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    Chapter 33

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    Chapter 34
    Previous Chapter
    THE NORTHERN OPERATIONS FROM JANUARY TO APRIL, 1901

    Three consecutive chapters have now given some account of the campaign
    of De Wet, of the operations in the Transvaal up to the end of the
    year 1900, and of the invasion of Cape Colony up to April 1901. The
    present chapter will deal with the events in the Transvaal from the
    beginning of the new century. The military operations in that
    country, though extending over a very large area, may be roughly
    divided into two categories: the attacks by the Boers upon British
    posts, and the aggressive sweeping movements of British columns.
    Under the first heading come the attacks on Belfast, on Zuurfontein,
    on Kaalfontein, on Zeerust, on Modderfontein, and on Lichtenburg,
    besides many minor affairs. The latter comprises the operations of
    Babington and of Cunningham to the west and south-west of Pretoria,
    those of Methuen still further to the south-west, and the large
    movement of French in the south-east. In no direction did the British
    forces in the field meet with much active resistance. So long as they
    moved the gnats did not settle; it was only when quiet that they
    buzzed about and occasionally stung.

    The early days of January 1901 were not fortunate for the British
    arms, as the check in which Kitchener's Bodyguard was so roughly
    handled, near Lindley, was closely followed by a brisk action at
    Naauwpoort or Zandfontein, near the Magaliesberg, in which De la Rey
    left his mark upon the Imperial Light Horse. The Boer commandos,
    having been driven into the mountains by French and Clements in the
    latter part of December, were still on the look-out to strike a blow
    at any British force which might expose itself. Several mounted
    columns had been formed to scour the country, one under Kekewich, one
    under Gordon, and one under Babington. The two latter, meeting in a
    mist upon the morning of January 5th, actually turned their rifles
    upon each other, but fortunately without any casualties resulting. A
    more deadly rencontre was, however, awaiting them.

    A force of Boers were observed, as the mist cleared, making for a
    ridge which would command the road along which the convoy and guns
    were moving. Two squadrons (B and C) of the Light Horse were
    instantly detached to seize the point. They do not appear to have
    realised that they were in the immediate presence of the enemy, and
    they imagined that the ground over which they were passing had been
    already reconnoitred by a troop of the 14th Hussars. It is true that
    four scouts were thrown forward, but as both squadrons were cantering
    there was no time for these to get ahead. Presently C squadron, which
    was behind, was ordered to close up upon the left of B squadron, and
    the 150 horsemen in one long line swept over a low grassy ridge. Some
    hundreds of De la Rey's men were lying in the long grass upon the
    further side, and their first volley, fired at a fifty-yard range,
    emptied a score of saddles. It would have been wiser, if less
    gallant, to retire at once in the presence of a numerous and invisible
    enemy, but the survivors were ordered to dismount and return the fire.
    This was done, but the hail of bullets was terrific and the casualties
    were numerous. Captain Norman, of C squadron, then retired his men,
    who withdrew in good order. B squadron having lost Yockney, its brave
    leader, heard no order, so they held their ground until few of them
    had escaped the driving sleet of lead. Many of the men were struck
    three and four times. There was no surrender, and the extermination
    of B company added another laurel, even at a moment of defeat, to the
    regiment whose reputation was so grimly upheld. The Boer victors
    walked in among the litter of stricken men and horses. 'Practically
    all of them were dressed in khaki and had the water-bottles and
    haversacks of our soldiers. One of them snatched a bayonet from a
    dead man, and was about to despatch one of our wounded when he was
    stopped in the nick of time by a man in a black suit, who, I
    afterwards heard, was De la Rey himself... The feature of the action
    was the incomparable heroism of our dear old Colonel Wools-Sampson.'
    So wrote a survivor of B company, himself shot through the body. It
    was four hours before a fresh British advance reoccupied the ridge,
    and by that time the Boers had disappeared. Some seventy killed and
    wounded, many of them terribly mutilated, were found on the scene of
    the disaster. It is certainly a singular coincidence that at distant
    points of the seat of war two of the crack irregular corps should have
    suffered so severely within three days of each other. In each case,
    however, their prestige was enhanced rather than lowered by the
    result. These incidents tend, however, to shake the belief that
    scouting is better performed in the Colonial than in the regular
    forces.

