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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 22
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    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 msny
    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 Colesherg,
    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
    Philippolis, 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 bad 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 Gape 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 Labuschague'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
    northeast, 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, hut 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
    dornination 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 Bloenifontein, 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 Prsidents 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 rebeflion, 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' 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 Bepublic or of the Orange Free State.'

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