newspapers. One may examine the files of the press during all the months
of negotiations and never find one reputable opinion in favour of such a
course, nor did one in society ever meet an advocate of such a measure.
But a great wrong was being done, and all that was asked was the minimum
change which would set it right, and restore equality between the white
races in Africa. 'Let Kruger only be liberal in the extension of the
franchise,' said the paper which is most representative of the sanest
British opinion, 'and he will find that the power of the republic will
become not weaker, but infinitely more secure. Let him once give the
majority of the resident males of full age the full vote, and he will
have given the republic a stability and power which nothing else can. If
he rejects all pleas of this kind, and persists in his present policy,
he may possibly stave off the evil day, and preserve his cherished
oligarchy for another few years; but the end will be the same.'
The extract reflects the tone of all of the British press, with the
exception of one or two papers which considered that even the
persistent ill usage of our people, and the fact that we were peculiarly
responsible for them in this State, did not justify us in interfering
in the internal affairs of the republic. It cannot be denied that
the Jameson raid and the incomplete manner in which the circumstances
connected with it had been investigated had weakened the force of those
who wished to interfere energetically on behalf of British subjects.
There was a vague but widespread feeling that perhaps the capitalists
were engineering the situation for their own ends. It is difficult to
imagine how a state of unrest and insecurity, to say nothing of a
state of war, can ever be to the advantage of capital, and surely it
is obvious that if some arch-schemer were using the grievances of the
Uitlanders for his own ends the best way to checkmate him would be to
remove those grievances. The suspicion, however, did exist among those
who like to ignore the obvious and magnify the remote, and throughout
the negotiations the hand of Great Britain was weakened, as her
adversary had doubtless calculated that it would be, by an earnest
but fussy and faddy minority. Idealism and a morbid, restless
conscientiousness are two of the most dangerous evils from which a
modern progressive State has to suffer.

It was in April 1899 that the British Uitlanders sent their petition
praying for protection to their native country. Since the April previous
a correspondence had been going on between Dr. Leyds, Secretary of State
for the South African Republic, and Mr. Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary,
upon the existence or non-existence of the suzerainty. On the one
hand, it was contended that the substitution of a second convention
had entirely annulled the first; on the other, that the preamble of
the first applied also to the second. If the Transvaal contention were
correct it is clear that Great Britain had been tricked and jockeyed
into such a position, since she had received no quid pro quo in the
second convention, and even the most careless of Colonial Secretaries
could hardly have been expected to give away a very substantial
something for nothing. But the contention throws us back upon the
academic question of what a suzerainty is. The Transvaal admitted a
power of veto over their foreign policy, and this admission in itself,
unless they openly tore up the convention, must deprive them of the
position of a sovereign State. On the whole, the question must be
acknowledged to have been one which might very well have been referred
to trustworthy arbitration.

But now to this debate, which had so little of urgency in it that seven
months intervened between statement and reply, there came the bitterly
vital question of the wrongs and appeal of the Uitlanders. Sir Alfred
Milner, the British Commissioner in South Africa, a man of liberal
views who had been appointed by a Conservative Government, commanded the
respect and confidence of all parties. His record was that of an
able, clear-headed man, too just to be either guilty of or tolerant of
injustice. To him the matter was referred, and a conference was arranged
between President Kruger and him at Bloemfontein, the capital of the
Orange Free State. They met on May 30th. Kruger had declared that all
questions might be discussed except the independence of the Transvaal.
'All, all, all!' he cried emphatically. But in practice it was found
that the parties could not agree as to what did or what did not threaten
this independence. What was essential to one was inadmissible to the
other. Milner contended for a five years' retroactive franchise, with
provisions to secure adequate representation for the mining districts.
Kruger offered a seven years' franchise, coupled with numerous
conditions which whittled down its value very much, promised five
members out of thirty-one to represent a majority of the male
population, and added a provision that all differences should be subject
to arbitration by foreign powers, a condition which is incompatible with
any claim to suzerainty. The proposals of each were impossible to the
other, and early in June Sir Alfred Milner was back in Cape Town and
President Kruger in Pretoria, with nothing settled except the extreme
difficulty of a settlement. The current was running swift, and the roar
of the fall was already sounding louder in the ear.

On June 12th Sir Alfred Milner received a deputation at Cape Town and
reviewed the situation. 'The principle of equality of races was,' he
said, essential for South Africa. The one State where inequality existed
kept all the others in a fever. Our policy was one not of aggression,
but of singular patience, which could not, however, lapse into
indifference.' Two days later Kruger addressed the Raad. 'The other side
had not conceded one tittle, and I could not give more. God has always
stood by us. I do not want war, but I will not give more away. Although
our independence has once been taken away, God has restored it.' He
spoke with sincerity no doubt, but it is hard to hear God invoked with
such confidence for the system which encouraged the liquor traffic to
the natives, and bred the most corrupt set of officials that the modern
world has seen.

A dispatch from Sir Alfred Milner, giving his views upon the situation,
made the British public recognise, as nothing else had done, how serious
the position was, and how essential it was that an earnest national
effort should be made to set it right. In it he said:

'The case for intervention is overwhelming. The only attempted answer
is that things will right themselves if left alone. But, in fact, the
policy of leaving things alone has been tried for years, and it has led
to their going from bad to worse. It is not true that this is owing to
the raid. They were going from bad to worse before the raid. We were on
the verge of war before the raid, and the Transvaal was on the verge
of revolution. The effect of the raid has been to give the policy of
leaving things alone a new lease of life, and with the old consequences.

'The spectacle of thousands of British subjects kept permanently in the
position of helots, constantly chafing under undoubted grievances, and
calling vainly to her Majesty's Government for redress, does steadily
undermine the influence and reputation of Great Britain within the
Queen's dominions. A section of the press, not in the Transvaal only,
preaches openly and constantly the doctrine of a republic embracing all
South Africa, and supports it by menacing references to the armaments of
the Transvaal, its alliance with the Orange Free State, and the active
sympathy which, in case of war, it would receive from a section of her
Majesty's subjects. I regret to say that this doctrine, supported as it
is by a ceaseless stream of malignant lies about the intentions of her
Majesty's Government, is producing a great effect on a large number of
our Dutch fellow colonists. Language is frequently used which seems to
imply that the Dutch have some superior right, even in this colony,
to their fellow-citizens of British birth. Thousands of men peaceably
disposed, and if left alone perfectly satisfied with their position
as British subjects, are being drawn into disaffection, and there is a
corresponding exasperation upon the part of the British.

'I can see nothing which will put a stop to this mischievous propaganda
but some striking proof of the intention of her Majesty's Government not
to be ousted from its position in South Africa.'

Such were the grave and measured words with which the British pro-consul
warned his countrymen of what was to come. He saw the storm-cloud piling
in the north, but even his eyes had not yet discerned how near and how
terrible was the tempest.

Throughout the end of June and the early part of July much was hoped
from the mediation of the heads of the Afrikander Bond, the political
union of the Dutch Cape colonists. On the one hand, they were the
kinsmen of the Boers; on the other, they were British subjects, and
were enjoying the blessings of those liberal institutions which we were
anxious to see extended to the Transvaal. 'Only treat our folk as we
treat yours! Our whole contention was compressed into that prayer. But
nothing came of the mission, though a scheme endorsed by Mr. Hofmeyer
and Mr. Herholdt, of the Bond, with Mr. Fischer of the Free State, was
introduced into the Raad and applauded by Mr. Schreiner, the Africander
Premier of Cape Colony. In its original form the provisions were obscure
and complicated, the franchise varying from nine years to seven under
different conditions. In debate, however, the terms were amended until
the time was reduced to seven years, and the proposed representation of
the gold fields placed at five. The concession was not a great one,
nor could the representation, five out of thirty-one, be considered a
generous provision for the majority of the population; but the reduction
of the years of residence was eagerly hailed in England as a sign that a
compromise might be effected. A sigh of relief went up from the country.
'If,' said the Colonial Secretary, 'this report is confirmed, this
important change in the proposals of President Kruger, coupled with
previous amendments, leads Government to hope that the new law may prove
to be the basis of a settlement on the lines laid down by Sir Alfred
Milner in the Bloemfontein Conference.' He added that there were some
vexatious conditions attached, but concluded, 'Her Majesty's Government
feel assured that the President, having accepted the principle for which
they have contended, will be prepared to reconsider any detail of
his scheme which can be shown to be a possible hindrance to the full
accomplishment of the object in view, and that he will not allow them
to be nullified or reduced in value by any subsequent alterations of the
law or acts of administration.' At the same time, the 'Times' declared
the crisis to be at an end. 'If the Dutch statesmen of the Cape have
induced their brethren in the Transvaal to carry such a Bill, they will
have deserved the lasting gratitude, not only of their own countrymen
and of the English colonists in South Africa, but of the British Empire
and of the civilised world.'

But this fair prospect was soon destined to be overcast. Questions of
detail arose which, when closely examined, proved to be matters of very
essential importance. The Uitlanders and British South Africans, who had
experienced in the past how illusory the promises of the President might
be, insisted upon guarantees. The seven years offered were two years
more than that which Sir Alfred Milner had declared to be an irreducible
minimum. The difference of two years would not have hindered
their acceptance, even at the expense of some humiliation to our
representative. But there were conditions which excited distrust when
drawn up by so wily a diplomatist. One was that the alien who aspired to
burghership had to produce a certificate of continuous registration for
a certain time. But the law of registration had fallen into disuse in
the Transvaal, and consequently this provision might render the whole
Bill valueless. Since it was carefully retained, it was certainly meant
for use. The door had been opened, but a stone was placed to block it.
Again, the continued burghership of the newcomers was made to depend
upon the resolution of the first Raad, so that should the mining members
propose any measure of reform, not only their Bill but they also might
be swept out of the house by a Boer majority. What could an Opposition
do if a vote of the Government might at any moment unseat them all? It
was clear that a measure which contained such provisions must be very
carefully sifted before a British Government could accept it as a final
settlement and a complete concession of justice to its subjects. On the
other hand, it naturally felt loth to refuse those clauses which offered
some prospect of an amelioration in their condition. It took the course,
therefore, of suggesting that each Government should appoint delegates
to form a joint commission which should inquire into the working of
the proposed Bill before it was put into a final form. The proposal was
submitted to the Raad upon August 7th, with the addition that when
this was done Sir Alfred Milner was prepared to discuss anything else,
including arbitration without the interference of foreign powers.

The suggestion of this joint commission has been criticised as an
unwarrantable intrusion into the internal affairs of another country.
But then the whole question from the beginning was about the internal
affairs of another country, since the internal equality of the white
inhabitants was the condition upon which self-government was restored
to the Transvaal. It is futile to suggest analogies, and to imagine what
France would do if Germany were to interfere in a question of French
franchise. Supposing that France contained as many Germans as Frenchmen,
and that they were ill-treated, Germany would interfere quickly enough
and continue to do so until some fair modus vivendi was established.
The fact is that the case of the Transvaal stands alone, that such a
condition of things has never been known, and that no previous precedent
can apply to it, save the general rule that a minority of white men
cannot continue indefinitely to tax and govern a majority. Sentiment
inclines to the smaller nation, but reason and justice are all on the
side of England.

A long delay followed upon the proposal of the Secretary of the
Colonies. No reply was forthcoming from Pretoria. But on all sides there
came evidence that those preparations for war which had been quietly
going on even before the Jameson raid were now being hurriedly
perfected. For so small a State enormous sums were being spent upon
military equipment. Cases of rifles and boxes of cartridges streamed
into the arsenal, not only from Delagoa Bay, but even, to the
indignation of the English colonists, through Cape Town and Port
Elizabeth. Huge packing-cases, marked 'Agricultural Instruments' and
'Mining Machinery,' arrived from Germany and France, to find their
places in the forts of Johannesburg or Pretoria. Men of many nations
but of a similar type showed their martial faces in the Boer towns.
The condottieri of Europe were as ready as ever to sell their blood for
gold, and nobly in the end did they fulfill their share of the bargain.
For three weeks and more during which Mr. Kruger was silent these
eloquent preparations went on. But beyond them, and of infinitely more
importance, there was one fact which dominated the situation. A burgher
cannot go to war without his horse, his horse cannot move without grass,
grass will not come until after rain, and it was still some weeks before
the rain would be due. Negotiations, then, must not be unduly hurried
while the veld was a bare russet-coloured dust-swept plain. Mr.
Chamberlain and the British public waited week after week for their
answer. But there was a limit to their patience, and it was reached on
August 26th, when the Colonial Secretary showed, with a plainness of
speech which is as unusual as it is welcome in diplomacy, that the
question could not be hung up for ever. 'The sands are running down
in the glass,' said he. 'If they run out, we shall not hold ourselves
limited by that which we have already offered, but, having taken the
matter in hand, we will not let it go until we have secured conditions
which once for all shall establish which is the paramount power in
South Africa, and shall secure for our fellow-subjects there those equal
rights and equal privileges which were promised them by President Kruger
when the independence of the Transvaal was granted by the Queen, and
which is the least that in justice ought to be accorded them.' Lord
Salisbury, a little time before, had been equally emphatic. 'No one
in this country wishes to disturb the conventions so long as it is
recognised that while they guarantee the independence of the Transvaal
on the one side, they guarantee equal political and civil rights for
settlers of all nationalities upon the other. But these conventions are
not like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. They are mortal, they
can be destroyed...and once destroyed they can never be reconstructed
in the same shape.' The long-enduring patience of Great Britain was
beginning to show signs of giving way.

In the meantime a fresh dispatch had arrived from the Transvaal which
offered as an alternative proposal to the joint commission that the Boer
Government should grant the franchise proposals of Sir Alfred Milner
on condition that Great Britain withdrew or dropped her claim to a
suzerainty, agreed to arbitration, and promised never again to interfere
in the internal affairs of the republic. To this Great Britain answered
that she would agree to arbitration, that she hoped never again to have
occasion to interfere for the protection of her own subjects, but that
with the grant of the franchise all occasion for such interference would
pass away, and, finally, that she would never consent to abandon
her position as suzerain power. Mr. Chamberlain's dispatch ended by
reminding the Government of the Transvaal that there were other matters
of dispute open between the two Governments apart from the franchise,
and that it would be as well to have them settled at the same time. By
these he meant such questions as the position of the native races and
the treatment of Anglo-Indians.

On September 2nd the answer of the Transvaal Government was returned.
It was short and uncompromising. They withdrew their offer of the
franchise. They re-asserted the non-existence of the suzerainty. The
negotiations were at a deadlock. It was difficult to see how they could
be re-opened. In view of the arming of the burghers, the small garrison
of Natal had been taking up positions to cover the frontier. The
Transvaal asked for an explanation of their presence. Sir Alfred Milner
answered that they were guarding British interests, and preparing
against contingencies. The roar of the fall was sounding loud and near.

On September 8th there was held a Cabinet Council--one of the most
important in recent years. A message was sent to Pretoria, which even
the opponents of the Government have acknowledged to be temperate, and
offering the basis for a peaceful settlement. It begins by repudiating
emphatically the claim of the Transvaal to be a sovereign international
State in the same sense in which the Orange Free State is one. Any
proposal made conditional upon such an acknowledgment could not be
entertained.

The British Government, however, was prepared to accept the five years'
'franchise' as stated in the note of August 19th, assuming at the same
time that in the Raad each member might talk his own language.

'Acceptance of these terms by the South African Republic would at once
remove tension between the two Governments, and would in all probability
render unnecessary any future intervention to secure redress for
grievances which the Uitlanders themselves would be able to bring to the
notice of the Executive Council and the Volksraad.

'Her Majesty's Government are increasingly impressed with the danger of
further delay in relieving the strain which has already caused so much
injury to the interests of South Africa, and they earnestly press for an
immediate and definite reply to the present proposal. If it is acceded
to they will be ready to make immediate arrangements...to settle all
details of the proposed tribunal of arbitration...If, however, as they
most anxiously hope will not be the case, the reply of the South African
Republic should be negative or inconclusive, I am to state that her
Majesty's Government must reserve to themselves the right to reconsider
the situation de novo, and to formulate their own proposals for a final
settlement.'

Such was the message, and Great Britain waited with strained attention
for the answer. But again there was a delay, while the rain came and the
grass grew, and the veld was as a mounted rifleman would have it. The
burghers were in no humour for concessions. They knew their own power,
and they concluded with justice that they were for the time far the
strongest military power in South Africa. 'We have beaten England
before, but it is nothing to the licking we shall give her now,' cried
a prominent citizen, and he spoke for his country as he said it. So
the empire waited and debated, but the sounds of the bugle were already
breaking through the wrangles of the politicians, and calling the nation
to be tested once more by that hammer of war and adversity by which
Providence still fashions us to some nobler and higher end.



CHAPTER 4. THE EVE OF WAR.

The message sent from the Cabinet Council of September 8th was evidently
the precursor either of peace or of war. The cloud must burst or blow
over. As the nation waited in hushed expectancy for a reply it spent
some portion of its time in examining and speculating upon those
military preparations which might be needed. The War Office had for
some months been arranging for every contingency, and had made certain
dispositions which appeared to them to be adequate, but which our future
experience was to demonstrate to be far too small for the very serious
matter in hand.

It is curious in turning over the files of such a paper as the 'Times'
to observe how at first one or two small paragraphs of military
significance might appear in the endless columns of diplomatic and
political reports, how gradually they grew and grew, until at last the
eclipse was complete, and the diplomacy had been thrust into the tiny
paragraphs while the war filled the journal. Under July 7th comes the
first glint of arms amid the drab monotony of the state papers. On
that date it was announced that two companies of Royal Engineers and
departmental corps with reserves of supplies and ammunition were being
dispatched. Two companies of engineers! Who could have foreseen that
they were the vanguard of the greatest army which ever at any time of
the world's history has crossed an ocean, and far the greatest which a
British general has commanded in the field?

On August 15th, at a time when the negotiations had already assumed a
very serious phase, after the failure of the Bloemfontein conference and
the dispatch of Sir Alfred Milner, the British forces in South Africa
were absolutely and absurdly inadequate for the purpose of the defence
of our own frontier. Surely such a fact must open the eyes of those who,
in spite of all the evidence, persist that the war was forced on by the
British. A statesman who forces on a war usually prepares for a war, and
this is exactly what Mr. Kruger did and the British authorities did not.
The overbearing suzerain power had at that date, scattered over a huge
frontier, two cavalry regiments, three field batteries, and six and a
half infantry battalions--say six thousand men. The innocent pastoral
States could put in the field forty or fifty thousand mounted riflemen,
whose mobility doubled their numbers, and a most excellent artillery,
including the heaviest guns which have ever been seen upon a
battlefield. At this time it is most certain that the Boers could have
made their way easily either to Durban or to Cape Town. The British
force, condemned to act upon the defensive, could have been masked and
afterwards destroyed, while the main body of the invaders would have
encountered nothing but an irregular local resistance, which would have
been neutralised by the apathy or hostility of the Dutch colonists. It
is extraordinary that our authorities seem never to have contemplated
the possibility of the Boers taking the initiative, or to have
understood that in that case our belated reinforcements would certainly
have had to land under the fire of the republican guns.

In July Natal had taken alarm, and a strong representation had been
sent from the prime minister of the colony to the Governor, Sir W. Hely
Hutchinson, and so to the Colonial Office. It was notorious that the
Transvaal was armed to the teeth, that the Orange Free State was
likely to join her, and that there had been strong attempts made, both
privately and through the press, to alienate the loyalty of the Dutch
citizens of both the British colonies. Many sinister signs were observed
by those upon the spot. The veld had been burned unusually early to
ensure a speedy grass-crop after the first rains, there had been a
collecting of horses, a distribution of rifles and ammunition. The Free
State farmers, who graze their sheep and cattle upon Natal soil during
the winter, had driven them off to places of safety behind the line
of the Drakensberg. Everything pointed to approaching war, and Natal
refused to be satisfied even by the dispatch of another regiment. On
September 6th a second message was received at the Colonial Office,
which states the case with great clearness and precision.

'The Prime Minister desires me to urge upon you by the unanimous advice
of the Ministers that sufficient troops should be dispatched to Natal
immediately to enable the colony to be placed in a state of defence
against an attack from the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. I am
informed by the General Officer Commanding, Natal, that he will not have
enough troops, even when the Manchester Regiment arrives, to do more
than occupy Newcastle and at the same time protect the colony south of
it from raids, while Laing's Nek, Ingogo River and Zululand must be left
undefended. My Ministers know that every preparation has been made, both
in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, which would enable an attack
to be made on Natal at short notice. My Ministers believe that the Boers
have made up their minds that war will take place almost certainly, and
their best chance will be, when it seems unavoidable, to deliver a blow
before reinforcements have time to arrive. Information has been received
that raids in force will be made by way of Middle Drift and Greytown and
by way of Bond's Drift and Stangar, with a view to striking the railway
between Pietermaritzburg and Durban and cutting off communications of
troops and supplies. Nearly all the Orange Free State farmers in the
Klip River division, who stay in the colony usually till October at
least, have trekked, at great loss to themselves; their sheep are
lambing on the road, and the lambs die or are destroyed. Two at least of
the Entonjanani district farmers have trekked with all their belongings
into the Transvaal, in the first case attempting to take as hostages the
children of the natives on the farm. Reliable reports have been received
of attempts to tamper with loyal natives, and to set tribe against tribe
in order to create confusion and detail the defensive forces of the
colony. Both food and warlike stores in large quantities have been
accumulated at Volksrust, Vryheid and Standerton. Persons who are
believed to be spies have been seen examining the bridges on the Natal
Railway, and it is known that there are spies in all the principal
centres of the colony. In the opinion of Ministers, such a catastrophe
as the seizure of Laing's Nek and the destruction of the northern
portion of the railway, or a successful raid or invasion such as
they have reason to believe is contemplated, would produce a most
demoralising effect on the natives and on the loyal Europeans in the
colony, and would afford great encouragement to the Boers and to their
sympathisers in the colonies, who, although armed and prepared, will
probably keep quiet unless they receive some encouragement of the sort.
They concur in the policy of her Majesty's Government of exhausting all
peaceful means to obtain redress of the grievances of the Uitlanders and
authoritatively assert the supremacy of Great Britain before resorting
to war; but they state that this is a question of defensive precaution,
not of making war.'

In answer to these and other remonstrances the garrison of Natal was
gradually increased, partly by troops from Europe, and partly by the
dispatch of five thousand British troops from India. The 2nd Berkshires,
the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, the 1st Manchesters, and the 2nd Dublin
Fusiliers arrived in succession with reinforcements of artillery. The
5th Dragoon Guards, 9th Lancers, and 19th Hussars came from India, with
the 1st Devonshires, 1st Gloucesters, 2nd King's Royal Rifles and 2nd
Gordon Highlanders. These with the 21st, 42nd, and 53rd batteries of
Field Artillery made up the Indian Contingent. Their arrival late in
September raised the number of troops in South Africa to 22,000, a force
which was inadequate to a contest in the open field with the numerous,
mobile, and gallant enemy to whom they were to be opposed, but which
proved to be strong enough to stave off that overwhelming disaster
which, with our fuller knowledge, we can now see to have been impending.

As to the disposition of these troops a difference of opinion broke out
between the ruling powers in Natal and the military chiefs at the spot.
Prince Kraft has said, 'Both strategy and tactics may have to yield to
politics '; but the political necessity should be very grave and very
clear when it is the blood of soldiers which has to pay for it. Whether
it arose from our defective intelligence, or from that caste feeling
which makes it hard for the professional soldier to recognise (in spite
of deplorable past experiences) a serious adversary in the mounted
farmer, it is certain that even while our papers were proclaiming that
this time, at least, we would not underrate our enemy, we were most
seriously underrating him. The northern third of Natal is as vulnerable
a military position as a player of kriegspiel could wish to have
submitted to him. It runs up into a thin angle, culminating at the apex
in a difficult pass, the ill-omened Laing's Nek, dominated by the
even more sinister bulk of Majuba. Each side of this angle is open to
invasion, the one from the Transvaal and the other from the Orange Free
State. A force up at the apex is in a perfect trap, for the mobile
enemy can flood into the country to the south of them, cut the line
of supplies, and throw up a series of entrenchments which would make
retreat a very difficult matter. Further down the country, at such
positions as Ladysmith or Dundee, the danger, though not so imminent,
is still an obvious one, unless the defending force is strong enough to
hold its own in the open field and mobile enough to prevent a mounted
enemy from getting round its flanks. To us, who are endowed with that
profound military wisdom which only comes with a knowledge of the event,
it is obvious that with a defending force which could not place more
than 12,000 men in the fighting line, the true defensible frontier was
the line of the Tugela. As a matter of fact, Ladysmith was chosen, a
place almost indefensible itself, as it is dominated by high hills in at
least two directions.

Such an event as the siege of the town appears never to have been
contemplated, as no guns of position were asked for or sent. In spite
of this, an amount of stores, which is said to have been valued at
more than a million of pounds, was dumped down at this small railway
junction, so that the position could not be evacuated without a
crippling loss. The place was the point of bifurcation of the main line,
which divides at this little town into one branch running to Harrismith
in the Orange Free State, and the other leading through the Dundee coal
fields and Newcastle to the Laing's Nek tunnel and the Transvaal. An
importance, which appears now to have been an exaggerated one, was
attached by the Government of Natal to the possession of the coal
fields, and it was at their strong suggestion, but with the concurrence
of General Penn Symons, that the defending force was divided, and a
detachment of between three and four thousand sent to Dundee, about
forty miles from the main body, which remained under General Sir George
White at Ladysmith. General Symons underrated the power of the invaders,
but it is hard to criticise an error of judgment which has been so
nobly atoned and so tragically paid for. At the time, then, which our
political narrative has reached, the time of suspense which followed the
dispatch of the Cabinet message of September 8th, the military situation
had ceased to be desperate, but was still precarious. Twenty-two
thousand regular troops were on the spot who might hope to be reinforced
by some ten thousand colonials, but these forces had to cover a great
frontier, the attitude of Cape Colony was by no means whole-hearted and
might become hostile, while the black population might conceivably throw
in its weight against us. Only half the regulars could be spared to
defend Natal, and no reinforcements could reach them in less than a
month from the outbreak of hostilities. If Mr. Chamberlain was really
playing a game of bluff, it must be confessed that he was bluffing from
a very weak hand.

For purposes of comparison we may give some idea of the forces which
Mr. Kruger and Mr. Steyn could put in the field, for by this time it was
evident that the Orange Free State, with which we had had no shadow of
a dispute, was going, in a way which some would call wanton and some
chivalrous, to throw in its weight against us. The general press
estimate of the forces of the two republics varied from 25,000 to 35,000
men. Mr. J. B. Robinson, a personal friend of President Kruger's and
a man who had spent much of his life among the Boers, considered the
latter estimate to be too high. The calculation had no assured basis to
start from. A very scattered and isolated population, among whom large
families were the rule, is a most difficult thing to estimate. Some
reckoned from the supposed natural increase during eighteen years, but
the figure given at that date was itself an assumption. Others took
their calculation from the number of voters in the last presidential
election: but no one could tell how many abstentions there had been,
and the fighting age is five years earlier than the voting age in the
republics. We recognise now that all calculations were far below the
true figure. It is probable, however, that the information of the
British Intelligence Department was not far wrong. According to this
the fighting strength of the Transvaal alone was 32,000 men, and of the
Orange Free State 22,000. With mercenaries and rebels from the colonies
they would amount to 60, 000, while a considerable rising of the Cape
Dutch would bring them up to 100,000. In artillery they were known to
have about a hundred guns, many of them (and the fact will need much
explaining) more modern and powerful than any which we could bring
against them. Of the quality of this large force there is no need to
speak. The men were brave, hardy, and fired with a strange religious
enthusiasm. They were all of the seventeenth century, except their
rifles. Mounted upon their hardy little ponies, they possessed a
mobility which practically doubled their numbers and made it an
impossibility ever to outflank them. As marksmen they were supreme. Add
to this that they had the advantage of acting upon internal lines with
shorter and safer communications, and one gathers how formidable a
task lay before the soldiers of the empire. When we turn from such an
enumeration of their strength to contemplate the 12,000 men, split into
two detachments, who awaited them in Natal, we may recognise that, far
from bewailing our disasters, we should rather congratulate ourselves
upon our escape from losing that great province which, situated as it
is between Britain, India, and Australia, must be regarded as the very
keystone of the imperial arch.

At the risk of a tedious but very essential digression, something must
be said here as to the motives with which the Boers had for many years
been quietly preparing for war. That the Jameson raid was not the cause
is certain, though it probably, by putting the Boer Government into a
strong position, had a great effect in accelerating matters. What had
been done secretly and slowly could be done more swiftly and openly when
so plausible an excuse could be given for it. As a matter of fact, the
preparations were long antecedent to the raid. The building of the forts
at Pretoria and Johannesburg was begun nearly two years before that
wretched incursion, and the importation of arms was going on apace.
In that very year, 1895, a considerable sum was spent in military
equipment.

But if it was not the raid, and if the Boers had no reason to fear the
British Government, with whom the Transvaal might have been as friendly
as the Orange Free State had been for forty years, why then should they
arm? It was a difficult question, and one in answering which we find
ourselves in a region of conjecture and suspicion rather than of
ascertained fact. But the fairest and most unbiased of historians must
confess that there is a large body of evidence to show that into the
heads of some of the Dutch leaders, both in the northern republics
and in the Cape, there had entered the conception of a single Dutch
commonwealth, extending from Cape Town to the Zambesi, in which flag,
speech, and law should all be Dutch. It is in this aspiration that
many shrewd and well-informed judges see the true inner meaning of this
persistent arming, of the constant hostility, of the forming of ties
between the two republics (one of whom had been reconstituted and made
a sovereign independent State by our own act), and finally of that
intriguing which endeavoured to poison the affection and allegiance of
our own Dutch colonists, who had no political grievances whatever. They
all aimed at one end, and that end was the final expulsion of British
power from South Africa and the formation of a single great Dutch
republic. The large sum spent by the Transvaal in secret service
money--a larger sum, I believe, than that which is spent by the whole
British Empire--would give some idea of the subterranean influences at
work. An army of emissaries, agents, and spies, whatever their mission,
were certainly spread over the British colonies. Newspapers were
subsidised also, and considerable sums spent upon the press in France
and Germany.

In the very nature of things a huge conspiracy of this sort to
substitute Dutch for British rule in South Africa is not a matter which
can be easily and definitely proved. Such questions are not discussed
in public documents, and men are sounded before being taken into the
confidence of the conspirators. But there is plenty of evidence of
the individual ambition of prominent and representative men in this
direction, and it is hard to believe that what many wanted individually
was not striven for collectively, especially when we see how the course
of events did actually work towards the end which they indicated. Mr.
J.P. FitzPatrick, in 'The Transvaal from Within'--a book to which
all subsequent writers upon the subject must acknowledge their
obligations--narrates how in 1896 he was approached by Mr. D.P. Graaff,
formerly a member of the Cape Legislative Council and a very prominent
Afrikander Bondsman, with the proposition that Great Britain should be
pushed out of South Africa. The same politician made the same proposal
to Mr. Beit. Compare with this the following statement of Mr. Theodore
Schreiner, the brother of the Prime Minister of the Cape:

'I met Mr. Reitz, then a judge of the Orange Free State, in Bloemfontein
between seventeen and eighteen years ago, shortly after the retrocession
of the Transvaal, and when he was busy establishing the Afrikander Bond.
It must be patent to every one that at that time, at all events, England
and its Government had no intention of taking away the independence of
the Transvaal, for she had just "magnanimously" granted the same; no
intention of making war on the republics, for she had just made peace;
no intention to seize the Rand gold fields, for they were not yet
discovered. At that time, then, I met Mr. Reitz, and he did his best to
get me to become a member of his Afrikander Bond, but, after studying
its constitution and programme, I refused to do so, whereupon the
following colloquy in substance took place between us, which has been
indelibly imprinted on my mind ever since:

'REITZ: Why do you refuse? Is the object of getting the people to take
an interest in political matters not a good one?

'MYSELF: Yes, it is; but I seem to see plainly here between the lines of
this constitution much more ultimately aimed at than that.

'REITZ: What?

'MYSELF: I see quite clearly that the ultimate object aimed at is the
overthrow of the British power and the expulsion of the British flag
from South Africa.

'REITZ (with his pleasant conscious smile, as of one whose secret
thought and purpose had been discovered, and who was not altogether
displeased that such was the case): Well, what if it is so?

'MYSELF: You don't suppose, do you, that that flag is going to disappear
from South Africa without a tremendous struggle and fight?

'REITZ (with the same pleasant self-conscious, self satisfied, and yet
semi-apologetic smile): Well, I suppose not; but even so, what of that?

'MYSELF: Only this, that when that struggle takes place you and I will
be on opposite sides; and what is more, the God who was on the side of
the Transvaal in the late war, because it had right on its side will
be on the side of England, because He must view with abhorrence any
plotting and scheming to overthrow her power and position in South
Africa, which have been ordained by Him.

'REITZ: We'll see.

'Thus the conversation ended, but during the seventeen years that have
elapsed I have watched the propaganda for the overthrow of British power
in South Africa being ceaselessly spread by every possible means--the
press, the pulpit, the platform, the schools, the colleges, the
Legislature--until it has culminated in the present war, of which Mr.
Reitz and his co-workers are the origin and the cause. Believe me, the
day on which F.W. Reitz sat down to pen his ultimatum to Great Britain
was the proudest and happiest moment of his life, and one which had
for long years been looked forward to by him with eager longing and
expectation.'

Compare with these utterances of a Dutch politician of the Cape, and of
a Dutch politician of the Orange Free State, the following passage from
a speech delivered by Kruger at Bloemfontein in the year 1887:

'I think it too soon to speak of a United South Africa under one flag.
Which flag was it to be? The Queen of England would object to having
her flag hauled down, and we, the burghers of the Transvaal, object to
hauling ours down. What is to be done? We are now small and of little
importance, but we are growing, and are preparing the way to take our
place among the great nations of the world.'

'The dream of our life,' said another, 'is a union of the States of
South Africa, and this has to come from within, not from without. When
that is accomplished, South Africa will be great.'

Always the same theory from all quarters of Dutch thought, to be
followed by many signs that the idea was being prepared for in practice.
I repeat that the fairest and most unbiased historian cannot dismiss the
conspiracy as a myth.

And to this one may retort, why should they not conspire? Why should
they not have their own views as to the future of South Africa? Why
should they not endeavour to have one universal flag and one common
speech? Why should they not win over our colonists, if they can, and
push us into the sea? I see no reason why they should not. Let them try
if they will. And let us try to prevent them. But let us have an end
of talk about British aggression, of capitalist designs upon the gold
fields, of the wrongs of a pastoral people, and all the other veils
which have been used to cover the issue. Let those who talk about
British designs upon the republics turn their attention for a moment to
the evidence which there is for republican designs upon the colonies.
Let them reflect that in the one system all white men are equal, and
that on the other the minority of one race has persecuted the majority
of the other, and let them consider under which the truest freedom lies,
which stands for universal liberty and which for reaction and racial
hatred. Let them ponder and answer all this before they determine where
their sympathies lie.

Leaving these wider questions of politics, and dismissing for the
time those military considerations which were soon to be of such vital
moment, we may now return to the course of events in the diplomatic
struggle between the Government of the Transvaal and the Colonial
Office. On September 8th, as already narrated, a final message was sent
to Pretoria, which stated the minimum terms which the British Government
could accept as being a fair concession to her subjects in the
Transvaal. A definite answer was demanded, and the nation waited with
sombre patience for the reply.

There were few illusions in this country as to the difficulties of
a Transvaal war. It was clearly seen that little honour and immense
vexation were in store for us. The first Boer war still smarted in our
minds, and we knew the prowess of the indomitable burghers. But our
people, if gloomy, were none the less resolute, for that national
instinct which is beyond the wisdom of statesmen had borne it in upon
them that this was no local quarrel, but one upon which the whole
existence of the empire hung. The cohesion of that empire was to be
tested. Men had emptied their glasses to it in time of peace. Was it a
meaningless pouring of wine, or were they ready to pour their
hearts' blood also in time of war? Had we really founded a series of
disconnected nations, with no common sentiment or interest, or was
the empire an organic whole, as ready to thrill with one emotion or to
harden into one resolve as are the several States of the Union? That was
the question at issue, and much of the future history of the world was
at stake upon the answer.

Already there were indications that the colonies appreciated the fact
that the contention was no affair of the mother country alone, but that
she was upholding the rights of the empire as a whole, and might fairly
look to them to support her in any quarrel which might arise from it. As
early as July 11th, Queensland, the fiery and semitropical, had offered
a contingent of mounted infantry with machine guns; New Zealand, Western
Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia
followed in the order named. Canada, with the strong but more deliberate
spirit of the north, was the last to speak, but spoke the more firmly
for the delay. Her citizens were the least concerned of any, for
Australians were many in South Africa but Canadians few. None the less,
she cheerfully took her share of the common burden, and grew the readier
and the cheerier as that burden came to weigh more heavily. From all
the men of many hues who make up the British Empire, from Hindoo Rajahs,
from West African Houssas, from Malay police, from Western Indians,
there came offers of service. But this was to be a white man's war, and
if the British could not work out their own salvation then it were well
that empire should pass from such a race. The magnificent Indian army
of 150,000 soldiers, many of them seasoned veterans, was for the same
reason left untouched. England has claimed no credit or consideration
for such abstention, but an irresponsible writer may well ask how many
of those foreign critics whose respect for our public morality appears
to be as limited as their knowledge of our principles and history would
have advocated such self denial had their own countries been placed in
the same position.

On September 18th the official reply of the Boer Government to the
message sent from the Cabinet Council was published in London. In manner
it was unbending and unconciliatory; in substance, it was a complete
rejection of all the British demands. It refused to recommend or propose
to the Raad the five years' franchise and the other measures which had
been defined as the minimum which the Home Government could accept as a
fair measure of justice towards the Uitlanders. The suggestion that the
debates of the Raad should be bilingual, as they have been in the
Cape Colony and in Canada, was absolutely waived aside. The British
Government had stated in their last dispatch that if the reply should
be negative or inconclusive they reserved to themselves the right to
'reconsider the situation de novo and to formulate their own proposals
for a final settlement.' The reply had been both negative and
inconclusive, and on September 22nd a council met to determine what the
next message should be. It was short and firm, but so planned as not to
shut the door upon peace. Its purport was that the British Government
expressed deep regret at the rejection of the moderate proposals which
had been submitted in their last dispatch, and that now, in accordance
with their promise, they would shortly put forward their own plans for
a settlement. The message was not an ultimatum, but it foreshadowed an
ultimatum in the future.

In the meantime, upon September 21st the Raad of the Orange Free State
had met, and it became more and more evident that this republic, with
whom we had no possible quarrel, but, on the contrary, for whom we had a
great deal of friendship and admiration, intended to throw in its weight
against Great Britain. Some time before, an offensive and defensive
alliance had been concluded between the two States, which must, until
the secret history of these events comes to be written, appear to have
been a singularly rash and unprofitable bargain for the smaller one. She
had nothing to fear from Great Britain, since she had been voluntarily
turned into an independent republic by her and had lived in peace with
her for forty years. Her laws were as liberal as our own. But by this
suicidal treaty she agreed to share the fortunes of a State which was
deliberately courting war by its persistently unfriendly attitude, and
whose reactionary and narrow legislation would, one might imagine, have
alienated the sympathy of her progressive neighbour. There may have
been ambitions like those already quoted from the report of Dr. Reitz's
conversation, or there may have been a complete hallucination as to the
comparative strength of the two combatants and the probable future of
South Africa; but however that may be, the treaty was made, and the time
had come to test how far it would hold.

The tone of President Steyn at the meeting of the Raad, and the support
which he received from the majority of his burghers, showed unmistakably
that the two republics would act as one. In his opening speech Steyn
declared uncompromisingly against the British contention, and declared
that his State was bound to the Transvaal by everything which was near
and dear. Among the obvious military precautions which could no longer
be neglected by the British Government was the sending of some small
force to protect the long and exposed line of railway which lies just
outside the Transvaal border from Kimberley to Rhodesia. Sir Alfred
Milner communicated with President Steyn as to this movement of troops,
pointing out that it was in no way directed against the Free State. Sir
Alfred Milner added that the Imperial Government was still hopeful of
a friendly settlement with the Transvaal, but if this hope were
disappointed they looked to the Orange Free State to preserve strict
neutrality and to prevent military intervention by any of its citizens.
They undertook that in that case the integrity of the Free State
frontier would be strictly preserved. Finally, he stated that there was
absolutely no cause to disturb the good relations between the Free
State and Great Britain, since we were animated by the most friendly
intentions towards them. To this the President returned a somewhat
ungracious answer, to the effect that he disapproved of our action
towards the Transvaal, and that he regretted the movement of troops,
which would be considered a menace by the burghers. A subsequent
resolution of the Free State Raad, ending with the words, 'Come what
may, the Free State will honestly and faithfully fulfill its obligations
towards the Transvaal by virtue of the political alliance existing
between the two republics,' showed how impossible it was that this
country, formed by ourselves and without a shadow of a cause of quarrel
with us, could be saved from being drawn into the whirlpool. Everywhere,
from over both borders, came the news of martial preparations. Already
at the end of September troops and armed burghers were gathering
upon the frontier, and the most incredulous were beginning at last to
understand that the shadow of a great war was really falling across
them. Artillery, war munitions, and stores were being accumulated
at Volksrust upon the Natal border, showing where the storm might be
expected to break. On the last day of September, twenty-six military
trains were reported to have left Pretoria and Johannesburg for that
point. At the same time news came of a concentration at Malmani, upon
the Bechuanaland border, threatening the railway line and the British
town of Mafeking, a name destined before long to be familiar to the
world.

On October 3rd there occurred what was in truth an act of war, although
the British Government, patient to the verge of weakness, refused to
regard it as such, and continued to draw up their final state paper. The
mail train from the Transvaal to Cape Town was stopped at Vereeniging,
and the week's shipment of gold for England, amounting to about half a
million pounds, was taken by the Boer Government. In a debate at Cape
Town upon the same day the Africander Minister of the Interior admitted
that as many as 404 trucks had passed from the Government line over
the frontier and had not been returned. Taken in conjunction with
the passage of arms and cartridges through the Cape to Pretoria and
Bloemfontein, this incident aroused the deepest indignation among the
Colonial English and the British public, which was increased by the
reports of the difficulty which border towns, such as Kimberley and
Vryburg, had had in getting cannon for their own defence. The Raads had
been dissolved, and the old President's last words had been a statement
that war was certain, and a stern invocation of the Lord as final
arbiter. England was ready less obtrusively but no less heartily to
refer the quarrel to the same dread Judge.

On October 2nd President Steyn informed Sir Alfred Milner that he had
deemed it necessary to call out the Free State burghers--that is, to
mobilise his forces. Sir A. Milner wrote regretting these preparations,
and declaring that he did not yet despair of peace, for he was sure that
any reasonable proposal would be favourably considered by her Majesty's
Government. Steyn's reply was that there was no use in negotiating
unless the stream of British reinforcements ceased coming into South
Africa. As our forces were still in a great minority, it was impossible
to stop the reinforcements, so the correspondence led to nothing. On
October 7th the army reserves for the First Army Corps were called out
in Great Britain and other signs shown that it had been determined to
send a considerable force to South Africa. Parliament was also summoned
that the formal national assent might be gained for those grave measures
which were evidently pending.

It was on October 9th that the somewhat leisurely proceedings of the
British Colonial Office were brought to a head by the arrival of an
unexpected and audacious ultimatum from the Boer Government. In contests
of wit, as of arms, it must be confessed that the laugh has been usually
upon the side of our simple and pastoral South African neighbours. The
present instance was no exception to the rule. While our Government
was cautiously and patiently leading up to an ultimatum, our opponent
suddenly played the very card which we were preparing to lay upon the
table. The document was very firm and explicit, but the terms in which
it was drawn were so impossible that it was evidently framed with the
deliberate purpose of forcing an immediate war. It demanded that the
troops upon the borders of the republic should be instantly withdrawn,
that all reinforcements which had arrived within the last year should
leave South Africa, and that those who were now upon the sea should be
sent back without being landed. Failing a satisfactory answer within
forty-eight hours, 'the Transvaal Government will with great regret be
compelled to regard the action of her Majesty's Government as a formal
declaration of war, for the consequences of which it will not hold
itself responsible.' The audacious message was received throughout the
empire with a mixture of derision and anger. The answer was dispatched
next day through Sir Alfred Milner.

'10th October.--Her Majesty's Government have received with great regret
the peremptory demands of the Government of the South African Republic,
conveyed in your telegram of the 9th October. You will inform the
Government of the South African Republic in reply that the conditions
demanded by the Government of the South African Republic are such as her
Majesty's Government deem it impossible to discuss.'

And so we have come to the end of the long road, past the battle of the
pens and the wrangling of tongues, to the arbitration of the Lee-Metford
and the Mauser. It was pitiable that it should come to this. These
people were as near akin to us as any race which is not our own. They
were of the same Frisian stock which peopled our own shores. In habit
of mind, in religion, in respect for law, they were as ourselves. Brave,
too, they were, and hospitable, with those sporting instincts which are
dear to the Anglo-Celtic race. There was no people in the world who had
more qualities which we might admire, and not the least of them was
that love of independence which it is our proudest boast that we have
encouraged in others as well as exercised ourselves. And yet we had come
to this pass, that there was no room in all vast South Africa for both
of us. We cannot hold ourselves blameless in the matter. 'The evil that
men do lives after them,' and it has been told in this small superficial
sketch where we have erred in the past in South Africa. On our hands,
too, is the Jameson raid, carried out by Englishmen and led by
officers who held the Queen's Commission; to us, also, the blame of the
shuffling, half-hearted inquiry into that most unjustifiable business.
These are matches which helped to set the great blaze alight, and it is
we who held them. But the fagots which proved to be so inflammable,
they were not of our setting. They were the wrongs done to half the
community, the settled resolution of the minority to tax and vex the
majority, the determination of a people who had lived two generations in
a country to claim that country entirely for themselves. Behind them all
there may have been the Dutch ambition to dominate South Africa. It
was no petty object for which Britain fought. When a nation struggles
uncomplainingly through months of disaster she may claim to have proved
her conviction of the justice and necessity of the struggle. Should
Dutch ideas or English ideas of government prevail throughout that huge
country? The one means freedom for a single race, the other means equal
rights to all white men beneath one common law. What each means to
the coloured races let history declare. This was the main issue to
be determined from the instant that the clock struck five upon the
afternoon of Wednesday, October the eleventh, eighteen hundred and
ninety-nine. That moment marked the opening of a war destined to
determine the fate of South Africa, to work great changes in the
British Empire, to seriously affect the future history of the world, and
incidentally to alter many of our views as to the art of war. It is the
story of this war which, with limited material but with much aspiration
to care and candour, I shall now endeavour to tell.



CHAPTER 5. TALANA HILL.

It was on the morning of October 12th, amid cold and mist, that the Boer
camps at Sandspruit and Volksrust broke up, and the burghers rode to the
war. Some twelve thousand of them, all mounted, with two batteries of
eight Krupp guns each, were the invading force from the north, which
hoped later to be joined by the Freestaters and by a contingent of
Germans and Transvaalers who were to cross the Free State border. It
was an hour before dawn that the guns started, and the riflemen followed
close behind the last limber, so that the first light of day fell upon
the black sinuous line winding down between the hills. A spectator upon
the occasion says of them: 'Their faces were a study. For the most part
the expression worn was one of determination and bulldog pertinacity.
No sign of fear there, nor of wavering. Whatever else may be laid to the
charge of the Boer, it may never truthfully be said that he is a coward
or a man unworthy of the Briton's steel.' The words were written early
in the campaign, and the whole empire will endorse them to-day. Could we
have such men as willing fellow-citizens, they are worth more than all
the gold mines of their country.

This main Transvaal body consisted of the commando of Pretoria, which
comprised 1800 men, and those of Heidelberg, Middelburg, Krugersdorp,
Standerton, Wakkerstroom, and Ermelo, with the State Artillery, an
excellent and highly organised body who were provided with the best guns
that have ever been brought on to a battlefield. Besides their sixteen
Krupps, they dragged with them two heavy six-inch Creusot guns, which
were destined to have a very important effect in the earlier part of the
campaign. In addition to these native forces there were a certain number
of European auxiliaries. The greater part of the German corps were with
the Free State forces, but a few hundred came down from the north. There
was a Hollander corps of about two hundred and fifty and an Irish--or
perhaps more properly an Irish-American-corps of the same number, who
rode under the green flag and the harp.

The men might, by all accounts, be divided into two very different
types. There were the town Boers, smartened and perhaps a little
enervated by prosperity and civilisation, men of business and
professional men, more alert and quicker than their rustic comrades.
These men spoke English rather than Dutch, and indeed there were many
men of English descent among them. But the others, the most formidable
both in their numbers and in their primitive qualities, were the
back-veld Boers, the sunburned, tangle-haired, full-bearded farmers, the
men of the Bible and the rifle, imbued with the traditions of their own
guerrilla warfare. These were perhaps the finest natural warriors upon
earth, marksmen, hunters, accustomed to hard fare and a harder couch.
They were rough in their ways and speech, but, in spite of many
calumnies and some few unpleasant truths, they might compare with most
disciplined armies in their humanity and their desire to observe the
usages of war.

A few words here as to the man who led this singular host. Piet Joubert
was a Cape Colonist by birth--a fellow countryman, like Kruger himself,
of those whom the narrow laws of his new country persisted in regarding
as outside the pale. He came from that French Huguenot blood which has
strengthened and refined every race which it has touched, and from it
he derived a chivalry and generosity which made him respected and liked
even by his opponents. In many native broils and in the British campaign
of 1881 he had shown himself a capable leader. His record in standing
out for the independence of the Transvaal was a very consistent one, for
he had not accepted office under the British, as Kruger had done, but
had remained always an irreconcilable. Tall and burly, with hard grey
eyes and a grim mouth half hidden by his bushy beard, he was a fine type
of the men whom he led. He was now in his sixty-fifth year, and the fire
of his youth had, as some of the burghers urged, died down within him;
but he was experienced, crafty, and warwise, never dashing and never
brilliant, but slow, steady, solid, and inexorable.

Besides this northern army there were two other bodies of burghers
converging upon Natal. One, consisting of the commandoes from Utrecht
and the Swaziland districts, had gathered at Vryheid on the flank of the
British position at Dundee. The other, much larger, not less probably
than six or seven thousand men, were the contingent from the Free State
and a Transvaal corps, together with Schiel's Germans, who were making
their way through the various passes, the Tintwa Pass, and Van Reenen's
Pass, which lead through the grim range of the Drakensberg and open out
upon the more fertile plains of Western Natal. The total force may have
been something between twenty and thirty thousand men. By all accounts
they were of an astonishingly high heart, convinced that a path of easy
victory lay before them, and that nothing could bar their way to the
sea. If the British commanders underrated their opponents, there is
ample evidence that the mistake was reciprocal.

A few words now as to the disposition of the British forces, concerning
which it must be borne in mind that Sir George White, though in
actual command, had only been a few days in the country before war was
declared, so that the arrangements fell to General Penn Symons, aided
or hampered by the advice of the local political authorities. The main
position was at Ladysmith, but an advance post was strongly held at
Glencoe, which is five miles from the station of Dundee and forty from
Ladysmith. The reason for this dangerous division of force was to secure
each end of the Biggarsberg section of the railway, and also to cover
the important collieries of that district. The positions chosen seem in
each case to show that the British commander was not aware of the number
and power of the Boer guns, for each was equally defensible against
rifle fire and vulnerable to an artillery attack. In the case of Glencoe
it was particularly evident that guns upon the hills above would, as
they did, render the position untenable. This outlying post was held
by the 1st Leicester Regiment, the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, and the first
battalion of Rifles, with the 18th Hussars, three companies of mounted
infantry, and three batteries of field artillery, the 13th, 67th, and
69th. The 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers were on their way to reinforce
it, and arrived before the first action. Altogether the Glencoe camp
contained some four thousand men.

The main body of the army remained at Ladysmith. These consisted of the
1st Devons, the 1st Liverpools, and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, with the
1st Gloucesters, the 2nd King's Royal Rifles, and the 2nd Rifle Brigade,
reinforced later by the Manchesters. The cavalry included the 5th
Dragoon Guards, the 5th Lancers, a detachment of 19th Hussars, the Natal
Carabineers, the Natal Mounted Police, and the Border Mounted Rifles,
reinforced later by the Imperial Light Horse, a fine body of men raised
principally among the refugees from the Rand. For artillery there
were the 21st, 42nd, and 53rd batteries of field artillery, and No. 10
Mountain Battery, with the Natal Field Artillery, the guns of which were
too light to be of service, and the 23rd Company of Royal Engineers. The
whole force, some eight or nine thousand strong, was under the immediate
command of Sir George White, with Sir Archibald Hunter, fresh from the
Soudan, General French, and General Ian Hamilton as his lieutenants.

The first shock of the Boers, then, must fall upon 4000 men. If these
could be overwhelmed, there were 8000 more to be defeated or masked.
Then what was there between them and the sea? Some detachments of local
volunteers, the Durban Light Infantry at Colenso, and the Natal Royal
Rifles, with some naval volunteers at Estcourt. With the power of the
Boers and their mobility it is inexplicable how the colony was saved. We
are of the same blood, the Boers and we, and we show it in our failings.
Over-confidence on our part gave them the chance, and over-confidence
on theirs prevented them from instantly availing themselves of it. It
passed, never to come again.

The outbreak of war was upon October 11th. On the 12th the Boer forces
crossed the frontier both on the north and on the west. On the 13th they
occupied Charlestown at the top angle of Natal. On the 15th they had
reached Newcastle, a larger town some fifteen miles inside the border.
Watchers from the houses saw six miles of canvas-tilted bullock wagons
winding down the passes, and learned that this was not a raid but an
invasion. At the same date news reached the British headquarters of
an advance from the western passes, and of a movement from the
Buffalo River on the east. On the 13th Sir George White had made a
reconnaissance in force, but had not come in touch with the enemy. On
the 15th six of the Natal Police were surrounded and captured at one of
the drifts of the Buffalo River. On the 18th our cavalry patrols came
into touch with the Boer scouts at Acton Homes and Besters Station,
these being the voortrekkers of the Orange Free State force. On the 18th
also a detachment was reported from Hadders Spruit, seven miles north of
Glencoe Camp. The cloud was drifting up, and it could not be long before
it would burst.

Two days later, on the early morning of October 20th, the forces came
at last into collision. At half-past three in the morning, well before
daylight, the mounted infantry picket at the junction of the roads from
Landmans and Vants Drifts was fired into by the Doornberg commando, and
retired upon its supports. Two companies of the Dublin Fusiliers were
sent out, and at five o'clock on a fine but misty morning the whole of
Symons's force was under arms with the knowledge that the Boers were
pushing boldly towards them. The khaki-clad lines of fighting men stood
in their long thin ranks staring up at the curves of the saddle-back
hills to the north and east of them, and straining their eyes to catch a
glimpse of the enemy. Why these same saddle-back hills were not occupied
by our own people is, it must be confessed, an insoluble mystery. In a
hollow on one flank were the 18th Hussars and the mounted infantry. On
the other were the eighteen motionless guns, limbered up and ready, the
horses fidgeting and stamping in the raw morning air.

And then suddenly--could that be they? An officer with a telescope
stared intently and pointed. Another and another turned a steady field
glass towards the same place. And then the men could see also, and a
little murmur of interest ran down the ranks.

A long sloping hill--Talana Hill--olive-green in hue, was stretching
away in front of them. At the summit it rose into a rounded crest. The
mist was clearing, and the curve was hard-outlined against the limpid
blue of the morning sky. On this, some two and a half miles or three
miles off, a little group of black dots had appeared. The clear edge of
the skyline had become serrated with moving figures. They clustered into
a knot, then opened again, and then--

There had been no smoke, but there came a long crescendo hoot, rising
into a shrill wail. The shell hummed over the soldiers like a great
bee, and sloshed into soft earth behind them. Then another--and yet
another--and yet another. But there was no time to heed them, for there
was the hillside and there the enemy. So at it again with the good old
murderous obsolete heroic tactics of the British tradition! There are
times when, in spite of science and book-lore, the best plan is the
boldest plan, and it is well to fly straight at your enemy's throat,
facing the chance that your strength may fail before you can grasp it.
The cavalry moved off round the enemy's left flank. The guns dashed to
the front, unlimbered, and opened fire. The infantry were moved round in
the direction of Sandspruit, passing through the little town of Dundee,
where the women and children came to the doors and windows to cheer
them. It was thought that the hill was more accessible from that side.
The Leicesters and one field battery--the 67th--were left behind to
protect the camp and to watch the Newcastle Road upon the west. At seven
in the morning all was ready for the assault.

Two military facts of importance had already been disclosed. One was
that the Boer percussion-shells were useless in soft ground, as hardly
any of them exploded; the other that the Boer guns could outrange our
ordinary fifteen-pounder field gun, which had been the one thing perhaps
in the whole British equipment upon which we were prepared to pin our
faith. The two batteries, the 13th and the 69th, were moved nearer,
first to 3000, and then at last to 2300 yards, at which range they
quickly dominated the guns upon the hill. Other guns had opened from
another crest to the east of Talana, but these also were mastered by the
fire of the 13th Battery. At 7.30 the infantry were ordered to advance,
which they did in open order, extended to ten paces. The Dublin
Fusiliers formed the first line, the Rifles the second, and the Irish
Fusiliers the third.

The first thousand yards of the advance were over open grassland, where
the range was long, and the yellow brown of the khaki blended with the
withered veld. There were few casualties until the wood was reached,
which lay halfway up the long slope of the hill. It was a plantation of
larches, some hundreds of yards across and nearly as many deep. On
the left side of this wood--that is, the left side to the advancing
troops--there stretched a long nullah or hollow, which ran
perpendicularly to the hill, and served rather as a conductor of bullets
than as a cover. So severe was the fire at this point that both in the
wood and in the nullah the troops lay down to avoid it. An officer of
Irish Fusiliers has narrated how in trying to cut the straps from a
fallen private a razor lent him for that purpose by a wounded sergeant
was instantly shot out of his hand. The gallant Symons, who had refused
to dismount, was shot through the stomach and fell from his horse
mortally wounded. With an excessive gallantry, he had not only attracted
the enemy's fire by retaining his horse, but he had been accompanied
throughout the action by an orderly bearing a red pennon. 'Have they got
the hill? Have they got the hill?' was his one eternal question as they
carried him dripping to the rear. It was at the edge of the wood that
Colonel Sherston met his end.

From now onwards it was as much a soldiers' battle as Inkermann. In the
shelter of the wood the more eager of the three battalions had pressed
to the front until the fringe of the trees was lined by men from all of
them. The difficulty of distinguishing particular regiments where all
were clad alike made it impossible in the heat of action to keep any
sort of formation. So hot was the fire that for the time the advance
was brought to a standstill, but the 69th battery, firing shrapnel at a
range of 1400 yards, subdued the rifle fire, and about half-past eleven
the infantry were able to push on once more.

Above the wood there was an open space some hundreds of yards across,
bounded by a rough stone wall built for herding cattle. A second wall
ran at right angles to this down towards the wood. An enfilading rifle
fire had been sweeping across this open space, but the wall in front
does not appear to have been occupied by the enemy, who held the kopje
above it. To avoid the cross fire the soldiers ran in single file under
the shelter of the wall, which covered them to the right, and so reached
the other wall across their front. Here there was a second long delay,
the men dribbling up from below, and firing over the top of the wall and
between the chinks of the stones. The Dublin Fusiliers, through being in
a more difficult position, had been unable to get up as quickly as the
others, and most of the hard-breathing excited men who crowded under the
wall were of the Rifles and of the Irish Fusiliers. The air was so full
of bullets that it seemed impossible to live upon the other side of this
shelter. Two hundred yards intervened between the wall and the crest of
the kopje. And yet the kopje had to be cleared if the battle were to be
won.

Out of the huddled line of crouching men an officer sprang shouting, and
a score of soldiers vaulted over the wall and followed at his heels. It
was Captain Connor, of the Irish Fusiliers, but his personal magnetism
carried up with him some of the Rifles as well as men of his own
command. He and half his little forlorn hope were struck down--he, alas!
to die the same night--but there were other leaders as brave to take his
place. 'Forrard away, men, forrard away!' cried Nugent, of the Rifles.
Three bullets struck him, but he continued to drag himself up the
boulder-studded hill. Others followed, and others, from all sides
they came running, the crouching, yelling, khaki-clad figures, and the
supports rushed up from the rear. For a time they were beaten down by
their own shrapnel striking into them from behind, which is an amazing
thing when one considers that the range was under 2000 yards. It was
here, between the wall and the summit, that Colonel Gunning, of the
Rifles, and many other brave men met their end, some by our own bullets
and some by those of the enemy; but the Boers thinned away in front
of them, and the anxious onlookers from the plain below saw the waving
helmets on the crest, and learned at last that all was well.

But it was, it must be confessed, a Pyrrhic victory. We had our hill,
but what else had we? The guns which had been silenced by our fire had
been removed from the kopje. The commando which seized the hill was that
of Lucas Meyer, and it is computed that he had with him about 4000
men. This figure includes those under the command of Erasmus, who made
halfhearted demonstrations against the British flank. If the shirkers
be eliminated, it is probable that there were not more than a thousand
actual combatants upon the hill. Of this number about fifty were killed
and a hundred wounded. The British loss at Talana Hill itself was 41
killed and 180 wounded, but among the killed were many whom the army
could ill spare. The gallant but optimistic Symons, Gunning of the
Rifles, Sherston, Connor, Hambro, and many other brave men died that
day. The loss of officers was out of all proportion to that of the men.

An incident which occurred immediately after the action did much to rob
the British of the fruits of the victory. Artillery had pushed up the
moment that the hill was carried, and had unlimbered on Smith's Nek
between the two hills, from which the enemy, in broken groups of 50
and 100, could be seen streaming away. A fairer chance for the use of
shrapnel has never been. But at this instant there ran from an old iron
church on the reverse side of the hill, which had been used all day as
a Boer hospital, a man with a white flag. It is probable that the action
was in good faith, and that it was simply intended to claim a protection
for the ambulance party which followed him. But the too confiding gunner
in command appears to have thought that an armistice had been declared,
and held his hand during those precious minutes which might have turned
a defeat into a rout. The chance passed, never to return. The double
error of firing into our own advance and of failing to fire into the
enemy's retreat makes the battle one which cannot be looked back to with
satisfaction by our gunners.

In the meantime some miles away another train of events had led to a
complete disaster to our small cavalry force--a disaster which robbed
our dearly bought infantry victory of much of its importance. That
action alone was undoubtedly a victorious one, but the net result of the
day's fighting cannot be said to have been certainly in our favour.
It was Wellington who asserted that his cavalry always got him into
scrapes, and the whole of British military history might furnish
examples of what he meant. Here again our cavalry got into trouble.
Suffice it for the civilian to chronicle the fact, and leave it to the
military critic to portion out the blame.

One company of mounted infantry (that of the Rifles) had been told off
to form an escort for the guns. The rest of the mounted infantry with
part of the 18th Hussars (Colonel Moller) had moved round the right
flank until they reached the right rear of the enemy. Such a movement,
had Lucas Meyer been the only opponent, would have been above criticism;
but knowing, as we did, that there were several commandoes converging
upon Glencoe it was obviously taking a very grave and certain risk
to allow the cavalry to wander too far from support. They were soon
entangled in broken country and attacked by superior numbers of the
Boers. There was a time when they might have exerted an important
influence upon the action by attacking the Boer ponies behind the hills,
but the opportunity was allowed to pass. An attempt was made to get back
to the army, and a series of defensive positions were held to cover
the retreat, but the enemy's fire became too hot to allow them to be
retained. Every route save one appeared to be blocked, so the horsemen
took this, which led them into the heart of a second commando of the
enemy. Finding no way through, the force took up a defensive position,
part of them in a farm and part on a kopje which overlooked it.

The party consisted of two troops of Hussars, one company of mounted
infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers, and one section of the mounted
infantry of the Rifles--about two hundred men in all. They were
subjected to a hot fire for some hours, many being killed and wounded.
Guns were brought up, and fired shell into the farmhouse. At 4.30 the
force, being in a perfectly hopeless position, laid down their arms.
Their ammunition was gone, many of their horses had stampeded, and they
were hemmed in by very superior numbers, so that no slightest slur can
rest upon the survivors for their decision to surrender, though the
movements which brought them to such a pass are more open to criticism.
They were the vanguard of that considerable body of humiliated and
bitter-hearted men who were to assemble at the capital of our brave and
crafty enemy. The remainder of the 18th Hussars, who under Major Knox
had been detached from the main force and sent across the Boer rear,
underwent a somewhat similar experience, but succeeded in extricating
themselves with a loss of six killed and ten wounded. Their efforts were
by no means lost, as they engaged the attention of a considerable body
of Boers during the day and were able to bring some prisoners back with
them.

The battle of Talana Hill was a tactical victory but a strategic defeat.
It was a crude frontal attack without any attempt at even a feint of
flanking, but the valour of the troops, from general to private, carried
it through. The force was in a position so radically false that the only
use which they could make of a victory was to cover their own retreat.
From all points Boer commandoes were converging upon it, and already
it was understood that the guns at their command were heavier than any
which could be placed against them. This was made more clear on October
21st, the day after the battle, when the force, having withdrawn
overnight from the useless hill which they had captured, moved across
to a fresh position on the far side of the railway. At four in the
afternoon a very heavy gun opened from a distant hill, altogether beyond
the extreme range of our artillery, and plumped shell after shell into
our camp. It was the first appearance of the great Creusot. An officer
with several men of the Leicesters, and some of our few remaining
cavalry, were bit. The position was clearly impossible, so at two in the
morning of the 22nd the whole force was moved to a point to the south
of the town of Dundee. On the same day a reconnaissance was made in the
direction of Glencoe Station, but the passes were found to be strongly
occupied, and the little army marched back again to its original
position. The command had fallen to Colonel Yule, who justly considered
that his men were dangerously and uselessly exposed, and that his
correct strategy was to fall back, if it were still possible, and join
the main body at Ladysmith, even at the cost of abandoning the two
hundred sick and wounded who lay with General Symons in the hospital at
Dundee. It was a painful necessity, but no one who studies the situation
can have any doubt of its wisdom. The retreat was no easy task, a march
by road of some sixty or seventy miles through a very rough country with
an enemy pressing on every side. Its successful completion without any
loss or any demoralisation of the troops is perhaps as fine a military
exploit as any of our early victories. Through the energetic and loyal
co-operation of Sir George White, who fought the actions of Elandslaagte
and of Rietfontein in order to keep the way open for them, and owing
mainly to the skillful guidance of Colonel Dartnell, of the Natal
Police, they succeeded in their critical manoeuvre. On October 23rd they
were at Beith, on the 24th at Waselibank Spruit, on the 25th at Sunday
River, and next morning they marched, sodden with rain, plastered with
mud, dog-tired, but in the best of spirits, into Ladysmith amid the
cheers of their comrades. A battle, six days without settled sleep, four
days without a proper meal, winding up with a single march of thirty-two
miles over heavy ground and through a pelting rain storm--that was the
record of the Dundee column. They had fought and won, they had striven
and toiled to the utmost capacity of manhood, and the end of it all was
that they had reached the spot which they should never have left. But
their endurance could not be lost--no worthy deed is ever lost. Like the
light division, when they marched their fifty odd unbroken miles to
be present at Talavera, they leave a memory and a standard behind them
which is more important than success. It is by the tradition of such
sufferings and such endurance that others in other days are nerved to do
the like.



CHAPTER 6. ELANDSLAAGTE AND RIETFONTEIN.

While the Glencoe force had struck furiously at the army of Lucas Meyer,
and had afterwards by hard marching disengaged itself from the numerous
dangers which threatened it, its comrades at Ladysmith had loyally
co-operated in drawing off the attention of the enemy and keeping the
line of retreat open.

On October 20th--the same day as the Battle of Talana Hill--the line was
cut by the Boers at a point nearly midway between Dundee and Ladysmith.
A small body of horsemen were the forerunners of a considerable
commando, composed of Freestaters, Transvaalers, and Germans, who had
advanced into Natal through Botha's Pass under the command of General
Koch. They had with them the two Maxim-Nordenfelds which had been
captured from the Jameson raiders, and were now destined to return
once more to British hands. Colonel Schiel, the German artillerist, had
charge of these guns.

On the evening of that day General French, with a strong reconnoitering
party, including the Natal Carabineers, the 5th Lancers, and the 21st
battery, had defined the enemy's position. Next morning (the 21st) he
returned, but either the enemy had been reinforced during the night or
he had underrated them the day before, for the force which he took with
him was too weak for any serious attack. He had one battery of the Natal
artillery, with their little seven-pounder popguns, five squadrons
of the Imperial Horse, and, in the train which slowly accompanied his
advance, half a battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Elated by the news
of Talana Hill, and anxious to emulate their brothers of Dundee, the
little force moved out of Ladysmith in the early morning.

Some at least of the men were animated by feelings such as seldom find a
place in the breast of the British soldier as he marches into battle.
A sense of duty, a belief in the justice of his cause, a love for his
regiment and for his country, these are the common incentives of every
soldier. But to the men of the Imperial Light Horse, recruited as they
were from among the British refugees of the Rand, there was added a
burning sense of injustice, and in many cases a bitter hatred against
the men whose rule had weighed so heavily upon them. In this singular
corps the ranks were full of wealthy men and men of education, who,
driven from their peaceful vocations in Johannesburg, were bent upon
fighting their way back to them again. A most unmerited slur had been
cast upon their courage in connection with the Jameson raid--a slur
which they and other similar corps have washed out for ever in their own
blood and that of their enemy. Chisholm, a fiery little Lancer, was in
command, with Karri Davis and Wools-Sampson, the two stalwarts who had
preferred Pretoria Gaol to the favours of Kruger, as his majors. The
troopers were on fire at the news that a cartel had arrived in Ladysmith
the night before, purporting to come from the Johannesburg Boers and
Hollanders, asking what uniform the Light Horse wore, as they were
anxious to meet them in battle. These men were fellow townsmen and knew
each other well. They need not have troubled about the uniform, for
before evening the Light Horse were near enough for them to know their
faces.

It was about eight o'clock on a bright summer morning that the small
force came in contact with a few scattered Boer outposts, who retired,
firing, before the advance of the Imperial Light Horse. As they fell
back the green and white tents of the invaders came into view upon the
russet-coloured hillside of Elandslaagte. Down at the red brick railway
station the Boers could be seen swarming out of the buildings in which
they had spent the night. The little Natal guns, firing with obsolete
black powder, threw a few shells into the station, one of which, it
is said, penetrated a Boer ambulance which could not be seen by the
gunners. The accident was to be regretted, but as no patients could have
been in the ambulance the mischance was not a serious one.

But the busy, smoky little seven-pounder guns were soon to meet their
master. Away up on the distant hillside, a long thousand yards beyond
their own furthest range, there was a sudden bright flash. No smoke,
only the throb of flame, and then the long sibilant scream of the shell,
and the thud as it buried itself in the ground under a limber. Such
judgment of range would have delighted the most martinet of inspectors
at Okehampton. Bang came another, and another, and another, right
into the heart of the battery. The six little guns lay back at their
extremest angle, and all barked together in impotent fury. Another shell
pitched over them, and the officer in command lowered his field-glass in
despair as he saw his own shells bursting far short upon the hillside.
Jameson's defeat does not seem to have been due to any defect in his
artillery. French, peering and pondering, soon came to the
conclusion that there were too many Boers for him, and that if those
fifteen-pounders desired target practice they should find some other
mark than the Natal Field Artillery. A few curt orders, and his whole
force was making its way to the rear. There, out of range of those
perilous guns, they halted, the telegraph wire was cut, a telephone
attachment was made, and French whispered his troubles into the
sympathetic ear of Ladysmith. He did not whisper in vain. What he had
to say was that where he had expected a few hundred riflemen he found
something like two thousand, and that where he expected no guns he found
two very excellent ones. The reply was that by road and by rail as many
men as could be spared were on their way to join him.

Soon they began to drop in, those useful reinforcements--first the
Devons, quiet, business-like, reliable; then the Gordons, dashing,
fiery, brilliant. Two squadrons of the 5th Lancers, the 42nd R.F.A., the
21st R.F.A., another squadron of Lancers, a squadron of the 5th Dragoon
Guards--French began to feel that he was strong enough for the task in
front of him. He had a decided superiority of numbers and of guns. But
the others were on their favourite defensive on a hill. It would be a
fair fight and a deadly one.

It was late after noon before the advance began. It was hard, among
those billowing hills, to make out the exact limits of the enemy's
position. All that was certain was that they were there, and that
we meant having them out if it were humanly possible. 'The enemy are
there,' said Ian Hamilton to his infantry; 'I hope you will shift
them out before sunset--in fact I know you will.' The men cheered and
laughed. In long open lines they advanced across the veld, while the
thunder of the two batteries behind them told the Boer gunners that it
was their turn now to know what it was to be outmatched.

The idea was to take the position by a front and a flank attack, but
there seems to have been some difficulty in determining which was the
front and which the flank. In fact, it was only by trying that one
could know. General White with his staff had arrived from Ladysmith,
but refused to take the command out of French's hands. It is typical of
White's chivalrous spirit that within ten days he refused to identify
himself with a victory when it was within his right to do so, and took
the whole responsibility for a disaster at which he was not present.
Now he rode amid the shells and watched the able dispositions of his
lieutenant.

About half-past three the action had fairly begun. In front of the
advancing British there lay a rolling hill, topped by a further one. The
lower hill was not defended, and the infantry, breaking from column of
companies into open order, advanced over it. Beyond was a broad grassy
valley which led up to the main position, a long kopje flanked by a
small sugar-loaf one Behind the green slope which led to the ridge of
death an ominous and terrible cloud was driving up, casting its black
shadow over the combatants. There was the stillness which goes before
some great convulsion of nature. The men pressed on in silence, the soft
thudding of their feet and the rattle of their sidearms filling the air
with a low and continuous murmur. An additional solemnity was given to
the attack by that huge black cloud which hung before them.

The British guns had opened at a range of 4400 yards, and now against
the swarthy background there came the quick smokeless twinkle of the
Boer reply. It was an unequal fight, but gallantly sustained. A shot and
another to find the range; then a wreath of smoke from a bursting
shell exactly where the guns had been, followed by another and another.
Overmatched, the two Boer pieces relapsed into a sulky silence,
broken now and again by short spurts of frenzied activity. The British
batteries turned their attention away from them, and began to search the
ridge with shrapnel and prepare the way for the advancing infantry.

The scheme was that the Devonshires should hold the enemy in front while
the main attack from the left flank was carried out by the Gordons,
the Manchesters, and the Imperial Light Horse. The words 'front' and
'flank,' however, cease to have any meaning with so mobile and elastic
a force, and the attack which was intended to come from the left became
really a frontal one, while the Devons found themselves upon the right
flank of the Boers. At the moment of the final advance the great black
cloud had burst, and a torrent of rain lashed into the faces of the men.
Slipping and sliding upon the wet grass, they advanced to the assault.

And now amid the hissing of the rain there came the fuller, more
menacing whine of the Mauser bullets, and the ridge rattled from end to
end with the rifle fire. Men fell fast, but their comrades pressed
hotly on. There was a long way to go, for the summit of the position was
nearly 800 feet above the level of the railway. The hillside, which had
appeared to be one slope, was really a succession of undulations, so
that the advancing infantry alternately dipped into shelter and emerged
into a hail of bullets. The line of advance was dotted with khaki-clad
figures, some still in death, some writhing in their agony. Amid the
litter of bodies a major of the Gordons, shot through the leg, sat
philosophically smoking his pipe. Plucky little Chisholm, Colonel of the
Imperials, had fallen with two mortal wounds as he dashed forward waving
a coloured sash in the air. So long was the advance and so trying the
hill that the men sank panting upon the ground, and took their breath
before making another rush. As at Talana Hill, regimental formation was
largely gone, and men of the Manchesters, Gordons, and Imperial Light
Horse surged upwards in one long ragged fringe, Scotchman, Englishman,
and British Africander keeping pace in that race of death. And now at
last they began to see their enemy. Here and there among the boulders
in front of them there was the glimpse of a slouched hat, or a peep at
a flushed bearded face which drooped over a rifle barrel. There was a
pause, and then with a fresh impulse the wave of men gathered themselves
together and flung themselves forward. Dark figures sprang up from the
rocks in front. Some held up their rifles in token of surrender. Some
ran with heads sunk between their shoulders, jumping and ducking among
the rocks. The panting breathless climbers were on the edge of the
plateau. There were the two guns which had flashed so brightly, silenced
now, with a litter of dead gunners around them and one wounded officer
standing by a trail. A small body of the Boers still resisted. Their
appearance horrified some of our men. 'They were dressed in black
frock coats and looked like a lot of rather seedy business men,' said a
spectator. 'It seemed like murder to kill them.' Some surrendered, and
some fought to the death where they stood. Their leader Koch, an old
gentleman with a white beard, lay amidst the rocks, wounded in three
places. He was treated with all courtesy and attention, but died in
Ladysmith Hospital some days afterwards.

In the meanwhile the Devonshire Regiment had waited until the attack
had developed and had then charged the hill upon the flank, while
the artillery moved up until it was within 2000 yards of the enemy's
position. The Devons met with a less fierce resistance than the others,
and swept up to the summit in time to head off some of the fugitives.
The whole of our infantry were now upon the ridge.

But even so these dour fighters were not beaten. They clung desperately
to the further edges of the plateau, firing from behind the rocks.
There had been a race for the nearest gun between an officer of the
Manchesters and a drummer sergeant of the Gordons. The officer won, and
sprang in triumph on to the piece. Men of all regiments swarmed round
yelling and cheering, when upon their astonished ears there sounded the
'Cease fire' and then the 'Retire.' It was incredible, and yet it pealed
out again, unmistakable in its urgency. With the instinct of discipline
the men were slowly falling back. And then the truth of it came upon
the minds of some of them. The crafty enemy had learned our bugle calls.
'Retire be damned! shrieked a little bugler, and blew the 'Advance' with
all the breath that the hillside had left him. The men, who had retired
a hundred yards and uncovered the guns, flooded back over the plateau,
and in the Boer camp which lay beneath it a white flag showed that
the game was up. A squadron of the 5th Lancers and of the 5th Dragoon
Guards, under Colonel Gore of the latter regiment, had prowled round
the base of the hill, and in the fading light they charged through and
through the retreating Boers, killing several, and making from twenty to
thirty prisoners. It was one of the very few occasions in the war where
the mounted Briton overtook the mounted Boer.

'What price Majuba?' was the cry raised by some of the infantry as they
dashed up to the enemy's position, and the action may indeed be said to
have been in some respects the converse of that famous fight. It is true
that there were many more British at Elandslaagte than Boers at Majuba,
but then the defending force was much more numerous also, and the
British had no guns there. It is true, also, that Majuba is very much
more precipitous than Elandslaagte, but then every practical soldier
knows that it is easier to defend a moderate glacis than an abrupt
slope, which gives cover under its boulders to the attacker while the
defender has to crane his head over the edge to look down. On the whole,
this brilliant little action may be said to have restored things to
their true proportion, and to have shown that, brave as the Boers
undoubtedly are, there is no military feat within their power which
is not equally possible to the British soldier. Talana Hill and
Elandslaagte, fought on successive days, were each of them as gallant an
exploit as Majuba.

We had more to show for our victory than for the previous one at Dundee.
Two Maxim-Nordenfeld guns, whose efficiency had been painfully evident
during the action, were a welcome addition to our artillery. Two hundred
and fifty Boers were killed and wounded and about two hundred taken
prisoners, the loss falling most heavily upon the Johannesburgers, the
Germans, and the Hollanders. General Koch, Dr. Coster, Colonel Schiel,
Pretorius, and other well-known Transvaalers fell into our hands. Our
own casualty list consisted of 41 killed and 220 wounded, much the same
number as at Talana Hill, the heaviest losses falling upon the Gordon
Highlanders and the Imperial Light Horse.

In the hollow where the Boer tents had stood, amid the laagered wagons
of the vanquished, under a murky sky and a constant drizzle of rain, the
victors spent the night. Sleep was out of the question, for all night
the fatigue parties were searching the hillside and the wounded were
being carried in. Camp-fires were lit and soldiers and prisoners crowded
round them, and it is pleasant to recall that the warmest corner and the
best of their rude fare were always reserved for the downcast Dutchmen,
while words of rude praise and sympathy softened the pain of defeat. It
is the memory of such things which may in happier days be more potent
than all the wisdom of statesmen in welding our two races into one.

Having cleared the Boer force from the line of the railway, it is
evident that General White could not continue to garrison the point, as
he was aware that considerable forces were moving from the north,
and his first duty was the security of Ladysmith. Early next morning
(October 22nd), therefore, his weary but victorious troops returned
to the town. Once there he learned, no doubt, that General Yule had
no intention of using the broken railway for his retreat, but that he
intended to come in a circuitous fashion by road. White's problem was
to hold tight to the town and at the same time to strike hard at any
northern force so as to prevent them from interfering with Yule's
retreat. It was in the furtherance of this scheme that he fought upon
October 24th the action of Rietfontein, an engagement slight in itself,
but important on account of the clear road which was secured for the
weary forces retiring from Dundee.

The army from the Free State, of which the commando vanquished at
Elandslaagte was the vanguard, had been slowly and steadily debouching
from the passes, and working south and eastwards to cut the line between
Dundee and Ladysmith. It was White's intention to prevent them from
crossing the Newcastle Road, and for this purpose he sallied out of
Ladysmith on Tuesday the 24th, having with him two regiments of cavalry,
the 5th Lancers and the 19th Hussars, the 42nd and 53rd field batteries
with the 10th mountain battery, four infantry regiments, the Devons,
Liverpools, Gloucesters, and 2nd King's Royal Rifles, the Imperial Light
Horse, and the Natal Volunteers--some four thousand men in all.

The enemy were found to be in possession of a line of hills within
seven miles of Ladysmith, the most conspicuous of which is called Tinta
Inyoni. It was no part of General White's plan to attempt to drive him
from this position--it is not wise generalship to fight always upon
ground of the enemy's choosing--but it was important to hold him where
he was, and to engage his attention during this last day of the march
of the retreating column. For this purpose, since no direct attack was
intended, the guns were of more importance than the infantry--and indeed
the infantry should, one might imagine, have been used solely as an
escort for the artillery. A desultory and inconclusive action ensued
which continued from nine in the morning until half-past one in the
afternoon. A well-directed fire of the Boer guns from the hills was
dominated and controlled by our field artillery, while the advance of
their riflemen was restrained by shrapnel. The enemy's guns were more
easily marked down than at Elandslaagte, as they used black powder. The
ranges varied from three to four thousand yards. Our losses in the
whole action would have been insignificant had it not happened that the
Gloucester Regiment advanced somewhat incautiously into the open and was
caught in a cross fire of musketry which struck down Colonel Wilford and
fifty of his officers and men. Within four days Colonel Dick-Cunyngham,
of the Gordons, Colonel Chisholm, of the Light Horse, Colonel Gunning,
of the Rifles, and now Colonel Wilford, of the Gloucesters, had all
fallen at the head of their regiments. In the afternoon General White,
having accomplished his purpose and secured the safety of the Dundee
column while traversing the dangerous Biggarsberg passes, withdrew his
force to Ladysmith. We have no means of ascertaining the losses of the
Boers, but they were probably slight. On our side we lost 109 killed and
wounded, of which only 13 cases were fatal. Of this total 64 belonged
to the Gloucesters and 25 to the troops raised in Natal. Next day, as
already narrated, the whole British army was re-assembled once more at
Ladysmith, and the campaign was to enter upon a new phase.

At the end of this first vigorous week of hostilities it is interesting
to sum up the net result. The strategical advantage had lain with the
Boers. They had made our position at Dundee untenable and had driven us
back to Ladysmith. They had the country and the railway for the northern
quarter of the colony in their possession. They had killed and wounded
between six and seven hundred of our men, and they had captured some two
hundred of our cavalry, while we had been compelled at Dundee to leave
considerable stores and our wounded, including General Penn Symons, who
actually died while a prisoner in their hands. On the other hand, the
tactical advantages lay with us. We had twice driven them from their
positions, and captured two of their guns. We had taken two hundred
prisoners, and had probably killed and wounded as many as we had lost.
On the whole, the honours of that week's fighting in Natal may be said
to have been fairly equal--which is more than we could claim for many a
weary week to come.



CHAPTER 7. THE BATTLE OF LADYSMITH.

Sir George White had now reunited his force, and found himself in
command of a formidable little army some twelve thousand in number. His
cavalry included the 5th Lancers, the 5th Dragoons, part of the 18th and
the whole of the 19th Hussars, the Natal Carabineers, the Border Rifles,
some mounted infantry, and the Imperial Light Horse. Among his infantry
were the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Dublin Fusiliers, and the King's
Royal Rifles, fresh from the ascent of Talana Hill, the Gordons, the
Manchesters, and the Devons who had been blooded at Elandslaagte,
the Leicesters, the Liverpools, the 2nd battalion of the King's Royal
Rifles, the 2nd Rifle Brigade, and the Gloucesters, who had been so
roughly treated at Rietfontein. He had six batteries of excellent field
artillery--the 13th, 21st, 42nd, 53rd, 67th, 69th, and No. 10 Mountain
Battery of screw guns. No general could have asked for a more compact
and workmanlike little force.

It had been recognised by the British General from the beginning that
his tactics must be defensive, since he was largely outnumbered and
since also any considerable mishap to his force would expose the
whole colony of Natal to destruction. The actions of Elandslaagte and
Rietfontein were forced upon him in order to disengage his compromised
detachment, but now there was no longer any reason why he should
assume the offensive. He knew that away out on the Atlantic a trail of
transports which already extended from the Channel to Cape de Verde
were hourly drawing nearer to him with the army corps from England. In a
fortnight or less the first of them would be at Durban. It was his game,
therefore, to keep his army intact, and to let those throbbing engines
and whirling propellers do the work of the empire. Had he entrenched
himself up to his nose and waited, it would have paid him best in the
end.

But so tame and inglorious a policy is impossible to a fighting soldier.
He could not with his splendid force permit himself to be shut in
without an action. What policy demands honour may forbid. On October
27th there were already Boers and rumours of Boers on every side of
him. Joubert with his main body was moving across from Dundee. The
Freestaters were to the north and west. Their combined numbers were
uncertain, but at least it was already proved that they were far more
numerous and also more formidable than had been anticipated. We had had
a taste of their artillery also, and the pleasant delusion that it would
be a mere useless encumbrance to a Boer force had vanished for ever.
It was a grave thing to leave the town in order to give battle, for
the mobile enemy might swing round and seize it behind us. Nevertheless
White determined to make the venture.

On the 29th the enemy were visibly converging upon the town. From a high
hill within rifleshot of the houses a watcher could see no fewer than
six Boer camps to the east and north. French, with his cavalry, pushed
out feelers, and coasted along the edge of the advancing host. His
report warned White that if he would strike before all the scattered
bands were united he must do so at once. The wounded were sent down to
Pietermaritzburg, and it would bear explanation why the non-combatants
did not accompany them. On the evening of the same day Joubert in person
was said to be only six miles off, and a party of his men cut the water
supply of the town. The Klip, however, a fair-sized river, runs through
Ladysmith, so that there was no danger of thirst. The British had
inflated and sent up a balloon, to the amazement of the back-veld Boers;
its report confirmed the fact that the enemy was in force in front of
and around them.

On the night of the 29th General White detached two of his best
regiments, the Irish Fusiliers and the Gloucesters, with No. 10 Mountain
Battery, to advance under cover of the darkness and to seize and hold
a long ridge called Nicholson's Nek, which lay about six miles to the
north of Ladysmith. Having determined to give battle on the next day,
his object was to protect his left wing against those Freestaters who
were still moving from the north and west, and also to keep a pass
open by which his cavalry might pursue the Boer fugitives in case of a
British victory. This small detached column numbered about a thousand
men--whose fate will be afterwards narrated.

At five o'clock on the morning of the 30th the Boers, who had already
developed a perfect genius for hauling heavy cannon up the most
difficult heights, opened fire from one of the hills which lie to the
north of the town. Before the shot was fired, the forces of the British
had already streamed out of Ladysmith to test the strength of the
invaders.

White's army was divided into three columns. On the extreme left, quite
isolated from the others, was the small Nicholson's Nek detachment under
the command of Colonel Carleton of the Fusiliers (one of three gallant
brothers each of whom commands a British regiment). With him was Major
Adye of the staff. On the right British flank Colonel Grimwood commanded
a brigade composed of the 1st and 2nd battalions of the King's Royal
Rifles, the Leicesters, the Liverpools, and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
In the centre Colonel Ian Hamilton commanded the Devons, the Gordons,
the Manchesters, and the 2nd battalion of the Rifle Brigade, which
marched direct into the battle from the train which had brought them
from Durban. Six batteries of artillery were massed in the centre under
Colonel Downing. French with the cavalry and mounted infantry was on the
extreme right, but found little opportunity for the use of the mounted
arm that day.

The Boer position, so far as it could be seen, was a formidable one.
Their centre lay upon one of the spurs of Signal Hill, about three miles
from the town. Here they had two forty-pounders and three other lighter
guns, but their artillery strength developed both in numbers and in
weight of metal as the day wore on. Of their dispositions little could
be seen. An observer looking westward might discern with his glass
sprays of mounted riflemen galloping here and there over the downs,
and possibly small groups where the gunners stood by their guns, or the
leaders gazed down at that town which they were destined to have in view
for such a weary while. On the dun-coloured plains before the town, the
long thin lines, with an occasional shifting sparkle of steel, showed
where Hamilton's and Grimwood's infantry were advancing. In the clear
cold air of an African morning every detail could be seen, down to the
distant smoke of a train toiling up the heavy grades which lead from
Frere over the Colenso Bridge to Ladysmith.

The scrambling, inconsequential, unsatisfactory action which ensued is
as difficult to describe as it must have been to direct. The Boer
front covered some seven or eight miles, with kopjes, like chains of
fortresses, between. They formed a huge semicircle of which our advance
was the chord, and they were able from this position to pour in
a converging artillery fire which grew steadily hotter as the day
advanced. In the early part of the day our forty-two guns, working
furiously, though with a want of accuracy which may be due to those
errors of refraction which are said to be common in the limpid air of
the veld, preserved their superiority. There appears to have been a want
of concentration about our fire, and at some periods of the action
each particular battery was firing at some different point of the Boer
half-circle. Sometimes for an hour on end the Boer reply would die
away altogether, only to break out with augmented violence, and with
an accuracy which increased our respect for their training. Huge
shells--the largest that ever burst upon a battlefield--hurled from
distances which were unattainable by our fifteen-pounders, enveloped our
batteries in smoke and flame. One enormous Creusot gun on Pepworth Hill
threw a 96-pound shell a distance of four miles, and several 40-pound
howitzers outweighted our field guns. And on the same day on which we
were so roughly taught how large the guns were which labour and good
will could haul on to the field of battle, we learned also that our
enemy--to the disgrace of our Board of Ordnance be it recorded--was more
in touch with modern invention than we were, and could show us not only
the largest, but also the smallest, shell which had yet been used. Would
that it had been our officials instead of our gunners who heard the
devilish little one-pound shells of the Vickers-Maxim automatic gun,
exploding with a continuous string of crackings and bangings, like a
huge cracker, in their faces and about their ears!

Up to seven o'clock our infantry had shown no disposition to press the
attack, for with so huge a position in front of them, and so many hills
which were held by the enemy, it was difficult to know what line of
advance should be taken, or whether the attack should not be converted
into a mere reconnaissance. Shortly after that hour, however, the Boers
decided the question by themselves developing a vigorous movement upon
Grimwood and the right flank. With field guns, Maxims, and rifle fire,
they closed rapidly in upon him. The centre column was drafted off,
regiment by regiment, to reinforce the right. The Gordons, Devons,
Manchesters, and three batteries were sent over to Grimwood's relief,
and the 5th Lancers, acting as infantry, assisted him to hold on.

At nine o'clock there was a lull, but it was evident that fresh
commandoes and fresh guns were continually streaming into the firing
line. The engagement opened again with redoubled violence, and
Grimwood's three advanced battalions fell back, abandoning the ridge
which they had held for five hours. The reason for this withdrawal was
not that they could not continue to hold their position, but it was
that a message had just reached Sir George White from Colonel Knox,
commanding in Ladysmith, to the effect that it looked as if the enemy
was about to rush the town from the other side. Crossing the open in
some disorder, they lost heavily, and would have done so more had not
the 13th Field Battery, followed after an interval by the 53rd, dashed
forward, firing shrapnel at short ranges, in order to cover the retreat
of the infantry. Amid the bursting of the huge 96-pound shells, and the
snapping of the vicious little automatic one-pounders, with a cross-fire
of rifles as well, Abdy's and Dawkins' gallant batteries swung round
their muzzles, and hit back right and left, flashing and blazing, amid
their litter of dead horses and men. So severe was the fire that the
guns were obscured by the dust knocked up by the little shells of the
automatic gun. Then, when their work was done and the retiring infantry
had straggled over the ridge, the covering guns whirled and bounded
after them. So many horses had fallen that two pieces were left until
the teams could be brought back for them, which was successfully done
through the gallantry of Captain Thwaites. The action of these batteries
was one of the few gleams of light in a not too brilliant day's work.
With splendid coolness and courage they helped each other by alternate
retirements after the retreating infantry had passed them. The 21st
Battery (Blewitt's) also distinguished itself by its staunchness in
covering the retirement of the cavalry, while the 42nd (Goulburn's)
suffered the heaviest losses of any. On the whole, such honours as fell
to our lot were mainly with the gunners.