    Of the Boer attacks upon British posts to which allusion has been
    made, that upon Belfast, in the early morning of January 7th, appears
    to have been very gallantly and even desperately pushed. On the same
    date a number of smaller attacks, which may have been meant simply as
    diversions, were made upon Wonderfontein, Nooitgedacht, Wildfontein,
    Pan, Dalmanutha, and Machadodorp. These seven separate attacks,
    occurring simultaneously over sixty miles, show that the Boer forces
    were still organised and under one effective control. The general
    object of the operations was undoubtedly to cut Lord Roberts's
    communications upon that side and to destroy a considerable section of
    the railway.

    The town of Belfast was strongly held by Smith-Dorrien, with 1,750 men,
    of which 1,300 were infantry belonging to the Royal Irish, the
    Shropshires, and the Gordons. The perimeter of defence, however, was
    fifteen miles, and each little fort too far from its neighbour for
    mutual support, though connected with headquarters by telephone. It
    is probable that the leaders and burghers engaged in this very gallant
    attack were in part the same as those concerned in the successful
    attempt at Helvetia upon December 29th, for the assault was delivered
    in the same way, at the same hour, and apparently with the same
    primary object. This was to gain possession of the big 5-inch gun,
    which is as helpless by night as it is formidable by day. At Helvetia
    they attained their object and even succeeded not merely in
    destroying, but in removing their gigantic trophy. At Belfast they
    would have performed the same feat had it not been for the foresight
    of General Smith-Dorrien, who had the heavy gun trundled back into the
    town every night.

    The attack broke first upon Monument Hill, a post held by Captain
    Fosbery with eighty-three Royal Irish. Chance or treason guided the
    Boers to the weak point of the wire entanglement and they surged into
    the fort, where the garrison fought desperately to hold its own. There
    was thick mist and driving rain; and the rush of vague and shadowy
    figures amid the gloom was the first warning of the onslaught. The
    Irishmen were overborne by a swarm of assailants, but they nobly
    upheld their traditional reputation. Fosbery met his death like a
    gallant gentleman, but not more heroically than Barry, the humble
    private, who, surrounded by Boers, thought neither of himself nor of
    them, but smashed at the maxim gun with a pickaxe until he fell
    riddled with bullets. Half the garrison were on the ground before the
    post was carried.

    A second post upon the other side of the town was defended by
    Lieutenant Marshall with twenty men, mostly Shropshires. For an hour
    they held out until Marshall and nine out of his twelve Shropshires
    had been hit. Then this post also was carried.

    The Gordon Highlanders held two posts to the southeast and to the
    south-west of the town, and these also were vigorously attacked.
    Here, however, the advance spent itself without result. In vain the
    Ermelo and Carolina commandos stormed up to the Gordon pickets. They
    were blown back by the steady fire of the infantry. One small post
    manned by twelve Highlanders was taken, but the rest defied all
    attack. Seeing therefore that his attempt at a COUP-DE-MAIN was
    a failure, Viljoen withdrew his men before daybreak. The Boer
    casualties have not been ascertained, but twenty-four of their dead
    were actually picked up within the British lines. The British lost
    sixty killed and wounded, while about as many were taken
    prisoners. Altogether the action was a brisk and a gallant one, of
    which neither side has cause to be ashamed. The simultaneous attacks
    upon six other stations were none of them pressed home, and were
    demonstrations rather than assaults.

    The attempts upon Kaalfontein and on Zuurfontein were both made in the
    early morning of January 12th. These two places are small stations
    upon the line between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is clear that the
    Boers were very certain of their own superior mobility before they
    ventured to intrude into the very heart of the British position, and
    the result showed that they were right in supposing that even if their
    attempt were repulsed, they would still be able to make good their
    escape. Better horsed, better riders, with better intelligence and a
    better knowledge of the country, their ventures were always attended
    by a limited liability.

    The attacks seem to have been delivered by a strong commando, said to
    have been under the command of Beyers, upon its way to join the Boer
    concentration in the Eastern Transvaal. They had not the
    satisfaction, however, of carrying the garrison of a British post with
    them, for at each point they were met by a stout resistance and beaten
    off. Kaalfontein was garrisoned by 120 men of Cheshire under
    Williams-Freeman, Zuurfontein by as many Norfolks and a small body of
    Lincolns under Cordeaux and Atkinson. For six hours the pressure was
    considerable, the assailants of Kaalfontein keeping up a brisk shell
    and rifle fire, while those of Zuurfontein were without artillery. At
    the end of that time two armoured trains came up with reinforcements
    and the enemy continued his trek to the eastward. Knox 's 2nd cavalry
    brigade followed them up, but without any very marked result.