White must have been now uneasy for his position, and it had become
apparent that his only course was to fall back and concentrate upon the
town. His left flank was up in the air, and the sound of distant firing,
wafted over five miles of broken country, was the only message which
arrived from them. His right had been pushed back, and, most dangerous
of all, his centre had ceased to exist, for only the 2nd Rifle Brigade
remained there. What would happen if the enemy burst rudely through
and pushed straight for the town? It was the more possible, as the
Boer artillery had now proved itself to be far heavier than ours. That
terrible 96-pounder, serenely safe and out of range, was plumping its
great projectiles into the masses of retiring troops. The men had had
little sleep and little food, and this unanswerable fire was an ordeal
for a force which is retreating. A retirement may very rapidly become
a rout under such circumstances. It was with some misgivings that the
officers saw their men quicken their pace and glance back over their
shoulders at the whine and screech of the shell. They were still some
miles from home, and the plain was open. What could be done to give them
some relief?

And at that very moment there came the opportune and unexpected answer.
That plume of engine smoke which the watcher had observed in the
morning had drawn nearer and nearer, as the heavy train came puffing and
creaking up the steep inclines. Then, almost before it had drawn up at
the Ladysmith siding, there had sprung from it a crowd of merry bearded
fellows, with ready hands and strange sea cries, pulling and hauling,
with rope and purchase to get out the long slim guns which they had
lashed on the trucks. Singular carriages were there, specially invented
by Captain Percy Scott, and labouring and straining, they worked
furiously to get the 12-pounder quick-firers into action. Then at last
it was done, and the long tubes swept upwards to the angle at which they
might hope to reach that monster on the hill at the horizon. Two of them
craned their long inquisitive necks up and exchanged repartees with the
big Creusot. And so it was that the weary and dispirited British troops
heard a crash which was louder and sharper than that of their field
guns, and saw far away upon the distant hill a great spurt of smoke
and flame to show where the shell had struck. Another and another and
another--and then they were troubled no more. Captain Hedworth Lambton
and his men had saved the situation. The masterful gun had met its own
master and sank into silence, while the somewhat bedraggled field force
came trailing back into Ladysmith, leaving three hundred of their number
behind them. It was a high price to pay, but other misfortunes were
in store for us which made the retirement of the morning seem
insignificant.

In the meantime we may follow the unhappy fortunes of the small column
which had, as already described, been sent out by Sir George White in
order, if possible, to prevent the junction of the two Boer armies, and
at the same time to threaten the right wing of the main force, which was
advancing from the direction of Dundee, Sir George White throughout the
campaign consistently displayed one quality which is a charming one in
an individual, but may be dangerous in a commander. He was a confirmed
optimist. Perhaps his heart might have failed him in the dark days to
come had he not been so. But whether one considers the non-destruction
of the Newcastle Railway, the acquiescence in the occupation of Dundee,
the retention of the non combatants in Ladysmith until it was too late
to get rid of their useless mouths, or the failure to make any serious
preparations for the defence of the town until his troops were beaten
back into it, we see always the same evidence of a man who habitually
hopes that all will go well, and is in consequence remiss in making
preparations for their going ill. But unhappily in every one of these
instances they did go ill, though the slowness of the Boers enabled
us, both at Dundee and at Ladysmith, to escape what might have been
disaster.

Sir George White has so nobly and frankly taken upon himself the blame
of Nicholson's Nek that an impartial historian must rather regard his
self-condemnation as having been excessive. The immediate causes of the
failure were undoubtedly the results of pure ill-fortune, and depended
on things outside his control. But it is evident that the strategic plan
which would justify the presence of this column at Nicholson's Nek
was based upon the supposition that the main army won their action at
Lombard's Kop. In that case White might swing round his right and pin
the Boers between himself and Nicholson's Nek. In any case he could then
re-unite with his isolated wing. But if he should lose his battle--what
then? What was to become of this detachment five miles up in the air?
How was it to be extricated? The gallant Irishman seems to have waved
aside the very idea of defeat. An assurance was, it is reported, given
to the leaders of the column that by eleven o'clock next morning they
would be relieved. So they would if White had won his action. But--

The force chosen to operate independently consisted of four and a half
companies of the Gloucester regiment, six companies of the Royal Irish
Fusiliers, and No. 10 Mountain Battery of six seven-pounder screw-guns.
They were both old soldier regiments from India, and the Fusiliers had
shown only ten days before at Talana Hill the stuff of which they were
made. Colonel Carleton, of the Fusiliers, to whose exertions much of the
success of the retreat from Dundee was due, commanded the column, with
Major Adye as staff officer. On the night of Sunday, October 29th,
they tramped out of Ladysmith, a thousand men, none better in the army.
Little they thought, as they exchanged a jest or two with the outlying
pickets, that they were seeing the last of their own armed countrymen
for many a weary month.

The road was irregular and the night was moonless. On either side the
black loom of the hills bulked vaguely through the darkness. The column
tramped stolidly along, the Fusiliers in front, the guns and Gloucesters
behind. Several times a short halt was called to make sure of the
bearings. At last, in the black cold hours which come between midnight
and morning, the column swung to the left out of the road. In front
of them, hardly visible, stretched a long black kopje. It was the very
Nicholson's Nek which they had come to occupy. Carleton and Adye must
have heaved a sigh of relief as they realised that they had actually
struck it. The force was but two hundred yards from the position, and
all had gone without a hitch. And yet in those two hundred yards there
came an incident which decided the fate both of their enterprise and of
themselves.

Out of the darkness there blundered and rattled five horsemen, their
horses galloping, the loose stones flying around them. In the dim light
they were gone as soon as seen. Whence coming, whither going, no one
knows, nor is it certain whether it was design or ignorance or panic
which sent them riding so wildly through the darkness. Somebody fired.
A sergeant of the Fusiliers took the bullet through his hand. Some
one else shouted to fix bayonets. The mules which carried the spare
ammunition kicked and reared. There was no question of treachery, for
they were led by our own men, but to hold two frightened mules, one with
either hand, is a feat for a Hercules. They lashed and tossed and bucked
themselves loose, and an instant afterwards were flying helter skelter
through the column. Nearly all the mules caught the panic. In vain the
men held on to their heads. In the mad rush they were galloped over and
knocked down by the torrent of frightened creatures. In the gloom of
that early hour the men must have thought that they were charged by
cavalry. The column was dashed out of all military order as effectively
as if a regiment of dragoons had ridden over them. When the cyclone had
passed, and the men had with many a muttered curse gathered themselves
into their ranks once more, they realised how grave was the misfortune
which had befallen them. There, where those mad hoofs still rattled
in the distance, were their spare cartridges, their shells, and their
cannon. A mountain gun is not drawn upon wheels, but is carried in
adjustable parts upon mule-back. A wheel had gone south, a trail east, a
chase west. Some of the cartridges were strewn upon the road. Most were
on their way back to Ladysmith. There was nothing for it but to face
this new situation and to determine what should be done.

It has been often and naturally asked, why did not Colonel Carleton make
his way back at once upon the loss of his guns and ammunition, while
it was still dark? One or two considerations are evident. In the first
place, it is natural to a good soldier to endeavour to retrieve a
situation rather than to abandon his enterprise. His prudence, did he
not do so, might become the subject of public commendation, but might
also provoke some private comment. A soldier's training is to take
chances, and to do the best he can with the material at his disposal.
Again, Colonel Carleton and Major Adye knew the general plan of the
battle which would be raging within a very few hours, and they quite
understood that by withdrawing they would expose General White's left
flank to attack from the forces (consisting, as we know now, of the
Orange Freestaters and of the Johannesburg Police) who were coming from
the north and west. He hoped to be relieved by eleven, and he believed
that, come what might, he could hold out until then. These are the
most obvious of the considerations which induced Colonel Carleton to
determine to carry out so far as he could the programme which had been
laid down for him and his command. He marched up the hill and occupied
the position.

His heart, however, must have sunk when he examined it. It was very
large--too large to be effectively occupied by the force which he
commanded. The length was about a mile and the breadth four hundred
yards. Shaped roughly like the sole of a boot, it was only the heel end
which he could hope to hold. Other hills all round offered cover for
Boer riflemen. Nothing daunted, however, he set his men to work at once
building sangars with the loose stones. With the full dawn and the first
snapping of Boer Mausers from the hills around they had thrown up some
sort of rude defences which they might hope to hold until help should
come.

But how could help come when there was no means by which they could let
White know the plight in which they found themselves? They had brought
a heliograph with them, but it was on the back of one of those accursed
mules. The Boers were thick around them, and they could not send a
messenger. An attempt was made to convert a polished biscuit tin into a
heliograph, but with poor success. A Kaffir was dispatched with promises
of a heavy bribe, but he passed out of history. And there in the clear
cold morning air the balloon hung to the south of them where the first
distant thunder of White's guns was beginning to sound. If only they
could attract the attention of that balloon! Vainly they wagged flags at
it. Serene and unresponsive it brooded over the distant battle.

And now the Boers were thickening round them on every side. Christian
de Wet, a name soon to be a household word, marshaled the Boer attack,
which was soon strengthened by the arrival of Van Dam and his Police. At
five o'clock the fire began, at six it was warm, at seven warmer still.
Two companies of the Gloucesters lined a sangar on the tread of
the sole, to prevent any one getting too near to the heel. A fresh
detachment of Boers, firing from a range of nearly one thousand yards,
took this defence in the rear. Bullets fell among the men, and smacked
up against the stone breastwork. The two companies were withdrawn, and
lost heavily in the open as they crossed it. An incessant rattle and
crackle of rifle fire came from all round, drawing very slowly but
steadily nearer. Now and then the whisk of a dark figure from one
boulder to another was all that ever was seen of the attackers. The
British fired slowly and steadily, for every cartridge counted, but the
cover of the Boers was so cleverly taken that it was seldom that there
was much to aim at. 'All you could ever see,' says one who was present,
'were the barrels of the rifles.' There was time for thought in
that long morning, and to some of the men it may have occurred what
preparation for such fighting had they ever had in the mechanical
exercises of the parade ground, or the shooting of an annual bagful of
cartridges at exposed targets at a measured range. It is the warfare of
Nicholson's Nek, not that of Laffan's Plain, which has to be learned in
the future.

During those weary hours lying on the bullet-swept hill and listening
to the eternal hissing in the air and clicking on the rocks, the British
soldiers could see the fight which raged to the south of them. It was
not a cheering sight, and Carleton and Adye with their gallant comrades
must have felt their hearts grow heavier as they watched. The Boers'
shells bursting among the British batteries, the British shells bursting
short of their opponents. The Long Toms laid at an angle of forty-five
plumped their huge shells into the British guns at a range where the
latter would not dream of unlimbering. And then gradually the rifle fire
died away also, crackling more faintly as White withdrew to Ladysmith.
At eleven o'clock Carleton's column recognised that it had been left to
its fate. As early as nine a heliogram had been sent to them to retire
as the opportunity served, but to leave the hill was certainly to court
annihilation.

The men had then been under fire for six hours, and with their losses
mounting and their cartridges dwindling, all hope had faded from their
minds. But still for another hour, and yet another, and yet another,
they held doggedly on. Nine and a half hours they clung to that pile
of stones. The Fusiliers were still exhausted from the effect of their
march from Glencoe and their incessant work since. Many fell asleep
behind the boulders. Some sat doggedly with their useless rifles
and empty pouches beside them. Some picked cartridges off their dead
comrades. What were they fighting for? It was hopeless, and they knew
it. But always there was the honour of the flag, the glory of the
regiment, the hatred of a proud and brave man to acknowledge defeat. And
yet it had to come. There were some in that force who were ready for
the reputation of the British army, and for the sake of an example
of military virtue, to die stolidly where they stood, or to lead the
'Faugh-a-ballagh' boys, or the gallant 28th, in one last death-charge
with empty rifles against the unseen enemy. They may have been right,
these stalwarts. Leonidas and his three hundred did more for the Spartan
cause by their memory than by their living valour. Man passes like the
brown leaves, but the tradition of a nation lives on like the oak that
sheds them--and the passing of the leaves is nothing if the bole be the
sounder for it. But a counsel of perfection is easy at a study table.
There are other things to be said--the responsibility of officers for
the lives of their men, the hope that they may yet be of service to
their country. All was weighed, all was thought of, and so at last the
white flag went up. The officer who hoisted it could see no one unhurt
save himself, for all in his sangar were hit, and the others were
so placed that he was under the impression that they had withdrawn
altogether. Whether this hoisting of the flag necessarily compromised
the whole force is a difficult question, but the Boers instantly left
their cover, and the men in the sangars behind, some of whom had not
been so seriously engaged, were ordered by their officers to desist from
firing. In an instant the victorious Boers were among them.

It was not, as I have been told by those who were there, a sight which
one would wish to have seen or care now to dwell upon. Haggard officers
cracked their sword-blades and cursed the day that they had been born.
Privates sobbed with their stained faces buried in their hands. Of all
tests of discipline that ever they had stood, the hardest to many was
to conform to all that the cursed flapping handkerchief meant to them.
'Father, father, we had rather have died,' cried the Fusiliers to
their priest. Gallant hearts, ill paid, ill thanked, how poorly do
the successful of the world compare with their unselfish loyalty and
devotion!

But the sting of contumely or insult was not added to their misfortunes.
There is a fellowship of brave men which rises above the feuds of
nations, and may at last go far, we hope, to heal them. From every rock
there rose a Boer--strange, grotesque figures many of them--walnut-brown
and shaggy-bearded, and swarmed on to the hill. No term of triumph or
reproach came from their lips. 'You will not say now that the young Boer
cannot shoot,' was the harshest word which the least restrained of them
made use of. Between one and two hundred dead and wounded were scattered
over the hill. Those who were within reach of human help received all
that could be given. Captain Rice, of the Fusiliers, was carried wounded
down the hill on the back of one giant, and he has narrated how the man
refused the gold piece which was offered him. Some asked the soldiers
for their embroidered waist-belts as souvenirs of the day. They will
for generations remain as the most precious ornaments of some colonial
farmhouse. Then the victors gathered together and sang psalms, not
jubilant but sad and quavering. The prisoners, in a downcast column,
weary, spent, and unkempt, filed off to the Boer laager at Waschbank,
there to take train for Pretoria. And at Ladysmith a bugler of
Fusiliers, his arm bound, the marks of battle on his dress and person,
burst in upon the camp with the news that two veteran regiments had
covered the flank of White's retreating army, but at the cost of their
own annihilation.



CHAPTER 8. LORD METHUEN'S ADVANCE.

At the end of a fortnight of actual hostilities in Natal the situation
of the Boer army was such as to seriously alarm the public at home,
and to cause an almost universal chorus of ill-natured delight from
the press of all European nations. Whether the reason was hatred of
ourselves, or the sporting instinct which backs the smaller against
the larger, or the influence of the ubiquitous Dr. Leyds and his secret
service fund, it is certain that the continental papers have never
been so unanimous as in their premature rejoicings over what, with
an extraordinary want of proportion, and ignorance of our national
character, they imagined to be a damaging blow to the British Empire.
France, Russia, Austria, and Germany were equally venomous against us,
nor can the visit of the German Emperor, though a courteous and timely
action in itself, entirely atone for the senseless bitterness of the
press of the Fatherland. Great Britain was roused out of her habitual
apathy and disregard for foreign opinion by this chorus of execration,
and braced herself for a greater effort in consequence. She was cheered
by the sympathy of her friends in the United States, and by the good
wishes of the smaller nations of Europe, notably of Italy, Denmark,
Greece, Turkey, and Hungary.

The exact position at the end of this fortnight of hard slogging was
that a quarter of the colony of Natal and a hundred miles of railway
were in the hands of the enemy. Five distinct actions had been fought,
none of them perhaps coming within the fair meaning of a battle. Of
these one had been a distinct British victory, two had been indecisive,
one had been unfortunate, and one had been a positive disaster. We had
lost about twelve hundred prisoners and a battery of small guns.
The Boers had lost two fine guns and three hundred prisoners. Twelve
thousand British troops had been shut up in Ladysmith, and there was no
serious force between the invaders and the sea. Only in those distant
transports, where the grimy stokers shoveled and strove, were there
hopes for the safety of Natal and the honour of the Empire. In Cape
Colony the loyalists waited with bated breath, knowing well that there
was nothing to check a Free State invasion, and that if it came no
bounds could be placed upon how far it might advance, or what effect it
might have upon the Dutch population.

Leaving Ladysmith now apparently within the grasp of the Boers, who had
settled down deliberately to the work of throttling it, the narrative
must pass to the western side of the seat of war, and give a consecutive
account of the events which began with the siege of Kimberley and led to
the ineffectual efforts of Lord Methuen's column to relieve it.

On the declaration of war two important movements had been made by the
Boers upon the west. One was the advance of a considerable body under
the formidable Cronje to attack Mafeking, an enterprise which demands a
chapter of its own. The other was the investment of Kimberley by a force
which consisted principally of Freestaters under the command of Wessels
and Botha. The place was defended by Colonel Kekewich, aided by the
advice and help of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, who had gallantly thrown himself
into the town by one of the last trains which reached it. As the founder
and director of the great De Beers diamond mines he desired to be with
his people in the hour of their need, and it was through his initiative
that the town had been provided with the rifles and cannon with which to
sustain the siege.

The troops which Colonel Kekewich had at his disposal consisted of four
companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (his own regiment),
with some Royal Engineers, a mountain battery, and two machine guns. In
addition there were the extremely spirited and capable local forces, a
hundred and twenty men of the Cape Police, two thousand Volunteers,
a body of Kimberley Light Horse, and a battery of light seven-pounder
guns. There were also eight Maxims which were mounted upon the huge
mounds of debris which surrounded the mines and formed most efficient
fortresses.

A small reinforcement of police had, under tragic circumstances, reached
the town. Vryburg, the capital of British Bechuanaland, lies 145 miles
to the north of Kimberley. The town has strong Dutch sympathies, and on
the news of the approach of a Boer force with artillery it was evident
that it could not be held. Scott, the commandant of police, made some
attempt to organise a defence, but having no artillery and finding
little sympathy, he was compelled to abandon his charge to the invaders.
The gallant Scott rode south with his troopers, and in his humiliation
and grief at his inability to preserve his post he blew out his brains
upon the journey. Vryburg was immediately occupied by the Boers, and
British Bechuanaland was formally annexed to the South African Republic.
This policy of the instant annexation of all territories invaded was
habitually carried out by the enemy, with the idea that British subjects
who joined them would in this way be shielded from the consequences of
treason. Meanwhile several thousand Freestaters and Transvaalers with
artillery had assembled round Kimberley, and all news of the town was
cut off. Its relief was one of the first tasks which presented itself
to the inpouring army corps. The obvious base of such a movement must be
Orange River, and there and at De Aar the stores for the advance began
to be accumulated. At the latter place especially, which is the
chief railway junction in the north of the colony, enormous masses of
provisions, ammunition, and fodder were collected, with thousands of
mules which the long arm of the British Government had rounded up from
many parts of the world. The guard over these costly and essential
supplies seems to have been a dangerously weak one. Between Orange River
and De Aar, which are sixty miles apart, there were the 9th Lancers, the
Royal Munsters, the 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and the
1st Northumberland Fusiliers, under three thousand men in all, with two
million pounds' worth of stores and the Free State frontier within a
ride of them. Verily if we have something to deplore in this war we have
much also to be thankful for.

Up to the end of October the situation was so dangerous that it is
really inexplicable that no advantage was taken of it by the enemy. Our
main force was concentrated to defend the Orange River railway bridge,
which was so essential for our advance upon Kimberley. This left only a
single regiment without guns for the defence of De Aar and the valuable
stores. A fairer mark for a dashing leader and a raid of mounted
riflemen was never seen. The chance passed, however, as so many others
of the Boers' had done. Early in November Colesberg and Naauwpoort were
abandoned by our small detachments, who concentrated at De Aar. The
Berkshires joined the Yorkshire Light Infantry, and nine field guns
arrived also. General Wood worked hard at the fortifying of the
surrounding kopjes, until within a week the place had been made
tolerably secure.

The first collision between the opposing forces at this part of the seat
of war was upon November 10th, when Colonel Gough of the 9th Lancers
made a reconnaissance from Orange River to the north with two squadrons
of his own regiment, the mounted infantry of the Northumberland
Fusiliers, the Royal Munsters, and the North Lancashires, with a battery
of field artillery. To the east of Belmont, about fifteen miles off,
he came on a detachment of the enemy with a gun. To make out the Boer
position the mounted infantry galloped round one of their flanks, and in
doing so passed close to a kopje which was occupied by sharpshooters.
A deadly fire crackled suddenly out from among the boulders. Of six
men hit four were officers, showing how cool were the marksmen and how
dangerous those dress distinctions which will probably disappear
hence forwards upon the field of battle. Colonel Keith-Falconer of the
Northumberlands, who had earned distinction in the Soudan, was shot
dead. So was Wood of the North Lancashires. Hall and Bevan of the
Northumberlands were wounded. An advance by train of the troops in camp
drove back the Boers and extricated our small force from what might
have proved a serious position, for the enemy in superior numbers were
working round their wings. The troops returned to camp without any good
object having been attained, but that must be the necessary fate of many
a cavalry reconnaissance.

On November 12th Lord Methuen arrived at Orange River and proceeded to
organise the column which was to advance to the relief of Kimberley.
General Methuen had had some previous South African experience when in
1885 he had commanded a large body of irregular horse in Bechuanaland.
His reputation was that of a gallant fearless soldier. He was not yet
fifty-five years of age.

The force which gradually assembled at Orange River was formidable
rather from its quality than from its numbers. It included a brigade
of Guards (the 1st Scots Guards, 3rd Grenadiers, and 1st and 2nd
Coldstreams), the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd Northamptons,
the 1st Northumberlands, and a wing of the North Lancashires whose
comrades were holding out at Kimberley, with a naval brigade of
seamen gunners and marines. For cavalry he had the 9th Lancers, with
detachments of mounted infantry, and for artillery the 75th and 18th
Batteries R.F.A.

Extreme mobility was aimed at in the column, and neither tents nor
comforts of any sort were permitted to officers or men--no light matter
in a climate where a tropical day is followed by an arctic night. At
daybreak on November 22nd the force, numbering about eight thousand men,
set off upon its eventful journey. The distance to Kimberley was not
more than sixty miles, and it is probable that there was not one man in
the force who imagined how long that march would take or how grim the
experiences would be which awaited them on the way. At the dawn of
Wednesday, November 22nd, Lord Methuen moved forward until he came into
touch with the Boer position at Belmont. It was surveyed that evening
by Colonel Willoughby Verner, and every disposition made to attack it in
the morning.

The force of the Boers was much inferior to our own, some two or three
thousand in all, but the natural strength of their position made it a
difficult one to carry, while it could not be left behind us as a menace
to our line of communications. A double row of steep hills lay across
the road to Kimberley, and it was along the ridges, snuggling closely
among the boulders, that our enemy was waiting for us. In their weeks
of preparation they had constructed elaborate shelter pits in which they
could lie in comparative safety while they swept all the level ground
around with their rifle fire. Mr. Ralph, the American correspondent,
whose letters were among the most vivid of the war, has described these
lairs, littered with straw and the debris of food, isolated from each
other, and each containing its grim and formidable occupant. 'The eyries
of birds of prey' is the phrase with which he brings them home to us.
In these, with nothing visible but their peering eyes and the barrels of
their rifles, the Boer marksmen crouched, and munched their biltong and
their mealies as the day broke upon the morning of the 23rd. With the
light their enemy was upon them.

It was a soldiers' battle in the good old primeval British style, an
Alma on a small scale and against deadlier weapons. The troops advanced
in grim silence against the savage-looking, rock-sprinkled, crag-topped
position which confronted them. They were in a fierce humour, for they
had not breakfasted, and military history from Agincourt to Talavera
shows that want of food wakens a dangerous spirit among British troops.
A Northumberland Fusilier exploded into words which expressed the
gruffness of his comrades. As a too energetic staff officer pranced
before their line he roared in his rough North-country tongue, 'Domn
thee! Get thee to hell, and let's fire!' In the golden light of the
rising sun the men set their teeth and dashed up the hills, scrambling,
falling, cheering, swearing, gallant men, gallantly led, their one
thought to close with that grim bristle of rifle-barrels which fringed
the rocks above them.

Lord Methuen's intention had been an attack from front and from flank,
but whether from the Grenadiers losing their bearings, or from the
mobility of the Boers, which made a flank attack an impossibility, it
is certain that all became frontal. The battle resolved itself into a
number of isolated actions in which the various kopjes were rushed by
different British regiments, always with success and always with loss.
The honours of the fight, as tested by the grim record of the casualty
returns, lay with the Grenadiers, the Coldstreams, the Northumberlands,
and the Scots Guards. The brave Guardsmen lay thickly on the slopes, but
their comrades crowned the heights. The Boers held on desperately and
fired their rifles in the very faces of the stormers. One young officer
had his jaw blown to pieces by a rifle which almost touched him.
Another, Blundell of the Guards, was shot dead by a wounded desperado
to whom he was offering his water-bottle. At one point a white flag was
waved by the defenders, on which the British left cover, only to be met
by a volley. It was there that Mr. E. F. Knight, of the 'Morning Post,'
became the victim of a double abuse of the usages of war, since his
wound, from which he lost his right arm, was from an explosive bullet.
The man who raised the flag was captured, and it says much for the
humanity of British soldiers that he was not bayoneted upon the spot.
Yet it is not fair to blame a whole people for the misdeeds of a few,
and it is probable that the men who descended to such devices, or who
deliberately fired upon our ambulances, were as much execrated by their
own comrades as by ourselves.

The victory was an expensive one, for fifty killed and two hundred
wounded lay upon the hillside, and, like so many of our skirmishes with
the Boers, it led to small material results. Their losses appear to have
been much about the same as ours, and we captured some fifty prisoners,
whom the soldiers regarded with the utmost interest. They were a sullen
slouching crowd rudely clad, and they represented probably the poorest
of the burghers, who now, as in the middle ages, suffer most in battle,
since a long purse means a good horse. Most of the enemy galloped very
comfortably away after the action, leaving a fringe of sharpshooters
among the kopjes to hold back our pursuing cavalry. The want of horsemen
and the want of horse artillery are the two reasons which Lord Methuen
gives why the defeat was not converted into a rout. As it was, the
feelings of the retreating Boers were exemplified by one of their
number, who turned in his saddle in order to place his outstretched
fingers to his nose in derision of the victors. He exposed himself to
the fire of half a battalion while doing so, but he probably was
aware that with our present musketry instruction the fire of a British
half-battalion against an individual is not a very serious matter.

The remainder of the 23rd was spent at Belmont Camp, and next morning
an advance was made to Enslin, some ten miles further on. Here lay the
plain of Enslin, bounded by a formidable line of kopjes as dangerous as
those of Belmont. Lancers and Rimington's Scouts, the feeble but very
capable cavalry of the Army, came in with the report that the hills were
strongly held. Some more hard slogging was in front of the relievers of
Kimberley.

The advance had been on the line of the Cape Town to Kimberley Railway,
and the damage done to it by the Boers had been repaired to the extent
of permitting an armoured train with a naval gun to accompany the
troops. It was six o' clock upon the morning of Saturday the 25th that
this gun came into action against the kopjes, closely followed by the
guns of the field artillery. One of the lessons of the war has been to
disillusion us as to the effect of shrapnel fire. Positions which had
been made theoretically untenable have again and again been found to
be most inconveniently tenanted. Among the troops actually engaged the
confidence in the effect of shrapnel fire has steadily declined with
their experience. Some other method of artillery fire than the curving
bullet from an exploding shrapnel shell must be devised for dealing with
men who lie close among boulders and behind cover.

These remarks upon shrapnel might be included in the account of half the
battles of the war, but they are particularly apposite to the action at
Enslin. Here a single large kopje formed the key to the position, and
a considerable time was expended upon preparing it for the British
assault, by directing upon it a fire which swept the face of it and
searched, as was hoped, every corner in which a rifleman might lurk. One
of the two batteries engaged fired no fewer than five hundred rounds.
Then the infantry advance was ordered, the Guards being held in
reserve on account of their exertions at Belmont. The Northumberlands,
Northamptons, North Lancashires, and Yorkshires worked round upon the
right, and, aided by the artillery fire, cleared the trenches in their
front. The honours of the assault, however, must be awarded to the
sailors and marines of the Naval Brigade, who underwent such an ordeal
as men have seldom faced and yet come out as victors. To them fell the
task of carrying that formidable hill which had been so scourged by our
artillery. With a grand rush they swept up the slope, but were met by
a horrible fire. Every rock spurted flame, and the front ranks withered
away before the storm of the Mauser. An eye-witness has recorded that
the brigade was hardly visible amid the sand knocked up by the bullets.
For an instant they fell back into cover, and then, having taken their
breath, up they went again, with a deep-chested sailor roar. There were
but four hundred in all, two hundred seamen and two hundred marines, and
the losses in that rapid rush were terrible. Yet they swarmed up, their
gallant officers, some of them little boy-middies, cheering them on.
Ethelston, the commander of the 'Powerful,' was struck down. Plumbe
and Senior of the Marines were killed. Captain Prothero of the 'Doris'
dropped while still yelling to his seamen to 'take that kopje and be
hanged to it!' Little Huddart, the middy, died a death which is worth
many inglorious years. Jones of the Marines fell wounded, but rose again
and rushed on with his men. It was on these gallant marines, the men who
are ready to fight anywhere and anyhow, moist or dry, that the heaviest
loss fell. When at last they made good their foothold upon the crest
of that murderous hill they had left behind them three officers and
eighty-eight men out of a total of 206--a loss within a few minutes of
nearly 50 per cent. The bluejackets, helped by the curve of the hill,
got off with a toll of eighteen of their number. Half the total British
losses of the action fell upon this little body of men, who upheld most
gloriously the honour and reputation of the service from which they were
drawn. With such men under the white ensign we leave our island homes in
safety behind us.

The battle of Enslin had cost us some two hundred of killed and wounded,
and beyond the mere fact that we had cleared our way by another stage
towards Kimberley it is difficult to say what advantage we had from it.
We won the kopjes, but we lost our men. The Boer killed and wounded were
probably less than half of our own, and the exhaustion and weakness of
our cavalry forbade us to pursue and prevented us from capturing their
guns. In three days the men had fought two exhausting actions in a
waterless country and under a tropical sun. Their exertions had been
great and yet were barren of result. Why this should be so was naturally
the subject of keen discussion both in the camp and among the public
at home. It always came back to Lord Methuen's own complaint about the
absence of cavalry and of horse artillery. Many very unjust charges have
been hurled against our War Office--a department which in some matters
has done extraordinarily and unexpectedly well--but in this question of
the delay in the despatch of our cavalry and artillery, knowing as we
did the extreme mobility of our enemy, there is certainly ground for an
inquiry.

The Boers who had fought these two actions had been drawn mainly from
the Jacobsdal and Fauresmith commandoes, with some of the burghers from
Boshof. The famous Cronje, however, had been descending from Mafeking
with his old guard of Transvaalers, and keen disappointment was
expressed by the prisoners at Belmont and at Enslin that he had not
arrived in time to take command of them. There were evidences, however,
at this latter action, that reinforcements for the enemy were coming up
and that the labours of the Kimberley relief force were by no means at
an end. In the height of the engagement the Lancer patrols thrown out
upon our right flank reported the approach of a considerable body of
Boer horsemen, who took up a position upon a hill on our right rear.
Their position there was distinctly menacing, and Colonel Willoughby
Verner was despatched by Lord Methuen to order up the brigade of Guards.
The gallant officer had the misfortune in his return to injure himself
seriously through a blunder of his horse. His mission, however,
succeeded in its effect, for the Guards moving across the plain
intervened in such a way that the reinforcements, without an open
attack, which would have been opposed to all Boer traditions, could not
help the defenders, and were compelled to witness their defeat. This
body of horsemen returned north next day and were no doubt among those
whom we encountered at the following action of the Modder River.

The march from Orange River had begun on the Wednesday. On Thursday was
fought the action of Belmont, on Saturday that of Enslin. There was no
protection against the sun by day nor against the cold at night. Water
was not plentiful, and the quality of it was occasionally vile. The
troops were in need of a rest, so on Saturday night and Sunday they
remained at Enslin. On the Monday morning (November 27th) the weary
march to Kimberley was resumed.

On Monday, November 27th, at early dawn, the little British army, a
dust-coloured column upon the dusty veld, moved forwards again towards
their objective. That night they halted at the pools of Klipfontein,
having for once made a whole day's march without coming in touch with
the enemy. Hopes rose that possibly the two successive defeats had taken
the heart out of them and that there would be no further resistance to
the advance. Some, however, who were aware of the presence of Cronje,
and of his formidable character, took a juster view of the situation.
And this perhaps is where a few words might be said about the celebrated
leader who played upon the western side of the seat of war the same part
which Joubert did upon the east.

Commandant Cronje was at the time of the war sixty-five years of age,
a hard, swarthy man, quiet of manner, fierce of soul, with a reputation
among a nation of resolute men for unsurpassed resolution. His dark face
was bearded and virile, but sedate and gentle in expression. He spoke
little, but what he said was to the point, and he had the gift of those
fire-words which brace and strengthen weaker men. In hunting expeditions
and in native wars he had first won the admiration of his countrymen by
his courage and his fertility of resource. In the war of 1880 he had led
the Boers who besieged Potchefstroom, and he had pushed the attack with
a relentless vigour which was not hampered by the chivalrous usages of
war. Eventually he compelled the surrender of the place by concealing
from the garrison that a general armistice had been signed, an act which
was afterwards disowned by his own government. In the succeeding years
he lived as an autocrat and a patriarch amid his farms and his
herds, respected by many and feared by all. For a time he was Native
Commissioner and left a reputation for hard dealing behind him. Called
into the field again by the Jameson raid, he grimly herded his enemies
into an impossible position and desired, as it is stated, that the
hardest measure should be dealt out to the captives. This was the man,
capable, crafty, iron-hard, magnetic, who lay with a reinforced and
formidable army across the path of Lord Methuen's tired soldiers. It was
a fair match. On the one side the hardy men, the trained shots, a
good artillery, and the defensive; on the other the historical British
infantry, duty, discipline, and a fiery courage. With a high heart the
dust-coloured column moved on over the dusty veld.

So entirely had hills and Boer fighting become associated in the minds
of our leaders, that when it was known that Modder River wound over a
plain, the idea of a resistance there appears to have passed away from
their minds. So great was the confidence or so lax the scouting that a
force equaling their own in numbers had assembled with many guns within
seven miles of them, and yet the advance appears to have been conducted
without any expectation of impending battle. The supposition, obvious
even to a civilian, that a river would be a likely place to meet with an
obstinate resistance, seems to have been ignored. It is perhaps not fair
to blame the General for a fact which must have vexed his spirit more
than ours--one's sympathies go out to the gentle and brave man, who
was heard calling out in his sleep that he 'should have had those two
guns'--but it is repugnant to common sense to suppose that no one,
neither the cavalry nor the Intelligence Department, is at fault for so
extraordinary a state of ignorance. [Footnote: Later information makes
it certain that the cavalry did report the presence of the enemy to Lord
Methuen.] On the morning of Tuesday, November 28th, the British troops
were told that they would march at once, and have their breakfast
when they reached the Modder River--a grim joke to those who lived to
appreciate it.

The army had been reinforced the night before by the welcome addition of
the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which made up for the losses of
the week. It was a cloudless morning, and a dazzling sun rose in a deep
blue sky. The men, though hungry, marched cheerily, the reek of their
tobacco-pipes floating up from their ranks. It cheered them to see that
the murderous kopjes had, for the time, been left behind, and that the
great plain inclined slightly downwards to where a line of green showed
the course of the river. On the further bank were a few scattered
buildings, with one considerable hotel, used as a week-end resort by the
businessmen of Kimberley. It lay now calm and innocent, with its open
windows looking out upon a smiling garden; but death lurked at the
windows and death in the garden, and the little dark man who stood by
the door, peering through his glass at the approaching column, was the
minister of death, the dangerous Cronje. In consultation with him
was one who was to prove even more formidable, and for a longer time.
Semitic in face, high-nosed, bushy-bearded, and eagle-eyed, with skin
burned brown by a life of the veld--it was De la Rey, one of the trio
of fighting chiefs whose name will always be associated with the gallant
resistance of the Boers. He was there as adviser, but Cronje was in
supreme command.

His dispositions had been both masterly and original. Contrary to the
usual military practice in the defence of rivers, he had concealed
his men upon both banks, placing, as it is stated, those in whose
staunchness he had least confidence upon the British side of the river,
so that they could only retreat under the rifles of their inexorable
companions. The trenches had been so dug with such a regard for the
slopes of the ground that in some places a triple line of fire was
secured. His artillery, consisting of several heavy pieces and a
number of machine guns (including one of the diabolical 'pompoms'), was
cleverly placed upon the further side of the stream, and was not only
provided with shelter pits but had rows of reserve pits, so that the
guns could be readily shifted when their range was found. Rows of
trenches, a broadish river, fresh rows of trenches, fortified houses,
and a good artillery well worked and well placed, it was a serious
task which lay in front of the gallant little army. The whole position
covered between four and five miles.

An obvious question must here occur to the mind of every non-military
reader--Why should this position be attacked at all? Why should we not
cross higher up where there were no such formidable obstacles?' The
answer, so far as one can answer it, must be that so little was known
of the dispositions of our enemy that we were hopelessly involved in
the action before we knew of it, and that then it was more dangerous to
extricate the army than to push the attack. A retirement over that open
plain at a range of under a thousand yards would have been a dangerous
and disastrous movement. Having once got there, it was wisest and best
to see it through.

The dark Cronje still waited reflective in the hotel garden. Across the
veld streamed the lines of infantry, the poor fellows eager, after seven
miles of that upland air, for the breakfast which had been promised
them. It was a quarter to seven when our patrols of Lancers were fired
upon. There were Boers, then, between them and their meal! The artillery
was ordered up, the Guards were sent forward on the right, the 9th
Brigade under Pole-Carew on the left, including the newly arrived Argyll
and Sutherland Highlanders. They swept onwards into the fatal fire
zone--and then, and only then, there blazed out upon them four miles
of rifles, cannon, and machine guns, and they realised, from general to
private, that they had walked unwittingly into the fiercest battle yet
fought in the war.

Before the position was understood the Guards were within seven hundred
yards of the Boer trenches, and the other troops about nine hundred, on
the side of a very gentle slope which made it most difficult to find any
cover. In front of them lay a serene landscape, the river, the houses,
the hotel, no movement of men, no smoke--everything peaceful and
deserted save for an occasional quick flash and sparkle of flame. But
the noise was horrible and appalling. Men whose nerves had been steeled
to the crash of the big guns, or the monotonous roar of Maxims and
the rattle of Mauser fire, found a new terror in the malignant
'ploop-plooping' of the automatic quick-firer. The Maxim of the Scots
Guards was caught in the hell-blizzard from this thing--each shell no
bigger than a large walnut, but flying in strings of a score--and men
and gun were destroyed in an instant. As to the rifle bullets the air
was humming and throbbing with them, and the sand was mottled like a
pond in a shower. To advance was impossible, to retire was hateful. The
men fell upon their faces and huddled close to the earth, too happy if
some friendly ant-heap gave them a precarious shelter. And always, tier
above tier, the lines of rifle fire rippled and palpitated in front of
them. The infantry fired also, and fired, and fired--but what was there
to fire at? An occasional eye and hand over the edge of a trench
or behind a stone is no mark at seven hundred yards. It would be
instructive to know how many British bullets found a billet that day.

The cavalry was useless, the infantry was powerless--there only remained
the guns. When any arm is helpless and harried it always casts an
imploring eye upon the guns, and rarely indeed is it that the gallant
guns do not respond. Now the 75th and 18th Field Batteries came rattling
and dashing to the front, and unlimbered at one thousand yards. The
naval guns were working at four thousand, but the two combined were
insufficient to master the fire of the pieces of large calibre which
were opposed to them. Lord Methuen must have prayed for guns as
Wellington did for night, and never was a prayer answered more
dramatically. A strange battery came lurching up from the British rear,
unheralded, unknown, the weary gasping horses panting at the traces,
the men, caked with sweat and dirt, urging them on into a last spasmodic
trot. The bodies of horses which had died of pure fatigue marked their
course, the sergeants' horses tugged in the gun-teams, and the sergeants
staggered along by the limbers. It was the 62nd Field Battery, which had
marched thirty-two miles in eight hours, and now, hearing the crash
of battle in front of them, had with one last desperate effort thrown
itself into the firing line. Great credit is due to Major Granet and his
men. Not even those gallant German batteries who saved the infantry at
Spicheren could boast of a finer feat.

Now it was guns against guns, and let the best gunners win! We had
eighteen field-guns and the naval pieces against the concealed cannon of
the enemy. Back and forward flew the shells, howling past each other
in mid-air. The weary men of the 62nd Battery forgot their labours
and fatigues as they stooped and strained at their clay-coloured
15-pounders. Half of them were within rifle range, and the limber horses
were the centre of a hot fire, as they were destined to be at a shorter
range and with more disastrous effect at the Tugela. That the same
tactics should have been adopted at two widely sundered points shows
with what care the details of the war had been pre-arranged by the Boer
leaders. 'Before I got my horses out,' says an officer, 'they shot one
of my drivers and two horses and brought down my own horse. When we got
the gun round one of the gunners was shot through the brain and fell at
my feet. Another was shot while bringing up shell. Then we got a look
in.' The roar of the cannon was deafening, but gradually the British
were gaining the upper hand. Here and there the little knolls upon the
further side which had erupted into constant flame lay cold and silent.
One of the heavier guns was put out of action, and the other had been
withdrawn for five hundred yards. But the infantry fire still crackled
and rippled along the trenches, and the guns could come no nearer
with living men and horses. It was long past midday, and that unhappy
breakfast seemed further off than ever.

As the afternoon wore on, a curious condition of things was established.
The guns could not advance, and, indeed, it was found necessary to
withdraw them from a 1200 to a 2800-yard range, so heavy were the
losses. At the time of the change the 75th Battery had lost three
officers out of five, nineteen men, and twenty-two horses. The infantry
could not advance and would not retire. The Guards on the right were
prevented from opening out on the flank and getting round the enemy's
line, by the presence of the Riet River, which joins the Modder almost
at a right angle. All day they lay under a blistering sun, the sleet
of bullets whizzing over their heads. 'It came in solid streaks like
telegraph wires,' said a graphic correspondent. The men gossiped,
smoked, and many of them slept. They lay on the barrels of their rifles
to keep them cool enough for use. Now and again there came the dull thud
of a bullet which had found its mark, and a man gasped, or drummed with
his feet; but the casualties at this point were not numerous, for there
was some little cover, and the piping bullets passed for the most part
overhead.

But in the meantime there had been a development upon the left which was
to turn the action into a British victory. At this side there was ample
room to extend, and the 9th Brigade spread out, feeling its way down the
enemy's line, until it came to a point where the fire was less murderous
and the approach to the river more in favour of the attack. Here
the Yorkshires, a party of whom under Lieutenant Fox had stormed a
farmhouse, obtained the command of a drift, over which a mixed force of
Highlanders and Fusiliers forced their way, led by their Brigadier in
person. This body of infantry, which does not appear to have exceeded
five hundred in number, were assailed both by the Boer riflemen and by
the guns of both parties, our own gunners being unaware that the Modder
had been successfully crossed. A small hamlet called Rosmead formed,
however, a point d'appui, and to this the infantry clung tenaciously,
while reinforcements dribbled across to them from the farther side.
'Now, boys, who's for otter hunting?' cried Major Coleridge, of the
North Lancashires, as he sprang into the water. How gladly on that
baking, scorching day did the men jump into the river and splash over,
to climb the opposite bank with their wet khaki clinging to their
figures! Some blundered into holes and were rescued by grasping the
unwound putties of their comrades. And so between three and four o'clock
a strong party of the British had established their position upon the
right flank of the Boers, and were holding on like grim death with an
intelligent appreciation that the fortunes of the day depended upon
their retaining their grip.

'Hollo, here is a river!' cried Codrington when he led his forlorn hope
to the right and found that the Riet had to be crossed. 'I was given to
understand that the Modder was fordable everywhere,' says Lord Methuen
in his official despatch. One cannot read the account of the operations
without being struck by the casual, sketchy knowledge which cost us so
dearly. The soldiers slogged their way through, as they have slogged it
before; but the task might have been made much lighter for them had we
but clearly known what it was that we were trying to do. On the other
hand, it is but fair to Lord Methuen to say that his own personal
gallantry and unflinching resolution set the most stimulating example to
his troops. No General could have done more to put heart into his men.

And now, as the long weary scorching hungry day came to an end, the
Boers began at last to flinch from their trenches. The shrapnel was
finding them out and this force upon their flank filled them with vague
alarm and with fears for their precious guns. And so as night fell
they stole across the river, the cannon were withdrawn, the trenches
evacuated, and next morning, when the weary British and their anxious
General turned themselves to their grim task once more, they found a
deserted village, a line of empty houses, and a litter of empty Mauser
cartridge-cases to show where their tenacious enemy had stood.

Lord Methuen, in congratulating the troops upon their achievement, spoke
of 'the hardest-won victory in our annals of war,' and some such phrase
was used in his official despatch. It is hypercritical, no doubt, to
look too closely at a term used by a wounded man with the flush of
battle still upon him, but still a student of military history must
smile at such a comparison between this action and such others as
Albuera or Inkerman, where the numbers of British engaged were not
dissimilar. A fight in which five hundred men are killed and wounded
cannot be classed in the same category as those stern and desperate
encounters where more of the victors were carried than walked from the
field of battle. And yet there were some special features which will
differentiate the fight at Modder River from any of the hundred actions
which adorn the standards of our regiments. It was the third battle
which the troops had fought within the week, they were under fire for
ten or twelve hours, were waterless under a tropical sun, and weak from
want of food. For the first time they were called upon to face modern
rifle fire and modern machine guns in the open. The result tends to
prove that those who hold that it will from now onwards be impossible
ever to make such frontal attacks as those which the English made at
the Alma or the French at Waterloo, are justified in their belief. It
is beyond human hardihood to face the pitiless beat of bullet and shell
which comes from modern quick-firing weapons. Had our flank not made a
lodgment across the river, it is impossible that we could have carried
the position. Once more, too, it was demonstrated how powerless the best
artillery is to disperse resolute and well-placed riflemen. Of the minor
points of interest there will always remain the record of the forced
march of the 62nd Battery, and artillerymen will note the use of
gun-pits by the Boers, which ensured that the range of their positions
should never be permanently obtained.

The honours of the day upon the side of the British rested with the
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd
Coldstreams, and the artillery. Out of a total casualty list of about
450, no fewer than 112 came from the gallant Argylls and 69 from the
Coldstreams. The loss of the Boers is exceedingly difficult to gauge, as
they throughout the war took the utmost pains to conceal it. The number
of desperate and long-drawn actions which have ended, according to the
official Pretorian account, in a loss of one wounded burgher may in some
way be better policy, but does not imply a higher standard of public
virtue, than those long lists which have saddened our hearts in the
halls of the War Office. What is certain is that the loss at Modder
River could not have been far inferior to our own, and that it arose
almost entirely from artillery fire, since at no time of the action
were any large number of their riflemen visible. So it ended, this long
pelting match, Cronje sullenly withdrawing under the cover of darkness
with his resolute heart filled with fierce determination for the future,
while the British soldiers threw themselves down on the ground which
they occupied and slept the sleep of exhaustion.



CHAPTER 9. BATTLE OF MAGERSFONTEIN.

Lord Methuen's force had now fought three actions in the space of a
single week, losing in killed and wounded about a thousand men, or
rather more than one-tenth of its total numbers. Had there been evidence
that the enemy were seriously demoralised, the General would no doubt
have pushed on at once to Kimberley, which was some twenty miles
distant. The information which reached him was, however, that the Boers
had fallen back upon the very strong position of Spytfontein, that they
were full of fight, and that they had been strongly reinforced by a
commando from Mafeking. Under these circumstances Lord Methuen had
no choice but to give his men a well-earned rest, and to await
reinforcements. There was no use in reaching Kimberley unless he had
completely defeated the investing force. With the history of the first
relief of Lucknow in his memory he was on his guard against a repetition
of such an experience.

It was the more necessary that Methuen should strengthen his position,
since with every mile which he advanced the more exposed did his line
of communications become to a raid from Fauresmith and the southern
districts of the Orange Free State. Any serious danger to the railway
behind them would leave the British Army in a very critical position,
and precautions were taken for the protection of the more vulnerable
portions of the line. It was well that this was so, for on the 8th of
December Commandant Prinsloo, of the Orange Free State, with a thousand
horsemen and two light seven-pounder guns, appeared suddenly at Enslin
and vigorously attacked the two companies of the Northampton Regiment
who held the station. At the same time they destroyed a couple of
culverts and tore up three hundred yards of the permanent way. For some
hours the Northamptons under Captain Godley were closely pressed, but a
telegram had been despatched to Modder Camp, and the 12th Lancers with
the ubiquitous 62nd Battery were sent to their assistance. The Boers
retired with their usual mobility, and in ten hours the line was
completely restored.

Reinforcements were now reaching the Modder River force, which made it
more formidable than when it had started. A very essential addition
was that of the 12th Lancers and of G battery of Horse Artillery, which
would increase the mobility of the force and make it possible for the
General to follow up a blow after he had struck it. The magnificent
regiments which formed the Highland Brigade--the 2nd Black Watch, the
1st Gordons, the 2nd Seaforths, and the 1st Highland Light Infantry
had arrived under the gallant and ill-fated Wauchope. Four five-inch
howitzers had also come to strengthen the artillery. At the same time
the Canadians, the Australians, and several line regiments were moved
up on the line from De Aar to Belmont. It appeared to the public at
home that there was the material for an overwhelming advance; but the
ordinary observer, and even perhaps the military critic, had not yet
appreciated how great is the advantage which is given by modern weapons
to the force which acts upon the defensive. With enormous pains Cronje
and De la Rey were entrenching a most formidable position in front of
our advance, with a confidence, which proved to be justified that it
would be on their own ground and under their own conditions that in
this, as in the three preceding actions, we should engage them.

On the morning of Saturday, December 9th, the British General made an
attempt to find out what lay in front of him amid that semicircle of
forbidding hills. To this end he sent out a reconnaissance in the early
morning, which included G Battery Horse Artillery, the 9th Lancers, and
the ponderous 4.7 naval gun, which, preceded by the majestic march
of thirty-two bullocks and attended by eighty seamen gunners, creaked
forwards over the plain. What was there to shoot at in those sunlit
boulder-strewn hills in front? They lay silent and untenanted in the
glare of the African day. In vain the great gun exploded its huge shell
with its fifty pounds of lyddite over the ridges, in vain the smaller
pieces searched every cleft and hollow with their shrapnel. No answer
came from the far-stretching hills. Not a flash or twinkle betrayed the
fierce bands who lurked among the boulders. The force returned to camp
no wiser than when it left.

There was one sight visible every night to all men which might well
nerve the rescuers in their enterprise. Over the northern horizon,
behind those hills of danger, there quivered up in the darkness one
long, flashing, quivering beam, which swung up and down, and up
again like a seraphic sword-blade. It was Kimberley praying for help,
Kimberley solicitous for news. Anxiously, distractedly, the great De
Beers searchlight dipped and rose. And back across the twenty miles
of darkness, over the hills where Cronje lurked, there came that other
southern column of light which answered, and promised, and soothed. 'Be
of good heart, Kimberley. We are here! The Empire is behind us. We have
not forgotten you. It may be days, or it may be weeks, but rest assured
that we are coming.'

About three in the afternoon of Sunday, December 10th, the force
which was intended to clear a path for the army through the lines of
Magersfontein moved out upon what proved to be its desperate enterprise.
The 3rd or Highland Brigade included the Black Watch, the Seaforths, the
Argyll and Sutherlands, and the Highland Light Infantry. The Gordons had
only arrived in camp that day, and did not advance until next morning.
Besides the infantry, the 9th Lancers, the mounted infantry, and all the
artillery moved to the front. It was raining hard, and the men with one
blanket between two soldiers bivouacked upon the cold damp ground, about
three miles from the enemy's position. At one o'clock, without food, and
drenched, they moved forwards through the drizzle and the darkness to
attack those terrible lines. Major Benson, R.A., with two of Rimington's
scouts, led them on their difficult way.

Clouds drifted low in the heavens, and the falling rain made the
darkness more impenetrable. The Highland Brigade was formed into a
column--the Black Watch in front, then the Seaforths, and the other
two behind. To prevent the men from straggling in the night the four
regiments were packed into a mass of quarter column as densely as was
possible, and the left guides held a rope in order to preserve the
formation. With many a trip and stumble the ill-fated detachment
wandered on, uncertain where they were going and what it was that
they were meant to do. Not only among the rank and file, but among
the principal officers also, there was the same absolute ignorance.
Brigadier Wauchope knew, no doubt, but his voice was soon to be stilled
in death. The others were aware, of course, that they were advancing
either to turn the enemy's trenches or to attack them, but they may well
have argued from their own formation that they could not be near the
riflemen yet. Why they should be still advancing in that dense clump we
do not now know, nor can we surmise what thoughts were passing through
the mind of the gallant and experienced chieftain who walked beside
them. There are some who claim on the night before to have seen upon his
strangely ascetic face that shadow of doom which is summed up in the one
word 'fey.' The hand of coming death may already have lain cold upon his
soul. Out there, close beside him, stretched the long trench, fringed
with its line of fierce, staring, eager faces, and its bristle of
gun-barrels. They knew he was coming. They were ready. They were
waiting. But still, with the dull murmur of many feet, the dense column,
nearly four thousand strong, wandered onwards through the rain and the
darkness, death and mutilation crouching upon their path.

It matters not what gave the signal, whether it was the flashing of a
lantern by a Boer scout, or the tripping of a soldier over wire, or the
firing of a gun in the ranks. It may have been any, or it may have been
none, of these things. As a matter of fact I have been assured by a Boer
who was present that it was the sound of the tins attached to the alarm
wires which disturbed them. However this may be, in an instant there
crashed out of the darkness into their faces and ears a roar of
point-blank fire, and the night was slashed across with the throbbing
flame of the rifles. At the moment before this outflame some doubt as
to their whereabouts seems to have flashed across the mind of their
leaders. The order to extend had just been given, but the men had not
had time to act upon it. The storm of lead burst upon the head and right
flank of the column, which broke to pieces under the murderous volley.
Wauchope was shot, struggled up, and fell once more for ever. Rumour
has placed words of reproach upon his dying lips, but his nature, both
gentle and soldierly, forbids the supposition. 'What a pity!' was the
only utterance which a brother Highlander ascribes to him. Men went
down in swathes, and a howl of rage and agony, heard afar over the veld,
swelled up from the frantic and struggling crowd. By the hundred they
dropped--some dead, some wounded, some knocked down by the rush and sway
of the broken ranks. It was a horrible business. At such a range and in
such a formation a single Mauser bullet may well pass through many men.
A few dashed forwards, and were found dead at the very edges of the
trench. The few survivors of companies A, B, and C of the Black Watch
appear to have never actually retired, but to have clung on to the
immediate front of the Boer trenches, while the remains of the other
five companies tried to turn the Boer flank. Of the former body only six
got away unhurt in the evening after lying all day within two hundred
yards of the enemy. The rest of the brigade broke and, disentangling
themselves with difficulty from the dead and the dying, fled back out of
that accursed place. Some, the most unfortunate of all, became caught in
the darkness in the wire defences, and were found in the morning hung up
'like crows,' as one spectator describes it, and riddled with bullets.

Who shall blame the Highlanders for retiring when they did? Viewed, not
by desperate and surprised men, but in all calmness and sanity, it may
well seem to have been the very best thing which they could do. Dashed
into chaos, separated from their officers, with no one who knew what
was to be done, the first necessity was to gain shelter from this deadly
fire, which had already stretched six hundred of their number upon the
ground. The danger was that men so shaken would be stricken with panic,
scatter in the darkness over the face of the country, and cease to exist
as a military unit. But the Highlanders were true to their character
and their traditions. There was shouting in the darkness, hoarse voices
calling for the Seaforths, for the Argylls, for Company C, for Company
H, and everywhere in the gloom there came the answer of the clansmen.
Within half an hour with the break of day the Highland regiments had
re-formed, and, shattered and weakened, but undaunted, prepared to renew
the contest. Some attempt at an advance was made upon the right, ebbing
and flowing, one little band even reaching the trenches and coming back
with prisoners and reddened bayonets. For the most part the men lay upon
their faces, and fired when they could at the enemy; but the cover which
the latter kept was so excellent that an officer who expended 120 rounds
has left it upon record that he never once had seen anything positive at
which to aim. Lieutenant Lindsay brought the Seaforths' Maxim into the
firing-line, and, though all her crew except two were hit, it continued
to do good service during the day. The Lancers' Maxim was equally
staunch, though it also was left finally with only the lieutenant in
charge and one trooper to work it.

Fortunately the guns were at hand, and, as usual, they were quick to
come to the aid of the distressed. The sun was hardly up before the
howitzers were throwing lyddite at 4000 yards, the three field batteries
(18th, 62nd, 75th) were working with shrapnel at a mile, and the troop
of Horse Artillery was up at the right front trying to enfilade the
trenches. The guns kept down the rifle-fire, and gave the wearied
Highlanders some respite from their troubles. The whole situation had
resolved itself now into another Battle of Modder River. The infantry,
under a fire at from six hundred to eight hundred paces, could not
advance and would not retire. The artillery only kept the battle going,
and the huge naval gun from behind was joining with its deep bark in the
deafening uproar. But the Boers had already learned--and it is one
of their most valuable military qualities that they assimilate their
experience so quickly--that shell fire is less dangerous in a trench
than among rocks. These trenches, very elaborate in character, had been
dug some hundreds of yards from the foot of the hills, so that there was
hardly any guide to our artillery fire. Yet it is to the artillery fire
that all the losses of the Boers that day were due. The cleverness of
Cronje's disposition of his trenches some hundred yards ahead of the
kopjes is accentuated by the fascination which any rising object has for
a gunner. Prince Kraft tells the story of how at Sadowa he unlimbered
his guns two hundred yards in front of the church of Chlum, and how the
Austrian reply fire almost invariably pitched upon the steeple. So our
own gunners, even at a two thousand-yard mark, found it difficult to
avoid overshooting the invisible line, and hitting the obvious mark
behind.

As the day wore on reinforcements of infantry came up from the force
which had been left to guard the camp. The Gordons arrived with the
first and second battalions of the Coldstream Guards, and all the
artillery was moved nearer to the enemy's position. At the same time,
as there were some indications of an attack upon our right flank, the
Grenadier Guards with five companies of the Yorkshire Light Infantry
were moved up in that direction, while the three remaining companies of
Barter's Yorkshiremen secured a drift over which the enemy might cross
the Modder. This threatening movement upon our right flank, which would
have put the Highlanders into an impossible position had it succeeded,
was most gallantly held back all morning, before the arrival of the
Guards and the Yorkshires, by the mounted infantry and the 12th Lancers,
skirmishing on foot. It was in this long and successful struggle to
cover the flank of the 3rd Brigade that Major Milton, Major Ray, and
many another brave man met his end. The Coldstreams and Grenadiers
relieved the pressure upon this side, and the Lancers retired to their
horses, having shown, not for the first time, that the cavalryman with
a modern carbine can at a pinch very quickly turn himself into a useful
infantry soldier. Lord Airlie deserves all praise for his unconventional
use of his men, and for the gallantry with which he threw both himself
and them into the most critical corner of the fight.

While the Coldstreams, the Grenadiers, and the Yorkshire Light Infantry
were holding back the Boer attack upon our right flank the indomitable
Gordons, the men of Dargai, furious with the desire to avenge their
comrades of the Highland Brigade, had advanced straight against the
trenches and succeeded without any very great loss in getting within
four hundred yards of them. But a single regiment could not carry the
position, and anything like a general advance upon it was out of the
question in broad daylight after the punishment which we had received.
Any plans of the sort which may have passed through Lord Methuen's
mind were driven away for ever by the sudden unordered retreat of the
stricken brigade. They had been very roughly handled in this, which was
to most of them their baptism of fire, and they had been without food
and water under a burning sun all day. They fell back rapidly for a
mile, and the guns were for a time left partially exposed. Fortunately
the lack of initiative on the part of the Boers which has stood our
friend so often came in to save us from disaster and humiliation. It is
due to the brave unshaken face which the Guards presented to the enemy
that our repulse did not deepen into something still more serious.

The Gordons and the Scots Guards were still in attendance upon the guns,
but they had been advanced very close to the enemy's trenches, and
there were no other troops in support. Under these circumstances it was
imperative that the Highlanders should rally, and Major Ewart with other
surviving officers rushed among the scattered ranks and strove hard
to gather and to stiffen them. The men were dazed by what they had
undergone, and Nature shrank back from that deadly zone where the
bullets fell so thickly. But the pipes blew, and the bugles sang, and
the poor tired fellows, the backs of their legs so flayed and blistered
by lying in the sun that they could hardly bend them, hobbled back to
their duty. They worked up to the guns once more, and the moment of
danger passed.

But as the evening wore on it became evident that no attack could
succeed, and that therefore there was no use in holding the men in front
of the enemy's position. The dark Cronje, lurking among his ditches and
his barbed wire, was not to be approached, far less defeated. There are
some who think that, had we held on there as we did at the Modder River,
the enemy would again have been accommodating enough to make way for
us during the night, and the morning would have found the road clear to
Kimberley. I know no grounds for such an opinion--but several against
it. At Modder Cronje abandoned his lines, knowing that he had other and
stronger ones behind him. At Magersfontein a level plain lay behind the
Boer position, and to abandon it was to give up the game altogether.
Besides, why should he abandon it? He knew that he had hit us hard. We
had made absolutely no impression upon his defences. Is it likely that
he would have tamely given up all his advantages and surrendered the
fruits of his victory without a struggle? It is enough to mourn a defeat
without the additional agony of thinking that a little more perseverance
might have turned it into a victory. The Boer position could only be
taken by outflanking it, and we were not numerous enough nor mobile
enough to outflank it. There lay the whole secret of our troubles, and
no conjectures as to what might under other circumstances have happened
can alter it.

About half-past five the Boer guns, which had for some unexplained
reason been silent all day, opened upon the cavalry. Their appearance
was a signal for the general falling back of the centre, and the
last attempt to retrieve the day was abandoned. The Highlanders were
dead-beat; the Coldstreams had had enough; the mounted infantry was
badly mauled. There remained the Grenadiers, the Scots Guards, and two
or three line regiments who were available for a new attack. There are
occasions, such as Sadowa, where a General must play his last card.
There are others where with reinforcements in his rear, he can do better
by saving his force and trying once again. General Grant had an axiom
that the best time for an advance was when you were utterly exhausted,
for that was the moment when your enemy was probably utterly exhausted
too, and of two such forces the attacker has the moral advantage. Lord
Methuen determined--and no doubt wisely--that it was no occasion for
counsels of desperation. His men were withdrawn--in some cases withdrew
themselves--outside the range of the Boer guns, and next morning saw the
whole force with bitter and humiliated hearts on their way back to their
camp at Modder River.

The repulse of Magersfontein cost the British nearly a thousand men,
killed, wounded, and missing, of which over seven hundred belonged to
the Highlanders. Fifty-seven officers had fallen in that brigade alone,
including their Brigadier and Colonel Downman of the Gordons. Colonel
Codrington of the Coldstreams was wounded early, fought through the
action, and came back in the evening on a Maxim gun. Lord Winchester
of the same battalion was killed, after injudiciously but heroically
exposing himself all day. The Black Watch alone had lost nineteen
officers and over three hundred men killed and wounded, a catastrophe
which can only be matched in all the bloody and glorious annals of that
splendid regiment by their slaughter at Ticonderoga in 1757, when
no fewer than five hundred fell before Montcalm's muskets. Never has
Scotland had a more grievous day than this of Magersfontein. She has
always given her best blood with lavish generosity for the Empire, but
it may be doubted if any single battle has ever put so many families of
high and low into mourning from the Tweed to the Caithness shore. There
is a legend that when sorrow comes upon Scotland the old Edinburgh
Castle is lit by ghostly lights and gleams white at every window in
the mirk of midnight. If ever the watcher could have seen so sinister
a sight, it should have been on this, the fatal night of December
11, 1899. As to the Boer loss it is impossible to determine it. Their
official returns stated it to be seventy killed and two hundred and
fifty wounded, but the reports of prisoners and deserters placed it at a
very much higher figure. One unit, the Scandinavian corps, was placed
in an advanced position at Spytfontein, and was overwhelmed by the
Seaforths, who killed, wounded, or took the eighty men of whom it was
composed. The stories of prisoners and of deserters all speak of losses
very much higher than those which have been officially acknowledged.

In his comments upon the battle next day Lord Methuen was said to have
given offence to the Highland Brigade, and the report was allowed to go
uncontradicted until it became generally accepted. It arose, however,
from a complete misunderstanding of the purport of Lord Methuen's
remarks, in which he praised them, as he well might, for their bravery,
and condoled with them over the wreck of their splendid regiments.
The way in which officers and men hung on under conditions to which no
troops have ever been exposed was worthy of the highest traditions of
the British army. From the death of Wauchope in the early morning, until
the assumption of the command of the brigade by Hughes-Hallett in the
late afternoon, no one seems to have taken the direction. 'My lieutenant
was wounded and my captain was killed,' says a private. 'The General was
dead, but we stayed where we were, for there was no order to retire.'
That was the story of the whole brigade, until the flanking movement of
the Boers compelled them to fall back.

The most striking lesson of the engagement is the extreme bloodiness
of modern warfare under some conditions, and its bloodlessness under
others. Here, out of a total of something under a thousand casualties
seven hundred were incurred in about five minutes, and the whole day of
shell, machine-gun, and rifle fire only furnished the odd three hundred.
So also at Ladysmith the British forces (White's column) were under
heavy fire from 5.30 to 11.30, and the loss again was something under
three hundred. With conservative generalship the losses of the battles
of the future will be much less than those of the past, and as a
consequence the battles themselves will last much longer, and it will be
the most enduring rather than the most fiery which will win. The supply
of food and water to the combatants will become of extreme importance to
keep them up during the prolonged trials of endurance, which will last
for weeks rather than days. On the other hand, when a General's force is
badly compromised, it will be so punished that a quick surrender will be
the only alternative to annihilation.

On the subject of the quarter-column formation which proved so fatal
to us, it must be remembered that any other form of advance is hardly
possible during a night attack, though at Tel-el-Kebir the exceptional
circumstance of the march being over an open desert allowed the troops
to move for the last mile or two in a more extended formation. A line
of battalion double-company columns is most difficult to preserve in the
darkness, and any confusion may lead to disaster. The whole mistake
lay in a miscalculation of a few hundred yards in the position of the
trenches. Had the regiments deployed five minutes earlier it is probable
(though by no means certain) that the position would have been carried.

The action was not without those examples of military virtue which
soften a disaster, and hold out a brighter promise for the future. The
Guards withdrew from the field as if on parade, with the Boer shells
bursting over their ranks. Fine, too, was the restraint of G Battery
of Horse Artillery on the morning after the battle. An armistice was
understood to exist, but the naval gun, in ignorance of it, opened
on our extreme left. The Boers at once opened fire upon the Horse
Artillery, who, recognising the mistake, remained motionless and
unlimbered in a line, with every horse, and gunner and driver in his
place, without taking any notice of the fire, which presently slackened
and stopped as the enemy came to understand the situation. It is worthy
of remark that in this battle the three field batteries engaged, as well
as G Battery, R.H.A., each fired over 1000 rounds and remained for 30
consecutive hours within 1500 yards of the Boer position.

But of all the corps who deserve praise, there was none more gallant
than the brave surgeons and ambulance bearers, who encounter all the
dangers and enjoy none of the thrills of warfare. All day under fire
these men worked and toiled among the wounded. Beevor, Ensor, Douglas,
Probyn--all were equally devoted. It is almost incredible, and yet it
is true, that by ten o'clock on the morning after the battle, before the
troops had returned to camp, no fewer than five hundred wounded were in
the train and on their way to Cape Town.



CHAPTER 10. THE BATTLE OF STORMBERG.

Some attempt has now been made to sketch the succession of events which
had ended in the investment of Ladysmith in northern Natal, and also to
show the fortunes of the force which on the western side of the seat
of war attempted to advance to the relief of Kimberley. The distance
between these forces may be expressed in terms familiar to the European
reader by saying that it was that which separates Paris from Frankfort,
or to the American by suggesting that Ladysmith was at Boston and that
Methuen was trying to relieve Philadelphia. Waterless deserts and rugged
mountain ranges divided the two scenes of action. In the case of the
British there could be no connection between the two movements, but the
Boers by a land journey of something over a hundred miles had a double
choice of a route by which Cronje and Joubert might join hands, either
by the Bloemfontein-Johannesburg-Laing's Nek Railway, or by the direct
line from Harrismith to Ladysmith. The possession of these internal
lines should have been of enormous benefit to the Boers, enabling them
to throw the weight of their forces unexpectedly from the one flank to
the other.

In a future chapter it will be recorded how the Army Corps arriving from
England was largely diverted into Natal in order in the first instance
to prevent the colony from being overrun, and in the second to rescue
the beleaguered garrison. In the meantime it is necessary to deal with
the military operations in the broad space between the eastern and
western armies.

After the declaration of war there was a period of some weeks during
which the position of the British over the whole of the northern part of
Cape Colony was full of danger. Immense supplies had been gathered at De
Aar which were at the mercy of a Free State raid, and the burghers, had
they possessed a cavalry leader with the dash of a Stuart or a Sheridan,
might have dealt a blow which would have cost us a million pounds' worth
of stores and dislocated the whole plan of campaign. However, the chance
was allowed to pass, and when, on November 1st, the burghers at last in
a leisurely fashion sauntered over the frontier, arrangements had been
made by reinforcement and by concentration to guard the vital points.
The objects of the British leaders, until the time for a general advance
should come, were to hold the Orange River Bridge (which opened the
way to Kimberley), to cover De Aar Junction, where the stores were, to
protect at all costs the line of railway which led from Cape Town to
Kimberley, and to hold on to as much as possible of those other two
lines of railway which led, the one through Colesberg and the other
through Stormberg, into the Free State. The two bodies of invaders who
entered the colony moved along the line of these two railways, the one
crossing the Orange River at Norval's Pont and the other at Bethulie.
They enlisted many recruits among the Cape Colony Dutch as they
advanced, and the scanty British forces fell back in front of them,
abandoning Colesberg on the one line and Stormberg on the other. We
have, then, to deal with the movements of two British detachments. The
one which operated on the Colesberg line--which was the more vital
of the two, as a rapid advance of the Boers upon that line would have
threatened the precious Cape Town to Kimberley connection--consisted
almost entirely of mounted troops, and was under the command of the
same General French who had won the battle of Elandslaagte. By an act of
foresight which was only too rare upon the British side in the earlier
stages of this war, French, who had in the recent large manoeuvres on
Salisbury Plain shown great ability as a cavalry leader, was sent out
of Ladysmith in the very last train which made its way through. His
operations, with his instructive use of cavalry and horse artillery, may
be treated separately.

The other British force which faced the Boers who were advancing through
Stormberg was commanded by General Gatacre, a man who bore a high
reputation for fearlessness and tireless energy, though he had been
criticised, notably during the Soudan campaign, for having called upon
his men for undue and unnecessary exertion. 'General Back-acher' they
called him, with rough soldierly chaff. A glance at his long thin
figure, his gaunt Don Quixote face, and his aggressive jaw would
show his personal energy, but might not satisfy the observer that he
possessed those intellectual gifts which qualify for high command. At
the action of the Atbara he, the brigadier in command, was the first to
reach and to tear down with his own hands the zareeba of the enemy--a
gallant exploit of the soldier, but a questionable position for the
General. The man's strength and his weakness lay in the incident.

General Gatacre was nominally in command of a division, but so cruelly
had his men been diverted from him, some to Buller in Natal and some to
Methuen, that he could not assemble more than a brigade. Falling
back before the Boer advance, he found himself early in December at
Sterkstroom, while the Boers occupied the very strong position of
Stormberg, some thirty miles to the north of him. With the enemy so near
him it was Gatacre's nature to attack, and the moment that he thought
himself strong enough he did so. No doubt he had private information
as to the dangerous hold which the Boers were getting upon the colonial
Dutch, and it is possible that while Buller and Methuen were attacking
east and west they urged Gatacre to do something to hold the enemy in
the centre. On the night of December 9th he advanced.

The fact that he was about to do so, and even the hour of the start,
appear to have been the common property of the camp some days before
the actual move. The 'Times' correspondent under the date December
7th details all that it is intended to do. It is to the credit of our
Generals as men, but to their detriment as soldiers, that they seem
throughout the campaign to have shown extraordinarily little power
of dissimulation. They did the obvious, and usually allowed it to be
obvious what they were about to do. One thinks of Napoleon striking at
Egypt; how he gave it abroad that the real object of the expedition was
Ireland, but breathed into the ears of one or two intimates that in very
truth it was bound for Genoa. The leading official at Toulon had no
more idea where the fleet and army of France had gone than the humblest
caulker in the yard. However, it is not fair to expect the subtlety
of the Corsican from the downright Saxon, but it remains strange and
deplorable that in a country filled with spies any one should have known
in advance that a so-called 'surprise' was about to be attempted.

The force with which General Gatacre advanced consisted of the 2nd
Northumberland Fusiliers, 960 strong, with one Maxim; the 2nd Irish
Rifles, 840 strong, with one Maxim, and 250 Mounted Infantry. There were
two batteries of Field Artillery, the 74th and 77th. The total force was
well under 3000 men. About three in the afternoon the men were entrained
in open trucks under a burning sun, and for some reason, at which the
impetuous spirit of the General must have chafed, were kept waiting
for three hours. At eight o'clock they detrained at Molteno, and thence
after a short rest and a meal they started upon the night march which
was intended to end at the break of day at the Boer trenches. One feels
as if one were describing the operations of Magersfontein once again and
the parallel continues to be painfully exact.

It was nine o'clock and pitch dark when the column moved out of Molteno
and struck across the black gloom of the veld, the wheels of the guns
being wrapped in hide to deaden the rattle. It was known that the
distance was not more than ten miles, and so when hour followed hour and
the guides were still unable to say that they had reached their point it
must have become perfectly evident that they had missed their way.
The men were dog-tired, a long day's work had been followed by a long
night's march, and they plodded along drowsily through the darkness.
The ground was broken and irregular. The weary soldiers stumbled as they
marched. Daylight came and revealed the column still looking for its
objective, the fiery General walking in front and leading his horse
behind him. It was evident that his plans had miscarried, but his
energetic and hardy temperament would not permit him to turn back
without a blow being struck. However one may commend his energy, one
cannot but stand aghast at his dispositions. The country was wild
and rocky, the very places for those tactics of the surprise and the
ambuscade in which the Boers excelled. And yet the column still plodded
aimlessly on in its dense formation, and if there were any attempt at
scouting ahead and on the flanks the result showed how ineffectively it
was carried out. It was at a quarter past four in the clear light of a
South African morning that a shot, and then another, and then a rolling
crash of musketry, told that we were to have one more rough lesson of
the result of neglecting the usual precautions of warfare. High up on
the face of a steep line of hill the Boer riflemen lay hid, and from
a short range their fire scourged our exposed flank. The men appear to
have been chiefly colonial rebels, and not Boers of the backveld, and to
that happy chance it may be that the comparative harmlessness of their
fire was due. Even now, in spite of the surprise, the situation might
have been saved had the bewildered troops and their harried officers
known exactly what to do. It is easy to be wise after the event, but it
appears now that the only course that could commend itself would be to
extricate the troops from their position, and then, if thought feasible,
to plan an attack. Instead of this a rush was made at the hillside, and
the infantry made their way some distance up it only to find that there
were positive ledges in front of them which could not be climbed. The
advance was at a dead stop, and the men lay down under the boulders
for cover from the hot fire which came from inaccessible marksmen above
them. Meanwhile the artillery had opened behind them, and their fire
(not for the first time in this campaign) was more deadly to their
friends than to their foes. At least one prominent officer fell among
his men, torn by British shrapnel bullets. Talana Hill and Modder River
have shown also, though perhaps in a less tragic degree, that what with
the long range of modern artillery fire, and what with the difficulty of
locating infantry who are using smokeless powder, it is necessary that
officers commanding batteries should be provided with the coolest
heads and the most powerful glasses of any men in the service, for a
responsibility which will become more and more terrific rests upon their
judgment.

The question now, since the assault had failed, was how to extricate
the men from their position. Many withdrew down the hill, running the
gauntlet of the enemy's fire as they emerged from the boulders on to
the open ground, while others clung to their positions, some from
a soldierly hope that victory might finally incline to them, others
because it was clearly safer to lie among the rocks than to cross the
bullet-swept spaces beyond. Those portions of the force who extricated
themselves do not appear to have realised how many of their comrades had
remained behind, and so as the gap gradually increased between the men
who were stationary and the men who fell back all hope of the two bodies
reuniting became impossible. All the infantry who remained upon the
hillside were captured. The rest rallied at a point fifteen hundred
yards from the scene of the surprise, and began an orderly retreat to
Molteno.

In the meanwhile three powerful Boer guns upon the ridge had opened
fire with great accuracy, but fortunately with defective shells. Had
the enemy's contractors been as trustworthy as their gunners in this
campaign, our losses would have been very much heavier, and it is
possible that here we catch a glimpse of some consequences of that
corruption which was one of the curses of the country. The guns were
moved with great smartness along the ridge, and opened fire again and
again, but never with great result. Our own batteries, the 74th and
77th, with our handful of mounted men, worked hard in covering the
retreat and holding back the enemy's pursuit.

It is a sad subject to discuss, but it is the one instance in a campaign
containing many reverses which amounts to demoralisation among the
troops engaged. The Guards marching with the steadiness of Hyde Park
off the field of Magersfontein, or the men of Nicholson's Nek chafing
because they were not led in a last hopeless charge, are, even in
defeat, object lessons of military virtue. But here fatigue and
sleeplessness had taken all fire and spirit out of the men. They dropped
asleep by the roadside and had to be prodded up by their exhausted
officers. Many were taken prisoners in their slumber by the enemy who
gleaned behind them. Units broke into small straggling bodies, and it
was a sorry and bedraggled force which about ten o'clock came wandering
into Molteno. The place of honour in the rear was kept throughout by
the Irish Rifles, who preserved some military formation to the end. Our
losses in killed and wounded were not severe--military honour would have
been less sore had they been more so. Twenty-six killed, sixty-eight
wounded--that is all. But between the men on the hillside and the
somnambulists of the column, six hundred, about equally divided between
the Irish Rifles and the Northumberland Fusiliers, had been left as
prisoners. Two guns, too, had been lost in the hurried retreat.

It is not for the historian--especially for a civilian historian--to say
a word unnecessarily to aggravate the pain of that brave man who, having
done all that personal courage could do, was seen afterwards sobbing on
the table of the waiting-room at Molteno, and bewailing his 'poor men.'
He had a disaster, but Nelson had one at Teneriffe and Napoleon at Acre,
and built their great reputations in spite of it. But the one good thing
of a disaster is that by examining it we may learn to do better in the
future, and so it would indeed be a perilous thing if we agreed that our
reverses were not a fit subject for open and frank discussion.

It is not to the detriment of an enterprise that it should be daring
and call for considerable physical effort on the part of those who are
engaged in it. On the contrary, the conception of such plans is one of
the signs of a great military mind. But in the arranging of the details
the same military mind should assiduously occupy itself in foreseeing
and preventing every unnecessary thing which may make the execution
of such a plan more difficult. The idea of a swift sudden attack upon
Stormberg was excellent--the details of the operation are continually
open to criticism.

How far the Boers suffered at Stormberg is unknown to us, but there
seems in this instance no reason to doubt their own statement that their
losses were very slight. At no time was any body of them exposed to
our fire, while we, as usual, fought in the open. Their numbers were
probably less than ours, and the quality of their shooting and want of
energy in pursuit make the defeat the more galling. On the other hand,
their guns were served with skill and audacity. They consisted of
commandos from Bethulie, Rouxville, and Smithfield, under the orders
of Olivier, with those colonials whom they had seduced from their
allegiance.

This defeat of General Gatacre's, occurring, as it did, in a disaffected
district and one of great strategic importance, might have produced the
worst consequences.

Fortunately no very evil result followed. No doubt the recruiting
of rebels was helped, but there was no forward movement and Molteno
remained in our hands. In the meanwhile Gatacre's force was reinforced
by a fresh battery, the 79th, and by a strong regiment, the Derbyshires,
so that with the 1st Royal Scots and the wing of the Berkshires he
was strong enough to hold his own until the time for a general advance
should come. So in the Stormberg district, as at the Modder River, the
same humiliating and absurd position of stalemate was established.



CHAPTER 11. BATTLE OF COLENSO.

Two serious defeats had within the week been inflicted upon the British
forces in South Africa. Cronje, lurking behind his trenches and his
barbed wire entanglements barred Methuen's road to Kimberley, while
in the northern part of Cape Colony Gatacre's wearied troops had been
defeated and driven by a force which consisted largely of British
subjects. But the public at home steeled their hearts and fixed their
eyes steadily upon Natal. There was their senior General and there the
main body of their troops. As brigade after brigade and battery after
battery touched at Cape Town, and were sent on instantly to Durban, it
was evident that it was in this quarter that the supreme effort was
to be made, and that there the light might at last break. In club, and
dining room, and railway car--wherever men met and talked--the same
words might be heard: 'Wait until Buller moves.' The hopes of a great
empire lay in the phrase.

It was upon October 30th that Sir George White had been thrust back into
Ladysmith. On November 2nd telegraphic communication with the town was
interrupted. On November 3rd the railway line was cut. On November 10th
the Boers held Colenso and the line of the Tugela. On the 14th was the
affair of the armoured train. On the 18th the enemy were near Estcourt.
On the 21st they had reached the Mooi River. On the 23rd Hildyard
attacked them at Willow Grange. All these actions will be treated
elsewhere. This last one marks the turn of the tide. From then onwards
Sir Redvers Buller was massing his troops at Chieveley in preparation
for a great effort to cross the river and to relieve Ladysmith, the guns
of which, calling from behind the line of northern hills, told their
constant tale of restless attack and stubborn defence.

But the task was as severe a one as the most fighting General could ask
for. On the southern side the banks formed a long slope which could be
shaved as with a razor by the rifle fire of the enemy. How to advance
across that broad open zone was indeed a problem. It was one of many
occasions in this war in which one wondered why, if a bullet-proof
shield capable of sheltering a lying man could be constructed, a trial
should not be given to it. Alternate rushes of companies with a safe
rest after each rush would save the troops from the continued tension of
that deadly never ending fire. However, it is idle to discuss what
might have been done to mitigate their trials. The open ground had to
be passed, and then they came to--not the enemy, but a broad and deep
river, with a single bridge, probably undermined, and a single ford,
which was found not to exist in practice. Beyond the river was tier
after tier of hills, crowned with stone walls and seamed with trenches,
defended by thousands of the best marksmen in the world, supported by
an admirable artillery. If, in spite of the advance over the open and
in spite of the passage of the river, a ridge could still be carried, it
was only to be commanded by the next; and so, one behind the other,
like the billows of the ocean, a series of hills and hollows rolled
northwards to Ladysmith. All attacks must be in the open. All defence
was from under cover. Add to this, that the young and energetic Louis
Botha was in command of the Boers. It was a desperate task, and yet
honour forbade that the garrison should be left to its fate. The venture
must be made.

The most obvious criticism upon the operation is that if the attack
must be made it should not be made under the enemy's conditions. We
seem almost to have gone out of our way to make every obstacle--the
glacislike approach, the river, the trenches--as difficult as possible.
Future operations were to prove that it was not so difficult to deceive
Boer vigilance and by rapid movements to cross the Tugela. A military
authority has stated, I know not with what truth, that there is no
instance in history of a determined army being stopped by the line of
a river, and from Wellington at the Douro to the Russians on the Danube
many examples of the ease with which they may be passed will occur to
the reader. But Buller had some exceptional difficulties with which to
contend. He was weak in mounted troops, and was opposed to an enemy of
exceptional mobility who might attack his flank and rear if he exposed
them. He had not that great preponderance of numbers which came to him
later, and which enabled him to attempt a wide turning movement. One
advantage he had, the possession of a more powerful artillery, but his
heaviest guns were naturally his least mobile, and the more direct his
advance the more effective would his guns be. For these or other reasons
he determined upon a frontal attack on the formidable Boer position, and
he moved out of Chieveley Camp for that purpose at daybreak on Friday,
December 15th.

The force which General Buller led into action was the finest which any
British general had handled since the battle of the Alma. Of infantry
he had four strong brigades: the 2nd (Hildyard's) consisting of the 2nd
Devons, the 2nd Queen's or West Surrey, the 2nd West Yorkshire, and
the 2nd East Surrey; the 4th Brigade (Lyttelton's) comprising the 2nd
Cameronians, the 3rd Rifles, the 1st Durhams, and the 1st Rifle Brigade;
the 5th Brigade (Hart's) with the 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 1st
Connaught Rangers, 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, and the Border Regiment, this
last taking the place of the 2nd Irish Rifles, who were with Gatacre.
There remained the 6th Brigade (Barton's), which included the 2nd Royal
Fusiliers, the 2nd Scots Fusiliers, the 1st Welsh Fusiliers, and the 2nd
Irish Fusiliers--in all about 16,000 infantry. The mounted men, who were
commanded by Lord Dundonald, included the 13th Hussars, the 1st Royals,
Bethune's Mounted Infantry, Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, three
squadrons of South African Horse, with a composite regiment formed from
the mounted infantry of the Rifles and of the Dublin Fusiliers with
squadrons of the Natal Carabineers and the Imperial Light Horse. These
irregular troops of horse might be criticised by martinets and pedants,
but they contained some of the finest fighting material in the army,
some urged on by personal hatred of the Boers and some by mere lust of
adventure. As an example of the latter one squadron of the South African
Horse was composed almost entirely of Texan muleteers, who, having come
over with their animals, had been drawn by their own gallant spirit into
the fighting line of their kinsmen.

Cavalry was General Buller's weakest arm, but his artillery was strong
both in its quality and its number of guns. There were five batteries
(30 guns) of the Field Artillery, the 7th, 14th, 63rd, 64th, and 66th.
Besides these there were no fewer than sixteen naval guns from H.M.S.
'Terrible'--fourteen of which were 12-pounders, and the other two of
the 4.7 type which had done such good service both at Ladysmith and with
Methuen. The whole force which moved out from Chieveley Camp numbered
about 21,000 men.

The work which was allotted to the army was simple in conception,
however terrible it might prove in execution. There were two points at
which the river might be crossed, one three miles off on the left, named
Bridle Drift, the other straight ahead at the Bridge of Colenso. The 5th
or Irish Brigade was to endeavour to cross at Bridle Drift, and then
to work down the river bank on the far side so as to support the 2nd or
English Brigade,--which was to cross at Colenso. The 4th Brigade was
to advance between these, so as to help either which should be in
difficulties. Meanwhile on the extreme right the mounted troops under
Dundonald were to cover the flank and to attack Hlangwane Hill, a
formidable position held strongly by the enemy upon the south bank of
the Tugela. The remaining Fusilier brigade of infantry was to support
this movement on the right. The guns were to cover the various attacks,
and if possible gain a position from which the trenches might be
enfiladed. This, simply stated, was the work which lay before the
British army. In the bright clear morning sunshine, under a cloudless
blue sky, they advanced with high hopes to the assault. Before them lay
the long level plain, then the curve of the river, and beyond, silent
and serene, like some peaceful dream landscape, stretched the lines and
lines of gently curving hills. It was just five o'clock in the morning
when the naval guns began to bay, and huge red dustclouds from the
distant foothills showed where the lyddite was bursting. No answer came
back, nor was there any movement upon the sunlit hills. It was
almost brutal, this furious violence to so gentle and unresponsive a
countryside. In no place could the keenest eye detect a sign of guns or
men, and yet death lurked in every hollow and crouched by every rock.

It is so difficult to make a modern battle intelligible when fought, as
this was, over a front of seven or eight miles, that it is best perhaps
to take the doings of each column in turn, beginning with the left
flank, where Hart's Irish Brigade had advanced to the assault of Bridle
Drift.

Under an unanswered and therefore an unaimed fire from the heavy guns
the Irish infantry moved forward upon the points which they had
been ordered to attack. The Dublins led, then the Connaughts, the
Inniskillings, and the Borderers. Incredible as it may appear after the
recent experiences of Magersfontein and of Stormberg, the men in the two
rear regiments appear to have been advanced in quarter column, and not
to have deployed until after the enemy's fire had opened. Had shrapnel
struck this close formation, as it was within an ace of doing, the loss
of life must have been as severe as it was unnecessary.

On approaching the Drift--the position or even the existence of which
does not seem to have been very clearly defined--it was found that the
troops had to advance into a loop formed by the river, so that they were
exposed to a very heavy cross-fire upon their right flank, while they
were rained on by shrapnel from in front. No sign of the enemy could be
seen, though the men were dropping fast. It is a weird and soul-shaking
experience to advance over a sunlit and apparently a lonely countryside,
with no slightest movement upon its broad face, while the path which
you take is marked behind you by sobbing, gasping, writhing men, who can
only guess by the position of their wounds whence the shots came which
struck them down. All round, like the hissing of fat in the pan, is the
monotonous crackle and rattle of the Mausers; but the air is full of
it, and no one can define exactly whence it comes. Far away on some
hill upon the skyline there hangs the least gauzy veil of thin smoke to
indicate whence the six men who have just all fallen together, as if it
were some grim drill, met their death. Into such a hell-storm as this
it was that the soldiers have again and again advanced in the course
of this war, but it may be questioned whether they will not prove to be
among the last of mortals to be asked to endure such an ordeal. Other
methods of attack must be found or attacks must be abandoned, for
smokeless powder, quick-firing guns, and modern rifles make it all odds
on the defence!

The gallant Irishmen pushed on, flushed with battle and careless for
their losses, the four regiments clubbed into one, with all military
organisation rapidly disappearing, and nothing left but their gallant
spirit and their furious desire to come to hand-grips with the enemy.
Rolling on in a broad wave of shouting angry men, they never winced
from the fire until they had swept up to the bank of the river. Northern
Inniskilling and Southern man of Connaught, orange and green, Protestant
and Catholic, Celt and Saxon, their only rivalry now was who could
shed his blood most freely for the common cause. How hateful seem those
provincial politics and narrow sectarian creeds which can hold such men
apart!

The bank of the river had been gained, but where was the ford? The
water swept broad and unruffled in front of them, with no indication
of shallows. A few dashing fellows sprang in, but their cartridges and
rifles dragged them to the bottom. One or two may even have struggled
through to the further side, but on this there is a conflict of
evidence. It may be, though it seems incredible, that the river had been
partly dammed to deepen the Drift, or, as is more probable, that in the
rapid advance and attack the position of the Drift was lost. However
this may be, the troops could find no ford, and they lay down, as had
been done in so many previous actions, unwilling to retreat and unable
to advance, with the same merciless pelting from front and flank. In
every fold and behind every anthill the Irishmen lay thick and
waited for better times. There are many instances of their cheery and
uncomplaining humour. Colonel Brooke, of the Connaughts, fell at the
head of his men. Private Livingstone helped to carry him into safety,
and then, his task done, he confessed to having 'a bit of a rap meself,'
and sank fainting with a bullet through his throat. Another sat with a
bullet through both legs. 'Bring me a tin whistle and I'll blow ye any
tune ye like,' he cried, mindful of the Dargai piper. Another with his
arm hanging by a tendon puffed morosely at his short black pipe. Every
now and then, in face of the impossible, the fiery Celtic valour flamed
furiously upwards. 'Fix bayonets, men, and let us make a name for
ourselves,' cried a colour sergeant, and he never spoke again. For five
hours, under the tropical sun, the grimy parched men held on to the
ground they had occupied. British shells pitched short and fell among
them. A regiment in support fired at them, not knowing that any of the
line were so far advanced. Shot at from the front, the flank, and the
rear, the 5th Brigade held grimly on.

But fortunately their orders to retire were at hand, and it is certain
that had they not reached them the regiments would have been uselessly
destroyed where they lay. It seems to have been Buller himself, who
showed extraordinary and ubiquitous personal energy during the day, that
ordered them to fall back. As they retreated there was an entire absence
of haste and panic, but officers and men were hopelessly jumbled up, and
General Hart--whose judgment may occasionally be questioned, but whose
cool courage was beyond praise--had hard work to reform the splendid
brigade which six hours before had tramped out of Chieveley Camp.
Between five and six hundred of them had fallen--a loss which
approximates to that of the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein. The
Dublins and the Connaughts were the heaviest sufferers.

So much for the mishap of the 5th Brigade. It is superfluous to point
out that the same old omissions were responsible for the same old
results. Why were the men in quarter column when advancing against an
unseen foe? Why had no scouts gone forward to be certain of the position
of the ford? Where were the clouds of skirmishers which should precede
such an advance? The recent examples in the field and the teachings of
the text-books were equally set at naught, as they had been, and were
to be, so often in this campaign. There may be a science of war in the
lecture-rooms at Camberley, but very little of it found its way to
the veld. The slogging valour of the private, the careless dash of the
regimental officer--these were our military assets--but seldom the care
and foresight of our commanders. It is a thankless task to make such
comments, but the one great lesson of the war has been that the army is
too vital a thing to fall into the hands of a caste, and that it is
a national duty for every man to speak fearlessly and freely what he
believes to be the truth.

Passing from the misadventure of the 5th Brigade we come as we move from
left to right upon the 4th, or Lyttelton's Brigade, which was instructed
not to attack itself but to support the attack on either side of it.
With the help of the naval guns it did what it could to extricate and
cover the retreat of the Irishmen, but it could play no very important
part in the action, and its losses were insignificant. On its right in
turn Hildyard's English Brigade had developed its attack upon Colenso
and the bridge. The regiments under Hildyard's lead were the 2nd West
Surrey, the 2nd Devons (whose first battalion was doing so well with the
Ladysmith force), the East Surreys, and the West Yorkshires. The enemy
had evidently anticipated the main attack on this position, and not only
were the trenches upon the other side exceptionally strong, but their
artillery converged upon the bridge, at least a dozen heavy pieces,
besides a number of quick-firers, bearing upon it. The Devons and the
Queens, in open order (an extended line of khaki dots, blending so
admirably with the plain that they were hardly visible when they
halted), led the attack, being supported by the East Surrey and the West
Yorkshires. Advancing under a very heavy fire the brigade experienced
much the same ordeal as their comrades of Hart's brigade, which was
mitigated by the fact that from the first they preserved their open
order in columns of half-companies extended to six paces, and that the
river in front of them did not permit that right flank fire which was so
fatal to the Irishmen. With a loss of some two hundred men the leading
regiments succeeded in reaching Colenso, and the West Surrey, advancing
by rushes of fifty yards at a time, had established itself in the
station, but a catastrophe had occurred at an earlier hour to the
artillery which was supporting it which rendered all further advance
impossible. For the reason of this we must follow the fortunes of the
next unit upon their right.

This consisted of the important body of artillery who had been told off
to support the main attack. It comprised two field batteries, the 14th
and the 66th, under the command of Colonel Long, and six naval guns (two
of 4.7, and four 12-pounders) under Lieutenant Ogilvy of the 'Terrible.'
Long has the record of being a most zealous and dashing officer, whose
handling of the Egyptian artillery at the battle of the Atbara had much
to do with the success of the action. Unfortunately, these barbarian
campaigns, in which liberties may be taken with impunity, leave an evil
tradition, as the French have found with their Algerians. Our own close
formations, our adherence to volley firing, and in this instance the
use of our artillery all seem to be legacies of our savage wars. Be the
cause what it may, at an early stage of the action Long's guns whirled
forwards, outstripped the infantry brigades upon their flanks, left the
slow-moving naval guns with their ox-teams behind them, and unlimbered
within a thousand yards of the enemy's trenches. From this position he
opened fire upon Fort Wylie, which was the centre of that portion of the
Boer position which faced him.

But his two unhappy batteries were destined not to turn the tide of
battle, as he had hoped, but rather to furnish the classic example
of the helplessness of artillery against modern rifle fire. Not even
Mercer's famous description of the effect of a flank fire upon his troop
of horse artillery at Waterloo could do justice to the blizzard of lead
which broke over the two doomed batteries. The teams fell in heaps, some
dead, some mutilated, and mutilating others in their frantic struggles.
One driver, crazed with horror, sprang on a leader, cut the traces and
tore madly off the field. But a perfect discipline reigned among the
vast majority of the gunners, and the words of command and the laying
and working of the guns were all as methodical as at Okehampton. Not
only was there a most deadly rifle fire, partly from the lines in front
and partly from the village of Colenso upon their left flank, but the
Boer automatic quick-firers found the range to a nicety, and the little
shells were crackling and banging continually over the batteries.
Already every gun had its litter of dead around it, but each was still
fringed by its own group of furious officers and sweating desperate
gunners. Poor Long was down, with a bullet through his arm and another
through his liver. 'Abandon be damned! We don't abandon guns!' was his
last cry as they dragged him into the shelter of a little donga hard by.
Captain Goldie dropped dead. So did Lieutenant Schreiber. Colonel Hunt
fell, shot in two places. Officers and men were falling fast. The guns
could not be worked, and yet they could not be removed, for every effort
to bring up teams from the shelter where the limbers lay ended in the
death of the horses. The survivors took refuge from the murderous fire
in that small hollow to which Long had been carried, a hundred yards
or so from the line of bullet-splashed cannon. One gun on the right was
still served by four men who refused to leave it. They seemed to bear
charmed lives, these four, as they strained and wrestled with their
beloved 15-pounder, amid the spurting sand and the blue wreaths of the
bursting shells. Then one gasped and fell against the trail, and his
comrade sank beside the wheel with his chin upon his breast. The
third threw up his hands and pitched forward upon his face; while the
survivor, a grim powder-stained figure, stood at attention looking death
in the eyes until he too was struck down. A useless sacrifice, you may
say; but while the men who saw them die can tell such a story round the
camp fire the example of such deaths as these does more than clang of
bugle or roll of drum to stir the warrior spirit of our race.

For two hours the little knot of heart-sick humiliated officers and
men lay in the precarious shelter of the donga and looked out at the
bullet-swept plain and the line of silent guns. Many of them were
wounded. Their chief lay among them, still calling out in his delirium
for his guns. They had been joined by the gallant Baptie, a brave
surgeon, who rode across to the donga amid a murderous fire, and did
what he could for the injured men. Now and then a rush was made into the
open, sometimes in the hope of firing another round, sometimes to bring
a wounded comrade in from the pitiless pelt of the bullets. How fearful
was that lead-storm may be gathered from the fact that one gunner was
found with sixty-four wounds in his body. Several men dropped in these
sorties, and the disheartened survivors settled down once more in the
donga.

The hope to which they clung was that their guns were not really lost,
but that the arrival of infantry would enable them to work them once
more. Infantry did at last arrive, but in such small numbers that it
made the situation more difficult instead of easing it. Colonel Bullock
had brought up two companies of the Devons to join the two companies (A
and B) of Scots Fusiliers who had been the original escort of the guns,
but such a handful could not turn the tide. They also took refuge in the
donga, and waited for better times.

In the meanwhile the attention of Generals Buller and Clery had been
called to the desperate position of the guns, and they had made their
way to that further nullah in the rear where the remaining limber horses
and drivers were. This was some distance behind that other donga in
which Long, Bullock, and their Devons and gunners were crouching. 'Will
any of you volunteer to save the guns?' cried Buller. Corporal Nurse,
Gunner Young, and a few others responded. The desperate venture was
led by three aides-de-camp of the Generals, Congreve, Schofield, and
Roberts, the only son of the famous soldier. Two gun teams were taken
down; the horses galloping frantically through an infernal fire,
and each team succeeded in getting back with a gun. But the loss was
fearful. Roberts was mortally wounded. Congreve has left an account
which shows what a modern rifle fire at a thousand yards is like. 'My
first bullet went through my left sleeve and made the joint of my elbow
bleed, next a clod of earth caught me smack on the right arm, then my
horse got one, then my right leg one, then my horse another, and
that settled us.' The gallant fellow managed to crawl to the group of
castaways in the donga. Roberts insisted on being left where he fell,
for fear he should hamper the others.

In the meanwhile Captain Reed, of the 7th Battery, had arrived with two
spare teams of horses, and another determined effort was made under his
leadership to save some of the guns. But the fire was too murderous.
Two-thirds of his horses and half his men, including himself, were
struck down, and General Buller commanded that all further attempts to
reach the abandoned batteries should be given up. Both he and General
Clery had been slightly wounded, and there were many operations over
the whole field of action to engage their attention. But making every
allowance for the pressure of many duties and for the confusion and
turmoil of a great action, it does seem one of the most inexplicable
incidents in British military history that the guns should ever have
been permitted to fall into the hands of the enemy. It is evident that
if our gunners could not live under the fire of the enemy it would be
equally impossible for the enemy to remove the guns under a fire from
a couple of battalions of our infantry. There were many regiments which
had hardly been engaged, and which could have been advanced for such a
purpose. The men of the Mounted Infantry actually volunteered for this
work, and none could have been more capable of carrying it out. There
was plenty of time also, for the guns were abandoned about eleven and
the Boers did not venture to seize them until four. Not only could
the guns have been saved, but they might, one would think, have been
transformed into an excellent bait for a trap to tempt the Boers out of
their trenches. It must have been with fear and trembling that Cherry
Emmett and his men first approached them, for how could they believe
that such incredible good fortune had come to them? However, the fact,
humiliating and inexplicable, is that the guns were so left, that the
whole force was withdrawn, and that not only the ten cannon, but also
the handful of Devons, with their Colonel, and the Fusiliers were taken
prisoners in the donga which had sheltered them all day.

We have now, working from left to right, considered the operations of
Hart's Brigade at Bridle Drift, of Lyttelton's Brigade in support, of
Hildyard's which attacked Colenso, and of the luckless batteries which
were to have helped him. There remain two bodies of troops upon the
right, the further consisting of Dundonald's mounted men who were to
attack Hlangwane Hill, a fortified Boer position upon the south of the
river, while Barton's Brigade was to support it and to connect this
attack with the central operations.

Dundonald's force was entirely too weak for such an operation as the
capture of the formidable entrenched hill, and it is probable that the
movement was meant rather as a reconnaissance than as an assault. He had
not more than a thousand men in all, mostly irregulars, and the position
which faced him was precipitous and entrenched, with barbed-wire
entanglements and automatic guns. But the gallant colonials were out
on their first action, and their fiery courage pushed the attack home.
Leaving their horses, they advanced a mile and a half on foot before
they came within easy range of the hidden riflemen, and learned the
lesson which had been taught to their comrades all along the line, that
given approximately equal numbers the attack in the open has no possible
chance against the concealed defence, and that the more bravely it is
pushed the more heavy is the repulse. The irregulars carried themselves
like old soldiers, they did all that mortal man could do, and they
retired coolly and slowly with the loss of 130 of the brave troopers.
The 7th Field Battery did all that was possible to support the advance
and cover the retirement. In no single place, on this day of disaster,
did one least gleam of success come to warm the hearts and reward the
exertions of our much-enduring men.

Of Barton's Brigade there is nothing to be recorded, for they appear
neither to have supported the attack upon Hlangwane Hill on the one side
nor to have helped to cover the ill-fated guns on the other. Barton
was applied to for help by Dundonald, but refused to detach any of his
troops. If General Buller's real idea was a reconnaissance in force in
order to determine the position and strength of the Boer lines, then
of course his brigadiers must have felt a reluctance to entangle their
brigades in a battle which was really the result of a misunderstanding.
On the other hand, if, as the orders of the day seem to show, a serious
engagement was always intended, it is strange that two brigades out of
four should have played so insignificant a part. To Barton's Brigade
was given the responsibility of seeing that no right flank attack was
carried out by the Boers, and this held it back until it was clear that
no such attack was contemplated. After that one would have thought that,
had the situation been appreciated, at least two battalions might have
been spared to cover the abandoned guns with their rifle fire. Two
companies of the Scots Fusiliers did share the fortunes of the guns.
Two others, and one of the Irish Fusiliers, acted in support, but the
brigade as a whole, together with the 1st Royals and the 13th Hussars,
might as well have been at Aldershot for any bearing which their work
had upon the fortunes of the day.

And so the first attempt at the relief of Ladysmith came to an end. At
twelve o'clock all the troops upon the ground were retreating for
the camp. There was nothing in the shape of rout or panic, and the
withdrawal was as orderly as the advance; but the fact remained that
we had just 1200 men in killed, wounded, and missing, and had gained
absolutely nothing. We had not even the satisfaction of knowing that
we had inflicted as well as endured punishment, for the enemy remained
throughout the day so cleverly concealed that it is doubtful whether
more than a hundred casualties occurred in their ranks. Once more it was
shown how weak an arm is artillery against an enemy who lies in shelter.

Our wounded fortunately bore a high proportion to our killed, as they
always will do when it is rifle fire rather than shell fire which is
effective. Roughly we had 150 killed and about 720 wounded. A more
humiliating item is the 250 or so who were missing. These men were the
gunners, the Devons, and the Scots Fusiliers, who were taken in the
donga together with small bodies from the Connaughts, the Dublins, and
other regiments who, having found some shelter, were unable to leave
it, and clung on until the retirement of their regiments left them in
a hopeless position. Some of these small knots of men were allowed to
retire in the evening by the Boers, who seemed by no means anxious
to increase the number of their prisoners. Colonel Thackeray, of
the Inniskilling Fusiliers, found himself with a handful of his men
surrounded by the enemy, but owing to their good humour and his own tact
he succeeded in withdrawing them in safety. The losses fell chiefly on
Hart's Brigade, Hildyard's Brigade, and the colonial irregulars, who
bore off the honours of the fight.

In his official report General Buller states that were it not for the
action of Colonel Long and the subsequent disaster to the artillery he
thought that the battle might have been a successful one. This is a hard
saying, and throws perhaps too much responsibility upon the gallant but
unfortunate gunner. There have been occasions in the war when greater
dash upon the part of our artillery might have changed the fate of the
day, and it is bad policy to be too severe upon the man who has taken
a risk and failed. The whole operation, with its advance over the open
against a concealed enemy with a river in his front, was so absolutely
desperate that Long may have seen that only desperate measures could
save the situation. To bring guns into action in front of the infantry
without having clearly defined the position of the opposing infantry
must always remain one of the most hazardous ventures of war. 'It would
certainly be mere folly,' says Prince Kraft, 'to advance artillery to
within 600 or 800 yards of a position held by infantry unless the latter
were under the fire of infantry from an even shorter range.' This 'mere
folly' is exactly what Colonel Long did, but it must be remembered in
extenuation that he shared with others the idea that the Boers were up
on the hills, and had no inkling that their front trenches were down at
the river. With the imperfect means at his disposal he did such scouting
as he could, and if his fiery and impetuous spirit led him into a
position which cost him so dearly it is certainly more easy for the
critic to extenuate his fault than that subsequent one which allowed
the abandoned guns to fall into the hands of the enemy. Nor is there any
evidence that the loss of these guns did seriously affect the fate of
the action, for at those other parts of the field where the infantry had
the full and unceasing support of the artillery the result was not more
favourable than at the centre.

So much for Colenso. A more unsatisfactory and in some ways inexplicable
action is not to be found in the range of British military history.
And the fuller the light which has been poured upon it, the more
extraordinary does the battle appear. There are a preface and a sequel
to the action which have put a severe strain upon the charity which
the British public has always shown that it is prepared to extend to
a defeated General. The preface is that General Buller sent word to
General White that he proposed to attack upon the 17th, while the
actual attack was delivered upon the 15th, so that the garrison was
not prepared to make that demonstration which might have prevented the
besiegers from sending important reinforcements to Botha, had he needed
them. The sequel is more serious. Losing all heart at his defeat,
General Buller, although he had been officially informed that White had
provisions for seventy days, sent a heliogram advising the surrender
of the garrison. White's first reply, which deserves to live with the
anecdote of Nelson's telescope at his blind eye, was to the effect that
he believed the enemy had been tampering with Buller's messages. To
this Buller despatched an amended message, which with Sir George White's
reply, is here appended:

Message of December 16th, as altered by that of December 17th, 1899.

'I tried Colenso yesterday, but failed; the enemy is too strong for my
force except with siege operations, and these will take one full month
to prepare. Can you last so long?

'How many days can you hold out? I suggest you firing away as much
ammunition as you can, and making best terms you can. I can remain here
if you have alternative suggestion, but unaided I cannot break in. I
find my infantry cannot fight more than ten miles from camp, and then
only if water can be got, and it is scarce here. Whatever happens,
recollect to burn your cipher, decipher, and code books, and all
deciphered messages.'

From Sir G. White to Sir R. Buller. December 16th, 1899.

'Yours of today received and understood. My suggestion is that you take
up strongest available position that will enable you to keep touch of
the enemy and harass him constantly with artillery fire, and in other
ways as much as possible. I can make food last for much longer than a
month, and will not think of making terms till I am forced to. You may
have hit enemy harder than you think. All our native spies report that
your artillery fire made considerable impression on enemy. Have your
losses been very heavy? If you lose touch of enemy, it will immensely
increase his opportunities of crushing me, and have worst effect
elsewhere. While you are in touch with him and in communication with
me, he has both of our forces to reckon with. Make every effort to get
reinforcements as early as possible, including India, and enlist every
man in both colonies who will serve and can ride. Things may look
brighter. The loss of 12,000 men here would be a heavy blow to England.
We must not yet think of it. I fear I could not cut my way to you.
Enteric fever is increasing alarmingly here. There are now 180 cases,
all within last month. Answer fully. I am keeping everything secret for
the present till I know your plans.'

Much allowance is to be made for a man who is staggering under the
mental shock of defeat and the physical exertions which Buller had
endured. That the Government made such allowance is clear from the fact
that he was not instantly recalled. And yet the cold facts are that we
have a British General, at the head of 25,000 men, recommending another
General, at the head of 12,000 men only twelve miles off, to lay down
his arms to an army which was certainly very inferior in numbers to
the total British force; and this because he had once been defeated,
although he knew that there was still time for the whole resources of
the Empire to be poured into Natal in order to prevent so shocking a
disaster. Such is a plain statement of the advice which Buller gave and
which White rejected. For the instant the fate not only of South Africa
but even, as I believe, of the Empire hung upon the decision of the old
soldier in Ladysmith, who had to resist the proposals of his own General
as sternly as the attacks of the enemy. He who sorely needed help
and encouragement became, as his message shows, the helper and the
encourager. It was a tremendous test, and Sir George White came through
it with a staunchness and a loyalty which saved us not only from
overwhelming present disaster, but from a hideous memory which must have
haunted British military annals for centuries to come.



CHAPTER 12. THE DARK HOUR.

The week which extended from December 10th to December 17th, 1899, was
the blackest one known during our generation, and the most disastrous
for British arms during the century. We had in the short space of seven
days lost, beyond all extenuation or excuse, three separate actions.
No single defeat was of vital importance in itself, but the cumulative
effect, occurring as they did to each of the main British forces in
South Africa, was very great. The total loss amounted to about three
thousand men and twelve guns, while the indirect effects in the way of
loss of prestige to ourselves and increased confidence and more numerous
recruits to our enemy were incalculable.

It is singular to glance at the extracts from the European press at that
time and to observe the delight and foolish exultation with which our
reverses were received. That this should occur in the French journals
is not unnatural, since our history has been largely a contest with that
Power, and we can regard with complacency an enmity which is the tribute
to our success. Russia, too, as the least progressive of European
States, has a natural antagonism of thought, if not of interests, to the
Power which stands most prominently for individual freedom and liberal
institutions. The same poor excuse may be made for the organs of the
Vatican. But what are we to say of the insensate railing of Germany,
a country whose ally we have been for centuries? In the days of
Marlborough, in the darkest hours of Frederick the Great, in the great
world struggle of Napoleon, we have been the brothers-in-arms of these
people. So with the Austrians also. If both these countries were
not finally swept from the map by Napoleon, it is largely to British
subsidies and British tenacity that they owe it. And yet these are the
folk who turned most bitterly against us at the only time in modern
history when we had a chance of distinguishing our friends from our
foes. Never again, I trust, on any pretext will a British guinea be
spent or a British soldier or sailor shed his blood for such allies. The
political lesson of this writer has been that we should make ourselves
strong within the empire, and let all outside it, save only our kinsmen
of America, go their own way and meet their own fate without let or
hindrance from us. It is amazing to find that even the Americans could
understand the stock from which they are themselves sprung so little
that such papers as the 'New York Herald' should imagine that our defeat
at Colenso was a good opportunity for us to terminate the war. The
other leading American journals, however, took a more sane view of the
situation, and realised that ten years of such defeats would not find
the end either of our resolution or of our resources.

In the British Islands and in the empire at large our misfortunes were
met by a sombre but unalterable determination to carry the war to a
successful conclusion and to spare no sacrifices which could lead to
that end. Amid the humiliation of our reverses there was a certain
undercurrent of satisfaction that the deeds of our foemen should at
least have made the contention that the strong was wantonly attacking
the weak an absurd one. Under the stimulus of defeat the opposition to
the war sensibly decreased. It had become too absurd even for the most
unreasonable platform orator to contend that a struggle had been forced
upon the Boers when every fresh detail showed how thoroughly they had
prepared for such a contingency and how much we had to make up. Many
who had opposed the war simply on that sporting instinct which backs
the smaller against the larger began to realise that what with the
geographical position of these people, what with the nature of their
country, and what with the mobility, number, and hardihood of their
forces, we had undertaken a task which would necessitate such a military
effort as we had never before been called upon to make. When Kipling at
the dawn of the war had sung of 'fifty thousand horse and foot going to
Table Bay,' the statement had seemed extreme. Now it was growing upon
the public mind that four times this number would not be an excessive
estimate. But the nation rose grandly to the effort. Their only fear,
often and loudly expressed, was that Parliament would deal too tamely
with the situation and fail to demand sufficient sacrifices. Such was
the wave of feeling over the country that it was impossible to hold
a peace meeting anywhere without a certainty of riot. The only London
daily which had opposed the war, though very ably edited, was overborne
by the general sentiment and compelled to change its line. In the
provinces also opposition was almost silent, and the great colonies were
even more unanimous than the mother country. Misfortune had solidified
us where success might have caused a sentimental opposition.

On the whole, the energetic mood of the nation was reflected by the
decided measures of the Government. Before the deep-sea cables had told
us the lists of our dead, steps had been taken to prove to the world
how great were our latent resources and how determined our spirit. On
December 18th, two days after Colenso, the following provisions were
made for carrying on the campaign.

1. That as General Buller's hands were full in Natal the supervision and
direction of the whole campaign should be placed in the hands of Lord
Roberts, with Lord Kitchener as his chief of staff. Thus the famous old
soldier and the famous young one were called together to the assistance
of the country.

2. That all the remaining army reserves should be called out.

3. That the 7th Division (10,000 men) should be despatched to Africa,
and that an 8th Division should be formed ready for service.

4. That considerable artillery reinforcements, including a howitzer
brigade, should go out.

5. That eleven Militia battalions be sent abroad.

6. That a strong contingent of Volunteers be sent out.

7. That a Yeomanry mounted force be despatched.

8. That mounted corps be raised at the discretion of the
Commander-in-Chief in South Africa.

9. That the patriotic offers of further contingents from the colonies be
gratefully accepted.

By these measures it was calculated that from seventy to a hundred
thousand men would be added to our South African armies, the numbers of
which were already not short of a hundred thousand.

It is one thing, however, to draw up paper reinforcements, and it is
another, in a free country where no compulsion would be tolerated, to
turn these plans into actual regiments and squadrons. But if there were
any who doubted that this ancient nation still glowed with the spirit
of its youth his fears must soon have passed away. For this far-distant
war, a war of the unseen foe and of the murderous ambuscade, there
were so many volunteers that the authorities were embarrassed by their
numbers and their pertinacity. It was a stimulating sight to see those
long queues of top-hatted, frock-coated young men who waited their turn
for the orderly room with as much desperate anxiety as if hard fare,
a veld bed, and Boer bullets were all that life had that was worth the
holding. Especially the Imperial Yeomanry, a corps of riders and shots,
appealed to the sporting instincts of our race. Many could ride and not
shoot, many could shoot and not ride, more candidates were rejected
than were accepted, and yet in a very short time eight thousand men from
every class were wearing the grey coats and bandoliers. This singular
and formidable force was drawn from every part of England and Scotland,
with a contingent of hard-riding Irish fox-hunters. Noblemen and
grooms rode knee to knee in the ranks, and the officers included many
well-known country gentlemen and masters of hounds. Well horsed and well
armed, a better force for the work in hand could not be imagined. So
high did the patriotism run that corps were formed in which the men
not only found their own equipment but contributed their pay to the war
fund. Many young men about town justified their existence for the first
time. In a single club, which is peculiarly consecrated to the jeunesse
doree, three hundred members rode to the wars.

Without waiting for these distant but necessary reinforcements, the
Generals in Africa had two divisions to look to, one of which was
actually arriving while the other was on the sea. These formed the 5th
Division under Sir Charles Warren, and the 6th Division under General
Kelly-Kenny. Until these forces should arrive it was obviously best that
the three armies should wait, for, unless there should be pressing need
of help on the part of the besieged garrisons or imminent prospects of
European complications, every week which passed was in our favour. There
was therefore a long lull in the war, during which Methuen strengthened
his position at Modder River, Gatacre held his own at Sterkstroom,
and Buller built up his strength for another attempt at the relief of
Ladysmith. The only connected series of operations during that time were
those of General French in the neighbourhood of Colesberg, an account of
which will be found in their entirety elsewhere. A short narrative may
be given here of the doings of each of these forces until the period of
inaction came to an end.

Methuen after the repulse at Magersfontein had fallen back upon the
lines of Modder River, and had fortified them in such a way that he felt
himself secure against assault. Cronje, on the other hand, had extended
his position both to the right and to the left, and had strengthened the
works which we had already found so formidable. In this way a condition
of inaction was established which was really very much to our advantage,
since Methuen retained his communications by rail, while all supplies
to Cronje had to come a hundred miles by road. The British troops, and
especially the Highland Brigade, were badly in need of a rest after the
very severe ordeal which they had undergone. General Hector Macdonald,
whose military record had earned the soldierly name of 'Fighting Mac,'
was sent for from India to take the place of the ill-fated Wauchope.
Pending his arrival and that of reinforcements, Methuen remained quiet,
and the Boers fortunately followed his example. From over the northern
horizon those silver flashes of light told that Kimberley was dauntless
in the present and hopeful of the future. On January 1st the British
post of Kuruman fell, by which twelve officers and 120 police were
captured. The town was isolated, and its capture could have no effect
upon the general operations, but it is remarkable as the only capture of
a fortified post up to this point made by the Boers.

The monotony of the long wait was broken by one dashing raid carried
out by a detachment from Methuen's line of communications. This force
consisted of 200 Queenslanders, 100 Canadians (Toronto Company), 40
mounted Munster Fusiliers, a New South Wales Ambulance, and 200 of the
Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry with one horse battery. This singular
force, so small in numbers and yet raked from the ends of the earth, was
under the command of Colonel Pilcher. Moving out suddenly and rapidly
from Belmont, it struck at the extreme right of the Boer line, which
consisted of a laager occupied by the colonial rebels of that part of
the country. Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm of the colonists at
the prospect of action. 'At last!' was the cry which went up from the
Canadians when they were ordered to advance. The result was an absolute
success. The rebels broke and fled, their camp was taken, and forty of
them fell into our hands. Our own loss was slight, three killed and a
few wounded. The flying column occupied the town of Douglas and hoisted
the British flag there; but it was decided that the time had not yet
come when it could be held, and the force fell back upon Belmont. The
rebel prisoners were sent down to Cape Town for trial. The movement was
covered by the advance of a force under Babington from Methuen's force.
This detachment, consisting of the 9th and 12th Lancers, with some
mounted infantry and G troop of Horse Artillery, prevented any
interference with Pilcher's force from the north. It is worthy of record
that though the two bodies of troops were operating at a distance of
thirty miles, they succeeded in preserving a telephonic connection,
seventeen minutes being the average time taken over question and reply.

Encouraged by this small success, Methuen's cavalry on January 9th made
another raid over the Free State border, which is remarkable for the
fact that, save in the case of Colonel Plumer's Rhodesian Force, it
was the first time that the enemy's frontier had been violated. The
expedition under Babington consisted of the same regiments and the
same battery which had covered Pilcher's advance. The line taken was a
south-easterly one, so as to get far round the left flank of the Boer
position. With the aid of a party of the Victorian Mounted Rifles
a considerable tract of country was overrun, and some farmhouses
destroyed. The latter extreme measure may have been taken as a warning
to the Boers that such depredations as they had carried out in parts of
Natal could not pass with impunity, but both the policy and the humanity
of such a course appear to be open to question, and there was some cause
for the remonstrance which President Kruger shortly after addressed to
us upon the subject. The expedition returned to Modder Camp at the end
of two days without having seen the enemy. Save for one or two similar
cavalry reconnaissances, an occasional interchange of long-range shells,
a little sniping, and one or two false alarms at night, which broke the
whole front of Magersfontein into yellow lines of angry light, nothing
happened to Methuen's force which is worthy of record up to the time of
that movement of General Hector Macdonald to Koodoosberg which may be
considered in connection with Lord Roberts's decisive operations, of
which it was really a part.

The doings of General Gatacre's force during the long interval which
passed between his disaster at Stormberg and the final general advance
may be rapidly chronicled. Although nominally in command of a division,
Gatacre's troops were continually drafted off to east and to west, so
that it was seldom that he had more than a brigade under his orders.
During the weeks of waiting, his force consisted of three field
batteries, the 74th, 77th, and 79th, some mounted police and irregular
horse, the remains of the Royal Irish Rifles and the 2nd Northumberland
Fusiliers, the 1st Royal Scots, the Derbyshire regiment, and the
Berkshires, the whole amounting to about 5500 men, who had to hold the
whole district from Sterkstroom to East London on the coast, with a
victorious enemy in front and a disaffected population around. Under
these circumstances he could not attempt to do more than to hold his
ground at Sterkstroom, and this he did unflinchingly until the line of
the Boer defence broke down. Scouting and raiding expeditions, chiefly
organised by Captain De Montmorency--whose early death cut short the
career of one who possessed every quality of a partisan leader--broke
the monotony of inaction. During the week which ended the year a
succession of small skirmishes, of which the town of Dordrecht was the
centre, exercised the troops in irregular warfare.

On January 3rd the Boer forces advanced and attacked the camp of the
Cape Mounted Police, which was some eight miles in advance of Gatacre's
main position. The movement, however, was a half-hearted one, and was
beaten off with small loss upon their part and less upon ours. From then
onwards no movement of importance took place in Gatacre's column until
the general advance along the whole line had cleared his difficulties
from in front of him.

In the meantime General Buller had also been playing a waiting game,
and, secure in the knowledge that Ladysmith could still hold out, he
had been building up his strength for a second attempt to relieve the
hard-pressed and much-enduring garrison. After the repulse at Colenso,
Hildyard's and Barton's brigades had remained at Chieveley with the
mounted infantry, the naval guns, and two field batteries. The rest of
the force retired to Frere, some miles in the rear. Emboldened by their
success, the Boers sent raiding parties over the Tugela on either flank,
which were only checked by our patrols being extended from Springfield
on the west to Weenen on the east. A few plundered farmhouses and a
small list of killed and wounded horsemen on either side were the sole
result of these spasmodic and half-hearted operations.

Time here as elsewhere was working for the British, for reinforcements
were steadily coming to Buller's army. By the new year Sir Charles
Warren's division (the 5th) was nearly complete at Estcourt, whence it
could reach the front at any moment. This division included the 10th
brigade, consisting of the Imperial Light Infantry, 2nd Somersets, the
2nd Dorsets, and the 2nd Middlesex; also the 11th, called the Lancashire
Brigade, formed by the 2nd Royal Lancaster, the 2nd Lancashire
Fusiliers, the 1st South Lancashire, and the York and Lancaster. The
division also included the 14th Hussars and the 19th, 20th, and 28th
batteries of Field Artillery. Other batteries of artillery, including
one howitzer battery, came to strengthen Buller's force, which amounted
now to more than 30,000 men. Immense transport preparations had to be
made, however, before the force could have the mobility necessary for a
flank march, and it was not until January 11th that General Buller's new
plans for advance could be set into action. Before describing what these
plans were and the disappointing fate which awaited them, we will
return to the story of the siege of Ladysmith, and show how narrowly the
relieving force escaped the humiliation--some would say the disgrace--of
seeing the town which looked to them for help fall beneath their very
eyes. That this did not occur is entirely due to the fierce tenacity and
savage endurance of the disease-ridden and half-starved men who held on
to the frail lines which covered it.



CHAPTER 13. THE SIEGE OF LADYSMITH.

Monday, October 30th, 1899, is not a date which can be looked back to
with satisfaction by any Briton. In a scrambling and ill-managed action
we had lost our detached left wing almost to a man, while our right had
been hustled with no great loss but with some ignominy into Ladysmith.
Our guns had been outshot, our infantry checked, and our cavalry
paralysed. Eight hundred prisoners may seem no great loss when compared
with a Sedan, or even with an Ulm; but such matters are comparative,
and the force which laid down its arms at Nicholson's Nek is the
largest British force which has surrendered since the days of our great
grandfathers, when the egregious Duke of York commanded in Flanders.

Sir George White was now confronted with the certainty of an investment,
an event for which apparently no preparation had been made, since with
an open railway behind him so many useless mouths had been permitted
to remain in the town. Ladysmith lies in a hollow and is dominated by
a ring of hills, some near and some distant. The near ones were in our
hands, but no attempt had been made in the early days of the war to
fortify and hold Bulwana, Lombard's Kop, and the other positions from
which the town might be shelled. Whether these might or might not have
been successfully held has been much disputed by military men,
the balance of opinion being that Bulwana, at least, which has a
water-supply of its own, might have been retained. This question,
however, was already academic, as the outer hills were in the hands
of the enemy. As it was, the inner line--Caesar's Camp, Wagon Hill,
Rifleman's Post, and round to Helpmakaar Hill--made a perimeter of
fourteen miles, and the difficulty of retaining so extensive a line goes
far to exonerate General White, not only for abandoning the outer hills,
but also for retaining his cavalry in the town.

After the battle of Ladysmith and the retreat of the British, the Boers
in their deliberate but effective fashion set about the investment of
the town, while the British commander accepted the same as inevitable,
content if he could stem and hold back from the colony the threatened
flood of invasion. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the
commandoes gradually closed in upon the south and east, harassed by
some cavalry operations and reconnaissances upon our part, the effect of
which was much exaggerated by the press. On Thursday, November 2nd, the
last train escaped under a brisk fire, the passengers upon the wrong
side of the seats. At 2 P.M. on the same day the telegraph line was cut,
and the lonely town settled herself somberly down to the task of holding
off the exultant Boers until the day--supposed to be imminent--when the
relieving army should appear from among the labyrinth of mountains which
lay to the south of them. Some there were who, knowing both the enemy
and the mountains, felt a cold chill within their hearts as they asked
themselves how an army was to come through, but the greater number, from
General to private, trusted implicitly in the valour of their comrades
and in the luck of the British Army.

One example of that historical luck was ever before their eyes in the
shape of those invaluable naval guns which had arrived so dramatically
at the very crisis of the fight, in time to check the monster on
Pepworth Hill and to cover the retreat of the army. But for them the
besieged must have lain impotent under the muzzles of the huge Creusots.
But in spite of the naive claims put forward by the Boers to some
special Providence--a process which a friendly German critic described
as 'commandeering the Almighty'--it is certain that in a very peculiar
degree, in the early months of this war there came again and again a
happy chance, or a merciful interposition, which saved the British from
disaster. Now in this first week of November, when every hill, north
and south and east and west, flashed and smoked, and the great 96-pound
shells groaned and screamed over the town, it was to the long thin
4.7's and to the hearty bearded men who worked them, that soldiers and
townsfolk looked for help. These guns of Lambton's, supplemented by two
old-fashioned 6.3 howitzers manned by survivors from No. 10 Mountain
Battery, did all that was possible to keep down the fire of the heavy
Boer guns. If they could not save, they could at least hit back,
and punishment is not so bad to bear when one is giving as well as
receiving.

By the end of the first week of November the Boers had established their
circle of fire. On the east of the town, broken by the loops of the Klip
River, is a broad green plain, some miles in extent, which furnished
grazing ground for the horses and cattle of the besieged. Beyond it
rises into a long flat-topped hill the famous Bulwana, upon which lay
one great Creusot and several smaller guns. To the north, on Pepworth
Hill, was another Creusot, and between the two were the Boer batteries
upon Lombard's Kop. The British naval guns were placed upon this side,
for, as the open loop formed by the river lies at this end, it is the
part of the defences which is most liable to assault. From thence all
round the west down to Besters in the south was a continuous series of
hills, each crowned with Boer guns, which, if they could not harm the
distant town, were at least effective in holding the garrison to its
lines. So formidable were these positions that, amid much outspoken
criticism, it has never been suggested that White would have been
justified with a limited garrison in incurring the heavy loss of life
which must have followed an attempt to force them.

The first few days of the siege were clouded by the death of Lieutenant
Egerton of the 'Powerful,' one of the most promising officers in the
Navy. One leg and the other foot were carried off, as he lay upon the
sandbag parapet watching the effect of our fire. 'There's an end of my
cricket,' said the gallant sportsman, and he was carried to the rear
with a cigar between his clenched teeth.

On November 3rd a strong cavalry reconnaissance was pushed down
the Colenso road to ascertain the force which the enemy had in that
direction. Colonel Brocklehurst took with him the 18th and 19th Hussars,
the 5th Lancers and the 5th Dragoon Guards, with the Light Horse and the
Natal Volunteers. Some desultory fighting ensued which achieved no end,
and was chiefly remarkable for the excellent behaviour of the Colonials,
who showed that they were the equals of the Regulars in gallantry and
their superiors in the tactics which such a country requires. The death
of Major Taunton, Captain Knapp, and young Brabant, the son of the
General who did such good service at a later stage of the war, was a
heavy price to pay for the knowledge that the Boers were in considerable
strength to the south.

By the end of this week the town had already settled down to the routine
of the siege. General Joubert, with the chivalry which had always
distinguished him, had permitted the garrison to send out the
non-combatants to a place called Intombi Camp (promptly named
Funkersdorp by the facetious) where they were safe from the shells,
though the burden of their support still fell of course upon the
much-tried commissariat. The hale and male of the townsfolk refused for
the most part to avoid the common danger, and clung tenaciously to their
shot-torn village. Fortunately the river has worn down its banks until
it runs through a deep channel, in the sides of which it was found to be
possible to hollow out caves which were practically bomb-proof. Here
for some months the townsfolk led a troglodytic existence, returning
to their homes upon that much appreciated seventh day of rest which was
granted to them by their Sabbatarian besiegers.

The perimeter of the defence had been divided off so that each
corps might be responsible for its own section. To the south was
the Manchester Regiment upon the hill called Caesar's Camp. Between
Lombard's Kop and the town, on the north-east, were the Devons. To the
north, at what seemed the vulnerable point, were the Rifle Brigade, the
Rifles, and the remains of the 18th Hussars. To the west were the 5th
Lancers, 19th Hussars, and 5th Dragoon Guards. The rest of the force was
encamped round the outskirts of the town.

There appears to have been some idea in the Boer mind that the mere fact
that they held a dominant position over the town would soon necessitate
the surrender of the army. At the end of a week they had realised,
however, just as the British had, that a siege lay before both. Their
fire upon the town was heavy but not deadly, though it became more
effective as the weeks went on. Their practice at a range of five miles
was exceedingly accurate. At the same time their riflemen became more
venturesome, and on Tuesday, November 7th, they made a half-hearted
attack upon the Manchesters' position on the south, which was driven
back without difficulty. On the 9th, however, their attempt was of a
more serious and sustained character. It began with a heavy shell-fire
and with a demonstration of rifle-fire from every side, which had
for its object the prevention of reinforcements for the true point of
danger, which again was Caesar's Camp at the south. It is evident that
the Boers had from the beginning made up their minds that here lay the
key of the position, as the two serious attacks--that of November 9th
and that of January 6th--were directed upon this point.

The Manchesters at Caesar's Camp had been reinforced by the 1st
battalion 60th Rifles, who held the prolongation of the same ridge,
which is called Waggon Hill. With the dawn it was found that the Boer
riflemen were within eight hundred yards, and from then till evening a
constant fire was maintained upon the hill. The Boer, however, save when
the odds are all in his favour, is not, in spite of his considerable
personal bravery, at his best in attack. His racial traditions,
depending upon the necessity for economy of human life, are all opposed
to it. As a consequence two regiments well posted were able to hold them
off all day with a loss which did not exceed thirty killed and wounded,
while the enemy, exposed to the shrapnel of the 42nd battery, as well
as the rifle-fire of the infantry, must have suffered very much more
severely. The result of the action was a well-grounded belief that in
daylight there was very little chance of the Boers being able to carry
the lines. As the date was that of the Prince of Wales's birthday, a
salute of twenty-one shotted naval guns wound up a successful day.

The failure of the attempt upon Ladysmith seems to have convinced the
enemy that a waiting game, in which hunger, shell-fire, and disease were
their allies, would be surer and less expensive than an open assault.
From their distant hilltops they continued to plague the town, while
garrison and citizens sat grimly patient, and learned to endure if not
to enjoy the crash of the 96-pound shells, and the patter of shrapnel
upon their corrugated-iron roofs. The supplies were adequate, and the
besieged were fortunate in the presence of a first-class organiser,
Colonel Ward of Islington fame, who with the assistance of Colonel
Stoneman systematised the collection and issue of all the food, civil
and military, so as to stretch it to its utmost. With rain overhead and
mud underfoot, chafing at their own idleness and humiliated by their
own position, the soldiers waited through the weary weeks for the relief
which never came. On some days there was more shell-fire, on some less;
on some there was sniping, on some none; on some they sent a little
feeler of cavalry and guns out of the town, on most they lay still--such
were the ups and downs of life in Ladysmith. The inevitable siege
paper, 'The Ladysmith Lyre,' appeared, and did something to relieve the
monotony by the exasperation of its jokes. Night, morning, and noon the
shells rained upon the town until the most timid learned fatalism if not
bravery. The crash of the percussion, and the strange musical tang of
the shrapnel sounded ever in their ears. With their glasses the garrison
could see the gay frocks and parasols of the Boer ladies who had come
down by train to see the torture of the doomed town.

The Boers were sufficiently numerous, aided by their strong positions
and excellent artillery, to mask the Ladysmith force and to sweep on at
once to the conquest of Natal. Had they done so it is hard to see what
could have prevented them from riding their horses down to salt water.
A few odds and ends, half battalions and local volunteers, stood between
them and Durban. But here, as on the Orange River, a singular paralysis
seems to have struck them. When the road lay clear before them the first
transports of the army corps were hardly past St. Vincent, but before
they had made up their mind to take that road the harbour of Durban
was packed with our shipping and ten thousand men had thrown themselves
across their path.

For a moment we may leave the fortunes of Ladysmith to follow this
southerly movement of the Boers. Within two days of the investment of
the town they had swung round their left flank and attacked Colenso,
twelve miles south, shelling the Durban Light Infantry out of their post
with a long-range fire. The British fell back twenty-seven miles
and concentrated at Estcourt, leaving the all-important Colenso
railway-bridge in the hands of the enemy. From this onwards they held
the north of the Tugela, and many a widow wore crepe before we got our
grip upon it once more. Never was there a more critical week in the war,
but having got Colenso the Boers did little more. They formally annexed
the whole of Northern Natal to the Orange Free State--a dangerous
precedent when the tables should be turned. With amazing assurance the
burghers pegged out farms for themselves and sent for their people to
occupy these newly won estates.

On November 5th the Boers had remained so inert that the British
returned in small force to Colenso and removed some stores--which seems
to suggest that the original retirement was premature. Four days passed
in inactivity--four precious days for us--and on the evening of the
fourth, November 9th, the watchers on the signal station at Table
Mountain saw the smoke of a great steamer coming past Robben Island. It
was the 'Roslin Castle' with the first of the reinforcements. Within the
week the 'Moor,' 'Yorkshire,' 'Aurania,' 'Hawarden Castle,' 'Gascon,'
'Armenian,' 'Oriental,' and a fleet of others had passed for Durban with
15,000 men. Once again the command of the sea had saved the Empire.

But, now that it was too late, the Boers suddenly took the initiative,
and in dramatic fashion. North of Estcourt, where General Hildyard was
being daily reinforced from the sea, there are two small townlets, or at
least geographical (and railway) points. Frere is about ten miles north
of Estcourt, and Chieveley is five miles north of that and about as
far to the south of Colenso. On November 15th an armoured train was
despatched from Estcourt to see what was going on up the line. Already
one disaster had befallen us in this campaign on account of these clumsy
contrivances, and a heavier one was now to confirm the opinion that,
acting alone, they are totally inadmissible. As a means of carrying
artillery for a force operating upon either flank of them, with an
assured retreat behind, there may be a place for them in modern war, but
as a method of scouting they appear to be the most inefficient and also
the most expensive that has ever been invented. An intelligent horseman
would gather more information, be less visible, and retain some freedom
as to route. After our experience the armoured train may steam out of
military history.

The train contained ninety Dublin Fusiliers, eighty Durban Volunteers,
and ten sailors, with a naval 7-pounder gun. Captain Haldane of the
Gordons, Lieutenant Frankland (Dublin Fusiliers), and Winston Churchill,
the well-known correspondent, accompanied the expedition. What might
have been foreseen occurred. The train steamed into the advancing Boer
army, was fired upon, tried to escape, found the rails blocked behind
it, and upset. Dublins and Durbans were shot helplessly out of their
trucks, under a heavy fire. A railway accident is a nervous thing, and
so is an ambuscade, but the combination of the two must be appalling.
Yet there were brave hearts which rose to the occasion. Haldane and
Frankland rallied the troops, and Churchill the engine-driver. The
engine was disentangled and sent on with its cab full of wounded.
Churchill, who had escaped upon it, came gallantly back to share the
fate of his comrades. The dazed shaken soldiers continued a futile
resistance for some time, but there was neither help nor escape and
nothing for them but surrender. The most Spartan military critic cannot
blame them. A few slipped away besides those who escaped upon the
engine. Our losses were two killed, twenty wounded, and about eighty
taken. It is remarkable that of the three leaders both Haldane and
Churchill succeeded in escaping from Pretoria.

A double tide of armed men was now pouring into Southern Natal. From
below, trainload after trainload of British regulars were coming up to
the danger point, feted and cheered at every station. Lonely farmhouses
near the line hung out their Union Jacks, and the folk on the stoep
heard the roar of the choruses as the great trains swung upon their way.
From above the Boers were flooding down, as Churchill saw them, dour,
resolute, riding silently through the rain, or chanting hymns round
their camp fires--brave honest farmers, but standing unconsciously for
mediaevalism and corruption, even as our rough-tongued Tommies stood for
civilisation, progress, and equal rights for all men.

The invading force, the numbers of which could not have exceeded some
few thousands, formidable only for their mobility, lapped round the more
powerful but less active force at Estcourt, and struck behind it at
its communications. There was for a day or two some discussion as to a
further retreat, but Hildyard, strengthened by the advice and presence
of Colonel Long, determined to hold his ground. On November 21st the
raiding Boers were as far south as Nottingham Road, a point thirty miles
south of Estcourt and only forty miles north of the considerable city of
Pietermaritzburg. The situation was serious. Either the invaders must
be stopped, or the second largest town in the colony would be in
their hands. From all sides came tales of plundered farms and broken
households. Some at least of the raiders behaved with wanton brutality.
Smashed pianos, shattered pictures, slaughtered stock, and vile
inscriptions, all exhibit a predatory and violent side to the
paradoxical Boer character. [Footnote: More than once I have heard the
farmers in the Free State acknowledge that the ruin which had come upon
them was a just retribution for the excesses of Natal.]

The next British post behind Hildyard's at Estcourt was Barton's upon
the Mooi River, thirty miles to the south. Upon this the Boers made a
half-hearted attempt, but Joubert had begun to realise the strength of
the British reinforcements and the impossibility with the numbers at his
disposal of investing a succession of British posts. He ordered Botha to
withdraw from Mooi River and begin his northerly trek.

The turning-point of the Boer invasion of Natal was marked, though we
cannot claim that it was caused, by the action of Willow Grange. This
was fought by Hildyard and Walter Kitchener in command of the Estcourt
garrison, against about 2000 of the invaders under Louis Botha. The
troops engaged were the East and West Surreys (four companies of the
latter), the West Yorkshires, the Durban Light Infantry, No. 7 battery
R.F.A., two naval guns, and some hundreds of Colonial Horse.

The enemy being observed to have a gun upon a hill within striking
distance of Estcourt, this force set out on November 22nd to make a
night attack and to endeavour to capture it. The hill was taken without
difficulty, but it was found that the gun had been removed. A severe
counter-attack was made at daylight by the Boers, and the troops were
compelled with no great loss and less glory to return to the town.
The Surreys and the Yorkshires behaved very well, but were placed in a
difficult position and were badly supported by the artillery. Martyn's
Mounted Infantry covered the retirement with great gallantry, but the
skirmish ended in a British loss of fourteen killed and fifty wounded
or missing, which was certainly more than that of the Boers. From this
indecisive action of Willow Grange the Boer invasion receded until
General Buller, coming to the front on November 27th, found that the
enemy was once more occupying the line of the Tugela. He himself moved
up to Frere, where he devoted his time and energies to the collection of
that force with which he was destined, after three failures, to make his
way into Ladysmith.

One unexpected and little known result of the Boer expedition into
Southern Natal was that their leader, the chivalrous Joubert, injured
himself through his horse stumbling, and was physically incapacitated
for the remainder of the campaign. He returned almost immediately to
Pretoria, leaving the command of the Tugela in the hands of Louis Botha.

Leaving Buller to organise his army at Frere, and the Boer commanders
to draw their screen of formidable defences along the Tugela, we will
return once more to the fortunes of the unhappy town round which the
interest of the world, and possibly the destiny of the Empire, were
centering. It is very certain that had Ladysmith fallen, and twelve
thousand British soldiers with a million pounds' worth of stores fallen
into the hands of the invaders, we should have been faced with the
alternative of abandoning the struggle, or of reconquering South Africa
from Cape Town northwards. South Africa is the keystone of the Empire,
and for the instant Ladysmith was the keystone of South Africa. But
the courage of the troops who held the shell-torn townlet, and the
confidence of the public who watched them, never faltered for an
instant.

December 8th was marked by a gallant exploit on the part of the
beleaguered garrison. Not a whisper had transpired of the coming sortie,
and a quarter of an hour before the start officers engaged had no idea
of it. O si sic omnia! At ten o'clock a band of men slipped out of the
town. There were six hundred of them, all irregulars, drawn from the
Imperial Light Horse, the Natal Carabineers, and the Border Mounted
Rifles, under the command of Hunter, youngest and most dashing of
British Generals. Edwardes and Boyston were the subcommanders. The men
had no knowledge of where they were going or what they had to do, but
they crept silently along under a drifting sky, with peeps of a quarter
moon, over a mimosa-shadowed plain. At last in front of them there
loomed a dark mass--it was Gun Hill, from which one of the great
Creusots had plagued them. A strong support (four hundred men) was left
at the base of the hill, and the others, one hundred Imperials, one
hundred Borders and Carabineers, ten Sappers, crept upwards with Major
Henderson as guide. A Dutch outpost challenged, but was satisfied by a
Dutch-speaking Carabineer. Higher and higher the men crept, the silence
broken only by the occasional slip of a stone or the rustle of their own
breathing. Most of them had left their boots below. Even in the darkness
they kept some formation, and the right wing curved forward to outflank
the defence. Suddenly a Mauser crack and a spurt of flame--then another
and another! 'Come on, boys! Fix bayonets!' yelled Karri Davies. There
were no bayonets, but that was a detail. At the word the gunners were
off, and there in the darkness in front of the storming party loomed
the enormous gun, gigantic in that uncertain light. Out with the
huge breech-block! Wrap the long lean muzzle round with a collar of
gun-cotton! Keep the guard upon the run until the work is done!
Hunter stood by with a night light in his hand until the charge was in
position, and then, with a crash which brought both armies from their
tents, the huge tube reared up on its mountings and toppled backwards
into the pit. A howitzer lurked beside it, and this also was blown into
ruin. The attendant Maxim was dragged back by the exultant captors, who
reached the town amid shoutings and laughter with the first break of
day. One man wounded, the gallant Henderson, is the cheap price for the
best-planned and most dashing exploit of the war. Secrecy in conception,
vigour in execution--they are the root ideas of the soldier's craft. So
easily was the enterprise carried out, and so defective the Boer
watch, that it is probable that if all the guns had been simultaneously
attacked the Boers might have found themselves without a single piece of
ordnance in the morning. [Footnote: The destruction of the Creusot was
not as complete as was hoped. It was taken back to Pretoria, three feet
were sawn off the muzzle, and a new breech-block provided. The gun was
then sent to Kimberley, and it was the heavy cannon which arrived late
in the history of that siege and caused considerable consternation among
the inhabitants.]

On the same morning (December 9th) a cavalry reconnaissance was pushed
in the direction of Pepworth Hill. The object no doubt was to ascertain
whether the enemy were still present in force, and the terrific roll
of the Mausers answered it in the affirmative. Two killed and twenty
wounded was the price which we paid for the information. There had been
three such reconnaissances in the five weeks of the siege, and it
is difficult to see what advantage they gave or how they are to be
justified. Far be it for the civilian to dogmatise upon such matters,
but one can repeat, and to the best of one's judgment endorse, the
opinion of the vast majority of officers.

There were heart burnings among the Regulars that the colonial troops
should have gone in front of them, so their martial jealousy was allayed
three nights later by the same task being given to them. Four companies
of the 2nd Rifle Brigade were the troops chosen, with a few sappers and
gunners, the whole under the command of Colonel Metcalfe of the same
battalion. A single gun, the 4.7 howitzer upon Surprise Hill, was the
objective. Again there was the stealthy advance through the darkness,
again the support was left at the bottom of the hill, again the two
companies carefully ascended, again there was the challenge, the rush,
the flight, and the gun was in the hands of the stormers.

Here and only here the story varies. For some reason the fuse used
for the guncotton was defective, and half an hour elapsed before the
explosion destroyed the howitzer. When it came it came very thoroughly,
but it was a weary time in coming. Then our men descended the hill,
but the Boers were already crowding in upon them from either side. The
English cries of the soldiers were answered in English by the Boers, and
slouch hat or helmet dimly seen in the mirk was the only badge of friend
or foe. A singular letter is extant from young Reitz (the son of the
Transvaal secretary), who was present. According to his account there
were but eight Boers present, but assertion or contradiction equally
valueless in the darkness of such a night, and there are some obvious
discrepancies in his statement. 'We fired among them,' says Reitz.
'They stopped and all cried out "Rifle Brigade." Then one of them said
"Charge!" One officer, Captain Paley, advanced, though he had two bullet
wounds already. Joubert gave him another shot and he fell on the top of
us. Four Englishmen got hold of Jan Luttig and struck him on the head
with their rifles and stabbed him in the stomach with a bayonet. He
seized two of them by the throat and shouted "Help, boys!" His two
nearest comrades shot two of them, and the other two bolted. Then the
English came up in numbers, about eight hundred, along the footpath'
(there were two hundred on the hill, but the exaggeration is pardonable
in the darkness), 'and we lay as quiet as mice along the bank. Farther
on the English killed three of our men with bayonets and wounded two.
In the morning we found Captain Paley and twenty-two of them killed and
wounded.' It seems evident that Reitz means that his own little
party were eight men, and not that that represented the force which
intercepted the retiring riflemen. Within his own knowledge five of his
countrymen were killed in the scuffle, so the total loss was probably
considerable. Our own casualties were eleven dead, forty-three wounded,
and six prisoners, but the price was not excessive for the howitzer and
for the morale which arises from such exploits. Had it not been for that
unfortunate fuse, the second success might have been as bloodless as the
first. 'I am sorry,' said a sympathetic correspondent to the stricken
Paley. 'But we got the gun,' Paley whispered, and he spoke for the
Brigade.

Amid the shell-fire, the scanty rations, the enteric and the dysentery,
one ray of comfort had always brightened the garrison. Buller was only
twelve miles away--they could hear his guns--and when his advance came
in earnest their sufferings would be at an end. But now in an instant
this single light was shut off and the true nature of their situation
was revealed to them. Buller had indeed moved...but backwards. He had
been defeated at Colenso, and the siege was not ending but beginning.
With heavier hearts but undiminished resolution the army and the
townsfolk settled down to the long, dour struggle. The exultant enemy
replaced their shattered guns and drew their lines closer still round
the stricken town.

A record of the siege onwards until the break of the New Year centres
upon the sordid details of the sick returns and of the price of food.
Fifty on one day, seventy on the next, passed under the hands of the
overworked and devoted doctors. Fifteen hundred, and later two thousand,
of the garrison were down. The air was poisoned by foul sewage and dark
with obscene flies. They speckled the scanty food. Eggs were already a
shilling each, cigarettes sixpence, whisky five pounds a bottle: a city
more free from gluttony and drunkenness has never been seen.

Shell-fire has shown itself in this war to be an excellent ordeal for
those who desire martial excitement with a minimum of danger. But
now and again some black chance guides a bomb--one in five thousand
perhaps--to a most tragic issue. Such a deadly missile falling among
Boers near Kimberley is said to have slain nine and wounded seventeen.
In Ladysmith too there are days to be marked in red when the gunner shot
better than he knew. One shell on December 17th killed six men (Natal
Carabineers), wounded three, and destroyed fourteen horses. The grisly
fact has been recorded that five separate human legs lay upon the
ground. On December 22nd another tragic shot killed five and wounded
twelve of the Devons. On the same day four officers of the 5th Lancers
(including the Colonel) and one sergeant were wounded--a most disastrous
day. A little later it was again the turn of the Devons, who lost one
officer killed and ten wounded. Christmas set in amid misery, hunger,
and disease, the more piteous for the grim attempts to amuse the
children and live up to the joyous season, when the present of Santa
Claus was too often a 96-pound shell. On the top of all other troubles
it was now known that the heavy ammunition was running short and must
be husbanded for emergencies. There was no surcease, however, in the
constant hail which fell upon the town. Two or three hundred shells were
a not unusual daily allowance. The monotonous bombardment with which
the New Year had commenced was soon to be varied by a most gallant and
spirit-stirring clash of arms. On January 6th the Boers delivered their
great assault upon Ladysmith--an onfall so gallantly made and gallantly
met that it deserves to rank among the classic fights of British
military history. It is a tale which neither side need be ashamed to
tell. Honour to the sturdy infantry who held their grip so long,
and honour also to the rough men of the veld, who, led by untrained
civilians, stretched us to the utmost capacity of our endurance.

It may be that the Boers wished once for all to have done at all costs
with the constant menace to their rear, or it may be that the deliberate
preparations of Buller for his second advance had alarmed them, and that
they realised that they must act quickly if they were to act at all.
At any rate, early in the New Year a most determined attack was decided
upon. The storming party consisted of some hundreds of picked volunteers
from the Heidelberg (Transvaal) and Harrismith (Free State) contingents,
led by de Villiers. They were supported by several thousand riflemen,
who might secure their success or cover their retreat. Eighteen heavy
guns had been trained upon the long ridge, one end of which has been
called Caesar's Camp and the other Waggon Hill. This hill, three miles
long, lay to the south of the town, and the Boers had early recognised
it as being the most vulnerable point, for it was against it that their
attack of November 9th had been directed. Now, after two months, they
were about to renew the attempt with greater resolution against less
robust opponents. At twelve o'clock our scouts heard the sounds of the
chanting of hymns in the Boer camps. At two in the morning crowds
of barefooted men were clustering round the base of the ridge, and
threading their way, rifle in hand, among the mimosa-bushes and
scattered boulders which cover the slope of the hill. Some working
parties were moving guns into position, and the noise of their labour
helped to drown the sound of the Boer advance. Both at Caesar's Camp,
the east end of the ridge, and at Waggon Hill, the west end (the points
being, I repeat, three miles apart), the attack came as a complete
surprise. The outposts were shot or driven in, and the stormers were
on the ridge almost as soon as their presence was detected. The line of
rocks blazed with the flash of their guns.

Caesar's Camp was garrisoned by one sturdy regiment, the Manchesters,
aided by a Colt automatic gun. The defence had been arranged in the form
of small sangars, each held by from ten to twenty men. Some few of these
were rushed in the darkness, but the Lancashire men pulled themselves
together and held on strenuously to those which remained. The crash
of musketry woke the sleeping town, and the streets resounded with the
shouting of the officers and the rattling of arms as the men mustered in
the darkness and hurried to the points of danger.

Three companies of the Gordons had been left near Caesar's Camp, and
these, under Captain Carnegie, threw themselves into the struggle. Four
other companies of Gordons came up in support from the town, losing
upon the way their splendid colonel, Dick-Cunyngham, who was killed by a
chance shot at three thousand yards, on this his first appearance since
he had recovered from his wounds at Elandslaagte. Later four companies
of the Rifle Brigade were thrown into the firing line, and a total of
two and a half infantry battalions held that end of the position. It was
not a man too much. With the dawn of day it could be seen that the Boers
held the southern and we the northern slopes, while the narrow plateau
between formed a bloody debatable ground. Along a front of a quarter of
a mile fierce eyes glared and rifle barrels flashed from behind every
rock, and the long fight swayed a little back or a little forward with
each upward heave of the stormers or rally of the soldiers. For hours
the combatants were so near that a stone or a taunt could be thrown from
one to the other. Some scattered sangars still held their own, though
the Boers had passed them. One such, manned by fourteen privates of the
Manchester Regiment, remained untaken, but had only two defenders left
at the end of the bloody day.

With the coming of the light the 53rd Field Battery, the one which had
already done so admirably at Lombard's Kop, again deserved well of its
country. It was impossible to get behind the Boers and fire straight at
their position, so every shell fired had to skim over the heads of
our own men upon the ridge and so pitch upon the reverse slope. Yet so
accurate was the fire, carried on under an incessant rain of shells
from the big Dutch gun on Bulwana, that not one shot miscarried and that
Major Abdy and his men succeeded in sweeping the further slope without
loss to our own fighting line. Exactly the same feat was equally well
performed at the other end of the position by Major Blewitt's 21st
Battery, which was exposed to an even more searching fire than the 53rd.
Any one who has seen the iron endurance of British gunners and marvelled
at the answering shot which flashes out through the very dust of the
enemy's exploding shell, will understand how fine must have been the
spectacle of these two batteries working in the open, with the ground
round them sharded with splinters. Eye-witnesses have left it upon
record that the sight of Major Blewitt strolling up and down among his
guns, and turning over with his toe the last fallen section of iron, was
one of the most vivid and stirring impressions which they carried from
the fight. Here also it was that the gallant Sergeant Bosley, his arm
and his leg stricken off by a Boer shell, cried to his comrades to roll
his body off the trail and go on working the gun.

At the same time as--or rather earlier than--the onslaught upon Caesar's
Camp a similar attack had been made with secrecy and determination upon
the western end of the position called Waggon Hill. The barefooted Boers
burst suddenly with a roll of rifle-fire into the little garrison of
Imperial Light Horse and Sappers who held the position. Mathias of the
former, Digby-Jones and Dennis of the latter, showed that 'two in
the morning' courage which Napoleon rated as the highest of military
virtues. They and their men were surprised but not disconcerted, and
stood desperately to a slogging match at the closest quarters. Seventeen
Sappers were down out of thirty, and more than half the little body of
irregulars. This end of the position was feebly fortified, and it is
surprising that so experienced and sound a soldier as Ian Hamilton
should have left it so. The defence had no marked advantage as compared
with the attack, neither trench, sangar, nor wire entanglement, and in
numbers they were immensely inferior. Two companies of the 60th Rifles
and a small body of the ubiquitous Gordons happened to be upon the hill
and threw themselves into the fray, but they were unable to turn the
tide. Of thirty-three Gordons under Lieutenant MacNaughten thirty were
wounded. [Footnote: The Gordons and the Sappers were there that morning
to re-escort one of Lambton's 4.7 guns, which was to be mounted there.
Ten seamen were with the gun, and lost three of their number in the
defence.] As our men retired under the shelter of the northern slope
they were reinforced by another hundred and fifty Gordons under the
stalwart Miller-Wallnutt, a man cast in the mould of a Berserk Viking.
To their aid also came two hundred of the Imperial Light Horse, burning
to assist their comrades. Another half-battalion of Rifles came with
them. At each end of the long ridge the situation at the dawn of day
was almost identical. In each the stormers had seized one side, but were
brought to a stand by the defenders upon the other, while the British
guns fired over the heads of their own infantry to rake the further
slope.

It was on the Waggon Hill side, however, that the Boer exertions were
most continuous and strenuous and our own resistance most desperate.
There fought the gallant de Villiers, while Ian Hamilton rallied the
defenders and led them in repeated rushes against the enemy's line.
Continually reinforced from below, the Boers fought with extraordinary
resolution. Never will any one who witnessed that Homeric contest
question the valour of our foes. It was a murderous business on both
sides. Edwardes of the Light Horse was struck down. In a gun-emplacement
a strange encounter took place at point-blank range between a group of
Boers and of Britons. De Villiers of the Free State shot Miller-Wallnut
dead, Ian Hamilton fired at de Villiers with his revolver and missed
him. Young Albrecht of the Light Horse shot de Villiers. A Boer named de
Jaeger shot Albrecht. Digby-Jones of the Sappers shot de Jaeger. Only a
few minutes later the gallant lad, who had already won fame enough for
a veteran, was himself mortally wounded, and Dennis, his comrade in arms
and in glory, fell by his side.

There has been no better fighting in our time than that upon Waggon Hill
on that January morning, and no better fighters than the Imperial Light
Horsemen who formed the centre of the defence. Here, as at Elandslaagte,
they proved themselves worthy to stand in line with the crack regiments
of the British army.

Through the long day the fight maintained its equilibrium along the
summit of the ridge, swaying a little that way or this, but never
amounting to a repulse of the stormers or to a rout of the defenders. So
intermixed were the combatants that a wounded man more than once found
himself a rest for the rifles of his enemies. One unfortunate soldier in
this position received six more bullets from his own comrades in their
efforts to reach the deadly rifleman behind him. At four o'clock a huge
bank of clouds which had towered upwards unheeded by the struggling men
burst suddenly into a terrific thunderstorm with vivid lightnings and
lashing rain. It is curious that the British victory at Elandslaagte
was heralded by just such another storm. Up on the bullet-swept hill
the long fringes of fighting men took no more heed of the elements than
would two bulldogs who have each other by the throat. Up the greasy
hillside, foul with mud and with blood, came the Boer reserves, and
up the northern slope came our own reserve, the Devon Regiment, fit
representatives of that virile county. Admirably led by Park, their
gallant Colonel, the Devons swept the Boers before them, and the Rifles,
Gordons, and Light Horse joined in the wild charge which finally cleared
the ridge.

But the end was not yet. The Boer had taken a risk over this venture,
and now he had to pay the stakes. Down the hill he passed, crouching,
darting, but the spruits behind him were turned into swirling streams,
and as he hesitated for an instant upon the brink the relentless sleet
of bullets came from behind. Many were swept away down the gorges and
into the Klip River, never again to be accounted for in the lists of
their field-cornet. The majority splashed through, found their horses
in their shelter, and galloped off across the great Bulwana Plain, as
fairly beaten in as fair a fight as ever brave men were yet.

The cheers of victory as the Devons swept the ridge had heartened the
weary men upon Caesar's Camp to a similar effort. Manchesters, Gordons,
and Rifles, aided by the fire of two batteries, cleared the long-debated
position. Wet, cold, weary, and without food for twenty-six hours, the
bedraggled Tommies stood yelling and waving, amid the litter of dead and
of dying.

It was a near thing. Had the ridge fallen the town must have followed,
and history perhaps have been changed. In the old stiff-rank Majuba days
we should have been swept in an hour from the position. But the wily man
behind the rock was now to find an equally wily man in front of him.
The soldier had at last learned something of the craft of the hunter. He
clung to his shelter, he dwelled on his aim, he ignored his dressings,
he laid aside the eighteenth-century traditions of his pigtailed
ancestor, and he hit the Boers harder than they had been hit yet. No
return may ever come to us of their losses on that occasion; 80 dead
bodies were returned to them from the ridge alone, while the slopes,
the dongas, and the river each had its own separate tale. No possible
estimate can make it less than three hundred killed and wounded, while
many place it at a much higher figure. Our own casualties were very
serious and the proportion of dead to wounded unusually high, owing to
the fact that the greater part of the wounds were necessarily of the
head. In killed we lost 13 officers, 135 men. In wounded 28 officers,
244 men--a total of 420, Lord Ava, the honoured Son of an honoured
father, the fiery Dick-Cunyngham, stalwart Miller-Wallnutt, the brave
boy sappers Digby-Jones and Dennis, Adams and Packman of the Light
Horse, the chivalrous Lafone--we had to mourn quality as well as
numbers. The grim test of the casualty returns shows that it was to the
Imperial Light Horse (ten officers down, and the regiment commanded by
a junior captain), the Manchesters, the Gordons, the Devons, and the 2nd
Rifle Brigade that the honours of the day are due.

In the course of the day two attacks had been made upon other points
of the British position, the one on Observation Hill on the north, the
other on the Helpmakaar position on the east. Of these the latter was
never pushed home and was an obvious feint, but in the case of the other
it was not until Schutte, their commander, and forty or fifty men had
been killed and wounded, that the stormers abandoned their attempt. At
every point the assailants found the same scattered but impenetrable
fringe of riflemen, and the same energetic batteries waiting for them.

Throughout the Empire the course of this great struggle was watched with
the keenest solicitude and with all that painful emotion which springs
from impotent sympathy. By heliogram to Buller, and so to the farthest
ends of that great body whose nerves are the telegraphic wires, there
came the announcement of the attack. Then after an interval of hours
came 'everywhere repulsed, but fighting continues.' Then, 'Attack
continues. Enemy reinforced from the south.' Then 'Attack renewed. Very
hard pressed.' There the messages ended for the day, leaving the
Empire black with apprehension. The darkest forecasts and most dreary
anticipations were indulged by the most temperate and best-informed
London papers. For the first time the very suggestion that the campaign
might be above our strength was made to the public. And then at last
there came the official news of the repulse of the assault. Far away
at Ladysmith, the weary men and their sorely tried officers gathered to
return thanks to God for His manifold mercies, but in London also hearts
were stricken solemn by the greatness of the crisis, and lips long
unused to prayer joined in the devotions of the absent warriors.



CHAPTER 14. THE COLESBERG OPERATIONS.

Of the four British armies in the field I have attempted to tell the
story of the western one which advanced to help Kimberley, of the
eastern one which was repulsed at Colenso, and of the central one which
was checked at Stormberg. There remains one other central one, some
account of which must now be given.

It was, as has already been pointed out, a long three weeks after the
declaration of war before the forces of the Orange Free State began to
invade Cape Colony. But for this most providential delay it is probable
that the ultimate fighting would have been, not among the mountains
and kopjes of Stormberg and Colesberg, but amid those formidable passes
which lie in the Hex Valley, immediately to the north of Cape Town, and
that the armies of the invader would have been doubled by their kinsmen
of the Colony. The ultimate result of the war must have been the same,
but the sight of all South Africa in flames might have brought about
those Continental complications which have always been so grave a
menace.

The invasion of the Colony was at two points along the line of the two
railways which connect the countries, the one passing over the Orange
River at Norval's Pont and the other at Bethulie, about forty miles
to the eastward. There were no British troops available (a fact to
be considered by those, if any remain, who imagine that the British
entertained any design against the Republics), and the Boers jogged
slowly southward amid a Dutch population who hesitated between their
unity of race and speech and their knowledge of just and generous
treatment by the Empire. A large number were won over by the invaders,
and, like all apostates, distinguished themselves by their virulence and
harshness towards their loyal neighbours. Here and there in towns which
were off the railway line, in Barkly East or Ladygrey, the farmers met
together with rifle and bandolier, tied orange puggarees round their
hats, and rode off to join the enemy. Possibly these ignorant and
isolated men hardly recognised what it was that they were doing.
They have found out since. In some of the border districts the rebels
numbered ninety per cent of the Dutch population.

In the meanwhile, the British leaders had been strenuously endeavouring
to scrape together a few troops with which to make some stand against
the enemy. For this purpose two small forces were necessary--the one to
oppose the advance through Bethulie and Stormberg, the other to meet
the invaders, who, having passed the river at Norval's Pont, had now
occupied Colesberg. The former task was, as already shown, committed to
General Gatacre. The latter was allotted to General French, the victor
of Elandslaagte, who had escaped in the very last train from Ladysmith,
and had taken over this new and important duty. French's force assembled
at Arundel and Gatacre's at Sterkstroom. It is with the operations of
the former that we have now to deal.

General French, for whom South Africa has for once proved not the grave
but the cradle of a reputation, had before the war gained some name as
a smart and energetic cavalry officer. There were some who, watching
his handling of a considerable body of horse at the great Salisbury
manoeuvres in 1898, conceived the highest opinion of his capacity, and
it was due to the strong support of General Buller, who had commanded
in these peaceful operations, that French received his appointment for
South Africa. In person he is short and thick, with a pugnacious jaw. In
character he is a man of cold persistence and of fiery energy, cautious
and yet audacious, weighing his actions well, but carrying them out
with the dash which befits a mounted leader. He is remarkable for
the quickness of his decision--'can think at a gallop,' as an admirer
expressed it. Such was the man, alert, resourceful, and determined, to
whom was entrusted the holding back of the Colesberg Boers.

Although the main advance of the invaders was along the lines of the two
railways, they ventured, as they realised how weak the forces were
which opposed them, to break off both to the east and west, occupying
Dordrecht on one side and Steynsberg on the other. Nothing of importance
accrued from the possession of these points, and our attention may be
concentrated upon the main line of action.

French's original force was a mere handful of men, scraped together from
anywhere. Naauwpoort was his base, and thence he made a reconnaissance
by rail on November 23rd towards Arundel, the next hamlet along the
line, taking with him a company of the Black Watch, forty mounted
infantry, and a troop of the New South Wales Lancers. Nothing resulted
from the expedition save that the two forces came into touch with each
other, a touch which was sustained for months under many vicissitudes,
until the invaders were driven back once more over Norval's Pont.
Finding that Arundel was weakly held, French advanced up to it, and
established his camp there towards the end of December, within six
miles of the Boer lines at Rensburg, to the south of Colesberg. His
mission--with his present forces--was to prevent the further advance of
the enemy into the Colony, but he was not strong enough yet to make a
serious attempt to drive them out.

Before the move to Arundel on December 13th his detachment had increased
in size, and consisted largely of mounted men, so that it attained a
mobility very unusual for a British force. On December 13th there was
an attempt upon the part of the Boers to advance south, which was easily
held by the British Cavalry and Horse Artillery. The country over which
French was operating is dotted with those singular kopjes which the Boer
loves--kopjes which are often so grotesque in shape that one feels as
if they must be due to some error of refraction when one looks at them.
But, on the other hand, between these hills there lie wide stretches
of the green or russet savanna, the noblest field that a horseman or
a horse gunner could wish. The riflemen clung to the hills, French's
troopers circled warily upon the plain, gradually contracting the Boer
position by threatening to cut off this or that outlying kopje, and so
the enemy was slowly herded into Colesberg. The small but mobile British
force covered a very large area, and hardly a day passed that one
or other part of it did not come in contact with the enemy. With
one regiment of infantry (the Berkshires) to hold the centre, his
hard-riding Tasmanians, New Zealanders, and Australians, with the Scots
Greys, the Inniskillings, and the Carabineers, formed an elastic
but impenetrable screen to cover the Colony. They were aided by two
batteries, O and R, of Horse Artillery. Every day General French rode
out and made a close personal examination of the enemy's position, while
his scouts and outposts were instructed to maintain the closest possible
touch.

On December 30th the enemy abandoned Rensburg, which had been their
advanced post, and concentrated at Colesberg, upon which French moved
his force up and seized Rensburg. The very next day, December 31st,
he began a vigorous and long-continued series of operations. At five
o'clock on Sunday evening he moved out of Rensburg camp, with R and
half of O batteries R.H.A., the 10th Hussars, the Inniskillings, and the
Berkshires, to take up a position on the west of Colesberg. At the same
time Colonel Porter, with the half-battery of O, his own regiment (the
Carabineers), and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, left camp at two on
the Monday morning and took a position on the enemy's left flank. The
Berkshires under Major McCracken seized the hill, driving a Boer picket
off it, and the Horse enfiladed the enemy's right flank, and after a
risky artillery duel succeeded in silencing his guns. Next morning,
however (January 2nd, 1900), it was found that the Boers, strongly
reinforced, were back near their old positions, and French had to be
content to hold them and to wait for more troops.

These were not long in coming, for the Suffolk Regiment had arrived,
followed by the Composite Regiment (chosen from the Household Cavalry)
and the 4th Battery R.F.A. The Boers, however, had also been reinforced,
and showed great energy in their effort to break the cordon which was
being drawn round them. Upon the 4th a determined effort was made by
about a thousand of them under General Schoeman to turn the left flank
of the British, and at dawn it was actually found that they had eluded
the vigilance of the outposts and had established themselves upon a hill
to the rear of the position. They were shelled off of it, however, by
the guns of O Battery, and in their retreat across the plain they were
pursued by the 10th Hussars and by one squadron of the Inniskillings,
who cut off some of the fugitives. At the same time, De Lisle with his
mounted infantry carried the position which they had originally held. In
this successful and well-managed action the Boer loss was ninety, and we
took in addition twenty-one prisoners. Our own casualties amounted
only to six killed, including Major Harvey of the 10th, and to fifteen
wounded.

Encouraged by this success an attempt was made by the Suffolk Regiment
to carry a hill which formed the key of the enemy's position. The town
of Colesberg lies in a basin surrounded by a ring of kopjes, and the
possession by us of any one of them would have made the place untenable.
The plan has been ascribed to Colonel Watson of the Suffolks, but it
is time that some protest should be raised against this devolution of
responsibility upon subordinates in the event of failure. When success
has crowned our arms we have been delighted to honour our general;
but when our efforts end in failure our attention is called to Colonel
Watson, Colonel Long, or Colonel Thorneycroft. It is fairer to state
that in this instance General French ordered Colonel Watson to make a
night attack upon the hill.

The result was disastrous. At midnight four companies in canvas shoes
or in their stocking feet set forth upon their venture, and just before
dawn they found themselves upon the slope of the hill. They were in a
formation of quarter column with files extended to two paces; H Company
was leading. When half-way up a warm fire was opened upon them in the
darkness. Colonel Watson gave the order to retire, intending, as it is
believed, that the men should get under the shelter of the dead ground
which they had just quitted, but his death immediately afterwards left
matters in a confused condition. The night was black, the ground broken,
a hail of bullets whizzing through the ranks. Companies got mixed in the
darkness and contradictory orders were issued. The leading company held
its ground, though each of the officers, Brett, Carey, and Butler, was
struck down. The other companies had retired, however, and the dawn
found this fringe of men, most of them wounded, lying under the very
rifles of the Boers. Even then they held out for some time, but they
could neither advance, retire, or stay where they were without losing
lives to no purpose, so the survivors were compelled to surrender. There
is better evidence here than at Magersfontein that the enemy were warned
and ready. Every one of the officers engaged, from the Colonel to the
boy subaltern, was killed, wounded, or taken. Eleven officers and
one hundred and fifty men were our losses in this unfortunate but not
discreditable affair, which proves once more how much accuracy and how
much secrecy is necessary for a successful night attack. Four companies
of the regiment were sent down to Port Elizabeth to re-officer, but the
arrival of the 1st Essex enabled French to fill the gap which had been
made in his force.

In spite of this annoying check, French continued to pursue his original
design of holding the enemy in front and working round him on the east.
On January 9th, Porter, of the Carabineers, with his own regiment, two
squadrons of Household Cavalry, the New Zealanders, the New South Wales
Lancers, and four guns, took another step forward and, after a skirmish,
occupied a position called Slingersfontein, still further to the north
and east, so as to menace the main road of retreat to Norval's Pont.
Some skirmishing followed, but the position was maintained. On the 15th
the Boers, thinking that this long extension must have weakened us, made
a spirited attack upon a position held by New Zealanders and a company
of the 1st Yorkshires, this regiment having been sent up to reinforce
French. The attempt was met by a volley and a bayonet charge. Captain
Orr, of the Yorkshires, was struck down; but Captain Madocks, of the
New Zealanders, who behaved with conspicuous gallantry at a critical
instant, took command, and the enemy was heavily repulsed. Madocks
engaged in a point-blank rifle duel with the frock-coated top-hatted
Boer leader, and had the good fortune to kill his formidable opponent.
Twenty-one Boer dead and many wounded left upon the field made a small
set-off to the disaster of the Suffolks.

The next day, however (January 16th), the scales of fortune, which swung
alternately one way and the other, were again tipped against us. It
is difficult to give an intelligible account of the details of these
operations, because they were carried out by thin fringes of men
covering on both sides a very large area, each kopje occupied as a fort,
and the intervening plains patrolled by cavalry.

As French extended to the east and north the Boers extended also to
prevent him from outflanking them, and so the little armies stretched
and stretched until they were two long mobile skirmishing lines. The
actions therefore resolve themselves into the encounters of small
bodies and the snapping up of exposed patrols--a game in which the Boer
aptitude for guerrilla tactics gave them some advantage, though our
own cavalry quickly adapted themselves to the new conditions. On this
occasion a patrol of sixteen men from the South Australian Horse and New
South Wales Lancers fell into an ambush, and eleven were captured. Of
the remainder, three made their way back to camp, while one was killed
and one was wounded.

The duel between French on the one side and Schoeman and Lambert on the
other was from this onwards one of maneuvering rather than of fighting.
The dangerously extended line of the British at this period, over thirty
miles long, was reinforced, as has been mentioned, by the 1st Yorkshire
and later by the 2nd Wiltshire and a section of the 37th Howitzer
Battery. There was probably no very great difference in numbers between
the two little armies, but the Boers now, as always, were working
upon internal lines. The monotony of the operations was broken by the
remarkable feat of the Essex Regiment, which succeeded by hawsers and
good-will in getting two 15-pounder guns of the 4th Field Battery on to
the top of Coleskop, a hill which rises several hundred feet from the
plain and is so precipitous that it is no small task for an unhampered
man to climb it. From the summit a fire, which for some days could not
be localised by the Boers, was opened upon their laagers, which had to
be shifted in consequence. This energetic action upon the part of our
gunners may be set off against those other examples where commanders
of batteries have shown that they had not yet appreciated what strong
tackle and stout arms can accomplish. The guns upon Coleskop not
only dominated all the smaller kopjes for a range of 9000 yards, but
completely commanded the town of Colesberg, which could not however, for
humanitarian and political reasons, be shelled.

By gradual reinforcements the force under French had by the end of
January attained the respectable figure of ten thousand men, strung over
a large extent of country. His infantry consisted of the 2nd Berkshires,
1st Royal Irish, 2nd Wiltshires, 2nd Worcesters, 1st Essex, and 1st
Yorkshires; his cavalry, of the 10th Hussars, the 6th Dragoon Guards,
the Inniskillings, the New Zealanders, the N.S. W. Lancers, some
Rimington Guides, and the composite Household Regiment; his artillery,
the R and O batteries of R.H.A., the 4th R.F.A., and a section of the
37th Howitzer Battery. At the risk of tedium I have repeated the units
of this force, because there are no operations during the war, with the
exception perhaps of those of the Rhodesian Column, concerning which it
is so difficult to get a clear impression. The fluctuating forces, the
vast range of country covered, and the petty farms which give their
names to positions, all tend to make the issue vague and the narrative
obscure. The British still lay in a semicircle extending from
Slingersfontein upon the right to Kloof Camp upon the left, and the
general scheme of operations continued to be an enveloping movement upon
the right. General Clements commanded this section of the forces, while
the energetic Porter carried out the successive advances. The lines had
gradually stretched until they were nearly fifty miles in length, and
something of the obscurity in which the operations have been left is due
to the impossibility of any single correspondent having a clear idea of
what was occurring over so extended a front.

On January 25th French sent Stephenson and Brabazon to push a
reconnaissance to the north of Colesberg, and found that the Boers were
making a fresh position at Rietfontein, nine miles nearer their own
border. A small action ensued, in which we lost ten or twelve of
the Wiltshire Regiment, and gained some knowledge of the enemy's
dispositions. For the remainder of the month the two forces remained
in a state of equilibrium, each keenly on its guard, and neither strong
enough to penetrate the lines of the other. General French descended to
Cape Town to aid General Roberts in the elaboration of that plan which
was soon to change the whole military situation in South Africa.

Reinforcements were still dribbling into the British force, Hoad's
Australian Regiment, which had been changed from infantry to cavalry,
and J battery R.H.A. from India, being the last arrivals. But very much
stronger reinforcements had arrived for the Boers--so strong that they
were able to take the offensive. De la Rey had left the Modder with
three thousand men, and their presence infused new life into the
defenders of Colesberg. At the moment, too, that the Modder Boers
were coming to Colesberg, the British had begun to send cavalry
reinforcements to the Modder in preparation for the march to Kimberley,
so that Clements's Force (as it had now become) was depleted at the very
instant when that of the enemy was largely increased. The result was
that it was all they could do not merely to hold their own, but to avoid
a very serious disaster.

The movements of De la Rey were directed towards turning the right of
the position. On February 9th and 10th the mounted patrols, principally
the Tasmanians, the Australians, and the Inniskillings, came in contact
with the Boers, and some skirmishing ensued, with no heavy loss upon
either side. A British patrol was surrounded and lost eleven prisoners,
Tasmanians and Guides. On the 12th the Boer turning movement developed
itself, and our position on the right at Slingersfontein was strongly
attacked.

The key of the British position at this point was a kopje held by three
companies of the 2nd Worcester Regiment. Upon this the Boers made a
fierce onslaught, but were as fiercely repelled. They came up in the
dark between the set of moon and rise of sun, as they had done at the
great assault of Ladysmith, and the first dim light saw them in the
advanced sangars. The Boer generals do not favour night attacks,
but they are exceedingly fond of using darkness for taking up a good
position and pushing onwards as soon as it is possible to see. This is
what they did upon this occasion, and the first intimation which the
outposts had of their presence was the rush of feet and loom of figures
in the cold misty light of dawn. The occupants of the sangars were
killed to a man, and the assailants rushed onwards. As the sun topped
the line of the veld half the kopje was in their possession. Shouting
and firing, they pressed onwards.

But the Worcester men were steady old soldiers, and the battalion
contained no less than four hundred and fifty marksmen in its ranks. Of
these the companies upon the hill had their due proportion, and their
fire was so accurate that the Boers found themselves unable to advance
any further. Through the long day a desperate duel was maintained
between the two lines of riflemen. Colonel Cuningham and Major Stubbs
were killed while endeavouring to recover the ground which had been
lost. Hovel and Bartholomew continued to encourage their men, and the
British fire became so deadly that that of the Boers was dominated.
Under the direction of Hacket Pain, who commanded the nearest post, guns
of J battery were brought out into the open and shelled the portion of
the kopje which was held by the Boers. The latter were reinforced, but
could make no advance against the accurate rifle fire with which they
were met. The Bisley champion of the battalion, with a bullet through
his thigh, expended a hundred rounds before sinking from loss of blood.
It was an excellent defence, and a pleasing exception to those too
frequent cases where an isolated force has lost heart in face of a
numerous and persistent foe. With the coming of darkness the Boers
withdrew with a loss of over two hundred killed and wounded. Orders had
come from Clements that the whole right wing should be drawn in, and in
obedience to them the remains of the victorious companies were called
in by Hacket Pain, who moved his force by night in the direction of
Rensburg. The British loss in the action was twenty-eight killed and
nearly a hundred wounded or missing, most of which was incurred when the
sangars were rushed in the early morning.

While this action was fought upon the extreme right of the British
position another as severe had occurred with much the same result upon
the extreme left, where the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment was stationed. Some
companies of this regiment were isolated upon a kopje and surrounded
by the Boer riflemen when the pressure upon them was relieved by a
desperate attack by about a hundred of the Victorian Rifles. The gallant
Australians lost Major Eddy and six officers out of seven, with a large
proportion of their men, but they proved once for all that amid all the
scattered nations who came from the same home there is not one with a
more fiery courage and a higher sense of martial duty than the men from
the great island continent. It is the misfortune of the historian when
dealing with these contingents that, as a rule, by their very nature
they were employed in detached parties in fulfilling the duties which
fall to the lot of scouts and light cavalry--duties which fill the
casualty lists but not the pages of the chronicler. Be it said, however,
once for all that throughout the whole African army there was nothing
but the utmost admiration for the dash and spirit of the hard-riding,
straight-shooting sons of Australia and New Zealand. In a host which
held many brave men there were none braver than they.

It was evident from this time onwards that the turning movement had
failed, and that the enemy had developed such strength that we were
ourselves in imminent danger of being turned. The situation was a most
serious one: for if Clements's force could be brushed aside there would
be nothing to keep the enemy from cutting the communications of the army
which Roberts had assembled for his march into the Free State. Clements
drew in his wings hurriedly and concentrated his whole force at
Rensburg. It was a difficult operation in the face of an aggressive
enemy, but the movements were well timed and admirably carried out.
There is always the possibility of a retreat degenerating into a panic,
and a panic at that moment would have been a most serious matter.
One misfortune occurred, through which two companies of the Wiltshire
regiment were left without definite orders, and were cut off and
captured after a resistance in which a third of their number was killed
and wounded. No man in that trying time worked harder than Colonel
Carter of the Wiltshires (the night of the retreat was the sixth which
he had spent without sleep), and the loss of the two companies is to be
set down to one of those accidents which may always occur in warfare.
Some of the Inniskilling Dragoons and Victorian Mounted Rifles were also
cut off in the retreat, but on the whole Clements was very fortunate in
being able to concentrate his scattered army with so few mishaps. The
withdrawal was heartbreaking to the soldiers who had worked so hard and
so long in extending the lines, but it might be regarded with equanimity
by the Generals, who understood that the greater strength the enemy
developed at Colesberg the less they would have to oppose the critical
movements which were about to be carried out in the west. Meanwhile
Coleskop had also been abandoned, the guns removed, and the whole force
on February 14th passed through Rensburg and fell back upon Arundel, the
spot from which six weeks earlier French had started upon this stirring
series of operations. It would not be fair, however, to suppose that
they had failed because they ended where they began. Their primary
object had been to prevent the further advance of the Freestaters into
the colony, and, during the most critical period of the war, this
had been accomplished with much success and little loss. At last the
pressure had become so severe that the enemy had to weaken the most
essential part of their general position in order to relieve it. The
object of the operations had really been attained when Clements found
himself back at Arundel once more. French, the stormy petrel of the war,
had flitted on from Cape Town to Modder River, where a larger prize
than Colesberg awaited him. Clements continued to cover Naauwport, the
important railway junction, until the advance of Roberts's army caused a
complete reversal of the whole military situation.



CHAPTER 15. SPION KOP.

Whilst Methuen and Gatacre were content to hold their own at the Modder
and at Sterkstroom, and whilst the mobile and energetic French was
herding the Boers into Colesberg, Sir Redvers Buller, the heavy,
obdurate, inexplicable man, was gathering and organising his forces for
another advance upon Ladysmith. Nearly a month had elapsed since the
evil day when his infantry had retired, and his ten guns had not,
from the frontal attack upon Colenso. Since then Sir Charles Warren's
division of infantry and a considerable reinforcement of artillery had
come to him. And yet in view of the terrible nature of the ground in
front of him, of the fighting power of the Boers, and of the fact that
they were always acting upon internal lines, his force even now was, in
the opinion of competent judges, too weak for the matter in hand.

There remained, however, several points in his favour. His excellent
infantry were full of zeal and of confidence in their chief. It cannot
be denied, however much we may criticise some incidents in his campaign,
that he possessed the gift of impressing and encouraging his followers,
and, in spite of Colenso, the sight of his square figure and heavy
impassive face conveyed an assurance of ultimate victory to those around
him. In artillery he was very much stronger than before, especially in
weight of metal. His cavalry was still weak in proportion to his other
arms. When at last he moved out on January 10th to attempt to outflank
the Boers, he took with him nineteen thousand infantry, three thousand
cavalry, and sixty guns, which included six howitzers capable of
throwing a 50-pound lyddite shell, and ten long-range naval pieces.
Barton's Brigade and other troops were left behind to hold the base and
line of communications.

An analysis of Buller's force shows that its details were as follows:--

   Clery's Division.
      Hildyard's Brigade.
      2nd West Surrey.
      2nd Devonshire.
      2nd West Yorkshire.
      2nd East Surrey.
   Hart's Brigade.
      1st Inniskilling Fusiliers.
      1st Border Regiment.
      1st Connaught Rangers.
      2nd Dublin Fusiliers.
   Field Artillery, three batteries, 19th, 28th, 63rd; one squadron
      13th Hussars; Royal Engineers.

   Warren's Division.
      Lyttelton's Brigade.
      2nd Cameronians.
      3rd King's Royal Rifles.
      1st Durham Light Infantry.
      1st Rifle Brigade.
      Woodgate's Brigade.
      2nd Royal Lancaster.
      2nd Lancashire Fusiliers.
      1st South Lancashire.
      York and Lancasters.
   Field Artillery, three batteries, 7th, 78th, 73rd; one squadron
      13th Hussars.

   Corps Troops.
      Coke's Brigade.
      Imperial Light Infantry.
      2nd Somersets.
      2nd Dorsets.
      2nd Middlesex.
   61st Howitzer Battery; two 4.7 naval guns; eight naval 12-pounder guns;
      one squadron 13th Hussars; Royal Engineers.

   Cavalry.
      1st Royal Dragoons.
      14th Hussars.
      Four squadrons South African Horse.
      One squadron Imperial Light Horse.
      Bethune's Mounted Infantry.
      Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry.
      One squadron Natal Carabineers.
      One squadron Natal Police.
      One company King's Royal Rifles Mounted Infantry.
      Six machine guns.

This is the force whose operations I shall attempt to describe.

About sixteen miles to the westward of Colenso there is a ford over
the Tugela River which is called Potgieter's Drift. General Buller's
apparent plan was to seize this, together with the ferry which runs at
this point, and so to throw himself upon the right flank of the Colenso
Boers. Once over the river there is one formidable line of hills to
cross, but if this were passed there would be comparatively easy ground
until the Ladysmith hills were reached. With high hopes Buller and his
men sallied out upon their adventure.