    Zeerust and Lichtenburg had each been garrisoned and provisioned by
    Lord Methuen before he carried his column away to the south-west,
    where much rough and useful work awaited him. The two towns were at
    once invested by the enemy, who made an attack upon each of them.
    That upon Zeerust, on January 7th, was a small matter and easily
    repulsed. A more formidable one was made on Lichtenburg, on March
    3rd. The attack was delivered by De la Rey, Smuts, and Celliers, with
    1,500 men, who galloped up to the pickets in the early morning. The
    defenders were 600 in number, consisting of Paget's Horse and three
    companies of the 1st battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, a
    veteran regiment with a long record of foreign service, not to be
    confused with that 2nd battalion which was so severely handled upon
    several occasions. It was well that it was so, for less sturdy
    material might have been overborne by the vigour of the attack. As it
    was, the garrison were driven to their last trench, but held out under
    a very heavy fire all day, and next morning the Boers abandoned the
    attack. Their losses appear to have been over fifty in number, and
    included Commandant Celliers, who was badly wounded and afterwards
    taken prisoner at Warm Baths. The brave garrison lost fourteen killed,
    including two officers of the Northumberlands, and twenty wounded.

    In each of these instances the attacks by the Boers upon British posts
    had ended in a repulse to themselves. They were more fortunate,
    however, in their attempt upon Modderfontein on the Gatsrand at the
    end of January. The post was held by 200 of the South Wales
    Borderers, reinforced by the 59th Imperial Yeomanry, who had come in
    as escort to a convoy from Krugersdorp. The attack, which lasted all
    day, was carried out by a commando of 2,000 Boers under Smuts, who
    rushed the position upon the following morning. As usual, the Boers,
    who were unable to retain their prisoners, had little to show for
    their success. The British casualties, however, were between thirty
    and forty, mostly wounded.

    On January 22nd General Cunninghame left Oliphant's Nek with a small
    force consisting of the Border and Worcester Regiments, the 6th
    Mounted Infantry, Kitchener's Horse, 7th Imperial Yeomanry, 8th
    R.F.A., and P battery R.H.A. It had instructions to move south upon
    the enemy known to be gathering there. By midday this force was
    warmly engaged, and found itself surrounded by considerable bodies of
    De la Rey's burghers. That night they camped at Middelfontein, and
    were strongly attacked in the early morning. So menacing was the Boer
    attitude, and so formidable the position, that the force was in some
    danger. Fortunately they were in heliographic communication with
    Oliphant's Nek, and learned upon the 23rd that Babington had been
    ordered to their relief. All day Cunninghame's men were under a
    long-range fire, but on the 24th Babington appeared, and the British
    force was successfully extricated, having seventy-five
    casualties. This action of Middelfontein is interesting as having been
    begun in Queen Victoria's reign, and ended in that of Edward VII.

    Cunninghame's force moved on to Krugersdorp, and there, having heard
    of the fall of the Modderfontein post as already described, a part of
    his command moved out to the Gatsrand in pursuit of Smuts. It was
    found, however, that the Boers had taken up a strong defensive
    position, and the British were not numerous enough to push the
    attack. On February 3rd Cunninghame endeavoured to outflank the enemy
    with his small cavalry force while pushing his infantry up in front,
    but in neither attempt did he succeed, the cavalry failing to find the
    flank, while the infantry were met with a fire which made further
    advance impossible. One company of the Border Regiment found itself in
    such a position that the greater part of it was killed, wounded, or
    taken. This check constituted the action of Modderfontein. On the 4th,
    however, Cunningham, assisted by some of the South African
    Constabulary, made his way round the flank, and dislodged the enemy,
    who retreated to the south. A few days later some of Smuts's men made
    an attempt upon the railway near Bank, but were driven off with
    twenty-six casualties. It was after this that Smuts moved west and
    joined De la Rey's commando to make the attack already described upon
    Lichtenburg. These six attempts represent the chief aggressive
    movements which the Boers made against British posts in the Transvaal
    during these months. Attacks upon trains were still common, and every
    variety of sniping appears to have been rife, from the legitimate
    ambuscade to something little removed from murder.