Dundonald's cavalry force pushed rapidly forwards, crossed the Little
Tugela, a tributary of the main river, at Springfield, and established
themselves upon the hills which command the drift. Dundonald largely
exceeded his instructions in going so far, and while we applaud his
courage and judgment in doing so, we must remember and be charitable
to those less fortunate officers whose private enterprise has ended in
disaster and reproof. There can be no doubt that the enemy intended to
hold all this tract, and that it was only the quickness of our initial
movements which forestalled them. Early in the morning a small party of
the South African Horse, under Lieutenant Carlisle, swam the broad river
under fire and brought back the ferry boat, an enterprise which was
fortunately bloodless, but which was most coolly planned and gallantly
carried out. The way was now open to our advance, and could it have been
carried out as rapidly as it had begun the Boers might conceivably have
been scattered before they could concentrate. It was not the fault of
the infantry that it was not so. They were trudging, mud-spattered and
jovial, at the very heels of the horses, after a forced march which was
one of the most trying of the whole campaign. But an army of 20,000
men cannot be conveyed over a river twenty miles from any base without
elaborate preparations being made to feed them. The roads were in such a
state that the wagons could hardly move, heavy rain had just fallen,
and every stream was swollen into a river; bullocks might strain, and
traction engines pant, and horses die, but by no human means could the
stores be kept up if the advance guard were allowed to go at their own
pace. And so, having ensured an ultimate crossing of the river by the
seizure of Mount Alice, the high hill which commands the drift, the
forces waited day after day, watching in the distance the swarms of
strenuous dark figures who dug and hauled and worked upon the hillsides
opposite, barring the road which they would have to take. Far away on
the horizon a little shining point twinkled amid the purple haze, coming
and going from morning to night. It was the heliograph of Ladysmith,
explaining her troubles and calling for help, and from the heights of
Mount Alice an answering star of hope glimmered and shone, soothing,
encouraging, explaining, while the stern men of the veld dug furiously
at their trenches in between. 'We are coming! We are coming!' cried
Mount Alice. 'Over our bodies,' said the men with the spades and
mattocks.

On Thursday, January 12th, Dundonald seized the heights, on the 13th the
ferry was taken and Lyttelton's Brigade came up to secure that which the
cavalry had gained. On the 14th the heavy naval guns were brought up
to cover the crossing. On the 15th Coke's Brigade and other infantry
concentrated at the drift. On the 16th the four regiments of Lyttelton's
Brigade went across, and then, and only then, it began to be apparent
that Buller's plan was a more deeply laid one than had been thought, and
that all this business of Potgieter's Drift was really a demonstration
in order to cover the actual crossing which was to be effected at a
ford named Trichard's Drift, five miles to the westward. Thus,
while Lyttelton's and Coke's Brigades were ostentatiously attacking
Potgieter's from in front, three other brigades (Hart's, Woodgate's, and
Hildyard's) were marched rapidly on the night of the 16th to the real
place of crossing, to which Dundonald's cavalry had already ridden.
There, on the 17th, a pontoon bridge had been erected, and a strong
force was thrown over in such a way as to turn the right of the trenches
in front of Potgieter's. It was admirably planned and excellently
carried out, certainly the most strategic movement, if there could be
said to have been any strategic movement upon the British side, in the
campaign up to that date. On the 18th the infantry, the cavalry, and
most of the guns were safely across without loss of life. The Boers,
however, still retained their formidable internal lines, and the only
result of a change of position seemed to be to put them to the trouble
of building a new series of those terrible entrenchments at which they
had become such experts. After all the combinations the British were,
it is true, upon the right side of the river, but they were considerably
further from Ladysmith than when they started. There are times, however,
when twenty miles are less than fourteen, and it was hoped that this
might prove to be among them. But the first step was the most serious
one, for right across their front lay the Boer position upon the edge of
a lofty plateau, with the high peak of Spion Kop forming the left corner
of it. If once that main ridge could be captured or commanded, it would
carry them halfway to the goal. It was for that essential line of hills
that two of the most dogged races upon earth were about to contend. An
immediate advance might have secured the position at once, but, for some
reason which is inexplicable, an aimless march to the left was followed
by a retirement to the original position of Warren's division, and
so two invaluable days were wasted. We have the positive assurance of
Commandant Edwards, who was Chief of Staff to General Botha, that
a vigorous turning movement upon the left would at this time have
completely outflanked the Boer position and opened a way to Ladysmith.

A small success, the more welcome for its rarity, came to the British
arms on this first day. Dundonald's men had been thrown out to cover
the left of the infantry advance and to feel for the right of the Boer
position. A strong Boer patrol, caught napping for once, rode into an
ambuscade of the irregulars. Some escaped, some held out most gallantly
in a kopje, but the final result was a surrender of twenty-four
unwounded prisoners, and the finding of thirteen killed and wounded,
including de Mentz, the field-cornet of Heilbron. Two killed and two
wounded were the British losses in this well-managed affair. Dundonald's
force then took its position upon the extreme left of Warren's advance.

The British were now moving upon the Boers in two separate bodies, the
one which included Lyttelton's and Coke's Brigades from Potgieter's
Drift, making what was really a frontal attack, while the main body
under Warren, who had crossed at Trichard's Drift, was swinging round
upon the Boer right. Midway between the two movements the formidable
bastion of Spion Kop stood clearly outlined against the blue Natal
sky. The heavy naval guns on Mount Alice (two 4.7's and eight
twelve-pounders) were so placed as to support either advance, and the
howitzer battery was given to Lyttelton to help the frontal attack. For
two days the British pressed slowly but steadily on to the Boers under
the cover of an incessant rain of shells. Dour and long-suffering the
Boers made no reply, save with sporadic rifle-fire, and refused until
the crisis should come to expose their great guns to the chance of
injury.

On January 19th Warren's turning movement began to bring him into closer
touch with the enemy, his thirty-six field guns and the six howitzers
which had returned to him crushing down the opposition which faced him.
The ground in front of him was pleated into long folds, and his advance
meant the carrying of ridge after ridge. In the earlier stages of the
war this would have entailed a murderous loss; but we had learned our
lesson, and the infantry now, with intervals of ten paces, and every man
choosing his own cover, went up in proper Boer form, carrying position
after position, the enemy always retiring with dignity and decorum.
There was no victory on one side or rout on the other--only a steady
advance and an orderly retirement. That night the infantry slept in
their fighting line, going on again at three in the morning, and light
broke to find not only rifles, but the long-silent Boer guns all blazing
at the British advance. Again, as at Colenso, the brunt of the fighting
fell upon Hart's Irish Brigade, who upheld that immemorial tradition of
valour with which that name, either in or out of the British service,
has invariably been associated. Upon the Lancashire Fusiliers and the
York and Lancasters came also a large share of the losses and the glory.
Slowly but surely the inexorable line of the British lapped over the
ground which the enemy had held. A gallant colonial, Tobin of the South
African Horse, rode up one hill and signaled with his hat that it was
clear. His comrades followed closely at his heels, and occupied the
position with the loss of Childe, their Major. During this action
Lyttelton had held the Boers in their trenches opposite to him by
advancing to within 1500 yards of them, but the attack was not pushed
further. On the evening of this day, January 20th, the British had
gained some miles of ground, and the total losses had been about three
hundred killed and wounded. The troops were in good heart, and all
promised well for the future. Again the men lay where they had fought,
and again the dawn heard the crash of the great guns and the rattle of
the musketry.

The operations of this day began with a sustained cannonade from
the field batteries and 61st Howitzer Battery, which was as fiercely
answered by the enemy. About eleven the infantry began to go forward
with an advance which would have astonished the martinets of Aldershot,
an irregular fringe of crawlers, wrigglers, writhers, crouchers, all
cool and deliberate, giving away no points in this grim game of death.
Where now were the officers with their distinctive dresses and flashing
swords, where the valiant rushes over the open, where the men who
were too proud to lie down?--the tactics of three months ago seemed
as obsolete as those of the Middle Ages. All day the line undulated
forward, and by evening yet another strip of rock-strewn ground had been
gained, and yet another train of ambulances was bearing a hundred of
our wounded back to the base hospitals at Frere. It was on Hildyard's
Brigade on the left that the fighting and the losses of this day
principally fell. By the morning of January 22nd the regiments were
clustering thickly all round the edges of the Boer main position, and
the day was spent in resting the weary men, and in determining at
what point the final assault should be delivered. On the right front,
commanding the Boer lines on either side, towered the stark eminence of
Spion Kop, so called because from its summit the Boer voortrekkers had
first in 1835 gazed down upon the promised land of Natal. If that could
only be seized and held! Buller and Warren swept its bald summit with
their field-glasses. It was a venture. But all war is a venture; and the
brave man is he who ventures most. One fiery rush and the master-key of
all these locked doors might be in our keeping. That evening there
came a telegram to London which left the whole Empire in a hush of
anticipation. Spion Kop was to be attacked that night.

The troops which were selected for the task were eight companies of the
2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, six of the 2nd Royal Lancasters, two of the
1st South Lancashires, 180 of Thorneycroft's, and half a company of
Sappers. It was to be a North of England job.

Under the friendly cover of a starless night the men, in Indian file,
like a party of Iroquois braves upon the war trail, stole up the winding
and ill-defined path which led to the summit. Woodgate, the Lancashire
Brigadier, and Blomfield of the Fusiliers led the way. It was a severe
climb of 2000 feet, coming after arduous work over broken ground,
but the affair was well-timed, and it was at that blackest hour which
precedes the dawn that the last steep ascent was reached. The Fusiliers
crouched down among the rocks to recover their breath, and saw far down
in the plain beneath them the placid lights which showed where their
comrades were resting. A fine rain was falling, and rolling clouds hung
low over their heads. The men with unloaded rifles and fixed bayonets
stole on once more, their bodies bent, their eyes peering through the
mirk for the first sign of the enemy--that enemy whose first sign has
usually been a shattering volley. Thorneycroft's men with their gallant
leader had threaded their way up into the advance. Then the leading
files found that they were walking on the level. The crest had been
gained.

With slow steps and bated breath, the open line of skirmishers stole
across it. Was it possible that it had been entirely abandoned? Suddenly
a raucous shout of 'Wie da?' came out of the darkness, then a shot, then
a splutter of musketry and a yell, as the Fusiliers sprang onwards
with their bayonets. The Boer post of Vryheid burghers clattered and
scrambled away into the darkness, and a cheer that roused both the
sleeping armies told that the surprise had been complete and the
position won.

In the grey light of the breaking day the men advanced along the narrow
undulating ridge, the prominent end of which they had captured. Another
trench faced them, but it was weakly held and abandoned. Then the men,
uncertain what remained beyond, halted and waited for full light to see
where they were, and what the work was which lay before them--a fatal
halt, as the result proved, and yet one so natural that it is hard to
blame the officer who ordered it. Indeed, he might have seemed more
culpable had he pushed blindly on, and so lost the advantage which had
been already gained.

About eight o'clock, with the clearing of the mist, General Woodgate saw
how matters stood. The ridge, one end of which he held, extended away,
rising and falling for some miles. Had he the whole of the end plateau,
and had he guns, he might hope to command the rest of the position. But
he held only half the plateau, and at the further end of it the Boers
were strongly entrenched. The Spion Kop mountain was really the salient
or sharp angle of the Boer position, so that the British were exposed to
a cross fire both from the left and right. Beyond were other eminences
which sheltered strings of riflemen and several guns. The plateau which
the British held was very much narrower than was usually represented in
the press. In many places the possible front was not much more than a
hundred yards wide, and the troops were compelled to bunch together, as
there was not room for a single company to take an extended formation.
The cover upon this plateau was scanty, far too scanty for the force
upon it, and the shell fire--especially the fire of the pom-poms--soon
became very murderous. To mass the troops under the cover of the edge
of the plateau might naturally suggest itself, but with great tactical
skill the Boer advanced line from Commandant Prinsloo's Heidelberg and
Carolina commandos kept so aggressive an attitude that the British could
not weaken the lines opposed to them. Their skirmishers were creeping
round too in such a way that the fire was really coming from three
separate points, left, centre, and right, and every corner of the
position was searched by their bullets. Early in the action the gallant
Woodgate and many of his Lancashire men were shot down. The others
spread out and held on, firing occasionally at the whisk of a
rifle-barrel or the glimpse of a broad-brimmed hat.

From morning to midday, the shell, Maxim, and rifle fire swept across
the kop in a continual driving shower. The British guns in the plain
below failed to localise the position of the enemy's, and they were able
to vent their concentrated spite upon the exposed infantry. No blame
attaches to the gunners for this, as a hill intervened to screen the
Boer artillery, which consisted of five big guns and two pom-poms.

Upon the fall of Woodgate, Thorneycroft, who bore the reputation of a
determined fighter, was placed at the suggestion of Buller in charge
of the defence of the hill, and he was reinforced after noon by Coke's
brigade, the Middlesex, the Dorsets, and the Somersets, together with
the Imperial Light Infantry. The addition of this force to the defenders
of the plateau tended to increase the casualty returns rather than the
strength of the defence. Three thousand more rifles could do nothing to
check the fire of the invisible cannon, and it was this which was the
main source of the losses, while on the other hand the plateau had
become so cumbered with troops that a shell could hardly fail to do
damage. There was no cover to shelter them and no room for them to
extend. The pressure was most severe upon the shallow trenches in
the front, which had been abandoned by the Boers and were held by the
Lancashire Fusiliers. They were enfiladed by rifle and cannon, and the
dead and wounded outnumbered the hale. So close were the skirmishers
that on at least one occasion Boer and Briton found themselves on
each side of the same rock. Once a handful of men, tormented
beyond endurance, sprang up as a sign that they had had enough, but
Thorneycroft, a man of huge physique, rushed forward to the advancing
Boers. 'You may go to hell!' he yelled. 'I command here, and allow no
surrender. Go on with your firing.' Nothing could exceed the gallantry
of Louis Botha's men in pushing the attack. Again and again they made
their way up to the British firing line, exposing themselves with
a recklessness which, with the exception of the grand attack upon
Ladysmith, was unique in our experience of them. About two o'clock they
rushed one trench occupied by the Fusiliers and secured the survivors
of two companies as prisoners, but were subsequently driven out again. A
detached group of the South Lancashires was summoned to surrender. 'When
I surrender,' cried Colour-Sergeant Nolan, 'it will be my dead body!'
Hour after hour of the unintermitting crash of the shells among the
rocks and of the groans and screams of men torn and burst by the most
horrible of all wounds had shaken the troops badly. Spectators from
below who saw the shells pitching at the rate of seven a minute on to
the crowded plateau marvelled at the endurance which held the devoted
men to their post. Men were wounded and wounded and wounded yet again,
and still went on fighting. Never since Inkerman had we had so grim a
soldier's battle. The company officers were superb. Captain Muriel of
the Middlesex was shot through the check while giving a cigarette to a
wounded man, continued to lead his company, and was shot again through
the brain. Scott Moncrieff of the same regiment was only disabled by the
fourth bullet which hit him. Grenfell of Thorneycroft's was shot, and
exclaimed, 'That's all right. It's not much.' A second wound made him
remark, 'I can get on all right.' The third killed him. Ross of the
Lancasters, who had crawled from a sickbed, was found dead upon the
furthest crest. Young Murray of the Scottish Rifles, dripping from five
wounds, still staggered about among his men. And the men were worthy of
such officers. 'No retreat! No retreat!' they yelled when some of the
front line were driven in. In all regiments there are weaklings and
hang-backs, and many a man was wandering down the reverse slopes when he
should have been facing death upon the top, but as a body British troops
have never stood firm through a more fiery ordeal than on that fatal
hill...

The position was so bad that no efforts of officers or men could do
anything to mend it. They were in a murderous dilemma. If they fell back
for cover the Boer riflemen would rush the position. If they held their
ground this horrible shell fire must continue, which they had no means
of answering. Down at Gun Hill in front of the Boer position we had no
fewer than five batteries, the 78th, 7th, 73rd, 63rd, and 61st howitzer,
but a ridge intervened between them and the Boer guns which were
shelling Spion Kop, and this ridge was strongly entrenched. The naval
guns from distant Mount Alice did what they could, but the range was
very long, and the position of the Boer guns uncertain. The artillery,
situated as it was, could not save the infantry from the horrible
scourging which they were enduring.

There remains the debated question whether the British guns could have
been taken to the top. Mr. Winston Churchill, the soundness of whose
judgment has been frequently demonstrated during the war, asserts that
it might have been done. Without venturing to contradict one who was
personally present, I venture to think that there is strong evidence
to show that it could not have been done without blasting and other
measures, for which there was no possible time. Captain Hanwell of the
78th R.F.A., upon the day of the battle had the very utmost difficulty
with the help of four horses in getting a light Maxim on to the top, and
his opinion, with that of other artillery officers, is that the feat
was an impossible one until the path had been prepared. When night fell
Colonel Sim was despatched with a party of Sappers to clear the track
and to prepare two emplacements upon the top, but in his advance he met
the retiring infantry.

Throughout the day reinforcements had pushed up the hill, until two full
brigades had been drawn into the fight. From the other side of the ridge
Lyttelton sent up the Scottish Rifles, who reached the summit, and added
their share to the shambles upon the top. As the shades of night closed
in, and the glare of the bursting shells became more lurid, the men
lay extended upon the rocky ground, parched and exhausted. They were
hopelessly jumbled together, with the exception of the Dorsets, whose
cohesion may have been due to superior discipline, less exposure, or to
the fact that their khaki differed somewhat in colour from that of the
others. Twelve hours of so terrible an experience had had a strange
effect upon many of the men. Some were dazed and battle-struck,
incapable of clear understanding. Some were as incoherent as drunkards.
Some lay in an overpowering drowsiness. The most were doggedly patient
and long-suffering, with a mighty longing for water obliterating every
other emotion.

Before evening fell a most gallant and successful attempt had been
made by the third battalion of the King's Royal Rifles from Lyttelton's
Brigade to relieve the pressure upon their comrades on Spion Kop. In
order to draw part of the Boer fire away they ascended from the northern
side and carried the hills which formed a continuation of the same
ridge. The movement was meant to be no more than a strong demonstration,
but the riflemen pushed it until, breathless but victorious, they stood
upon the very crest of the position, leaving nearly a hundred dead or
dying to show the path which they had taken. Their advance being much
further than was desired, they were recalled, and it was at the moment
that Buchanan Riddell, their brave Colonel, stood up to read Lyttelton's
note that he fell with a Boer bullet through his brain, making one more
of those gallant leaders who died as they had lived, at the head of
their regiments. Chisholm, Dick-Cunyngham, Downman, Wilford, Gunning,
Sherston, Thackeray, Sitwell, MacCarthy O'Leary, Airlie--they have led
their men up to and through the gates of death. It was a fine exploit
of the 3rd Rifles. 'A finer bit of skirmishing, a finer bit of climbing,
and a finer bit of fighting, I have never seen,' said their Brigadier.
It is certain that if Lyttelton had not thrown his two regiments into
the fight the pressure upon the hill-top might have become unendurable;
and it seems also certain that if he had only held on to the position
which the Rifles had gained, the Boers would never have reoccupied Spion
Kop.

And now, under the shadow of night, but with the shells bursting thickly
over the plateau, the much-tried Thorneycroft had to make up his mind
whether he should hold on for another such day as he had endured, or
whether now, in the friendly darkness, he should remove his shattered
force. Could he have seen the discouragement of the Boers and the
preparations which they had made for retirement, he would have held his
ground. But this was hidden from him, while the horror of his own losses
was but too apparent. Forty per cent of his men were down. Thirteen
hundred dead and dying are a grim sight upon a wide-spread battle-field,
but when this number is heaped upon a confined space, where from a
single high rock the whole litter of broken and shattered bodies can be
seen, and the groans of the stricken rise in one long droning chorus to
the ear, then it is an iron mind indeed which can resist such evidence
of disaster. In a harder age Wellington was able to survey four thousand
bodies piled in the narrow compass of the breach of Badajos, but his
resolution was sustained by the knowledge that the military end for
which they fell had been accomplished. Had his task been unfinished it
is doubtful whether even his steadfast soul would not have flinched from
its completion. Thorneycroft saw the frightful havoc of one day, and he
shrank from the thought of such another. 'Better six battalions safely
down the hill than a mop up in the morning,' said he, and he gave the
word to retire. One who had met the troops as they staggered down
has told me how far they were from being routed. In mixed array, but
steadily and in order, the long thin line trudged through the darkness.
Their parched lips would not articulate, but they whispered 'Water!
Where is water?' as they toiled upon their way. At the bottom of the
hill they formed into regiments once more, and marched back to the camp.
In the morning the blood-spattered hill-top, with its piles of dead and
of wounded, were in the hands of Botha and his men, whose valour and
perseverance deserved the victory which they had won. There is no doubt
now that at 3 A.M. of that morning Botha, knowing that the Rifles had
carried Burger's position, regarded the affair as hopeless, and that
no one was more astonished than he when he found, on the report of two
scouts, that it was a victory and not a defeat which had come to him.

How shall we sum up such an action save that it was a gallant attempt,
gallantly carried out, and as gallantly met? On both sides the results
of artillery fire during the war have been disappointing, but at Spion
Kop beyond all question it was the Boer guns which won the action for
them. So keen was the disappointment at home that there was a tendency
to criticise the battle with some harshness, but it is difficult now,
with the evidence at our command, to say what was left undone which
could have altered the result. Had Thorneycroft known all that we know,
he would have kept his grip upon the hill. On the face of it one finds
it difficult to understand why so momentous a decision, upon which
the whole operations depended, should have been left entirely to the
judgment of one who in the morning had been a simple Lieutenant-Colonel.
'Where are the bosses?' cried a Fusilier, and the historian can only
repeat the question. General Warren was at the bottom of the hill. Had
he ascended and determined that the place should still be held, he might
have sent down the wearied troops, brought up smaller numbers of fresh
ones, ordered the Sappers to deepen the trenches, and tried to bring up
water and guns. It was for the divisional commander to lay his hand upon
the reins at so critical an instant, to relieve the weary man who had
struggled so hard all day.

The subsequent publication of the official despatches has served little
purpose, save to show that there was a want of harmony between Buller
and Warren, and that the former lost all confidence in his subordinate
during the course of the operations. In these papers General Buller
expresses the opinion that had Warren's operations been more dashing, he
would have found his turning movement upon the left a comparatively easy
matter. In this judgment he would probably have the concurrence of
most military critics. He adds, however, 'On the 19th, I ought to have
assumed command myself. I saw that things were not going well--indeed,
everyone saw that. I blame myself now for not having done so. I did not,
because, if I did, I should discredit General Warren in the estimation
of the troops, and, if I were shot, and he had to withdraw across the
Tugela, and they had lost confidence in him, the consequences might be
very serious. I must leave it to higher authority whether this argument
was a sound one.' It needs no higher authority than common-sense to say
that the argument is an absolutely unsound one. No consequences could
be more serious than that the operations should miscarry and Ladysmith
remain unrelieved, and such want of success must in any case discredit
Warren in the eyes of his troops. Besides, a subordinate is not
discredited because his chief steps in to conduct a critical operation.
However, these personal controversies may be suffered to remain in that
pigeon-hole from which they should never have been drawn.

On account of the crowding of four thousand troops into a space which
might have afforded tolerable cover for five hundred the losses in the
action were very heavy, not fewer than fifteen hundred being killed,
wounded, or missing, the proportion of killed being, on account of the
shell fire, abnormally high. The Lancashire Fusiliers were the heaviest
sufferers, and their Colonel Blomfield was wounded and fell into
the hands of the enemy. The Royal Lancasters also lost heavily.
Thorneycroft's had 80 men hit out of 180 engaged. The Imperial Light
Infantry, a raw corps of Rand refugees who were enduring their baptism
of fire, lost 130 men. In officers the losses were particularly heavy,
60 being killed or wounded. The Boer returns show some 50 killed and 150
wounded, which may not be far from the truth. Without the shell fire the
British losses might not have been much more.

General Buller had lost nearly two thousand men since he had crossed the
Tugela, and his purpose was still unfulfilled. Should he risk the loss
of a large part of his force in storming the ridges in front of him, or
should he recross the river and try for an easier route elsewhere? To
the surprise and disappointment both of the public and of the army,
he chose the latter course, and by January 27th he had fallen back,
unmolested by the Boers, to the other side of the Tugela. It must be
confessed that his retreat was admirably conducted, and that it was a
military feat to bring his men, his guns, and his stores in safety over
a broad river in the face of a victorious enemy. Stolid and unmoved, his
impenetrable demeanour restored serenity and confidence to the angry and
disappointed troops. There might well be heavy hearts among both them
and the public. After a fortnight's campaign, and the endurance of great
losses and hardships, both Ladysmith and her relievers found themselves
no better off than when they started. Buller still held the commanding
position of Mount Alice, and this was all that he had to show for such
sacrifices and such exertions. Once more there came a weary pause while
Ladysmith, sick with hope deferred, waited gloomily upon half-rations of
horse-flesh for the next movement from the South.



CHAPTER 16. VAALKRANZ.

Neither General Buller nor his troops appeared to be dismayed by the
failure of their plans, or by the heavy losses which were entailed by
the movement which culminated at Spion Kop. The soldiers grumbled, it
is true, at not being let go, and swore that even if it cost them
two-thirds of their number they could and would make their way through
this labyrinth of hills with its fringe of death. So doubtless they
might. But from first to last their General had shown a great--some
said an exaggerated--respect for human life, and he had no intention of
winning a path by mere slogging, if there were a chance of finding one
by less bloody means. On the morrow of his return he astonished both
his army and the Empire by announcing that he had found the key to the
position and that he hoped to be in Ladysmith in a week. Some rejoiced
in the assurance. Some shrugged their shoulders. Careless of friends or
foes, the stolid Buller proceeded to work out his new combination.

In the next few days reinforcements trickled in which more than made up
for the losses of the preceding week. A battery of horse artillery, two
heavy guns, two squadrons of the 14th Hussars, and infantry drafts to
the number of twelve or fourteen hundred men came to share the impending
glory or disaster. On the morning of February 5th the army sallied forth
once more to have another try to win a way to Ladysmith. It was known
that enteric was rife in the town, that shell and bullet and typhoid
germ had struck down a terrible proportion of the garrison, and that the
rations of starved horse and commissariat mule were running low. With
their comrades--in many cases their linked battalions--in such straits
within fifteen miles of them, Buller's soldiers had high motives to
brace them for a supreme effort.

The previous attempt had been upon the line immediately to the west of
Spion Kop. If, however, one were to follow to the east of Spion Kop,
one would come upon a high mountain called Doornkloof. Between these two
peaks, there lies a low ridge, called Brakfontein, and a small detached
hill named Vaalkranz. Buller's idea was that if he could seize this
small Vaalkranz, it would enable him to avoid the high ground altogether
and pass his troops through on to the plateau beyond. He still held the
Ford at Potgieter's and commanded the country beyond with heavy guns on
Mount Alice and at Swartz Kop, so that he could pass troops over at
his will. He would make a noisy demonstration against Brakfontein, then
suddenly seize Vaalkranz, and so, as he hoped, hold the outer door which
opened on to the passage to Ladysmith.

The getting of the guns up Swartz Kop was a preliminary which was as
necessary as it was difficult. A road was cut, sailors, engineers, and
gunners worked with a will under the general direction of Majors Findlay
and Apsley Smith. A mountain battery, two field guns, and six naval
12-pounders were slung up by steel hawsers, the sailors yeo-hoing on the
halliards. The ammunition was taken up by hand. At six o'clock on the
morning of the 5th the other guns opened a furious and probably harmless
fire upon Brakfontein, Spion Kop, and all the Boer positions opposite
to them. Shortly afterwards the feigned attack upon Brakfontein was
commenced and was sustained with much fuss and appearance of energy
until all was ready for the development of the true one. Wynne's
Brigade, which had been Woodgate's, recovered already from its Spion
Kop experience, carried out this part of the plan, supported by six
batteries of field artillery, one howitzer battery, and two 4.7 naval
guns. Three hours later a telegram was on its way to Pretoria to tell
how triumphantly the burghers had driven back an attack which was never
meant to go forward. The infantry retired first, then the artillery in
alternate batteries, preserving a beautiful order and decorum. The last
battery, the 78th, remained to receive the concentrated fire of the
Boer guns, and was so enveloped in the dust of the exploding shells
that spectators could only see a gun here or a limber there. Out of this
whirl of death it quietly walked, without a bucket out of its place,
the gunners drawing one wagon, the horses of which had perished, and so
effected a leisurely and contemptuous withdrawal. The gallantry of the
gunners has been one of the most striking features of the war, but it
has never been more conspicuous than in this feint at Brakfontein.

While the attention of the Boers was being concentrated upon the
Lancashire men, a pontoon bridge was suddenly thrown across the river
at a place called Munger's Drift, some miles to the eastward. Three
infantry brigades, those of Hart, Lyttelton, and Hildyard, had been
massed all ready to be let slip when the false attack was sufficiently
absorbing. The artillery fire (the Swartz Kop guns, and also the
batteries which had been withdrawn from the Brakfontein demonstration)
was then turned suddenly, with the crashing effect of seventy pieces,
upon the real object of attack, the isolated Vaalkranz. It is
doubtful whether any position has ever been subjected to so terrific a
bombardment, for the weight of metal thrown by single guns was greater
than that of a whole German battery in the days of their last great war.
The 4-pounders and 6-pounders of which Prince Kraft discourses would
have seemed toys beside these mighty howitzers and 4.7's. Yet though
the hillside was sharded off in great flakes, it is doubtful if this
terrific fire inflicted much injury upon the cunning and invisible
riflemen with whom we had to contend.

About midday the infantry began to stream across the bridge, which had
been most gallantly and efficiently constructed under a warm fire, by a
party of sappers, under the command of Major Irvine. The attack was led
by the Durham Light Infantry of Lyttelton's Brigade, followed by the 1st
Rifle Brigade, with the Scottish and 3rd Rifles in support. Never did
the old Light Division of Peninsular fame go up a Spanish hillside with
greater spirit and dash than these, their descendants, facing the slope
of Vaalkranz. In open order they moved across the plain, with a superb
disregard of the crash and patter of the shrapnel, and then up they
went, the flitting figures, springing from cover to cover, stooping,
darting, crouching, running, until with their glasses the spectators on
Swartz Kop could see the gleam of the bayonets and the strain of furious
rushing men upon the summit, as the last Boers were driven from their
trenches. The position was gained, but little else. Seven officers and
seventy men were lying killed and wounded among the boulders. A few
stricken Boers, five unwounded prisoners, and a string of Basuto ponies
were the poor fruits of victory--those and the arid hill from which so
much had been hoped, and so little was to be gained.

It was during this advance that an incident occurred of a more
picturesque character than is usual in modern warfare. The invisibility
of combatants and guns, and the absorption of the individual in the
mass, have robbed the battle-field of those episodes which adorned, if
they did not justify it. On this occasion, a Boer gun, cut off by the
British advance, flew out suddenly from behind its cover, like a hare
from its tussock, and raced for safety across the plain. Here and there
it wound, the horses stretched to their utmost, the drivers stooping and
lashing, the little gun bounding behind. To right to left, behind and
before, the British shells burst, lyddite and shrapnel, crashing and
riving. Over the lip of a hollow, the gallant gun vanished, and within
a few minutes was banging away once more at the British advance. With
cheers and shouts and laughter, the British infantrymen watched the race
for shelter, their sporting spirit rising high above all racial hatred,
and hailing with a 'gone to ground' whoop the final disappearance of the
gun.

The Durhams had cleared the path, but the other regiments of Lyttelton's
Brigade followed hard at their heels, and before night they had firmly
established themselves upon the hill. But the fatal slowness which had
marred General Buller's previous operations again prevented him from
completing his success. Twice at least in the course of these operations
there is evidence of sudden impulse to drop his tools in the midst of
his task and to do no more for the day. So it was at Colenso, where an
order was given at an early hour for the whole force to retire, and the
guns which might have been covered by infantry fire and withdrawn after
nightfall were abandoned. So it was also at a critical moment at this
action at Vaalkranz. In the original scheme of operations it had been
planned that an adjoining hill, called the Green Hill, which partly
commanded Vaalkranz, should be carried also. The two together made a
complete position, while singly each was a very bad neighbour to the
other. On the aide-de-camp riding up, however, to inquire from General
Buller whether the time had come for this advance, he replied, 'We have
done enough for the day,' and left out this essential portion of his
original scheme, with the result that all miscarried.

Speed was the most essential quality for carrying out his plan
successfully. So it must always be with the attack. The defence does
not know where the blow is coming, and has to distribute men and guns to
cover miles of ground. The attacker knows where he will hit, and behind
a screen of outposts he can mass his force and throw his whole strength
against a mere fraction of that of his enemy. But in order to do so he
must be quick. One tiger spring must tear the centre out of the line
before the flanks can come to its assistance. If time is given, if the
long line can concentrate, if the scattered guns can mass, if lines of
defence can be reduplicated behind, then the one great advantage which
the attack possesses is thrown away. Both at the second and at the third
attempts of Buller the British movements were so slow that had the enemy
been the slowest instead of the most mobile of armies, they could still
always have made any dispositions which they chose. Warren's dawdling
in the first days of the movement which ended at Spion Kop might with an
effort be condoned on account of possible difficulties of supply, but
it would strain the ingenuity of the most charitable critic to find a
sufficient reason for the lethargy of Vaalkranz. Though daylight comes
a little after four, the operations were not commenced before seven.
Lyttelton's Brigade had stormed the hill at two, and nothing more was
done during the long evening, while officers chafed and soldiers swore,
and the busy Boers worked furiously to bring up their guns and to bar
the path which we must take. General Buller remarked a day or two
later that the way was not quite so easy as it had been. One might have
deduced the fact without the aid of a balloon.

The brigade then occupied Vaalkranz and erected sangars and dug
trenches. On the morning of the 6th, the position of the British force
was not dissimilar to that of Spion Kop. Again they had some thousands
of men upon a hill-top, exposed to shell fire from several directions
and without any guns upon the hill to support them. In one or two points
the situation was modified in their favour, and hence their escape from
loss and disaster. A more extended position enabled the infantry to
avoid bunching, but in other respects the situation was parallel to that
in which they had found themselves a fortnight before.

The original plan was that the taking of Vaalkranz should be the first
step towards the outflanking of Brakfontein and the rolling up of the
whole Boer position. But after the first move the British attitude
became one of defence rather than of attack. Whatever the general and
ultimate effect of these operations may have been, it is beyond question
that their contemplation was annoying and bewildering in the extreme to
those who were present. The position on February 6th was this. Over the
river upon the hill was a single British brigade, exposed to the fire
of one enormous gun--a 96-pound Creusot, the longest of all Long
Toms--which was stationed upon Doornkloof, and of several smaller guns
and pom-poms which spat at them from nooks and crevices of the hills.
On our side were seventy-two guns, large and small, all very noisy and
impotent. It is not too much to say, as it appears to me, that the
Boers have in some ways revolutionised our ideas in regard to the use of
artillery, by bringing a fresh and healthy common-sense to bear upon
a subject which had been unduly fettered by pedantic rules. The Boer
system is the single stealthy gun crouching where none can see it. The
British system is the six brave guns coming into action in line of full
interval, and spreading out into accurate dressing visible to all men.
'Always remember,' says one of our artillery maxims, 'that one gun is
no gun.' Which is prettier on a field-day, is obvious, but which is
business--let the many duels between six Boer guns and sixty British
declare. With black powder it was useless to hide the gun, as its smoke
must betray it. With smokeless powder the guns are so invisible that
it was only by the detection with powerful glasses of the dust from the
trail on the recoil that the officers were ever able to localise the
guns against which they were fighting. But if the Boers had had six guns
in line, instead of one behind that kopje, and another between those
distant rocks, it would not have been so difficult to say where they
were. Again, British traditions are all in favour of planting guns close
together. At this very action of Vaalkranz the two largest guns were
so placed that a single shell bursting between them would have disabled
them both. The officer who placed them there, and so disregarded in a
vital matter the most obvious dictates of common-sense, would probably
have been shocked by any want of technical smartness, or irregularity in
the routine drill. An over-elaboration of trifles, and a want of grip
of common-sense, and of adaptation to new ideas, is the most serious
and damaging criticism which can be levelled against our army. That the
function of infantry is to shoot, and not to act like spearmen in the
Middle Ages; that the first duty of artillery is so far as is possible
to be invisible--these are two of the lessons which have been driven
home so often during the war, that even our hidebound conservatism can
hardly resist them.

Lyttelton's Brigade, then, held Vaalkranz; and from three parts of the
compass there came big shells and little shells, with a constant shower
of long-range rifle bullets. Behind them, and as useful as if it had
been on Woolwich Common, there was drawn up an imposing mass of men, two
infantry divisions, and two brigades of cavalry, all straining at the
leash, prepared to shed their blood until the spruits ran red with it,
if only they could win their way to where their half-starved comrades
waited for them. But nothing happened. Hours passed and nothing
happened. An occasional shell from the big gun plumped among them. One,
through some freak of gunnery, lobbed slowly through a division, and the
men whooped and threw their caps at it as it passed. The guns on Swartz
Kop, at a range of nearly five miles, tossed shells at the monster on
Doornkloof, and finally blew up his powder magazine amid the applause of
the infantry. For the army it was a picnic and a spectacle.

But it was otherwise with the men up on Vaalkranz. In spite of sangar
and trench, that cross fire was finding them out; and no feint or
demonstration on either side came to draw the concentrated fire from
their position. Once there was a sudden alarm at the western end of the
hill, and stooping bearded figures with slouch hats and bandoliers were
right up on the ridge before they could be stopped, so cleverly had
their advance been conducted. But a fiery rush of Durhams and Rifles
cleared the crest again, and it was proved once more how much stronger
is the defence than the attack. Nightfall found the position unchanged,
save that another pontoon bridge had been constructed during the day.
Over this Hildyard's Brigade marched to relieve Lyttelton's, who came
back for a rest under the cover of the Swartz Kop guns. Their losses in
the two days had been under two hundred and fifty, a trifle if any aim
were to be gained, but excessive for a mere demonstration.

That night Hildyard's men supplemented the defences made by Lyttelton,
and tightened their hold upon the hill. One futile night attack caused
them for an instant to change the spade for the rifle. When in the
morning it was found that the Boers had, as they naturally would,
brought up their outlying guns, the tired soldiers did not regret their
labours of the night. It was again demonstrated how innocuous a thing is
a severe shell fire, if the position be an extended one with chances of
cover. A total of forty killed and wounded out of a strong brigade
was the result of a long day under an incessant cannonade. And then at
nightfall came the conclusion that the guns were too many, that the
way was too hard, and down came all their high hopes with the order to
withdraw once more across that accursed river. Vaalkranz was abandoned,
and Hildyard's Brigade, seething with indignation, was ordered back once
more to its camp.



CHAPTER 17. BULLER'S FINAL ADVANCE.

The heroic moment of the siege of Ladysmith was that which witnessed the
repulse of the great attack. The epic should have ended at that dramatic
instant. But instead of doing so the story falls back to an anticlimax
of crowded hospitals, slaughtered horses, and sporadic shell fire.
For another six weeks of inactivity the brave garrison endured all the
sordid evils which had steadily grown from inconvenience to misfortune
and from misfortune to misery. Away in the south they heard the thunder
of Buller's guns, and from the hills round the town they watched with
pale faces and bated breath the tragedy of Spion Kop, preserving a firm
conviction that a very little more would have transformed it into their
salvation. Their hearts sank with the sinking of the cannonade, and rose
again with the roar of Vaalkranz. But Vaalkranz also failed them, and
they waited on in the majesty of their hunger and their weakness for the
help which was to come.

It has been already narrated how General Buller had made his three
attempts for the relief of the city. The General who was inclined to
despair was now stimulated by despatches from Lord Roberts, while his
army, who were by no means inclined to despair, were immensely cheered
by the good news from the Kimberley side. Both General and army prepared
for a last supreme effort. This time, at least, the soldiers hoped that
they would be permitted to burst their way to the help of their starving
comrades or leave their bones among the hills which had faced them so
long. All they asked was a fight to a finish, and now they were about to
have one. General Buller had tried the Boers' centre, he had tried their
extreme right, and now he was about to try their extreme left. There
were some obvious advantages on this side which make it surprising that
it was not the first to be attempted. In the first place, the enemy's
main position upon that flank was at Hlangwane mountain, which is to
the south of the Tugela, so that in case of defeat the river ran behind
them. In the second, Hlangwane mountain was the one point from which the
Boer position at Colenso could be certainly enfiladed, and therefore
the fruits of victory would be greater on that flank than on the other.
Finally, the operations could be conducted at no great distance from the
railhead, and the force would be exposed to little danger of having its
flank attacked or its communications cut, as was the case in the Spion
Kop advance. Against these potent considerations there is only to be put
the single fact that the turning of the Boer right would threaten the
Freestaters' line of retreat. On the whole, the balance of advantage lay
entirely with the new attempt, and the whole army advanced to it with a
premonition of success. Of all the examples which the war has given of
the enduring qualities of the British troops there is none more striking
than the absolute confidence and whole hearted delight with which, after
three bloody repulses, they set forth upon another venture.

On February 9th the movements were started which transferred the greater
part of the force from the extreme left to the centre and right. By the
11th Lyttelton's (formerly Clery's) second division and Warren's fifth
division had come eastward, leaving Burn Murdoch's cavalry brigade
to guard the Western side. On the 12th Lord Dundonald, with all the
colonial cavalry, two battalions of infantry, and a battery, made a
strong reconnaissance towards Hussar Hill, which is the nearest of
the several hills which would have to be occupied in order to turn the
position. The hill was taken, but was abandoned again by General Buller
after he had used it for some hours as an observatory. A long-range
action between the retiring cavalry and the Boers ended in a few losses
upon each side.

What Buller had seen during the hour or two which he had spent with his
telescope upon Hussar Hill had evidently confirmed him in his views, for
two days later (February 14th) the whole army set forth for this point.
By the morning of the 15th twenty thousand men were concentrated upon
the sides and spurs of this eminence. On the 16th the heavy guns were in
position, and all was ready for the advance.

Facing them now were the formidable Boer lines of Hlangwane Hill and
Green Hill, which would certainly cost several thousands of men if they
were to take them by direct storm. Beyond them, upon the Boer flank,
were the hills of Monte Christo and Cingolo, which appeared to be
the extreme outside of the Boer position. The plan was to engage the
attention of the trenches in front by a terrific artillery fire and
the threat of an assault, while at the same time sending the true flank
attack far round to carry the Cingolo ridge, which must be taken before
any other hill could be approached.

On the 17th, in the early morning, with the first tinge of violet in the
east, the irregular cavalry and the second division (Lyttelton's) with
Wynne's Brigade started upon their widely curving flanking march. The
country through which they passed was so broken that the troopers led
their horses in single file, and would have found themselves helpless in
face of any resistance. Fortunately, Cingolo Hill was very weakly held,
and by evening both our horsemen and our infantry had a firm grip upon
it, thus turning the extreme left flank of the Boer position. For once
their mountainous fortresses were against them, for a mounted Boer force
is so mobile that in an open position, such as faced Methuen, it is very
hard and requires great celerity of movement ever to find a flank at
all. On a succession of hills, however, it was evident that some one
hill must mark the extreme end of their line, and Buller had found it at
Cingolo. Their answer to this movement was to throw their flank back so
as to face the new position.

Even now, however, the Boer leaders had apparently not realised that
this was the main attack, or it is possible that the intervention of the
river made it difficult for them to send reinforcements. However that
may be, it is certain that the task which the British found awaiting
them on the 18th proved to be far easier than they had dared to hope.
The honours of the day rested with Hildyard's English Brigade (East
Surrey, West Surrey, West Yorkshires, and 2nd Devons). In open order
and with a rapid advance, taking every advantage of the cover--which was
better than is usual in South African warfare--they gained the edge
of the Monte Christo ridge, and then swiftly cleared the crest. One at
least of the regiments engaged, the Devons, was nerved by the thought
that their own first battalion was waiting for them at Ladysmith.
The capture of the hill made the line of trenches which faced Buller
untenable, and he was at once able to advance with Barton's Fusilier
Brigade and to take possession of the whole Boer position of Hlangwane
and Green Hill. It was not a great tactical victory, for they had no
trophies to show save the worthless debris of the Boer camps. But it was
a very great strategical victory, for it not only gave them the whole
south side of the Tugela, but also the means of commanding with their
guns a great deal of the north side, including those Colenso trenches
which had blocked the way so long. A hundred and seventy killed and
wounded (of whom only fourteen were killed) was a trivial price for such
a result. At last from the captured ridges the exultant troops could
see far away the haze which lay over the roofs of Ladysmith, and the
besieged, with hearts beating high with hope, turned their glasses upon
the distant mottled patches which told them that their comrades were
approaching.

By February 20th the British had firmly established themselves along the
whole south bank of the river, Hart's brigade had occupied Colenso,
and the heavy guns had been pushed up to more advanced positions. The
crossing of the river was the next operation, and the question arose
where it should be crossed. The wisdom which comes with experience shows
us now that it would have been infinitely better to have crossed on
their extreme left flank, as by an advance upon this line we should have
turned their strong Pieters position just as we had already turned their
Colenso one. With an absolutely master card in our hand we refused to
play it, and won the game by a more tedious and perilous process. The
assumption seems to have been made (on no other hypothesis can one
understand the facts) that the enemy were demoralised and that the
positions would not be strongly held. Our flanking advantage was
abandoned and a direct advance was ordered from Colenso, involving a
frontal attack upon the Pieters position.

On February 21st Buller threw his pontoon bridge over the river near
Colenso, and the same evening his army began to cross. It was at once
evident that the Boer resistance had by no means collapsed. Wynne's
Lancashire Brigade were the first across, and found themselves hotly
engaged before nightfall. The low kopjes in front of them were blazing
with musketry fire. The brigade held its own, but lost the Brigadier
(the second in a month) and 150 rank and file. Next morning the main
body of the infantry was passed across, and the army was absolutely
committed to the formidable and unnecessary enterprise of fighting its
way straight to Ladysmith.

The force in front had weakened, however, both in numbers and in morale.
Some thousands of the Freestaters had left in order to defend their own
country from the advance of Roberts, while the rest were depressed by as
much of the news as was allowed by their leaders to reach them. But
the Boer is a tenacious fighter, and many a brave man was still to
fall before Buller and White should shake hands in the High Street of
Ladysmith.

The first obstacle which faced the army, after crossing the river, was
a belt of low rolling ground, which was gradually cleared by the advance
of our infantry. As night closed in the advance lines of Boers and
British were so close to each other that incessant rifle fire was
maintained until morning, and at more than one point small bodies of
desperate riflemen charged right up to the bayonets of our infantry. The
morning found us still holding our positions all along the line, and
as more and more of our infantry came up and gun after gun roared into
action we began to push our stubborn enemy northwards. On the 21st the
Dorsets, Middlesex, and Somersets had borne the heat of the day. On the
22nd it was the Royal Lancasters, followed by the South Lancashires, who
took up the running. It would take the patience and also the space of
a Kinglake in this scrambling broken fight to trace the doings of those
groups of men who strove and struggled through the rifle fire. All day
a steady advance was maintained over the low kopjes, until by evening
we were faced by the more serious line of the Pieter's Hills. The
operations had been carried out with a monotony of gallantry. Always the
same extended advance, always the same rattle of Mausers and clatter of
pom-poms from a ridge, always the same victorious soldiers on the barren
crest, with a few crippled Boers before them and many crippled comrades
behind. They were expensive triumphs, and yet every one brought them
nearer to their goal. And now, like an advancing tide, they lapped along
the base of Pieter's Hill. Could they gather volume enough to carry
themselves over? The issue of the long-drawn battle and the fate of
Ladysmith hung upon the question.

Brigadier Fitzroy Hart, to whom the assault was entrusted, is in some
ways as singular and picturesque a type as has been evolved in the war.
A dandy soldier, always the picture of neatness from the top of his
helmet to the heels of his well-polished brown boots, he brings to
military matters the same precision which he affects in dress. Pedantic
in his accuracy, he actually at the battle of Colenso drilled the Irish
Brigade for half an hour before leading them into action, and threw
out markers under a deadly fire in order that his change from close to
extended formation might be academically correct. The heavy loss of the
Brigade at this action was to some extent ascribed to him and affected
his popularity; but as his men came to know him better, his romantic
bravery, his whimsical soldierly humour, their dislike changed into
admiration. His personal disregard for danger was notorious and
reprehensible. 'Where is General Hart?' asked some one in action. 'I
have not seen him, but I know where you will find him. Go ahead of the
skirmish line and you will see him standing on a rock,' was the answer.
He bore a charmed life. It was a danger to be near him. 'Whom are you
going to?' 'General Hart,' said the aide-de-camp. 'Then good-bye!'
cried his fellows. A grim humour ran through his nature. It is gravely
recorded and widely believed that he lined up a regiment on a hill-top
in order to teach them not to shrink from fire. Amid the laughter of his
Irishmen, he walked through the open files of his firing line holding a
laggard by the ear. This was the man who had put such a spirit into the
Irish Brigade that amid that army of valiant men there were none who
held such a record. 'Their rushes were the quickest, their rushes were
the longest, and they stayed the shortest time under cover,' said a
shrewd military observer. To Hart and his brigade was given the task of
clearing the way to Ladysmith.

The regiments which he took with him on his perilous enterprise were the
1st Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, the 1st Connaught
Rangers, and the Imperial Light Infantry, the whole forming the famous
5th Brigade. They were already in the extreme British advance, and now,
as they moved forwards, the Durham Light Infantry and the 1st Rifle
Brigade from Lyttelton's Brigade came up to take their place. The hill
to be taken lay on the right, and the soldiers were compelled to pass in
single file under a heavy fire for more than a mile until they reached
the spot which seemed best for their enterprise. There, short already
of sixty of their comrades, they assembled and began a cautious advance
upon the lines of trenches and sangars which seamed the brown slope
above them.

For a time they were able to keep some cover, and the casualties were
comparatively few. But now at last, as the evening sun threw a long
shadow from the hills, the leading regiment, the Inniskillings, found
themselves at the utmost fringe of boulders with a clear slope between
them and the main trench of the enemy. Up there where the shrapnel was
spurting and the great lyddite shells crashing they could dimly see a
line of bearded faces and the black dots of the slouch hats. With a yell
the Inniskillings sprang out, carried with a rush the first trench,
and charged desperately onwards for the second one. It was a supremely
dashing attack against a supremely steady resistance, for among all
their gallant deeds the Boers have never fought better than on that
February evening. Amid such a smashing shell fire as living mortals have
never yet endured they stood doggedly, these hardy men of the veld, and
fired fast and true into the fiery ranks of the Irishmen. The yell of
the stormers was answered by the remorseless roar of the Mausers and
the deep-chested shouts of the farmers. Up and up surged the infantry,
falling, rising, dashing bull-headed at the crackling line of the
trench. But still the bearded faces glared at them over the edge,
and still the sheet of lead pelted through their ranks. The regiment
staggered, came on, staggered again, was overtaken by supporting
companies of the Dublins and the Connaughts, came on, staggered once
more, and finally dissolved into shreds, who ran swiftly back for cover,
threading their way among their stricken comrades. Never on this
earth was there a retreat of which the survivors had less reason to be
ashamed. They had held on to the utmost capacity of human endurance.
Their Colonel, ten officers, and more than half the regiment were
lying on the fatal hill. Honour to them, and honour also to the gallant
Dutchmen who, rooted in the trenches, had faced the rush and fury
of such an onslaught! Today to them, tomorrow to us--but it is for a
soldier to thank the God of battles for worthy foes.

It is one thing, however, to repulse the British soldier and it is
another to rout him. Within a few hundred yards of their horrible ordeal
at Magersfontein the Highlanders reformed into a military body. So now
the Irishmen fell back no further than the nearest cover, and there
held grimly on to the ground which they had won. If you would know the
advantage which the defence has over the attack, then do you come and
assault this line of tenacious men, now in your hour of victory and
exultation, friend Boer! Friend Boer did attempt it, and skilfully too,
moving a flanking party to sweep the position with their fire. But the
brigade, though sorely hurt, held them off without difficulty, and was
found on the morning of the 24th to be still lying upon the ground which
they had won.

Our losses had been very heavy, Colonel Thackeray of the Inniskillings,
Colonel Sitwell of the Dublins, three majors, twenty officers, and a
total of about six hundred out of 1200 actually engaged. To take such
punishment and to remain undemoralised is the supreme test to which
troops can be put. Could the loss have been avoided? By following the
original line of advance from Monte Christo, perhaps, when we should
have turned the enemy's left. But otherwise no. The hill was in the way
and had to be taken. In the war game you cannot play without a stake.
You lose and you pay forfeit, and where the game is fair the best player
is he who pays with the best grace. The attack was well prepared, well
delivered, and only miscarried on account of the excellence of the
defence. We proved once more what we had proved so often before, that
all valour and all discipline will not avail in a frontal attack against
brave coolheaded men armed with quick-firing rifles.

While the Irish Brigade assaulted Railway Hill an attack had been made
upon the left, which was probably meant as a demonstration to keep the
Boers from reinforcing their comrades rather than as an actual attempt
upon their lines. Such as it was, however, it cost the life of at least
one brave soldier, for Colonel Thorold, of the Welsh Fusiliers, was
among the fallen. Thorold, Thackeray, and Sitwell in one evening. Who
can say that British colonels have not given their men a lead?

The army was now at a deadlock. Railway Hill barred the way, and if
Hart's men could not carry it by assault it was hard to say who could.
The 24th found the two armies facing each other at this critical point,
the Irishmen still clinging to the slopes of the hill and the Boers
lining the top. Fierce rifle firing broke out between them during the
day, but each side was well covered and lay low. The troops in support
suffered somewhat, however, from a random shell fire. Mr. Winston
Churchill has left it upon record that within his own observation three
of their shrapnel shells fired at a venture on to the reverse slope of
a hill accounted for nineteen men and four horses. The enemy can never
have known how hard those three shells had hit us, and so we may also
believe that our artillery fire has often been less futile than it
appeared.

General Buller had now realised that it was no mere rearguard action
which the Boers were fighting, but that their army was standing doggedly
at bay; so he reverted to that flanking movement which, as events
showed, should never have been abandoned. Hart's Irish Brigade was at
present almost the right of the army. His new plan--a masterly one--was
to keep Hart pinning the Boers at that point, and to move his centre and
left across the river, and then back to envelope the left wing of the
enemy. By this manoeuvre Hart became the extreme left instead of the
extreme right, and the Irish Brigade would be the hinge upon which the
whole army should turn. It was a large conception, finely carried out.
The 24th was a day of futile shell fire--and of plans for the future.
The heavy guns were got across once more to the Monte Christo ridge and
to Hlangwane, and preparations made to throw the army from the west to
the east. The enemy still snarled and occasionally snapped in front of
Hart's men, but with four companies of the 2nd Rifle Brigade to protect
their flanks their position remained secure.

In the meantime, through a contretemps between our outposts and the
Boers, no leave had been given to us to withdraw our wounded, and the
unfortunate fellows, some hundreds of them, had lain between the lines
in agonies of thirst for thirty-six hours--one of the most painful
incidents of the campaign. Now, upon the 25th, an armistice was
proclaimed, and the crying needs of the survivors were attended to. On
the same day the hearts of our soldiers sank within them as they saw the
stream of our wagons and guns crossing the river once more. What, were
they foiled again? Was the blood of these brave men to be shed in vain?
They ground their teeth at the thought. The higher strategy was not for
them, but back was back and forward was forward, and they knew which way
their proud hearts wished to go.

The 26th was occupied by the large movements of troops which so
complete a reversal of tactics necessitated. Under the screen of a
heavy artillery fire, the British right became the left and the left
the right. A second pontoon bridge was thrown across near the old Boer
bridge at Hlangwane, and over it was passed a large force of infantry,
Barton's Fusilier Brigade, Kitchener's (vice Wynne's, vice Woodgate's)
Lancashire Brigade, and two battalions of Norcott's (formerly
Lyttelton's) Brigade. Coke's Brigade was left at Colenso to prevent
a counter attack upon our left flank and communications. In this way,
while Hart with the Durhams and the 1st Rifle Brigade held the Boers
in front, the main body of the army was rapidly swung round on to their
left flank. By the morning of the 27th all were in place for the new
attack.

Opposite the point where the troops had been massed were three Boer
hills; one, the nearest, may for convenience sake be called Barton's
Hill. As the army had formerly been situated the assault upon this hill
would have been a matter of extreme difficulty; but now, with the heavy
guns restored to their commanding position, from which they could sweep
its sides and summits, it had recovered its initial advantage. In the
morning sunlight Barton's Fusiliers crossed the river, and advanced
to the attack under a screaming canopy of shells. Up they went and up,
darting and crouching, until their gleaming bayonets sparkled upon the
summit. The masterful artillery had done its work, and the first long
step taken in this last stage of the relief of Ladysmith. The loss had
been slight and the advantage enormous. After they had gained the summit
the Fusiliers were stung and stung again by clouds of skirmishers who
clung to the flanks of the hill, but their grip was firm and grew firmer
with every hour.

Of the three Boer hills which had to be taken the nearest (or eastern
one) was now in the hands of the British. The furthest (or western one)
was that on which the Irish Brigade was still crouching, ready at any
moment for a final spring which would take them over the few hundred
yards which separated them from the trenches. Between the two intervened
a central hill, as yet untouched. Could we carry this the whole position
would be ours. Now for the final effort! Turn every gun upon it, the
guns of Monte Christo, the guns of Hlangwane! Turn every rifle upon
it--the rifles of Barton's men, the rifles of Hart's men, the carbines
of the distant cavalry! Scalp its crown with the machine-gun fire! And
now up with you, Lancashire men, Norcott's men! The summit or a glorious
death, for beyond that hill your suffering comrades are awaiting you!
Put every bullet and every man and all of fire and spirit that you are
worth into this last hour; for if you fail now you have failed for ever,
and if you win, then when your hairs are white your blood will still run
warm when you think of that morning's work. The long drama had drawn to
an end, and one short day's work is to show what that end was to be.

But there was never a doubt of it. Hardly for one instant did the
advance waver at any point of its extended line. It was the supreme
instant of the Natal campaign, as, wave after wave, the long lines of
infantry went shimmering up the hill. On the left the Lancasters, the
Lancashire Fusiliers, the South Lancashires, the York and Lancasters,
with a burr of north country oaths, went racing for the summit. Spion
Kop and a thousand comrades were calling for vengeance. 'Remember, men,
the eyes of Lancashire are watching you,' cried the gallant MacCarthy
O'Leary. The old 40th swept on, but his dead body marked the way which
they had taken. On the right the East Surrey, the Cameronians, the 3rd
Rifles, the 1st Rifle Brigade, the Durhams, and the gallant Irishmen, so
sorely stricken and yet so eager, were all pressing upwards and onwards.
The Boer fire lulls, it ceases--they are running! Wild hat-waving men
upon the Hlangwane uplands see the silhouette of the active figures of
the stormers along the sky-line and know that the position is theirs.
Exultant soldiers dance and cheer upon the ridge. The sun is setting in
glory over the great Drakensberg mountains, and so also that night
set for ever the hopes of the Boer invaders of Natal. Out of doubt and
chaos, blood and labour, had come at last the judgment that the lower
should not swallow the higher, that the world is for the man of the
twentieth and not of the seventeenth century. After a fortnight of
fighting the weary troops threw themselves down that night with the
assurance that at last the door was ajar and the light breaking through.
One more effort and it would be open before them.

Behind the line of hills which had been taken there extended a great
plain as far as Bulwana--that evil neighbour who had wrought such harm
upon Ladysmith. More than half of the Pieters position had fallen into
Buller's hands on the 27th, and the remainder had become untenable.
The Boers had lost some five hundred in killed, wounded, and prisoners.
[Footnote: Accurate figures will probably never be obtained, but a
well-known Boer in Pretoria informed me that Pieters was the most
expensive fight to them of the whole war. ] It seemed to the British
General and his men that one more action would bring them safely into
Ladysmith.

But here they miscalculated, and so often have we miscalculated on the
optimistic side in this campaign that it is pleasing to find for
once that our hopes were less than the reality. The Boers had been
beaten--fairly beaten and disheartened. It will always be a subject for
conjecture whether they were so entirely on the strength of the Natal
campaign, or whether the news of the Cronje disaster from the western
side had warned them that they must draw in upon the east. For my own
part I believe that the honour lies with the gallant men of Natal,
and that, moving on these lines, they would, Cronje or no Cronje, have
forced their way in triumph to Ladysmith.

And now the long-drawn story draws to a swift close. Cautiously feeling
their way with a fringe of horse, the British pushed over the great
plain, delayed here and there by the crackle of musketry, but finding
always that the obstacle gave way and vanished as they approached it.
At last it seemed clear to Dundonald that there really was no barrier
between his horsemen and the beleaguered city. With a squadron of
Imperial Light Horse and a squadron of Natal Carabineers he rode on
until, in the gathering twilight, the Ladysmith picket challenged the
approaching cavalry, and the gallant town was saved.

It is hard to say which had shown the greater endurance, the rescued
or their rescuers. The town, indefensible, lurking in a hollow under
commanding hills, had held out for 118 days. They had endured two
assaults and an incessant bombardment, to which, towards the end,
owing to the failure of heavy ammunition, they were unable to make any
adequate reply. It was calculated that 16, 000 shells had fallen within
the town. In two successful sorties they had destroyed three of the
enemy's heavy guns. They had been pressed by hunger, horseflesh was
already running short, and they had been decimated by disease. More than
2000 cases of enteric and dysentery had been in hospital at one time,
and the total number of admissions had been nearly as great as the total
number of the garrison. One-tenth of the men had actually died of wounds
or disease. Ragged, bootless, and emaciated, there still lurked in the
gaunt soldiers the martial spirit of warriors. On the day after their
relief 2000 of them set forth to pursue the Boers. One who helped to
lead them has left it on record that the most piteous sight that he has
ever seen was these wasted men, stooping under their rifles and gasping
with the pressure of their accoutrements, as they staggered after
their retreating enemy. A Verestschagen might find a subject these 2000
indomitable men with their emaciated horses pursuing a formidable foe.
It is God's mercy they failed to overtake them.

If the record of the besieged force was great, that of the relieving
army was no less so. Through the blackest depths of despondency and
failure they had struggled to absolute success. At Colenso they had lost
1200 men, at Spion Kop 1700, at Vaalkranz 400, and now, in this last
long-drawn effort, 1600 more. Their total losses were over 5000 men,
more than 20 per cent of the whole army. Some particular regiments had
suffered horribly. The Dublin and Inniskilling Fusiliers headed the
roll of honour with only five officers and 40 per cent of the men left
standing. Next to them the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Royal Lancasters
had been the hardest hit. It speaks well for Buller's power of winning
and holding the confidence of his men that in the face of repulse after
repulse the soldiers still went into battle as steadily as ever under
his command.

On March 3rd Buller's force entered Ladysmith in state between the lines
of the defenders. For their heroism the Dublin Fusiliers were put in the
van of the procession, and it is told how, as the soldiers who lined
the streets saw the five officers and small clump of men, the remains of
what had been a strong battalion, realising, for the first time perhaps,
what their relief had cost, many sobbed like children. With cheer after
cheer the stream of brave men flowed for hours between banks formed by
men as brave. But for the purposes of war the garrison was useless. A
month of rest and food would be necessary before they could be ready to
take the field once more.

So the riddle of the Tugela had at last been solved. Even now, with all
the light which has been shed upon the matter, it is hard to apportion
praise and blame. To the cheerful optimism of Symons must be laid some
of the blame of the original entanglement; but man is mortal, and he
laid down his life for his mistake. White, who had been but a week
in the country, could not, if he would, alter the main facts of the
military situation. He did his best, committed one or two errors, did
brilliantly on one or two points, and finally conducted the defence
with a tenacity and a gallantry which are above all praise. It did not,
fortunately, develop into an absolutely desperate affair, like Massena's
defence of Genoa, but a few more weeks would have made it a military
tragedy. He was fortunate in the troops whom he commanded--half of
them old soldiers from India--[Footnote: An officer in high command in
Ladysmith has told me, as an illustration of the nerve and discipline of
the troops, that though false alarms in the Boer trenches were matters
of continual occurrence from the beginning to the end of the siege,
there was not one single occasion when the British outposts made a
mistake.]--and exceedingly fortunate in his officers, French (in the
operations before the siege), Archibald Hunter, Ian Hamilton, Hedworth
Lambton, Dick-Cunyngham, Knox, De Courcy Hamilton, and all the other
good men and true who stood (as long as they could stand) by his side.
Above all, he was fortunate in his commissariat officers, and it was in
the offices of Colonels Ward and Stoneman as much as in the trenches and
sangars of Caesar's Camp that the siege was won.

Buller, like White, had to take the situation as he found it. It is well
known that his own belief was that the line of the Tugela was the
true defence of Natal. When he reached Africa, Ladysmith was already
beleaguered, and he, with his troops, had to abandon the scheme of
direct invasion and to hurry to extricate White's division. Whether they
might not have been more rapidly extricated by keeping to the original
plan is a question which will long furnish an excellent subject for
military debate. Had Buller in November known that Ladysmith was capable
of holding out until March, is it conceivable that he, with his whole
army corps and as many more troops as he cared to summon from England,
would not have made such an advance in four months through the Free
State as would necessitate the abandonment of the sieges both of
Kimberley and of Ladysmith? If the Boers persisted in these sieges they
could not possibly place more than 20,000 men on the Orange River to
face 60, 000 whom Buller could have had there by the first week in
December. Methuen's force, French's force, Gatacre's force, and the
Natal force, with the exception of garrisons for Pietermaritzburg and
Durban, would have assembled, with a reserve of another sixty thousand
men in the colony or on the sea ready to fill the gaps in his advance.
Moving over a flat country with plenty of flanking room, it is probable
that he would have been in Bloemfontein by Christmas and at the Vaal
River late in January. What could the Boers do then? They might remain
before Ladysmith, and learn that their capital and their gold mines had
been taken in their absence. Or they might abandon the siege and trek
back to defend their own homes. This, as it appears to a civilian
critic, would have been the least expensive means of fighting them; but
after all the strain had to come somewhere, and the long struggle of
Ladysmith may have meant a more certain and complete collapse in the
future. At least, by the plan actually adopted we saved Natal from total
devastation, and that must count against a great deal.

Having taken his line, Buller set about his task in a slow, deliberate,
but pertinacious fashion. It cannot be denied, however, that the
pertinacity was largely due to the stiffening counsel of Roberts and the
soldierly firmness of White who refused to acquiesce in the suggestion
of surrender. Let it be acknowledged that Buller's was the hardest
problem of the war, and that he solved it. The mere acknowledgment
goes far to soften criticism. But the singular thing is that in his
proceedings he showed qualities which had not been generally attributed
to him, and was wanting in those very points which the public had
imagined to be characteristic of him. He had gone out with the
reputation of a downright John Bull fighter, who would take punishment
or give it, but slog his way through without wincing. There was no
reason for attributing any particular strategical ability to him. But
as a matter of fact, setting the Colenso attempt aside, the crossing for
the Spion Kop enterprise, the withdrawal of the compromised army, the
Vaalkranz crossing with the clever feint upon Brakfontein, the final
operations, and especially the complete change of front after the
third day of Pieters, were strategical movements largely conceived
and admirably carried out. On the other hand, a hesitation in pushing
onwards, and a disinclination to take a risk or to endure heavy
punishment, even in the case of temporary failure, were consistent
characteristics of his generalship. The Vaalkranz operations are
particularly difficult to defend from the charge of having been
needlessly slow and half-hearted. This 'saturnine fighter,' as he had
been called, proved to be exceedingly sensitive about the lives of his
men--an admirable quality in itself, but there are occasions when to
spare them to-day is to needlessly imperil them tomorrow. The victory
was his, and yet in the very moment of it he displayed the qualities
which marred him. With two cavalry brigades in hand he did not push
the pursuit of the routed Boers with their guns and endless streams of
wagons. It is true that he might have lost heavily, but it is true also
that a success might have ended the Boer invasion of Natal, and the
lives of our troopers would be well spent in such a venture. If cavalry
is not to be used in pursuing a retiring enemy encumbered with much
baggage, then its day is indeed past.

The relief of Ladysmith stirred the people of the Empire as nothing,
save perhaps the subsequent relief of Mafeking, has done during our
generation. Even sober unemotional London found its soul for once and
fluttered with joy. Men, women, and children, rich and poor, clubman and
cabman, joined in the universal delight. The thought of our garrison,
of their privations, of our impotence to relieve them, of the impending
humiliation to them and to us, had lain dark for many months across our
spirits. It had weighed upon us, until the subject, though ever present
in our thoughts, was too painful for general talk. And now, in an
instant, the shadow was lifted. The outburst of rejoicing was not
a triumph over the gallant Boers. But it was our own escape from
humiliation, the knowledge that the blood of our sons had not been shed
in vain, above all the conviction that the darkest hour had now passed
and that the light of peace was dimly breaking far away--that was why
London rang with joy bells that March morning, and why those bells
echoed back from every town and hamlet, in tropical sun and in Arctic
snow, over which the flag of Britain waved.



CHAPTER 18. THE SIEGE AND RELIEF OF KIMBERLEY.

It has already been narrated how, upon the arrival of the army corps
from England, the greater part was drafted to Natal, while some went
to the western side, and started under Lord Methuen upon the perilous
enterprise of the relief of Kimberley. It has also been shown how, after
three expensive victories, Lord Methuen's force met with a paralysing
reverse, and was compelled to remain inactive within twenty miles of the
town which they had come to succour. Before I describe how that succour
did eventually arrive, some attention must be paid to the incidents
which had occurred within the city.

'I am directed to assure you that there is no reason for apprehending
that Kimberley or any part of the colony either is, or in any
contemplated event will be, in danger of attack. Mr. Schreiner is of
opinion that your fears are groundless and your anticipations in the
matter entirely without foundation.' Such is the official reply to the
remonstrance of the inhabitants, when, with the shadow of war dark
upon them, they appealed for help. It is fortunate, however, that a
progressive British town has usually the capacity for doing things for
itself without the intervention of officials. Kimberley was particularly
lucky in being the centre of the wealthy and alert De Beers Company,
which had laid in sufficient ammunition and supplies to prevent the town
from being helpless in the presence of the enemy. But the cannon were
popguns, firing a 7-pound shell for a short range, and the garrison
contained only seven hundred regulars, while the remainder were
mostly untrained miners and artisans. Among them, however, there was a
sprinkling of dangerous men from the northern wars, and all were nerved
by a knowledge that the ground which they defended was essential to the
Empire. Ladysmith was no more than any other strategic position, but
Kimberley was unique, the centre of the richest tract of ground for its
size in the whole world. Its loss would have been a heavy blow to the
British cause, and an enormous encouragement to the Boers.

On October 12th, several hours after the expiration of Kruger's
ultimatum, Cecil Rhodes threw himself into Kimberley. This remarkable
man, who stood for the future of South Africa as clearly as the Dopper
Boer stood for its past, had, both in features and in character, some
traits which may, without extravagance, be called Napoleonic. The
restless energy, the fertility of resource, the attention to detail,
the wide sweep of mind, the power of terse comment--all these recall
the great emperor. So did the simplicity of private life in the midst of
excessive wealth. And so finally did a want of scruple where an ambition
was to be furthered, shown, for example, in that enormous donation to
the Irish party by which he made a bid for their parliamentary support,
and in the story of the Jameson raid. A certain cynicism of mind and a
grim humour complete the parallel. But Rhodes was a Napoleon of peace.
The consolidation of South Africa under the freest and most progressive
form of government was the large object on which he had expended his
energies and his fortune but the development of the country in every
conceivable respect, from the building of a railway to the importation
of a pedigree bull, engaged his unremitting attention.

It was on October 15th that the fifty thousand inhabitants of Kimberley
first heard the voice of war. It rose and fell in a succession of
horrible screams and groans which travelled far over the veld, and the
outlying farmers marvelled at the dreadful clamour from the sirens and
the hooters of the great mines. Those who have endured all--the rifle,
the cannon, and the hunger--have said that those wild whoops from the
sirens were what had tried their nerve the most.

The Boers in scattered bands of horsemen were thick around the town,
and had blocked the railroad. They raided cattle upon the outskirts,
but made no attempt to rush the defence. The garrison, who, civilian and
military, approached four thousand in number, lay close in rifle pit
and redoubt waiting for an attack which never came. The perimeter to be
defended was about eight miles, but the heaps of tailings made admirable
fortifications, and the town had none of those inconvenient heights
around it which had been such bad neighbours to Ladysmith. Picturesque
surroundings are not favourable to defence.

On October 24th the garrison, finding that no attack was made,
determined upon a reconnaissance. The mounted force, upon which most of
the work and of the loss fell, consisted of the Diamond Fields Horse, a
small number of Cape Police, a company of Mounted Infantry, and a
body called the Kimberley Light Horse. With two hundred and seventy
volunteers from this force Major Scott-Turner, a redoubtable fighter,
felt his way to the north until he came in touch with the Boers. The
latter, who were much superior in numbers, manoeuvred to cut him off,
but the arrival of two companies of the North Lancashire Regiment turned
the scale in our favour. We lost three killed and twenty-one wounded in
the skirmish. The Boer loss is unknown, but their commander Botha was
slain.

On November 4th Commandant Wessels formally summoned the town, and it is
asserted that he gave Colonel Kekewich leave to send out the women and
children. That officer has been blamed for not taking advantage of
the permission--or at the least for not communicating it to the
civil authorities. As a matter of fact the charge rests upon a
misapprehension. In Wessels' letter a distinction is made between
Africander and English women, the former being offered an asylum in his
camp. This offer was made known, and half a dozen persons took advantage
of it. The suggestion, however, in the case of the English carried
with it no promise that they would be conveyed to Orange River, and a
compliance with it would have put them as helpless hostages into the
hands of the enemy. As to not publishing the message it is not usual to
publish such official documents, but the offer was shown to Mr. Rhodes,
who concurred in the impossibility of accepting it.

It is difficult to allude to this subject without touching upon
the painful but notorious fact that there existed during the siege
considerable friction between the military authorities and a section of
the civilians, of whom Mr. Rhodes was chief. Among other characteristics
Rhodes bore any form of restraint very badly, and chafed mightily when
unable to do a thing in the exact way which he considered best. He
may have been a Napoleon of peace, but his warmest friends could never
describe him as a Napoleon of war, for his military forecasts have been
erroneous, and the management of the Jameson fiasco certainly inspired
no confidence in the judgment of any one concerned. That his intentions
were of the best, and that he had the good of the Empire at heart,
may be freely granted; but that these motives should lead him to cabal
against, and even to threaten, the military governor, or that he should
attempt to force Lord Roberts's hand in a military operation, was most
deplorable. Every credit may be given to him for all his aid to the
military--he gave with a good grace what the garrison would otherwise
have had to commandeer--but it is a fact that the town would have been
more united, and therefore stronger, without his presence. Colonel
Kekewich and his chief staff officer, Major O'Meara, were as much
plagued by intrigue within as by the Boers without.

On November 7th the bombardment of the town commenced from nine
9-pounder guns to which the artillery of the garrison could give no
adequate reply. The result, however, of a fortnight's fire, during
which seven hundred shells were discharged, was the loss of two
non-combatants. The question of food was recognised as being of more
importance than the enemy's fire. An early relief appeared probable,
however, as the advance of Methuen's force was already known. One pound
of bread, two ounces of sugar, and half a pound of meat were allowed per
head. It was only on the small children that the scarcity of milk told
with tragic effect. At Ladysmith, at Mafeking, and at Kimberley hundreds
of these innocents were sacrificed.

November 25th was a red-letter day with the garrison, who made a sortie
under the impression that Methuen was not far off, and that they were
assisting his operations. The attack was made upon one of the Boer
positions by a force consisting of a detachment of the Light Horse
and of the Cape Police, and their work was brilliantly successful. The
actual storming of the redoubt was carried out by some forty men, of
whom but four were killed. They brought back thirty-three prisoners as a
proof of their victory, but the Boer gun, as usual, escaped us. In this
brilliant affair Scott-Turner was wounded, which did not prevent
him, only three days later, from leading another sortie, which was as
disastrous as the first had been successful. Save under very exceptional
circumstances it is in modern warfare long odds always upon the defence,
and the garrison would probably have been better advised had they
refrained from attacking the fortifications of their enemy--a truth
which Baden-Powell learned also at Game Tree Hill. As it was, after a
temporary success the British were blown back by the fierce Mauser fire,
and lost the indomitable Scott-Turner, with twenty-one of his brave
companions killed and twenty-eight wounded, all belonging to the
colonial corps. The Empire may reflect with pride that the people in
whose cause mainly they fought showed themselves by their gallantry and
their devotion worthy of any sacrifice which has been made.

Again the siege settled down to a monotonous record of decreasing
rations and of expectation. On December 10 there came a sign of hope
from the outside world. Far on the southern horizon a little golden
speck shimmered against the blue African sky. It was Methuen's balloon
gleaming in the sunshine. Next morning the low grumble of distant cannon
was the sweetest of music to the listening citizens. But days passed
without further news, and it was not for more than a week that they
learned of the bloody repulse of Magersfontein, and that help was once
more indefinitely postponed. Heliographic communication had been opened
with the relieving army, and it is on record that the first message
flashed through from the south was a question about the number of a
horse. With inconceivable stupidity this has been cited as an example of
military levity and incapacity. Of course the object of the question
was a test as to whether they were really in communication with the
garrison. It must be confessed that the town seems to have contained
some very querulous and unreasonable people.

The New Year found the beleaguered city reduced to a quarter of a pound
of meat per head, while the health of the inhabitants began to break
down under their confinement. Their interest, however, was keenly
aroused by the attempt made in the De Beers workshops to build a gun
which might reach their opponents. This remarkable piece of ordnance,
constructed by an American named Labram by the help of tools
manufactured for the purpose and of books found in the town, took the
shape eventually of a 28 lb. rifled gun, which proved to be a most
efficient piece of artillery. With grim humour, Mr. Rhodes's compliments
had been inscribed upon the shells--a fair retort in view of the openly
expressed threat of the enemy that in case of his capture they would
carry him in a cage to Pretoria.

The Boers, though held off for a time by this unexpected piece of
ordnance, prepared a terrible answer to it. On February 7th an enormous
gun, throwing a 96 lb. shell, opened from Kamfersdam, which is four
miles from the centre of the town. The shells, following the evil
precedent of the Germans in 1870, were fired not at the forts, but into
the thickly populated city. Day and night these huge missiles exploded,
shattering the houses and occasionally killing or maiming the occupants.
Some thousands of the women and children were conveyed down the mines,
where, in the electric-lighted tunnels, they lay in comfort and safety.
One surprising revenge the Boers had, for by an extraordinary chance
one of the few men killed by their gun was the ingenious Labram who had
constructed the 28-pounder. By an even more singular chance, Leon, who
was responsible for bringing the big Boer gun, was struck immediately
afterwards by a long-range rifle-shot from the garrison.

The historian must be content to give a tame account of the siege of
Kimberley, for the thing itself was tame. Indeed 'siege' is a misnomer,
for it was rather an investment or a blockade. Such as it was, however,
the inhabitants became very restless under it, and though there were
never any prospects of surrender the utmost impatience began to be
manifested at the protracted delay on the part of the relief force. It
was not till later that it was understood how cunningly Kimberley had
been used as a bait to hold the enemy until final preparations had been
made for his destruction.

And at last the great day came. It is on record how dramatic was the
meeting between the mounted outposts of the defenders and the advance
guard of the relievers, whose advent seems to have been equally
unexpected by friend and foe. A skirmish was in progress on February
15th between a party of the Kimberley Light Horse and of the Boers, when
a new body of horsemen, unrecognised by either side, appeared upon the
plain and opened fire upon the enemy. One of the strangers rode up to
the patrol. 'What the dickens does K.L. H. mean on your shoulder-strap?'
he asked. 'It means Kimberley Light Horse. Who are you?' 'I am one of
the New Zealanders.' Macaulay in his wildest dream of the future of the
much-quoted New Zealander never pictured him as heading a rescue force
for the relief of a British town in the heart of Africa.

The population had assembled to watch the mighty cloud of dust which
rolled along the south-eastern horizon. What was it which swept
westwards within its reddish heart? Hopeful and yet fearful they saw the
huge bank draw nearer and nearer. An assault from the whole of Cronje's
army was the thought which passed through many a mind. And then the
dust-cloud thinned, a mighty host of horsemen spurred out from it, and
in the extended far-flung ranks the glint of spearheads and the gleam of
scabbards told of the Hussars and Lancers, while denser banks on either
flank marked the position of the whirling guns. Wearied and spent with
a hundred miles' ride the dusty riders and the panting, dripping horses
took fresh heart as they saw the broad city before them, and swept with
martial rattle and jingle towards the cheering crowds. Amid shouts and
tears French rode into Kimberley while his troopers encamped outside the
town.

To know how this bolt was prepared and how launched, the narrative must
go back to the beginning of the month. At that period Methuen and his
men were still faced by Cronje and his entrenched forces, who, in spite
of occasional bombardments, held their position between Kimberley
and the relieving army. French, having handed over the operations at
Colesberg to Clements, had gone down to Cape Town to confer with Roberts
and Kitchener. Thence they all three made their way to the Modder River,
which was evidently about to be the base of a more largely conceived
series of operations than any which had yet been undertaken.

In order to draw the Boer attention away from the thunderbolt which was
about to fall upon their left flank, a strong demonstration ending in
a brisk action was made early in February upon the extreme right of
Cronje's position. The force, consisting of the Highland Brigade, two
squadrons of the 9th Lancers, No. 7 Co. Royal Engineers, and the 62nd
Battery, was under the command of the famous Hector Macdonald. 'Fighting
Mac' as he was called by his men, had joined his regiment as a private,
and had worked through the grades of corporal, sergeant, captain, major,
and colonel, until now, still in the prime of his manhood, he found
himself riding at the head of a brigade. A bony, craggy Scotsman, with
a square fighting head and a bulldog jaw, he had conquered the
exclusiveness and routine of the British service by the same dogged
qualities which made him formidable to Dervish and to Boer. With a
cool brain, a steady nerve, and a proud heart, he is an ideal leader of
infantry, and those who saw him manoeuvre his brigade in the crisis of
the battle of Omdurman speak of it as the one great memory which they
carried back from the engagement. On the field of battle he turns to the
speech of his childhood, the jagged, rasping, homely words which brace
the nerves of the northern soldier. This was the man who had come from
India to take the place of poor Wauchope, and to put fresh heart into
the gallant but sorely stricken brigade.

The four regiments which composed the infantry of the force--the Black
Watch, the Argyll and Sutherlands, the Seaforths, and the Highland Light
Infantry--left Lord Methuen's camp on Saturday, February 3rd, and halted
at Fraser's Drift, passing on next day to Koodoosberg. The day was very
hot, and the going very heavy, and many men fell out, some never to
return. The drift (or ford) was found, however, to be undefended, and
was seized by Macdonald, who, after pitching camp on the south side
of the river, sent out strong parties across the drift to seize and
entrench the Koodoosberg and some adjacent kopjes which, lying some
three-quarters of a mile to the north-west of the drift formed the key
of the position. A few Boer scouts were seen hurrying with the news of
his coming to the head laager.

The effect of these messages was evident by Tuesday (February 6th),
when the Boers were seen to be assembling upon the north bank. By next
morning they were there in considerable numbers, and began an attack
upon a crest held by the Seaforths. Macdonald threw two companies of the
Black Watch and two of the Highland Light Infantry into the fight. The
Boers made excellent practice with a 7-pounder mountain gun, and their
rifle fire, considering the good cover which our men had, was very
deadly. Poor Tait, of the Black Watch, good sportsman and gallant
soldier, with one wound hardly healed upon his person, was hit again.
'They've got me this time,' were his dying words. Blair, of the
Seaforths, had his carotid cut by a shrapnel bullet, and lay for hours
while the men of his company took turns to squeeze the artery. But our
artillery silenced the Boer gun, and our infantry easily held their
riflemen. Babington with the cavalry brigade arrived from the camp about
1.30, moving along the north bank of the river. In spite of the fact
that men and horses were weary from a tiring march, it was hoped by
Macdonald's force that they would work round the Boers and make an
attempt to capture either them or their gun. But the horsemen seem not
to have realised the position of the parties, or that possibility
of bringing off a considerable coup, so the action came to a tame
conclusion, the Boers retiring unpursued from their attack. On Thursday,
February 8th, they were found to have withdrawn, and on the same evening
our own force was recalled, to the surprise and disappointment of the
public at home, who had not realised that in directing their attention
to their right flank the column had already produced the effect upon
the enemy for which they had been sent. They could not be left there, as
they were needed for those great operations which were pending. It
was on the 9th that the brigade returned; on the 10th they were
congratulated by Lord Roberts in person; and on the 11th those
new dispositions were made which were destined not only to relieve
Kimberley, but to inflict a blow upon the Boer cause from which it was
never able to recover.

Small, brown, and wrinkled, with puckered eyes and alert manner, Lord
Roberts in spite of his sixty-seven years preserves the figure and
energy of youth. The active open-air life of India keeps men fit for the
saddle when in England they would only sit their club armchairs, and
it is hard for any one who sees the wiry figure and brisk step of Lord
Roberts to realise that he has spent forty-one years of soldiering in
what used to be regarded as an unhealthy climate. He had carried into
late life the habit of martial exercise, and a Russian traveller has
left it on record that the sight which surprised him most in India was
to see the veteran commander of the army ride forth with his spear and
carry off the peg with the skill of a practised trooper. In his early
youth he had shown in the Mutiny that he possessed the fighting energy
of the soldier to a remarkable degree, but it was only in the Afghan War
of 1880 that he had an opportunity of proving that he had rarer and more
valuable gifts, the power of swift resolution and determined execution.
At the crisis of the war he and his army disappeared entirely from
the public ken only to emerge dramatically as victors at a point three
hundred miles distant from where they had vanished.

It is not only as a soldier, but as a man, that Lord Roberts possesses
some remarkable characteristics. He has in a supreme degree that
magnetic quality which draws not merely the respect but the love of
those who know him. In Chaucer's phrase, he is a very perfect gentle
knight. Soldiers and regimental officers have for him a feeling of
personal affection such as the unemotional British Army has never had
for any leader in the course of our history. His chivalrous courtesy,
his unerring tact, his kindly nature, his unselfish and untiring
devotion to their interests have all endeared him to those rough loyal
natures, who would follow him with as much confidence and devotion as
the grognards of the Guard had in the case of the Great Emperor. There
were some who feared that in Roberts's case, as in so many more, the
donga and kopje of South Africa might form the grave and headstone of a
military reputation, but far from this being so he consistently showed a
wide sweep of strategy and a power of conceiving the effect of scattered
movements over a great extent of country which have surprised his
warmest admirers. In the second week of February his dispositions were
ready, and there followed the swift series of blows which brought
the Boers upon their knees. Of these we shall only describe here the
exploits of the fine force of cavalry which, after a ride of a hundred
miles, broke out of the heart of that reddish dustcloud and swept the
Boer besiegers away from hard-pressed Kimberley.

In order to strike unexpectedly, Lord Roberts had not only made a strong
demonstration at Koodoosdrift, at the other end of the Boer line, but he
had withdrawn his main force some forty miles south, taking them down
by rail to Belmont and Enslin with such secrecy that even commanding
officers had no idea whither the troops were going. The cavalry which
had come from French's command at Colesberg had already reached the
rendezvous, travelling by road to Naauwpoort, and thence by train.
This force consisted of the Carabineers, New South Wales Lancers,
Inniskillings, composite regiment of Household Cavalry, 10th Hussars,
with some mounted infantry and two batteries of Horse Artillery, making
a force of nearly three thousand sabres. To this were added the 9th and
12th Lancers from Modder River, the 16th Lancers from India, the Scots
Greys, which had been patrolling Orange River from the beginning of
the war, Rimington's Scouts, and two brigades of mounted infantry under
Colonels Ridley and Hannay. The force under this latter officer had a
severe skirmish on its way to the rendezvous and lost fifty or sixty in
killed, wounded, and missing. Five other batteries of Horse Artillery
were added to the force, making seven in all, with a pontoon section of
Royal Engineers. The total number of men was about five thousand. By the
night of Sunday, February 11th, this formidable force had concentrated
at Ramdam, twenty miles north-east of Belmont, and was ready to advance.
At two in the morning of Monday, February 12th, the start was made, and
the long sinuous line of night-riders moved off over the shadowy veld,
the beat of twenty thousand hoofs, the clank of steel, and the rumble of
gunwheels and tumbrils swelling into a deep low roar like the surge upon
the shingle.

Two rivers, the Riet and the Modder, intervened between French and
Kimberley. By daylight on the 12th the head of his force had reached
Waterval Drift, which was found to be defended by a body of Boers with a
gun. Leaving a small detachment to hold them, French passed his men over
Dekiel's Drift, higher up the stream, and swept the enemy out of his
position. This considerable force of Boers had come from Jacobsdal, and
were just too late to get into position to resist the crossing. Had we
been ten minutes later, the matter would have been much more serious. At
the cost of a very small loss he held both sides of the ford, but it was
not until midnight that the whole long column was brought across, and
bivouacked upon the northern bank. In the morning the strength of the
force was enormously increased by the arrival of one more horseman. It
was Roberts himself, who had ridden over to give the men a send-off, and
the sight of his wiry erect figure and mahogany face sent them full of
fire and confidence upon their way.

But the march of this second day (February 13th) was a military
operation of some difficulty. Thirty long waterless miles had to be done
before they could reach the Modder, and it was possible that even then
they might have to fight an action before winning the drift. The
weather was very hot, and through the long day the sun beat down from an
unclouded sky, while the soldiers were only shaded by the dust-bank
in which they rode. A broad arid plain, swelling into stony hills,
surrounded them on every side. Here and there in the extreme distance,
mounted figures moved over the vast expanse--Boer scouts who marked
in amazement the advance of this great array. Once or twice these men
gathered together, and a sputter of rifle fire broke out upon our left
flank, but the great tide swept on and carried them with it. Often in
this desolate land the herds of mottled springbok and of grey rekbok
could be seen sweeping over the plain, or stopping with that curiosity
upon which the hunter trades, to stare at the unwonted spectacle.

So all day they rode, hussars, dragoons, and lancers, over the withered
veld, until men and horses drooped with the heat and the exertion. A
front of nearly two miles was kept, the regiments moving two abreast in
open order; and the sight of this magnificent cloud of horsemen sweeping
over the great barren plain was a glorious one. The veld had caught
fire upon the right, and a black cloud of smoke with a lurid heart to
it covered the flank. The beat of the sun from above and the swelter
of dust from below were overpowering. Gun horses fell in the traces
and died of pure exhaustion. The men, parched and silent, but cheerful,
strained their eyes to pierce the continual mirage which played over the
horizon, and to catch the first glimpse of the Modder. At last, as the
sun began to slope down to the west, a thin line of green was discerned,
the bushes which skirt the banks of that ill-favoured stream. With
renewed heart the cavalry pushed on and made for the drift, while
Major Rimington, to whom the onerous duty of guiding the force had been
entrusted, gave a sigh of relief as he saw that he had indeed struck the
very point at which he had aimed.

The essential thing in the movements had been speed--to reach each point
before the enemy could concentrate to oppose them. Upon this it depended
whether they would find five hundred or five thousand waiting on the
further bank. It must have been with anxious eyes that French watched
his first regiment ride down to Klip Drift. If the Boers should have had
notice of his coming and have transferred some of their 40-pounders, he
might lose heavily before he forced the stream. But this time, at last,
he had completely outmanoeuvred them. He came with the news of his
coming, and Broadwood with the 12th Lancers rushed the drift. The small
Boer force saved itself by flight, and the camp, the wagons, and the
supplies remained with the victors. On the night of the 13th he had
secured the passage of the Modder, and up to the early morning the
horses and the guns were splashing through its coffee-coloured waters.

French's force had now come level to the main position of the Boers, but
had struck it upon the extreme left wing. The extreme right wing, thanks
to the Koodoosdrift demonstration, was fifty miles off, and this line
was naturally very thinly held, save only at the central position of
Magersfontein. Cronje could not denude this central position, for he
saw Methuen still waiting in front of him, and in any case Klip Drift
is twenty-five miles from Magersfontein. But the Boer left wing, though
scattered, gathered into some sort of cohesion on Wednesday (February
14th), and made an effort to check the victorious progress of the
cavalry. It was necessary on this day to rest at Klip Drift, until
Kelly-Kenny should come up with the infantry to hold what had been
gained. All day the small bodies of Boers came riding in and taking up
positions between the column and its objective.

Next morning the advance was resumed, the column being still forty miles
from Kimberley with the enemy in unknown force between. Some four miles
out French came upon their position, two hills with a long low nek
between, from which came a brisk rifle fire supported by artillery. But
French was not only not to be stopped, but could not even be retarded.
Disregarding the Boer fire completely the cavalry swept in wave after
wave over the low nek, and so round the base of the hills. The Boer
riflemen upon the kopjes must have seen a magnificent military spectacle
as regiment after regiment, the 9th Lancers leading, all in very open
order, swept across the plain at a gallop, and so passed over the nek.
A few score horses and half as many men were left behind them, but forty
or fifty Boers were cut down in the pursuit. It appears to have been
one of the very few occasions during the campaign when that obsolete and
absurd weapon the sword was anything but a dead weight to its bearer.

And now the force had a straight run in before it, for it had outpaced
any further force of Boers which may have been advancing from the
direction of Magersfontein. The horses, which had come a hundred miles
in four days with insufficient food and water, were so done that it was
no uncommon sight to see the trooper not only walking to ease his horse,
but carrying part of his monstrous weight of saddle gear. But in spite
of fatigue the force pressed on until in the afternoon a distant view
was seen, across the reddish plain, of the brick houses and corrugated
roofs of Kimberley. The Boer besiegers cleared off in front of it, and
that night (February 15th) the relieving column camped on the plain two
miles away, while French and his staff rode in to the rescued city.