    It has been described in a previous chapter how Lord Kitchener made an
    offer to the burghers which amounted to an amnesty, and how a number
    of those Boers who had come under the influence of the British formed
    themselves into peace committees, and endeavoured to convey to the
    fighting commandos some information as to the hopelessness of the
    struggle, and the lenient mood of the British. Unfortunately these
    well-meant offers appear to have been mistaken for signs of weakness
    by the Boer leaders, and encouraged them to harden their hearts. Of
    the delegates who conveyed the terms to their fellow countrymen two at
    least were shot, several were condemned to death, and few returned
    without ill-usage. In no case did they bear back a favourable answer.
    The only result of the proclamation was to burden the British
    resources by an enormous crowd of women and children who were kept and
    fed in refugee camps, while their fathers and husbands continued in
    most cases to fight.

    This allusion to the peace movement among the burghers may serve as an
    introduction to the attempt made by Lord Kitchener, at the end of
    February 1901, to bring the war to a close by negotiation. Throughout
    its course the fortitude of Great Britain and of the Empire had never
    for an instant weakened, but her conscience had always been sensitive
    at the sight of the ruin which had befallen so large a portion of
    South Africa, and any settlement would have been eagerly hailed which
    would insure that the work done had not been wasted, and would not
    need to be done again. A peace on any other terms would simply shift
    upon the shoulders of our descendants those burdens which we were not
    manly enough to bear ourselves. There had arisen, as has been said, a
    considerable peace movement among the burghers of the refugee camps
    and also among the prisoners of war. It was hoped that some
    reflection of this might be found among the leaders of the people. To
    find out if this were so Lord Kitchener, at the end of February, sent
    a verbal message to Louis Botha, and on the 27th of that month the
    Boer general rode with an escort of Hussars into Middelburg.
    'Sunburned, with a pleasant, fattish face of a German type, and
    wearing an imperial,' says one who rode beside him. Judging from the
    sounds of mirth heard by those without, the two leaders seem to have
    soon got upon amiable terms, and there was hope that a definite
    settlement might spring from their interview. From the beginning Lord
    Kitchener explained that the continued independence of the two
    republics was an impossibility. But on every other point the British
    Government was prepared to go great lengths in order to satisfy and
    conciliate the burghers.

    On March 7th Lord Kitchener wrote to Botha from Pretoria,
    recapitulating the points which he had advanced. The terms offered
    were certainly as far as, and indeed rather further than, the general
    sentiment of the Empire would have gone. If the Boers laid down their
    arms there was to be a complete amnesty, which was apparently to
    extend to rebels also so long as they did not return to Cape Colony or
    Natal. Self-government was promised after a necessary interval,
    during which the two States should be administered as Crown colonies.
    Law courts should be independent of the Executive from the beginning,
    and both languages be official. A million pounds of compensation
    would be paid to the burghers -- a most remarkable example of a war
    indemnity being paid by the victors. Loans were promised to the
    farmers to restart them in business, and a pledge was made that farms
    should not be taxed. The Kaffirs were not to have the franchise, but
    were to have the protection of law. Such were the generous terms
    offered by the British Government. Public opinion at home, strong]y
    supported by that of the colonies, and especially of the army, felt
    that the extreme step had been taken in the direction of conciliation,
    and that to do more would seem not to offer peace, but to implore it.
    Unfortunately, however, the one thing which the British could not
    offer was the one thing which the Boers would insist upon having, and
    the leniency of the proposals in all other directions may have
    suggested weakness to their minds. On March 15th an answer was
    returned by General Botha to the effect that nothing short of total
    independence would satisfy them, and the negotiations were accordingiy
    broken off.

    There was a disposition, however, upon the Boer side to renew them,
    and upon May 10th General Botha applied to Lord Kitchener for
    permission to cable to President Kruger, and to take his advice as to
    the making of peace. The stern old man at The Hague was still,
    however, in an unbending mood. His reply was to the effect that there
    were great hopes of a successful issue of the war, and that he had
    taken steps to make proper provision for the Boer prisoners and for
    the refugee women. These steps, and very efficient ones too, were to
    leave them entirely to the generosity of that Government which he was
    so fond of reviling.

    On the same day upon which Botha applied for leave to use the British
    cable, a letter was written by Reitz, State Secretary of the
    Transvaal, to Steyn, in which the desperate condition of the Boers was
    clearly set forth. This document explained that the burghers were
    continually surrendering, that the ammunition was nearly exhausted,
    the food running low, and the nation in danger of extinction. 'The
    time has come to take the final step,' said the Secretary of
    State. Steyn wrote back a reply in which, like his brother president,
    he showed a dour resolution to continue the struggle, prompted by a
    fatalist conviction that some outside interference would reverse the
    result of his appeal to arms. His attitude and that of Kruger
    determined the Boer leaders to hold out for a few more months, a
    resolution which may have been injudicious, but was certainly heroic.
    'It's a fight to a finish this time,' said the two combatants in the'
    Punch' cartoon which marked the beginning of the war. It was indeed
    so, as far as the Boers were concerned. As the victors we can afford
    to acknowledge that no nation in history has ever made a more
    desperate and prolonged resistance against a vastly superior
    antagonist. A Briton may well pray that his own people may be as
    staunch when their hour of adversity comes round.

    The British position at this stage of the war was strengthened by a
    greater centralisation. Garrisons of outlying towns were withdrawn so
    that fewer convoys became necessary. The population was removed also
    and placed near the railway lines, where they could be more easily
    fed. In this way the scene of action was cleared and the Boer and
    British forces left face to face. Convinced of the failure of the
    peace policy, and morally strengthened by having tried it, Lord
    Kitchener set himself to finish the war by a series of vigorous
    operations which should sweep the country from end to end. For this
    purpose mounted troops were essential, and an appeal from him for
    reinforcements was most nobly answered. Five thousand horsemen were
    despatched from the colonies, and twenty thousand cavalry, mounted
    infantry, and Yeomanry were sent from home. Ten thousand mounted men
    had already been raised in Great Britain, South Africa, and Canada for
    the Constabulary force which was being organised by
    Baden-Powell. Altogether the reinforcements of horsemen amounted to
    more than thirty-five thousand men, all of whom had arrived in South
    Africa before the end of April. With the remains of his old regiments
    Lord Kitchener had under him at this final period of the war between
    fifty and sixty thousand cavalry-such a force as no British General in
    his happiest dream had ever thought of commanding, and no British war
    minister in his darkest nightmare had ever imagined himself called
    upon to supply.

    Long before his reinforcements had come to hand, while his Yeomanry
    was still gathering in long queues upon the London pavement to wait
    their turn at the recruiting office, Lord Kitchener had dealt the
    enemy several shrewd blows which materially weakened their resources
    in men and material. The chief of these was the great drive down the
    Eastern Transvaal undertaken by seven columns under the command of
    French. Before considering this, however, a few words must be devoted
    to the doings of Methuen in the south-west.

    This hard-working General, having garrisoned Zeerust and Lichtenburg,
    had left his old district and journeyed with a force which consisted
    largely of Bushmen and Yeomanry to the disturbed parts of Bechuanaland
    which had been invaded by De Villiers. Here he cleared the country as
    far as Vryburg, which he had reached in the middle of January, working
    round to Kuruman and thence to Taungs. From Taungs his force crossed
    the Transvaal border and made for Klerksdorp, working through an area
    which had never been traversed and which contained the difficult
    Masakani hills. He left Taungs upon February 2nd, fighting skirmishes
    at Uitval's Kop, Paardefontein and Lilliefontein, in each of which the
    enemy was brushed aside. Passing through Wolmaranstad, Methuen turned
    to the north, where at Haartebeestefontein, on February 19th, he
    fought a brisk engagement with a considerable force of Boers under De
    Villiers and Liebenberg. On the day before the fight he successfully
    outwitted the Boers, for, learning that they had left their laager in
    order to take up a position for battle, he pounced upon the laager and
    captured 10,000 head of cattle, forty-three wagons, and forty
    prisoners. Stimulated by this success, he attacked the Boers next day,
    and after five hours of hard fighting forced the pass which they were
    holding against him. As Methuen had but 1,500 men, and was attacking
    a force which was as large as his own in a formidable position, the
    success was a very creditable one. The Yeomanry all did well,
    especially the 5th and 10th battalions. So also did the Australians
    and tho Loyal North Lancashires. The British casualties amounted to
    sixteen killed and thirty-four wounded, while the Boers left eighteen
    of their dead upon the position which they had abandoned. Lord
    Methuen's little force ret urnedto Klerksdorp, having deserved right
    well of their country. From Klerksdorp Methuen struck back westwards
    to the south of his former route, and on March 14th he was reported at
    Warrenton. Here also in April came Erroll's small column, bringing
    with it the garrison and inhabitants of Hoopstad, a post which it had
    been determined, in accordance with Lord Kitchener's policy of
    centralisation, to abandon.