The war was a cruel one for the cavalry, who were handicapped throughout
by the nature of the country and by the tactics of the enemy. They are
certainly the branch of the service which had least opportunity for
distinction. The work of scouting and patrolling is the most dangerous
which a soldier can undertake, and yet from its very nature it can find
no chronicler. The war correspondent, like Providence, is always with
the big battalions, and there never was a campaign in which there was
more unrecorded heroism, the heroism of the picket and of the vedette
which finds its way into no newspaper paragraph. But in the larger
operations of the war it is difficult to say that cavalry, as cavalry,
have justified their existence. In the opinion of many the tendency of
the future will be to convert the whole force into mounted infantry. How
little is required to turn our troopers into excellent foot soldiers
was shown at Magersfontein, where the 12th Lancers, dismounted by the
command of their colonel, Lord Airlie, held back the threatened flank
attack all the morning. A little training in taking cover, leggings
instead of boots, and a rifle instead of a carbine would give us a
formidable force of twenty thousand men who could do all that our
cavalry does, and a great deal more besides. It is undoubtedly possible
on many occasions in this war, at Colesberg, at Diamond Hill, to say
'Here our cavalry did well.' They are brave men on good horses, and they
may be expected to do well. But the champion of the cavalry cause must
point out the occasions where the cavalry did something which could
not have been done by the same number of equally brave and equally
well-mounted infantry. Only then will the existence of the cavalry be
justified. The lesson both of the South African and of the American
civil war is that the light horseman who is trained to fight on foot is
the type of the future.

A few more words as a sequel to this short sketch of the siege and
relief of Kimberley. Considerable surprise has been expressed that the
great gun at Kamfersdam, a piece which must have weighed many tons and
could not have been moved by bullock teams at a rate of more than two
or three miles an hour, should have eluded our cavalry. It is indeed a
surprising circumstance, and yet it was due to no inertia on the part of
our leaders, but rather to one of the finest examples of Boer tenacity
in the whole course of the war. The instant that Kekewich was sure of
relief he mustered every available man and sent him out to endeavour to
get the gun. It had already been removed, and its retreat was covered by
the strong position of Dronfield, which was held both by riflemen and
by light artillery. Finding himself unable to force it, Murray, the
commander of the detachment, remained in front of it. Next morning
(Friday) at three o'clock the weary men and horses of two of French's
brigades were afoot with the same object. But still the Boers were
obstinately holding on to Dronfield, and still their position was too
strong to force, and too extended to get round with exhausted horses. It
was not until the night after that the Boers abandoned their excellent
rearguard action, leaving one light gun in the hands of the Cape Police,
but having gained such a start for their heavy one that French, who had
other and more important objects in view, could not attempt to follow
it.



CHAPTER 19. PAARDEBERG.

Lord Roberts's operations, prepared with admirable secrecy and carried
out with extreme energy, aimed at two different results, each of which
he was fortunate enough to attain. The first was that an overpowering
force of cavalry should ride round the Boer position and raise the siege
of Kimberley: the fate of this expedition has already been described.
The second was that the infantry, following hard on the heels of the
cavalry, and holding all that they had gained, should establish itself
upon Cronje's left flank and cut his connection with Bloemfontein. It is
this portion of the operations which has now to be described.

The infantry force which General Roberts had assembled was a very
formidable one. The Guards he had left under Methuen in front of the
lines of Magersfontein to contain the Boer force. With them he had
also left those regiments which had fought in the 9th Brigade in
all Methuen's actions. These, as will be remembered, were the 1st
Northumberland Fusiliers, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd
Northamptons, and one wing of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. These
stayed to hold Cronje in his position.

There remained three divisions of infantry, one of which, the ninth, was
made up on the spot. These were constituted in this way:

   Sixth Division (Kelly-Kenny).
      12th Brigade (Knox).
      Oxford Light Infantry.
      Gloucesters (2nd).
         West Riding.
      Buffs.
         18th Brigade (Stephenson).
      Essex.
         Welsh.
   Warwicks.
      Yorks Seventh Division (Tucker).
      14th Brigade (Chermside).
      Scots Borderers.
   Lincolns.
      Hampshires.
   Norfolks.
      15th Brigade (Wavell).
   North Staffords.
      Cheshires.
   S. Wales Borderers.
   East Lancashires Ninth Division (Colvile).
      Highland Brigade (Macdonald).
      Black Watch.
      Argyll and Sutherlands.
   Seaforths.
      Highland Light Infantry.
   19th Brigade (Smith-Dorrien).
      Gordons.
      Canadians.
      Shropshire Light Infantry.
      Cornwall Light Infantry.

With these were two brigade divisions of artillery under General
Marshall, the first containing the 18th, 62nd, and 75th batteries
(Colonel Hall), the other the 76th, 81st, and 82nd (Colonel McDonnell).
Besides these there were a howitzer battery, a naval contingent of four
4.7 guns and four 12-pounders under Captain Bearcroft of the 'Philomel.'
The force was soon increased by the transfer of the Guards and the
arrival of more artillery; but the numbers which started on Monday,
February 12th, amounted roughly to twenty-five thousand foot and eight
thousand horse with 98 guns--a considerable army to handle in a foodless
and almost waterless country. Seven hundred wagons drawn by eleven
thousand mules and oxen, all collected by the genius for preparation
and organisation which characterises Lord Kitchener, groaned and creaked
behind the columns.

Both arms had concentrated at Ramdam, the cavalry going down by road,
and the infantry by rail as far as Belmont or Enslin. On Monday,
February 12th, the cavalry had started, and on Tuesday the infantry were
pressing hard after them. The first thing was to secure a position
upon Cronje's flank, and for that purpose the 6th Division and the 9th
(Kelly-Kenny's and Colvile's) pushed swiftly on and arrived on Thursday,
February 15th, at Klip Drift on the Modder, which had only been left
by the cavalry that same morning. It was obviously impossible to leave
Jacobsdal in the hands of the enemy on our left flank, so the 7th
Division (Tucker's) turned aside to attack the town. Wavell's brigade
carried the place after a sharp skirmish, chiefly remarkable for the
fact that the City Imperial Volunteers found themselves under fire
for the first time and bore themselves with the gallantry of the old
train-bands whose descendants they are. Our loss was two killed and
twenty wounded, and we found ourselves for the first time firmly
established in one of the enemy's towns. In the excellent German
hospital were thirty or forty of our wounded.

On the afternoon of Thursday, February 15th, our cavalry, having left
Klip Drift in the morning, were pushing hard for Kimberley. At Klip
Drift was Kelly-Kenny's 6th Division. South of Klip Drift at Wegdraai
was Colvile's 9th Division, while the 7th Division was approaching
Jacobsdal. Altogether the British forces were extended over a line of
forty miles. The same evening saw the relief of Kimberley and the taking
of Jacobsdal, but it also saw the capture of one of our convoys by the
Boers, a dashing exploit which struck us upon what was undoubtedly our
vulnerable point.

It has never been cleared up whence the force of Boers came which
appeared upon our rear on that occasion. It seems to have been the same
body which had already had a skirmish with Hannay's Mounted Infantry
as they went up from Orange River to join the rendezvous at Ramdam.
The balance of evidence is that they had not come from Colesberg or any
distant point, but that they were a force under the command of Piet De
Wet, the younger of two famous brothers. Descending to Waterval Drift,
the ford over the Riet, they occupied a line of kopjes, which ought, one
would have imagined, to have been carefully guarded by us, and opened
a brisk fire from rifles and guns upon the convoy as it ascended the
northern bank of the river. Numbers of bullocks were soon shot down,
and the removal of the hundred and eighty wagons made impossible. The
convoy, which contained forage and provisions, had no guard of its own,
but the drift was held by Colonel Ridley with one company of Gordons
and one hundred and fifty mounted infantry without artillery, which
certainly seems an inadequate force to secure the most vital and
vulnerable spot in the line of communications of an army of forty
thousand men. The Boers numbered at the first some five or six hundred
men, but their position was such that they could not be attacked. On the
other hand they were not strong enough to leave their shelter in order
to drive in the British guard, who, lying in extended order between the
wagons and the assailants, were keeping up a steady and effective fire.
Captain Head, of the East Lancashire Regiment, a fine natural soldier,
commanded the British firing line, and neither he nor any of his men
doubted that they could hold off the enemy for an indefinite time. In
the course of the afternoon reinforcements arrived for the Boers, but
Kitchener's Horse and a field battery came back and restored the balance
of power. In the evening the latter swayed altogether in favour of the
British, as Tucker appeared upon the scene with the whole of the 14th
Brigade; but as the question of an assault was being debated a positive
order arrived from Lord Roberts that the convoy should be abandoned and
the force return.

If Lord Roberts needed justification for this decision, the future
course of events will furnish it. One of Napoleon's maxims in war was to
concentrate all one's energies upon one thing at one time. Roberts's aim
was to outflank and possibly to capture Cronje's army. If he allowed
a brigade to be involved in a rearguard action, his whole swift-moving
plan of campaign might be dislocated. It was very annoying to lose a
hundred and eighty wagons, but it only meant a temporary inconvenience.
The plan of campaign was the essential thing. Therefore he sacrificed
his convoy and hurried his troops upon their original mission. It was
with heavy hearts and bitter words that those who had fought so long
abandoned their charge, but now at least there are probably few of them
who do not agree in the wisdom of the sacrifice. Our loss in this affair
was between fifty and sixty killed and wounded. The Boers were unable
to get rid of the stores, and they were eventually distributed among the
local farmers and recovered again as the British forces flowed over the
country. Another small disaster occurred to us on the preceding day in
the loss of fifty men of E company of Kitchener's Horse, which had been
left as a guard to a well in the desert.

But great events were coming to obscure those small checks which are
incidental to a war carried out over immense distances against a mobile
and enterprising enemy. Cronje had suddenly become aware of the net
which was closing round him. To the dark fierce man who had striven so
hard to make his line of kopjes impregnable it must have been a bitter
thing to abandon his trenches and his rifle pits. But he was crafty
as well as tenacious, and he had the Boer horror of being cut off--an
hereditary instinct from fathers who had fought on horseback against
enemies on foot. If at any time during the last ten weeks Methuen had
contained him in front with a thin line of riflemen with machine guns,
and had thrown the rest of his force on Jacobsdal and the east, he would
probably have attained the same result. Now at the rumour of English
upon his flank Cronje instantly abandoned his position and his plans,
in order to restore those communications with Bloemfontein upon which he
depended for his supplies. With furious speed he drew in his right wing,
and then, one huge mass of horsemen, guns, and wagons, he swept through
the gap between the rear of the British cavalry bound for Kimberley and
the head of the British infantry at Klip Drift. There was just room
to pass, and at it he dashed with the furious energy of a wild beast
rushing from a trap. A portion of his force with his heavy guns had gone
north round Kimberley to Warrenton; many of the Freestaters also had
slipped away and returned to their farms. The remainder, numbering about
six thousand men, the majority of whom were Transvaalers, swept through
between the British forces.

This movement was carried out on the night of February 15th, and had it
been a little quicker it might have been concluded before we were aware
of it. But the lumbering wagons impeded it, and on the Friday morning,
February 16th, a huge rolling cloud of dust on the northern veld, moving
from west to east, told our outposts at Klip Drift that Cronje's army
had almost slipped through our fingers. Lord Kitchener, who was in
command at Klip Drift at the moment, instantly unleashed his mounted
infantry in direct pursuit, while Knox's brigade sped along the northern
bank of the river to cling on to the right haunch of the retreating
column. Cronje's men had made a night march of thirty miles from
Magersfontein, and the wagon bullocks were exhausted. It was impossible,
without an absolute abandonment of his guns and stores, for him to get
away from his pursuers.

This was no deer which they were chasing, however, but rather a grim
old Transvaal wolf, with his teeth flashing ever over his shoulder.
The sight of those distant white-tilted wagons fired the blood of every
mounted infantryman, and sent the Oxfords, the Buffs, the West Ridings,
and the Gloucesters racing along the river bank in the glorious virile
air of an African morning. But there were kopjes ahead, sown with fierce
Dopper Boers, and those tempting wagons were only to be reached over
their bodies. The broad plain across which the English were hurrying was
suddenly swept with a storm of bullets. The long infantry line extended
yet further and lapped round the flank of the Boer position, and once
more the terrible duet of the Mauser and the Lee-Metford was sung while
the 81st field battery hurried up in time to add its deep roar to their
higher chorus. With fine judgment Cronje held on to the last moment of
safety, and then with a swift movement to the rear seized a further line
two miles off, and again snapped back at his eager pursuers. All day the
grim and weary rearguard stalled off the fiery advance of the infantry,
and at nightfall the wagons were still untaken. The pursuing force to
the north of the river was, it must be remembered, numerically inferior
to the pursued, so that in simply retarding the advance of the enemy and
in giving other British troops time to come up, Knox's brigade was doing
splendid work. Had Cronje been well advised or well informed, he would
have left his guns and wagons in the hope that by a swift dash over the
Modder he might still bring his army away in safety. He seems to have
underrated both the British numbers and the British activity.

On the night then of Friday, February 16th, Cronje lay upon the northern
bank of the Modder, with his stores and guns still intact, and no enemy
in front of him, though Knox's brigade and Hannay's Mounted Infantry
were behind. It was necessary for Cronje to cross the river in order to
be on the line for Bloemfontein. As the river tended to the north
the sooner he could cross the better. On the south side of the river,
however, were considerable British forces, and the obvious strategy was
to hurry them forward and to block every drift at which he could get
over. The river runs between very deep banks, so steep that one might
almost describe them as small cliffs, and there was no chance of a
horseman, far less a wagon, crossing at any point save those where the
convenience of traffic and the use of years had worn sloping paths down
to the shallows. The British knew exactly therefore what the places
were which had to be blocked. On the use made of the next few hours the
success or failure of the whole operation must depend.

The nearest drift to Cronje was only a mile or two distant, Klipkraal
the name; next to that the Paardeberg Drift; next to that the
Wolveskraal Drift, each about seven miles from the other. Had Cronje
pushed on instantly after the action, he might have got across at
Klipkraal. But men, horses, and bullocks were equally exhausted after
a long twenty-four hours' marching and fighting. He gave his weary
soldiers some hours' rest, and then, abandoning seventy-eight of his
wagons, he pushed on before daylight for the farthest off of the three
fords (Wolveskraal Drift). Could he reach and cross it before his
enemies, he was safe. The Klipkraal Drift had in the meanwhile been
secured by the Buffs, the West Ridings, and the Oxfordshire Light
Infantry after a spirited little action which, in the rapid rush of
events, attracted less attention than it deserved. The brunt of the
fighting fell upon the Oxfords, who lost ten killed and thirty-nine
wounded. It was not a waste of life, however, for the action, though
small and hardly recorded, was really a very essential one in the
campaign.

But Lord Roberts's energy had infused itself into his divisional
commanders, his brigadiers, his colonels, and so down to the humblest
Tommy who tramped and stumbled through the darkness with a devout faith
that 'Bobs' was going to catch 'old Cronje' this time. The mounted
infantry had galloped round from the north to the south of the river,
crossing at Klip Drift and securing the southern end of Klipkraal.
Thither also came Stephenson's brigade from Kelly-Kenny's Division,
while Knox, finding in the morning that Cronje was gone, marched along
the northern bank to the same spot. As Klipkraal was safe, the
mounted infantry pushed on at once and secured the southern end of
the Paardeberg Drift, whither they were followed the same evening by
Stephenson and Knox. There remained only the Wolveskraal Drift to block,
and this had already been done by as smart a piece of work as any in the
war. Wherever French has gone he has done well, but his crowning glory
was the movement from Kimberley to head off Cronje's retreat.

The exertions which the mounted men had made in the relief of Kimberley
have been already recorded. They arrived there on Thursday with their
horses dead beat. They were afoot at three o'clock on Friday morning,
and two brigades out of three were hard at work all day in an endeavour
to capture the Dronfield position. Yet when on the same evening an
order came that French should start again instantly from Kimberley and
endeavour to head Cronje's army off, he did not plead inability, as many
a commander might, but taking every man whose horse was still fit to
carry him (something under two thousand out of a column which had been
at least five thousand strong), he started within a few hours and pushed
on through the whole night. Horses died under their riders, but still
the column marched over the shadowy veld under the brilliant stars. By
happy chance or splendid calculation they were heading straight for
the one drift which was still open to Cronje. It was a close thing. At
midday on Saturday the Boer advance guard was already near to the kopjes
which command it. But French's men, still full of fight after their
march of thirty miles, threw themselves in front and seized the position
before their very eyes. The last of the drifts was closed. If Cronje
was to get across now, he must crawl out of his trench and fight under
Roberts's conditions, or he might remain under his own conditions until
Roberts's forces closed round him. With him lay the alternative. In the
meantime, still ignorant of the forces about him, but finding himself
headed off by French, he made his way down to the river and occupied
a long stretch of it between Paardeberg Drift and Wolveskraal Drift,
hoping to force his way across. This was the situation on the night of
Saturday, February 17th.

In the course of that night the British brigades, staggering with
fatigue but indomitably resolute to crush their evasive enemy, were
converging upon Paardeberg. The Highland Brigade, exhausted by a heavy
march over soft sand from Jacobsdal to Klip Drift, were nerved to fresh
exertions by the word 'Magersfontein,' which flew from lip to lip along
the ranks, and pushed on for another twelve miles to Paardeberg.
Close at their heels came Smith-Dorrien's 19th Brigade, comprising the
Shropshires, the Cornwalls, the Gordons, and the Canadians, probably the
very finest brigade in the whole army. They pushed across the river and
took up their position upon the north bank. The old wolf was now fairly
surrounded. On the west the Highlanders were south of the river, and
Smith-Dorrien on the north. On the east Kelly-Kenny's Division was to
the south of the river, and French with his cavalry and mounted infantry
were to the north of it. Never was a general in a more hopeless plight.
Do what he would, there was no possible loophole for escape.

There was only one thing which apparently should not have been done, and
that was to attack him. His position was a formidable one. Not only were
the banks of the river fringed with his riflemen under excellent cover,
but from these banks there extended on each side a number of dongas,
which made admirable natural trenches. The only possible attack from
either side must be across a level plain at least a thousand or fifteen
hundred yards in width, where our numbers would only swell our losses.
It must be a bold soldier and a far bolder civilian, who would venture
to question an operation carried out under the immediate personal
direction of Lord Kitchener; but the general consensus of opinion among
critics may justify that which might be temerity in the individual. Had
Cronje not been tightly surrounded, the action with its heavy losses
might have been justified as an attempt to hold him until his investment
should be complete. There seems, however, to be no doubt that he was
already entirely surrounded, and that, as experience proved, we had
only to sit round him to insure his surrender. It is not given to the
greatest man to have every soldierly gift equally developed, and it may
be said without offence that Lord Kitchener's cool judgment upon the
actual field of battle has not yet been proved as conclusively as his
longheaded power of organisation and his iron determination.

Putting aside the question of responsibility, what happened on the
morning of Sunday, February 18th, was that from every quarter an assault
was urged across the level plains, to the north and to the south, upon
the lines of desperate and invisible men who lay in the dongas and
behind the banks of the river. Everywhere there was a terrible monotony
about the experiences of the various regiments which learned once again
the grim lessons of Colenso and Modder River. We surely did not need to
prove once more what had already been so amply proved, that bravery can
be of no avail against concealed riflemen well entrenched, and that the
more hardy is the attack the heavier must be the repulse. Over the long
circle of our attack Knox's brigade, Stephenson's brigade, the Highland
brigade, Smith-Dorrien's brigade all fared alike. In each case there was
the advance until they were within the thousand-yard fire zone, then the
resistless sleet of bullets which compelled them to get down and to
keep down. Had they even then recognised that they were attempting
the impossible, no great harm might have been done, but with generous
emulation the men of the various regiments made little rushes, company
by company, towards the river bed, and found themselves ever exposed to
a more withering fire. On the northern bank Smith-Dorrien's brigade,
and especially the Canadian regiment, distinguished themselves by the
magnificent tenacity with which they persevered in their attack. The
Cornwalls of the same brigade swept up almost to the river bank in a
charge which was the admiration of all who saw it. If the miners of
Johannesburg had given the impression that the Cornishman is not a
fighter, the record of the county regiment in the war has for ever
exploded the calumny. Men who were not fighters could have found no
place in Smith-Dorrien's brigade or in the charge of Paardeberg.

While the infantry had been severely handled by the Boer riflemen, our
guns, the 76th, 81st, and 82nd field batteries, with the 65th howitzer
battery, had been shelling the river bed, though our artillery fire
proved as usual to have little effect against scattered and hidden
riflemen. At least, however, it distracted their attention, and made
their fire upon the exposed infantry in front of them less deadly.
Now, as in Napoleon's time, the effect of the guns is moral rather than
material. About midday French's horse-artillery guns came into action
from the north. Smoke and flames from the dongas told that some of our
shells had fallen among the wagons and their combustible stores.

The Boer line had proved itself to be unshakable on each face, but at
its ends the result of the action was to push them up, and to shorten
the stretch of the river which was held by them. On the north bank
Smith-Dorrien's brigade gained a considerable amount of ground. At the
other end of the position the Welsh, Yorkshire, and Essex regiments of
Stephenson's brigade did some splendid work, and pushed the Boers for
some distance down the river bank. A most gallant but impossible charge
was made by Colonel Hannay and a number of mounted infantry against the
northern bank. He was shot with the majority of his followers. General
Knox of the 12th Brigade and General Macdonald of the Highlanders were
among the wounded. Colonel Aldworth of the Cornwalls died at the head of
his men. A bullet struck him dead as he whooped his West Countrymen on
to the charge. Eleven hundred killed and wounded testified to the fire
of our attack and the grimness of the Boer resistance. The distribution
of the losses among the various battalions--eighty among the Canadians,
ninety in the West Riding Regiment, one hundred and twenty in the
Seaforths, ninety in the Yorkshires, seventy-six in the Argyll
and Sutherlands, ninety-six in the Black Watch, thirty-one in
the Oxfordshires, fifty-six in the Cornwalls, forty-six in the
Shropshires--shows how universal was the gallantry, and especially how
well the Highland Brigade carried itself. It is to be feared that they
had to face, not only the fire of the enemy, but also that of their own
comrades on the further side of the river. A great military authority
has stated that it takes many years for a regiment to recover its spirit
and steadiness if it has been heavily punished, and yet within two
months of Magersfontein we find the indomitable Highlanders taking
without flinching the very bloodiest share of this bloody day--and this
after a march of thirty miles with no pause before going into action.
A repulse it may have been, but they hear no name of which they may be
more proud upon the victory scroll of their colours.

What had we got in return for our eleven hundred casualties? We had
contracted the Boer position from about three miles to less than two.
So much was to the good, as the closer they lay the more effective our
artillery fire might be expected to be. But it is probable that our
shrapnel alone, without any loss of life, might have effected the same
thing. It is easy to be wise after the event, but it does certainly
appear that with our present knowledge the action at Paardeberg was as
unnecessary as it was expensive. The sun descended on Sunday, February
18th, upon a bloody field and crowded field hospitals, but also upon an
unbroken circle of British troops still hemming in the desperate men who
lurked among the willows and mimosas which drape the brown steep banks
of the Modder.

There was evidence during the action of the presence of an active
Boer force to the south of us, probably the same well-handled and
enterprising body which had captured our convoy at Waterval. A small
party of Kitchener's Horse was surprised by this body, and thirty men
with four officers were taken prisoners. Much has been said of the
superiority of South African scouting to that of the British regulars,
but it must be confessed that a good many instances might be quoted
in which the colonials, though second to none in gallantry, have been
defective in that very quality in which they were expected to excel.

This surprise of our cavalry post had more serious consequences than can
be measured by the loss of men, for by it the Boers obtained possession
of a strong kopje called Kitchener's Hill, lying about two miles distant
on the south-east of our position. The movement was an admirable one
strategically upon their part, for it gave their beleaguered comrades
a first station on the line of their retreat. Could they only win their
way to that kopje, a rearguard action might be fought from there which
would cover the escape of at least a portion of the force. De Wet, if
he was indeed responsible for the manoeuvres of these Southern Boers,
certainly handled his small force with a discreet audacity which marks
him as the born leader which he afterwards proved himself to be.

If the position of the Boers was desperate on Sunday, it was hopeless on
Monday, for in the course of the morning Lord Roberts came up, closely
followed by the whole of Tucker's Division (7th) from Jacobsdal. Our
artillery also was strongly reinforced. The 18th, 62nd, and 75th field
batteries came up with three naval 4.7 guns and two naval 12-pounders.
Thirty-five thousand men with sixty guns were gathered round the little
Boer army. It is a poor spirit which will not applaud the supreme
resolution with which the gallant farmers held out, and award to Cronje
the title of one of the most grimly resolute leaders of whom we have any
record in modern history.

For a moment it seemed as if his courage was giving way. On Monday
morning a message was transmitted by him to Lord Kitchener asking for a
twenty-four hours' armistice. The answer was of course a curt refusal.
To this he replied that if we were so inhuman as to prevent him from
burying his dead there was nothing for him save surrender. An answer was
given that a messenger with power to treat should be sent out, but in
the interval Cronje had changed his mind, and disappeared with a
snarl of contempt into his burrows. It had become known that women and
children were in the laager, and a message was sent offering them a
place of safety, but even to this a refusal was given. The reasons for
this last decision are inconceivable.

Lord Roberts's dispositions were simple, efficacious, and above all
bloodless. Smith-Dorrien's brigade, who were winning in the Western army
something of the reputation which Hart's Irishmen had won in Natal, were
placed astride of the river to the west, with orders to push gradually
up, as occasion served, using trenches for their approach. Chermside's
brigade occupied the same position on the east. Two other divisions
and the cavalry stood round, alert and eager, like terriers round a
rat-hole, while all day the pitiless guns crashed their common shell,
their shrapnel, and their lyddite into the river-bed. Already down
there, amid slaughtered oxen and dead horses under a burning sun, a
horrible pest-hole had been formed which sent its mephitic vapours over
the countryside. Occasionally the sentries down the river saw amid the
brown eddies of the rushing water the floating body of a Boer which
had been washed away from the Golgotha above. Dark Cronje, betrayer of
Potchefstroom, iron-handed ruler of natives, reviler of the British,
stern victor of Magersfontein, at last there has come a day of reckoning
for you!

On Wednesday, the 21st, the British, being now sure of their grip of
Cronje, turned upon the Boer force which had occupied the hill to the
south-east of the drift. It was clear that this force, unless driven
away, would be the vanguard of the relieving army which might be
expected to assemble from Ladysmith, Bloemfontein, Colesberg, or
wherever else the Boers could detach men. Already it was known that
reinforcements who had left Natal whenever they heard that the Free
State was invaded were drawing near. It was necessary to crush the
force upon the hill before it became too powerful. For this purpose the
cavalry set forth, Broadwood with the 10th Hussars, 12th Lancers, and
two batteries going round on one side, while French with the 9th and
16th Lancers, the Household Cavalry, and two other batteries skirted the
other. A force of Boers was met and defeated, while the defenders of the
hill were driven off with considerable loss. In this well-managed affair
the enemy lost at least a hundred, of whom fifty were prisoners. On
Friday, February 23rd, another attempt at rescue was made from the
south, but again it ended disastrously for the Boers. A party attacked
a kopje held by the Yorkshire regiment and were blown back by a volley,
upon which they made for a second kopje, where the Buffs gave them
an even rougher reception. Eighty prisoners were marched in. Meantime
hardly a night passed that some of the Boers did not escape from their
laager and give themselves up to our pickets. At the end of the week we
had taken six hundred in all.

In the meantime the cordon was being drawn ever tighter, and the fire
became heavier and more deadly, while the conditions of life in that
fearful place were such that the stench alone might have compelled
surrender. Amid the crash of tropical thunderstorms, the glare of
lightning, and the furious thrashing of rain there was no relaxation of
British vigilance. A balloon floating overhead directed the fire, which
from day to day became more furious, culminating on the 26th with the
arrival of four 5-inch howitzers. But still there came no sign from the
fierce Boer and his gallant followers. Buried deep within burrows in the
river bank the greater part of them lay safe from the shells, but
the rattle of their musketry when the outposts moved showed that the
trenches were as alert as ever. The thing could only have one end,
however, and Lord Roberts, with admirable judgment and patience, refused
to hurry it at the expense of the lives of his soldiers.

The two brigades at either end of the Boer lines had lost no chance of
pushing in, and now they had come within striking distance. On the night
of February 26th it was determined that Smith-Dorrien's men should try
their luck. The front trenches of the British were at that time seven
hundred yards from the Boer lines. They were held by the Gordons and
by the Canadians, the latter being the nearer to the river. It is worth
while entering into details as to the arrangement of the attack, as the
success of the campaign was at least accelerated by it. The orders were
that the Canadians were to advance, the Gordons to support, and the
Shropshires to take such a position on the left as would outflank any
counter attack upon the part of the Boers. The Canadians advanced in
the darkness of the early morning before the rise of the moon. The front
rank held their rifles in the left hand and each extended right hand
grasped the sleeve of the man next it. The rear rank had their rifles
slung and carried spades. Nearest the river bank were two companies (G
and H.) who were followed by the 7th company of Royal Engineers
carrying picks and empty sand bags. The long line stole through a pitchy
darkness, knowing that at any instant a blaze of fire such as flamed
before the Highlanders at Magersfontein might crash out in front of
them. A hundred, two, three, four, five hundred paces were taken. They
knew that they must be close upon the trenches. If they could only creep
silently enough, they might spring upon the defenders unannounced. On
and on they stole, step by step, praying for silence. Would the gentle
shuffle of feet be heard by the men who lay within stone-throw of them?
Their hopes had begun to rise when there broke upon the silence of the
night a resonant metallic rattle, the thud of a falling man, an empty
clatter! They had walked into a line of meat-cans slung upon a wire. By
measurement it was only ninety yards from the trench. At that instant a
single rifle sounded, and the Canadians hurled themselves down upon the
ground. Their bodies had hardly touched it when from a line six hundred
yards long there came one furious glare of rifle fire, with a hiss like
water on a red-hot plate, of speeding bullets. In that terrible red
light the men as they lay and scraped desperately for cover could see
the heads of the Boers pop up and down, and the fringe of rifle barrels
quiver and gleam. How the regiment, lying helpless under this fire,
escaped destruction is extraordinary. To rush the trench in the face of
such a continuous blast of lead seemed impossible, and it was equally
impossible to remain where they were. In a short time the moon would be
up, and they would be picked off to a man. The outer companies upon the
plain were ordered to retire. Breaking up into loose order, they made
their way back with surprisingly little loss; but a strange contretemps
occurred, for, leaping suddenly into a trench held by the Gordons, they
transfixed themselves upon the bayonets of the men. A subaltern and
twelve men received bayonet thrusts--none of them fortunately of a very
serious nature.

While these events had been taking place upon the left of the line,
the right was hardly in better plight. All firing had ceased for the
moment--the Boers being evidently under the impression that the whole
attack had recoiled. Uncertain whether the front of the small party on
the right of the second line (now consisting of some sixty-five Sappers
and Canadians lying in one mingled line) was clear for firing should
the Boers leave their trenches, Captain Boileau, of the Sappers, crawled
forward along the bank of the river, and discovered Captain Stairs
and ten men of the Canadians, the survivors of the firing line, firmly
ensconced in a crevice of the river bank overlooking the laager, quite
happy on being reassured as to the proximity of support. This brought
the total number of the daring band up to seventy-five rifles.
Meanwhile, the Gordons, somewhat perplexed by the flying phantoms who
had been flitting into and over their trenches for the past few minutes,
sent a messenger along the river bank to ascertain, in their turn, if
their own front was clear to fire, and if not, what state the survivors
were in. To this message Colonel Kincaid, R.E., now in command of the
remains of the assaulting party, replied that his men would be well
entrenched by daylight. The little party had been distributed for
digging as well as the darkness and their ignorance of their exact
position to the Boers would permit. Twice the sound of the picks brought
angry volleys from the darkness, but the work was never stopped, and
in the early dawn the workers found not only that they were secure
themselves, but that they were in a position to enfilade over half a
mile of Boer trenches. Before daybreak the British crouched low in their
shelter, so that with the morning light the Boers did not realise the
change which the night had wrought. It was only when a burgher was shot
as he filled his pannikin at the river that they understood how their
position was overlooked. For half an hour a brisk fire was maintained,
at the end of which time a white flag went up from the trench. Kincaid
stood up on his parapet, and a single haggard figure emerged from the
Boer warren. 'The burghers have had enough; what are they to do?' said
he. As he spoke his comrades scrambled out behind him and came walking
and running over to the British lines. It was not a moment likely to
be forgotten by the parched and grimy warriors who stood up and cheered
until the cry came crashing back to them again from the distant British
camps. No doubt Cronje had already realised that the extreme limit
of his resistance was come, but it was to that handful of Sappers and
Canadians that the credit is immediately due for that white flag which
fluttered on the morning of Majuba Day over the lines of Paardeberg.

It was six o'clock in the morning when General Pretyman rode up to Lord
Roberts's headquarters. Behind him upon a white horse was a dark-bearded
man, with the quick, restless eyes of a hunter, middle-sized, thickly
built, with grizzled hair flowing from under a tall brown felt hat. He
wore the black broadcloth of the burgher with a green summer overcoat,
and carried a small whip in his hands. His appearance was that of a
respectable London vestryman rather than of a most redoubtable soldier
with a particularly sinister career behind him.

The Generals shook hands, and it was briefly intimated to Cronje that
his surrender must be unconditional, to which, after a short silence,
he agreed. His only stipulations were personal, that his wife, his
grandson, his secretary, his adjutant, and his servant might accompany
him. The same evening he was despatched to Cape Town, receiving those
honourable attentions which were due to his valour rather than to his
character. His men, a pallid ragged crew, emerged from their holes and
burrows, and delivered up their rifles. It is pleasant to add that, with
much in their memories to exasperate them, the British privates treated
their enemies with as large-hearted a courtesy as Lord Roberts had shown
to their leader. Our total capture numbered some three thousand of the
Transvaal and eleven hundred of the Free State. That the latter were not
far more numerous was due to the fact that many had already shredded
off to their farms. Besides Cronje, Wolverans of the Transvaal, and the
German artillerist Albrecht, with forty-four other field-cornets and
commandants, fell into our hands. Six small guns were also secured. The
same afternoon saw the long column of the prisoners on its way to Modder
River, there to be entrained for Cape Town, the most singular lot of
people to be seen at that moment upon earth--ragged, patched, grotesque,
some with goloshes, some with umbrellas, coffee-pots, and Bibles, their
favourite baggage. So they passed out of their ten days of glorious
history.

A visit to the laager showed that the horrible smells which had been
carried across to the British lines, and the swollen carcasses which
had swirled down the muddy river were true portents of its condition.
Strong-nerved men came back white and sick from a contemplation of the
place in which women and children had for ten days been living. From end
to end it was a festering mass of corruption, overshadowed by incredible
swarms of flies. Yet the engineer who could face evil sights and
nauseous smells was repaid by an inspection of the deep narrow trenches
in which a rifleman could crouch with the minimum danger from shells,
and the caves in which the non-combatants remained in absolute safety.
Of their dead we have no accurate knowledge, but two hundred wounded in
a donga represented their losses, not only during a bombardment of ten
days, but also in that Paardeberg engagement which had cost us eleven
hundred casualties. No more convincing example could be adduced both of
the advantage of the defence over the attack, and of the harmlessness
of the fiercest shell fire if those who are exposed to it have space and
time to make preparations.

A fortnight had elapsed since Lord Roberts had launched his forces from
Ramdam, and that fortnight had wrought a complete revolution in the
campaign. It is hard to recall any instance in the history of war where
a single movement has created such a change over so many different
operations. On February 14th Kimberley was in danger of capture, a
victorious Boer army was facing Methuen, the lines of Magersfontein
appeared impregnable, Clements was being pressed at Colesberg, Gatacre
was stopped at Stormberg, Buller could not pass the Tugela, and
Ladysmith was in a perilous condition. On the 28th Kimberley had
been relieved, the Boer army was scattered or taken, the lines of
Magersfontein were in our possession, Clements found his assailants
retiring before him, Gatacre was able to advance at Stormberg, Buller
had a weakening army in front of him, and Ladysmith was on the eve of
relief. And all this had been done at the cost of a very moderate loss
of life, for most of which Lord Roberts was in no sense answerable. Here
at last was a reputation so well founded that even South African warfare
could only confirm and increase it. A single master hand had in an
instant turned England's night to day, and had brought us out of that
nightmare of miscalculation and disaster which had weighed so long upon
our spirits. His was the master hand, but there were others at his
side without whom that hand might have been paralysed: Kitchener the
organiser, French the cavalry leader--to these two men, second only to
their chief, are the results of the operations due. Henderson, the most
capable head of Intelligence, and Richardson, who under all difficulties
fed the army, may each claim his share in the success.



CHAPTER 20. ROBERTS'S ADVANCE ON BLOEMFONTEIN.

The surrender of Cronje had taken place on February 27th, obliterating
for ever the triumphant memories which the Boers had for twenty years
associated with that date. A halt was necessary to provide food for the
hungry troops, and above all to enable the cavalry horses to pick up.
The supply of forage had been most inadequate, and the beasts had not
yet learned to find a living from the dry withered herbage of the veld.
[Footnote: A battery which turned out its horses to graze found that
the puzzled creatures simply galloped about the plain, and could only be
reassembled by blowing the call which they associated with feeding, when
they rushed back and waited in lines for their nosebags to be put on.]
In addition to this, they had been worked most desperately during the
fortnight which had elapsed. Lord Roberts waited therefore at Osfontein,
which is a farmhouse close to Paardeberg, until his cavalry were fit for
an advance. On March 6th he began his march for Bloemfontein.

The force which had been hovering to the south and east of him during
the Paardeberg operations had meanwhile been reinforced from Colesberg
and from Ladysmith until it had attained considerable proportions. This
army, under the leadership of De Wet, had taken up a strong position a
few miles to the east, covering a considerable range of kopjes. On March
3rd a reconnaissance was made of it, in which some of our guns were
engaged; but it was not until three days later that the army
advanced with the intention of turning or forcing it. In the meantime
reinforcements had been arriving in the British camp, derived partly
from the regiments which had been employed at other points during these
operations, and partly from newcomers from the outer Empire. The Guards
came up from Klip Drift, the City Imperial Volunteers, the Australian
Mounted Infantry, the Burmese Mounted Infantry and a detachment of light
horse from Ceylon helped to form this strange invading army which was
drawn from five continents and yet had no alien in its ranks.

The position which the enemy had taken up at Poplars Grove (so called
from a group of poplars round a farmhouse in the centre of their
position) extended across the Modder River and was buttressed on either
side by well-marked hills, with intermittent kopjes between. With guns,
trenches, rifle pits, and barbed wire a bull-headed general might have
found it another Magersfontein. But it is only just to Lord Roberts's
predecessors in command to say that it is easy to do things with three
cavalry brigades which it is difficult to do with two regiments. The
ultimate blame does not rest with the man who failed with the two
regiments, but with those who gave him inadequate means for the
work which he had to do. And in this estimate of means our military
authorities, our politicians, and our public were all in the first
instance equally mistaken.

Lord Roberts's plan was absolutely simple, and yet, had it been carried
out as conceived, absolutely effective. It was not his intention to
go near any of that entanglement of ditch and wire which had been so
carefully erected for his undoing. The weaker party, if it be wise,
atones for its weakness by entrenchments. The stronger party, if it be
wise, leaves the entrenchments alone and uses its strength to go round
them. Lord Roberts meant to go round. With his immense preponderance
of men and guns the capture or dispersal of the enemy's army might be
reduced to a certainty. Once surrounded, they must either come out into
the open or they must surrender.

On March 6th the cavalry were brought across the river, and in the early
morning of March 7th they were sent off in the darkness to sweep round
the left wing of the Boers and to establish themselves on the line of
their retreat. Kelly-Kenny's Division (6th) had orders to follow and
support this movement. Meanwhile Tucker was to push straight along the
southern bank of the river, though we may surmise that his instructions
were, in case of resistance, not to push his attack home. Colvile's 9th
Division, with part of the naval brigade, were north of the river, the
latter to shell the drifts in case the Boers tried to cross, and the
infantry to execute a turning movement which would correspond with that
of the cavalry on the other flank.

The plan of action was based, however, upon one supposition which proved
to be fallacious. It was that after having prepared so elaborate a
position the enemy would stop at least a little time to defend it.
Nothing of the sort occurred, however, and on the instant that they
realised that the cavalry was on their flank they made off. The infantry
did not fire a shot.

The result of this very decisive flight was to derange all calculations
entirely. The cavalry was not yet in its place when the Boer army
streamed off between the kopjes. One would have thought, however, that
they would have had a dash for the wagons and the guns, even if they
were past them. It is unfair to criticise a movement until one is
certain as to the positive orders which the leader may have received;
but on the face of it it is clear that the sweep of our cavalry was not
wide enough, and that they erred by edging to the left instead of to the
right, so leaving the flying enemies always to the outside of them.

As it was, however, there seemed every possibility of their getting the
guns, but De Wet very cleverly covered them by his skirmishers. Taking
possession of a farmhouse on the right flank they kept up a spirited
fire upon the 16th Lancers and upon P battery R.H.A. When at last the
latter drove them out of their shelter, they again formed upon a low
kopje and poured so galling a fire upon the right wing that the whole
movement was interrupted until we had driven this little body of fifty
men from their position. When, after a delay of an hour, the cavalry at
last succeeded in dislodging them--or possibly it may be fairer to say
when, having accomplished their purpose, they retired--the guns
and wagons were out of reach, and, what is more important, the
two Presidents, both Steyn and Kruger, who had come to stiffen the
resistance of the burghers, had escaped.

Making every allowance for the weary state of the horses, it is
impossible to say that our cavalry were handled with energy or judgment
on this occasion. That such a force of men and guns should be held off
from an object of such importance by so small a resistance reflects
no credit upon us. It would have been better to repeat the Kimberley
tactics and to sweep the regiments in extended order past the obstacle
if we could not pass over it. At the other side of that little
ill-defended kopje lay a possible termination of the war, and our crack
cavalry regiments manoeuvred for hours and let it pass out of their
reach. However, as Lord Roberts good-humouredly remarked at the end
of the action, 'In war you can't expect everything to come out right.'
General French can afford to shed one leaf from his laurel wreath. On
the other hand, no words can be too high for the gallant little band of
Boers who had the courage to face that overwhelming mass of horsemen,
and to bluff them into regarding this handful as a force fighting a
serious rearguard action. When the stories of the war are told round the
fires in the lonely veld farmhouses, as they will be for a century to
come, this one deserves an honoured place.

The victory, if such a word can apply to such an action, had cost some
fifty or sixty of the cavalry killed and wounded, while it is doubtful
if the Boers lost as many. The finest military display on the British
side had been the magnificent marching of Kelly-Kenny's 6th Division,
who had gone for ten hours with hardly a halt. One 9-pound Krupp gun was
the only trophy. On the other hand, Roberts had turned them out of
their strong position, had gained twelve or fifteen miles on he road to
Bloemfontein, and for the first time shown how helpless a Boer army was
in country which gave our numbers a chance. From now onwards it was only
in surprise and ambuscade that they could hope for a success. We had
learned and they had learned that they could not stand in the open
field.

The action of Poplars Grove was fought on March 7th. On the 9th the army
was again on its way, and on the 10th it attacked the new position which
the Boers had occupied at a place called Driefontein, or Abram's Kraal.
They covered a front of some seven miles in such a formation that their
wings were protected, the northern by the river and the southern by
flanking bastions of hill extending for some distance to the rear. If
the position had been defended as well as it had been chosen, the task
would have been a severe one.

Since the Modder covered the enemy's right the turning movement could
only be developed on their left, and Tucker's Division was thrown
out very wide on that side for the purpose. But in the meanwhile a
contretemps had occurred which threw out and seriously hampered the
whole British line of battle. General French was in command of the left
wing, which included Kelly-Kenny's Division, the first cavalry brigade,
and Alderson's Mounted Infantry. His orders had been to keep in touch
with the centre, and to avoid pushing his attack home. In endeavouring
to carry out these instructions French moved his men more and more to
the right, until he had really squeezed in between the Boers and Lord
Roberts's central column, and so masked the latter. The essence of the
whole operation was that the frontal attack should not be delivered
until Tucker had worked round to the rear of the position. It is for
military critics to decide whether it was that the flankers were too
slow or the frontal assailants were too fast, but it is certain that
Kelly-Kenny's Division attacked before the cavalry and the 7th Division
were in their place. Kelly-Kenny was informed that the position in front
of him had been abandoned, and four regiments, the Buffs, the Essex, the
Welsh, and the Yorkshires, were advanced against it. They were passing
over the open when the crash of the Mauser fire burst out in front of
them, and the bullets hissed and thudded among the ranks. The ordeal was
a very severe one. The Yorkshires were swung round wide upon the right,
but the rest of the brigade, the Welsh Regiment leading, made a frontal
attack upon the ridge. It was done coolly and deliberately, the men
taking advantage of every possible cover. Boers could be seen leaving
their position in small bodies as the crackling, swaying line of the
British surged ever higher upon the hillside. At last, with a cheer, the
Welshmen with their Kent and Essex comrades swept over the crest into
the ranks of that cosmopolitan crew of sturdy adventurers who are known
as the Johannesburg Police. For once the loss of the defence was greater
than that of the attack. These mercenaries had not the instinct which
teaches the Boer the right instant for flight, and they held their
position too long to get away. The British had left four hundred men on
the track of that gallant advance, but the vast majority of them were
wounded--too often by those explosive or expansive missiles which make
war more hideous. Of the Boers we actually buried over a hundred on the
ridge, and their total casualties must have been considerably in excess
of ours.

The action was strategically well conceived; all that Lord Roberts could
do for complete success had been done; but tactically it was a poor
affair, considering his enormous preponderance in men and guns. There
was no glory in it, save for the four regiments who set their faces
against that sleet of lead. The artillery did not do well, and were
browbeaten by guns which they should have smothered under their fire.
The cavalry cannot be said to have done well either. And yet, when all
is said, the action is an important one, for the enemy were badly shaken
by the result. The Johannesburg Police, who had been among their corps
d'elite, had been badly mauled, and the burghers were impressed by one
more example of the impossibility of standing in anything approaching
to open country against disciplined troops, Roberts had not captured the
guns, but the road had been cleared for him to Bloemfontein and, what
is more singular, to Pretoria; for though hundreds of miles intervene
between the field of Driefontein and the Transvaal capital, he never
again met a force which was willing to look his infantry in the eyes
in a pitched battle. Surprises and skirmishes were many, but it was the
last time, save only at Doornkop, that a chosen position was ever held
for an effective rifle fire--to say nothing of the push of bayonet.

And now the army flowed swiftly onwards to the capital. The
indefatigable 6th Division, which had done march after march, one more
brilliant than another, since they had crossed the Riet River, reached
Asvogel Kop on the evening of Sunday, March 11th, the day after the
battle. On Monday the army was still pressing onwards, disregarding all
else and striking straight for the heart as Blucher struck at Paris in
1814. At midday they halted at the farm of Gregorowski, he who had tried
the Reform prisoners after the Raid. The cavalry pushed on down Kaal
Spruit, and in the evening crossed the Southern railway line which
connects Bloemfontein with the colony, cutting it at a point some five
miles from the town. In spite of some not very strenuous opposition from
a Boer force a hill was seized by a squadron of Greys with some mounted
infantry and Rimington's Guides, aided by U battery R.H.A., and was held
by them all that night.

On the same evening Major Hunter-Weston, an officer who had already
performed at least one brilliant feat in the war, was sent with
Lieutenant Charles and a handful of Mounted Sappers and Hussars to cut
the line to the north. After a difficult journey on a very dark night
he reached his object and succeeded in finding and blowing up a culvert.
There is a Victoria Cross gallantry which leads to nothing save
personal decoration, and there is another and far higher gallantry of
calculation, which springs from a cool brain as well as a hot heart,
and it is from the men who possess this rare quality that great warriors
arise. Such feats as the cutting of this railway or the subsequent
saving of the Bethulie Bridge by Grant and Popham are of more service to
the country than any degree of mere valour untempered by judgment.
Among other results the cutting of the line secured for us twenty-eight
locomotives, two hundred and fifty trucks, and one thousand tons of
coal, all of which were standing ready to leave Bloemfontein station.
The gallant little band were nearly cut off on their return, but fought
their way through with the loss of two horses, and so got back in
triumph.

The action of Driefontein was fought on the 10th. The advance began on
the morning of the 11th. On the morning of the 13th the British were
practically masters of Bloemfontein. The distance is forty miles. No one
can say that Lord Roberts cannot follow a victory up as well as win it.

Some trenches had been dug and sangars erected to the north-west of
the town; but Lord Roberts, with his usual perverseness, took the wrong
turning and appeared upon the broad open plain to the south, where
resistance would have been absurd. Already Steyn and the irreconcilables
had fled from the town, and the General was met by a deputation of the
Mayor, the Landdrost, and Mr. Fraser to tender the submission of the
capital. Fraser, a sturdy clear-headed Highlander, had been the one
politician in the Free State who combined a perfect loyalty to his
adopted country with a just appreciation of what a quarrel A l'outrance
with the British Empire would mean. Had Fraser's views prevailed, the
Orange Free State would still exist as a happy and independent State. As
it is, he may help her to happiness and prosperity as the prime minister
of the Orange River Colony.

It was at half-past one on Tuesday, March 13th, that General Roberts and
his troops entered Bloemfontein, amid the acclamations of many of the
inhabitants, who, either to propitiate the victor, or as a sign of their
real sympathies, had hoisted union jacks upon their houses. Spectators
have left it upon record how from all that interminable column of
yellow-clad weary men, worn with half rations and whole-day marches,
there came never one jeer, never one taunting or exultant word, as they
tramped into the capital of their enemies. The bearing of the troops was
chivalrous in its gentleness, and not the least astonishing sight to the
inhabitants was the passing of the Guards, the dandy troops of
England, the body-servants of the great Queen. Black with sun and dust,
staggering after a march of thirty-eight miles, gaunt and haggard, with
their clothes in such a state that decency demanded that some of the men
should be discreetly packed away in the heart of the dense column, they
still swung into the town with the aspect of Kentish hop-pickers and the
bearing of heroes. She, the venerable mother, could remember the bearded
ranks who marched past her when they came with sadly thinned files back
from the Crimean winter; even those gallant men could not have endured
more sturdily, nor have served her more loyally, than these their worthy
descendants.

It was just a month after the start from Ramdam that Lord Roberts and
his army rode into the enemy's capital. Up to that period we had in
Africa Generals who were hampered for want of troops, and troops who
were hampered for want of Generals. Only when the Commander-in-Chief
took over the main army had we soldiers enough, and a man who knew
how to handle them. The result was one which has not only solved the
question of the future of South Africa, but has given an illustration of
strategy which will become classical to the military student. How brisk
was the course of events, how incessant the marching and fighting,
may be shown by a brief recapitulation. On February 13th cavalry and
infantry were marching to the utmost capacity of men and horses. On the
14th the cavalry were halted, but the infantry were marching hard. On
the 15th the cavalry covered forty miles, fought an action, and relieved
Kimberley. On the 16th the cavalry were in pursuit of the Boer guns all
day, and were off on a thirty-mile march to the Modder at night, while
the infantry were fighting Cronje's rearguard action, and closing up all
day. On the 17th the infantry were marching hard. On the 18th was the
battle of Paardeberg. From the 19th to the 27th was incessant fighting
with Cronje inside the laager and with De Wet outside. From the 28th to
March 6th was rest. On March 7th was the action of Poplars Grove with
heavy marching; on March 10th the battle of Driefontein. On the 11th
and 12th the infantry covered forty miles, and on the 13th were in
Bloemfontein. All this was accomplished by men on half-rations, with
horses which could hardly be urged beyond a walk, in a land where water
is scarce and the sun semi-tropical, each infantryman carrying a weight
of nearly forty pounds. There are few more brilliant achievements in the
history of British arms. The tactics were occasionally faulty, and the
battle of Paardeberg was a blot upon the operations; but the strategy of
the General and the spirit of the soldier were alike admirable.



CHAPTER 21. STRATEGIC EFFECTS OF LORD ROBERTS'S MARCH.

From the moment that Lord Roberts with his army advanced from Ramdam
all the other British forces in South Africa, the Colesberg force, the
Stormberg force, Brabant's force, and the Natal force, had the pressure
relieved in front of them, a tendency which increased with every fresh
success of the main body. A short chapter must be devoted to following
rapidly the fortunes of these various armies, and tracing the effect of
Lord Roberts's strategy upon their movements. They may be taken in turn
from west to east.

The force under General Clements (formerly French's) had, as has already
been told, been denuded of nearly all its cavalry and horse artillery,
and so left in the presence of a very superior body of the enemy. Under
these circumstances Clements had to withdraw his immensely extended
line, and to concentrate at Arundel, closely followed by the elated
enemy. The situation was a more critical one than has been appreciated
by the public, for if the force had been defeated the Boers would have
been in a position to cut Lord Roberts's line of communications, and the
main army would have been in the air. Much credit is due, not only to
General Clements, but to Carter of the Wiltshires, Hacket Pain of the
Worcesters, Butcher of the 4th R.F.A., the admirable Australians, and
all the other good men and true who did their best to hold the gap for
the Empire.

The Boer idea of a strong attack upon this point was strategically
admirable, but tactically there was not sufficient energy in pushing
home the advance. The British wings succeeded in withdrawing, and the
concentrated force at Arundel was too strong for attack Yet there was
a time of suspense, a time when every man had become of such importance
that even fifty Indian syces were for the first and last time in the
war, to their own supreme gratification, permitted for twenty-four hours
to play their natural part as soldiers. [Footnote: There was something
piteous in the chagrin of these fine Sikhs at being held back from their
natural work as soldiers. A deputation of them waited upon Lord Roberts
at Bloemfontein to ask, with many salaams, whether 'his children were
not to see one little fight before they returned.'] But then with the
rapid strokes in front the hour of danger passed, and the Boer advance
became first a halt and then a retreat.

On February 27th, Major Butcher, supported by the Inniskillings and
Australians, attacked Rensburg and shelled the enemy out of it. Next
morning Clements's whole force had advanced from Arundel and took up
its old position. The same afternoon it was clear that the Boers were
retiring, and the British, following them up, marched into Colesberg,
around which they had manoeuvred so long. A telegram from Steyn to De
Wet found in the town told the whole story of the retirement: 'As long
as you are able to hold the positions you are in with the men you have,
do so. If not, come here as quickly as circumstances will allow, as
matters here are taking a serious turn.' The whole force passed over
the Orange River unimpeded, and blew up the Norval's Pont railway bridge
behind it. Clements's brigade followed on March 4th, and succeeded in
the course of a week in throwing a pontoon bridge over the river and
crossing into the Orange Free State. Roberts having in the meanwhile
seized Bloemfontein, communication was restored by railway between the
forces, and Clements was despatched to Phillipolis, Fauresmith, and
the other towns in the south-west to receive the submission of the
inhabitants and to enforce their disarmament. In the meantime the
Engineers worked furiously at the restoration of the railway bridge over
the Orange River, which was not, however, accomplished until some weeks
later.

During the long period which had elapsed since the repulse at Stormberg,
General Gatacre had held his own at Sterkstroom, under orders not to
attack the enemy, repulsing them easily upon the only occasion when
they ventured to attack him. Now it was his turn also to profit by the
success which Lord Roberts had won. On February 23rd he re-occupied
Molteno, and on the same day sent out a force to reconnoitre the enemy's
position at Stormberg. The incident is memorable as having been the
cause of the death of Captain de Montmorency [Footnote: De Montmorency
had established a remarkable influence over his rough followers. To the
end of the war they could not speak of him without tears in their eyes.
When I asked Sergeant Howe why his captain went almost alone up the
hill, his answer was, 'Because the captain knew no fear.' Byrne, his
soldier servant (an Omdurman V.C. like his master), galloped madly off
next morning with a saddled horse to bring back his captain alive or
dead, and had to be forcibly seized and restrained by our cavalry. ],
one of the most promising of the younger officers of the British army.
He had formed a corps of scouts, consisting originally of four men,
but soon expanding to seventy or eighty. At the head of these men he
confirmed the reputation for desperate valour which he had won in the
Soudan, and added to it proofs of the enterprise and judgment which go
to make a leader of light cavalry. In the course of the reconnaissance
he ascended a small kopje accompanied by three companions, Colonel
Hoskier, a London Volunteer soldier, Vice, a civilian, and Sergeant
Howe. 'They are right on the top of us,' he cried to his comrades, as he
reached the summit, and dropped next instant with a bullet through his
heart. Hoskier was shot in five places, and Vice was mortally wounded,
only Howe escaping. The rest of the scouts, being farther back, were
able to get cover and to keep up a fight until they were extricated by
the remainder of the force. Altogether our loss was formidable rather in
quality than in quantity, for not more than a dozen were hit, while the
Boers suffered considerably from the fire of our guns.

On March 5th General Gatacre found that the Boers were retreating in
front of him--in response, no doubt, to messages similar to those which
had already been received at Colesberg. Moving forward he occupied the
position which had confronted him so long. Thence, having spent some
days in drawing in his scattered detachments and in mending the railway,
he pushed forward on March 12th to Burghersdorp, and thence on the 13th
to Olive Siding, to the south of the Bethulie Bridge.

There are two bridges which span the broad muddy Orange River, thick
with the washings of the Basutoland mountains. One of these is
the magnificent high railway bridge, already blown to ruins by the
retreating Boers. Dead men or shattered horses do not give a more vivid
impression of the unrelenting brutality of war than the sight of a
structure, so graceful and so essential, blown into a huge heap of
twisted girders and broken piers. Half a mile to the west is the road
bridge, broad and old-fashioned. The only hope of preserving some mode
of crossing the difficult river lay in the chance that the troops might
anticipate the Boers who were about to destroy this bridge.

In this they were singularly favoured by fortune. On the arrival of a
small party of scouts and of the Cape Police under Major Nolan-Neylan at
the end of the bridge it was found that all was ready to blow it up, the
mine sunk, the detonator fixed, and the wire laid. Only the connection
between the wire and the charge had not been made. To make sure, the
Boers had also laid several boxes of dynamite under the last span,
in case the mine should fail in its effect. The advance guard of the
Police, only six in number, with Nolan-Neylan at their head, threw
themselves into a building which commanded the approaches of the bridge,
and this handful of men opened so spirited and well-aimed a fire that
the Boers were unable to approach it. As fresh scouts and policemen came
up they were thrown into the firing line, and for a whole long day they
kept the destroyers from the bridge. Had the enemy known how weak they
were and how far from supports, they could have easily destroyed them,
but the game of bluff was admirably played, and a fire kept up which
held the enemy to their rifle pits.

The Boers were in a trench commanding the bridge, and their brisk fire
made it impossible to cross. On the other hand, our rifle fire commanded
the mine and prevented any one from exploding it. But at the approach of
darkness it was certain that this would be done. The situation was saved
by the gallantry of young Popham of the Derbyshires, who crept across
with two men and removed the detonators. There still remained the
dynamite under the further span, and this also they removed, carrying it
off across the bridge under a heavy fire. The work was made absolutely
complete a little later by the exploit of Captain Grant of the Sappers,
who drew the charges from the holes in which they had been sunk, and
dropped them into the river, thus avoiding the chance that they might be
exploded next morning by shell fire. The feat of Popham and of Grant was
not only most gallant but of extraordinary service to the country; but
the highest credit belongs to Nolan-Neylan, of the Police, for the great
promptitude and galantry of his attack, and to McNeill for his support.
On that road bridge and on the pontoon bridge at Norval's Pont Lord
Roberts's army was for a whole month dependent for their supplies.

On March 15th Gatacre's force passed over into the Orange Free State,
took possession of Bethulie, and sent on the cavalry to Springfontein,
which is the junction where the railways from Cape Town and from East
London meet. Here they came in contact with two battalions of Guards
under Pole-Carew, who had been sent down by train from Lord Roberts's
force in the north. With Roberts at Bloemfontein, Gatacre at
Springfontein, Clements in the south-west, and Brabant at Aliwal, the
pacification of the southern portion of the Free State appeared to be
complete. Warlike operations seemed for the moment to be at an end, and
scattered parties traversed the country, 'bill-sticking,' as the troops
called it--that is, carrying Lord Roberts's proclamation to the lonely
farmhouses and outlying villages.

In the meantime the colonial division of that fine old African fighter,
General Brabant, had begun to play its part in the campaign. Among the
many judicious arrangements which Lord Roberts made immediately after
his arrival at the Cape was the assembling of the greater part of
the scattered colonial bands into one division, and placing over it a
General of their own, a man who had defended the cause of the Empire
both in the legislative assembly and the field. To this force was
entrusted the defence of the country lying to the east of Gatacre's
position, and on February 15th they advanced from Penhoek upon
Dordrecht. Their Imperial troops consisted of the Royal Scots and
a section of the 79th R.F.A., the Colonial of Brabant's Horse, the
Kaffrarian Mounted Rifles, the Cape Mounted Rifles and Cape Police, with
Queenstown and East London Volunteers. The force moved upon Dordrecht,
and on February 18th occupied the town after a spirited action, in which
Brabant's Horse played a distinguished part. On March 4th the division
advanced once more with the object of attacking the Boer position at
Labuschagne's Nek, some miles to the north.

Aided by the accurate fire of the 79th R.F.A., the colonials succeeded,
after a long day of desultory fighting, in driving the enemy from
his position. Leaving a garrison in Dordrecht Brabant followed up his
victory and pushed forward with two thousand men and eight guns (six
of them light 7-pounders) to occupy Jamestown, which was done without
resistance. On March 10th the colonial force approached Aliwal, the
frontier town, and so rapid was the advance of Major Henderson with
Brabant's Horse that the bridge at Aliwal was seized before the enemy
could blow it up. At the other side of the bridge there was a strong
stand made by the enemy, who had several Krupp guns in position; but
the light horse, in spite of a loss of some twenty-five men killed and
wounded, held on to the heights which command the river. A week or ten
days were spent in pacifying the large north-eastern portion of Cape
Colony, to which Aliwal acts as a centre. Barkly East, Herschel, Lady
Grey, and other villages were visited by small detachments of the
colonial horsemen, who pushed forward also into the south-eastern
portion of the Free State, passing through Rouxville, and so along the
Basutoland border as far as Wepener. The rebellion in the Colony was
now absolutely dead in the north-east, while in the north-west in the
Prieska and Carnarvon districts it was only kept alive by the fact that
the distances were so great and the rebel forces so scattered that it
was very difficult for our flying columns to reach them. Lord Kitchener
had returned from Paardeberg to attend to this danger upon our line of
communications, and by his exertions all chance of its becoming serious
soon passed. With a considerable force of Yeomanry and Cavalry he passed
swiftly over the country, stamping out the smouldering embers.

So much for the movements into the Free State of Clements, of Gatacre,
and of Brabant. It only remains to trace the not very eventful history
of the Natal campaign after the relief of Ladysmith.

General Buller made no attempt to harass the retreat of the Boers,
although in two days no fewer than two thousand wagons were counted upon
the roads to Newcastle and Dundee. The guns had been removed by train,
the railway being afterwards destroyed. Across the north of Natal lies
the chain of the Biggarsberg mountains, and to this the Transvaal Boers
had retired, while the Freestaters had hurried through the passes of the
Drakensberg in time to make the fruitless opposition to Roberts's
march upon their capital. No accurate information had come in as to the
strength of the Transvaalers, the estimates ranging from five to ten
thousand, but it was known that their position was formidable and their
guns mounted in such a way as to command the Dundee and Newcastle roads.

General Lyttelton's Division had camped as far out as Elandslaagte with
Burn Murdoch's cavalry, while Dundonald's brigade covered the space
between Burn Murdoch's western outposts and the Drakensberg passes.
Few Boers were seen, but it was known that the passes were held in some
strength. Meanwhile the line was being restored in the rear, and on
March 9th the gallant White was enabled to take train for Durban, though
it was not until ten days later that the Colenso bridge was restored.
The Ladysmith garrison had been sent down to Colenso to recruit their
health. There they were formed into a new division, the 4th, the
brigades being given to Howard and Knox, and the command to Lyttelton,
who had returned his former division, the second, to Clery. The 5th and
6th brigades were also formed into one division, the 10th, which was
placed under the capable command of Hunter, who had confirmed in the
south the reputation which he had won in the north of Africa. In the
first week of April Hunter's Division was sent down to Durban and
transferred to the western side, where they were moved up to Kimberley,
whence they advanced northwards. The man on the horse has had in this
war an immense advantage over the man on foot, but there have been times
when the man on the ship has restored the balance. Captain Mahan might
find some fresh texts in the transference of Hunter's Division, or in
the subsequent expedition to Beira.

On April 10th the Boers descended from their mountains and woke up our
sleepy army corps by a brisk artillery fire. Our own guns silenced
it, and the troops instantly relapsed into their slumber. There was no
movement for a fortnight afterwards upon either side, save that of Sir
Charles Warren, who left the army in order to take up the governorship
of British Bechuanaland, a district which was still in a disturbed
state, and in which his presence had a peculiar significance, since he
had rescued portions of it from Boer domination in the early days of the
Transvaal Republic. Hildyard took over the command of the 5th Division.
In this state of inertia the Natal force remained until Lord Roberts,
after a six weeks' halt in Bloemfontein, necessitated by the insecurity
of his railway communication and his want of every sort of military
supply, more especially horses for his cavalry and boots for his
infantry, was at last able on May 2nd to start upon his famous march
to Pretoria. Before accompanying him, however, upon this victorious
progress, it is necessary to devote a chapter to the series of incidents
and operations which had taken place to the east and south-east of
Bloemfontein during this period of compulsory inactivity.

One incident must be recorded in this place, though it was political
rather than military. This was the interchange of notes concerning peace
between Paul Kruger and Lord Salisbury. There is an old English jingle
about 'the fault of the Dutch, giving too little and asking too much,'
but surely there was never a more singular example of it than this.
The united Presidents prepare for war for years, spring an insulting
ultimatum upon us, invade our unfortunate Colonies, solemnly annex all
the portions invaded, and then, when at last driven back, propose a
peace which shall secure for them the whole point originally at issue.
It is difficult to believe that the proposals could have been seriously
meant, but more probable that the plan may have been to strengthen the
hands of the Peace deputation who were being sent to endeavour to secure
European intervention. Could they point to a proposal from the Transvaal
and a refusal from England, it might, if not too curiously examined,
excite the sympathy of those who follow emotions rather than facts.

The documents were as follow:--

'The Presidents of the Orange Free State and of the South African
Republic to the Marquess of Salisbury. Bloemfontein March 5th, 1900.

'The blood and the tears of the thousands who have suffered by this war,
and the prospect of all the moral and economic ruin with which South
Africa is now threatened, make it necessary for both belligerents to
ask themselves dispassionately and as in the sight of the Triune God for
what they are fighting and whether the aim of each justifies all this
appalling misery and devastation.

'With this object, and in view of the assertions of various British
statesmen to the effect that this war was begun and is carried on with
the set purpose of undermining Her Majesty's authority in South Africa,
and of setting up an administration over all South Africa independent
of Her Majesty's Government, we consider it our duty to solemnly declare
that this war was undertaken solely as a defensive measure to safeguard
the threatened independence of the South African Republic, and is
only continued in order to secure and safeguard the incontestable
independence of both Republics as sovereign international States, and to
obtain the assurance that those of Her Majesty's subjects who have taken
part with us in this war shall suffer no harm whatsoever in person or
property.

'On these conditions, but on these conditions alone, are we now as in
the past desirous of seeing peace re-established in South Africa, and
of putting an end to the evils now reigning over South Africa; while,
if Her Majesty's Government is determined to destroy the independence
of the Republics, there is nothing left to us and to our people but
to persevere to the end in the course already begun, in spite of the
overwhelming pre-eminence of the British Empire, conscious that that
God who lighted the inextinguishable fire of the love of freedom in our
hearts and those of our fathers will not forsake us, but will accomplish
His work in us and in our descendants.

'We hesitated to make this declaration earlier to your Excellency as
we feared that, as long as the advantage was always on our side, and
as long as our forces held defensive positions far in Her Majesty's
Colonies, such a declaration might hurt the feelings of honour of the
British people. But now that the prestige of the British Empire may be
considered to be assured by the capture of one of our forces, and that
we are thereby forced to evacuate other positions which we had occupied,
that difficulty is over and we can no longer hesitate to inform your
Government and people in the sight of the whole civilised world why we
are fighting and on what conditions we are ready to restore peace.'

Such was the message, deep in its simplicity and cunning in its candour,
which was sent by the old President, for it is Kruger's style which we
read in every line of it. One has to get back to facts after reading
it, to the enormous war preparations of the Republics, to the unprepared
state of the British Colonies, to the ultimatum, to the annexations, to
the stirring up of rebellion, to the silence about peace in the days of
success, to the fact that by 'inextinguishable love of freedom' is meant
inextinguishable determination to hold other white men as helots--only
then can we form a just opinion of the worth of his message. One must
remember also, behind the homely and pious phraseology, that one is
dealing with a man who has been too cunning for us again and again--a
man who is as wily as the savages with whom he has treated and fought.
This Paul Kruger with the simple words of peace is the same Paul Kruger
who with gentle sayings insured the disarmament of Johannesburg, and
then instantly arrested his enemies--the man whose name was a by-word
for 'slimness' [craftiness] throughout South Africa. With such a man the
best weapon is absolute naked truth with which Lord Salisbury confronted
him in his reply:--

Foreign Office: March 11th.

'I have the honour to acknowledge your Honours' telegram dated March 5th
from Bloemfontein, of which the purport was principally to demand
that Her Majesty's Government shall recognise the "incontestable
independence" of the South African Republic and Orange Free State as
"sovereign international States," and to offer on those terms to bring
the war to a conclusion.

'In the beginning of October last peace existed between Her Majesty and
the two Republics under the conventions which then were in existence.
A discussion had been proceeding for some months between Her Majesty's
Government and the South African Republic, of which the object was to
obtain redress for certain very serious grievances under which British
residents in the Republic were suffering. In the course of those
negotiations the Republic had, to the knowledge of Her Majesty's
Government, made considerable armaments, and the latter had consequently
taken steps to provide corresponding reinforcements to the British
garrisons of Cape Town and Natal. No infringement of the rights
guaranteed by the conventions had up to that time taken place on the
British side. Suddenly, at two days' notice, the South African Republic,
after issuing an insulting ultimatum, declared war, and the Orange Free
State with whom there had not even been any discussion, took a similar
step. Her Majesty's dominions were immediately invaded by the two
Republics, siege was laid to three towns within the British frontier, a
large portion of the two Colonies was overrun with great destruction to
property and life, and the Republics claimed to treat the inhabitants
as if those dominions had been annexed to one or other of them. In
anticipation of these operations the South African Republic had been
accumulating for many years past military stores upon an enormous scale,
which by their character could only have been intended for use against
Great Britain.

'Your Honours make some observations of a negative character upon
the object with which these preparations were made. I do not think it
necessary to discuss the questions which you have raised. But the result
of these preparations, carried on with great secrecy, has been that
the British Empire has been compelled to confront an invasion which has
entailed a costly war and the loss of thousands of precious lives. This
great calamity has been the penalty which Great Britain has suffered for
having in recent years acquiesced in the existence of the two Republics.

'In view of the use to which the two Republics have put the position
which was given to them, and the calamities which their unprovoked
attack has inflicted upon Her Majesty's dominions, Her Majesty's
Government can only answer your Honours' telegram by saying that they
are not prepared to assent to the independence either of the South
African Republic or of the Orange Free State.'

With this frank and uncompromising reply the Empire, with the exception
of a small party of dupes and doctrinaires, heartily agreed. The pens
were dropped, and the Mauser and the Lee-Metford once more took up the
debate.



CHAPTER 22. THE HALT AT BLOEMFONTEIN.

On March 13th Lord Roberts occupied the capital of the Orange Free
State. On May 1st, more than six weeks later, the advance was resumed.
This long delay was absolutely necessary in order to supply the place of
the ten thousand horses and mules which are said to have been used up in
the severe work of the preceding month. It was not merely that a large
number of the cavalry chargers had died or been abandoned, but it was
that of those which remained the majority were in a state which made
them useless for immediate service. How far this might have been
avoided is open to question, for it is notorious that General French's
reputation as a horsemaster does not stand so high as his fame as a
cavalry leader. But besides the horses there was urgent need of every
sort of supply, from boots to hospitals, and the only way by which
they could come was by two single-line railways which unite into one
single-line railway, with the alternative of passing over a precarious
pontoon bridge at Norval's Pont, or truck by truck over the road bridge
at Bethulie. To support an army of fifty thousand men under these
circumstances, eight hundred miles from a base, is no light matter, and
a premature advance which could not be thrust home would be the greatest
of misfortunes. The public at home and the army in Africa became
restless under the inaction, but it was one more example of the absolute
soundness of Lord Roberts's judgment and the quiet resolution with which
he adheres to it. He issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of the
Free State promising protection to all who should bring in their arms
and settle down upon their farms. The most stringent orders were issued
against looting or personal violence, but nothing could exceed the
gentleness and good humour of the troops. Indeed there seemed more need
for an order which should protect them against the extortion of their
conquered enemies. It is strange to think that we are separated by only
ninety years from the savage soldiery of Badajoz and San Sebastian.

The streets of the little Dutch town formed during this interval a
curious object-lesson in the resources of the Empire. All the scattered
Anglo-Celtic races had sent their best blood to fight for the common
cause. Peace is the great solvent, as war is the powerful unifier.
For the British as for the German Empire much virtue had come from
the stress and strain of battle. To stand in the market square of
Bloemfontein and to see the warrior types around you was to be assured
of the future of the race. The middle-sized, square-set, weather-tanned,
straw-bearded British regulars crowded the footpaths. There also
one might see the hard-faced Canadians, the loose-limbed dashing
Australians, fireblooded and keen, the dark New Zealanders, with a Maori
touch here and there in their features, the gallant men of Tasmania, the
gentlemen troopers of India and Ceylon, and everywhere the wild South
African irregulars with their bandoliers and unkempt wiry horses,
Rimington's men with the racoon bands, Roberts's Horse with the black
plumes, some with pink puggarees, some with birdseye, but all of the
same type, hard, rugged, and alert. The man who could look at these
splendid soldiers, and, remembering the sacrifices of time, money,
and comfort which most of them had made before they found themselves
fighting in the heart of Africa, doubt that the spirit of the race
burned now as brightly as ever, must be devoid of judgment and sympathy.
The real glories of the British race lie in the future, not in the past.
The Empire walks, and may still walk, with an uncertain step, but with
every year its tread will be firmer, for its weakness is that of waxing
youth and not of waning age.

The greatest misfortune of the campaign, one which it was obviously
impolitic to insist upon at the time, began with the occupation of
Bloemfontein. This was the great outbreak of enteric among the troops.
For more than two months the hospitals were choked with sick. One
general hospital with five hundred beds held seventeen hundred sick,
nearly all enterics. A half field hospital with fifty beds held three
hundred and seventy cases. The total number of cases could not have
been less than six or seven thousand--and this not of an evanescent and
easily treated complaint, but of the most persistent and debilitating
of continued fevers, the one too which requires the most assiduous
attention and careful nursing. How great was the strain only those who
had to meet it can tell. The exertions of the military hospitals and
of those others which were fitted out by private benevolence sufficed,
after a long struggle, to meet the crisis. At Bloemfontein alone, as
many as fifty men died in one day, and more than 1000 new graves in the
cemetery testify to the severity of the epidemic. No men in the campaign
served their country more truly than the officers and men of the medical
service, nor can any one who went through the epidemic forget the
bravery and unselfishness of those admirable nursing sisters who set the
men around them a higher standard of devotion to duty.

Enteric fever is always endemic in the country, and especially at
Bloemfontein, but there can be no doubt that this severe outbreak had
its origin in the Paardeberg water. All through the campaign, while the
machinery for curing disease was excellent, that for preventing it was
elementary or absent. If bad water can cost us more than all the bullets
of the enemy, then surely it is worth our while to make the drinking
of unboiled water a stringent military offence, and to attach to every
company and squadron the most rapid and efficient means for boiling
it--for filtering alone is useless. An incessant trouble it would be,
but it would have saved a division for the army. It is heartrending
for the medical man who has emerged from a hospital full of water-born
pestilence to see a regimental watercart being filled, without protest,
at some polluted wayside pool. With precautions and with inoculation all
those lives might have been saved. The fever died down with the advance
of the troops and the coming of the colder weather.

To return to the military operations: these, although they were
stagnant so far as the main army was concerned, were exceedingly and
inconveniently active in other quarters. Three small actions, two of
which were disastrous to our arms, and one successful defence marked the
period of the pause at Bloemfontein.

To the north of the town, some twelve miles distant lies the ubiquitous
Modder River, which is crossed by a railway bridge at a place named
Glen. The saving of the bridge was of considerable importance, and might
by the universal testimony of the farmers of that district have been
effected any time within the first few days of our occupation. We
appear, however, to have imperfectly appreciated how great was the
demoralisation of the Boers. In a week or so they took heart, returned,
and blew up the bridge. Roving parties of the enemy, composed mainly of
the redoubtable Johannesburg police, reappeared even to the south of the
river. Young Lygon was killed, and Colonels Crabbe and Codrington with
Captain Trotter, all of the Guards, were severely wounded by such a
body, whom they gallantly but injudiciously attempted to arrest when
armed only with revolvers.

These wandering patrols who kept the country unsettled, and harassed
the farmers who had taken advantage of Lord Roberts's proclamation, were
found to have their centre at a point some six miles to the north of
Glen, named Karee. At Karee a formidable line of hills cut the British
advance, and these had been occupied by a strong body of the enemy
with guns. Lord Roberts determined to drive them off, and on March 28th
Tucker's 7th Division, consisting of Chermside's brigade (Lincolns,
Norfolks, Hampshires, and Scottish Borderers), and Wavell's brigade
(Cheshires, East Lancashires, North Staffords, and South Wales
Borderers), were assembled at Glen. The artillery consisted of the
veteran 18th, 62nd, and 75th R.F.A. Three attenuated cavalry brigades
with some mounted infantry completed the force.

The movement was to be upon the old model, and in result it proved to
be only too truly so. French's cavalry were to get round one flank, Le
Gallais's mounted infantry round the other, and Tucker's Division to
attack in front. Nothing could be more perfect in theory and nothing
apparently more defective in practice. Since on this as on other
occasions the mere fact that the cavalry were demonstrating in the rear
caused the complete abandonment of the position, it is difficult to
see what the object of the infantry attack could be. The ground was
irregular and unexplored, and it was late before the horsemen on their
weary steeds found themselves behind the flank of the enemy. Some of
them, Le Gallais's mounted infantry and Davidson's guns, had come from
Bloemfontein during the night, and the horses were exhausted by the long
march, and by the absurd weight which the British troop-horse is asked
to carry. Tucker advanced his infantry exactly as Kelly-Kenny had done
at Driefontein, and with a precisely similar result. The eight regiments
going forward in echelon of battalions imagined from the silence of the
enemy that the position had been abandoned. They were undeceived by a
cruel fire which beat upon two companies of the Scottish Borderers from
a range of two hundred yards. They were driven back, but reformed in
a donga. About half-past two a Boer gun burst shrapnel over the
Lincolnshires and Scottish Borderers with some effect, for a single
shell killed five of the latter regiment. Chermside's brigade was now
all involved in the fight, and Wavell's came up in support, but the
ground was too open and the position too strong to push the attack home.
Fortunately, about four o'clock, the horse batteries with French began
to make their presence felt from behind, and the Boers instantly quitted
their position and made off through the broad gap which still remained
between French and Le Gallais. The Brandfort plain appears to be ideal
ground for cavalry, but in spite of that the enemy with his guns got
safely away. The loss of the infantry amounted to one hundred and sixty
killed and wounded, the larger share of the casualties and of the honour
falling to the Scottish Borderers and the East Lancashires. The
infantry was not well handled, the cavalry was slow, and the guns were
inefficient--altogether an inglorious day. Yet strategically it was of
importance, for the ridge captured was the last before one came to the
great plain which stretched, with a few intermissions, to the north.
From March 29th until May 2nd Karee remained the advanced post.

In the meanwhile there had been a series of operations in the east which
had ended in a serious disaster. Immediately after the occupation of
Bloemfontein (on March 18th) Lord Roberts despatched to the east a
small column consisting of the 10th Hussars, the composite regiment,
two batteries (Q and U) of the Horse Artillery, some mounted infantry,
Roberts's Horse, and Rimington's Guides. On the eastern horizon forty
miles from the capital, but in that clear atmosphere looking only half
the distance, there stands the impressive mountain named Thabanchu (the
black mountain). To all Boers it is an historical spot, for it was at
its base that the wagons of the Voortrekkers, coming by devious ways
from various parts, assembled. On the further side of Thabanchu, to the
north and east of it, lies the richest grain-growing portion of the Free
State, the centre of which is Ladybrand. The forty miles which intervene
between Bloemfontein and Thabanchu are intersected midway by the Modder
River. At this point are the waterworks, erected recently with modern
machinery, to take the place of the insanitary wells on which the town
had been dependent. The force met with no resistance, and the small town
of Thabanchu was occupied.

Colonel Pilcher, the leader of the Douglas raid, was inclined to explore
a little further, and with three squadrons of mounted men he rode on
to the eastward. Two commandos, supposed to be Grobler's and Olivier's,
were seen by them, moving on a line which suggested that they were going
to join Steyn, who was known to be rallying his forces at Kroonstad,
his new seat of government in the north of the Free State. Pilcher, with
great daring, pushed onwards until with his little band on their tired
horses he found himself in Ladybrand, thirty miles from his
nearest supports. Entering the town he seized the landdrost and the
field-cornet, but found that strong bodies of the enemy were moving upon
him and that it was impossible for him to hold the place. He retired,
therefore, holding grimly on to his prisoners, and got back with small
loss to the place from which he started. It was a dashing piece of
bluff, and, when taken with the Douglas exploit, leads one to hope that
Pilcher may have a chance of showing what he can do with larger means
at his disposal. Finding that the enemy was following him in force, he
pushed on the same night for Thabanchu. His horsemen must have covered
between fifty and sixty miles in the twenty-four hours.

Apparently the effect of Pilcher's exploit was to halt the march of
those commandos which had been seen trekking to the north-west, and to
cause them to swing round upon Thabanchu. Broadwood, a young cavalry
commander who had won a name in Egypt, considered that his position was
unnecessarily exposed and fell back upon Bloemfontein. He halted on the
first night near the waterworks, halfway upon his journey.

The Boers are great masters in the ambuscade. Never has any race shown
such aptitude for this form of warfare--a legacy from a long succession
of contests with cunning savages. But never also have they done anything
so clever and so audacious as De Wet's dispositions in this action. One
cannot go over the ground without being amazed at the ingenuity of their
attack, and also at the luck which favoured them, for the trap which
they had laid for others might easily have proved an absolutely fatal
one for themselves.

The position beside the Modder at which the British camped had numerous
broken hills to the north and east of it. A force of Boers, supposed
to number about two thousand men, came down in the night, bringing with
them several heavy guns, and with the early morning opened a brisk fire
upon the camp. The surprise was complete. But the refinement of the Boer
tactics lay in the fact that they had a surprise within a surprise--and
it was the second which was the more deadly.

The force which Broadwood had with him consisted of the 10th Hussars
and the composite regiment, Rimington's Scouts, Roberts's Horse, the
New Zealand and Burmah Mounted Infantry, with Q and U batteries of Horse
Artillery. With such a force, consisting entirely of mounted men, he
could not storm the hills upon which the Boer guns were placed, and his
twelve-pounders were unable to reach the heavier cannon of the enemy.
His best game was obviously to continue his march to Bloemfontein. He
sent on the considerable convoy of wagons and the guns, while he with
the cavalry covered the rear, upon which the long-range pieces of the
enemy kept up the usual well-directed but harmless fire.

Broadwood's retreating column now found itself on a huge plain which
stretches all the way to Bloemfontein, broken only by two hills, both
of which were known to be in our possession. The plain was one which was
continually traversed from end to end by our troops and convoys, so that
once out upon its surface all danger seemed at an end. Broadwood had
additional reasons for feeling secure, for he knew that, in answer
to his own wise request, Colvile's Division had been sent out before
daybreak that morning from Bloemfontein to meet him. In a very few miles
their vanguard and his must come together. There were obviously no Boers
upon the plain, but if there were they would find themselves between two
fires. He gave no thought to his front therefore, but rode behind, where
the Boer guns were roaring, and whence the Boer riflemen might ride.

But in spite of the obvious there WERE Boers upon the plain, so placed
that they must either bring off a remarkable surprise or be themselves
cut off to a man. Across the veld, some miles from the waterworks, there
runs a deep donga or watercourse--one of many, but the largest. It cuts
the rough road at right angles. Its depth and breadth are such that a
wagon would dip down the incline, and disappear for about two minutes
before it would become visible again at the crown of the other side.
In appearance it was a huge curving ditch with a stagnant stream at the
bottom. The sloping sides of the ditch were fringed with Boers, who had
ridden thither before dawn and were now waiting for the unsuspecting
column. There were not more than three hundred of them, and four times
their number were approaching; but no odds can represent the difference
between the concealed man with the magazine rifle and the man upon the
plain.

There were two dangers, however, which the Boers ran, and, skilful as
their dispositions were, their luck was equally great, for the risks
were enormous. One was that a force coming the other way (Colvile's
was only a few miles off) would arrive, and that they would be ground
between the upper and the lower millstone. The other was that for once
the British scouts might give the alarm and that Broadwood's mounted men
would wheel swiftly to right and left and secure the ends of the long
donga. Should that happen, not a man of them could possibly escape. But
they took their chances like brave men, and fortune was their friend.
The wagons came on without any scouts. Behind them was U battery, then
Q, with Roberts's Horse abreast of them and the rest of the cavalry
behind.

As the wagons, occupied for the most part only by unarmed sick soldiers
and black transport drivers, came down into the drift, the Boers quickly
but quietly took possession of them, and drove them on up the further
slope. Thus the troops behind saw their wagons dip down, reappear,
and continue on their course. The idea of an ambush could not suggest
itself. Only one thing could avert an absolute catastrophe, and that was
the appearance of a hero who would accept certain death in order to warn
his comrades. Such a man rode by the wagons--though, unhappily, in the
stress and rush of the moment there is no certainty as to his name or
rank. We only know that one was found brave enough to fire his revolver
in the face of certain death. The outburst of firing which answered his
shot was the sequel which saved the column. Not often is it given to a
man to die so choice a death as that of this nameless soldier.

But the detachment was already so placed that nothing could save it from
heavy loss. The wagons had all passed but nine, and the leading battery
of artillery was at the very edge of the donga. Nothing is so helpless
as a limbered-up battery. In an instant the teams were shot down and the
gunners were made prisoners. A terrific fire burst at the same instant
upon Roberts's Horse, who were abreast of the guns. 'Files a bout!
gallop!' yelled Colonel Dawson, and by his exertions and those of Major
Pack-Beresford the corps was extricated and reformed some hundreds
of yards further off. But the loss of horses and men was heavy. Major
Pack-Beresford and other officers were shot down, and every unhorsed
man remained necessarily as a prisoner under the very muzzles of the
riflemen in the donga.

As Roberts's Horse turned and galloped for dear life across the flat,
four out of the six guns [Footnote: Of the other two one overturned and
could not be righted, the other had the wheelers shot and could not be
extricated from the tumult. It was officially stated that the guns of
Q battery were halted a thousand yards off the donga, but my impression
was, from examining the ground, that it was not more than six hundred.]
of Q battery and one gun (the rearmost) of U battery swung round and
dashed frantically for a place of safety. At the same instant every Boer
along the line of the donga sprang up and emptied his magazine into
the mass of rushing, shouting soldiers, plunging horses, and screaming
Kaffirs. It was for a few moments a sauve-qui-peut. Serjeant-Major
Martin of U, with a single driver on a wheeler, got away the last gun
of his battery. The four guns which were extricated of Q, under Major
Phipps-Hornby, whirled across the plain, pulled up, unlimbered, and
opened a brisk fire of shrapnel from about a thousand yards upon the
donga. Had the battery gone on for double the distance, its action would
have been more effective, for it would have been under a less deadly
rifle fire, but in any case its sudden change from flight to discipline
and order steadied the whole force. Roberts's men sprang from their
horses, and with the Burmese and New Zealanders flung themselves down
in a skirmish line. The cavalry moved to the left to find some drift by
which the donga could be passed, and out of chaos there came in a few
minutes calm and a settled purpose.

It was for Q battery to cover the retreat of the force, and most nobly
it did it. A fortnight later a pile of horses, visible many hundreds of
yards off across the plain, showed where the guns had stood. It was the
Colenso of the horse gunners. In a devilish sleet of lead they stood to
their work, loading and firing while a man was left. Some of the guns
were left with two men to work them, one was loaded and fired by a
single officer. When at last the order for retirement came, only ten
men, several of them wounded, were left upon their feet. With scratch
teams from the limbers, driven by single gunners, the twelve-pounders
staggered out of action, and the skirmish line of mounted infantry
sprang to their feet amid the hail of bullets to cheer them as they
passed.

It was no slight task to extricate that sorely stricken force from the
close contact of an exultant enemy, and to lead it across that terrible
donga. Yet, thanks to the coolness of Broadwood and the steadiness of
his rearguard, the thing was done. A practicable passage had been found
two miles to the south by Captain Chester-Master of Rimington's. This
corps, with Roberts's, the New Zealanders, and the 3rd Mounted Infantry,
covered the withdrawal in turn. It was one of those actions in which the
horseman who is trained to fight upon foot did very much better than the
regular cavalry. In two hours' time the drift had been passed and the
survivors of the force found themselves in safety.

The losses in this disastrous but not dishonourable engagement were
severe. About thirty officers and five hundred men were killed, wounded,
or missing. The prisoners came to more than three hundred. They lost
a hundred wagons, a considerable quantity of stores, and seven
twelve-pounder guns--five from U battery and two from Q. Of U battery
only Major Taylor and Sergeant-Major Martin seem to have escaped, the
rest being captured en bloc. Of Q battery nearly every man was killed or
wounded. Roberts's Horse, the New Zealanders, and the mounted infantry
were the other corps which suffered most heavily. Among many brave men
who died, none was a greater loss to the service than Major Booth of
the Northumberland Fusiliers, serving in the mounted infantry. With four
comrades he held a position to cover the retreat, and refused to leave
it. Such men are inspired by the traditions of the past, and pass on the
story of their own deaths to inspire fresh heroes in the future.

Broadwood, the instant that he had disentangled himself, faced about,
and brought his guns into action. He was not strong enough, however,
nor were his men in a condition, to seriously attack the enemy. Martyr's
mounted infantry had come up, led by the Queenslanders, and at the cost
of some loss to themselves helped to extricate the disordered force.
Colvile's Division was behind Bushman's Kop, only a few miles off, and
there were hopes that it might push on and prevent the guns and wagons
from being removed. Colvile did make an advance, but slowly and in a
flanking direction instead of dashing swiftly forward to retrieve the
situation. It must be acknowledged, however, that the problem which
faced this General was one of great difficulty. It was almost certain
that before he could throw his men into the action the captured guns
would be beyond his reach, and it was possible that he might swell the
disaster. With all charity, however, one cannot but feel that his
return next morning, after a reinforcement during the night, without
any attempt to force the Boer position, was lacking in enterprise.
[Footnote: It may be urged in General Colvile's defence that his
division had already done a long march from Bloemfontein. A division,
however, which contains two such brigades as Macdonald's and
Smith-Dorrien's may safely be called upon for any exertions. The
gunner officers in Colvile's division heard their comrades' guns in
'section--fire' and knew it to be the sign of a desperate situation.]
The victory left the Boers in possession of the waterworks, and
Bloemfontein had to fall back upon her wells--a change which reacted
most disastrously upon the enteric which was already decimating the
troops.

The effect of the Sanna's Post defeat was increased by the fact that
only four days later (on April 4th) a second even more deplorable
disaster befell our troops. This was the surrender of five companies
of infantry, two of them mounted, at Reddersberg. So many surrenders of
small bodies of troops had occurred during the course of the war that
the public, remembering how seldom the word 'surrender' had ever been
heard in our endless succession of European wars, had become very
restive upon the subject, and were sometimes inclined to question
whether this new and humiliating fact did not imply some deterioration
of our spirit. The fear was natural, and yet nothing could be more
unjust to this the most splendid army which has ever marched under the
red-crossed flag. The fact was new because the conditions were new, and
it was inherent in those conditions. In that country of huge distances
small bodies must be detached, for the amount of space covered by
the large bodies was not sufficient for all military purposes. In
reconnoitring, in distributing proclamations, in collecting arms, in
overawing outlying districts, weak columns must be used. Very often
these columns must contain infantry soldiers, as the demands upon the
cavalry were excessive. Such bodies, moving through a hilly country with
which they were unfamiliar, were always liable to be surrounded by a
mobile enemy. Once surrounded the length of their resistance was limited
by three things: their cartridges, their water, and their food. When
they had all three, as at Wepener or Mafeking, they could hold out
indefinitely. When one or other was wanting, as at Reddersberg or
Nicholson's Nek, their position was impossible. They could not break
away, for how can men on foot break away from horsemen? Hence those
repeated humiliations, which did little or nothing to impede the
course of the war, and which were really to be accepted as one of the
inevitable prices which we had to pay for the conditions under which
the war was fought. Numbers, discipline, and resources were with us.
Mobility, distances, nature of the country, insecurity of supplies, were
with them. We need not take it to heart therefore if it happened, with
all these forces acting against them, that our soldiers found themselves
sometimes in a position whence neither wisdom nor valour could rescue
them. To travel through that country, fashioned above all others for
defensive warfare, with trench and fort of superhuman size and strength,
barring every path, one marvels how it was that such incidents were not
more frequent and more serious. It is deplorable that the white flag
should ever have waved over a company of British troops, but the man who
is censorious upon the subject has never travelled in South Africa.

In the disaster at Reddersberg three of the companies were of the
Irish Rifles, and two of the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers--the same
unfortunate regiments which had already been cut up at Stormberg. They
had been detached from Gatacre's 3rd Division, the headquarters of which
was at Springfontein. On the abandonment of Thabanchu and the disaster
of Sanna's Post, it was obvious that we should draw in our detached
parties to the east; so the five companies were ordered to leave
Dewetsdorp, which they were garrisoning, and to get back to the railway
line. Either the order was issued too late, or they were too slow in
obeying it, for they were only halfway upon their journey, near the
town of Reddersberg, when the enemy came down upon them with five guns.
Without artillery they were powerless, but, having seized a kopje, they
took such shelter as they could find, and waited in the hope of succour.
Their assailants seem to have been detached from De Wet's force in the
north, and contained among them many of the victors of Sanna's Post. The
attack began at 11 A.M. of April 3rd, and all day the men lay among the
stones, subjected to the pelt of shell and bullet. The cover was good,
however, and the casualties were not heavy. The total losses were under
fifty killed and wounded. More serious than the enemy's fire was the
absence of water, save a very limited supply in a cart. A message was
passed through of the dire straits in which they found themselves, and
by the late afternoon the news had reached headquarters. Lord Roberts
instantly despatched the Camerons, just arrived from Egypt, to Bethany,
which is the nearest point upon the line, and telegraphed to Gatacre at
Springfontein to take measures to save his compromised detachment. The
telegram should have reached Gatacre early on the evening of the 3rd,
and he had collected a force of fifteen hundred men, entrained
it, journeyed forty miles up the line, detrained it, and reached
Reddersberg, which is ten or twelve miles from the line, by 10.30 next
morning. Already, however, it was too late, and the besieged force,
unable to face a second day without water under that burning sun, had
laid down their arms. No doubt the stress of thirst was dreadful,
and yet one cannot say that the defence rose to the highest point of
resolution. Knowing that help could not be far off, the garrison should
have held on while they could lift a rifle. If the ammunition was
running low, it was bad management which caused it to be shot away too
fast. Captain McWhinnie, who was in command, behaved with the utmost
personal gallantry. Not only the troops but General Gatacre also was
involved in the disaster. Blame may have attached to him for leaving
a detachment at Dewetsdorp, and not having a supporting body at
Reddersberg upon which it might fall back; but it must be remembered
that his total force was small and that he had to cover a long stretch
of the lines of communication. As to General Gatacre's energy and
gallantry it is a by-word in the army; but coming after the Stormberg
disaster this fresh mishap to his force made the continuance of his
command impossible. Much sympathy was felt with him in the army, where
he was universally liked and respected by officers and men. He returned
to England, and his division was taken over by General Chermside.

In a single week, at a time when the back of the war had seemed to be
broken, we had lost nearly twelve hundred men with seven guns. The men
of the Free State--for the fighting was mainly done by commandos from
the Ladybrand, Winburg, Bethlehem, and Harrismith districts--deserve
great credit for this fine effort, and their leader De Wet confirmed the
reputation which he had already gained as a dashing and indefatigable
leader. His force was so weak that when Lord Roberts was able to really
direct his own against it, he brushed it away before him; but the manner
in which De Wet took advantage of Roberts's enforced immobility, and
dared to get behind so mighty an enemy, was a fine exhibition of courage
and enterprise. The public at home chafed at this sudden and unexpected
turn of affairs; but the General, constant to his own fixed purpose,
did not permit his strength to be wasted, and his cavalry to be again
disorganised, by flying excursions, but waited grimly until he should be
strong enough to strike straight at Pretoria.

In this short period of depression there came one gleam of light from
the west. This was the capture of a commando of sixty Boers, or rather
of sixty foreigners fighting for the Boers, and the death of the gallant
Frenchman, De Villebois-Mareuil, who appears to have had the ambition of
playing Lafayette in South Africa to Kruger's Washington. From the time
that Kimberley had been reoccupied the British had been accumulating
their force there so as to make a strong movement which should coincide
with that of Roberts from Bloemfontein. Hunter's Division from Natal
was being moved round to Kimberley, and Methuen already commanded
a considerable body of troops, which included a number of the newly
arrived Imperial Yeomanry. With these Methuen pacified the surrounding
country, and extended his outposts to Barkly West on the one side, to
Boshof on the other, and to Warrenton upon the Vaal River in the centre.
On April 4th news reached Boshof that a Boer commando had been seen some
ten miles to the east of the town, and a force, consisting of Yeomanry,
Kimberley Light Horse, and half of Butcher's veteran 4th battery, was
sent to attack them. They were found to have taken up their position
upon a kopje which, contrary to all Boer custom, had no other kopjes
to support it. French generalship was certainly not so astute as Boer
cunning. The kopje was instantly surrounded, and the small force upon
the summit being without artillery in the face of our guns found itself
in exactly the same position which our men had been in twenty-four hours
before at Reddersberg. Again was shown the advantage which the mounted
rifleman has over the cavalry, for the Yeomanry and Light Horsemen left
their horses and ascended the hill with the bayonet. In three hours all
was over and the Boers had laid down their arms. Villebois was shot
with seven of his companions, and there were nearly sixty prisoners.
It speaks well for the skirmishing of the Yeomanry and the way in which
they were handled by Lord Chesham that though they worked their way up
the hill under fire they only lost four killed and a few wounded. The
affair was a small one, but it was complete, and it came at a time when
a success was very welcome. One bustling week had seen the expensive
victory of Karee, the disasters of Sanna's Post and Reddersberg, and the
successful skirmish of Boshof. Another chapter must be devoted to the
movement towards the south of the Boer forces and the dispositions which
Lord Roberts made to meet it.



CHAPTER 23. THE CLEARING OF THE SOUTH-EAST.

Lord Roberts never showed his self-command and fixed purpose more
clearly than during his six weeks' halt at Bloemfontein. De Wet, the
most enterprising and aggressive of the Boer commanders, was attacking
his eastern posts and menacing his line of communications. A fussy or
nervous general would have harassed his men and worn out his horses by
endeavouring to pursue a number of will-of-the-wisp commandos. Roberts
contented himself by building up his strength at the capital, and
by spreading nearly twenty thousand men along his line of rail from
Bloemfontein to Bethulie. When the time came he would strike, but until
then he rested. His army was not only being rehorsed and reshod, but
in some respects was being reorganised. One powerful weapon which was
forged during those weeks was the collection of the mounted infantry of
the central army into one division, which was placed under the command
of Ian Hamilton, with Hutton and Ridley as brigadiers. Hutton's
brigade contained the Canadians, New South Wales men, West Australians,
Queenslanders, New Zealanders, Victorians, South Australians, and
Tasmanians, with four battalions of Imperial Mounted Infantry, and
several light batteries. Ridley's brigade contained the South African
irregular regiments of cavalry, with some imperial troops. The strength
of the whole division came to over ten thousand rifles, and in its ranks
there rode the hardiest and best from every corner of the earth over
which the old flag is flying.

A word as to the general distribution of the troops at this instant
while Roberts was gathering himself for his spring. Eleven divisions of
infantry were in the field. Of these the 1st (Methuen's) and half
the 10th (Hunter's) were at Kimberley, forming really the
hundred-mile-distant left wing of Lord Roberts's army. On that side also
was a considerable force of Yeomanry, as General Villebois discovered.
In the centre with Roberts was the 6th division (Kelly-Kenny's) at
Bloemfontein, the 7th (Tucker's) at Karee, twenty miles north, the 9th
(Colvile's) and the 11th (Pole-Carew's) near Bloemfontein. French's
cavalry division was also in the centre. As one descended the line
towards the Cape one came on the 3rd division (Chermside's, late
Gatacre's), which had now moved up to Reddersberg, and then, further
south, the 8th (Rundle's), near Rouxville. To the south and east was the
other half of Hunter's division (Hart's brigade), and Brabant's Colonial
division, half of which was shut up in Wepener and the rest at Aliwal.
These were the troops operating in the Free State, with the addition of
the division of mounted infantry in process of formation.

There remained the three divisions in Natal, the 2nd (Clery's), the 4th
(Lyttelton's), and the 5th (Hildyard's, late Warren's), with the cavalry
brigades of Burn-Murdoch, Dundonald, and Brocklehurst. These,
with numerous militia and unbrigaded regiments along the lines of
communication, formed the British army in South Africa. At Mafeking some
900 irregulars stood at bay, with another force about as large under
Plumer a little to the north, endeavouring to relieve them. At Beira, a
Portuguese port through which we have treaty rights by which we may pass
troops, a curious mixed force of Australians, New Zealanders and others
was being disembarked and pushed through to Rhodesia, so as to cut off
any trek which the Boers might make in that direction. Carrington, a
fierce old soldier with a large experience of South African warfare, was
in command of this picturesque force, which moved amid tropical forests
over crocodile-haunted streams, while their comrades were shivering in
the cold southerly winds of a Cape winter. Neither our Government, our
people, nor the world understood at the beginning of this campaign how
grave was the task which we had undertaken, but, having once realised
it, it must be acknowledged that it was carried through in no
half-hearted way. So vast was the scene of operations that the
Canadian might almost find his native climate at one end of it and the
Queenslander at the other.

To follow in close detail the movements of the Boers and the counter
movements of the British in the southeast portion of the Free State
during this period would tax the industry of the historian and the
patience of the reader. Let it be told with as much general truth and
as little geographical detail as possible. The narrative which is
interrupted by an eternal reference to the map is a narrative spoiled.

The main force of the Freestaters had assembled in the north-eastern
corner of their State, and from this they made their sally southwards,
attacking or avoiding at their pleasure the eastern line of British
outposts. Their first engagement, that of Sanna's Post, was a great and
deserved success. Three days later they secured the five companies at
Reddersberg. Warned in time, the other small British bodies closed in
upon their supports, and the railway line, that nourishing artery which
was necessary for the very existence of the army, was held too strongly
for attack. The Bethulie Bridge was a particularly important point; but
though the Boers approached it, and even went the length of announcing
officially that they had destroyed it, it was not actually attacked.
At Wepener, however, on the Basutoland border, they found an isolated
force, and proceeded at once, according to their custom, to hem it in
and to bombard it, until one of their three great allies, want of food,
want of water, or want of cartridges, should compel a surrender.

On this occasion, however, the Boers had undertaken a task which was
beyond their strength. The troops at Wepener were one thousand seven
hundred in number, and formidable in quality. The place had been
occupied by part of Brabant's Colonial division, consisting of hardy
irregulars, men of the stuff of the defenders of Mafeking. Such men are
too shrewd to be herded into an untenable position and too valiant to
surrender a tenable one. The force was commanded by a dashing soldier,
Colonel Dalgety, of the Cape Mounted Rifles, as tough a fighter as his
famous namesake. There were with him nearly a thousand men of Brabant's
Horse, four hundred of the Cape Mounted Rifles, four hundred Kaffrarian
Horse, with some scouts, and one hundred regulars, including twenty
invaluable Sappers. They were strong in guns--two seven-pounders, two
naval twelve-pounders, two fifteen-pounders and several machine guns.
The position which they had taken up, Jammersberg, three miles north of
Wepener, was a very strong one, and it would have taken a larger force
than De Wet had at his disposal to turn them out of it. The defence had
been arranged by Major Cedric Maxwell, of the Sappers; and though the
huge perimeter, nearly eight miles, made its defence by so small a force
a most difficult matter, the result proved how good his dispositions
were.

At the same time, the Boers came on with every confidence of victory,
for they had a superiority in guns and an immense superiority in men.
But after a day or two of fierce struggle their attack dwindled down
into a mere blockade. On April 9th they attacked furiously, both by day
and by night, and on the 10th the pressure was equally severe. In these
two days occurred the vast majority of the casualties. But the defenders
took cover in a way to which British regulars have not yet attained, and
they outshot their opponents both with their rifles and their cannon.
Captain Lukin's management of the artillery was particularly skilful.
The weather was vile and the hastily dug trenches turned into ditches
half full of water, but neither discomfort nor danger shook the courage
of the gallant colonials. Assault after assault was repulsed, and
the scourging of the cannon was met with stolid endurance. The Boers
excelled all their previous feats in the handling of artillery by
dragging two guns up to the summit of the lofty Jammersberg, whence they
fired down upon the camp. Nearly all the horses were killed and three
hundred of the troopers were hit, a number which is double that of the
official return, for the simple reason that the spirit of the force
was so high that only those who were very severely wounded reported
themselves as wounded at all. None but the serious cases ever reached
the hands of Dr. Faskally, who did admirable work with very slender
resources. How many the enemy lost can never be certainly known, but as
they pushed home several attacks it is impossible to imagine that their
losses were less than those of the victorious defenders. At the end of
seventeen days of mud and blood the brave irregulars saw an empty laager
and abandoned trenches. Their own resistance and the advance of Brabant
to their rescue had caused a hasty retreat of the enemy. Wepener,
Mafeking, Kimberley, the taking of the first guns at Ladysmith,
the deeds of the Imperial Light Horse--it cannot be denied that our
irregular South African forces have a brilliant record for the war. They
are associated with many successes and with few disasters. Their fine
record cannot, I think, be fairly ascribed to any greater hardihood
which one portion of our race has when compared with another, for a
South African must admit that in the best colonial corps at least
half the men were Britons of Britain. In the Imperial Light Horse the
proportion was very much higher. But what may fairly be argued is that
their exploits have proved, what the American war proved long ago, that
the German conception of discipline is an obsolete fetish, and that the
spirit of free men, whose individualism has been encouraged rather
than crushed, is equal to any feat of arms. The clerks and miners and
engineers who went up Elandslaagte Hill without bayonets, shoulder to
shoulder with the Gordons, and who, according to Sir George White, saved
Ladysmith on January 6th, have shown for ever that with men of our race
it is the spirit within, and not the drill or the discipline, that makes
a formidable soldier. An intelligent appreciation of the fact might in
the course of the next few years save us as much money as would go far
to pay for the war.

It may well be asked how for so long a period as seventeen days the
British could tolerate a force to the rear of them when with their great
superiority of numbers they could have readily sent an army to drive
it away. The answer must be that Lord Roberts had despatched his trusty
lieutenant, Kitchener, to Aliwal, whence he had been in heliographic
communication with Wepener, that he was sure that the place could hold
out, and that he was using it, as he did Kimberley, to hold the enemy
while he was making his plans for their destruction. This was the bait
to tempt them to their ruin. Had the trap not been a little slow in
closing, the war in the Free State might have ended then and there.
From the 9th to the 25th the Boers were held in front of Wepener. Let us
trace the movements of the other British detachments during that time.

Brabant's force, with Hart's brigade, which had been diverted on its way
to Kimberley, where it was to form part of Hunter's division, was moving
on the south towards Wepener, advancing through Rouxville, but going
slowly for fear of scaring the Boers away before they were sufficiently
compromised. Chermside's 3rd division approached from the north-west,
moving out from the railway at Bethany, and passing through Reddersberg
towards Dewetsdorp, from which it would directly threaten the Boer
line of retreat. The movement was made with reassuring slowness and
gentleness, as when the curved hand approaches the unconscious fly. And
then suddenly, on April 21st, Lord Roberts let everything go. Had the
action of the agents been as swift and as energetic as the mind of the
planner, De Wet could not have escaped us.

What held Lord Roberts's hand for some few days after he was ready to
strike was the abominable weather. Rain was falling in sheets, and
those who know South African roads, South African mud, and South African
drifts will understand how impossible swift military movements are under
those circumstances. But with the first clearing of the clouds the
hills to the south and east of Bloemfontein were dotted with our scouts.
Rundle with his 8th division was brought swiftly up from the south,
united with Chermside to the east of Reddersberg, and the whole force,
numbering 13,000 rifles with thirty guns, advanced upon Dewetsdorp,
Rundle, as senior officer, being in command. As they marched the blue
hills of Wepener lined the sky some twenty miles to the south, eloquent
to every man of the aim and object of their march.

On April 20th, Rundle as he advanced found a force with artillery across
his path to Dewetsdorp. It is always difficult to calculate the number
of hidden men and lurking guns which go to make up a Boer army, but with
some knowledge of their total at Wepener it was certain that the force
opposed to him must be very inferior to his own. At Constantia Farm,
where he found them in position, it is difficult to imagine that there
were more than three thousand men. Their left flank was their weak
point, as a movement on that side would cut them off from Wepener
and drive them up towards our main force in the north. One would have
thought that a containing force of three thousand men, and a flanking
movement from eight thousand, would have turned them out, as it has
turned them out so often before and since. Yet a long-range action began
on Friday, April 20th, and lasted the whole of the 21st, the 22nd, and
the 23rd, in which we sustained few losses, but made no impression upon
the enemy. Thirty of the 1st Worcesters wandered at night into the wrong
line, and were made prisoners, but with this exception the four days
of noisy fighting does not appear to have cost either side fifty
casualties. It is probable that the deliberation with which the
operations were conducted was due to Rundle's instructions to wait until
the other forces were in position. His subsequent movements showed that
he was not a General who feared to strike.

On Sunday night (April 22nd) Pole-Carew sallied out from Bloemfontein on
a line which would take him round the right flank of the Boers who were
facing Rundle. The Boers had, however, occupied a strong position at
Leeuw Kop, which barred his path, so that the Dewetsdorp Boers were
covering the Wepener Boers, and being in turn covered by the Boers of
Leeuw Kop. Before anything could be done, they must be swept out of the
way. Pole-Carew is one of those finds which help to compensate us for
the war. Handsome, dashing, debonnaire, he approaches a field of battle
as a light-hearted schoolboy approaches a football field. On this
occasion he acted with energy and discretion. His cavalry threatened the
flanks of the enemy, and Stephenson's brigade carried the position in
front at a small cost. On the same evening General French arrived and
took over the force, which consisted now of Stephenson's and the Guards
brigades (making up the 11th division), with two brigades of cavalry and
one corps of mounted infantry. The next day, the 23rd, the advance was
resumed, the cavalry bearing the brunt of the fighting. That gallant
corps, Roberts's Horse, whose behaviour at Sanna's Post had been
admirable, again distinguished itself, losing among others its Colonel,
Brazier Creagh. On the 24th again it was to the horsemen that the honour
and the casualties fell. The 9th Lancers, the regular cavalry regiment
which bears away the honours of the war, lost several men and officers,
and the 8th Hussars also suffered, but the Boers were driven from their
position, and lost more heavily in this skirmish than in some of the
larger battles of the campaign. The 'pom-poms,' which had been supplied
to us by the belated energy of the Ordnance Department, were used with
some effect in this engagement, and the Boers learned for the first
time how unnerving are those noisy but not particularly deadly fireworks
which they had so often crackled round the ears of our gunners.

On the Wednesday morning Rundle, with the addition of Pole-Carew's
division, was strong enough for any attack, while French was in a
position upon the flank. Every requisite for a great victory was there
except the presence of an enemy. The Wepener siege had been raised and
the force in front of Rundle had disappeared as only Boer armies can
disappear. The combined movement was an admirable piece of work on
the part of the enemy. Finding no force in front of them, the combined
troops of French, Rundle, and Chermside occupied Dewetsdorp, where the
latter remained, while the others pushed on to Thabanchu, the storm
centre from which all our troubles had begun nearly a month before. All
the way they knew that De Wet's retreating army was just in front
of them, and they knew also that a force had been sent out from
Bloemfontein to Thabanchu to head off the Boers. Lord Roberts might
naturally suppose, when he had formed two cordons through which De Wet
must pass, that one or other must hold him. But with extraordinary
skill and mobility De Wet, aided by the fact that every inhabitant was
a member of his intelligence department, slipped through the double net
which had been laid for him. The first net was not in its place in time,
and the second was too small to hold him.

While Rundle and French had advanced on Dewetsdorp as described, the
other force which was intended to head off De Wet had gone direct to
Thabanchu. The advance began by a movement of Ian Hamilton on April 22nd
with eight hundred mounted infantry upon the waterworks. The enemy, who
held the hills beyond, allowed Hamilton's force to come right down to
the Modder before they opened fire from three guns. The mounted infantry
fell back, and encamped for the night out of range. [Footnote: This was
a remarkable exhibition of the harmlessness of shell-fire against troops
in open formation. I myself saw at least forty shells, all of which
burst, fall among the ranks of the mounted infantry, who retired at a
contemptuous walk. There were no casualties.] Before morning they
were reinforced by Smith-Dorrien's brigade (Gordons, Canadians, and
Shropshires--the Cornwalls had been left behind) and some more mounted
Infantry. With daylight a fine advance was begun, the brigade moving up
in very extended order and the mounted men turning the right flank of
the defence. By evening we had regained the waterworks, a most important
point for Bloemfontein, and we held all the line of hills which command
it. This strong position would not have been gained so easily if it had
not been for Pole-Carew's and French's actions two days before, on their
way to join Rundle, which enabled them to turn it from the south.

Ian Hamilton, who had already done good service in the war, having
commanded the infantry at Elandslaagte, and been one of the most
prominent leaders in the defence of Ladysmith, takes from this time
onwards a more important and a more independent position. A thin,
aquiline man, of soft voice and gentle manners, he had already proved
more than once during his adventurous career that he not only possessed
in a high degree the courage of the soldier, but also the equanimity and
decision of the born leader. A languid elegance in his bearing covered
a shrewd brain and a soul of fire. A distorted and half-paralysed hand
reminded the observer that Hamilton, as a young lieutenant, had known
at Majuba what it was to face the Boer rifles. Now, in his forty-seventh
year, he had returned, matured and formidable, to reverse the results
of that first deplorable campaign. This was the man to whom Lord Roberts
had entrusted the command of that powerful flanking column which was
eventually to form the right wing of his main advance. Being reinforced
upon the morning after the capture of the Waterworks by the Highland
Brigade, the Cornwalls, and two heavy naval guns, his whole force
amounted to not less than seven thousand men. From these he detached a
garrison for the Waterworks, and with the rest he continued his march
over the hilly country which lies between them and Thabanchu.

One position, Israel's Poort, a nek between two hills, was held against
them on April 25th, but was gained without much trouble, the Canadians
losing one killed and two wounded. Colonel Otter, their gallant leader,
was one of the latter, while Marshall's Horse, a colonial corps raised
in Grahamstown, had no fewer than seven of their officers and several
men killed or wounded. Next morning the town of Thabanchu was seized,
and Hamilton found himself upon the direct line of the Boer retreat.
He seized the pass which commands the road, and all next day he waited
eagerly, and the hearts of his men beat high when at last they saw a
long trail of dust winding up to them from the south. At last the wily
De Wet had been headed off! Deep and earnest were the curses when out of
the dust there emerged a khaki column of horsemen, and it was realised
that this was French's pursuing force, closely followed by Rundle's
infantry from Dewetsdorp. The Boers had slipped round and were already
to the north of us.

It is impossible to withhold our admiration for the way in which the
Boer force was manoeuvred throughout this portion of the campaign. The
mixture of circumspection and audacity, the way in which French and
Rundle were hindered until the Wepener force had disengaged itself, the
manner in which these covering forces were then withdrawn, and finally
the clever way in which they all slipped past Hamilton, make a brilliant
bit of strategy. Louis Botha, the generalissimo, held all the strings in
his hand, and the way in which he pulled them showed that his countrymen
had chosen the right man for that high office, and that his was a master
spirit even among those fine natural warriors who led the separate
commandos.

Having got to the north of the British forces Botha made no effort to
get away, and refused to be hustled by a reconnaissance developing into
an attack, which French made upon April 27th. In a skirmish the night
before Kitchener's Horse had lost fourteen men, and the action of the
27th cost us about as many casualties. It served to show that the
Boer force was a compact body some six or seven thousand strong, which
withdrew in a leisurely fashion, and took up a defensive position at
Houtnek, some miles further on. French remained at Thabanchu, from which
he afterwards joined Lord Roberts' advance, while Hamilton now assumed
complete command of the flanking column, with which he proceeded to
march north upon Winburg.

The Houtnek position is dominated upon the left of the advancing British
force by Thoba Mountain, and it was this point which was the centre of
Hamilton's attack. It was most gallantly seized by Kitchener's Horse,
who were quickly supported by Smith-Dorrien's men. The mountain became
the scene of a brisk action, and night fell before the crest was
cleared. At dawn upon May 1st the fighting was resumed, and the position
was carried by a determined advance of the Shropshires, the Canadians,
and the Gordons: the Boers escaping down the reverse slope of the hill
came under a heavy fire of our infantry, and fifty of them were wounded
or taken. It was in this action, during the fighting on the hill, that
Captain Towse, of the Gordons, though shot through the eyes and totally
blind, encouraged his men to charge through a group of the enemy who had
gathered round them. After this victory Hamilton's men, who had fought
for seven days out of ten, halted for a rest at Jacobsrust, where
they were joined by Broadwood's cavalry and Bruce Hamilton's infantry
brigade. Ian Hamilton's column now contained two infantry brigades
(Smith-Dorrien's and Bruce Hamilton's), Ridley's Mounted Infantry,
Broadwood's Cavalry Brigade, five batteries of artillery, two heavy
guns, altogether 13,000 men. With this force in constant touch with
Botha's rearguard, Ian Hamilton pushed on once more on May 4th. On May
5th he fought a brisk cavalry skirmish, in which Kitchener's Horse and
the 12th Lancers distinguished themselves, and on the same day he took
possession of Winburg, thus covering the right of Lord Roberts's great
advance.

The distribution of the troops on the eastern side of the Free State
was, at the time of this the final advance of the main army, as
follows--Ian Hamilton with his mounted infantry, Smith-Dorrien's
brigade, Macdonald's brigade, Bruce Hamilton's brigade, and Broadwood's
cavalry were at Winburg. Rundle was at Thabanchu, and Brabant's colonial
division was moving up to the same point. Chermside was at Dewetsdorp,
and had detached a force under Lord Castletown to garrison Wepener.
Hart occupied Smithfield, whence he and his brigade were shortly to be
transferred to the Kimberley force. Altogether there could not have been
fewer than thirty thousand men engaged in clearing and holding down
this part of the country. French's cavalry and Pole-Carew's division had
returned to take part in the central advance.

Before entering upon a description of that great and decisive movement,
one small action calls for comment. This was the cutting off of twenty
men of Lumsden's Horse in a reconnaissance at Karee. The small post
under Lieutenant Crane found themselves by some misunderstanding
isolated in the midst of the enemy. Refusing to hoist the flag of shame,
they fought their way out, losing half their number, while of the other
half it is said that there was not one who could not show bullet
marks upon his clothes or person. The men of this corps, volunteer
Anglo-Indians, had abandoned the ease and even luxury of Eastern life
for the hard fare and rough fighting of this most trying campaign. In
coming they had set the whole empire an object-lesson in spirit, and now
on their first field they set the army an example of military virtue.
The proud traditions of Outram's Volunteers have been upheld by the men
of Lumsden's Horse. Another minor action which cannot be ignored is
the defence of a convoy on April 29th by the Derbyshire Yeomanry (Major
Dugdale) and a company of the Scots Guards. The wagons were on their
way to Rundle when they were attacked at a point about ten miles west of
Thabanchu. The small guard beat off their assailants in the most
gallant fashion, and held their own until relieved by Brabazon upon the
following morning.

This phase of the war was marked by a certain change in the temper of
the British. Nothing could have been milder than the original intentions
and proclamations of Lord Roberts, and he was most ably seconded in his
attempts at conciliation by General Pretyman, who had been made civil
administrator of the State. There was evidence, however, that this
kindness had been construed as weakness by some of the burghers,
and during the Boer incursion to Wepener many who had surrendered a
worthless firearm reappeared with the Mauser which had been concealed
in some crafty hiding-place. Troops were fired at from farmhouses which
flew the white flag, and the good housewife remained behind to charge
the 'rooinek' extortionate prices for milk and fodder while her husband
shot at him from the hills. It was felt that the burghers might have
peace or might have war, but could not have both simultaneously. Some
examples were made therefore of offending farmhouses, and stock was
confiscated where there was evidence of double dealing upon the part
of the owner. In a country where property is a more serious thing than
life, these measures, together with more stringent rules about the
possession of horses and arms, did much to stamp out the chances of an
insurrection in our rear. The worst sort of peace is an enforced peace,
but if that can be established time and justice may do the rest.

The operations which have been here described may be finally summed up
in one short paragraph. A Boer army came south of the British line and
besieged a British garrison. Three British forces, those of French,
Rundle, and Ian Hamilton, were despatched to cut it off. It successfully
threaded its way among them and escaped. It was followed to the
northward as far as the town of Winburg, which remained in the British
possession. Lord Roberts had failed in his plan of cutting off De Wet's
army, but, at the expense of many marches and skirmishes, the south-east
of the State was cleared of the enemy.



CHAPTER 24. THE SIEGE OF MAFEKING.

This small place, which sprang in the course of a few weeks from
obscurity to fame, is situated upon the long line of railway which
connects Kimberley in the south with Rhodesia in the north. In character
it resembles one of those western American townlets which possess small
present assets but immense aspirations. In its litter of corrugated-iron
roofs, and in the church and the racecourse, which are the first-fruits
everywhere of Anglo-Celtic civilisation, one sees the seeds of the great
city of the future. It is the obvious depot for the western Transvaal
upon one side, and the starting-point for all attempts upon the Kalahari
Desert upon the other. The Transvaal border runs within a few miles.

It is not clear why the imperial authorities should desire to hold this
place, since it has no natural advantages to help the defence, but lies
exposed in a widespread plain. A glance at the map must show that the
railway line would surely be cut both to the north and south of the
town, and the garrison isolated at a point some two hundred and fifty
miles from any reinforcements. Considering that the Boers could throw
any strength of men or guns against the place, it seemed certain that if
they seriously desired to take possession of it they could do so. Under
ordinary circumstances any force shut up there was doomed to capture.
But what may have seemed short-sighted policy became the highest wisdom,
owing to the extraordinary tenacity and resource of Baden-Powell, the
officer in command. Through his exertions the town acted as a bait to
the Boers, and occupied a considerable force in a useless siege at
a time when their presence at other seats of war might have proved
disastrous to the British cause.

Colonel Baden-Powell is a soldier of a type which is exceedingly popular
with the British public. A skilled hunter and an expert at many games,
there was always something of the sportsman in his keen appreciation of
war. In the Matabele campaign he had out-scouted the savage scouts and
found his pleasure in tracking them among their native mountains, often
alone and at night, trusting to his skill in springing from rock to rock
in his rubber-soled shoes to save him from their pursuit. There was a
brain quality in his bravery which is rare among our officers. Full
of veld craft and resource, it was as difficult to outwit as it was to
outfight him. But there was another curious side to his complex nature.
The French have said of one of their heroes, 'Il avait cette graine de
folie dans sa bravoure que les Francais aiment,' and the words might
have been written of Powell. An impish humour broke out in him, and the
mischievous schoolboy alternated with the warrior and the administrator.
He met the Boer commandos with chaff and jokes which were as
disconcerting as his wire entanglements and his rifle-pits. The amazing
variety of his personal accomplishments was one of his most
striking characteristics. From drawing caricatures with both hands
simultaneously, or skirt dancing to leading a forlorn hope, nothing
came amiss to him; and he had that magnetic quality by which the leader
imparts something of his virtues to his men. Such was the man who held
Mafeking for the Queen.

In a very early stage, before the formal declaration of war, the enemy
had massed several commandos upon the western border, the men being
drawn from Zeerust, Rustenburg, and Lichtenburg. Baden-Powell, with
the aid of an excellent group of special officers, who included Colonel
Gould Adams, Lord Edward Cecil, the soldier son of England's Premier,
and Colonel Hore, had done all that was possible to put the place into a
state of defence. In this he had immense assistance from Benjamin Weil,
a well known South African contractor, who had shown great energy in
provisioning the town. On the other hand, the South African Government
displayed the same stupidity or treason which had been exhibited in the
case of Kimberley, and had met all demands for guns and reinforcements
with foolish doubts as to the need of such precautions. In the endeavour
to supply these pressing wants the first small disaster of the campaign
was encountered. On October 12th, the day after the declaration of war,
an armoured train conveying two 7-pounders for the Mafeking defences was
derailed and captured by a Boer raiding party at Kraaipan, a place forty
miles south of their destination. The enemy shelled the shattered train
until after five hours Captain Nesbitt, who was in command, and his
men, some twenty in number, surrendered. It was a small affair, but
it derived importance from being the first blood shed and the first
tactical success of the war.

The garrison of the town, whose fame will certainly live in the history
of South Africa, contained no regular soldiers at all with the exception
of the small group of excellent officers. They consisted of irregular
troops, three hundred and forty of the Protectorate Regiment, one
hundred and seventy Police, and two hundred volunteers, made up of that
singular mixture of adventurers, younger sons, broken gentlemen, and
irresponsible sportsmen who have always been the voortrekkers of
the British Empire. These men were of the same stamp as those other
admirable bodies of natural fighters who did so well in Rhodesia, in
Natal, and in the Cape. With them there was associated in the defence
the Town Guard, who included the able-bodied shopkeepers, businessmen,
and residents, the whole amounting to about nine hundred men. Their
artillery was feeble in the extreme, two 7-pounder toy guns and six
machine guns, but the spirit of the men and the resource of their
leaders made up for every disadvantage. Colonel Vyvyan and Major Panzera
planned the defences, and the little trading town soon began to take on
the appearance of a fortress.

On October 13th the Boers appeared before Mafeking. On the same day
Colonel Baden-Powell sent two truckloads of dynamite out of the
place. They were fired into by the invaders, with the result that they
exploded. On October 14th the pickets around the town were driven in by
the Boers. On this the armoured train and a squadron of the Protectorate
Regiment went out to support the pickets and drove the Boers before
them. A body of the latter doubled back and interposed between the
British and Mafeking, but two fresh troops with a 7-pounder throwing
shrapnel drove them off. In this spirited little action the garrison
lost two killed and fourteen wounded, but they inflicted considerable
damage on the enemy. To Captain Williams, Captain FitzClarence, and Lord
Charles Bentinck great credit is due for the way in which they handled
their men; but the whole affair was ill advised, for if a disaster had
occurred Mafeking must have fallen, being left without a garrison. No
possible results which could come from such a sortie could justify the
risk which was run.

On October 16th the siege began in earnest. On that date the Boers
brought up two 12-pounder guns, and the first of that interminable
flight of shells fell into the town. The enemy got possession of the
water supply, but the garrison had already dug wells. Before October
20th five thousand Boers, under the formidable Cronje, had gathered
round the town. 'Surrender to avoid bloodshed' was his message. 'When
is the bloodshed going to begin?' asked Powell. When the Boers had been
shelling the town for some weeks the lighthearted Colonel sent out to
say that if they went on any longer he should be compelled to regard
it as equivalent to a declaration of war. It is to be hoped that Cronje
also possessed some sense of humour, or else he must have been as sorely
puzzled by his eccentric opponent as the Spanish generals were by the
vagaries of Lord Peterborough.

Among the many difficulties which had to be met by the defenders of the
town the most serious was the fact that the position had a circumference
of five or six miles to be held by about one thousand men against a
force who at their own time and their own place could at any moment
attempt to gain a footing. An ingenious system of small forts was
devised to meet the situation. Each of these held from ten to forty
riflemen, and was furnished with bomb-proofs and covered ways. The
central bomb-proof was connected by telephone with all the outlying
ones, so as to save the use of orderlies. A system of bells was arranged
by which each quarter of the town was warned when a shell was coming in
time to enable the inhabitants to scuttle off to shelter. Every detail
showed the ingenuity of the controlling mind. The armoured train,
painted green and tied round with scrub, stood unperceived among the
clumps of bushes which surrounded the town.

On October 24th a savage bombardment commenced, which lasted with
intermissions for seven months. The Boers had brought an enormous gun
across from Pretoria, throwing a 96-pound shell, and this, with many
smaller pieces, played upon the town. The result was as futile as our
own artillery fire has so often been when directed against the Boers.

As the Mafeking guns were too weak to answer the enemy's fire, the only
possible reply lay in a sortie, and upon this Colonel Powell decided.
It was carried out with great gallantry on the evening of October 27th,
when about a hundred men under Captain FitzClarence moved out against
the Boer trenches with instructions to use the bayonet only. The
position was carried with a rush, and many of the Boers bayoneted before
they could disengage themselves from the tarpaulins which covered them.
The trenches behind fired wildly in the darkness, and it is probable
that as many of their own men as of ours were hit by their rifle fire.
The total loss in this gallant affair was six killed, eleven wounded,
and two prisoners. The loss of the enemy, though shrouded as usual in
darkness, was certainly very much higher.

On October 31st the Boers ventured upon an attack on Cannon Kopje, which
is a small fort and eminence to the south of the town. It was
defended by Colonel Walford, of the British South African Police, with
fifty-seven of his men and three small guns. The attack was repelled
with heavy loss to the Boers. The British casualties were six killed and
five wounded.

Their experience in this attack seems to have determined the Boers to
make no further expensive attempts to rush the town, and for some weeks
the siege degenerated into a blockade. Cronje had been recalled for more
important work, and Commandant Snyman had taken over the uncompleted
task. From time to time the great gun tossed its huge shells into the
town, but boardwood walls and corrugated-iron roofs minimise the dangers
of a bombardment. On November 3rd the garrison rushed the Brickfields,
which had been held by the enemy's sharpshooters, and on the 7th another
small sally kept the game going. On the 18th Powell sent a message to
Snyman that he could not take the town by sitting and looking at it.
At the same time he despatched a message to the Boer forces generally,
advising them to return to their homes and their families. Some of the
commandos had gone south to assist Cronje in his stand against Methuen,
and the siege languished more and more, until it was woken up by a
desperate sortie on December 26th, which caused the greatest loss which
the garrison had sustained. Once more the lesson was to be enforced that
with modern weapons and equality of forces it is always long odds on the
defence.

On this date a vigorous attack was made upon one of the Boer forts
on the north. There seems to be little doubt that the enemy had
some inkling of our intention, as the fort was found to have been so
strengthened as to be impregnable without scaling ladders. The attacking
force consisted of two squadrons of the Protectorate Regiment and one of
the Bechuanaland Rifles, backed up by three guns. So desperate was the
onslaught that of the actual attacking party--a forlorn hope, if ever
there was one--fifty-three out of eighty were killed and wounded,
twenty-five of the former and twenty-eight of the latter. Several of
that gallant band of officers who had been the soul of the defence were
among the injured. Captain FitzClarence was wounded, Vernon, Sandford,
and Paton were killed, all at the very muzzles of the enemy's guns. It
must have been one of the bitterest moments of Baden-Powell's life when
he shut his field-glass and said, 'Let the ambulance go out!'

Even this heavy blow did not damp the spirits nor diminish the energies
of the defence, though it must have warned Baden-Powell that he could
not afford to drain his small force by any more expensive attempts at
the offensive, and that from then onwards he must content himself by
holding grimly on until Plumer from the north or Methuen from the south
should at last be able to stretch out to him a helping hand. Vigilant
and indomitable, throwing away no possible point in the game which
he was playing, the new year found him and his hardy garrison sternly
determined to keep the flag flying.

January and February offer in their records that monotony of excitement
which is the fate of every besieged town. On one day the shelling was
a little more, on another a little less. Sometimes they escaped
scatheless, sometimes the garrison found itself the poorer by the loss
of Captain Girdwood or Trooper Webb or some other gallant soldier.
Occasionally they had their little triumph when a too curious Dutchman,
peering for an instant from his cover to see the effect of his shot,
was carried back in the ambulance to the laager. On Sunday a truce was
usually observed, and the snipers who had exchanged rifle-shots all the
week met occasionally on that day with good-humoured chaff. Snyman,
the Boer General, showed none of that chivalry at Mafeking which
distinguished the gallant old Joubert at Ladysmith. Not only was
there no neutral camp for women or sick, but it is beyond all doubt or
question that the Boer guns were deliberately turned upon the
women's quarters inside Mafeking in order to bring pressure upon the
inhabitants. Many women and children were sacrificed to this brutal
policy, which must in fairness be set to the account of the savage
leader, and not of the rough but kindly folk with whom we were fighting.
In every race there are individual ruffians, and it would be a political
mistake to allow our action to be influenced or our feelings permanently
embittered by their crimes. It is from the man himself, and not from his
country, that an account should be exacted.

The garrison, in the face of increasing losses and decreasing food,
lost none of the high spirits which it reflected from its commander. The
programme of a single day of jubilee--Heaven only knows what they had to
hold jubilee over--shows a cricket match in the morning, sports in the
afternoon, a concert in the evening, and a dance, given by the bachelor
officers, to wind up. Baden-Powell himself seems to have descended from
the eyrie from which, like a captain on the bridge, he rang bells and
telephoned orders, to bring the house down with a comic song and a
humorous recitation. The ball went admirably, save that there was an
interval to repel an attack which disarranged the programme. Sports
were zealously cultivated, and the grimy inhabitants of casemates
and trenches were pitted against each other at cricket or football.
[Footnote: Sunday cricket so shocked Snyman that he threatened to fire
upon it if it were continued.] The monotony was broken by the occasional
visits of a postman, who appeared or vanished from the vast barren
lands to the west of the town, which could not all be guarded by the
besiegers. Sometimes a few words from home came to cheer the hearts of
the exiles, and could be returned by the same uncertain and expensive
means. The documents which found their way up were not always of an
essential or even of a welcome character. At least one man received an
unpaid bill from an angry tailor.

In one particular Mafeking had, with much smaller resources, rivalled
Kimberley. An ordnance factory had been started, formed in the railway
workshops, and conducted by Connely and Cloughlan, of the Locomotive
Department. Daniels, of the police, supplemented their efforts by making
both powder and fuses. The factory turned out shells, and eventually
constructed a 5.5-inch smooth-bore gun, which threw a round shell with
great accuracy to a considerable range. April found the garrison, in
spite of all losses, as efficient and as resolute as it had been in
October. So close were the advanced trenches upon either side that both
parties had recourse to the old-fashioned hand grenades, thrown by the
Boers, and cast on a fishing-line by ingenious Sergeant Page, of the
Protectorate Regiment. Sometimes the besiegers and the number of guns
diminished, forces being detached to prevent the advance of Plumer's
relieving column from the north; but as those who remained held their
forts, which it was beyond the power of the British to storm, the
garrison was now much the better for the alleviation. Putting Mafeking
for Ladysmith and Plumer for Buller, the situation was not unlike that
which had existed in Natal.

At this point some account might be given of the doings of that
northern force whose situation was so remote that even the ubiquitous
correspondent hardly appears to have reached it. No doubt the book will
eventually make up for the neglect of the journal, but some short facts
may be given here of the Rhodesian column. Their action did not affect
the course of the war, but they clung like bulldogs to a most difficult
task, and eventually, when strengthened by the relieving column, made
their way to Mafeking.

The force was originally raised for the purpose of defending Rhodesia,
and it consisted of fine material pioneers, farmers, and miners from the
great new land which had been added through the energy of Mr. Rhodes to
the British Empire. Many of the men were veterans of the native wars,
and all were imbued with a hardy and adventurous spirit. On the other
hand, the men of the northern and western Transvaal, whom they were
called upon to face the burghers of Watersberg and Zoutpansberg, were
tough frontiersmen living in a land where a dinner was shot, not
bought. Shaggy, hairy, half-savage men, handling a rifle as a mediaeval
Englishman handled a bow, and skilled in every wile of veld craft, they
were as formidable opponents as the world could show.

On the war breaking out the first thought of the leaders in Rhodesia was
to save as much of the line which was their connection through Mafeking
with the south as was possible. For this purpose an armoured train was
despatched only three days after the expiration of the ultimatum to the
point four hundred miles south of Bulawayo, where the frontiers of the
Transvaal and of Bechuanaland join. Colonel Holdsworth commanded
the small British force. The Boers, a thousand or so in number, had
descended upon the railway, and an action followed in which the
train appears to have had better luck than has usually attended these
ill-fated contrivances. The Boer commando was driven back and a number
were killed. It was probably news of this affair, and not anything
which had occurred at Mafeking, which caused those rumours of gloom
at Pretoria very shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. An agency
telegraphed that women were weeping in the streets of the Boer capital.
We had not then realised how soon and how often we should see the same
sight in Pall Mall.

The adventurous armoured train pressed on as far as Lobatsi, where it
found the bridges destroyed; so it returned to its original position,
having another brush with the Boer commandos, and again, in some
marvellous way, escaping its obvious fate. From then until the new year
the line was kept open by an admirable system of patrolling to within
a hundred miles or so of Mafeking. An aggressive spirit and a power of
dashing initiative were shown in the British operations at this side
of the scene of war such as have too often been absent elsewhere.
At Sekwani, on November 24th, a considerable success was gained by a
surprise planned and carried out by Colonel Holdsworth. The Boer laager
was approached and attacked in the early morning by a force of one
hundred and twenty frontiersmen, and so effective was their fire that
the Boers estimated their numbers at several thousand. Thirty Boers were
killed or wounded, and the rest scattered.

While the railway line was held in this way there had been some
skirmishing also on the northern frontier of the Transvaal. Shortly
after the outbreak of the war the gallant Blackburn, scouting with six
comrades in thick bush, found himself in the presence of a considerable
commando. The British concealed themselves by the path, but Blackburn's
foot was seen by a keen-eyed Kaffir, who pointed it out to his masters.
A sudden volley riddled Blackburn with bullets; but his men stayed by
him and drove off the enemy. Blackburn dictated an official report of
the action, and then died.

In the same region a small force under Captain Hare was cut off by a
body of Boers. Of the twenty men most got away, but the chaplain J.W.
Leary, Lieutenant Haserick (who behaved with admirable gallantry), and
six men were taken. [Footnote: Mr. Leary was wounded in the foot by a
shell. The German artillerist entered the hut in which he lay. 'Here's
a bit of your work!' said Leary good-humouredly. 'I wish it had been
worse,' said the amiable German gunner.] The commando which attacked
this party, and on the same day Colonel Spreckley's force, was a
powerful one, with several guns. No doubt it was organised because there
were fears among the Boers that they would be invaded from the north.
When it was understood that the British intended no large aggressive
movement in that quarter, these burghers joined other commandos. Sarel
Eloff, who was one of the leaders of this northern force, was afterwards
taken at Mafeking.

Colonel Plumer had taken command of the small army which was now
operating from the north along the railway line with Mafeking for its
objective. Plumer is an officer of considerable experience in African
warfare, a small, quiet, resolute man, with a knack of gently enforcing
discipline upon the very rough material with which he had to deal. With
his weak force--which never exceeded a thousand men, and was usually
from six to seven hundred--he had to keep the long line behind him open,
build up the ruined railway in front of him, and gradually creep
onwards in face of a formidable and enterprising enemy. For a long
time Gaberones, which is eighty miles north of Mafeking, remained his
headquarters, and thence he kept up precarious communications with the
besieged garrison. In the middle of March he advanced as far south as
Lobatsi, which is less than fifty miles from Mafeking; but the enemy
proved to be too strong, and Plumer had to drop back again with some
loss to his original position at Gaberones. Sticking doggedly to his
task, Plumer again came south, and this time made his way as far
as Ramathlabama, within a day's march of Mafeking. He had with him,
however, only three hundred and fifty men, and had he pushed through the
effect might have been an addition of hungry men to the garrison. The
relieving force was fiercely attacked, however, by the Boers and driven
back on to their camp with a loss of twelve killed, twenty-six wounded,
and fourteen missing. Some of the British were dismounted men, and
it says much for Plumer's conduct of the fight that he was able to
extricate these safely from the midst of an aggressive mounted enemy.
Personally he set an admirable example, sending away his own horse,
and walking with his rearmost soldiers. Captain Crewe Robertson and
Lieutenant Milligan, the famous Yorkshire cricketer, were killed, and
Rolt, Jarvis, Maclaren, and Plumer himself were wounded. The Rhodesian
force withdrew again to near Lobatsi, and collected itself for yet
another effort.

In the meantime Mafeking--abandoned, as it seemed, to its fate--was
still as formidable as a wounded lion. Far from weakening in its defence
it became more aggressive, and so persistent and skilful were its
riflemen that the big Boer gun had again and again to be moved further
from the town. Six months of trenches and rifle-pits had turned
every inhabitant into a veteran. Now and then words of praise and
encouragement came to them from without. Once it was a special message
from the Queen, once a promise of relief from Lord Roberts. But the
rails which led to England were overgrown with grass, and their brave
hearts yearned for the sight of their countrymen and for the sound of
their voices. 'How long, O Lord, how long?' was the cry which was wrung
from them in their solitude. But the flag was still held high.

April was a trying month for the defence. They knew that Methuen, who
had advanced as far as Fourteen Streams upon the Vaal River, had retired
again upon Kimberley. They knew also that Plumer's force had been
weakened by the repulse at Ramathlabama, and that many of his men
were down with fever. Six weary months had this village withstood the
pitiless pelt of rifle bullet and shell. Help seemed as far away from
them as ever. But if troubles may be allayed by sympathy, then theirs
should have lain lightly. The attention of the whole empire had centred
upon them, and even the advance of Roberts's army became secondary to
the fate of this gallant struggling handful of men who had upheld the
flag so long. On the Continent also their resistance attracted
the utmost interest, and the numerous journals there who find the
imaginative writer cheaper than the war correspondent announced their
capture periodically as they had once done that of Ladysmith. From a
mere tin-roofed village Mafeking had become a prize of victory, a stake
which should be the visible sign of the predominating manhood of one
or other of the great white races of South Africa. Unconscious of
the keenness of the emotions which they had aroused, the garrison
manufactured brawn from horsehide, and captured locusts as a relish for
their luncheons, while in the shot-torn billiard-room of the club an
open tournament was started to fill in their hours off duty. But their
vigilance, and that of the hawk-eyed man up in the Conning Tower, never
relaxed. The besiegers had increased in number, and their guns were
more numerous than before. A less acute man than Baden-Powell might have
reasoned that at least one desperate effort would be made by them to
carry the town before relief could come.

On Saturday, May 12th, the attack was made at the favourite hour of the
Boer--the first grey of the morning. It was gallantly delivered by about
three hundred volunteers under the command of Eloff, who had crept
round to the west of the town--the side furthest from the lines of the
besiegers. At the first rush they penetrated into the native quarter,
which was at once set on fire by them. The first building of any size
upon that side is the barracks of the Protectorate Regiment, which was
held by Colonel Hore and about twenty of his officers and men. This was
carried by the enemy, who sent an exultant message along the telephone
to Baden-Powell to tell him that they had got it. Two other positions
within the lines, one a stone kraal and the other a hill, were held by
the Boers, but their supports were slow in coming on, and the movements
of the defenders were so prompt and energetic that all three found
themselves isolated and cut off from their own lines. They had
penetrated the town, but they were as far as ever from having taken it.
All day the British forces drew their cordon closer and closer round the
Boer positions, making no attempt to rush them, but ringing them round
in such a way that there could be no escape for them. A few burghers
slipped away in twos and threes, but the main body found that they had
rushed into a prison from which the only egress was swept with rifle
fire. At seven o'clock in the evening they recognised that their
position was hopeless, and Eloff with 117 men laid down their arms.
Their losses had been ten killed and nineteen wounded. For some reason,
either of lethargy, cowardice, or treachery, Snyman had not brought up
the supports which might conceivably have altered the result. It was a
gallant attack gallantly met, and for once the greater wiliness in fight
was shown by the British. The end was characteristic. 'Good evening,
Commandant,' said Powell to Eloff; 'won't you come in and have
some dinner?' The prisoners--burghers, Hollanders, Germans, and
Frenchmen--were treated to as good a supper as the destitute larders of
the town could furnish.

So in a small blaze of glory ended the historic siege of Mafeking, for
Eloff's attack was the last, though by no means the worst of the trials
which the garrison had to face. Six killed and ten wounded were the
British losses in this admirably managed affair. On May 17th, five
days after the fight, the relieving force arrived, the besiegers were
scattered, and the long-imprisoned garrison were free men once more.
Many who had looked at their maps and saw this post isolated in the
very heart of Africa had despaired of ever reaching their heroic
fellow-countrymen, and now one universal outbreak of joybells and
bonfires from Toronto to Melbourne proclaimed that there is no spot so
inaccessible that the long arm of the empire cannot reach it when her
children are in peril.

Colonel Mahon, a young Irish officer who had made his reputation as a
cavalry leader in Egypt, had started early in May from Kimberley with a
small but mobile force consisting of the Imperial Light Horse (brought
round from Natal for the purpose), the Kimberley Mounted Corps, the
Diamond Fields Horse, some Imperial Yeomanry, a detachment of the Cape
Police, and 100 volunteers from the Fusilier brigade, with M battery
R.H.A. and pom-poms, twelve hundred men in all. Whilst Hunter was
fighting his action at Rooidam on May 4th, Mahon with his men
struck round the western flank of the Boers and moved rapidly to the
northwards. On May 11th they had left Vryburg, the halfway house, behind
them, having done one hundred and twenty miles in five days. They pushed
on, encountering no opposition save that of nature, though they knew
that they were being closely watched by the enemy. At Koodoosrand it was
found that a Boer force was in position in front, but Mahon avoided them
by turning somewhat to the westward. His detour took him, however, into
a bushy country, and here the enemy headed him off, opening fire at
short range upon the ubiquitous Imperial Light Horse, who led the
column. A short engagement ensued, in which the casualties amounted to
thirty killed and wounded, but which ended in the defeat and dispersal
of the Boers, whose force was certainly very much weaker than the
British. On May 15th the relieving column arrived without further
opposition at Masibi Stadt, twenty miles to the west of Mafeking.

In the meantime Plumer's force upon the north had been strengthened
by the addition of C battery of four 12-pounder guns of the Canadian
Artillery under Major Eudon and a body of Queenslanders. These forces
had been part of the small army which had come with General Carrington
through Beira, and after a detour of thousands of miles, through their
own wonderful energy they had arrived in time to form portion of the
relieving column. Foreign military critics, whose experience of warfare
is to move troops across a frontier, should think of what the Empire
has to do before her men go into battle. These contingents had been
assembled by long railway journeys, conveyed across thousands of miles
of ocean to Cape Town, brought round another two thousand or so to
Beira, transferred by a narrow-gauge railway to Bamboo Creek, changed to
a broader gauge to Marandellas, sent on in coaches for hundreds of miles
to Bulawayo, transferred to trains for another four or five hundred
miles to Ootsi, and had finally a forced march of a hundred miles, which
brought them up a few hours before their presence was urgently needed
upon the field. Their advance, which averaged twenty-five miles a day
on foot for four consecutive days over deplorable roads, was one of the
finest performances of the war. With these high-spirited reinforcements
and with his own hardy Rhodesians Plumer pushed on, and the two columns
reached the hamlet of Masibi Stadt within an hour of each other. Their
united strength was far superior to anything which Snyman's force could
place against them.

But the gallant and tenacious Boers would not abandon their prey without
a last effort. As the little army advanced upon Mafeking they found the
enemy waiting in a strong position. For some hours the Boers gallantly
held their ground, and their artillery fire was, as usual, most
accurate. But our own guns were more numerous and equally well served,
and the position was soon made untenable. The Boers retired past
Mafeking and took refuge in the trenches upon the eastern side, but
Baden-Powell with his war-hardened garrison sallied out, and, supported
by the artillery fire of the relieving column, drove them from their
shelter. With their usual admirable tactics their larger guns had
been removed, but one small cannon was secured as a souvenir by the
townsfolk, together with a number of wagons and a considerable quantity
of supplies. A long rolling trail of dust upon the eastern horizon told
that the famous siege of Mafeking had at last come to an end.

So ended a singular incident, the defence of an open town which
contained no regular soldiers and a most inadequate artillery against a
numerous and enterprising enemy with very heavy guns. All honour to
the towns folk who bore their trial so long and so bravely--and to the
indomitable men who lined the trenches for seven weary months. Their
constancy was of enormous value to the empire. In the all-important
early month at least four or five thousand Boers were detained by them
when their presence elsewhere would have been fatal. During all the rest
of the war, two thousand men and eight guns (including one of the
four big Creusots) had been held there. It prevented the invasion of
Rhodesia, and it gave a rallying-point for loyal whites and natives in
the huge stretch of country from Kimberley to Bulawayo. All this had, at
a cost of two hundred lives, been done by this one devoted band of
men, who killed, wounded, or took no fewer than one thousand of their
opponents. Critics may say that the enthusiasm in the empire was
excessive, but at least it was expended over worthy men and a fine deed
of arms.



CHAPTER 25. THE MARCH ON PRETORIA.

In the early days of May, when the season of the rains was past and the
veld was green, Lord Roberts's six weeks of enforced inaction came to
an end. He had gathered himself once more for one of those tiger springs
which should be as sure and as irresistible as that which had brought
him from Belmont to Bloemfontein, or that other in olden days which
had carried him from Cabul to Candahar. His army had been decimated
by sickness, and eight thousand men had passed into the hospitals; but
those who were with the colours were of high heart, longing eagerly for
action. Any change which would carry them away from the pest-ridden,
evil-smelling capital which had revenged itself so terribly upon the
invader must be a change for the better. Therefore it was with glad
faces and brisk feet that the centre column left Bloemfontein on May
1st, and streamed, with bands playing, along the northern road.

On May 3rd the main force was assembled at Karee, twenty miles upon
their way. Two hundred and twenty separated them from Pretoria, but in
little more than a month from the day of starting, in spite of broken
railway, a succession of rivers, and the opposition of the enemy, this
army was marching into the main street of the Transvaal capital. Had
there been no enemy there at all, it would still have been a fine
performance, the more so when one remembers that the army was moving
upon a front of twenty miles or more, each part of which had to be
co-ordinated to the rest. It is with the story of this great march that
the present chapter deals.

Roberts had prepared the way by clearing out the south-eastern corner
of the State, and at the moment of his advance his forces covered a
semicircular front of about forty miles, the right under Ian Hamilton
near Thabanchu, and the left at Karee. This was the broad net which
was to be swept from south to north across the Free State, gradually
narrowing as it went. The conception was admirable, and appears to have
been an adoption of the Boers' own strategy, which had in turn been
borrowed from the Zulus. The solid centre could hold any force which
faced it, while the mobile flanks, Hutton upon the left and Hamilton
upon the right, could lap round and pin it, as Cronje was pinned at
Paardeberg. It seems admirably simple when done upon a small scale. But
when the scale is one of forty miles, since your front must be broad
enough to envelop the front which is opposed to it, and when the
scattered wings have to be fed with no railway line to help, it takes
such a master of administrative detail as Lord Kitchener to bring the
operations to complete success.

On May 3rd, the day of the advance from our most northern post, Karee,
the disposition of Lord Roberts's army was briefly as follows. On his
left was Hutton, with his mixed force of mounted infantry drawn from
every quarter of the empire. This formidable and mobile body, with some
batteries of horse artillery and of pom-poms, kept a line a few miles to
the west of the railroad, moving northwards parallel with it. Roberts's
main column kept on the railroad, which was mended with extraordinary
speed by the Railway Pioneer regiment and the Engineers, under Girouard
and the ill-fated Seymour. It was amazing to note the shattered culverts
as one passed, and yet to be overtaken by trains within a day. This
main column consisted of Pole-Carew's 11th Division, which contained
the Guards, and Stephenson's Brigade (Warwicks, Essex, Welsh, and
Yorkshires). With them were the 83rd, 84th, and 85th R.F.A., with the
heavy guns, and a small force of mounted infantry. Passing along the
widespread British line one would then, after an interval of seven or
eight miles, come upon Tucker's Division (the 7th), which consisted
of Maxwell's Brigade (formerly Chermside's--the Norfolks, Lincolns,
Hampshires, and Scottish Borderers) and Wavell's Brigade (North
Staffords, Cheshires, East Lancashires, South Wales Borderers). To the
right of these was Ridley's mounted infantry. Beyond them, extending
over very many miles of country and with considerable spaces between,
there came Broadwood's cavalry, Bruce Hamilton's Brigade (Derbyshires,
Sussex, Camerons, and C.I.V.), and finally on the extreme right of
all Ian Hamilton's force of Highlanders, Canadians, Shropshires, and
Cornwalls, with cavalry and mounted infantry, starting forty miles from
Lord Roberts, but edging westwards all the way, to merge with the troops
next to it, and to occupy Winburg in the way already described. This
was the army, between forty and fifty thousand strong, with which Lord
Roberts advanced upon the Transvaal.

In the meantime he had anticipated that his mobile and enterprising
opponents would work round and strike at our rear. Ample means had been
provided for dealing with any attempt of the kind. Rundle with the 8th
Division and Brabant's Colonial Division remained in rear of the right
flank to confront any force which might turn it. At Bloemfontein were
Kelly-Kenny's Division (the 6th) and Chermside's (the 3rd), with a force
of cavalry and guns. Methuen, working from Kimberley towards Boshof,
formed the extreme left wing of the main advance, though distant a
hundred miles from it. With excellent judgment Lord Roberts saw that
it was on our right flank that danger was to be feared, and here it was
that every precaution had been taken to meet it.

The objective of the first day's march was the little town of Brandfort,
ten miles north of Karee. The head of the main column faced it, while
the left arm swept round and drove the Boer force from their position.
Tucker's Division upon the right encountered some opposition, but
overbore it with artillery. May 4th was a day of rest for the infantry,
but on the 5th they advanced, in the same order as before, for twenty
miles, and found themselves to the south of the Vet River, where the
enemy had prepared for an energetic resistance. A vigorous artillery
duel ensued, the British guns in the open as usual against an invisible
enemy. After three hours of a very hot fire the mounted infantry got
across the river upon the left and turned the Boer flank, on which
they hastily withdrew. The first lodgment was effected by two bodies
of Canadians and New Zealanders, who were energetically supported
by Captain Anley's 3rd Mounted Infantry. The rushing of a kopje by
twenty-three West Australians was another gallant incident which marked
this engagement, in which our losses were insignificant. A maxim and
twenty or thirty prisoners were taken by Hutton's men. The next day (May
6th) the army moved across the difficult drift of the Vet River, and
halted that night at Smaldeel, some five miles to the north of it. At
the same time Ian Hamilton had been able to advance to Winburg, so that
the army had contracted its front by about half, but had preserved its
relative positions. Hamilton, after his junction with his reinforcements
at Jacobsrust, had under him so powerful a force that he overbore all
resistance. His actions between Thabanchu and Winburg had cost the Boers
heavy loss, and in one action the German legion had been overthrown.
The informal warfare which was made upon us by citizens of many nations
without rebuke from their own Governments is a matter of which pride,
and possibly policy, have forbidden us to complain, but it will be
surprising if it does not prove that their laxity has established a very
dangerous precedent, and they will find it difficult to object when, in
the next little war in which either France or Germany is engaged, they
find a few hundred British adventurers carrying a rifle against them.

The record of the army's advance is now rather geographical than
military, for it rolled northwards with never a check save that which
was caused by the construction of the railway diversions which atoned
for the destruction of the larger bridges. The infantry now, as always
in the campaign, marched excellently; for though twenty miles in the day
may seem a moderate allowance to a healthy man upon an English road,
it is a considerable performance under an African sun with a weight of
between thirty and forty pounds to be carried. The good humour of the
men was admirable, and they eagerly longed to close with the elusive
enemy who flitted ever in front of them. Huge clouds of smoke veiled
the northern sky, for the Boers had set fire to the dry grass, partly
to cover their own retreat, and partly to show up our khaki upon the
blackened surface. Far on the flanks the twinkling heliographs revealed
the position of the wide-spread wings.

On May 10th Lord Roberts's force, which had halted for three days at
Smaldeel, moved onwards to Welgelegen. French's cavalry had come up by
road, and quickly strengthened the centre and left wing of the army. On
the morning of the 10th the invaders found themselves confronted by a
formidable position which the Boers had taken up on the northern bank
of the Sand River. Their army extended over twenty miles of country, the
two Bothas were in command, and everything pointed to a pitched battle.
Had the position been rushed from the front, there was every material
for a second Colenso, but the British had learned that it was by brains
rather than by blood that such battles may be won. French's cavalry
turned the Boers on one side, and Bruce Hamilton's infantry on the
other. Theoretically we never passed the Boer flanks, but practically
their line was so over-extended that we were able to pierce it at any
point. There was never any severe fighting, but rather a steady advance
upon the British side and a steady retirement upon that of the Boers. On
the left the Sussex regiment distinguished itself by the dash with which
it stormed an important kopje. The losses were slight, save among a
detached body of cavalry which found itself suddenly cut off by a strong
force of the enemy and lost Captain Elworthy killed, and Haig of
the Inniskillings, Wilkinson of the Australian Horse, and twenty men
prisoners. We also secured forty or fifty prisoners, and the enemy's
casualties amounted to about as many more. The whole straggling action
fought over a front as broad as from London to Woking cost the British
at the most a couple of hundred casualties, and carried their army over
the most formidable defensive position which they were to encounter.
The war in its later phases certainly has the pleasing characteristic of
being the most bloodless, considering the number of men engaged and the
amount of powder burned, that has been known in history. It was at the
expense of their boots and not of their lives that the infantry won
their way.

On May 11th Lord Roberts's army advanced twenty miles to Geneva Siding,
and every preparation was made for a battle next day, as it was thought
certain that the Boers would defend their new capital, Kroonstad. It
proved, however, that even here they would not make a stand, and on May
12th, at one o'clock, Lord Roberts rode into the town. Steyn, Botha,
and De Wet escaped, and it was announced that the village of Lindley had
become the new seat of government. The British had now accomplished half
their journey to Pretoria, and it was obvious that on the south side
of the Vaal no serious resistance awaited them. Burghers were freely
surrendering themselves with their arms, and returning to their farms.
In the south-east Rundle and Brabant were slowly advancing, while the
Boers who faced them fell back towards Lindley. On the west, Hunter had
crossed the Vaal at Windsorton, and Barton's Fusilier Brigade had fought
a sharp action at Rooidam, while Mahon's Mafeking relief column had
slipped past their flank, escaping the observation of the British
public, but certainly not that of the Boers. The casualties in the
Rooidam action were nine killed and thirty wounded, but the advance of
the Fusiliers was irresistible, and for once the Boer loss, as they were
hustled from kopje to kopje, appears to have been greater than that of
the British. The Yeomanry had an opportunity of showing once more that
there are few more high-mettled troops in South Africa than these good
sportsmen of the shires, who only showed a trace of their origin in
their irresistible inclination to burst into a 'tally-ho!' when ordered
to attack. The Boer forces fell back after the action along the line of
the Vaal, making for Christiana and Bloemhof. Hunter entered into the
Transvaal in pursuit of them, being the first to cross the border, with
the exception of raiding Rhodesians early in the war. Methuen, in the
meanwhile, was following a course parallel to Hunter but south of him,
Hoopstad being his immediate objective. The little union jacks which
were stuck in the war maps in so many British households were now moving
swiftly upwards.

Buller's force was also sweeping northwards, and the time had come when
the Ladysmith garrison, restored at last to health and strength, should
have a chance of striking back at those who had tormented them so long.
Many of the best troops had been drafted away to other portions of the
seat of war. Hart's Brigade and Barton's Fusilier Brigade had gone
with Hunter to form the 10th Division upon the Kimberley side, and the
Imperial Light Horse had been brought over for the relief of Mafeking.
There remained, however, a formidable force, the regiments in which had
been strengthened by the addition of drafts and volunteers from home.
Not less than twenty thousand sabres and bayonets were ready and eager
for the passage of the Biggarsberg mountains.

This line of rugged hills is pierced by only three passes, each of which
was held in strength by the enemy. Considerable losses must have ensued
from any direct attempt to force them. Buller, however, with excellent
judgment, demonstrated in front of them with Hildyard's men, while the
rest of the army, marching round, outflanked the line of resistance, and
on May 15th pounced upon Dundee. Much had happened since that October
day when Penn Symons led his three gallant regiments up Talana Hill, but
now at last, after seven weary months, the ground was reoccupied which
he had gained. His old soldiers visited his grave, and the national flag
was raised over the remains of as gallant a man as ever died for the
sake of it.

The Boers, whose force did not exceed a few thousands, were now rolled
swiftly back through Northern Natal into their own country. The long
strain at Ladysmith had told upon them, and the men whom we had to meet
were very different from the warriors of Spion Kop and Nicholson's Nek.
They had done magnificently, but there is a limit to human endurance,
and no longer would these peasants face the bursting lyddite and the
bayonets of angry soldiers. There is little enough for us to boast of in
this. Some pride might be taken in the campaign when at a disadvantage
we were facing superior numbers, but now we could but deplore the
situation in which these poor valiant burghers found themselves, the
victims of a rotten government and of their own delusions. Hofer's
Tyrolese, Charette's Vendeans, or Bruce's Scotchmen never fought a finer
fight than these children of the veld, but in each case they combated a
real and not an imaginary tyrant. It is heart-sickening to think of the
butchery, the misery, the irreparable losses, the blood of men, and
the bitter tears of women, all of which might have been spared had one
obstinate and ignorant man been persuaded to allow the State which he
ruled to conform to the customs of every other civilised State upon the
earth.

Buller was now moving with a rapidity and decision which contrast
pleasantly with some of his earlier operations. Although Dundee was only
occupied on May 15th, on May 18th his vanguard was in Newcastle, fifty
miles to the north. In nine days he had covered 138 miles. On the 19th
the army lay under the loom of that Majuba which had cast its sinister
shadow for so long over South African politics. In front was the
historical Laing's Nek, the pass which leads from Natal into the
Transvaal, while through it runs the famous railway tunnel. Here the
Boers had taken up that position which had proved nineteen years before
to be too strong for British troops. The Rooineks had come back after
many days to try again. A halt was called, for the ten days' supplies
which had been taken with the troops were exhausted, and it was
necessary to wait until the railway should be repaired. This gave time
for Hildyard's 5th Division and Lyttelton's 4th Division to close up
on Clery's 2nd Division, which with Dundonald's cavalry had formed our
vanguard throughout. The only losses of any consequence during this fine
march fell upon a single squadron of Bethune's mounted infantry, which
being thrown out in the direction of Vryheid, in order to make sure that
our flank was clear, fell into an ambuscade and was almost annihilated
by a close-range fire. Sixty-six casualties, of which nearly half were
killed, were the result of this action, which seems to have depended,
like most of our reverses, upon defective scouting. Buller, having
called up his two remaining divisions and having mended the railway
behind him, proceeded now to manoeuvre the Boers out of Laing's Nek
exactly as he had manoeuvred them out of the Biggarsberg. At the end of
May Hildyard and Lyttelton were despatched in an eastern direction, as
if there were an intention of turning the pass from Utrecht.

It was on May 12th that Lord Roberts occupied Kroonstad, and he halted
there for eight days before he resumed his advance. At the end of that
time his railway had been repaired, and enough supplies brought up to
enable him to advance again without anxiety. The country through which
he passed swarmed with herds and flocks, but, with as scrupulous a
regard for the rights of property as Wellington showed in the south of
France, no hungry soldier was allowed to take so much as a chicken as he
passed. The punishment for looting was prompt and stern. It is true that
farms were burned occasionally and the stock confiscated, but this was
as a punishment for some particular offence and not part of a system.
The limping Tommy looked askance at the fat geese which covered the dam
by the roadside, but it was as much as his life was worth to allow his
fingers to close round those tempting white necks. On foul water and
bully beef he tramped through a land of plenty.

Lord Roberts's eight days' halt was spent in consolidating the general
military situation. We have already shown how Buller had crept upwards
to the Natal Border. On the west Methuen reached Hoopstad and Hunter
Christiana, settling the country and collecting arms as they went.
Rundle in the south-east took possession of the rich grain lands, and
on May 21st entered Ladybrand. In front of him lay that difficult hilly
country about Senekal, Ficksburg, and Bethlehem which was to delay him
so long. Ian Hamilton was feeling his way northwards to the right of the
railway line, and for the moment cleared the district between Lindley
and Heilbron, passing through both towns and causing Steyn to again
change his capital, which became Vrede, in the extreme north-east of the
State. During these operations Hamilton had the two formidable De Wet
brothers in front of him, and suffered nearly a hundred casualties in
the continual skirmishing which accompanied his advance. His right flank
and rear were continually attacked, and these signs of forces outside
our direct line of advance were full of menace for the future.

On May 22nd the main army resumed its advance, moving forward fifteen
miles to Honing's Spruit. On the 23rd another march of twenty miles over
a fine rolling prairie brought them to Rhenoster River. The enemy had
made some preparations for a stand, but Hamilton was near Heilbron upon
their left and French was upon their right flank. The river was crossed
without opposition. On the 24th the army was at Vredefort Road, and on
the 26th the vanguard crossed the Vaal River at Viljoen's Drift, the
whole army following on the 27th. Hamilton's force had been cleverly
swung across from the right to the left flank of the British, so that
the Boers were massed on the wrong side.

Preparations for resistance had been made on the line of the railway,
but the wide turning movements on the flanks by the indefatigable French
and Hamilton rendered all opposition of no avail. The British columns
flowed over and onwards without a pause, tramping steadily northwards
to their destination. The bulk of the Free State forces refused to leave
their own country, and moved away to the eastern and northern portion
of the State, where the British Generals thought--incorrectly, as the
future was to prove--that no further harm would come from them. The
State which they were in arms to defend had really ceased to exist, for
already it had been publicly proclaimed at Bloemfontein in the Queen's
name that the country had been annexed to the Empire, and that its style
henceforth was that of 'The Orange River Colony.' Those who think this
measure unduly harsh must remember that every mile of land which the
Freestaters had conquered in the early part of the war had been solemnly
annexed by them. At the same time, those Englishmen who knew the history
of this State, which had once been the model of all that a State should
be, were saddened by the thought that it should have deliberately
committed suicide for the sake of one of the most corrupt governments
which have ever been known. Had the Transvaal been governed as the
Orange Free State was, such an event as the second Boer war could never
have occurred.

Lord Roberts's tremendous march was now drawing to a close. On May
28th the troops advanced twenty miles, and passed Klip River without
fighting. It was observed with surprise that the Transvaalers were very
much more careful of their own property than they had been of that
of their allies, and that the railway was not damaged at all by the
retreating forces. The country had become more populous, and far away
upon the low curves of the hills were seen high chimneys and gaunt
iron pumps which struck the north of England soldier with a pang of
homesickness. This long distant hill was the famous Rand, and under its
faded grasses lay such riches as Solomon never took from Ophir. It was
the prize of victory; and yet the prize is not to the victor, for the
dust-grimed officers and men looked with little personal interest at
this treasure-house of the world. Not one penny the richer would they be
for the fact that their blood and their energy had brought justice
and freedom to the gold fields. They had opened up an industry for the
world, men of all nations would be the better for their labours, the
miner and the financier or the trader would equally profit by them, but
the men in khaki would tramp on, unrewarded and uncomplaining, to India,
to China, to any spot where the needs of their worldwide empire called
them.

The infantry, streaming up from the Vaal River to the famous ridge of
gold, had met with no resistance upon the way, but great mist banks
of cloud by day and huge twinkling areas of flame by night showed the
handiwork of the enemy. Hamilton and French, moving upon the left flank,
found Boers thick upon the hills, but cleared them off in a well-managed
skirmish which cost us a dozen casualties. On May 29th, pushing swiftly
along, French found the enemy posted very strongly with several guns at
Doornkop, a point west of Klip River Berg. The cavalry leader had with
him at this stage three horse batteries, four pom-poms, and 3000 mounted
men. The position being too strong for him to force, Hamilton's infantry
(19th and 21st Brigades) were called up, and the Boers were driven out.
That splendid corps, the Gordons, lost nearly a hundred men in their
advance over the open, and the C.I.V.s on the other flank fought like
a regiment of veterans. There had been an inclination to smile at these
citizen soldiers when they first came out, but no one smiled now save
the General who felt that he had them at his back. Hamilton's attack
was assisted by the menace rather than the pressure of French's turning
movement on the Boer right, but the actual advance was as purely frontal
as any of those which had been carried through at the beginning of the
war. The open formation of the troops, the powerful artillery behind
them, and perhaps also the lowered morale of the enemy combined to
make such a movement less dangerous than of old. In any case it was
inevitable, as the state of Hamilton's commisariat rendered it necessary
that at all hazards he should force his way through.

Whilst this action of Doornkop was fought by the British left flank,
Henry's mounted infantry in the centre moved straight upon the important
junction of Germiston, which lies amid the huge white heaps of tailings
from the mines. At this point, or near it, the lines from Johannesburg
and from Natal join the line to Pretoria. Colonel Henry's advance was
an extremely daring one, for the infantry were some distance behind; but
after an irregular scrambling skirmish, in which the Boer snipers had to
be driven off the mine heaps and from among the houses, the 8th mounted
infantry got their grip of the railway and held it. The exploit was a
very fine one, and stands out the more brilliantly as the conduct of the
campaign cannot be said to afford many examples of that well-considered
audacity which deliberately runs the risk of the minor loss for the sake
of the greater gain. Henry was much assisted by J battery R.H.A., which
was handled with energy and judgment.

French was now on the west of the town, Henry had cut the railway on the
east, and Roberts was coming up from the south. His infantry had covered
130 miles in seven days, but the thought that every step brought them
nearer to Pretoria was as exhilarating as their fifes and drums. On May
30th the victorious troops camped outside the city while Botha retired
with his army, abandoning without a battle the treasure-house of his
country. Inside the town were chaos and confusion. The richest mines in
the world lay for a day or more at the mercy of a lawless rabble drawn
from all nations. The Boer officials were themselves divided in opinion,
Krause standing for law and order while Judge Koch advocated violence.
A spark would have set the town blazing, and the worst was feared when
a crowd of mercenaries assembled in front of the Robinson mine with
threats of violence. By the firmness and tact of Mr. Tucker, the
manager, and by the strong attitude of Commissioner Krause, the
situation was saved and the danger passed. Upon May 31st, without
violence to life or destruction to property, that great town which
British hands have done so much to build found itself at last under the
British flag. May it wave there so long as it covers just laws, honest
officials, and clean-handed administrators--so long and no longer!

And now the last stage of the great journey had been reached. Two days
were spent at Johannesburg while supplies were brought up, and then a
move was made upon Pretoria thirty miles to the north. Here was the Boer
capital, the seat of government, the home of Kruger, the centre of
all that was anti-British, crouching amid its hills, with costly forts
guarding every face of it. Surely at last the place had been found where
that great battle should be fought which should decide for all time
whether it was with the Briton or with the Dutchman that the future of
South Africa lay.

On the last day of May two hundred Lancers under the command of Major
Hunter Weston, with Charles of the Sappers and Burnham the scout, a man
who has played the part of a hero throughout the campaign, struck off
from the main army and endeavoured to descend upon the Pretoria to
Delagoa railway line with the intention of blowing up a bridge and
cutting the Boer line of retreat. It was a most dashing attempt; but the
small party had the misfortune to come into contact with a strong Boer
commando, who headed them off. After a skirmish they were compelled to
make their way back with a loss of five killed and fourteen wounded.

The cavalry under French had waited for the issue of this enterprise
at a point nine miles north of Johannesburg. On June 2nd it began its
advance with orders to make a wide sweep round to the westward, and so
skirt the capital, cutting the Pietersburg railway to the north of
it. The country in the direct line between Johannesburg and Pretoria
consists of a series of rolling downs which are admirably adapted for
cavalry work, but the detour which French had to make carried him into
the wild and broken district which lies to the north of the Little
Crocodile River. Here he was fiercely attacked on ground where his
troops could not deploy, but with extreme coolness and judgment beat off
the enemy. To cover thirty-two miles in a day and fight a way out of an
ambuscade in the evening is an ordeal for any leader and for any troops.
Two killed and seven wounded were our trivial losses in a situation
which might have been a serious one. The Boers appear to have been the
escort of a strong convoy which had passed along the road some miles
in front. Next morning both convoy and opposition had disappeared. The
cavalry rode on amid a country of orange groves, the troopers standing
up in their stirrups to pluck the golden fruit. There was no further
fighting, and on June 4th French had established himself upon the north
of the town, where he learned that all resistance had ceased.

Whilst the cavalry had performed this enveloping movement the main army
had moved swiftly upon its objective, leaving one brigade behind to
secure Johannesburg. Ian Hamilton advanced upon the left, while Lord
Roberts's column kept the line of the railway, Colonel Henry's mounted
infantry scouting in front. As the army topped the low curves of the
veld they saw in front of them two well-marked hills, each crowned by
a low squat building. They were the famous southern forts of Pretoria.
Between the hills was a narrow neck, and beyond the Boer capital.

For a time it appeared that the entry was to be an absolutely bloodless
one, but the booming of cannon and the crash of Mauser fire soon showed
that the enemy was in force upon the ridge. Botha had left a strong
rearguard to hold off the British while his own stores and valuables
were being withdrawn from the town. The silence of the forts showed that
the guns had been removed and that no prolonged resistance was intended;
but in the meanwhile fringes of determined riflemen, supported by
cannon, held the approaches, and must be driven off before an entry
could be effected. Each fresh corps as it came up reinforced the firing
line. Henry's mounted infantrymen supported by the horse-guns of J
battery and the guns of Tucker's division began the action. So hot was
the answer, both from cannon and from rifle, that it seemed for a
time as if a real battle were at last about to take place. The Guards'
Brigade, Stephenson's Brigade, and Maxwell's Brigade streamed up and
waited until Hamilton, who was on the enemy's right flank, should be
able to make his presence felt. The heavy guns had also arrived, and a
huge cloud of debris rising from the Pretorian forts told the accuracy
of their fire.

But either the burghers were half-hearted or there was no real intention
to make a stand. About half-past two their fire slackened and Pole-Carew
was directed to push on. That debonnaire soldier with his two veteran
brigades obeyed the order with alacrity, and the infantry swept over the
ridge, with some thirty or forty casualties, the majority of which fell
to the Warwicks. The position was taken, and Hamilton, who came up
late, was only able to send on De Lisle's mounted infantry, chiefly
Australians, who ran down one of the Boer maxims in the open. The action
had cost us altogether about seventy men. Among the injured was the Duke
of Norfolk, who had shown a high sense of civic virtue in laying aside
the duties and dignity of a Cabinet Minister in order to serve as a
simple captain of volunteers. At the end of this one fight the capital
lay at the mercy of Lord Roberts. Consider the fight which they made for
their chief city, compare it with that which the British made for the
village of Mafeking, and say on which side is that stern spirit of
self-sacrifice and resolution which are the signs of the better cause.

In the early morning of June 5th, the Coldstream Guards were mounting
the hills which commanded the town. Beneath them in the clear African
air lay the famous city, embowered in green, the fine central buildings
rising grandly out of the wide circle of villas. Through the Nek part of
the Guards' Brigade and Maxwell's Brigade had passed, and had taken over
the station, from which at least one train laden with horses had steamed
that morning. Two others, both ready to start, were only just stopped in
time.

The first thought was for the British prisoners, and a small party
headed by the Duke of Marlborough rode to their rescue. Let it be said
once for all that their treatment by the Boers was excellent and that
their appearance would alone have proved it. One hundred and twenty-nine
officers and thirty-nine soldiers were found in the Model Schools, which
had been converted into a prison. A day later our cavalry arrived at
Waterval, which is fourteen miles to the north of Pretoria. Here were
confined three thousand soldiers, whose fare had certainly been of
the scantiest, though in other respects they appear to have been well
treated. [Footnote: Further information unfortunately shows that in the
case of the sick and of the Colonial prisoners the treatment was by
no means good.] Nine hundred of their comrades had been removed by the
Boers, but Porter's cavalry was in time to release the others, under
a brisk shell fire from a Boer gun upon the ridge. Many pieces of good
luck we had in the campaign, but this recovery of our prisoners, which
left the enemy without a dangerous lever for exacting conditions of
peace, was the most fortunate of all.

In the centre of the town there is a wide square decorated or disfigured
by a bare pedestal upon which a statue of the President was to have been
placed. Hard by is the bleak barnlike church in which he preached, and
on either side are the Government offices and the Law Courts, buildings
which would grace any European capital. Here, at two o'clock on the
afternoon of June 5th, Lord Roberts sat his horse and saw pass in
front of him the men who had followed him so far and so faithfully--the
Guards, the Essex, the Welsh, the Yorks, the Warwicks, the guns, the
mounted infantry, the dashing irregulars, the Gordons, the Canadians,
the Shropshires, the Cornwalls, the Camerons, the Derbys, the Sussex,
and the London Volunteers. For over two hours the khaki waves with their
crests of steel went sweeping by. High above their heads from the summit
of the Raad-saal the broad Union Jack streamed for the first time.
Through months of darkness we had struggled onwards to the light. Now
at last the strange drama seemed to be drawing to its close. The God of
battles had given the long-withheld verdict. But of all the hearts which
throbbed high at that supreme moment there were few who felt one touch
of bitterness towards the brave men who had been overborne. They had
fought and died for their ideal. We had fought and died for ours. The
hope for the future of South Africa is that they or their descendants
may learn that that banner which has come to wave above Pretoria means
no racial intolerance, no greed for gold, no paltering with injustice or
corruption, but that it means one law for all and one freedom for all,
as it does in every other continent in the whole broad earth. When that
is learned it may happen that even they will come to date a happier life
and a wider liberty from that 5th of June which saw the symbol of their
nation pass for ever from among the ensigns of the world.



CHAPTER 26. DIAMOND HILL--RUNDLE'S OPERATIONS.

The military situation at the time of the occupation of Pretoria was
roughly as follows. Lord Roberts with some thirty thousand men was in
possession of the capital, but had left his long line of communications
very imperfectly guarded behind him. On the flank of this line of
communications, in the eastern and north-eastern corner of the Free
State, was an energetic force of unconquered Freestaters who had rallied
round President Steyn. They were some eight or ten thousand in number,
well horsed, with a fair number of guns, under the able leadership of
De Wet, Prinsloo, and Olivier. Above all, they had a splendid position,
mountainous and broken, from which, as from a fortress, they could make
excursions to the south or west. This army included the commandos of
Ficksburg, Senekal, and Harrismith, with all the broken and desperate
men from other districts who had left their farms and fled to the
mountains. It was held in check as a united force by Rundle's Division
and the Colonial Division on the south, while Colvile, and afterwards
Methuen, endeavoured to pen them in on the west. The task was a hard
one, however, and though Rundle succeeded in holding his line intact, it
appeared to be impossible in that wide country to coop up altogether
an enemy so mobile. A strange game of hide-and-seek ensued, in which De
Wet, who led the Boer raids, was able again and again to strike our
line of rails and to get back without serious loss. The story of these
instructive and humiliating episodes will be told in their order. The
energy and skill of the guerilla chief challenge our admiration, and the
score of his successes would be amusing were it not that the points of
the game are marked by the lives of British soldiers.

General Buller had spent the latter half of May in making his way from
Ladysmith to Laing's Nek, and the beginning of June found him with
twenty thousand men in front of that difficult position. Some talk of
a surrender had arisen, and Christian Botha, who commanded the Boers,
succeeded in gaining several days' armistice, which ended in nothing.
The Transvaal forces at this point were not more than a few thousand in
number, but their position was so formidable that it was a serious task
to turn them out. Van Wyk's Hill, however, had been left unguarded, and
as its possession would give the British the command of Botha's Pass,
its unopposed capture by the South African Light Horse was an event of
great importance. With guns upon this eminence the infantry were able,
on June 8th, to attack and to carry with little loss the rest of the
high ground, and so to get the Pass into their complete possession.
Botha fired the grass behind him, and withdrew sullenly to the north. On
the 9th and 10th the convoys were passed over the Pass, and on the 11th
the main body of the army followed them.

The operations were now being conducted in that extremely acute angle of
Natal which runs up between the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
In crossing Botha's Pass the army had really entered what was now the
Orange River Colony. But it was only for a very short time, as the
object of the movement was to turn the Laing's Nek position, and then
come back into the Transvaal through Alleman's Pass. The gallant South
African Light Horse led the way, and fought hard at one point to clear
a path for the army, losing six killed and eight wounded in a sharp
skirmish. On the morning of the 12th the flanking movement was far
advanced, and it only remained for the army to force Alleman's Nek,
which would place it to the rear of Laing's Nek, and close to the
Transvaal town of Volksrust.

Had the Boers been the men of Colenso and of Spion Kop, this storming
of Alleman's Nek would have been a bloody business. The position was
strong, the cover was slight, and there was no way round. But the
infantry came on with the old dash without the old stubborn resolution
being opposed to them. The guns prepared the way, and then the Dorsets,
the Dublins, the Middlesex, the Queen's, and the East Surrey did the
rest. The door was open and the Transvaal lay before us. The next day
Volksrust was in our hands.

The whole series of operations were excellently conceived and carried
out. Putting Colenso on one side, it cannot be denied that General
Buller showed considerable power of manoeuvring large bodies of troops.
The withdrawal of the compromised army after Spion Kop, the change of
the line of attack at Pieter's Hill, and the flanking marches in this
campaign of Northern Natal, were all very workmanlike achievements.
In this case a position which the Boers had been preparing for months,
scored with trenches and topped by heavy artillery, had been rendered
untenable by a clever flank movement, the total casualties in the whole
affair being less than two hundred killed and wounded. Natal was cleared
of the invader, Buller's foot was on the high plateau of the Transvaal,
and Roberts could count on twenty thousand good men coming up to him
from the south-east. More important than all, the Natal railway was
being brought up, and soon the central British Army would depend
upon Durban instead of Cape Town for its supplies--a saving of nearly
two-thirds of the distance. The fugitive Boers made northwards in the
Middelburg direction, while Buller advanced to Standerton, which town he
continued to occupy until Lord Roberts could send a force down through
Heidelberg to join hands with him. Such was the position of the Natal
Field Force at the end of June. From the west and the south-west
British forces were also converging upon the capital. The indomitable
Baden-Powell sought for rest and change of scene after his prolonged
trial by harrying the Boers out of Zeerust and Rustenburg. The forces
of Hunter and of Mahon converged upon Potchefstroom, from which, after
settling that district, they could be conveyed by rail to Krugersdorp
and Johannesburg.

Before briefly recounting the series of events which took place upon
the line of communications, the narrative must return to Lord Roberts at
Pretoria, and describe the operations which followed his occupation of
that city. In leaving the undefeated forces of the Free State behind
him, the British General had unquestionably run a grave risk, and was
well aware that his railway communication was in danger of being cut.
By the rapidity of his movements he succeeded in gaining the enemy's
capital before that which he had foreseen came to pass; but if Botha had
held him at Pretoria while De Wet struck at him behind, the situation
would have been a serious one. Having once attained his main object,
Roberts could receive with equanimity the expected news that De Wet with
a mobile force of less than two thousand men had, on June 7th, cut the
line at Roodeval to the north of Kroonstad. Both rail and telegraph were
destroyed, and for a few days the army was isolated. Fortunately there
were enough supplies to go on with, and immediate steps were taken to
drive away the intruder, though, like a mosquito, he was brushed from
one place only to settle upon another.

Leaving others to restore his broken communications, Lord Roberts turned
his attention once more to Botha, who still retained ten or fifteen
thousand men under his command. The President had fled from Pretoria
with a large sum of money, estimated at over two millions sterling,
and was known to be living in a saloon railway carriage, which had been
transformed into a seat of government even more mobile than that of
President Steyn. From Waterval-Boven, a point beyond Middelburg, he
was in a position either to continue his journey to Delagoa Bay, and so
escape out of the country, or to travel north into that wild Lydenburg
country which had always been proclaimed as the last ditch of the
defence. Here he remained with his gold-bags waiting the turn of events.

Botha and his stalwarts had not gone far from the capital. Fifteen miles
out to the east the railway line runs through a gap in the hills called
Pienaars Poort, and here was such a position as the Boer loves to
hold. It was very strong in front, and it had widely spread formidable
flanking hills to hamper those turning movements which had so often
been fatal to the Boer generals. Behind was the uncut railway line along
which the guns could in case of need be removed. The whole position was
over fifteen miles from wing to wing, and it was well known to the Boer
general that Lord Roberts had no longer that preponderance of force
which would enable him to execute wide turning movements, as he had
done in his advance from the south. His army had decreased seriously in
numbers. The mounted men, the most essential branch of all, were so
ill horsed that brigades were not larger than regiments. One brigade of
infantry (the 14th) had been left to garrison Johannesburg, and another
(the 18th) had been chosen for special duty in Pretoria. Smith-Dorrien's
Brigade had been detached for duty upon the line of communications. With
all these deductions and the wastage caused by wounds and disease, the
force was in no state to assume a vigorous offensive. So hard pressed
were they for men that the three thousand released prisoners from
Waterval were hurriedly armed with Boer weapons and sent down the line
to help to guard the more vital points.

Had Botha withdrawn to a safe distance, Lord Roberts would certainly
have halted, as he had done at Bloemfontein, and waited for remounts
and reinforcements. But the war could not be allowed to languish when an
active enemy lay only fifteen miles off, within striking distance of
two cities and of the line of rail. Taking all the troops that he could
muster, the British General moved out once more on Monday, June 11th,
to drive Botha from his position. He had with him Pole-Carew's 11th
Division, which numbered about six thousand men with twenty guns,
Ian Hamilton's force, which included one infantry brigade (Bruce
Hamilton's), one cavalry brigade, and a corps of mounted infantry, say,
six thousand in all, with thirty guns. There remained French's Cavalry
Division, with Hutton's Mounted Infantry, which could not have exceeded
two thousand sabres and rifles. The total force was, therefore, not more
than sixteen or seventeen thousand men, with about seventy guns. Their
task was to carry a carefully prepared position held by at least ten
thousand burghers with a strong artillery. Had the Boer of June been the
Boer of December, the odds would have been against the British.

There had been some negotiations for peace between Lord Roberts and
Botha, but the news of De Wet's success from the south had hardened the
Boer general's heart, and on June 9th the cavalry had their orders to
advance. Hamilton was to work round the left wing of the Boers, and
French round their right, while the infantry came up in the centre. So
wide was the scene of action that the attack and the resistance in
each flank and in the centre constituted, on June 11th, three separate
actions. Of these the latter was of least importance, as it merely
entailed the advance of the infantry to a spot whence they could take
advantage of the success of the flanking forces when they had made their
presence felt. The centre did not on this as on several other occasions
in the campaign make the mistake of advancing before the way had been
prepared for it.