    In the month of January, 1901, there had been a considerable
    concentration of the Transvaal Boers into that large triangle which is
    bounded by the Delagoa railway line upon the north, the Natal railway
    line upon the south, and the Swazi and Zulu frontiers upon the
    east. The buschveldt is at this season of the year unhealthy both for
    man and beast, so that for the sake of their herds, their families,
    and themselves the burghers were constrained to descend into the open
    veldt. There seemed the less objection to their doing so since this
    tract of country, though traversed once both by Buller and by French,
    has still remained a stronghold of the Boers and a storehouse of
    supplies. Within its borders are to be found Carolina, Ermelo,
    Vryheid, and other storm centres. Its possession offers peculiar
    strategical advantages, as a force lying there can always attack
    either railway, and might even make, as was indeed intended, a descent
    into Natal. For these mingled reasons of health and of strategy a
    considerable number of burghers united in this district under the
    command of the Bothas and of Smuts.

    Their concentration had not escaped the notice of the British military
    authorities, who welcomed any movement which might bring to a focus
    that resistance which had been so nebulous and elusive. Lord Kitchener
    having once seen the enemy fairly gathered into this huge cover,
    undertook the difficult task of driving it from end to end. For this
    enterprise General French was given the chief command, and had under
    his orders no fewer than seven columns, which started from different
    points of the Delagoa and of the Natal railway lines, keeping in touch
    with each other and all trending south and east. A glance at the map
    would show, however, that it was a very large field for seven guns,
    and that it would need all their alertness to prevent the driven game
    from breaking back. Three columns started from the Delagoa line,
    namely, Smith-Dorrien's from Wonderfontein (the most easterly),
    Campbell's from Middelburg, and Alderson's from Eerstefabrieken, close
    to Pretoria. Four columns came from the western railway line: General
    Knox's from Kaalfontein, Major Allenby's from Zuurfontein (both
    stations between Pretoria and Johannesburg), General Dartnell's from
    Springs, close to Johannesburg, and finally General Colville (not to
    be confused with Colvile) from Greylingstad in the south. The whole
    movement resembled a huge drag net, of which Wonderfontein and
    Greylingstad formed the ends, exactly one hundred miles apart. On
    January 27th the net began to be drawn. Some thousands of Boers with
    a considerable number of guns were known to be within the enclosure,
    and it was hoped that even if their own extreme mobility enabled them
    to escape it would be impossible for them to save their transport and
    their cannon.

    Each of the British columns was about 2,000 strong, making a total of
    14,000 men with about fifty guns engaged in the operations. A front
    of not less than ten miles was to be maintained by each force. The
    first decided move was on the part of the extreme left wing,
    Smith-Dorrien's column, which moved south on Carolina, and thence on
    Bothwell near Lake Chrissie. The arduous duty of passing supplies
    down from the line fell mainly upon him, and his force was in
    consequence larger than the others, consisting of 8,500 men with
    thirteen guns. On the arrival of Smith-Dorrien at Carolina the other
    columns started, their centre of advance being Ermelo. Over seventy
    miles of veldt the gleam of the helio by day and the flash of the
    signal lamps at night marked the steady flow of the British tide.
    Here and there the columns came in touch with the enemy and swept him
    before them. French had a skirmish at Wilge River at the end of
    January, and Campbell another south of Middelburg, in which he had
    twenty casualties. On February 4th Smith-Dorrien was at Lake Chrissie;
    French had passed through Bethel and the enemy was retiring on
    Amsterdam. The hundred-mile ends of the drag net were already
    contracted to a third of that distance, and the game was still known
    to be within it. On the 5th Ermelo was occupied, and the fresh deep
    ruts upon the veldt told the British horsemen of the huge Boer convoy
    that was ahead of them. For days enormous herds, endless flocks, and
    lines of wagons which stretched from horizon to horizon had been
    trekking eastward. Cavalry and mounted infantry were all hot upon the
    scent.

    Botha, however, was a leader of spirit, not to be hustled with
    impunity. Having several thousand burghers with him, it was evident
    that if he threw himself suddenly upon any part of the British line he
    might hope for a time to make an equal fight, and possibly to
    overwhelm it. Were Smith-Dorrien out of the way there would be a
    clear road of escape for his whole convoy to the north, while a defeat
    of any of the other columns would not help him much. It was on
    Smith-Dorrien, therefore, that he threw himself with great
    impetuosity. That General's force was, however, formidable, consisting
    of the Suffolks, West Yorks and Camerons, 5th Lancers, 2nd Imperial
    Light Horse, and 3rd Mounted Infantry, with eight field guns and three
    heavy pieces. Such a force could hardly be defeated in the open, but
    no one can foresee the effect of a night surprise well pushed home,
    and such was the attack delivered by Botha at 3 A.M. upon February
    6th, when his opponent was encamped at Bothwell Farm.