French with his attenuated force found so vigorous a resistance
on Monday and Tuesday that he was hard put to it to hold his own.
Fortunately he had with him three excellent Horse Artillery batteries,
G, O, and T, who worked until, at the end of the engagement, they had
only twenty rounds in their limbers. The country was an impossible
one for cavalry, and the troopers fought dismounted, with intervals of
twenty or thirty paces between the men. Exposed all day to rifle and
shell fire, unable to advance and unwilling to retreat, it was only
owing to their open formation that they escaped with about thirty
casualties. With Boers on his front, his flank, and even on his rear,
French held grimly on, realising that a retreat upon his part would mean
a greater pressure at all other points of the British advance. At night
his weary men slept upon the ground which they had held. All Monday and
all Tuesday French kept his grip at Kameelsdrift, stolidly indifferent
to the attempt of the enemy to cut his line of communications. On
Wednesday, Hamilton, upon the other flank, had gained the upper hand,
and the pressure was relaxed. French then pushed forward, but the horses
were so utterly beaten that no effective pursuit was possible.

During the two days that French had been held up by the Boer right wing
Hamilton had also been seriously engaged upon the left--so seriously
that at one time the action appeared to have gone against him. The fight
presented some distinctive features, which made it welcome to soldiers
who were weary of the invisible man with his smokeless gun upon the
eternal kopje. It is true that man, gun, and kopje were all present
upon this occasion, but in the endeavours to drive him off some new
developments took place, which formed for one brisk hour a reversion
to picturesque warfare. Perceiving a gap in the enemy's line, Hamilton
pushed up the famous Q battery--the guns which had plucked glory out of
disaster at Sanna's Post. For the second time in one campaign they were
exposed and in imminent danger of capture. A body of mounted Boers with
great dash and hardihood galloped down within close range and opened
fire. Instantly the 12th Lancers were let loose upon them. How they must
have longed for their big-boned long-striding English troop horses
as they strove to raise a gallop out of their spiritless overworked
Argentines! For once, however, the lance meant more than five pounds
dead weight and an encumbrance to the rider. The guns were saved, the
Boers fled, and a dozen were left upon the ground. But a cavalry charge
has to end in a re-formation, and that is the instant of danger if
any unbroken enemy remains within range. Now a sleet of bullets hissed
through their ranks as they retired, and the gallant Lord Airlie, as
modest and brave a soldier as ever drew sword, was struck through
the heart. 'Pray moderate your language!' was his last characteristic
remark, made to a battle-drunken sergeant. Two officers, seventeen men,
and thirty horses went down with their Colonel, the great majority only
slightly injured. In the meantime the increasing pressure upon his right
caused Broadwood to order a second charge, of the Life Guards this time,
to drive off the assailants. The appearance rather than the swords
of the Guards prevailed, and cavalry as cavalry had vindicated their
existence more than they had ever done during the campaign. The guns
were saved, the flank attack was rolled back, but one other danger had
still to be met, for the Heidelberg commando--a corps d'elite of the
Boers--had made its way outside Hamilton's flank and threatened to get
past him. With cool judgment the British General detached a battalion
and a section of a battery, which pushed the Boers back into a less
menacing position. The rest of Bruce Hamilton's Brigade were ordered to
advance upon the hills in front, and, aided by a heavy artillery fire,
they had succeeded, before the closing in of the winter night, in
getting possession of this first line of the enemy's defences. Night
fell upon an undecided fight, which, after swaying this way and that,
had finally inclined to the side of the British. The Sussex and the City
Imperial Volunteers were clinging to the enemy's left flank, while the
11th Division were holding them in front. All promised well for the
morrow.

By order of Lord Roberts the Guards were sent round early on Tuesday,
the 12th, to support the flank attack of Bruce Hamilton's infantry. It
was afternoon before all was ready for the advance, and then the Sussex,
the London Volunteers, and the Derbyshires won a position upon the
ridge, followed later by the three regiments of Guards. But the ridge
was the edge of a considerable plateau, swept by Boer fire, and no
advance could be made over its bare expanse save at a considerable loss.
The infantry clung in a long fringe to the edge of the position, but for
two hours no guns could be brought up to their support, as the steepness
of the slope was insurmountable. It was all that the stormers could do
to hold their ground, as they were enfiladed by a Vickers-Maxim, and
exposed to showers of shrapnel as well as to an incessant rifle fire.
Never were guns so welcome as those of the 82nd battery, brought by
Major Connolly into the firing line. The enemy's riflemen were only a
thousand yards away, and the action of the artillery might have seemed
as foolhardy as that of Long at Colenso. Ten horses went down on the
instant, and a quarter of the gunners were hit; but the guns roared one
by one into action, and their shrapnel soon decided the day. Undoubtedly
it is with Connolly and his men that the honours lie.

At four o'clock, as the sun sank towards the west, the tide of fight had
set in favour of the attack. Two more batteries had come up, every rifle
was thrown into the firing line, and the Boer reply was decreasing in
volume. The temptation to an assault was great, but even now it might
mean heavy loss of life, and Hamilton shrank from the sacrifice. In
the morning his judgment was justified, for Botha had abandoned the
position, and his army was in full retreat. The mounted men followed as
far as Elands River Station, which is twenty-five miles from Pretoria,
but the enemy was not overtaken, save by a small party of De Lisle's
Australians and Regular Mounted Infantry. This force, less than a
hundred in number, gained a kopje which overlooked a portion of the
Boer army. Had they been more numerous, the effect would have been
incalculable. As it was, the Australians fired every cartridge which
they possessed into the throng, and killed many horses and men. It would
bear examination why it was that only this small corps was present at so
vital a point, and why, if they could push the pursuit to such purpose,
others should not be able to do the same. Time was bringing some
curious revenges. Already Paardeberg had come upon Majuba Day. Buller's
victorious soldiers had taken Laing's Nek. Now, the Spruit at which the
retreating Boers were so mishandled by the Australians was that same
Bronkers Spruit at which, nineteen years before, a regiment had been
shot down. Many might have prophesied that the deed would be avenged;
but who could ever have guessed the men who would avenge it?

Such was the battle of Diamond Hill, as it was called from the name of
the ridge which was opposite to Hamilton's attack. The prolonged two
days' struggle showed that there was still plenty of fight in the
burghers. Lord Roberts had not routed them, nor had he captured their
guns; but he had cleared the vicinity of the capital, he had inflicted a
loss upon them which was certainly as great as his own, and he had again
proved to them that it was vain for them to attempt to stand. A long
pause followed at Pretoria, broken by occasional small alarms and
excursions, which served no end save to keep the army from ennui. In
spite of occasional breaks in his line of communications, horses and
supplies were coming up rapidly, and, by the middle of July, Roberts
was ready for the field again. At the same time Hunter had come up from
Potchefstroom, and Hamilton had taken Heidelberg, and his force was
about to join hands with Buller at Standerton. Sporadic warfare broke
out here and there in the west, and in the course of it Snyman of
Mafeking had reappeared, with two guns, which were promptly taken from
him by the Canadian Mounted Rifles. On all sides it was felt that if
the redoubtable De Wet could be captured there was every hope that the
burghers might discontinue a struggle which was disagreeable to the
British and fatal to themselves. As a point of honour it was impossible
for Botha to give in while his ally held out. We will turn, therefore,
to this famous guerilla chief, and give some account of his exploits. To
understand them some description must be given of the general military
situation in the Free State.

When Lord Roberts had swept past to the north he had brushed aside the
flower of the Orange Free State army, who occupied the considerable
quadrilateral which is formed by the north-east of that State. The
function of Rundle's 8th Division and of Brabant's Colonial Division was
to separate the sheep from the goats by preventing the fighting burghers
from coming south and disturbing those districts which had been settled.
For this purpose Rundle formed a long line which should serve as a
cordon. Moving up through Trommel and Clocolan, Ficksburg was occupied
on May 25th by the Colonial Division, while Rundle seized Senekal, forty
miles to the north-west. A small force of forty Yeomanry, who entered
the town some time in advance of the main body, was suddenly attacked
by the Boers, and the gallant Dalbiac, famous rider and sportsman, was
killed, with four of his men. He was a victim, as so many have been in
this campaign, to his own proud disregard of danger.

The Boers were in full retreat, but now, as always, they were dangerous.
One cannot take them for granted, for the very moment of defeat is that
at which they are capable of some surprising effort. Rundle, following
them up from Senekal, found them in strong possession of the kopjes at
Biddulphsberg, and received a check in his endeavour to drive them off.
It was an action fought amid great grass fires, where the possible fate
of the wounded was horrible to contemplate. The 2nd Grenadiers, the
Scots Guards, the East Yorkshires, and the West Kents were all engaged,
with the 2nd and 79th Field Batteries and a force of Yeomanry. Our
losses incurred in the open from unseen rifles were thirty killed and
130 wounded, including Colonel Lloyd of the Grenadiers. Two days later
Rundle, from Senekal, joined hands with Brabant from Ficksburg, and
a defensive line was formed between those two places, which was held
unbroken for two months, when the operations ended in the capture of the
greater part of the force opposed to him. Clements's Brigade, consisting
of the 1st Royal Irish, the 2nd Bedfords, the 2nd Worcesters, and the
2nd Wiltshires, had come to strengthen Rundle, and altogether he may
have had as many as twelve thousand men under his orders. It was not
a large force with which to hold a mobile adversary at least eight
thousand strong, who might attack him at any point of his extended line.
So well, however, did he select his positions that every attempt of the
enemy, and there were many, ended in failure. Badly supplied with food,
he and his half-starved men held bravely to their task, and no soldiers
in all that great host deserve better of their country.

At the end of May, then, the Colonial Division, Rundle's Division, and
Clements's Brigade held the Boers from Ficksburg on the Basuto border
to Senekal. This prevented them from coming south. But what was there to
prevent them from coming west, and falling upon the railway line?
There was the weak point of the British position. Lord Methuen had been
brought across from Boshof, and was available with six thousand men.
Colvile was on that side also, with the Highland Brigade. A few details
were scattered up and down the line, waiting to be gathered up by an
enterprising enemy. Kroonstad was held by a single militia battalion;
each separate force had to be nourished by convoys with weak escorts.
Never was there such a field for a mobile and competent guerilla leader.
And, as luck would have it, such a man was at hand, ready to take full
advantage of his opportunities.



CHAPTER 27. THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION.

Christian de Wet, the elder of two brothers of that name, was at this
time in the prime of life, a little over forty years of age. He was a
burly middle-sized bearded man, poorly educated, but endowed with much
energy and common-sense. His military experience dated back to Majuba
Hill, and he had a large share of that curious race hatred which
is intelligible in the case of the Transvaal, but inexplicable in a
Freestater who has received no injury from the British Empire. Some
weakness of his sight compels the use of tinted spectacles, and he had
now turned these, with a pair of particularly observant eyes behind
them, upon the scattered British forces and the long exposed line of
railway.

De Wet's force was an offshoot from the army of Freestaters under De
Villiers, Olivier, and Prinsloo, which lay in the mountainous north-east
of the State. To him were committed five guns, fifteen hundred men, and
the best of the horses. Well armed, well mounted, and operating in
a country which consisted of rolling plains with occasional fortress
kopjes, his little force had everything in its favour. There were so
many tempting objects of attack lying before him that he must have had
some difficulty in knowing where to begin. The tinted spectacles were
turned first upon the isolated town of Lindley.

Colvile with the Highland Brigade had come up from Ventersburg with
instructions to move onward to Heilbron, pacifying the country as he
passed. The country, however, refused to be pacified, and his march from
Ventersburg to Lindley was harassed by snipers every mile of the way.
Finding that De Wet and his men were close upon him, he did not linger
at Lindley, but passed on to his destination, his entire march of 126
miles costing him sixty-three casualties, of which nine were fatal.
It was a difficult and dangerous march, especially for the handful of
Eastern Province Horse, upon whom fell all the mounted work. By evil
fortune a force of five hundred Yeomanry, the 18th battalion, including
the Duke of Cambridge's Own and the Irish companies, had been sent from
Kroonstad to join Colvile at Lindley. Colonel Spragge was in command.
On May 27th this body of horsemen reached their destination only to find
that Colvile had already abandoned it. They appear to have determined to
halt for a day in Lindley, and then follow Colvile to Heilbron. Within
a few hours of their entering the town they were fiercely attacked by De
Wet.

Colonel Spragge seems to have acted for the best. Under a heavy fire he
caused his troopers to fall back upon his transport, which had been
left at a point a few miles out upon the Kroonstad Road, where three
defensible kopjes sheltered a valley in which the cattle and horses
could be herded. A stream ran through it. There were all the materials
there for a stand which would have brought glory to the British arms.
The men were of peculiarly fine quality, many of them from the public
schools and from the universities, and if any would fight to the death
these with their sporting spirit and their high sense of honour might
have been expected to do so.

They had the stronger motive for holding out, as they had taken steps
to convey word of their difficulty to Colvile and to Methuen. The former
continued his march to Heilbron, and it is hard to blame him for doing
so, but Methuen on hearing the message, which was conveyed to him at
great personal peril by Corporal Hankey of the Yeomanry, pushed on
instantly with the utmost energy, though he arrived too late to prevent,
or even to repair, a disaster. It must be remembered that Colvile was
under orders to reach Heilbron on a certain date, that he was himself
fighting his way, and that the force which he was asked to relieve was
much more mobile than his own. His cavalry at that date consisted of 100
men of the Eastern Province Horse.

Colonel Spragge's men had held their own for the first three days
of their investment, during which they had been simply exposed to a
long-range rifle fire which inflicted no very serious loss upon them.
Their principal defence consisted of a stone kraal about twenty yards
square, which sheltered them from rifle bullets, but must obviously be a
perfect death-trap in the not improbable event of the Boers sending for
artillery. The spirit of the troopers was admirable. Several dashing
sorties were carried out under the leadership of Captain Humby and Lord
Longford. The latter was a particularly dashing business, ending in a
bayonet charge which cleared a neighbouring ridge. Early in the siege
the gallant Keith met his end. On the fourth day the Boers brought up
five guns. One would have thought that during so long a time as three
days it would have been possible for the officer in command to make such
preparations against this obvious possibility as were so successfully
taken at a later stage of the war by the handful who garrisoned
Ladybrand. Surely in this period, even without engineers, it would not
have been hard to construct such trenches as the Boers have again and
again opposed to our own artillery. But the preparations which were
made proved to be quite inadequate. One of the two smaller kopjes was
carried, and the garrison fled to the other. This also was compelled to
surrender, and finally the main kopje also hoisted the white flag.
No blame can rest upon the men, for their presence there at all is a
sufficient proof of their public spirit and their gallantry. But the
lessons of the war seem to have been imperfectly learned, especially
that very certain lesson that shell fire in a close formation is
insupportable, while in an open formation with a little cover it can
never compel surrender. The casualty lists (80 killed and wounded out
of a force of 470) show that the Yeomanry took considerable punishment
before surrendering, but do not permit us to call the defence desperate
or heroic. It is only fair to add that Colonel Spragge was acquitted
of all blame by a court of inquiry, which agreed, however, that the
surrender was premature, and attributed it to the unauthorised hoisting
of a white flag upon one of the detached kopjes. With regard to the
subsequent controversy as to whether General Colvile might have returned
to the relief of the Yeomanry, it is impossible to see how that General
could have acted in any other way than he did.

Some explanation is needed of Lord Methuen's appearance upon the central
scene of warfare, his division having, when last described, been at
Boshof, not far from Kimberley, where early in April he fought the
successful action which led to the death of Villebois. Thence he
proceeded along the Vaal and then south to Kroonstad, arriving there on
May 28th. He had with him the 9th Brigade (Douglas's), which contained
the troops which had started with him for the relief of Kimberley six
months before. These were the Northumberland Fusiliers, Loyal North
Lancashires, Northamptons, and Yorkshire Light Infantry. With him also
were the Munsters, Lord Chesham's Yeomanry (five companies), with the
4th and 37th batteries, two howitzers and two pom-poms. His total force
was about 6000 men. On arriving at Kroonstad he was given the task
of relieving Heilbron, where Colvile, with the Highland Brigade, some
Colonial horse, Lovat's Scouts, two naval guns, and the 5th battery,
were short of food and ammunition. The more urgent message from the
Yeomen at Lindley, however, took him on a fruitless journey to that
town on June 1st. So vigorous was the pursuit of the Yeomanry that
the leading squadrons, consisting of South Notts Hussars and Sherwood
Rangers, actually cut into the Boer convoy and might have rescued the
prisoners had they been supported. As it was they were recalled, and
had to fight their way back to Lindley with some loss, including Colonel
Rolleston, the commander, who was badly wounded. A garrison was left
under Paget, and the rest of the force pursued its original mission
to Heilbron, arriving there on June 7th, when the Highlanders had been
reduced to quarter rations. 'The Salvation Army' was the nickname by
which they expressed their gratitude to the relieving force.

A previous convoy sent to the same destination had less good fortune.
On June 1st fifty-five wagons started from the railway line to reach
Heilbron. The escort consisted of one hundred and sixty details
belonging to Highland regiments without any guns, Captain Corballis in
command. But the gentleman with the tinted glasses was waiting on the
way. 'I have twelve hundred men and five guns. Surrender at once!'
Such was the message which reached the escort, and in their defenceless
condition there was nothing for it but to comply. Thus one disaster
leads to another, for, had the Yeomanry held out at Lindley, De Wet
would not on June 4th have laid hands upon our wagons; and had he not
recruited his supplies from our wagons it is doubtful if he could have
made his attack upon Roodeval. This was the next point upon which he
turned his attention.

Two miles beyond Roodeval station there is a well-marked kopje by the
railway line, with other hills some distance to the right and the left.
A militia regiment, the 4th Derbyshire, had been sent up to occupy this
post. There were rumours of Boers on the line, and Major Haig, who with
one thousand details of various regiments commanded at railhead, had
been attacked on June 6th but had beaten off his assailants. De Wet,
acting sometimes in company with, and sometimes independently of, his
lieutenant Nel, passed down the line looking fur some easier prey,
and on the night of June 7th came upon the militia regiment, which was
encamped in a position which could be completely commanded by artillery.
It is not true that they had neglected to occupy the kopje under which
they lay, for two companies had been posted upon it. But there seems to
have been no thought of imminent danger, and the regiment had pitched
its tents and gone very comfortably to sleep without a thought of the
gentleman in the tinted glasses. In the middle of the night he was upon
them with a hissing sleet of bullets. At the first dawn the guns opened
and the shells began to burst among them. It was a horrible ordeal for
raw troops. The men were miners and agricultural labourers, who had
never seen more bloodshed than a cut finger in their lives. They had
been four months in the country, but their life had been a picnic, as
the luxury of their baggage shows. Now in an instant the picnic was
ended, and in the grey cold dawn war was upon them--grim war with the
whine of bullets, the screams of pain, the crash of shell, the horrible
rending and riving of body and limb. In desperate straits, which would
have tried the oldest soldiers, the brave miners did well. They never
from the beginning had a chance save to show how gamely they could take
punishment, but that at least they did. Bullets were coming from all
sides at once and yet no enemy was visible. They lined one side of the
embankment, and they were shot in the back. They lined the other, and
were again shot in the back. Baird-Douglas, the Colonel, vowed to shoot
the man who should raise the white flag, and he fell dead himself before
he saw the hated emblem. But it had to come. A hundred and forty of the
men were down, many of them suffering from the horrible wounds which
shell inflicts. The place was a shambles. Then the flag went up and the
Boers at last became visible. Outnumbered, outgeneralled, and without
guns, there is no shadow of stain upon the good name of the one militia
regiment which was ever seriously engaged during the war. Their position
was hopeless from the first, and they came out of it with death,
mutilation, and honour.

Two miles south of the Rhenoster kopje stands Roodeval station, in
which, on that June morning, there stood a train containing the mails
for the army, a supply of great-coats, and a truck full of enormous
shells. A number of details of various sorts, a hundred or more, had
alighted from the train, twenty of them Post-office volunteers, some
of the Pioneer Railway corps, a few Shropshires, and other waifs and
strays. To them in the early morning came the gentleman with the tinted
glasses, his hands still red with the blood of the Derbies. 'I have
fourteen hundred men and four guns. Surrender!' said the messenger.
But it is not in nature for a postman to give up his postbag without
a struggle. 'Never!' cried the valiant postmen. But shell after shell
battered the corrugated-iron buildings about their ears, and it was not
possible for them to answer the guns which were smashing the life out of
them. There was no help for it but to surrender. De Wet added samples of
the British volunteer and of the British regular to his bag of militia.
The station and train were burned down, the great-coats looted, the
big shells exploded, and the mails burned. The latter was the one
unsportsmanlike action which can up to that date be laid to De Wet's
charge. Forty thousand men to the north of him could forego their coats
and their food, but they yearned greatly for those home letters,
charred fragments of which are still blowing about the veld. [Footnote:
Fragments continually met the eye which must have afforded curious
reading for the victors. 'I hope you have killed all those Boers by
now,' was the beginning of one letter which I could not help observing.]

For three days De Wet held the line, and during all that time he worked
his wicked will upon it. For miles and miles it was wrecked with most
scientific completeness. The Rhenoster bridge was destroyed. So, for the
second time, was the Roodeval bridge. The rails were blown upwards with
dynamite until they looked like an unfinished line to heaven. De Wet's
heavy hand was everywhere. Not a telegraph-post remained standing within
ten miles. His headquarters continued to be the kopje at Roodeval.

On June 10th two British forces were converging upon the point of
danger. One was Methuen's, from Heilbron. The other was a small force
consisting of the Shropshires, the South Wales Borderers, and a battery
which had come south with Lord Kitchener. The energetic Chief of the
Staff was always sent by Lord Roberts to the point where a strong man
was needed, and it was seldom that he failed to justify his mission.
Lord Methuen, however, was the first to arrive, and at once attacked
De Wet, who moved swiftly away to the eastward. With a tendency to
exaggeration, which has been too common during the war, the affair was
described as a victory. It was really a strategic and almost bloodless
move upon the part of the Boers. It is not the business of guerillas
to fight pitched battles. Methuen pushed for the south, having been
informed that Kroonstad had been captured. Finding this to be untrue, he
turned again to the eastward in search of De Wet.

That wily and indefatigable man was not long out of our ken. On June
14th he appeared once more at Rhenoster, where the construction trains,
under the famous Girouard, were working furiously at the repair of the
damage which he had already done. This time the guard was sufficient
to beat him off, and he vanished again to the eastward. He succeeded,
however, in doing some harm, and very nearly captured Lord Kitchener
himself. A permanent post had been established at Rhenoster under the
charge of Colonel Spens of the Shropshires, with his own regiment and
several guns. Smith-Dorrien, one of the youngest and most energetic
of the divisional commanders, had at the same time undertaken the
supervision and patrolling of the line.

An attack had at this period been made by a commando of some hundred
Boers at the Sand River to the south of Kroonstad, where there is a
most important bridge. The attempt was frustrated by the Royal Lancaster
regiment and the Railway Pioneer regiment, helped by some mounted
infantry and Yeomanry. The fight was for a time a brisk one, and the
Pioneers, upon whom the brunt of it fell, behaved with great steadiness.
The skirmish is principally remarkable for the death of Major Seymour
of the Pioneers, a noble American, who gave his services and at last his
life for what, in the face of all slander and misrepresentation, he knew
to be the cause of justice and of liberty.

It was hoped now, after all these precautions, that the last had been
seen of the gentleman with the tinted glasses, but on June 21st he was
back in his old haunts once more. Honing Spruit Station, about midway
between Kroonstad and Roodeval, was the scene of his new raid. On that
date his men appeared suddenly as a train waited in the station, and
ripped up the rails on either side of it. There were no guns at this
point, and the only available troops were three hundred of the prisoners
from Pretoria, armed with Martini-Henry rifles and obsolete ammunition.
A good man was in command, however--the same Colonel Bullock of the
Devons who had distinguished himself at Colenso--and every tattered,
half-starved wastrel was nerved by a recollection of the humiliations
which he had already endured. For seven hours they lay helpless under
the shell-fire, but their constancy was rewarded by the arrival of
Colonel Brookfield with 300 Yeomanry and four guns of the 17th R.F.A.,
followed in the evening by a larger force from the south. The Boers
fled, but left some of their number behind them; while of the British,
Major Hobbs and four men were killed and nineteen wounded. This defence
of three hundred half-armed men against seven hundred Boer riflemen,
with three guns firing shell and shrapnel, was a very good performance.
The same body of burghers immediately afterwards attacked a post held by
Colonel Evans with two companies of the Shropshires and fifty Canadians.
They were again beaten back with loss, the Canadians under Inglis
especially distinguishing themselves by their desperate resistance in an
exposed position.

All these attacks, irritating and destructive as they were, were not
able to hinder the general progress of the war. After the battle of
Diamond Hill the captured position was occupied by the mounted infantry,
while the rest of the forces returned to their camps round Pretoria,
there to await the much-needed remounts. At other parts of the seat
of war the British cordon was being drawn more tightly round the Boer
forces. Buller had come as far as Standerton, and Ian Hamilton, in the
last week of June, had occupied Heidelberg. A week afterwards the two
forces were able to join hands, and so to completely cut off the Free
State from the Transvaal armies. Hamilton in these operations had the
misfortune to break his collar-bone, and for a time the command of his
division passed to Hunter--the one man, perhaps, whom the army would
regard as an adequate successor.

It was evident now to the British commanders that there would be no
peace and no safety for their communications while an undefeated army of
seven or eight thousand men, under such leaders as De Wet and Olivier,
was lurking amid the hills which flanked their railroad. A determined
effort was made, therefore, to clear up that corner of the country.
Having closed the only line of escape by the junction of Ian Hamilton
and of Buller, the attention of six separate bodies of troops was
concentrated upon the stalwart Freestaters. These were the divisions of
Rundle and of Brabant from the south, the brigade of Clements on their
extreme left, the garrison of Lindley under Paget, the garrison of
Heilbron under Macdonald, and, most formidable of all, a detachment
under Hunter which was moving from the north. A crisis was evidently
approaching.

The nearest Free State town of importance still untaken was Bethlehem--a
singular name to connect with the operations of war. The country on the
south of it forbade an advance by Rundle or Brabant, but it was more
accessible from the west. The first operation of the British consisted,
therefore, in massing sufficient troops to be able to advance from
this side. This was done by effecting a junction between Clements from
Senekal, and Paget who commanded at Lindley, which was carried out upon
July 1st near the latter place. Clements encountered some opposition,
but besides his excellent infantry regiments, the Royal Irish,
Worcesters, Wiltshires, and Bedfords, he had with him the 2nd Brabant's
Horse, with yeomanry, mounted infantry, two 5-inch guns, and the 38th
R.F.A. Aided by a demonstration on the part of Grenfell and of Brabant,
he pushed his way through after three days of continual skirmish.

On getting into touch with Clements, Paget sallied out from Lindley,
leaving the Buffs behind to garrison the town. He had with him
Brookfield's mounted brigade one thousand strong, eight guns, and two
fine battalions of infantry, the Munster Fusiliers and the Yorkshire
Light Infantry. On July 3rd he found near Leeuw Kop a considerable force
of Boers with three guns opposed to him, Clements being at that time
too far off upon the flank to assist him. Four guns of the 38th R.F.A.
(Major Oldfield) and two belonging to the City Volunteers came into
action. The Royal Artillery guns appear to have been exposed to a very
severe fire, and the losses were so heavy that for a time they could not
be served. The escort was inadequate, insufficiently advanced, and badly
handled, for the Boer riflemen were able, by creeping up a donga, to
get right into the 38th battery, and the gallant major, with Lieutenant
Belcher, was killed in the defence of the guns. Captain FitzGerald, the
only other officer present, was wounded in two places, and twenty men
were struck down, with nearly all the horses of one section. Captain
Marks, who was brigade-major of Colonel Brookfield's Yeomanry, with the
help of Lieutenant Keevil Davis and the 15th I.Y. came to the rescue of
the disorganised and almost annihilated section. At the same time the
C.I.V. guns were in imminent danger, but were energetically covered by
Captain Budworth, adjutant of the battery. Soon, however, the infantry,
Munster Fusiliers, and Yorkshire Light Infantry, which had been carrying
out a turning movement, came into action, and the position was
taken. The force moved onwards, and on July 6th they were in front of
Bethlehem.

The place is surrounded by hills, and the enemy was found strongly
posted. Clements's force was now on the left and Paget's on the right.
From both sides an attempt was made to turn the Boer flanks, but they
were found to be very wide and strong. All day a long-range action was
kept up while Clements felt his way in the hope of coming upon some weak
spot in the position, but in the evening a direct attack was made by
Paget's two infantry regiments upon the right, which gave the British
a footing on the Boer position. The Munster Fusiliers and the Yorkshire
Light Infantry lost forty killed and wounded, including four officers,
in this gallant affair, the heavier loss and the greater honour going to
the men of Munster.

The centre of the position was still held, and on the morning of July
7th Clements gave instructions to the colonel of the Royal Irish to
storm it if the occasion should seem favourable. Such an order to such
a regiment means that the occasion will seem favourable. Up they went in
three extended lines, dropping forty or fifty on the way, but arriving
breathless and enthusiastic upon the crest of the ridge. Below them,
upon the further side, lay the village of Bethlehem. On the slopes
beyond hundreds of horsemen were retreating, and a gun was being
hurriedly dragged into the town. For a moment it seemed as if nothing
had been left as a trophy, but suddenly a keen-eyed sergeant raised a
cheer, which was taken up again and again until it resounded over the
veld. Under the crest, lying on its side with a broken wheel, was a
gun--one of the 15-pounders of Stormberg which it was a point of honour
to regain once more. Many a time had the gunners been friends in need
to the infantry. Now it was the turn of the infantry to do something in
exchange. That evening Clements had occupied Bethlehem, and one more of
their towns had passed out of the hands of the Freestaters.

A word now as to that force under General Hunter which was closing in
from the north. The gallant and energetic Hamilton, lean, aquiline, and
tireless, had, as already stated, broken his collar-bone at Heidelberg,
and it was as his lieutenant that Hunter was leading these troops out
of the Transvaal into the Orange River Colony. Most of his infantry was
left behind at Heidelberg, but he took with him Broadwood's cavalry
(two brigades) and Bruce Hamilton's 21st infantry brigade, with Ridley's
mounted infantry, some seven thousand men in all. On the 2nd of July
this force reached Frankfort in the north of the Free State without
resistance, and on July 3rd they were joined there by Macdonald's force
from Heilbron, so that Hunter found himself with over eleven thousand
men under his command. Here was an instrument with which surely the coup
de grace could be given to the dying State. Passing south, still without
meeting serious resistance, Hunter occupied Reitz, and finally sent on
Broadwood's cavalry to Bethlehem, where on July 8th they joined Paget
and Clements.

The net was now in position, and about to be drawn tight, but at this
last moment the biggest fish of all dashed furiously out from it.
Leaving the main Free State force in a hopeless position behind him, De
Wet, with fifteen hundred well-mounted men and five guns, broke through
Slabbert's Nek between Bethlehem and Ficksburg, and made swiftly for the
north-west, closely followed by Paget's and Broadwood's cavalry. It was
on July 16th that he made his dash for freedom. On the 19th Little, with
the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, had come into touch with him near Lindley. De
Wet shook himself clear, and with splendid audacity cut the railway once
more to the north of Honing Spruit, gathering up a train as he passed,
and taking two hundred details prisoners. On July 22nd De Wet was at
Vredefort, still closely followed by Broadwood, Ridley, and Little, who
gleaned his wagons and his stragglers. Thence he threw himself into the
hilly country some miles to the south of the Vaal River, where he
lurked for a week or more while Lord Kitchener came south to direct the
operations which would, as it was hoped, lead to a surrender.

Leaving the indomitable guerilla in his hiding-place, the narrative must
return to that drawing of the net which still continued in spite of the
escape of this one important fish. On all sides the British forces had
drawn closer, and they were both more numerous and more formidable in
quality. It was evident now that by a rapid advance from Bethlehem in
the direction of the Basuto border all Boers to the north of Ficksburg
would be hemmed in. On July 22nd the columns were moving. On that
date Paget moved out of Bethlehem, and Rundle took a step forward from
Ficksburg. Bruce Hamilton had already, at the cost of twenty Cameron
Highlanders, got a grip upon a bastion of that rocky country in which
the enemy lurked. On the 23rd Hunter's force was held by the Boers at
the strong pass of Retief's Nek, but on the 24th they were compelled
to abandon it, as the capture of Slabbert's Nek by Clements threatened
their rear. This latter pass was fortified most elaborately. It was
attacked upon the 23rd by Brabant's Horse and the Royal Irish without
success. Later in the day two companies of the Wiltshire Regiment were
also brought to a standstill, but retained a position until nightfall
within stone-throw of the Boer lines, though a single company had lost
17 killed and wounded. Part of the Royal Irish remained also close
to the enemy's trenches. Under cover of darkness, Clements sent four
companies of the Royal Irish and two of the Wiltshires under Colonel
Guinness to make a flanking movement along the crest of the heights.
These six companies completely surprised the enemy, and caused them to
hurriedly evacuate the position. Their night march was performed under
great difficulties, the men crawling on hands and knees along a rocky
path with a drop of 400 feet upon one side. But their exertions were
greatly rewarded. Upon the success of their turning movement depended
the fall of Slabbert's Nek. Retief's Nek was untenable if we held
Slabbert's Nek, and if both were in our hands the retreat of Prinsloo
was cut off.

At every opening of the hills the British guns were thundering, and the
heads of British columns were appearing on every height. The Highland
Brigade had fairly established themselves over the Boer position, though
not without hard fighting, in which a hundred men of the Highland Light
Infantry had been killed and wounded. The Seaforths and the Sussex had
also gripped the positions in front of them, and taken some punishment
in doing so. The outworks of the great mountain fortress were all taken,
and on July 26th the British columns were converging on Fouriesburg,
while Naauwpoort on the line of retreat was held by Macdonald. It was
only a matter of time now with the Boers.

On the 28th Clements was still advancing, and contracting still further
the space which was occupied by our stubborn foe. He found himself faced
by the stiff position of Slaapkrantz, and a hot little action was needed
before the Boers could be dislodged. The fighting fell upon Brabant's
Horse, the Royal Irish, and the Wiltshires. Three companies of the
latter seized a farm upon the enemy's left, but lost ten men in doing
so, while their gallant colonel, Carter, was severely wounded in two
places. The Wiltshires, who were excellently handled by Captain Bolton,
held on to the farm and were reinforced there by a handful of the Scots
Guards. In the night the position was abandoned by the Boers, and
the advance swept onwards. On all sides the pressure was becoming
unendurable. The burghers in the valley below could see all day the
twinkle of British heliographs from every hill, while at night the
constant flash of signals told of the sleepless vigilance which hemmed
them in. Upon July 29th, Prinsloo sent in a request for an armistice,
which was refused. Later in the day he despatched a messenger with
the white flag to Hunter, with an announcement of his unconditional
surrender.

On July 30th the motley army which had held the British off so long
emerged from among the mountains. But it soon became evident that in
speaking for all Prinsloo had gone beyond his powers. Discipline was low
and individualism high in the Boer army. Every man might repudiate the
decision of his commandant, as every man might repudiate the white flag
of his comrade. On the first day no more than eleven hundred men of the
Ficksburg and Ladybrand commandos, with fifteen hundred horses and two
guns, were surrendered. Next day seven hundred and fifty more men
came in with eight hundred horses, and by August 6th the total of the
prisoners had mounted to four thousand one hundred and fifty with three
guns, two of which were our own. But Olivier, with fifteen hundred men
and several guns, broke away from the captured force and escaped through
the hills. Of this incident General Hunter, an honourable soldier,
remarks in his official report: 'I regard it as a dishonourable
breach of faith upon the part of General Olivier, for which I hold him
personally responsible. He admitted that he knew that General Prinsloo
had included him in the unconditional surrender.' It is strange that,
on Olivier's capture shortly afterwards, he was not court-martialled
for this breach of the rules of war, but that good-natured giant, the
Empire, is quick--too quick, perhaps--to let byegones be byegones. On
August 4th Harrismith surrendered to Macdonald, and thus was secured
the opening of the Van Reenen's Pass and the end of the Natal system
of railways. This was of the very first importance, as the utmost
difficulty had been found in supplying so large a body of troops so far
from the Cape base. In a day the base was shifted to Durban, and the
distance shortened by two-thirds, while the army came to be on the
railway instead of a hundred miles from it. This great success assured
Lord Roberts's communications from serious attack, and was of the utmost
importance in enabling him to consolidate his position at Pretoria.



CHAPTER 28. THE HALT AT PRETORIA.

Lord Roberts had now been six weeks in the capital, and British troops
had overrun the greater part of the south and west of the Transvaal,
but in spite of this there was continued Boer resistance, which flared
suddenly up in places which had been nominally pacified and disarmed.
It was found, as has often been shown in history, that it is easier
to defeat a republican army than to conquer it. From Klerksdorp, from
Ventersdorp, from Rustenburg, came news of risings against the newly
imposed British authority. The concealed Mauser and the bandolier were
dug up once more from the trampled corner of the cattle kraal, and the
farmer was a warrior once again. Vague news of the exploits of De Wet
stimulated the fighting burghers and shamed those who had submitted. A
letter was intercepted from the guerilla chief to Cronje's son, who had
surrendered near Rustenburg. De Wet stated that he had gained two great
victories and had fifteen hundred captured rifles with which to replace
those which the burghers had given up. Not only were the outlying
districts in a state of revolt, but even round Pretoria the Boers were
inclined to take the offensive, while both that town and Johannesburg
were filled with malcontents who were ready to fly to their arms once
more.

Already at the end of June there were signs that the Boers realised
how helpless Lord Roberts was until his remounts should arrive. The
mosquitoes buzzed round the crippled lion. On June 29th there was an
attack upon Springs near Johannesburg, which was easily beaten off by
the Canadians. Early in July some of the cavalry and mounted infantry
patrols were snapped up in the neighbourhood of the capital. Lord
Roberts gave orders accordingly that Hutton and Mahon should sweep the
Boers back upon his right, and push them as far as Bronkhorst Spruit.
This was done on July 6th and 7th, the British advance meeting with
considerable resistance from artillery as well as rifles. By this
movement the pressure upon the right was relieved, which might have
created a dangerous unrest in Johannesburg, and it was done at the
moderate cost of thirty-four killed and wounded, half of whom belonged
to the Imperial Light Horse. This famous corps, which had come across
with Mahon from the relief of Mafeking, had, a few days before, ridden
with mixed feelings through the streets of Johannesburg and past, in
many instances, the deserted houses which had once been their homes.
Many weary months were to pass before the survivors might occupy them.
On July 9th the Boers again attacked, but were again pushed back to the
eastward.

It is probable that all these demonstrations of the enemy upon the right
of Lord Roberts's extended position were really feints in order to cover
the far-reaching plans which Botha had in his mind. The disposition of
the Boer forces at this time appears to have been as follows: Botha with
his army occupied a position along Delagoa railway line, further east
than Diamond Hill, whence he detached the bodies which attacked Hutton
upon the extreme right of the British position to the south-east of
Pretoria. To the north of Pretoria a second force was acting under
Grobler, while a third under De la Rey had been despatched secretly
across to the left wing of the British, north-west of Pretoria. While
Botha engaged the attention of Lord Roberts by energetic demonstrations
on his right, Grobler and De la Rey were to make a sudden attack upon
his centre and his left, each point being twelve or fifteen miles
from the other. It was well devised and very well carried out; but the
inherent defect of it was that, when subdivided in this way, the Boer
force was no longer strong enough to gain more than a mere success of
outposts.

De la Rey's attack was delivered at break of day on July 11th at
Uitval's Nek, a post some eighteen miles west of the capital. This
position could not be said to be part of Lord Roberts's line, but rather
to be a link to connect his army with Rustenburg. It was weakly held by
three companies of the Lincolns with two others in support, one squadron
of the Scots Greys, and two guns of O battery R.H.A. The attack came
with the first grey light of dawn, and for many hours the small garrison
bore up against a deadly fire, waiting for the help which never came.
All day they held their assailants at bay, and it was not until evening
that their ammunition ran short and they were forced to surrender.
Nothing could have been better than the behaviour of the men, both
infantry, cavalry, and gunners, but their position was a hopeless one.
The casualties amounted to eighty killed and wounded. Nearly two hundred
were made prisoners and the two guns were taken.

On the same day that De la Rey made his coup at Uitval's Nek, Grobler
had shown his presence on the north side of the town by treating very
roughly a couple of squadrons of the 7th Dragoon Guards which had
attacked him. By the help of a section of the ubiquitous O battery and
of the 14th Hussars, Colonel Lowe was able to disengage his cavalry from
the trap into which they had fallen, but it was at the cost of between
thirty and forty officers and men killed, wounded, or taken. The old
'Black Horse' sustained their historical reputation, and fought their
way bravely out of an almost desperate situation, where they were
exposed to the fire of a thousand riflemen and four guns.

On this same day of skirmishes, July 11th, the Gordons had seen some hot
work twenty miles or so to the south of Uitval's Nek. Orders had been
given to the 19th Brigade (Smith-Dorrien's) to proceed to Krugersdorp,
and thence to make their way north. The Scottish Yeomanry and a section
of the 78th R.F.A. accompanied them. The idea seems to have been that
they would be able to drive north any Boers in that district, who would
then find the garrison of Uitval's Nek at their rear. The advance was
checked, however, at a place called Dolverkrantz, which was strongly
held by Boer riflemen. The two guns were insufficiently protected, and
the enemy got within short range of them, killing or wounding many of
the gunners. The lieutenant in charge, Mr. A.J. Turner, the famous Essex
cricketer, worked the gun with his own hands until he also fell wounded
in three places. The situation was now very serious, and became more
so when news was flashed of the disaster at Uitval's Nek, and they were
ordered to retire. They could not retire and abandon the guns, yet the
fire was so hot that it was impossible to remove them. Gallant attempts
were made by volunteers from the Gordons--Captain Younger and other
brave men throwing away their lives in the vain effort to reach and to
limber up the guns. At last, under the cover of night, the teams were
harnessed and the two field-pieces successfully removed, while the Boers
who rushed in to seize them were scattered by a volley. The losses in
the action were thirty-six and the gain nothing. Decidedly July 11th was
not a lucky day for the British arms.

It was well known to Botha that every train from the south was bringing
horses for Lord Roberts's army, and that it had become increasingly
difficult for De Wet and his men to hinder their arrival. The last horse
must win, and the Empire had the world on which to draw. Any movement
which the Boers would make must be made at once, for already both the
cavalry and the mounted infantry were rapidly coming back to their full
strength once more. This consideration must have urged Botha to deliver
an attack on July 16th, which had some success at first, but was
afterwards beaten off with heavy loss to the enemy. The fighting fell
principally upon Pole-Carew and Hutton, the corps chiefly engaged being
the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the New Zealanders, the Shropshires, and the
Canadian Mounted Infantry. The enemy tried repeatedly to assault the
position, but were beaten back each time with a loss of nearly a hundred
killed and wounded. The British loss was about sixty, and included two
gallant young Canadian officers, Borden and Birch, the former being the
only son of the minister of militia. So ended the last attempt made by
Botha upon the British positions round Pretoria. The end of the war
was not yet, but already its futility was abundantly evident. This had
become more apparent since the junction of Hamilton and of Buller had
cut off the Transvaal army from that of the Free State. Unable to send
their prisoners away, and also unable to feed them, the Freestaters were
compelled to deliver up in Natal the prisoners whom they had taken
at Lindley and Roodeval. These men, a ragged and starving battalion,
emerged at Ladysmith, having made their way through Van Reenen's Pass.
It is a singular fact that no parole appears on these and similar
occasions to have been exacted by the Boers.

Lord Roberts, having remounted a large part of his cavalry, was ready
now to advance eastward and give Botha battle. The first town of any
consequence along the Delagoa Railway is Middelburg, some seventy miles
from the capital. This became the British objective, and the forces of
Mahon and Hamilton on the north, of Pole-Carew in the centre, and of
French and Hutton to the south, all converged upon it. There was no
serious resistance, though the weather was abominable, and on July 27th
the town was in the hands of the invaders. From that date until the
final advance to the eastward French held this advanced post, while
Pole-Carew guarded the railway line. Rumours of trouble in the west had
convinced Roberts that it was not yet time to push his advantage to the
east, and he recalled Ian Hamilton's force to act for a time upon
the other side of the seat of the war. This excellent little army,
consisting of Mahon's and Pilcher's mounted infantry, M battery R.H.A.,
the Elswick battery, two 5-inch and two 4.7 guns, with the Berkshires,
the Border Regiment, the Argyle and Sutherlands, and the Scottish
Borderers, put in as much hard work in marching and in fighting as any
body of troops in the whole campaign.

The renewal of the war in the west had begun some weeks before, but was
much accelerated by the transference of De la Rey and his burghers to
that side. There is no district in the Transvaal which is better worth
fighting for, for it is a fair country side, studded with farmhouses and
green with orange-groves, with many clear streams running through it.
The first sign of activity appears to have been on July 7th, when a
commando with guns appeared upon the hills above Rustenburg. Hanbury
Tracy, commandant of Rustenburg, was suddenly confronted with a summons
to surrender. He had only 120 men and one gun, but he showed a bold
front. Colonel Houldsworth, at the first whisper of danger, had started
from Zeerust with a small force of Australian bushmen, and arrived at
Rustenburg in time to drive the enemy away in a very spirited action. On
the evening of July 8th Baden-Powell took over the command, the garrison
being reinforced by Plumer's command.

The Boer commando was still in existence, however, and it was reinforced
and reinvigorated by De la Rey's success at Uitval's Nek. On July 18th
they began to close in upon Rustenburg again, and a small skirmish took
place between them and the Australians. Methuen's division, which had
been doing very arduous service in the north of the Free State during
the last six weeks, now received orders to proceed into the Transvaal
and to pass northwards through the disturbed districts en route for
Rustenburg, which appeared to be the storm centre. The division was
transported by train from Kroonstad to Krugersdorp, and advanced on the
evening of July 18th upon its mission, through a bare and fire-blackened
country. On the 19th Lord Methuen manoeuvred the Boers out of a strong
position, with little loss to either side. On the 21st he forced his
way through Olifant's Nek, in the Magaliesberg range, and so established
communication with Baden-Powell, whose valiant bushmen, under Colonel
Airey, had held their own in a severe conflict near Magato Pass, in
which they lost six killed, nineteen wounded, and nearly two hundred
horses. The fortunate arrival of Captain FitzClarence with the
Protectorate Regiment helped on this occasion to avert a disaster. The
force, only 300 strong, without guns, had walked into an ugly ambuscade,
and only the tenacity and resource of the men enabled them ever to
extricate themselves.

Although Methuen came within reach of Rustenburg, he did not actually
join hands with Baden-Powell. No doubt he saw and heard enough to
convince him that that astute soldier was very well able to take care of
himself. Learning of the existence of a Boer force in his rear,
Methuen turned, and on July 29th he was back at Frederickstad on the
Potchefstroom to Krugersdorp railway. The sudden change in his plans
was caused doubtless by the desire to head off De Wet in case he should
cross the Vaal River. Lord Roberts was still anxious to clear the
neighbourhood of Rustenburg entirely of the enemy; and he therefore,
since Methuen was needed to complete the cordon round De Wet, recalled
Hamilton's force from the east and despatched it, as already described,
to the west of Pretoria.

Before going into the details of the great De Wet hunt, in which
Methuen's force was to be engaged, I shall follow Hamilton's division
across, and give some account of their services. On August 1st he set
out from Pretoria for Rustenburg. On that day and on the next he had
brisk skirmishes which brought him successfully through the Magaliesberg
range with a loss of forty wounded, mostly of the Berkshires. On the 5th
of August he had made his way to Rustenburg and drove off the investing
force. A smaller siege had been going on to westward, where at Elands
River another Mafeking man, Colonel Hore, had been held up by the
burghers. For some days it was feared, and even officially announced,
that the garrison had surrendered. It was known that an attempt by
Carrington to relieve the place on August 5th had been beaten back, and
that the state of the country appeared so threatening that he had been
compelled, or had imagined himself to be compelled, to retreat as far
as Mafeking, evacuating Zeerust and Otto's Hoop, abandoning the
considerable stores which were collected at those places. In spite of
all these sinister indications the garrison was still holding its own,
and on August 16th it was relieved by Lord Kitchener.

This stand at Brakfontein on the Elands River appears to have been one
of the very finest deeds of arms of the war. The Australians have been
so split up during the campaign, that though their valour and efficiency
were universally recognised, they had no single exploit which they could
call their own. But now they can point to Elands River as proudly as the
Canadians can to Paardeberg. They were 500 in number, Victorians, New
South Welshmen, and Queenslanders, the latter the larger unit, with a
corps of Rhodesians. Under Hore were Major Hopper of the Rhodesians, and
Major Toubridge of the Queenslanders. Two thousand five hundred Boers
surrounded them, and most favourable terms of surrender were offered and
scouted. Six guns were trained upon them, and during 11 days 1800 shells
fell within their lines. The river was half a mile off, and every drop
of water for man or beast had to come from there. Nearly all their
horses and 75 of the men were killed or wounded. With extraordinary
energy and ingenuity the little band dug shelters which are said to
have exceeded in depth and efficiency any which the Boers have devised.
Neither the repulse of Carrington, nor the jamming of their only gun,
nor the death of the gallant Annett, was sufficient to dishearten them.
They were sworn to die before the white flag should wave above them. And
so fortune yielded, as fortune will when brave men set their teeth, and
Broadwood's troopers, filled with wonder and admiration, rode into the
lines of the reduced and emaciated but indomitable garrison. When the
ballad-makers of Australia seek for a subject, let them turn to Elands
River, for there was no finer resistance in the war. They will not
grudge a place in their record to the 130 gallant Rhodesians who shared
with them the honours and the dangers of the exploit.

On August 7th Ian Hamilton abandoned Rustenburg, taking Baden-Powell and
his men with him. It was obviously unwise to scatter the British forces
too widely by attempting to garrison every single town. For the instant
the whole interest of the war centred upon De Wet and his dash into the
Transvaal. One or two minor events, however, which cannot be fitted into
any continuous narrative may be here introduced.

One of these was the action at Faber's Put, by which Sir Charles Warren
crushed the rebellion in Griqualand. In that sparsely inhabited country
of vast distances it was a most difficult task to bring the revolt to
a decisive ending. This Sir Charles Warren, with his special local
knowledge and interest, was able to do, and the success is doubly
welcome as bringing additional honour to a man who, whatever view one
may take of his action at Spion Kop, has grown grey in the service of
the Empire. With a column consisting mainly of colonials and of yeomanry
he had followed the rebels up to a point within twelve miles of Douglas.
Here at the end of May they turned upon him and delivered a fierce night
attack, so sudden and so strongly pressed that much credit is due both
to General and to troops for having repelled it. The camp was attacked
on all sides in the early dawn. The greater part of the horses were
stampeded by the firing, and the enemy's riflemen were found to be at
very close quarters. For an hour the action was warm, but at the end
of that time the Boers fled, leaving a number of dead behind them. The
troops engaged in this very creditable action, which might have tried
the steadiness of veterans, were four hundred of the Duke of Edinburgh's
volunteers, some of Paget's horse and of the 8th Regiment Imperial
Yeomanry, four Canadian guns, and twenty-five of Warren's Scouts. Their
losses were eighteen killed and thirty wounded. Colonel Spence, of the
volunteers, died at the head of his regiment. A few days before, on May
27th, Colonel Adye had won a small engagement at Kheis, some distance
to the westward, and the effect of the two actions was to put an end
to open resistance. On June 20th De Villiers, the Boer leader, finally
surrendered to Sir Charles Warren, handing over two hundred and twenty
men with stores, rifles, and ammunition. The last sparks had for the
time been stamped out in the colony.

There remain to be mentioned those attacks upon trains and upon the
railway which had spread from the Free State to the Transvaal. On July
19th a train was wrecked on the way from Potchefstroom to Krugersdorp
without serious injury to the passengers. On July 31st, however, the
same thing occurred with more murderous effect, the train running at
full speed off the metals. Thirteen of the Shropshires were killed and
thirty-seven injured in this deplorable affair, which cost us more
than many an important engagement. On August 2nd a train coming up from
Bloemfontein was derailed by Sarel Theron and his gang some miles south
of Kroonstad. Thirty-five trucks of stores were burned, and six of the
passengers (unarmed convalescent soldiers) were killed or wounded. A
body of mounted infantry followed up the Boers, who numbered eighty, and
succeeded in killing and wounding several of them.

On July 21st the Boers made a determined attack upon the railhead at
a point thirteen miles east of Heidelberg, where over a hundred Royal
Engineers were engaged upon a bridge. They were protected by three
hundred Dublin Fusiliers under Major English. For some hours the little
party was hard pressed by the burghers, who had two field-pieces and a
pom-pom. They could make no impression, however, upon the steady
Irish infantry, and after some hours the arrival of General Hart with
reinforcements scattered the assailants, who succeeded in getting their
guns away in safety.

At the beginning of August it must be confessed that the general
situation in the Transvaal was not reassuring. Springs near Johannesburg
had in some inexplicable way, without fighting, fallen into the hands
of the enemy. Klerksdorp, an important place in the south-west, had also
been reoccupied, and a handful of men who garrisoned it had been made
prisoners without resistance. Rustenburg was about to be abandoned, and
the British were known to be falling back from Zeerust and Otto's Hoop,
concentrating upon Mafeking. The sequel proved however, that there was
no cause for uneasiness in all this. Lord Roberts was concentrating his
strength upon those objects which were vital, and letting the others
drift for a time. At present the two obviously important things were
to hunt down De Wet and to scatter the main Boer army under Botha. The
latter enterprise must wait upon the former, so for a fortnight all
operations were in abeyance while the flying columns of the British
endeavoured to run down their extremely active and energetic antagonist.

At the end of July De Wet had taken refuge in some exceedingly difficult
country near Reitzburg, seven miles south of the Vaal River. The
operations were proceeding vigorously at that time against the main army
at Fouriesberg, and sufficient troops could not be spared to attack him,
but he was closely observed by Kitchener and Broadwood with a force of
cavalry and mounted infantry. With the surrender of Prinsloo a large
army was disengaged, and it was obvious that if De Wet remained where he
was he must soon be surrounded. On the other hand, there was no place of
refuge to the south of him. With great audacity he determined to make
a dash for the Transvaal, in the hope of joining hands with De la Rey's
force, or else of making his way across the north of Pretoria, and
so reaching Botha's army. President Steyn went with him, and a most
singular experience it must have been for him to be harried like a mad
dog through the country in which he had once been an honoured guest. De
Wet's force was exceedingly mobile, each man having a led horse, and the
ammunition being carried in light Cape carts.

In the first week of August the British began to thicken round his
lurking-place, and De Wet knew that it was time for him to go. He made
a great show of fortifying a position, but it was only a ruse to deceive
those who watched him. Travelling as lightly as possible, he made a dash
on August 7th at the drift which bears his own name, and so won his
way across the Vaal River, Kitchener thundering at his heels with
his cavalry and mounted infantry. Methuen's force was at that time at
Potchefstroom, and instant orders had been sent to him to block the
drifts upon the northern side. It was found as he approached the river
that the vanguard of the enemy was already across and that it was
holding the spurs of the hills which would cover the crossing of their
comrades. By the dash of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the exertions of
the artillery ridge after ridge was carried, but before evening De Wet
with supreme skill had got his convoy across, and had broken away, first
to the eastward and then to the north. On the 9th Methuen was in touch
with him again, and the two savage little armies, Methuen worrying at
the haunch, and De Wet snapping back over his shoulder, swept northward
over the huge plains. Wherever there was ridge or kopje the Boer
riflemen staved off the eager pursuers. Where the ground lay flat and
clear the British guns thundered onwards and fired into the lines of
wagons. Mile after mile the running fight was sustained, but the other
British columns, Broadwood's men and Kitchener's men, had for some
reason not come up. Methuen alone was numerically inferior to the men he
was chasing, but he held on with admirable energy and spirit. The Boers
were hustled off the kopjes from which they tried to cover their rear.
Twenty men of the Yorkshire Yeomanry carried one hill with the bayonet,
though only twelve of them were left to reach the top.

De Wet trekked onwards during the night of the 9th, shedding wagons and
stores as he went. He was able to replace some of his exhausted beasts
from the farmhouses which he passed. Methuen on the morning of the
10th struck away to the west, sending messages back to Broadwood and
Kitchener in the rear that they should bear to the east, and so nurse
the Boer column between them. At the same time he sent on a messenger,
who unfortunately never arrived, to warn Smith-Dorrien at Bank Station
to throw himself across De Wet's path. On the 11th it was realised
that De Wet had succeeded, in spite of great exertions upon the part of
Smith-Dorrien's infantry, in crossing the railway line, and that he had
left all his pursuers to the south of him. But across his front lay
the Magaliesberg range. There are only three passes, the Magato Pass,
Olifant's Nek, and Commando Nek. It was understood that all three were
held by British troops. It was obvious, therefore, that if Methuen could
advance in such a way as to cut De Wet off from slipping through to the
west he would be unable to get away. Broadwood and Kitchener would be
behind him, and Pretoria, with the main British army, to the east.

Methuen continued to act with great energy and judgment. At three A.M.
on the 12th be started from Fredericstadt, and by 5 P.M. on Tuesday he
had done eighty miles in sixty hours. The force which accompanied him
was all mounted, 1200 of the Colonial Division (1st Brabant's, Cape
Mounted Rifles, Kaffrarian Rifles, and Border Horse), and the Yeomanry
with ten guns. Douglas with the infantry was to follow behind, and these
brave fellows covered sixty-six miles in seventy-six hours in their
eagerness to be in time. No men could have made greater efforts than
did those of Methuen, for there was not one who did not appreciate the
importance of the issue and long to come to close quarters with the wily
leader who had baffled us so long.

On the 12th Methuen's van again overtook De Wet's rear, and the old game
of rearguard riflemen on one side, and a pushing artillery on the other,
was once more resumed. All day the Boers streamed over the veld with
the guns and the horsemen at their heels. A shot from the 78th battery
struck one of De Wet's guns, which was abandoned and captured. Many
stores were taken and much more, with the wagons which contained
them, burned by the Boers. Fighting incessantly, both armies traversed
thirty-five miles of ground that day.

It was fully understood that Olifant's Nek was held by the British, so
Methuen felt that if he could block the Magato Pass all would be well.
He therefore left De Wet's direct track, knowing that other British
forces were behind him, and he continued his swift advance until he
had reached the desired position. It really appeared that at last the
elusive raider was in a corner. But, alas for fallen hopes, and alas for
the wasted efforts of gallant men! Olifant's Nek had been abandoned and
De Wet had passed safely through it into the plains beyond, where De
la Rey's force was still in possession. In vain Methuen's weary column
forced the Magato Pass and descended into Rustenburg. The enemy was in a
safe country once more. Whose the fault, or whether there was a fault at
all, it is for the future to determine. At least unalloyed praise can
be given to the Boer leader for the admirable way in which he had
extricated himself from so many dangers. On the 17th., moving along
the northern side of the mountains, he appeared at Commando Nek on the
Little Crocodile River, where he summoned Baden-Powell to surrender, and
received some chaff in reply from that light-hearted commander. Then,
swinging to the eastward, he endeavoured to cross to the north of
Pretoria. On the 19th he was heard of at Hebron. Baden-Powell and Paget
had, however, already barred this path, and De Wet, having sent Steyn on
with a small escort, turned back to the Free State. On the 22nd it was
reported that, with only a handful of his followers, he had crossed
the Magaliesberg range by a bridlepath and was riding southwards. Lord
Roberts was at last free to turn his undivided attention upon Botha.

Two Boer plots had been discovered during the first half of August,
the one in Pretoria and the other in Johannesburg, each having for its
object a rising against the British in the town. Of these the former,
which was the more serious, involving as it did the kidnapping of Lord
Roberts, was broken up by the arrest of the deviser, Hans Cordua,
a German lieutenant in the Transvaal Artillery. On its merits it is
unlikely that the crime would have been met by the extreme penalty,
especially as it was a question whether the agent provocateur had
not played a part. But the repeated breaches of parole, by which our
prisoners of one day were in the field against us on the next, called
imperatively for an example, and it was probably rather for his broken
faith than for his hare-brained scheme that Cordua died. At the
same time it is impossible not to feel sorrow for this idealist of
twenty-three who died for a cause which was not his own. He was shot in
the garden of Pretoria Gaol upon August 24th. A fresh and more stringent
proclamation from Lord Roberts showed that the British Commander was
losing his patience in the face of the wholesale return of paroled
men to the field, and announced that such perfidy would in future be
severely punished. It was notorious that the same men had been taken and
released more than once. One man killed in action was found to have nine
signed passes in his pocket. It was against such abuses that the extra
severity of the British was aimed.



CHAPTER 29. THE ADVANCE TO KOMATIPOORT.

The time had now come for the great combined movement which was to sweep
the main Boer army off the line of the Delagoa railway, cut its source
of supplies, and follow it into that remote and mountainous Lydenburg
district which had always been proclaimed as the last refuge of the
burghers. Before entering upon this most difficult of all his advances
Lord Roberts waited until the cavalry and mounted infantry were well
mounted again. Then, when all was ready, the first step in this last
stage of the regular campaign was taken by General Buller, who moved his
army of Natal veterans off the railway line and advanced to a position
from which he could threaten the flank and rear of Botha if he held his
ground against Lord Roberts. Buller's cavalry had been reinforced by the
arrival of Strathcona's Horse, a fine body of Canadian troopers,
whose services had been presented to the nation by the public-spirited
nobleman whose name they bore. They were distinguished by their fine
physique, and by the lassoes, cowboy stirrups, and large spurs of the
North-Western plains.

It was in the first week of July that Clery joined hands with the
Heidelberg garrison, while Coke with the 10th Brigade cleared the right
flank of the railway by an expedition as far as Amersfoort. On July 6th
the Natal communications were restored, and on the 7th Buller was able
to come through to Pretoria and confer with the Commander-in-Chief. A
Boer force with heavy guns still hung about the line, and several small
skirmishes were fought between Vlakfontein and Greylingstad in order
to drive it away. By the middle of July the immediate vicinity of the
railway was clear save for some small marauding parties who endeavoured
to tamper with the rails and the bridges. Up to the end of the month the
whole of the Natal army remained strung along the line of communications
from Heidelberg to Standerton, waiting for the collection of forage and
transport to enable them to march north against Botha's position.

On August 8th Buller's troops advanced to the north-east from Paardekop,
pushing a weak Boer force with five guns in front of them. At the cost
of twenty-five wounded, principally of the 60th Rifles, the enemy was
cleared off, and the town of Amersfoort was occupied. On the 13th,
moving on the same line, and meeting with very slight opposition, Buller
took possession of Ermelo. His advance was having a good effect upon the
district, for on the 12th the Standerton commando, which numbered 182
men, surrendered to Clery. On the 15th, still skirmishing, Buller's men
were at Twyfelaar, and had taken possession of Carolina. Here and there
a distant horseman riding over the olive-coloured hills showed how
closely and incessantly he was watched; but, save for a little sniping
upon his flanks, there was no fighting. He was coming now within
touch of French's cavalry, operating from Middelburg, and on the 14th
heliographic communication was established with Gordon's Brigade.

Buller's column had come nearer to its friends, but it was also nearer
to the main body of Boers who were waiting in that very rugged piece of
country which lies between Belfast in the west and Machadodorp in the
east. From this rocky stronghold they had thrown out mobile bodies to
harass the British advance from the south, and every day brought Buller
into closer touch with these advance guards of the enemy. On August 21st
he had moved eight miles nearer to Belfast, French operating upon his
left flank. Here he found the Boers in considerable numbers, but he
pushed them northward with his cavalry, mounted infantry, and artillery,
losing between thirty and forty killed and wounded, the greater part
from the ranks of the 18th Hussars and the Gordon Highlanders. This
march brought him within fifteen miles of Belfast, which lay due north
of him. At the same time Pole-Carew with the central column of Lord
Roberts's force had advanced along the railway line, and on August 24th
he occupied Belfast with little resistance. He found, however, that the
enemy were holding the formidable ridges which lie between that place
and Dalmanutha, and that they showed every sign of giving battle,
presenting a firm front to Buller on the south as well as to Roberts's
army on the west.

On the 23rd some successes attended their efforts to check the advance
from the south. During the day Buller had advanced steadily, though
under incessant fire. The evening found him only six miles to the south
of Dalmanutha, the centre of the Boer position. By some misfortune,
however, after dark two companies of the Liverpool Regiment found
themselves isolated from their comrades and exposed to a very heavy
fire. They had pushed forward too far, and were very near to being
surrounded and destroyed. There were fifty-six casualties in their
ranks, and thirty-two, including their wounded captain, were taken. The
total losses in the day were 121.

On August 25th it was evident that important events were at hand, for
on that date Lord Roberts arrived at Belfast and held a conference with
Buller, French, and Pole-Carew. The general communicated his plans to
his three lieutenants, and on the 26th and following days the fruits of
the interview were seen in a succession of rapid manoeuvres which drove
the Boers out of this, the strongest position which they had held since
they left the banks of the Tugela.

The advance of Lord Roberts was made, as his wont is, with two
widespread wings, and a central body to connect them. Such a movement
leaves the enemy in doubt as to which flank will really be attacked,
while if he denudes his centre in order to strengthen both flanks there
is the chance of a frontal advance which might cut him in two. French
with two cavalry brigades formed the left advance, Pole-Carew the
centre, and Buller the right, the whole operations extending over thirty
miles of infamous country. It is probable that Lord Roberts had reckoned
that the Boer right was likely to be their strongest position, since if
it were turned it would cut off their retreat upon Lydenburg, so his
own main attack was directed upon their left. This was carried out by
General Buller on August 26th and 27th.

On the first day the movement upon Buller's part consisted in a very
deliberate reconnaissance of and closing in upon the enemy's position,
his troops bivouacking upon the ground which they had won. On the
second, finding that all further progress was barred by the strong ridge
of Bergendal, he prepared his attack carefully with artillery and then
let loose his infantry upon it. It was a gallant feat of arms upon
either side. The Boer position was held by a detachment of the
Johannesburg Police, who may have been bullies in peace, but were
certainly heroes in war. The fire of sixty guns was concentrated for a
couple of hours upon a position only a few hundred yards in diameter.
In this infernal fire, which left the rocks yellow with lyddite, the
survivors still waited grimly for the advance of the infantry. No finer
defence was made in the war. The attack was carried out across an open
glacis by the 2nd Rifle Brigade and by the Inniskilling Fusiliers, the
men of Pieter's Hill. Through a deadly fire the gallant infantry swept
over the position, though Metcalfe, the brave colonel of the Rifles,
with eight other officers, and seventy men were killed or wounded.
Lysley, Steward, and Campbell were all killed in leading their
companies, but they could not have met their deaths upon an occasion
more honourable to their battalion. Great credit must also be given to
A and B companies of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who were actually the
first over the Boer position. The cessation of the artillery fire was
admirably timed. It was sustained up to the last possible instant. 'As
it was,' said the captain of the leading company, 'a 94-pound shell
burst about thirty yards in front of the right of our lot. The smell of
the lyddite was awful.' A pom-pom and twenty prisoners, including the
commander of the police, were the trophies of the day. An outwork of the
Boer position had been carried, and the rumour of defeat and disaster
had already spread through their ranks. Braver men than the burghers
have never lived, but they had reached the limits of human endurance,
and a long experience of defeat in the field had weakened their nerve
and lessened their morale. They were no longer men of the same fibre as
those who had crept up to the trenches of Spion Kop, or faced the lean
warriors of Ladysmith on that grim January morning at Caesar's Camp.
Dutch tenacity would not allow them to surrender, and yet they realised
how hopeless was the fight in which they were engaged. Nearly fifteen
thousand of their best men were prisoners, ten thousand at the least had
returned to their farms and taken the oath. Another ten had been killed,
wounded, or incapacitated. Most of the European mercenaries had left;
they held only the ultimate corner of their own country, they had lost
their grip upon the railway line, and their supply of stores and of
ammunition was dwindling. To such a pass had eleven months of war
reduced that formidable army who had so confidently advanced to the
conquest of South Africa.

While Buller had established himself firmly upon the left of the Boer
position, Pole-Carew had moved forward to the north of the railway line,
and French had advanced as far as Swart Kopjes upon the Boer right.
These operations on August 26th and 27th were met with some resistance,
and entailed a loss of forty or fifty killed and wounded; but it soon
became evident that the punishment which they had received at Bergendal
had taken the fight out of the Boers, and that this formidable position
was to be abandoned as the others had been. On the 28th the burghers
were retreating, and Machadodorp, where Kruger had sat so long in his
railway carriage, protesting that he would eventually move west and not
east, was occupied by Buller. French, moving on a more northerly route,
entered Watervalonder with his cavalry upon the same date, driving a
small Boer force before him. Amid rain and mist the British columns
were pushing rapidly forwards, but still the burghers held together, and
still their artillery was uncaptured. The retirement was swift, but it
was not yet a rout.

On the 30th the British cavalry were within touch of Nooitgedacht, and
saw a glad sight in a long trail of ragged men who were hurrying in
their direction along the railway line. They were the British prisoners,
eighteen hundred in number, half of whom had been brought from Waterval
when Pretoria was captured, while the other half represented the men who
had been sent from the south by De Wet, or from the west by De la
Rey. Much allowance must be made for the treatment of prisoners by a
belligerent who is himself short of food, but nothing can excuse the
harshness which the Boers showed to the Colonials who fell into their
power, or the callous neglect of the sick prisoners at Waterval. It is
a humiliating but an interesting fact that from first to last no fewer
than seven thousand of our men passed into their power, all of whom were
now recovered save some sixty officers, who had been carried off by them
in their flight.

On September 1st Lord Roberts showed his sense of the decisive nature
of these recent operations by publishing the proclamation which had been
issued as early as July 4th, by which the Transvaal became a portion of
the British Empire. On the same day General Buller, who had ceased to
advance to the east and retraced his steps as far as Helvetia, began his
northerly movement in the direction of Lydenburg, which is nearly fifty
miles to the north of the railway line. On that date his force made a
march of fourteen miles, which brought them over the Crocodile River to
Badfontein. Here, on September 2nd, Buller found that the indomitable
Botha was still turning back upon him, for he was faced by so heavy
a shell fire, coming from so formidable a position, that he had to be
content to wait in front of it until some other column should outflank
it. The days of unnecessary frontal attacks were for ever over, and his
force, though ready for anything which might be asked of it, had gone
through a good deal in the recent operations. Since August 21st they had
been under fire almost every day, and their losses, though never great
on any one occasion, amounted in the aggregate during that time to
365. They had crossed the Tugela, they had relieved Ladysmith, they had
forced Laing's Nek, and now it was to them that the honour had fallen of
following the enemy into this last fastness. Whatever criticism may be
directed against some episodes in the Natal campaign, it must never be
forgotten that to Buller and to his men have fallen some of the hardest
tasks of the war, and that these tasks have always in the end been
successfully carried out. The controversy about the unfortunate message
to White, and the memory of the abandoned guns at Colenso, must not
lead us to the injustice of ignoring all that is to be set to the credit
account.

On September 3rd Lord Roberts, finding how strong a position faced
Buller, despatched Ian Hamilton with a force to turn it upon the right.
Brocklehurst's brigade of cavalry joined Hamilton in his advance. On the
4th he was within signalling distance of Buller, and on the right rear
of the Boer position. The occupation of a mountain called Zwaggenhoek
would establish Hamilton firmly, and the difficult task of seizing it
at night was committed to Colonel Douglas and his fine regiment of Royal
Scots. It was Spion Kop over again, but with a happier ending. At
break of day the Boers discovered that their position had been rendered
untenable and withdrew, leaving the road to Lydenburg clear to Buller.
Hamilton and he occupied the town upon the 6th. The Boers had split into
two parties, the larger one with the guns falling back upon Kruger's
Post, and the others retiring to Pilgrim's Rest. Amid cloud-girt peaks
and hardly passable ravines the two long-enduring armies still wrestled
for the final mastery.

To the north-east of Lydenburg, between that town and Spitzkop, there is
a formidable ridge called the Mauchberg, and here again the enemy were
found to be standing at bay. They were even better than their word, for
they had always said that they would make their last stand at Lydenburg,
and now they were making one beyond it. But the resistance was
weakening. Even this fine position could not be held against the rush of
the three regiments, the Devons, the Royal Irish, and the Royal
Scots, who were let loose upon it. The artillery supported the attack
admirably. 'They did nobly,' said one who led the advance. 'It is
impossible to overrate the value of their support. They ceased also
exactly at the right moment. One more shell would have hit us.' Mountain
mists saved the defeated burghers from a close pursuit, but the hills
were carried. The British losses on this day, September 8th, were
thirteen killed and twenty-five wounded; but of these thirty-eight no
less than half were accounted for by one of those strange malignant
freaks which can neither be foreseen nor prevented. A shrapnel shell,
fired at an incredible distance, burst right over the Volunteer Company
of the Gordons who were marching in column. Nineteen men fell, but it is
worth recording that, smitten so suddenly and so terribly, the gallant
Volunteers continued to advance as steadily as before this misfortune
befell them. On the 9th Buller was still pushing forward to Spitzkop,
his guns and the 1st Rifles overpowering a weak rearguard resistance of
the Boers. On the 10th he had reached Klipgat, which is halfway between
the Mauchberg and Spitzkop. So close was the pursuit that the Boers,
as they streamed through the passes, flung thirteen of their ammunition
wagons over the cliffs to prevent them from falling into the hands of
the British horsemen. At one period it looked as if the gallant Boer
guns had waited too long in covering the retreat of the burghers.
Strathcona's Horse pressed closely upon them. The situation was saved by
the extreme coolness and audacity of the Boer gunners. 'When the cavalry
were barely half a mile behind the rear gun' says an eye-witness 'and
we regarded its capture as certain, the LEADING Long Tom deliberately
turned to bay and opened with case shot at the pursuers streaming down
the hill in single file over the head of his brother gun. It was a
magnificent coup, and perfectly successful. The cavalry had to retire,
leaving a few men wounded, and by the time our heavy guns had arrived
both Long Toms had got clean away.' But the Boer riflemen would no
longer stand. Demoralised after their magnificent struggle of eleven
months the burghers were now a beaten and disorderly rabble flying
wildly to the eastward, and only held together by the knowledge that in
their desperate situation there was more comfort and safety in numbers.
The war seemed to be swiftly approaching its close. On the 15th Buller
occupied Spitzkop in the north, capturing a quantity of stores, while on
the 14th French took Barberton in the south, releasing all the remaining
British prisoners and taking possession of forty locomotives, which do
not appear to have been injured by the enemy. Meanwhile Pole-Carew had
worked along the railway line, and had occupied Kaapmuiden, which was
the junction where the Barberton line joins that to Lourenco Marques.
Ian Hamilton's force, after the taking of Lydenburg and the action which
followed, turned back, leaving Buller to go his own way, and reached
Komatipoort on September 24th, having marched since September 9th
without a halt through a most difficult country.

On September 11th an incident had occurred which must have shown the
most credulous believer in Boer prowess that their cause was indeed
lost. On that date Paul Kruger, a refugee from the country which he had
ruined, arrived at Lourenco Marques, abandoning his beaten commandos
and his deluded burghers. How much had happened since those distant days
when as a little herdsboy he had walked behind the bullocks on the great
northward trek. How piteous this ending to all his strivings and his
plottings! A life which might have closed amid the reverence of a
nation and the admiration of the world was destined to finish in exile,
impotent and undignified. Strange thoughts must have come to him during
those hours of flight, memories of his virile and turbulent youth, of
the first settlement of those great lands, of wild wars where his
hand was heavy upon the natives, of the triumphant days of the war
of independence, when England seemed to recoil from the rifles of the
burghers. And then the years of prosperity, the years when the simple
farmer found himself among the great ones of the earth, his name a
household word in Europe, his State rich and powerful, his coffers
filled with the spoil of the poor drudges who worked so hard and paid
taxes so readily. Those were his great days, the days when he hardened
his heart against their appeals for justice and looked beyond his own
borders to his kinsmen in the hope of a South Africa which should be
all his own. And now what had come of it all? A handful of faithful
attendants, and a fugitive old man, clutching in his flight at his
papers and his moneybags. The last of the old-world Puritans, he
departed poring over his well-thumbed Bible, and proclaiming that the
troubles of his country arose, not from his own narrow and corrupt
administration, but from some departure on the part of his fellow
burghers from the stricter tenets of the dopper sect. So Paul Kruger
passed away from the country which he had loved and ruined.

Whilst the main army of Botha had been hustled out of their position
at Machadodorp and scattered at Lydenburg and at Barberton, a number of
other isolated events had occurred at different points of the seat
of war, each of which deserves some mention. The chief of these was a
sudden revival of the war in the Orange River Colony, where the band
of Olivier was still wandering in the north-eastern districts. Hunter,
moving northwards after the capitulation of Prinsloo at Fouriesburg,
came into contact on August 15th with this force near Heilbron, and
had forty casualties, mainly of the Highland Light Infantry, in a brisk
engagement. For a time the British seemed to have completely lost touch
with Olivier, who suddenly on August 24th struck at a small detachment
consisting almost entirely of Queenstown Rifle Volunteers under Colonel
Ridley, who were reconnoitring near Winburg. The Colonial troopers made
a gallant defence. Throwing themselves into the farmhouse of Helpmakaar,
and occupying every post of vantage around it, they held off more than a
thousand assailants, in spite of the three guns which the latter brought
to bear upon them. A hundred and thirty-two rounds were fired at the
house, but the garrison still refused to surrender. Troopers who had
been present at Wepener declared that the smaller action was the warmer
of the two. Finally on the morning of the third day a relief force
arrived upon the scene, and the enemy dispersed. The British losses were
thirty-two killed and wounded. Nothing daunted by his failure, Olivier
turned upon the town of Winburg and attempted to regain it, but was
defeated again and scattered, he and his three sons being taken. The
result was due to the gallantry and craft of a handful of the Queenstown
Volunteers, who laid an ambuscade in a donga, and disarmed the Boers as
they passed, after the pattern of Sanna's Post. By this action one of
the most daring and resourceful of the Dutch leaders fell into the
hands of the British. It is a pity that his record is stained by his
dishonourable conduct in breaking the compact made on the occasion
of the capture of Prinsloo. But for British magnanimity a drumhead
court-martial should have taken the place of the hospitality of the
Ceylon planters.

On September 2nd another commando of Free State Boers under Fourie
emerged from the mountain country on the Basuto border, and fell upon
Ladybrand, which was held by a feeble garrison consisting of one company
of the Worcester regiment and forty-three men of the Wiltshire Yeomanry.
The Boers, who had several guns with them, appear to have been the same
force which had been repulsed at Winburg. Major White, a gallant marine,
whose fighting qualities do not seem to have deteriorated with his
distance from salt water, had arranged his defences upon a hill, after
the Wepener model, and held his own most stoutly. So great was the
disparity of the forces that for days acute anxiety was felt lest
another of those humiliating surrenders should interrupt the record of
victories, and encourage the Boers to further resistance. The point was
distant, and it was some time before relief could reach them. But
the dusky chiefs, who from their native mountains looked down on the
military drama which was played so close to their frontier, were
again, as on the Jammersberg, to see the Boer attack beaten back by the
constancy of the British defence. The thin line of soldiers, 150 of them
covering a mile and a half of ground, endured a heavy shell and rifle
fire with unshaken resolution, repulsed every attempt of the burghers,
and held the flag flying until relieved by the forces under White and
Bruce Hamilton. In this march to the relief Hamilton's infantry covered
eighty miles in four and a half days. Lean and hard, inured to warfare,
and far from every temptation of wine or women, the British troops
at this stage of the campaign were in such training, and marched so
splendidly, that the infantry was often very little slower than
the cavalry. Methuen's fine performance in pursuit of De Wet, where
Douglas's infantry did sixty-six miles in seventy-five hours, the City
Imperial Volunteers covering 224 miles in fourteen days, with a single
forced march of thirty miles in seventeen hours, the Shropshires
forty-three miles in thirty-two hours, the forty-five miles in
twenty-five hours of the Essex Regiment, Bruce Hamilton's march
recorded above, and many other fine efforts serve to show the spirit and
endurance of the troops.

In spite of the defeat at Winburg and the repulse at Ladybrand, there
still remained a fair number of broken and desperate men in the Free
State who held out among the difficult country of the east. A party of
these came across in the middle of September and endeavoured to cut the
railway near Brandfort. They were pursued and broken up by Macdonald,
who, much aided in his operations by the band of scouts which Lord Lovat
had brought with him from Scotland, took several prisoners and a large
number of wagons and of oxen. A party of these Boers attacked a small
post of sixteen Yeomanry under Lieutenant Slater at Bultfontein, but
were held at bay until relief came from Brandfort.

At two other points the Boer and British forces were in contact during
these operations. One was to the immediate north of Pretoria, where
Grobler's commando was faced by Paget's brigade. On August 18th the
Boers were forced with some loss out of Hornies Nek, which is ten miles
to the north of the capital. On the 22nd a more important skirmish took
place at Pienaar's River, in the same direction, between Baden-Powell's
men, who had come thither in pursuit of De Wet, and Grobler's band. The
advance guards of the two forces galloped into each other, and for once
Boer and Briton looked down the muzzles of each other's rifles. The
gallant Rhodesian Regiment, which had done such splendid service during
the war, suffered most heavily. Colonel Spreckley and four others were
killed, and six or seven wounded. The Boers were broken, however, and
fled, leaving twenty-five prisoners to the victors. Baden-Powell and
Paget pushed forwards as far as Nylstroom, but finding themselves
in wild and profitless country they returned towards Pretoria, and
established the British northern posts at a place called Warm Baths.
Here Paget commanded, while Baden-Powell shortly afterwards went down to
Cape Town to make arrangements for taking over the police force of the
conquered countries, and to receive the enthusiastic welcome of his
colonial fellow-countrymen. Plumer, with a small force operating from
Warm Baths, scattered a Boer commando on September 1st, capturing a few
prisoners and a considerable quantity of munitions of war. On the 5th
there was another skirmish in the same neighbourhood, during which the
enemy attacked a kopje held by a company of Munster Fusiliers, and was
driven off with loss. Many thousands of cattle were captured by the
British in this part of the field of operations, and were sent into
Pretoria, whence they helped to supply the army in the east.

There was still considerable effervescence in the western districts of
the Transvaal, and a mounted detachment met with fierce opposition at
the end of August on their journey from Zeerust to Krugersdorp. Methuen,
after his unsuccessful chase of De Wet, had gone as far as Zeerust,
and had then taken his force on to Mafeking to refit. Before leaving
Zeerust, however, he had despatched Colonel Little to Pretoria with a
column which consisted of his own third cavalry brigade, 1st Brabant's,
the Kaffrarian Rifles, R battery of Horse Artillery, and four Colonial
guns. They were acting as guard to a very large convoy of 'returned
empties.' The district which they had to traverse is one of the most
fertile in the Transvaal, a land of clear streams and of orange groves.
But the farmers are numerous and aggressive, and the column, which was
900 strong, could clear all resistance from its front, but found it
impossible to brush off the snipers upon its flanks and rear. Shortly
after their start the column was deprived of the services of its gallant
leader, Colonel Little, who was shot while riding with his advance
scouts. Colonel Dalgety took over the command. Numerous desultory
attacks culminated in a fierce skirmish at Quaggafontein on August 31st,
in which the column had sixty casualties. The event might have been
serious, as De la Rey's main force appears to have been concentrated
upon the British detachment, the brunt of the action falling upon the
Kaffrarian Rifles. By a rapid movement the column was able to extricate
itself and win its way safely to Krugersdorp, but it narrowly escaped
out of the wolf's jaws, and as it emerged into the open country De la
Rey's guns were seen galloping for the pass which they had just come
through. This force was sent south to Kroonstad to refit.

Lord Methuen's army, after its long marches and arduous work, arrived
at Mafeking on August 28th for the purpose of refitting. Since his
departure from Boshof on May 14th his men had been marching with hardly
a rest, and he had during that time fought fourteen engagements. He was
off upon the war-path once more, with fresh horses and renewed energy,
on September 8th, and on the 9th, with the co-operation of General
Douglas, he scattered a Boer force at Malopo, capturing thirty prisoners
and a great quantity of stores. On the 14th he ran down a convoy and
regained one of the Colenso guns and much ammunition. On the 20th he
again made large captures. If in the early phases of the war the Boers
had given Paul Methuen some evil hours, he was certainly getting his own
back again. At the same time Clements was despatched from Pretoria with
a small mobile force for the purpose of clearing the Rustenburg and
Krugersdorp districts, which had always been storm centres. These two
forces, of Methuen and of Clements, moved through the country, sweeping
the scattered Boer bands before them, and hunting them down until they
dispersed. At Kekepoort and at Hekspoort Clements fought successful
skirmishes, losing at the latter action Lieutenant Stanley of the
Yeomanry, the Somersetshire cricketer, who showed, as so many have done,
how close is the connection between the good sportsman and the
good soldier. On the 12th Douglas took thirty-nine prisoners near
Lichtenburg. On the 18th Rundle captured a gun at Bronkhorstfontein.
Hart at Potchefstroom, Hildyard in the Utrecht district, Macdonald in
the Orange River Colony, everywhere the British Generals were busily
stamping out the remaining embers of what had been so terrible a
conflagration.

Much trouble but no great damage was inflicted upon the British during
this last stage of the war by the incessant attacks upon the lines of
railway by roving bands of Boers. The actual interruption of traffic
was of little consequence, for the assiduous Sappers with their gangs of
Basuto labourers were always at hand to repair the break. But the loss
of stores, and occasionally of lives, was more serious. Hardly a day
passed that the stokers and drivers were not made targets of by snipers
among the kopjes, and occasionally a train was entirely destroyed.
[Footnote: It is to be earnestly hoped that those in authority will see
that these men obtain the medal and any other reward which can mark our
sense of their faithful service. One of them in the Orange River Colony,
after narrating to me his many hairbreadth escapes, prophesied bitterly
that the memory of his services would pass with the need for them.]
Chief among these raiders was the wild Theron, who led a band which
contained men of all nations--the same gang who had already, as
narrated, held up a train in the Orange River Colony. On August 31st he
derailed another at Flip River to the south of Johannesburg, blowing up
the engine and burning thirteen trucks. Almost at the same time a train
was captured near Kroonstad, which appeared to indicate that the great
De Wet was back in his old hunting-grounds. On the same day the line was
cut at Standerton. A few days later, however, the impunity with which
these feats had been performed was broken, for in a similar venture near
Krugersdorp the dashing Theron and several of his associates lost their
lives.

Two other small actions performed at this period of the war demand a
passing notice. One was a smart engagement near Kraai Railway Station,
in which Major Broke of the Sappers with a hundred men attacked a
superior Boer force upon a kopje and drove them off with loss--a feat
which it is safe to say he could not have accomplished six months
earlier. The other was the fine defence made by 125 of the Canadian
Mounted Rifles, who, while guarding the railway, were attacked by
a considerable Boer force with two guns. They proved once more, as
Ladybrand and Elands River had shown, that with provisions, cartridges,
and brains, the smallest force can successfully hold its own if it
confines itself to the defensive.

And now the Boer cause appeared to be visibly tottering to its fall. The
flight of the President had accelerated that process of disintegration
which had already set in. Schalk Burger had assumed the office
of Vice-President, and the notorious Ben Viljoen had become first
lieutenant of Louis Botha in maintaining the struggle. Lord Roberts had
issued an extremely judicious proclamation, in which he pointed out the
uselessness of further resistance, declared that guerilla warfare would
be ruthlessly suppressed, and informed the burghers that no fewer
than fifteen thousand of their fellow-countrymen were in his hands as
prisoners, and that none of these could be released until the last rifle
had been laid down. From all sides in the third week of September
the British forces were converging on Komatipoort, the frontier town.
Already wild figures, stained and tattered after nearly a year of
warfare, were walking the streets of Lourenco Marques, gazed at with
wonder and some distrust by the Portuguese inhabitants. The exiled
burghers moodily pacing the streets saw their exiled President seated in
his corner of the Governor's verandah, the well-known curved pipe still
dangling from his mouth, the Bible by his chair. Day by day the number
of these refugees increased. On September 17th special trains were
arriving crammed with the homeless burghers, and with the mercenaries of
many nations--French, German, Irish-American, and Russian--all anxious
to make their way home. By the 19th no fewer than seven hundred had
passed over.

At dawn on September 22nd a half-hearted attempt was made by the
commando of Erasmus to attack Elands River Station, but it was beaten
back by the garrison. While it was going on Paget fell upon the camp
which Erasmus had left behind him, and captured his stores. From all
over the country, from Plumer's Bushmen, from Barton at Krugersdorp,
from the Colonials at Heilbron, from Clements on the west, came the same
reports of dwindling resistance and of the abandoning of cattle, arms,
and ammunition.

On September 24th came the last chapter in this phase of the campaign in
the Eastern Transvaal, when at eight in the morning Pole-Carew and his
Guardsmen occupied Komatipoort. They had made desperate marches, one
of them through thick bush, where they went for nineteen miles without
water, but nothing could shake the cheery gallantry of the men. To
them fell the honour, an honour well deserved by their splendid work
throughout the whole campaign, of entering and occupying the ultimate
eastern point which the Boers could hold. Resistance had been threatened
and prepared for, but the grim silent advance of that veteran infantry
took the heart out of the defence. With hardly a shot fired the town
was occupied. The bridge which would enable the troops to receive their
supplies from Lourenco Marques was still intact. General Pienaar and
the greater part of his force, amounting to over two thousand men, had
crossed the frontier and had been taken down to Delagoa Bay, where they
met the respect and attention which brave men in misfortune deserve.
Small bands had slipped away to the north and the south, but they were
insignificant in numbers and depressed in spirit. For the time it seemed
that the campaign was over, but the result showed that there was greater
vitality in the resistance of the burghers and less validity in their
oaths than any one had imagined.

One find of the utmost importance was made at Komatipoort, and at Hector
Spruit on the Crocodile River. That excellent artillery which had
fought so gallant a fight against our own more numerous guns, was found
destroyed and abandoned. Pole-Carew at Komatipoort got one Long Tom
(96-pound) Creusot, and one smaller gun. Ian Hamilton at Hector
Spruit found the remains of many guns, which included two of our horse
artillery twelve-pounders, two large Creusot guns, two Krupps, one
Vickers-Maxim quick firer, two pompoms and four mountain guns.



CHAPTER 30. THE CAMPAIGN OF DE WET.

It had been hoped that the dispersal of the main Boer army, the capture
of its guns and the expulsion of many both of the burghers and of
the foreign mercenaries, would have marked the end of the war. These
expectations were, however, disappointed, and South Africa was destined
to be afflicted and the British Empire disturbed by a useless guerilla
campaign. After the great and dramatic events which characterised the
earlier phases of the struggle between the Briton and the Boer for the
mastery of South Africa it is somewhat of the nature of an anticlimax to
turn one's attention to those scattered operations which prolonged the
resistance for a turbulent year at the expense of the lives of many
brave men on either side. These raids and skirmishes, which had their
origin rather in the hope of vengeance than of victory, inflicted much
loss and misery upon the country, but, although we may deplore the
desperate resolution which bids brave men prefer death to subjugation,
it is not for us, the countrymen of Hereward or Wallace, to condemn it.

In one important respect these numerous, though trivial, conflicts
differed from the battles in the earlier stages of the war. The British
had learned their lesson so thoroughly that they often turned the tables
upon their instructors. Again and again the surprise was effected, not
by the nation of hunters, but by those rooineks whose want of cunning
and of veld-craft had for so long been a subject of derision and
merriment. A year of the kopje and the donga had altered all that. And
in the proportion of casualties another very marked change had occurred.
Time was when in battle after battle a tenth would have been a liberal
estimate for the losses of the Boers compared with those of the Briton.
So it was at Stormberg; so it was at Colenso; so it may have been at
Magersfontein. But in this last stage of the war the balance was
rather in favour of the British. It may have been because they were
now frequently acting on the defensive, or it may have been from an
improvement in their fire, or it may have come from the more desperate
mood of the burghers, but in any case the fact remains that every
encounter diminished the small reserves of the Boers rather than the
ample forces of their opponents.

One other change had come over the war, which caused more distress and
searchings of conscience among some of the people of Great Britain
than the darkest hours of their misfortunes. This lay in the increased
bitterness of the struggle, and in those more strenuous measures which
the British commanders felt themselves entitled and compelled to adopt.
Nothing could exceed the lenity of Lord Roberts's early proclamations
in the Free State. But, as the months went on and the struggle still
continued, the war assumed a harsher aspect. Every farmhouse represented
a possible fort, and a probable depot for the enemy. The extreme measure
of burning them down was only carried out after a definite offence, such
as affording cover for snipers, or as a deterrent to railway wreckers,
but in either case it is evident that the women or children who were
usually the sole occupants of the farm could not by their own unaided
exertions prevent the line from being cut or the riflemen from firing.
It is even probable that the Boers may have committed these deeds in
the vicinity of houses the destruction of which they would least regret.
Thus, on humanitarian grounds there were strong arguments against this
policy of destruction being pushed too far, and the political reasons
were even stronger, since a homeless man is necessarily the last man
to settle down, and a burned-out family the last to become contented
British citizens. On the other hand, the impatience of the army towards
what they regarded as the abuses of lenity was very great, and they
argued that the war would be endless if the women in the farm were
allowed always to supply the sniper on the kopje. The irregular
and brigand-like fashion in which the struggle was carried out had
exasperated the soldiers, and though there were few cases of individual
outrage or unauthorised destruction, the general orders were applied
with some harshness, and repressive measures were taken which warfare
may justify but which civilisation must deplore.