    The night was favourable to the attempt, as it was dark and
    misty. Fortunately, however, the British commander had fortified
    himself and was ready for an assault. The Boer forlorn hope came on
    with a gallant dash, driving a troop of loose horses in upon the
    outposts, and charging forward into the camp. The West Yorkshires,
    however, who bore the brunt of the attack, were veterans of the
    Tugela, who were no more to be flurried at three in the morning than
    at three in the afternoon. The attack was blown backwards, and twenty
    dead Boers, with their brave leader Spruyt, were left within the
    British lines. The main body of the Boers contented themselves with a
    heavy fusillade out of the darkness, which was answered and crushed by
    the return fire of the infantry. In the morning no trace, save their
    dead, was to be seen of the enemy, but twenty killed and fifty wounded
    in Smith-Dorrien's column showed how heavy had been the fire which had
    swept through the sleeping camp. The Carolina attack, which was to
    have co-operated with that of the Heidelbergers, was never delivered,
    through difficulties of the ground, and considerable recriminations
    ensued among the Boers in consequence.

    Beyond a series of skirmishes and rearguard actions this attack of
    Botha's was the one effort made to stay the course of French's
    columns. It did not succeed, however, in arresting them for an
    hour. From that day began a record of captures of men, herds, guns,
    and wagons, as the fugitives were rounded up from the north, the west,
    and the south. The operation was a very thorough one, for the towns
    and districts occupied were denuded of their inhabitants, who were
    sent into the refugee camps while the country was laid waste to
    prevent its furnishing the commandos with supplies in the
    future. Still moving south-east, General French's columns made their
    way to Piet Betief upon the Swazi frontier, pushing a disorganised
    array which he computed at 5,000 in front of them. A party of the
    enemy, including the Carolina commando, had broken back in the middle
    of February and Louis Botha had got away at the same time, but so
    successful were his main operations that French was able to report his
    total results at the end of the month as being 292 Boers killed or
    wounded, 500 surrendered, 3 guns and one maxim taken, with 600 rifles,
    4,000 horses, 4,500 trek oxen, 1,300 wagons and carts, 24,000 cattle,
    and 165,000 sheep. The whole vast expanse of the eastern veldt was
    dotted with the broken and charred wagons of the enemy.

    Tremendous rains were falling and the country was one huge quagmire,
    which crippled although it did not entirely prevent the further
    operations. All the columns continued to report captures. On March 3rd
    Dartnell got a maxim and 50 prisoners, while French reported 50 more,
    and Smith-Dorrien 80. On March 6th French captured two more guns, and
    on the 14th he reported 46 more Boer casualties and 146 surrenders,
    with 500 more wagons, and another great haul of sheep and oxen. By
    the end of March French had moved as far south as Vryheid, his troops
    having endured the greatest hardships from the continual heavy rains,
    and the difficulty of bringing up any supplies. On the 27th he
    reported seventeen more Boer casualties and 140 surrenders, while on
    the last day of the month he took another gun and two pom-poms. The
    enemy at that date were still retiring eastward, with Alderson and
    Dartnell pressing upon their rear. On April 4th French announced the
    capture of the last piece of artillery which the enemy possessed in
    that region. The rest of the Boer forces doubled back at night
    between the columns and escaped over the Zululand border, where 200 of
    them surrendered. The total trophies of French's drive down the
    Eastern Transvaal amounted to eleven hundred of the enemy killed,
    wounded, or taken, the largest number in any operation since the
    surrender of Prinsloo. There is no doubt that the movement would have
    been even more successful had the weather been less boisterous, but
    this considerable loss of men, together with the capture of all the
    guns in that region, and of such enormous quantities of wagons,
    munitions, and stock, inflicted a blow upon the Boers from which they
    never wholly recovered. On April 20th French was back in Johannesburg
    once more.

    While French had run to earth the last Boer gun in the south.eastern
    corner of the Transvaal, De la Rey, upon the western side, had still
    managed to preserve a considerable artillery with which he flitted
    about the passes of the Magaliesberg or took refuge in the safe
    districts to the south-west of it. This part of the country had been
    several times traversed, but had never been subdued by British
    columns. The Boers, like their own veldt grass, need but a few sparks
    to be left behind to ensure a conflagration breaking out again. It was
    into this inflammable country that Babington moved in March with
    Klerksdorp for his base. On March 21st he had reached
    Haartebeestefontein, the scene not long before of a successful action
    by Methuen. Here he was joined by Shekleton's Mounted Infantry, and
    his whole force consisted of these, with the 1st Imperial Light Horse,
    the 6th Imperial Bushmen, the New-Zealanders, a squadron of the 14th
    Hussars, a wing each of the Somerset Light Infantry and of the Welsh
    Fusiliers, with Carter's guns and four pom-poms. With this mobile and
    formidable little force Babington pushed on in search of Smuts and De
    la Rey, who were known to be in the immediate neighbourhood.

    As a matter of fact the Boers were not only there, but were nearer and
    in greater force than had been anticipated. On the 22nd three
    squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse under Major Briggs rode into
    1,500 of them, and it was only by virtue of their steadiness and
    gallantry that they succeeded in withdrawing themselves and their
    pom-pom without a disaster. With Boers in their front and Boers on
    either flank they fought an admirable rearguard action. So hot was the
    fire that A squadron alone had twenty-two casualties. They faced it
    out, however, until their gun had reached a place of safety, when they
    made an orderly retirement towards Babington's camp, having inflicted
    as heavy a loss as they had sustained. With Elandslaagte, Waggon
    Hill, the relief of Mafeking, Naauwpoort, and Haartebeestefontein upon
    their standards, the Imperial Light Horse, should they take a
    permanent place in the Army List, will start with a record of which
    many older regiments might be proud.

    If the Light Horse had a few bad hours on March 22nd at the hands of
    the Boers, they and their colonial comrades were soon able to return
    the same with interest. On March 23rd Babington moved forward through
    Kafir Kraal, the enemy falling back before him. Next morning the
    British again advanced, and as the New-Zealanders and Bushmen, who
    formed the vanguard under Colonel Gray, emerged from a pass they saw
    upon the plain in front of them the Boer force with all its guns
    moving towards them. Whether this was done of set purpose or whether
    the Boers imagined that the British had turned and were intending to
    pursue them cannot now be determined, but whatever the cause it is
    certain that for almost the first time in the campaign a considerable
    force of each side found themselves in the open and face to face.

    It was a glorious moment. Setting spurs to their horses, officers and
    men with a yell dashed forward at the enemy. One of the Boer guns
    unlimbered and attempted to open fire, but was overwhelmed by the wave
    of horsemen. The Boer riders broke and fled, leaving their artillery
    to escape as best it might. The guns dashed over the veldt in a mad
    gallop, but wilder still was the rush of the fiery cavalry behind
    them. For once the brave and cool-headed Dutchmen were fairly
    panic-stricken. Hardly a shot was fired at the pursuers, and the
    riflemen seem to have been only too happy to save their own skins.
    Two field guns, one pom-pom, six maxims, fifty-six wagons and 140
    prisoners were the fruits of that one magnificent charge, while
    fifty-four stricken Boers were picked up after the action. The
    pursuit was reluctantly abandoned when the spent horses could go no
    farther.

    While the vanguard had thus scattered the main body of the enemy a
    detachment of riflemen had ridden round to attack the British rear and
    convoy. A few volleys from the escort drove them off, however, with
    some loss. Altogether, what with the loss of nine guns and of at
    least 200 men, the rout of Haartebeestefontein was a severe blow to
    the Boer cause. A week or two later Sir H. Rawlinson's column, acting
    with Babington, rushed Smuts's laager at daylight and effected a
    further capture of two guns and thirty prisoners. Taken in
    conjunction with French's successes in the east and Plumer's in the
    north, these successive blows might have seemed fatal to the Boer
    cause, but the weary struggle was still destined to go on until it
    seemed that it must be annihilation rather than incorporation which
    would at last bring a tragic peace to those unhappy lands.

    All over the country small British columns had been operating during
    these months -- operations which were destined to increase in scope
    and energy as the cold weather drew in. The weekly tale of prisoners
    and captures, though small for any one column, gave the aggregate
    result of a considerable victory. In these scattered and obscure
    actions there was much good work which can have no reward save the
    knowledge of duty done. Among many successful raids and skirmishes
    may be mentioned two by Colonel Park from Lydenburg, which resulted
    between them in the capture of nearly 100 of the enemy, including Abel
    Erasmus of sinister reputation. Nor would any summary of these events
    be complete without a reference to the very gallant defence of
    Mahlabatini in Zululand, which was successfully held by a handful of
    police and civilians against an irruption of the Boers. With the
    advent of winter and of reinforcements the British operations became
    very energetic in every part of the country, and some account of them
    will now be added.
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