After the dispersal of the main army at Komatipoort there remained
a considerable number of men in arms, some of them irreconcilable
burghers, some of them foreign adventurers, and some of them Cape
rebels, to whom British arms were less terrible than British law. These
men, who were still well armed and well mounted, spread themselves over
the country, and acted with such energy that they gave the impression
of a large force. They made their way into the settled districts, and
brought fresh hope and fresh disaster to many who had imagined that
the war had passed for ever away from them. Under compulsion from their
irreconcilable countrymen, a large number of the farmers broke their
parole, mounted the horses which British leniency had left with them,
and threw themselves once more into the struggle, adding their honour
to the other sacrifices which they had made for their country. In any
account of the continual brushes between these scattered bands and the
British forces, there must be such a similarity in procedure and result,
that it would be hard for the writer and intolerable for the reader if
they were set forth in detail. As a general statement it may be said
that during the months to come there was no British garrison in any
one of the numerous posts in the Transvaal, and in that portion of
the Orange River Colony which lies east of the railway, which was not
surrounded by prowling riflemen, there was no convoy sent to supply
those garrisons which was not liable to be attacked upon the road, and
there was no train upon any one of the three lines which might not find
a rail up and a hundred raiders covering it with their Mausers. With
some two thousand miles of railroad to guard, so many garrisons to
provide, and an escort to be furnished to every convoy, there remained
out of the large body of British troops in the country only a moderate
force who were available for actual operations. This force was
distributed in different districts scattered over a wide extent of
country, and it was evident that while each was strong enough to
suppress local resistance, still at any moment a concentration of the
Boer scattered forces upon a single British column might place the
latter in a serious position. The distribution of the British in October
and November was roughly as follows. Methuen was in the Rustenburg
district, Barton at Krugersdorp and operating down the line to
Klerksdorp, Settle was in the West, Paget at Pienaar's River, Clements
in the Magaliesberg, Hart at Potchefstroom, Lyttelton at Middelburg,
Smith-Dorrien at Belfast, W. Kitchener at Lydenburg, French in the
Eastern Transvaal, Hunter, Rundle, Brabant, and Bruce Hamilton in the
Orange River Colony. Each of these forces was occupied in the same
sort of work, breaking up small bodies of the enemy, hunting for arms,
bringing in refugees, collecting supplies, and rounding up cattle. Some,
however, were confronted with organised resistance and some were not. A
short account may be given in turn of each separate column.

I would treat first the operations of General Barton, because they form
the best introduction to that narrative of the doings of Christian De
Wet to which this chapter will be devoted.

The most severe operations during the month of October fell to the lot
of this British General, who, with some of the faithful fusiliers whom
he had led from the first days in Natal, was covering the line from
Krugersdorp to Klerksdorp. It is a long stretch, and one which, as the
result shows, is as much within striking distance of the Orange Free
Staters as of the men of the Transvaal. Upon October 5th Barton
left Krugersdorp with a force which consisted of the Scots and Welsh
Fusiliers, five hundred mounted men, the 78th R.F.A., three pom-poms,
and a 4.7 naval gun. For a fortnight, as the small army moved slowly
down the line of the railroad, their progress was one continual
skirmish. On October 6th they brushed the enemy aside in an action in
which the volunteer company of the Scots Fusiliers gained the
applause of their veteran comrades. On the 8th and 9th there was sharp
skirmishing, the brunt of which on the latter date fell upon the Welsh
Fusiliers, who had three officers and eleven men injured. The commandos
of Douthwaite, Liebenberg, and Van der Merwe seem to have been occupied
in harassing the column during their progress through the Gatsrand
range. On the 15th the desultory sniping freshened again into a skirmish
in which the honours and the victory belonged mainly to the Welshmen and
to that very keen and efficient body, the Scottish Yeomanry. Six Boers
were left dead upon the ground. On October 17th the column reached
Frederickstad, where it halted. On that date six of Marshall's Horse
were cut off while collecting supplies. The same evening three hundred
of the Imperial Light Horse came in from Krugersdorp.

Up to this date the Boer forces which dogged the column had been
annoying but not seriously aggressive. On the 19th, however, affairs
took an unexpected turn. The British scouts rode in to report a huge
dust cloud whirling swiftly northwards from the direction of the Vaal
River--soon plainly visible to all, and showing as it drew nearer the
hazy outline of a long column of mounted men. The dark coats of the
riders, and possibly the speed of their advance, showed that they were
Boers, and soon it was rumoured that it was no other than Christian De
Wet with his merry men, who, with characteristic audacity, had ridden
back into the Transvaal in the hope of overwhelming Barton's column.

It is some time since we have seen anything of this energetic gentleman
with the tinted glasses, but as the narrative will be much occupied with
him in the future a few words are needed to connect him with the past.
It has been already told how he escaped through the net which caught so
many of his countrymen at the time of the surrender of Prinsloo, and how
he was chased at furious speed from the Vaal River to the mountains of
Magaliesberg. Here he eluded his pursuers, separated from Steyn, who
desired to go east to confer with Kruger, and by the end of August was
back again in his favourite recruiting ground in the north of the
Orange River Colony. Here for nearly two months he had lain very quiet,
refitting and reassembling his scattered force, until now, ready for
action once more, and fired by the hope of cutting off an isolated
British force, he rode swiftly northwards with two thousand men
under that rolling cloud which had been spied by the watchers of
Frederickstad.

The problem before him was a more serious one, however, than any which
he had ever undertaken, for this was no isolated regiment or ill-manned
post, but a complete little field force very ready to do battle with
him. De Wet's burghers, as they arrived, sprang from their ponies and
went into action in their usual invisible but effective fashion,
covered by the fire of several guns. The soldiers had thrown up lines
of sangars, however, and were able, though exposed to a very heavy fire
coming from several directions, to hold their own until nightfall, when
the defences were made more secure. On the 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and
24th the cordon of the attack was drawn gradually closer, the Boers
entirely surrounding the British force, and it was evident that they
were feeling round for a point at which an assault might be delivered.

The position of the defenders upon the morning of October 25th was as
follows. The Scots Fusiliers were holding a ridge to the south. General
Barton with the rest of his forces occupied a hill some distance off.
Between the two was a valley down which ran the line, and also the
spruit upon which the British depended for their water supply. On each
side of the line were ditches, and at dawn on this seventh day of the
investment it was found that these had been occupied by snipers during
the night, and that it was impossible to water the animals. One of two
things must follow. Either the force must shift its position or it must
drive these men out of their cover. No fire could do it, as they lay in
perfect safety. They must be turned out at the point of the bayonet.

About noon several companies of Scots and Welsh Fusiliers advanced from
different directions in very extended order upon the ditches. Captain
Baillie's company of the former regiment first attracted the fire of
the burghers. Wounded twice the brave officer staggered on until a third
bullet struck him dead. Six of his men were found lying beside him. The
other companies were exposed in their turn to a severe fire, but rushing
onwards they closed rapidly in upon the ditches. There have been few
finer infantry advances during the war, for the veld was perfectly flat
and the fire terrific. A mile of ground was crossed by the fusiliers.
Three gallant officers--Dick, Elliot, and Best--went down; but the rush
of the men was irresistible. At the edge of the ditches the supports
overtook the firing line, and they all surged into the trenches
together. Then it was seen how perilous was the situation of the Boer
snipers. They had placed themselves between the upper and the nether
millstone. There was no escape for them save across the open. It says
much for their courage that they took that perilous choice rather than
wave the white flag, which would have ensured their safety.

The scene which followed has not often been paralleled. About a hundred
and fifty burghers rushed out of the ditches, streaming across the veld
upon foot to the spot where their horses had been secreted. Rifles,
pom-poms, and shrapnel played upon them during this terrible race. 'A
black running mob carrying coats, blankets, boots, rifles, &c., was seen
to rise as if from nowhere and rush as fast as they could, dropping the
various things they carried as they ran.' One of their survivors has
described how awful was that wild blind flight, through a dust-cloud
thrown up by the shells. For a mile the veld was dotted with those who
had fallen. Thirty-six were found dead, thirty were wounded, and thirty
more gave themselves up as prisoners. Some were so demoralised that
they rushed into the hospital and surrendered to the British doctor. The
Imperial Light Horse were for some reason slow to charge. Had they done
so at once, many eye-witnesses agree that not a fugitive should have
escaped. On the other hand, the officer in command may have feared that
in doing so he might mask the fire of the British guns.

One incident in the action caused some comment at the time. A small
party of Imperial Light Horse, gallantly led by Captain Yockney of B
Squadron, came to close quarters with a group of Boers. Five of the
enemy having held up their hands Yockney passed them and pushed on
against their comrades. On this the prisoners seized their rifles once
more and fired upon their captors. A fierce fight ensued with only a few
feet between the muzzles of the rifles. Three Boers were shot dead, five
wounded, and eight taken. Of these eight three were shot next day by
order of court-martial for having resumed their weapons after surrender,
while two others were acquitted. The death of these men in cold blood
is to be deplored, but it is difficult to see how any rules of civilised
warfare can be maintained if a flagrant breach of them is not promptly
and sternly punished.

On receiving this severe blow De Wet promptly raised the investment and
hastened to regain his favourite haunts. Considerable reinforcements
had reached Barton upon the same day, including the Dublins, the Essex,
Strathcona's Horse, and the Elswick Battery, with some very welcome
supplies of ammunition. As Barton had now more than a thousand mounted
men of most excellent quality it is difficult to imagine why he did not
pursue his defeated enemy. He seems to have underrated the effect which
he had produced, for instead of instantly assuming the offensive he
busied himself in strengthening his defences. Yet the British losses in
the whole operations had not exceeded one hundred, so that there does
not appear to have been any reason why the force should be crippled.
As Barton was in direct and constant telegraphic communication with
Pretoria, it is possible that he was acting under superior orders in the
course which he adopted.

It was not destined, however, that De Wet should be allowed to escape
with his usual impunity. On the 27th, two days after his retreat
from Frederickstad he was overtaken--stumbled upon by pure chance
apparently--by the mounted infantry and cavalry of Charles Knox and De
Lisle. The Boers, a great disorganised cloud of horsemen, swept swiftly
along the northern bank of the Vaal, seeking for a place to cross, while
the British rode furiously after them, spraying them with shrapnel
at every opportunity. Darkness and a violent storm gave De Wet his
opportunity to cross, but the closeness of the pursuit compelled him to
abandon two of his guns, one of them a Krupp and the other one of the
British twelve-pounders of Sanna's Post, which, to the delight of the
gunners, was regained by that very U battery to which it belonged.

Once across the river and back in his own country De Wet, having placed
seventy miles between himself and his pursuers, took it for granted that
he was out of their reach, and halted near the village of Bothaville to
refit. But the British were hard upon his track, and for once they were
able to catch this indefatigable man unawares. Yet their knowledge of
his position seems to have been most hazy, and on the very day before
that on which they found him, General Charles Knox, with the main body
of the force, turned north, and was out of the subsequent action. De
Lisle's mounted troops also turned north, but fortunately not entirely
out of call. To the third and smallest body of mounted men, that under
Le Gallais, fell the honour of the action which I am about to describe.

It is possible that the move northwards of Charles Knox and of De Lisle
had the effect of a most elaborate stratagem, since it persuaded the
Boer scouts that the British were retiring. So indeed they were, save
only the small force of Le Gallais, which seems to have taken one last
cast round to the south before giving up the pursuit. In the grey of the
morning of November 6th, Major Lean with forty men of the 5th Mounted
Infantry came upon three weary Boers sleeping upon the veld. Having
secured the men, and realising that they were an outpost, Lean pushed
on, and topping a rise some hundreds of yards further, he and his men
saw a remarkable scene. There before them stretched the camp of the
Boers, the men sleeping, the horses grazing, the guns parked, and the
wagons outspanned.

There was little time for consideration. The Kaffir drivers were already
afoot and strolling out for their horses, or lighting the fires for
their masters' coffee. With splendid decision, although he had but forty
men to oppose to over a thousand, Lean sent back for reinforcements
and opened fire upon the camp. In an instant it was buzzing like an
overturned hive. Up sprang the sleepers, rushed for their horses, and
galloped away across the veld, leaving their guns and wagons behind.
A few stalwarts remained, however, and their numbers were increased by
those whose horses had stampeded, and who were, therefore, unable to get
away. They occupied an enclosed kraal and a farmhouse in front of the
British, whence they opened a sharp fire. At the same time a number of
the Boers who had ridden away came back again, having realised how weak
their assailants were, and worked round the British flanks upon either
side.

Le Gallais, with his men, had come up, but the British force was still
far inferior to that which it was attacking. A section of U battery
was able to unlimber, and open fire at four hundred yards from the
Boer position. The British made no attempt to attack, but contented
themselves with holding on to the position from which they could prevent
the Boer guns from being removed. The burghers tried desperately to
drive off the stubborn fringe of riflemen. A small stone shed in the
possession of the British was the centre of the Boer fire, and it was
within its walls that Ross of the Durhams was horribly wounded by an
explosive ball, and that the brave Jerseyman, Le Gallais, was killed.
Before his fall he had despatched his staff officer, Major Hickie, to
hurry up men from the rear.

On the fall of Ross and Le Gallais the command fell upon Major Taylor
of U battery. The position at that time was sufficiently alarming. The
Boers were working round each flank in considerable numbers, and they
maintained a heavy fire from a stone enclosure in the centre. The
British forces actually engaged were insignificant, consisting of forty
men of the 5th Mounted Infantry, and two guns in the centre, forty-six
men of the 17th and 18th Imperial Yeomanry upon the right, and 105 of
the 8th Mounted Infantry on the left or 191 rifles in all. The flanks of
this tiny force had to extend to half a mile to hold off the Boer flank
attack, but they were heartened in their resistance by the knowledge
that their comrades were hastening to their assistance. Taylor,
realising that a great effort must be made to tide over the crisis, sent
a messenger back with orders that the convoy should be parked, and
every available man sent up to strengthen the right flank, which was the
weakest. The enemy got close on to one of the guns, and swept down the
whole detachment, but a handful of the Suffolk Mounted Infantry under
Lieutenant Peebles most gallantly held them off from it. For an hour
the pressure was extreme. Then two companies of the 7th Mounted Infantry
came up, and were thrown on to each flank. Shortly afterwards Major
Welch, with two more companies of the same corps, arrived, and the
tide began slowly to turn. The Boers were themselves outflanked by the
extension of the British line and were forced to fall back. At half-past
eight De Lisle, whose force had trotted and galloped for twelve miles,
arrived with several companies of Australians, and the success of the
day was assured. The smoke of the Prussian guns at Waterloo was not
a more welcome sight than the dust of De Lisle's horsemen. But the
question now was whether the Boers, who were in the walled inclosure and
farm which formed their centre, would manage to escape. The place was
shelled, but here, as often before, it was found how useless a weapon
is shrapnel against buildings. There was nothing for it but to storm
it, and a grim little storming party of fifty men, half British, half
Australian, was actually waiting with fixed bayonets for the whistle
which was to be their signal, when the white flag flew out from the
farm, and all was over. Warned by many a tragic experience the British
still lay low in spite of the flag. 'Come out! come out!' they shouted.
Eighty-two unwounded Boers filed out of the enclosure, and the total
number of prisoners came to 114, while between twenty and thirty Boers
were killed. Six guns, a pom-pom, and 1000 head of cattle were the
prizes of the victors.

This excellent little action showed that the British mounted infantry
had reached a point of efficiency at which they were quite able to match
the Boers at their own game. For hours they held them with an inferior
force, and finally, when the numbers became equal, were able to drive
them off and capture their guns. The credit is largely due to Major
Lean for his prompt initiative on discovering their laager, and to Major
Taylor for his handling of the force during a very critical time. Above
all, it was due to the dead leader, Le Gallais, who had infected every
man under him with his own spirit of reckless daring. 'If I die, tell my
mother that I die happy, as we got the guns,' said he, with his failing
breath. The British total losses were twelve killed (four officers) and
thirty-three wounded (seven officers). Major Welch, a soldier of great
promise, much beloved by his men, was one of the slain. Following
closely after the repulse at Frederickstad this action was a heavy blow
to De Wet. At last, the British were beginning to take something off the
score which they owed the bold raider, but there was to be many an item
on either side before the long reckoning should be closed. The Boers,
with De Wet, fled south, where it was not long before they showed that
they were still a military force with which we had to reckon.

In defiance of chronology it may perhaps make a clearer narrative if I
continue at once with the movements of De Wet from the time that he lost
his guns at Bothaville, and then come back to the consideration of the
campaign in the Transvaal, and to a short account of those scattered
and disconnected actions which break the continuity of the story. Before
following De Wet, however, it is necessary to say something of
the general state of the Orange River Colony and of some military
developments which had occurred there. Under the wise and conciliatory
rule of General Pretyman the farmers in the south and west were settling
down, and for the time it looked as if a large district was finally
pacified. The mild taxation was cheerfully paid, schools were reopened,
and a peace party made itself apparent, with Fraser and Piet de Wet, the
brother of Christian, among its strongest advocates.

Apart from the operations of De Wet there appeared to be no large force
in the field in the Orange River Colony, but early in October of 1900
a small but very mobile and efficient Boer force skirted the eastern
outposts of the British, struck the southern line of communications, and
then came up the western flank, attacking, where an attack was possible,
each of the isolated and weakly garrisoned townlets to which it came,
and recruiting its strength from a district which had been hardly
touched by the ravages of war, and which by its prosperity alone might
have proved the amenity of British military rule. This force seems to
have skirted Wepener without attacking a place of such evil omen to
their cause. Their subsequent movements are readily traced by a sequence
of military events.

On October 1st Rouxville was threatened. On the 9th an outpost of the
Cheshire Militia was taken and the railway cut for a few hours in the
neighbourhood of Bethulie. A week later the Boer riders were dotting the
country round Phillipolis, Springfontein and Jagersfontein, the latter
town being occupied upon October 16th, while the garrison held out upon
the nearest kopje. The town was retaken from the enemy by King Hall
and his men, who were Seaforth Highlanders and police. There was fierce
fighting in the streets, and from twenty to thirty of each side were
killed or wounded. Fauresmith was attacked on October 19th, but was also
in the very safe hands of the Seaforths, who held it against a severe
assault. Phillipolis was continually attacked between the 18th and the
24th, but made a most notable defence, which was conducted by Gostling,
the resident magistrate, with forty civilians. For a week this band of
stalwarts held their own against 600 Boers, and were finally relieved
by a force from the railway. All the operations were not, however, as
successful as these three defences. On October 24th a party of cavalry
details belonging to many regiments were snapped up in an ambuscade.
On the next day Jacobsdal was attacked, with considerable loss to the
British. The place was entered in the night, and the enemy occupied the
houses which surrounded the square. The garrison, consisting of about
sixty men of the Capetown Highlanders, had encamped in the square, and
were helpless when fire was opened upon them in the morning. There was
practically no resistance, and yet for hours a murderous fire was kept
up upon the tents in which they cowered, so that the affair seems not to
have been far removed from murder. Two-thirds of the little force were
killed or wounded. The number of the assailants does not appear to have
been great, and they vanished upon the appearance of a relieving force
from Modder River.

After the disaster at Jacobsdal the enemy appeared on November 1st near
Kimberley and captured a small convoy. The country round was disturbed,
and Settle was sent south with a column to pacify it. In this way we can
trace this small cyclone from its origin in the old storm centre in the
north-east of the Orange River Colony, sweeping round the whole
country, striking one post after another, and finally blowing out at the
corresponding point upon the other side of the seat of war.

We have last seen De Wet upon November 6th, when he fled south from
Bothaville, leaving his guns but not his courage behind him. Trekking
across the line, and for a wonder gathering up no train as he passed,
he made for that part of the eastern Orange River Colony which had been
reoccupied by his countrymen. Here, in the neighbourhood of Thabanchu,
he was able to join other forces, probably the commandos of Haasbroek
and Fourie, which still retained some guns. At the head of a
considerable force he attacked the British garrison of Dewetsdorp, a
town some forty miles to the south-east of Bloemfontein.

It was on November 18th that De Wet assailed the place, and it fell upon
the 24th, after a defence which appears to have been a very creditable
one. Several small British columns were moving in the south-east of the
Colony, but none of them arrived in time to avert the disaster, which
is the more inexplicable as the town is within one day's ride of
Bloemfontein. The place is a village hemmed in upon its western side by
a semicircle of steep rocky hills broken in the centre by a gully. The
position was a very extended one, and had the fatal weakness that
the loss of any portion of it meant the loss of it all. The garrison
consisted of one company of Highland Light Infantry on the southern horn
of the semicircle, three companies of the 2nd Gloucester Regiment on the
northern and central part, with two guns of the 68th battery. Some of
the Royal Irish Mounted Infantry and a handful of police made up the
total of the defenders to something over four hundred, Major Massy in
command.

The attack developed at that end of the ridge which was held by the
company of Highlanders. Every night the Boer riflemen drew in closer,
and every morning found the position more desperate. On the 20th the
water supply of the garrison was cut, though a little was still brought
up by volunteers during the night. The thirst in the sultry trenches was
terrible, but the garrison still, with black lips and parched tongues,
held on to their lines. On the 22nd the attack had made such progress
that the post had by the Highlanders became untenable, and had to be
withdrawn. It was occupied next morning by the Boers, and the whole
ridge was at their mercy. Out of eighteen men who served one of the
British guns sixteen were killed or wounded, and the last rounds were
fired by the sergeant-farrier, who carried, loaded, and fired all by
himself. All day the soldiers held out, but the thirst was in itself
enough to justify if not to compel a surrender. At half-past five
the garrison laid down their arms, having lost about sixty killed or
wounded. There does not, as far as one can learn, seem to have been any
attempt to injure the two guns which fell into the hands of the enemy.
De Wet himself was one of the first to ride into the British trenches,
and the prisoners gazed with interest at the short strong figure, with
the dark tail coat and the square-topped bowler hat, of the most famous
of the Boer leaders.

British columns were converging, however, from several quarters, and De
Wet had to be at once on the move. On the 26th Dewetsdorp was reoccupied
by General Charles Knox with fifteen hundred men. De Wet had two days'
start, but so swift was Knox that on the 27th he had run him down at
Vaalbank, where he shelled his camp. De Wet broke away, however, and
trekking south for eighteen hours without a halt, shook off the pursuit.
He had with him at this time nearly 8000 men with several guns under
Haasbroek, Fourie, Philip Botha, and Steyn. It was his declared
intention to invade Cape Colony with his train of weary footsore
prisoners, and the laurels of Dewetsdorp still green upon him. He was
much aided in all his plans by that mistaken leniency which had refused
to recognise that a horse is in that country as much a weapon as a
rifle, and had left great numbers upon the farms with which he could
replace his useless animals. So numerous were they that many of the
Boers had two or three for their own use. It is not too much to say that
our weak treatment of the question of horses will come to be recognised
as the one great blot upon the conduct of the war, and that our undue
and fantastic scruples have prolonged hostilities for months, and cost
the country many lives and many millions of pounds.

De Wet's plan for the invasion of the Colony was not yet destined to be
realised, for a tenacious man had set himself to frustrate it. Several
small but mobile British columns, those of Pilcher, of Barker, and
of Herbert, under the supreme direction of Charles Knox, were working
desperately to head him off. In torrents of rain which turned every
spruit into a river and every road into a quagmire, the British horsemen
stuck manfully to their work. De Wet had hurried south, crossed the
Caledon River, and made for Odendaal's Drift. But Knox, after the
skirmish at Vaalbank, had trekked swiftly south to Bethulie, and was now
ready with three mobile columns and a network of scouts and patrols
to strike in any direction. For a few days he had lost touch, but his
arrangements were such that he must recover it if the Boers either
crossed the railroad or approached the river. On December 2nd he had
authentic information that De Wet was crossing the Caledon, and in an
instant the British columns were all off at full cry once more, sweeping
over the country with a front of fifteen miles. On the 3rd and 4th, in
spite of frightful weather, the two little armies of horsemen struggled
on, fetlock-deep in mud, with the rain lashing their faces. At night
without cover, drenched and bitterly cold, the troopers threw themselves
down on the sodden veld to snatch a few hours' sleep before renewing the
interminable pursuit. The drift over the Caledon flowed deep and strong,
but the Boer had passed and the Briton must pass also. Thirty guns took
to the water, diving completely under the coffee-coloured surface, to
reappear glistening upon the southern bank. Everywhere there were signs
of the passage of the enemy. A litter of crippled or dying horses marked
their track, and a Krupp gun was found abandoned by the drift. The
Dewetsdorp prisoners, too, had been set loose, and began to stumble
and stagger back to their countrymen, their boots worn off, and their
putties wrapped round their bleeding feet. It is painful to add that
they had been treated with a personal violence and a brutality in marked
contrast to the elaborate hospitality shown by the British Government to
its involuntary guests.

On December 6th De Wet had at last reached the Orange River a clear day
in front of his pursuers. But it was only to find that his labours had
been in vain. At Odendaal, where he had hoped to cross, the river was in
spate, the British flag waved from a post upon the further side, and a
strong force of expectant Guardsmen eagerly awaited him there. Instantly
recognising that the game was up, the Boer leader doubled back for the
north and safety. At Rouxville he hesitated as to whether he should snap
up the small garrison, but the commandant, Rundle, showed a bold face,
and De Wet passed on to the Coomassie Bridge over the Caledon. The small
post there refused to be bluffed into a surrender, and the Boers,
still dropping their horses fast, passed on, and got over the drift
at Amsterdam, their rearguard being hardly across before Knox had also
reached the river.

On the 10th the British were in touch again near Helvetia, where
there was a rearguard skirmish. On the 11th both parties rode
through Reddersberg, a few hours separating them. The Boers in
their cross-country trekking go, as one of their prisoners observed,
'slap-bang at everything,' and as they are past-masters in the art of ox
and mule driving, and have such a knowledge of the country that they can
trek as well by night as by day, it says much for the energy of Knox
and his men that he was able for a fortnight to keep in close touch with
them.

It became evident now that there was not much chance of overtaking
the main body of the burghers, and an attempt was therefore made to
interpose a fresh force who might head them off. A line of posts existed
between Thabanchu and Ladybrand, and Colonel Thorneycroft was stationed
there with a movable column. It was Knox's plan therefore to prevent
the Boers from breaking to the west and to head them towards the Basuto
border. A small column under Parsons had been sent by Hunter from
Bloemfontein, and pushed in upon the flank of De Wet, who had on the
12th got back to Dewetsdorp. Again the pursuit became warm, but De Wet's
time was not yet come. He headed for Springhaan Nek, about fifteen miles
east of Thabanchu. This pass is about four miles broad, with a British
fort upon either side of it. There was only one way to safety, for
Knox's mounted infantrymen and lancers were already dotting the southern
skyline. Without hesitation the whole Boer force, now some 2500 strong,
galloped at full speed in open order through the Nek, braving the long
range fire of riflemen and guns. The tactics were those of French in
his ride to Kimberley, and the success was as complete. De Wet's force
passed through the last barrier which had been held against him, and
vanished into the mountainous country round Ficksburg, where it could
safely rest and refit.

The result then of these bustling operations had been that De Wet and
his force survived, but that he had failed in his purpose of invading
the Colony, and had dropped some five hundred horses, two guns, and
about a hundred of his men. Haasbroek's commando had been detached by
De Wet to make a feint at another pass while he made his way through the
Springhaan. Parsons's force followed Haasbroek up and engaged him, but
under cover of night he was able to get away and to join his leader to
the north of Thabanchu. On December 13th, this, the second great chase
after De Wet, may be said to have closed.



CHAPTER 31. THE GUERILLA WARFARE IN THE TRANSVAAL: NOOITGEDACHT.

Leaving De Wet in the Ficksburg mountains, where he lurked until after
the opening of the New Year, the story of the scattered operations
in the Transvaal may now be carried down to the same point--a story
comprising many skirmishes and one considerable engagement, but so
devoid of any central thread that it is difficult to know how to
approach it. From Lichtenburg to Komati, a distance of four hundred
miles, there was sporadic warfare everywhere, attacks upon scattered
posts, usually beaten off but occasionally successful, attacks upon
convoys, attacks upon railway trains, attacks upon anything and
everything which could harass the invaders. Each General in his own
district had his own work of repression to perform, and so we had best
trace the doings of each up to the end of the year 1900.

Lord Methuen after his pursuit of De Wet in August had gone to Mafeking
to refit. From that point, with a force which contained a large
proportion of yeomanry and of Australian bushmen, he conducted a long
series of operations in the difficult and important district which lies
between Rustenburg, Lichtenburg, and Zeerust. Several strong and mobile
Boer commandos with guns moved about in it, and an energetic though not
very deadly warfare raged between Lemmer, Snyman, and De la Rey on the
one side, and the troops of Methuen, Douglas, Broadwood, and Lord Errol
upon the other. Methuen moved about incessantly through the broken
country, winning small skirmishes and suffering the indignity of
continual sniping. From time to time he captured stores, wagons,
and small bodies of prisoners. Early in October he and Douglas had
successes. On the 15th Broadwood was engaged. On the 20th there was
a convoy action. On the 25th Methuen had a success and twenty-eight
prisoners. On November 9th he surprised Snyman and took thirty
prisoners. On the 10th he got a pom-pom. Early in this month Douglas
separated from Methuen, and marched south from Zeerust through
Ventersdorp to Klerksdorp, passing over a country which had been hardly
touched before, and arriving at his goal with much cattle and some
prisoners. Towards the end of the month a considerable stock of
provisions were conveyed to Zeerust, and a garrison left to hold that
town so as to release Methuen's column for service elsewhere.

Hart's sphere of action was originally round Potchefstroom. On September
9th he made a fine forced march to surprise this town, which had been
left some time before with an entirely inadequate garrison to fall into
the hands of the enemy. His infantry covered thirty-six and his cavalry
fifty-four miles in fifteen hours. The operation was a complete
success, the town with eighty Boers falling into his hands with little
opposition. On September 30th Hart returned to Krugersdorp, where, save
for one skirmish upon the Gatsrand on November 22nd, he appears to have
had no actual fighting to do during the remainder of the year.

After the clearing of the eastern border of the Transvaal by the
movement of Pole-Carew along the railway line, and of Buller aided by
Ian Hamilton in the mountainous country to the north of it, there were
no operations of importance in this district. A guard was kept upon
the frontier to prevent the return of refugees and the smuggling of
ammunition, while General Kitchener, the brother of the Sirdar, broke
up a few small Boer laagers in the neighbourhood of Lydenburg.
Smith-Dorrien guarded the line at Belfast, and on two occasions,
November 1st and November 6th, he made aggressive movements against the
enemy. The first, which was a surprise executed in concert with Colonel
Spens of the Shropshires, was frustrated by a severe blizzard, which
prevented the troops from pushing home their success. The second was a
two days' expedition, which met with a spirited opposition, and demands
a fuller notice.

This was made from Belfast, and the force, which consisted of about
fourteen hundred men, advanced south to the Komati River. The infantry
were Suffolks and Shropshires, the cavalry Canadians and 5th Lancers,
with two Canadian guns and four of the 84th battery. All day the Boer
snipers clung to the column, as they had done to French's cavalry in the
same district. Mere route marches without a very definite and adequate
objective appear to be rather exasperating than overawing, for so long
as the column is moving onwards the most timid farmer may be tempted
into long-range fire from the flanks or rear. The river was reached
and the Boers driven from a position which they had taken up, but their
signal fires brought mounted riflemen from every farm, and the retreat
of the troops was pressed as they returned to Belfast. There was all the
material for a South African Lexington. The most difficult of military
operations, the covering of a detachment from a numerous and aggressive
enemy, was admirably carried out by the Canadian gunners and dragoons
under the command of Colonel Lessard. So severe was the pressure that
sixteen of the latter were for a time in the hands of the enemy,
who attempted something in the nature of a charge upon the steadfast
rearguard. The movement was repulsed, and the total Boer loss would
appear to have been considerable, since two of their leaders, Commandant
Henry Prinsloo and General Joachim Fourie, were killed, while General
Johann Grobler was wounded. If the rank and file suffered in proportion
the losses must have been severe. The British casualties in the two
days amounted to eight killed and thirty wounded, a small total when
the arduous nature of the service is considered. The Canadians and
the Shropshires seem to have borne off the honours of these trying
operations.

In the second week of October, General French, with three brigades of
cavalry (Dickson's, Gordon's, and Mahon's), started for a cross-country
ride from Machadodorp. Three brigades may seem an imposing force, but
the actual numbers did not exceed two strong regiments, or about 1500
sabres in all. A wing of the Suffolk Regiment went with them. On October
13th Mahon's brigade met with a sharp resistance, and lost ten killed
and twenty-nine wounded. On the 14th the force entered Carolina. On the
16th they lost six killed and twenty wounded, and from the day that they
started until they reached Heidelberg on the 27th there was never a day
that they could shake themselves clear of their attendant snipers. The
total losses of the force were about ninety killed and wounded, but they
brought in sixty prisoners and a large quantity of cattle and stores.
The march had at least the effect of making it clear that the passage of
a column of troops encumbered with baggage through a hostile country is
an inefficient means for quelling a popular resistance. Light and mobile
parties acting from a central depot were in future to be employed, with
greater hopes of success.

Some appreciable proportion of the British losses during this phase of
the war arose from railway accidents caused by the persistent tampering
with the lines. In the first ten days of October there were four such
mishaps, in which two Sappers, twenty-three of the Guards (Coldstreams),
and eighteen of the 66th battery were killed or wounded. On the
last occasion, which occurred on October 10th near Vlakfontein, the
reinforcements who came to aid the sufferers were themselves waylaid,
and lost twenty, mostly of the Rifle Brigade, killed, wounded, or
prisoners. Hardly a day elapsed that the line was not cut at some point.
The bringing of supplies was complicated by the fact that the Boer women
and children were coming more and more into refugee camps, where they
had to be fed by the British, and the strange spectacle was frequently
seen of Boer snipers killing or wounding the drivers and stokers of the
very trains which were bringing up food upon which Boer families were
dependent for their lives. Considering that these tactics were continued
for over a year, and that they resulted in the death or mutilation of
many hundreds of British officers and men, it is really inexplicable
that the British authorities did not employ the means used by all armies
under such circumstances--which is to place hostages upon the trains. A
truckload of Boers behind every engine would have stopped the practice
for ever. Again and again in this war the British have fought with the
gloves when their opponents used their knuckles.

We will pass now to a consideration of the doings of General Paget, who
was operating to the north and north-east of Pretoria with a force which
consisted of two regiments of infantry, about a thousand horsemen, and
twelve guns. His mounted men were under the command of Plumer. In the
early part of November this force had been withdrawn from Warm Baths and
had fallen back upon Pienaar's River, where it had continual skirmishes
with the enemy. Towards the end of November, news having reached
Pretoria that the enemy under Erasmus and Viljoen were present in force
at a place called Rhenoster Kop, which is about twenty miles north of
the Delagoa Railway line and fifty miles north-east of the capital,
it was arranged that Paget should attack them from the south, while
Lyttelton from Middelburg should endeavour to get behind them. The force
with which Paget started upon this enterprise was not a very formidable
one. He had for mounted troops some Queensland, South Australian, New
Zealand, and Tasmanian Bushmen, together with the York, Montgomery, and
Warwick Yeomanry. His infantry were the 1st West Riding regiment
and four companies of the Munsters. His guns were the 7th and 38th
batteries, with two naval quick-firing twelve-pounders and some smaller
pieces. The total could not have exceeded some two thousand men. Here,
as at other times, it is noticeable that in spite of the two hundred
thousand soldiers whom the British kept in the field, the lines of
communication absorbed so many that at the actual point of contact they
were seldom superior and often inferior in numbers to the enemy. The
opening of the Natal and Delagoa lines though valuable in many ways, had
been an additional drain. Where every culvert needs its picket and every
bridge its company, the guardianship of many hundreds of miles of rail
is no light matter.

In the early morning of November 29th Paget's men came in contact with
the enemy, who were in some force upon an admirable position. A ridge
for their centre, a flanking kopje for their cross fire, and a grass
glacis for the approach--it was an ideal Boer battlefield. The colonials
and the yeomanry under Plumer on the left, and Hickman on the right,
pushed in upon them, until it was evident that they meant to hold their
ground. Their advance being checked by a very severe fire, the horsemen
dismounted and took such cover as they could. Paget's original idea had
been a turning movement, but the Boers were the more numerous body, and
it was impossible for the smaller British force to find their flanks,
for they extended over at least seven miles. The infantry were moved up
into the centre, therefore, between the wings of dismounted horsemen,
and the guns were brought up to cover the advance. The country was
ill-suited, however, to the use of artillery, and it was only possible
to use an indirect fire from under a curve of the grass land. The guns
made good practice, however, one section of the 38th battery being in
action all day within 800 yards of the Boer line, and putting themselves
out of action after 300 rounds by the destruction of their own rifling.
Once over the curve every yard of the veld was commanded by the hidden
riflemen. The infantry advanced, but could make no headway against the
deadly fire which met them. By short rushes the attack managed to get
within 300 yards of the enemy, and there it stuck. On the right the
Munsters carried a detached kopje which was in front of them, but
could do little to aid the main attack. Nothing could have exceeded
the tenacity of the Yorkshiremen and the New Zealanders, who were
immediately to their left. Though unable to advance they refused to
retire, and indeed they were in a position from which a retirement would
have been a serious operation. Colonel Lloyd of the West Ridings was hit
in three places and killed. Five out of six officers of the New Zealand
corps were struck down. There were no reserves to give a fresh impetus
to the attack, and the thin scattered line, behind bullet-spotted stones
or anthills, could but hold its own while the sun sank slowly upon a
day which will not be forgotten by those who endured it. The Boers were
reinforced in the afternoon, and the pressure became so severe that the
field guns were retired with much difficulty. Many of the infantry had
shot away all their cartridges and were helpless. Just one year before
British soldiers had lain under similar circumstances on the plain which
leads to Modder River, and now on a smaller scale the very same drama
was being enacted. Gradually the violet haze of evening deepened into
darkness, and the incessant rattle of the rifle fire died away on either
side. Again, as at Modder River, the British infantry still lay in their
position, determined to take no backward step, and again the Boers stole
away in the night, leaving the ridge which they had defended so well.
A hundred killed and wounded was the price paid by the British for that
line of rock studded hills--a heavier proportion of losses than had
befallen Lord Methuen in the corresponding action. Of the Boer losses
there was as usual no means of judging, but several grave-mounds, newly
dug, showed that they also had something to deplore. Their retreat,
however, was not due to exhaustion, but to the demonstration which
Lyttelton had been able to make in their rear. The gunners and the
infantry had all done well in a most trying action, but by common
consent it was with the men from New Zealand that the honours lay.
It was no empty compliment when Sir Alfred Milner telegraphed to the
Premier of New Zealand his congratulations upon the distinguished
behaviour of his fellow countrymen.

From this time onwards there was nothing of importance in this part of
the seat of war.

It is necessary now to turn from the north-east to the north-west of
Pretoria, where the presence of De la Rey and the cover afforded by the
Magaliesberg mountains had kept alive the Boer resistance. Very rugged
lines of hill, alternating with fertile valleys, afforded a succession
of forts and of granaries to the army which held them. To General
Clements' column had been committed the task of clearing this difficult
piece of country. His force fluctuated in numbers, but does not appear
at any time to have consisted of more than three thousand men, which
comprised the Border Regiment, the Yorkshire Light Infantry, the second
Northumberland Fusiliers, mounted infantry, yeomanry, the 8th R.F.A., P
battery R.H.A., and one heavy gun. With this small army he moved about
the district, breaking up Boer bands, capturing supplies, and bringing
in refugees. On November 13th he was at Krugersdorp, the southern
extremity of his beat. On the 24th he was moving north again, and found
himself as he approached the hills in the presence of a force of Boers
with cannon. This was the redoubtable De la Rey, who sometimes operated
in Methuen's country to the north of the Magaliesberg, and sometimes
to the south. He had now apparently fixed upon Clements as his definite
opponent. De la Rey was numerically inferior, and Clements had no
difficulty in this first encounter in forcing him back with some loss.
On November 26th Clements was back at Krugersdorp again with cattle and
prisoners. In the early days of December he was moving northwards
once more, where a serious disaster awaited him. Before narrating the
circumstances connected with the Battle of Nooitgedacht there is one
incident which occurred in this same region which should be recounted.

This consists of the determined attack made by a party of De la Rey's
men, upon December 3rd, on a convoy which was proceeding from Pretoria
to Rustenburg, and had got as far as Buffel's Hoek. The convoy was a
very large one, consisting of 150 wagons, which covered about three
miles upon the march. It was guarded by two companies of the West
Yorkshires, two guns of the 75th battery, and a handful of the Victoria
Mounted Rifles. The escort appears entirely inadequate when it is
remembered that these stores, which were of great value, were being
taken through a country which was known to be infested by the enemy.
What might have been foreseen occurred. Five hundred Boers suddenly rode
down upon the helpless line of wagons and took possession of them. The
escort rallied, however, upon a kopje, and, though attacked all day,
succeeded in holding their own until help arrived. They prevented the
Boers from destroying or carrying off as much of the convoy as was under
their guns, but the rest was looted and burned. The incident was a
most unfortunate one, as it supplied the enemy with a large quantity of
stores, of which they were badly in need. It was the more irritating
as it was freely rumoured that a Boer attack was pending; and there is
evidence that a remonstrance was addressed from the convoy before it
left Rietfontein to the General of the district, pointing out the danger
to which it was exposed. The result was the loss of 120 wagons and of
more than half the escort. The severity of the little action and the
hardihood of the defence are indicated by the fact that the small body
who held the kopje lost fifteen killed and twenty-two wounded, the
gunners losing nine out of fifteen. A relieving force appeared at the
close of the action, but no vigorous pursuit was attempted, although
the weather was wet and the Boers had actually carried away sixty loaded
wagons, which could only go very slowly. It must be confessed that from
its feckless start to its spiritless finish the story of the Buffel's
Hoek convoy is not a pleasant one to tell.

Clements, having made his way once more to the Magaliesberg range, had
pitched his camp at a place called Nooitgedacht--not to be confused with
the post upon the Delagoa Railway at which the British prisoners had
been confined. Here, in the very shadow of the mountain, he halted
for five days, during which, with the usual insouciance of British
commanders, he does not seem to have troubled himself with any
entrenching. He knew, no doubt, that he was too strong for his opponent
De la Rey, but what he did not know, but might have feared, was that a
second Boer force might appear suddenly upon the scene and join with
De la Rey in order to crush him. This second Boer force was that of
Commandant Beyers from Warm Baths. By a sudden and skilful movement the
two united, and fell like a thunderbolt upon the British column, which
was weakened by the absence of the Border Regiment. The result was such
a reverse as the British had not sustained since Sanna's Post--a reverse
which showed that, though no regular Boer army might exist, still a
sudden coalition of scattered bands could at any time produce a force
which would be dangerous to any British column which might be taken at
a disadvantage. We had thought that the days of battles in this war
were over, but an action which showed a missing and casualty roll of 550
proved that in this, as in so many other things, we were mistaken.

As already stated, the camp of Clements lay under a precipitous cliff,
upon the summit of which he had placed four companies of the 2nd
Northumberland Fusiliers. This strong post was a thousand feet higher
than the camp. Below lay the main body of the force, two more companies
of fusiliers, four of Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd Mounted
Infantry, Kitchener's Horse, yeomanry, and the artillery. The latter
consisted of one heavy naval gun, four guns of the 8th R.F.A., and P
battery R.H.A. The whole force amounted to about fifteen hundred men.

It was just at the first break of dawn--the hour of fate in South
African warfare--that the battle began. The mounted infantry post
between the camp and the mountains were aware of moving figures in front
of them. In the dim light they could discern that they were clothed in
grey, and that they wore the broad-brimmed hats and feathers of some
of our own irregular corps. They challenged, and the answer was a
shattering volley, instantly returned by the survivors of the picket. So
hot was the Boer attack that before help could come every man save
one of the picket was on the ground. The sole survivor, Daley of the
Dublins, took no backward step, but continued to steadily load and fire
until help came from the awakened camp. There followed a savage conflict
at point blank-range. The mounted infantry men, rushing half clad to the
support of their comrades, were confronted by an ever-thickening swarm
of Boer riflemen, who had already, by working round on the flank,
established their favourite cross fire. Legge, the leader of the mounted
infantry, a hard little Egyptian veteran, was shot through the head, and
his men lay thick around him. For some minutes it was as hot a corner
as any in the war. But Clements himself had appeared upon the scene, and
his cool gallantry turned the tide of fight. An extension of the
line checked the cross fire, and gave the British in turn a flanking
position. Gradually the Boer riflemen were pushed back, until at last
they broke and fled for their horses in the rear. A small body were
cut off, many of whom were killed and wounded, while a few were taken
prisoners.

This stiff fight of an hour had ended in a complete repulse of the
attack, though at a considerable cost. Both Boers and British had lost
heavily. Nearly all the staff were killed or wounded, though General
Clements had come through untouched. Fifty or sixty of both sides had
fallen. But it was noted as an ominous fact that in spite of shell fire
the Boers still lingered upon the western flank. Were they coming on
again? They showed no signs of it. And yet they waited in groups, and
looked up towards the beetling crags above them. What were they waiting
for? The sudden crash of a murderous Mauser fire upon the summit, with
the rolling volleys of the British infantry, supplied the answer.

Only now must it have been clear to Clements that he was not dealing
merely with some spasmodic attack from his old enemy De la Rey, but that
this was a largely conceived movement, in which a force at least double
the strength of his own had suddenly been concentrated upon him. His
camp was still menaced by the men whom he had repulsed, and he could
not weaken it by sending reinforcements up the hill. But the roar of
the musketry was rising louder and louder. It was becoming clearer that
there was the main attack. It was a Majuba Hill action up yonder, a
thick swarm of skirmishers closing in from many sides upon a central
band of soldiers. But the fusiliers were hopelessly outnumbered, and
this rock fighting is that above all others in which the Boer has an
advantage over the regular. A helio on the hill cried for help. The
losses were heavy, it said, and the assailants numerous. The Boers
closed swiftly in upon the flanks, and the fusiliers were no match for
their assailants. Till the very climax the helio still cried that they
were being overpowered, and it is said that even while working it
the soldier in charge was hurled over the cliff by the onrush of the
victorious Boers.

The fight of the mounted infantry men had been at half-past four. At
six the attack upon the hill had developed, and Clements in response
to those frantic flashes of light had sent up a hundred men of the
yeomanry, from the Fife and Devon squadrons, as a reinforcement. To
climb a precipitous thousand feet with rifle, bandolier, and spurs, is
no easy feat, yet that roar of battle above them heartened them upon
their way. But in spite of all their efforts they were only in time
to share the general disaster. The head of the line of hard-breathing
yeomen reached the plateau just as the Boers, sweeping over the remnants
of the Northumberland Fusiliers, reached the brink of the cliff. One by
one the yeomen darted over the edge, and endeavoured to find some cover
in the face of an infernal point-blank fire. Captain Mudie of the staff,
who went first, was shot down. So was Purvis of the Fifes, who followed
him. The others, springing over their bodies, rushed for a small trench,
and tried to restore the fight. Lieutenant Campbell, a gallant young
fellow, was shot dead as he rallied his men. Of twenty-seven of the
Fifeshires upon the hill six were killed and eleven wounded. The
statistics of the Devons are equally heroic. Those yeomen who had not
yet reached the crest were in a perfectly impossible position, as the
Boers were firing from complete cover right down upon them. There was
no alternative for them but surrender. By seven o'clock every British
soldier upon the hill, yeoman or fusilier, had been killed, wounded,
or taken. It is not true that the supply of cartridges ran out, and the
fusiliers, with the ill-luck which has pursued the 2nd battalion, were
outnumbered and outfought by better skirmishers than themselves.

Seldom has a General found himself in a more trying position than
Clements, or extricated himself more honourably. Not only had he lost
nearly half his force, but his camp was no longer tenable, and his whole
army was commanded by the fringe of deadly rifles upon the cliff. From
the berg to the camp was from 800 to 1000 yards, and a sleet of bullets
whistled down upon it. How severe was the fire may be gauged from the
fact that the little pet monkey belonging to the yeomanry--a small
enough object--was hit three times, though he lived to survive as
a battle-scarred veteran. Those wounded in the early action found
themselves in a terrible position, laid out in the open under a
withering fire, 'like helpless Aunt Sallies,' as one of them described
it. 'We must get a red flag up, or we shall be blown off the face of the
earth,' says the same correspondent, a corporal of the Ceylon Mounted
Infantry. 'We had a pillow-case, but no red paint. Then we saw what
would do instead, so they made the upright with my blood, and the
horizontal with Paul's.' It is pleasant to add that this grim flag was
respected by the Boers. Bullocks and mules fell in heaps, and it was
evident that the question was not whether the battle could be restored,
but whether the guns could be saved. Leaving a fringe of yeomen, mounted
infantry, and Kitchener's Horse to stave off the Boers, who were already
descending by the same steep kloof up which the yeomen had climbed, the
General bent all his efforts to getting the big naval gun out of danger.
Only six oxen were left out of a team of forty, and so desperate did
the situation appear that twice dynamite was placed beneath the gun to
destroy it. Each time, however, the General intervened, and at last,
under a stimulating rain of pom-pom shells, the great cannon lurched
slowly forward, quickening its pace as the men pulled on the drag-ropes,
and the six oxen broke into a wheezy canter. Its retreat was covered by
the smaller guns which rained shrapnel upon the crest of the hill, and
upon the Boers who were descending to the camp. Once the big gun was out
of danger, the others limbered up and followed, their rear still covered
by the staunch mounted infantry, with whom rest all the honours of the
battle. Cookson and Brooks with 250 men stood for hours between Clements
and absolute disaster. The camp was abandoned as it stood, and all the
stores, four hundred picketed horses, and, most serious of all, two
wagons of ammunition, fell into the hands of the victors. To have saved
all his guns, however, after the destruction of half his force by an
active enemy far superior to him in numbers and in mobility, was a feat
which goes far to condone the disaster, and to increase rather than to
impair the confidence which his troops feel in General Clements. Having
retreated for a couple of miles he turned his big gun round upon the
hill, which is called Yeomanry Hill, and opened fire upon the camp,
which was being looted by swarms of Boers. So bold a face did he present
that he was able to remain with his crippled force upon Yeomanry Hill
from about nine until four in the afternoon, and no attack was pressed
home, though he lay under both shell and rifle fire all day. At four
in the afternoon he began his retreat, which did not cease till he had
reached Rietfontein, twenty miles off, at six o'clock upon the following
morning. His weary men had been working for twenty-six hours, and
actually fighting for fourteen, but the bitterness of defeat was
alleviated by the feeling that every man, from the General downwards,
had done all that was possible, and that there was every prospect of
their having a chance before long of getting their own back.

The British losses at the battle of Nooitgedacht amounted to 60 killed,
180 wounded, and 315 prisoners, all of whom were delivered up a few days
later at Rustenburg. Of the Boer losses it is, as usual, impossible
to speak with confidence, but all the evidence points to their actual
casualties being as heavy as those of the British. There was the long
struggle at the camp in which they were heavily punished, the fight on
the mountain, where they exposed themselves with unusual recklessness,
and the final shelling from shrapnel and from lyddite. All accounts
agree that their attack was more open than usual. 'They were mowed down
in twenties that day, but it had no effect. They stood like fanatics,'
says one who fought against them. From first to last their conduct was
most gallant, and great credit is due to their leaders for the skilful
sudden concentration by which they threw their whole strength upon the
exposed force. Some eighty miles separate Warm Baths from Nooitgedacht,
and it seems strange that our Intelligence Department should have
remained in ignorance of so large a movement.

General Broadwood's 2nd Cavalry Brigade had been stationed to the north
of Magaliesberg, some twelve miles westward of Clements, and formed
the next link in the long chain of British forces. Broadwood does not
appear, however, to have appreciated the importance of the engagement,
and made no energetic movement to take part in it. If Colvile is open
to the charge of having been slow to 'march upon the cannon' at Sanna's
Post, it might be urged that Broadwood in turn showed some want of
energy and judgment upon this occasion. On the morning of the 13th his
force could hear the heavy firing to the eastward, and could even see
the shells bursting on the top of the Magaliesberg. It was but ten or
twelve miles distant, and, as his Elswick guns have a range of
nearly five, a very small advance would have enabled him to make a
demonstration against the flank of the Boers, and so to relieve the
pressure upon Clements. It is true that his force was not large, but it
was exceptionally mobile. Whatever the reasons, no effective advance was
made by Broadwood. On hearing the result he fell back upon Rustenburg,
the nearest British post, his small force being dangerously isolated.

Those who expected that General Clements would get his own back had not
long to wait. In a few days he was in the field again. The remains of
his former force had, however, been sent into Pretoria to refit, and
nothing remained of it save the 8th R.F.A. and the indomitable cow-gun
still pocked with the bullets of Nooitgedacht. He had also F battery
R.H.A., the Inniskillings, the Border regiment, and a force of mounted
infantry under Alderson. More important than all, however, was the
co-operation of General French, who came out from Pretoria to assist in
the operations. On the 19th, only six days after his defeat, Clements
found himself on the very same spot fighting some at least of the very
same men. This time, however, there was no element of surprise, and the
British were able to approach the task with deliberation and method. The
result was that both upon the 19th and 20th the Boers were shelled out
of successive positions with considerable loss, and driven altogether
away from that part of the Magaliesberg. Shortly afterwards General
Clements was recalled to Pretoria, to take over the command of the 7th
Division, General Tucker having been appointed to the military command
of Bloemfontein in the place of the gallant Hunter, who, to the regret
of the whole army, was invalided home. General Cunningham henceforward
commanded the column which Clements had led back to the Magaliesberg.

Upon November 13th the first of a series of attacks was made upon the
posts along the Delagoa Railway line. These were the work of Viljoen's
commando, who, moving swiftly from the north, threw themselves upon the
small garrisons of Balmoral and of Wilge River, stations which are about
six miles apart. At the former was a detachment of the Buffs, and at
the latter of the Royal Fusiliers. The attack was well delivered, but
in each instance was beaten back with heavy loss to the assailants. A
picket of the Buffs was captured at the first rush, and the detachment
lost six killed and nine wounded. No impression was made upon the
position, however, and the double attack seems to have cost the Boers a
large number of casualties.

Another incident calling for some mention was the determined attack made
by the Boers upon the town of Vryheid, in the extreme south-east of the
Transvaal near the Natal border. Throughout November this district had
been much disturbed, and the small British garrison had evacuated the
town and taken up a position on the adjacent hills. Upon December 11th
the Boers attempted to carry the trenches. The garrison of the town
appears to have consisted of the 2nd Royal Lancaster regiment, some five
hundred strong, a party of the Lancashire Fusiliers, 150 strong, and
fifty men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, with a small body of mounted
infantry. They held a hill about half a mile north of the town, and
commanding it. The attack, which was a surprise in the middle of the
night, broke upon the pickets of the British, who held their own in a
way which may have been injudicious but was certainly heroic. Instead
of falling back when seriously attacked, the young officers in charge of
these outposts refused to move, and were speedily under such a fire that
it was impossible to reinforce them. There were four outposts, under
Woodgate, Theobald, Lippert, and Mangles. The attack at 2.15 on a
cold dark morning began at the post held by Woodgate, the Boers coming
hand-to-hand before they were detected. Woodgate, who was unarmed at the
instant, seized a hammer, and rushed at the nearest Boer, but was struck
by two bullets and killed. His post was dispersed or taken. Theobald and
Lippert, warned by the firing, held on behind their sangars, and were
ready for the storm which burst over them. Lippert was unhappily killed,
and his ten men all hit or taken, but young Theobald held his own
under a heavy fire for twelve hours. Mangles also, the gallant son of
a gallant father, held his post all day with the utmost tenacity. The
troops in the trenches behind were never seriously pressed, thanks
to the desperate resistance of the outposts, but Colonel Gawne of the
Lancasters was unfortunately killed. Towards evening the Boers abandoned
the attack, leaving fourteen of their number dead upon the ground, from
which it may be guessed that their total casualties were not less than
a hundred. The British losses were three officers and five men killed,
twenty-two men wounded, and thirty men with one officer missing--the
latter being the survivors of those outposts which were overwhelmed by
the Boer advance.

A few incidents stand out among the daily bulletins of snipings,
skirmishes, and endless marchings which make the dull chronicle of
these, the last months of the year 1900. These must be enumerated
without any attempt at connecting them. The first is the long-drawn-out
siege or investment of Schweizer-Renecke. This small village stands upon
the Harts River, on the western border of the Transvaal. It is not easy
to understand why the one party should desire to hold, or the other to
attack, a position so insignificant. From August 19th onwards it was
defended by a garrison of 250 men, under the very capable command of
Colonel Chamier, who handled a small business in a way which marks him
as a leader. The Boer force, which varied in numbers from five hundred
to a thousand, never ventured to push home an attack, for Chamier, fresh
from the experience of Kimberley, had taken such precautions that
his defences were formidable, if not impregnable. Late in September a
relieving force under Colonel Settle threw fresh supplies into the town,
but when he passed on upon his endless march the enemy closed in once
more, and the siege was renewed. It lasted for several months, until a
column withdrew the garrison and abandoned the position.

Of all the British detachments, the two which worked hardest and
marched furthest during this period of the war was the 21st Brigade
(Derbysbires, Sussex, and Camerons) under General Bruce Hamilton, and
the column under Settle, which operated down the western border of the
Orange River Colony, and worked round and round with such pertinacity
that it was familiarly known as Settle's Imperial Circus. Much hard and
disagreeable work, far more repugnant to the soldier than the actual
dangers of war, fell to the lot of Bruce Hamilton and his men. With
Kroonstad as their centre they were continually working through the
dangerous Lindley and Heilbron districts, returning to the railway line
only to start again immediately upon a fresh quest. It was work for
mounted police, not for infantry soldiers, but what they were given to
do they did to the best of their ability. Settle's men had a similar
thankless task. From the neighbourhood of Kimberley he marched in
November with his small column down the border of the Orange River
Colony, capturing supplies and bringing in refugees. He fought one brisk
action with Hertzog's commando at Kloof, and then, making his way across
the colony, struck the railway line again at Edenburg on December 7th,
with a train of prisoners and cattle.

Rundle also had put in much hard work in his efforts to control the
difficult district in the north-east of the Colony which had been
committed to his care. He traversed in November from north to south the
same country which he had already so painfully traversed from south to
north. With occasional small actions he moved about from Vrede to Reitz,
and so to Bethlehem and Harrismith. On him, as on all other commanders,
the vicious system of placing small garrisons in the various towns
imposed a constant responsibility lest they should be starved or
overwhelmed.

The year and the century ended by a small reverse to the British arms
in the Transvaal. This consisted in the capture of a post at Helvetia
defended by a detachment of the Liverpool Regiment and by a 4.7 gun.
Lydenburg, being seventy miles off the railway line, had a chain of
posts connecting it with the junction at Machadodorp. These posts were
seven in number, ten miles apart, each defended by 250 men. Of these
Helvetia was the second. The key of the position was a strongly
fortified hill about three-quarters of a mile from the headquarter
camp, and commanding it. This post was held by Captain Kirke with forty
garrison artillery to work the big gun, and seventy Liverpool infantry.
In spite of the barbed-wire entanglements, the Boers most gallantly
rushed this position, and their advance was so rapid, or the garrison so
slow, that the place was carried with hardly a shot fired. Major Cotton,
who commanded the main lines, found himself deprived in an instant of
nearly half his force and fiercely attacked by a victorious and exultant
enemy. His position was much too extended for the small force at his
disposal, and the line of trenches was pierced and enfiladed at
many points. It must be acknowledged that the defences were badly
devised--little barbed wire, frail walls, large loopholes, and the
outposts so near the trenches that the assailants could reach them as
quickly as the supports. With the dawn Cotton's position was serious,
if not desperate. He was not only surrounded, but was commanded from Gun
Hill. Perhaps it would have been wiser if, after being wounded, he had
handed over the command to Jones, his junior officer. A stricken man's
judgement can never be so sound as that of the hale. However that may
be, he came to the conclusion that the position was untenable, and that
it was best to prevent further loss of life. Fifty of the Liverpools
were killed and wounded, 200 taken. No ammunition of the gun was
captured, but the Boers were able to get safely away with this
humiliating evidence of their victory. One post, under Captain Wilkinson
with forty men, held out with success, and harassed the enemy in their
retreat. As at Dewetsdorp and at Nooitgedacht, the Boers were unable
to retain their prisoners, so that the substantial fruits of their
enterprise were small, but it forms none the less one more of those
incidents which may cause us to respect our enemy and to be critical
towards ourselves. [Footnote: Considering that Major Stapelton Cotton
was himself wounded in three places during the action (one of these
wounds being in the head), he has had hard measure in being deprived
of his commission by a court-martial which sat eight months after the
event. It is to be earnestly hoped that there may be some revision of
this severe sentence.]

In the last few months of the year some of those corps which had served
their time or which were needed elsewhere were allowed to leave the seat
of war. By the middle of November the three different corps of the City
Imperial Volunteers, the two Canadian contingents, Lumsden's Horse, the
Composite Regiment of Guards, six hundred Australians, A battery R.H.A.,
and the volunteer companies of the regular regiments, were all homeward
bound. This loss of several thousand veteran troops before the war was
over was to be deplored, and though unavoidable in the case of volunteer
contingents, it is difficult to explain where regular troops are
concerned. Early in the new year the Government was compelled to send
out strong reinforcements to take their place.

Early in December Lord Roberts also left the country, to take over the
duties of Commander-in-Chief. High as his reputation stood when, in
January, he landed at Cape Town, it is safe to say that it had been
immensely enhanced when, ten months later, he saw from the quarter-deck
of the 'Canada' the Table Mountain growing dimmer in the distance. He
found a series of disconnected operations, in which we were uniformly
worsted. He speedily converted them into a series of connected
operations in which we were almost uniformly successful. Proceeding
to the front at the beginning of February, within a fortnight he had
relieved Kimberley, within a month he had destroyed Cronje's force, and
within six weeks he was in Bloemfontein. Then, after a six weeks' halt
which could not possibly have been shortened, he made another of his
tiger leaps, and within a month had occupied Johannesburg and Pretoria.
From that moment the issue of the campaign was finally settled, and
though a third leap was needed, which carried him to Komatipoort,
and though brave and obstinate men might still struggle against
their destiny, he had done what was essential, and the rest, however
difficult, was only the detail of the campaign. A kindly gentleman, as
well as a great soldier, his nature revolted from all harshness, and a
worse man might have been a better leader in the last hopeless phases of
the war. He remembered, no doubt, how Grant had given Lee's army their
horses, but Lee at the time had been thoroughly beaten, and his men had
laid down their arms. A similar boon to the partially conquered Boers
led to very different results, and the prolongation of the war is
largely due to this act of clemency. At the same time political and
military considerations were opposed to each other upon the point, and
his moral position in the use of harsher measures is the stronger
since a policy of conciliation had been tried and failed. Lord Roberts
returned to London with the respect and love of his soldiers and of his
fellow-countrymen. A passage from his farewell address to his troops may
show the qualities which endeared him to them.

'The service which the South African Force has performed is, I
venture to think, unique in the annals of war, inasmuch as it has been
absolutely almost incessant for a whole year, in some cases for more
than a year. There has been no rest, no days off to recruit, no going
into winter quarters, as in other campaigns which have extended over
a long period. For months together, in fierce heat, in biting cold, in
pouring rain, you, my comrades, have marched and fought without halt,
and bivouacked without shelter from the elements. You frequently have
had to continue marching with your clothes in rags and your boots
without soles, time being of such consequence that it was impossible
for you to remain long enough in one place to refit. When not engaged
in actual battle you have been continually shot at from behind kopjes
by invisible enemies to whom every inch of the country was familiar,
and who, from the peculiar nature of the country, were able to inflict
severe punishment while perfectly safe themselves. You have forced your
way through dense jungles, over precipitous mountains, through and over
which with infinite manual labour you have had to drag heavy guns
and ox-wagons. You have covered with almost incredible speed enormous
distances, and that often on very short supplies of food. You have
endured the sufferings inevitable in war to sick and wounded men far
from the base, without a murmur and even with cheerfulness.'

The words reflect honour both upon the troops addressed and upon the man
who addressed them. From the middle of December 1900 Lord Kitchener took
over the control of the campaign.



CHAPTER 32. THE SECOND INVASION OF CAPE COLONY.

(DECEMBER 1900 TO APRIL 1901.)

During the whole war the task of the British had been made very much
more difficult by the openly expressed sympathy with the Boers from
the political association known as the Afrikander Bond, which either
inspired or represented the views which prevailed among the great
majority of the Dutch inhabitants of Cape Colony. How strong was this
rebel impulse may be gauged by the fact that in some of the border
districts no less than ninety per cent of the voters joined the Boer
invaders upon the occasion of their first entrance into the Colony. It
is not pretended that these men suffered from any political grievances
whatever, and their action is to be ascribed partly to a natural
sympathy with their northern kinsmen, and partly to racial ambition and
to personal dislike to their British neighbours. The liberal British
policy towards the natives had especially alienated the Dutch, and had
made as well-marked a line of cleavage in South Africa as the slave
question had done in the States of the Union.

With the turn of the war the discontent in Cape Colony became less
obtrusive, if not less acute, but in the later months of the year
1900 it increased to a degree which became dangerous. The fact of the
farm-burning in the conquered countries, and the fiction of outrages by
the British troops, raised a storm of indignation. The annexation of the
Republics, meaning the final disappearance of any Dutch flag from South
Africa, was a racial humiliation which was bitterly resented. The Dutch
papers became very violent, and the farmers much excited. The agitation
culminated in a conference at Worcester upon December 6th, at which some
thousands of delegates were present. It is suggestive of the Imperial
nature of the struggle that the assembly of Dutch Afrikanders was
carried out under the muzzles of Canadian artillery, and closely watched
by Australian cavalry. Had violent words transformed themselves into
deeds, all was ready for the crisis.

Fortunately the good sense of the assembly prevailed, and the agitation,
though bitter, remained within those wide limits which a British
constitution permits. Three resolutions were passed, one asking that
the war be ended, a second that the independence of the Republics be
restored, and a third protesting against the actions of Sir Alfred
Milner. A deputation which carried these to the Governor received a
courteous but an uncompromising reply. Sir Alfred Milner pointed out
that the Home Government, all the great Colonies, and half the Cape
were unanimous in their policy, and that it was folly to imagine that
it could be reversed on account of a local agitation. All were agreed in
the desire to end the war, but the last way of bringing this about was
by encouraging desperate men to go on fighting in a hopeless cause. Such
was the general nature of the Governor's reply, which was, as might be
expected, entirely endorsed by the British Government and people.

Had De Wet, in the operations which have already been described, evaded
Charles Knox and crossed the Orange River, his entrance into the Colony
would have been synchronous with the congress at Worcester, and the
situation would have become more acute. This peril was fortunately
averted. The agitation in the Colony suggested to the Boer leaders,
however, that here was an untouched recruiting ground, and that small
mobile invading parties might gather strength and become formidable.
It was obvious, also, that by enlarging the field of operations the
difficulties of the British Commander-in-chief would be very much
increased, and the pressure upon the Boer guerillas in the Republics
relaxed. Therefore, in spite of De Wet's failure to penetrate the
Colony, several smaller bands under less-known leaders were despatched
over the Orange River. With the help of the information and the supplies
furnished by the local farmers, these bands wandered for many months
over the great expanse of the Colony, taking refuge, when hard pressed,
among the mountain ranges. They moved swiftly about, obtaining remounts
from their friends, and avoiding everything in the nature of an action,
save when the odds were overwhelmingly in their favour. Numerous small
posts or patrols cut off, many skirmishes, and one or two railway
smashes were the fruits of this invasion, which lasted till the end of
the war, and kept the Colony in an extreme state of unrest during that
period. A short account must be given here of the movement and exploits
of these hostile bands, avoiding, as far as possible, that catalogue of
obscure 'fonteins' and 'kops' which mark their progress.

The invasion was conducted by two main bodies, which shed off numerous
small raiding parties. Of these two, one operated on the western side
of the Colony, reaching the sea-coast in the Clanwilliam district, and
attaining a point which is less than a hundred miles from Cape Town.
The other penetrated even more deeply down the centre of the Colony,
reaching almost to the sea in the Mossel Bay direction. Yet the
incursion, although so far-reaching, had small effect, since the
invaders held nothing save the ground on which they stood, and won their
way, not by victory, but by the avoidance of danger. Some recruits were
won to their cause, but they do not seem at that time to have been more
than a few hundreds in number, and to have been drawn for the most part
from the classes of the community which had least to lose and least to
offer.

The Western Boers were commanded by Judge Hertzog of the Free State,
having with him Brand, the son of the former president, and about twelve
hundred well-mounted men. Crossing the Orange River at Sand Drift, north
of Colesberg, upon December 16th, they paused at Kameelfontein to
gather up a small post of thirty yeomen and guardsmen under Lieutenant
Fletcher, the wellknown oar. Meeting with a stout resistance, and
learning that British forces were already converging upon them, they
abandoned the attack, and turning away from Colesberg they headed west,
cutting the railway line twenty miles to the north of De Aar. On the
22nd they occupied Britstown, which is eighty miles inside the border,
and on the same day they captured a small body of yeomanry who had been
following them. These prisoners were released again some days later.
Taking a sweep round towards Prieska and Strydenburg, they pushed south
again. At the end of the year Hertzog's column was 150 miles deep in the
Colony, sweeping through the barren and thinly-inhabited western lands,
heading apparently for Fraserburg and Beaufort West.

The second column was commanded by Kritzinger, a burgher of Zastron, in
the Orange River Colony. His force was about 800 strong. Crossing
the border at Rhenoster Hoek upon December 16th, they pushed for
Burghersdorp, but were headed off by a British column. Passing through
Venterstad, they made for Steynsberg, fighting two indecisive skirmishes
with small British forces. The end of the year saw them crossing the
rail road at Sherburne, north of Rosmead Junction, where they captured a
train as they passed, containing some Colonial troops. At this time they
were a hundred miles inside the Colony, and nearly three hundred from
Hertzog's western column.

In the meantime Lord Kitchener, who had descended for a few days to De
Aar, had shown great energy in organising small mobile columns which
should follow and, if possible, destroy the invaders. Martial law was
proclaimed in the parts of the Colony affected, and as the invaders
came further south the utmost enthusiasm was shown by the loyalists,
who formed themselves everywhere into town guards. The existing Colonial
regiments, such as Brabant's, the Imperial and South African Light
Horse--Thorneycroft's, Rimington's, and the others--had already been
brought up to strength again, and now two new regiments were added,
Kitchener's Bodyguard and Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, the latter being
raised by Johann Colenbrander, who had made a name for himself in the
Rhodesian wars. At this period of the war between twenty and thirty
thousand Cape colonists were under arms. Many of these were untrained
levies, but they possessed the martial spirit of the race, and they set
free more seasoned troops for other duties.

It will be most convenient and least obscure to follow the movements of
the western force (Hertzog's), and afterwards to consider those of the
eastern (Kritzinger's). The opening of the year saw the mobile column of
Free Staters 150 miles over the border, pushing swiftly south over the
barren surface of the Karoo. It is a country of scattered farms and
scanty population; desolate plains curving upwards until they rise into
still more desolate mountain ranges. Moving in a very loose formation
over a wide front, the Boers swept southwards. On or about January 4th
they took possession of the small town of Calvinia, which remained their
headquarters for more than a month. From this point their roving bands
made their way as far as the seacoast in the Clanwilliam direction, for
they expected at Lambert's Bay to meet with a vessel with mercenaries
and guns from Europe. They pushed their outposts also as far as
Sutherland and Beaufort West in the south. On January 15th strange
horsemen were seen hovering about the line at Touws River, and the
citizens of Cape Town learned with amazement that the war had been
carried to within a hundred miles of their own doors.

Whilst the Boers were making this daring raid a force consisting of
several mobile columns was being organised by General Settle to arrest
and finally to repel the western invasion. The larger body was under the
command of Colonel De Lisle, an officer who brought to the operations
of war the same energy and thoroughness with which he had made the polo
team of an infantry regiment the champions of the whole British Army.
His troops consisted of the 6th Mounted Infantry, the New South Wales
Mounted Infantry, the Irish Yeomanry, a section of R battery R.H.A., and
a pom-pom. With this small but mobile and hardy force he threw himself
in front of Hertzog's line of advance. On January 13th he occupied
Piquetburg, eighty miles south of the Boer headquarters. On the 23rd he
was at Clanwilliam, fifty miles south-west of them. To his right were
three other small British columns under Bethune, Thorneycroft, and
Henniker, the latter resting upon the railway at Matjesfontein, and the
whole line extending over 120 miles--barring the southern path to the
invaders.

Though Hertzog at Calvinia and De Lisle at Clanwilliam were only fifty
miles apart, the intervening country is among the most broken and
mountainous in South Africa. Between the two points, and nearer to De
Lisle than to Hertzog, flows the Doorn River. The Boers advancing from
Calvinia came into touch with the British scouts at this point, and
drove them in upon January 21st. On the 28th De Lisle, having been
reinforced by Bethune's column, was able at last to take the initiative.
Bethune's force consisted mainly of Colonials, and included Kitchener's
Fighting Scouts, the Cape Mounted Police, Cape Mounted Rifles, Brabant's
Horse, and the Diamond Field Horse. At the end of January the
united forces of Bethune and of De Lisle advanced upon Calvinia. The
difficulties lay rather in the impassable country than in the resistance
of an enemy who was determined to refuse battle. On February 6th, after
a fine march, De Lisle and his men took possession of Calvinia, which
had been abandoned by the Boers. It is painful to add that during the
month that they had held the town they appear to have behaved with great
harshness, especially to the kaffirs. The flogging and shooting of a
coloured man named Esan forms one more incident in the dark story of the
Boer and his relations to the native.

The British were now sweeping north on a very extended front.
Colenbrander had occupied Van Rhyns Dorp, to the east of Calvinia, while
Bethune's force was operating to the west of it. De Lisle hardly halted
at Calvinia, but pushed onwards to Williston, covering seventy-two
miles of broken country in forty-eight hours, one of the most amazing
performances of the war. Quick as he was, the Boers were quicker still,
and during his northward march he does not appear to have actually come
into contact with them. Their line of retreat lay through Carnarvon, and
upon February 22nd they crossed the railway line to the north of De Aar,
and joined upon February 26th the new invading force under De Wet, who
had now crossed the Orange River. De Lisle, who had passed over five
hundred miles of barren country since he advanced from Piquetburg, made
for the railway at Victoria West, and was despatched from that place on
February 22nd to the scene of action in the north. From all parts Boer
and Briton were concentrating in their effort to aid or to repel the
inroad of the famous guerilla.

Before describing this attempt it would be well to trace the progress
of the eastern invasion (Kritzinger's), a movement which may be treated
rapidly, since it led to no particular military result at that time,
though it lasted long after Hertzog's force had been finally dissipated.
Several small columns, those of Williams, Byng, Grenfell, and Lowe,
all under the direction of Haig, were organised to drive back these
commandos; but so nimble were the invaders, so vast the distances and
so broken the country, that it was seldom that the forces came into
contact. The operations were conducted over a portion of the Colony
which is strongly Dutch in sympathy, and the enemy, though they do
not appear to have obtained any large number of recruits, were able to
gather stores, horses, and information wherever they went.

When last mentioned Kritzinger's men had crossed the railway north of
Rosmead on December 30th, and held up a train containing some Colonial
troops. From then onwards a part of them remained in the Middelburg and
Graaf-Reinet districts, while part moved towards the south. On January
11th there was a sharp skirmish near Murraysburg, in which Byng's column
was engaged, at the cost of twenty casualties, all of Brabant's or the
South African Light Horse. On the 16th a very rapid movement towards the
south began. On that date Boers appeared at Aberdeen, and on the 18th at
Willowmore, having covered seventy miles in two days. Their long, thin
line was shredded out over 150 miles, and from Maraisburg, in the north,
to Uniondale, which is only thirty miles from the coast, there
was rumour of their presence. In this wild district and in that of
Oudtshoorn the Boer vanguard flitted in and out of the hills, Haig's
column striving hard to bring them to an action. So well-informed
were the invaders that they were always able to avoid the British
concentrations, while if a British outpost or patrol was left exposed
it was fortunate if it escaped disaster. On February 6th a small body
of twenty-five of the 7th King's Dragoon Guards and of the West
Australians, under Captain Oliver, were overwhelmed at Klipplaat, after
a very fine defence, in which they held their own against 200 Boers for
eight hours, and lost nearly fifty per cent of their number. On the 12th
a patrol of yeomanry was surprised and taken near Willowmore.

The coming of De Wet had evidently been the signal for all the Boer
raiders to concentrate, for in the second week of February Kritzinger
also began to fall back, as Hertzog had done in the west, followed
closely by the British columns. He did not, however, actually join De
Wet, and his evacuation of the country was never complete, as was the
case with Hertzog's force. On the 19th Kritzinger was at Bethesda, with
Gorringe and Lowe at his heels. On the 23rd an important railway bridge
at Fish River, north of Cradock, was attacked, but the attempt was
foiled by the resistance of a handful of Cape Police and Lancasters. On
March 6th a party of Boers occupied the village of Pearston, capturing
a few rifles and some ammunition. On the same date there was a skirmish
between Colonel Parsons's column and a party of the enemy to the north
of Aberdeen. The main body of the invading force appears to have been
lurking in this neighbourhood, as they were able upon April 7th to
cut off a strong British patrol, consisting of a hundred Lancers and
Yeomanry, seventy-five of whom remained as temporary prisoners in
the hands of the enemy. With this success we may for the time leave
Kritzinger and his lieutenant, Scheepers, who commanded that portion of
his force which had penetrated to the south of the Colony.

The two invasions which have been here described, that of Hertzog in the
west and of Kritzinger in the midlands, would appear in themselves to
be unimportant military operations, since they were carried out by
small bodies of men whose policy was rather to avoid than to overcome
resistance. Their importance, however, is due to the fact that they were
really the forerunners of a more important incursion upon the part of De
Wet. The object of these two bands of raiders was to spy out the land,
so that on the arrival of the main body all might be ready for that
general rising of their kinsmen in the Colony which was the last chance,
not of winning, but of prolonging the war. It must be confessed that,
however much their reason might approve of the Government under which
they lived, the sentiment of the Cape Dutch had been cruelly, though
unavoidably, hurt in the course of the war. The appearance of so popular
a leader as De Wet with a few thousand veterans in the very heart of
their country might have stretched their patience to the breaking-point.
Inflamed, as they were, by that racial hatred which had always
smouldered, and had now been fanned into a blaze by the speeches of
their leaders and by the fictions of their newspapers, they were ripe
for mischief, while they had before their eyes an object-lesson of the
impotence of our military system in those small bands who had kept the
country in a ferment for so long. All was propitious, therefore, for the
attempt which Steyn and De Wet were about to make to carry the war into
the enemy's country.

We last saw De Wet when, after a long chase, he had been headed back
from the Orange River, and, winning clear from Knox's pursuit, had
in the third week of December passed successfully through the British
cordon between Thabanchu and Ladybrand. Thence he made his way to
Senekal, and proceeded, in spite of the shaking which he had had, to
recruit and recuperate in the amazing way which a Boer army has. There
is no force so easy to drive and so difficult to destroy. The British
columns still kept in touch with De Wet, but found it impossible
to bring him to an action in the difficult district to which he had
withdrawn. His force had split up into numerous smaller bodies, capable
of reuniting at a signal from their leader. These scattered bodies,
mobile as ever, vanished if seriously attacked, while keenly on the
alert to pounce upon any British force which might be overpowered before
assistance could arrive. Such an opportunity came to the commando led
by Philip Botha, and the result was another petty reverse to the British
arms.

Upon January 3rd Colonel White's small column was pushing north, in
co-operation with those of Knox, Pilcher, and the others. Upon that date
it had reached a point just north of Lindley, a district which has never
been a fortunate one for the invaders. A patrol of Kitchener' s newly
raised bodyguard, under Colonel Laing, 120 strong, was sent forward to
reconnoitre upon the road from Lindley to Reitz.

The scouting appears to have been negligently done, there being only
two men out upon each flank. The little force walked into one of those
horse-shoe positions which the Boers love, and learned by a sudden
volley from a kraal upon their right that the enemy was present in
strength. On attempting to withdraw it was instantly evident that the
Boers were on all sides and in the rear with a force which numbered at
least five to one. The camp of the main column was only four miles away,
however, and the bodyguard, having sent messages of their precarious
position, did all they could to make a defence until help could reach
them. Colonel Laing had fallen, shot through the heart, but found a
gallant successor in young Nairne, the adjutant. Part of the force had
thrown themselves, under Nairne and Milne, into a donga, which gave some
shelter from the sleet of bullets. The others, under Captain Butters,
held on to a ruined kraal. The Boers pushed the attack very rapidly,
however, and were soon able with their superior numbers to send a raking
fire down the donga, which made it a perfect death-trap. Still hoping
that the laggard reinforcements would come up, the survivors held
desperately on; but both in the kraal and in the donga their numbers
were from minute to minute diminishing. There was no formal surrender
and no white flag, for, when fifty per cent of the British were down,
the Boers closed in swiftly and rushed the position. Philip Botha, the
brother of the commandant, who led the Boers, behaved with courtesy and
humanity to the survivors; but many of the wounds were inflicted with
those horrible explosive and expansive missiles, the use of which among
civilised combatants should now and always be a capital offence. To
disable one's adversary is a painful necessity of warfare, but nothing
can excuse the wilful mutilation and torture which is inflicted by these
brutal devices.

'How many of you are there?' asked Botha. 'A hundred,' said an officer.
'It is not true. There are one hundred and twenty. I counted you as you
came along.' The answer of the Boer leader shows how carefully the small
force had been nursed until it was in an impossible position. The margin
was a narrow one, however, for within fifteen minutes of the disaster
White's guns were at work. There may be some question as to whether the
rescuing force could have come sooner, but there can be none as to
the resistance of the bodyguard. They held out to the last cartridge.
Colonel Laing and three officers with sixteen men were killed, four
officers and twenty-two men were wounded. The high proportion of fatal
casualties can only be explained by the deadly character of the Boer
bullets. Hardly a single horse of the bodyguard was left unwounded, and
the profit to the victors, since they were unable to carry away their
prisoners, lay entirely in the captured rifles. It is worthy of record
that the British wounded were despatched to Heilbron without guard
through the Boer forces. That they arrived there unmolested is due
to the forbearance of the enemy and to the tact and energy of
Surgeon-Captain Porter, who commanded the convoy.

Encouraged by this small success, and stimulated by the news that
Hertzog and Kritzinger had succeeded in penetrating the Colony without
disaster, De Wet now prepared to follow them. British scouts to the
north of Kroonstad reported horsemen riding south and east, sometimes
alone, sometimes in small parties. They were recruits going to swell
the forces of De Wet. On January 23rd five hundred men crossed the line,
journeying in the same direction. Before the end of the month, having
gathered together about 2500 men with fresh horses at the Doornberg,
twenty miles north of Winburg, the Boer leader was ready for one of his
lightning treks once more. On January 28th he broke south through the
British net, which appears to have had more meshes than cord. Passing
the Bloemfontein-Ladybrand line at Israel Poort he swept southwards,
with British columns still wearily trailing behind him, like honest
bulldogs panting after a greyhound.

Before following him upon this new venture it is necessary to say a
few words about that peace movement in the Boer States to which some
allusion has already been made. On December 20th Lord Kitchener had
issued a proclamation which was intended to have the effect of affording
protection to those burghers who desired to cease fighting, but who were
unable to do so without incurring the enmity of their irreconcilable
brethren. 'It is hereby notified,' said the document, 'to all burghers
that if after this date they voluntarily surrender they will be allowed
to live with their families in Government laagers until such time as
the guerilla warfare now being carried on will admit of their returning
safely to their homes. All stock and property brought in at the time
of the surrender of such burghers will be respected and paid for if
requisitioned.' This wise and liberal offer was sedulously concealed
from their men by the leaders of the fighting commandos, but was largely
taken advantage of by those Boers to whom it was conveyed. Boer refugee
camps were formed at Pretoria, Johannesburg, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein,
Warrenton; and other points, to which by degrees the whole civil
population came to be transferred. It was the reconcentrado system of
Cuba over again, with the essential difference that the guests of
the British Government were well fed and well treated during their
detention. Within a few months the camps had 50,000 inmates.

It was natural that some of these people, having experienced the
amenity of British rule, and being convinced of the hopelessness of the
struggle, should desire to convey their feelings to their friends and
relations in the field. Both in the Transvaal and in the Orange River
Colony Peace Committees were formed, which endeavoured to persuade their
countrymen to bow to the inevitable. A remarkable letter was published
from Piet de Wet, a man who had fought bravely for the Boer cause, to
his brother, the famous general. 'Which is better for the Republics,'
he asked, 'to continue the struggle and run the risk of total ruin as
a nation, or to submit? Could we for a moment think of taking back
the country if it were offered to us, with thousands of people to be
supported by a Government which has not a farthing?... Put passionate
feeling aside for a moment and use common-sense, and you will then agree
with me that the best thing for the people and the country is to
give in, to be loyal to the new government, and to get responsible
government...Should the war continue a few months longer the nation will
become so poor that they will be the working class in the country, and
disappear as a nation in the future... The British are convinced that
they have conquered the land and its people, and consider the matter
ended, and they only try to treat magnanimously those who are continuing
the struggle in order to prevent unnecessary bloodshed.'

Such were the sentiments of those of the burghers who were in favour of
peace. Their eyes had been opened and their bitterness was transferred
from the British Government to those individual Britons who, partly from
idealism and partly from party passion, had encouraged them to their
undoing. But their attempt to convey their feelings to their countrymen
in the field ended in tragedy. Two of their number, Morgendaal and
Wessels, who had journeyed to De Wet's camp, were condemned to death by
order of that leader. In the case of Morgendaal the execution actually
took place, and seems to have been attended by brutal circumstances, the
man having been thrashed with a sjambok before being put to death.
The circumstances are still surrounded by such obscurity that it is
impossible to say whether the message of the peace envoys was to the
General himself or to the men under his command. In the former case the
man was murdered. In the latter the Boer leader was within his rights,
though the rights may have been harshly construed and brutally enforced.

On January 29th, in the act of breaking south, De Wet's force, or a
portion of it, had a sharp brush with a small British column (Crewe's)
at Tabaksberg, which lies about forty miles north-east of Bloemfontein;
This small force, seven hundred strong, found itself suddenly in the
presence of a very superior body of the enemy, and had some difficulty
in extricating itself. A pom-pom was lost in this affair. Crewe fell
back upon Knox, and the combined columns made for Bloemfontein, whence
they could use the rails for their transport. De Wet meanwhile moved
south as far as Smithfield, and then, detaching several small bodies to
divert the attention of the British, he struck due west, and crossed the
track between Springfontein and Jagersfontein road, capturing the usual
supply train as he passed. On February 9th he had reached Phillipolis,
well ahead of the British pursuit, and spent a day or two in making his
final arrangements before carrying the war over the border. His force
consisted at this time of nearly 8000 men, with two 15-pounders, one
pom-pom, and one maxim. The garrisons of all the towns in the south-west
of the Orange River Colony had been removed in accordance with the
policy of concentration, so De Wet found himself for the moment in a
friendly country.

The British, realising how serious a situation might arise should De Wet
succeed in penetrating the Colony and in joining Hertzog and Kritzinger,
made every effort both to head him off and to bar his return. General
Lyttelton at Naauwpoort directed the operations, and the possession of
the railway line enabled him to concentrate his columns rapidly at the
point of danger. On February 11th De Wet forded the Orange River at Zand
Drift, and found himself once more upon British territory. Lyttelton's
plan of campaign appears to have been to allow De Wet to come some
distance south, and then to hold him in front by De Lisle's force,
while a number of small mobile columns under Plumer, Crabbe, Henniker,
Bethune, Haig, and Thorneycroft should shepherd him behind. On crossing,
De Wet at once moved westwards, where, upon February 12th, Plumer's
column, consisting of the Queensland Mounted Infantry, the Imperial
Bushmen, and part of the King's Dragoon Guards, came into touch with his
rearguard. All day upon the 13th and 14th, amid terrific rain, Plumer's
hardy troopers followed close upon the enemy, gleaning a few ammunition
wagons, a maxim, and some prisoners. The invaders crossed the railway
line near Houtnek, to the north of De Aar, in the early hours of the
15th, moving upon a front of six or eight miles. Two armoured trains
from the north and the south closed in upon him as he passed, Plumer
still thundered in his rear, and a small column under Crabbe came
pressing from the south. This sturdy Colonel of Grenadiers had already
been wounded four times in the war, so that he might be excused if he
felt some personal as well as patriotic reasons for pushing a relentless
pursuit. On crossing the railroad De Wet turned furiously upon his
pursuers, and, taking an excellent position upon a line of kopjes rising
out of the huge expanse of the Karoo, he fought a stubborn rearguard
action in order to give time for his convoy to get ahead. He was hustled
off the hills, however, the Australian Bushmen with great dash carrying
the central kopje, and the guns driving the invaders to the westward.
Leaving all his wagons and his reserve ammunition behind him, the
guerilla chief struck north-west, moving with great swiftness, but
never succeeding in shaking off Plumer's pursuit. The weather continued,
however, to be atrocious, rain and hail falling with such violence
that the horses could hardly be induced to face it. For a week the two
sodden, sleepless, mud-splashed little armies swept onwards over the
Karoo. De Wet passed northwards through Strydenburg, past Hopetown, and
so to the Orange River, which was found to be too swollen with the
rains to permit of his crossing. Here upon the 23rd, after a march of
forty-five miles on end, Plumer ran into him once more, and captured
with very little fighting a fifteen-pounder, a pom-pom, and close on
to a hundred prisoners. Slipping away to the east, De Wet upon February
24th crossed the railroad again between Krankuil and Orange River
Station, with Thorneycroft's column hard upon his heels. The Boer leader
was now more anxious to escape from the Colony than ever he had been to
enter it, and he rushed distractedly from point to point, endeavouring
to find a ford over the great turbid river which cut him off from his
own country. Here he was joined by Hertzog's commando with a number of
invaluable spare horses. It is said also that he had been able to
get remounts in the Hopetown district, which had not been cleared--an
omission for which, it is to be hoped, someone has been held
responsible. The Boer ponies, used to the succulent grasses of the veld,
could make nothing of the rank Karoo, and had so fallen away that an
enormous advantage should have rested with the pursuers had ill luck
and bad management not combined to enable the invaders to renew their
mobility at the very moment when Plumer's horses were dropping dead
under their riders.

The Boer force was now so scattered that, in spite of the advent of
Hertzog, De Wet had fewer men with him than when he entered the Colony.
Several hundreds had been taken prisoners, many had deserted, and a
few had been killed. It was hoped now that the whole force might be
captured, and Thorneycroft's, Crabbe's, Henniker's, and other columns
were closing swiftly in upon him, while the swollen river still barred
his retreat. There was a sudden drop in the flood, however; one ford
became passable, and over it, upon the last day of February, De Wet and
his bedraggled, dispirited commando escaped to their own country. There
was still a sting in his tail, however; for upon that very day a portion
of his force succeeded in capturing sixty and killing or wounding twenty
of Colenbrander's new regiment, Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. On the
other hand, De Wet was finally relieved upon the same day of all care
upon the score of his guns, as the last of them was most gallantly
captured by Captain Dallimore and fifteen Victorians, who at the same
time brought in thirty-three Boer prisoners. The net result of De
Wet's invasion was that he gained nothing, and that he lost about four
thousand horses, all his guns, all his convoy, and some three hundred of
his men.

Once safely in his own country again, the guerilla chief pursued his way
northwards with his usual celerity and success. The moment that it
was certain that De Wet had escaped, the indefatigable Plumer, wiry,
tenacious man, had been sent off by train to Springfontein, while
Bethune's column followed direct. This latter force crossed the Orange
River bridge and marched upon Luckhoff and Fauresmith. At the latter
town they overtook Plumer, who was again hard upon the heels of De Wet.
Together they ran him across the Riet River and north to Petrusburg,
until they gave it up as hopeless upon finding that, with only fifty
followers, he had crossed the Modder River at Abram's Kraal. There they
abandoned the chase and fell back upon Bloemfontein to refit and prepare
for a fresh effort to run down their elusive enemy.

While Plumer and Bethune were following upon the track of De Wet until
he left them behind at the Modder, Lyttelton was using the numerous
columns which were ready to his hand in effecting a drive up the
south-eastern section of the Orange River Colony. It was disheartening
to remember that all this large stretch of country had from April to
November been as peaceful and almost as prosperous as Kent or Yorkshire.
Now the intrusion of the guerilla bands, and the pressure put by them
upon the farmers, had raised the whole country once again, and the work
of pacification had to be set about once more, with harsher measures
than before. A continuous barrier of barbed-wire fencing had been
erected from Bloemfontein to the Basuto border, a distance of eighty
miles, and this was now strongly held by British posts. From the south
Bruce Hamilton, Hickman, Thorneycroft, and Haig swept upwards, stripping
the country as they went in the same way that French had done in the
Eastern Transvaal, while Pilcher's column waited to the north of the
barbed-wire barrier. It was known that Fourie, with a considerable
commando, was lurking in this district, but he and his men slipped at
night between the British columns and escaped. Pilcher, Bethune, and
Byng were able, however, to send in 200 prisoners and very great
numbers of cattle. On April 10th Monro, with Bethune's Mounted Infantry,
captured eighty fighting Boers near Dewetsdorp, and sixty more were
taken by a night attack at Boschberg. There is no striking victory to
record in these operations, but they were an important part of that
process of attrition which was wearing the Boers out and helping to
bring the war to an end. Terrible it is to see that barren countryside,
and to think of the depths of misery to which the once flourishing and
happy Orange Free State had fallen, through joining in a quarrel with a
nation which bore it nothing but sincere friendship and goodwill. With
nothing to gain and everything to lose, the part played by the Orange
Free State in this South African drama is one of the most inconceivable
things in history. Never has a nation so deliberately and so causelessly
committed suicide.



CHAPTER