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The Great Boer War by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 10 out of 11

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the 18th battery R.F.A., and three pom-poms. A detachment of the
invaluable mounted Sappers rode with the force, and two infantry
regiments, the 2nd Gordons and the Northamptons, were detached to
garrison the more vulnerable places upon the line of advance.

Upon March 29th the untiring Plumer, called off from the chase of
De Wet, was loosed upon this fresh line, and broke swiftly away to
the north. The complete success of his undertaking has obscured our
estimate of its danger, but it was no light task to advance so
great a distance into a bitterly hostile country with a fighting
force of 2000 rifles. As an enterprise it was in many ways not
unlike Mahon's dash on Mafeking, but without any friendly force
with which to join hands at the end. However from the beginning all
went well. On the 30th the force had reached Warm Baths, where a
great isolated hotel already marks the site of what will be a rich
and fashionable spa. On April 1st the Australian scouts rode into
Nylstroom, fifty more miles upon their way. There had been
sufficient sniping to enliven the journey, but nothing which could
be called an action. Gleaning up prisoners and refugees as they
went, with the railway engineers working like bees behind them, the
force still swept unchecked upon its way. On April 5th Piet
Potgietersrust was entered, another fifty-mile stage, and on the
morning of the 8th the British vanguard rode into Pietersburg.
Kitchener's judgment and Plumer's energy had met with their reward.

The Boer commando had evacuated the town and no serious opposition
was made to the British entry. The most effective resistance came
from a single schoolmaster, who, in a moment of irrational frenzy
or of patriotic exaltation, shot down three of the invaders before
he met his own death. Some rolling stock, one small gun, and
something under a hundred prisoners were the trophies of the
capture, but the Boer arsenal and the printing press were
destroyed, and the Government sped off in a couple of Cape carts in
search of some new capital. Pietersburg was principally valuable as
a base from which a sweeping movement might be made from the north
at the same moment as one from the south-east. A glance at the map
will show that a force moving from this point in conjunction with
another from Lydenburg might form the two crooked claws of a crab
to enclose a great space of country, in which smaller columns might
collect whatever was to be found. Without an instant of unnecessary
delay the dispositions were made, and no fewer than eight columns
slipped upon the chase. It will be best to continue to follow the
movements of Plumer's force, and then to give some account of the
little armies which were operating from the south, with the results
of their enterprise.

It was known that Viljoen and a number of Boers were within the
district which lies north of the line in the Middelburg district.
An impenetrable bush-veld had offered them a shelter from which
they made their constant sallies to wreck a train or to attack a
post. This area was now to be systematically cleared up. The first
thing was to stop the northern line of retreat. The Oliphant River
forms a loop in that direction, and as it is a considerable stream,
it would, if securely held, prevent any escape upon that side. With
this object Plumer, on April 14th, the sixth day after his
occupation of Pietersburg, struck east from that town and trekked
over the veld, through the formidable Chunies Pass, and so to the
north bank of the Oliphant, picking up thirty or forty Boer
prisoners upon the way. His route lay through a fertile country
dotted with native kraals. Having reached the river which marked
the line which he was to hold, Plumer, upon April 17th, spread his
force over many miles, so as to block the principal drifts. The
flashes of his helio were answered by flash after flash from many
points upon the southern horizon. What these other forces were, and
whence they came, must now be made clear to the reader.

General Bindon Blood, a successful soldier, had confirmed in the
Transvaal a reputation which he had won on the northern frontier of
India. He and General Elliot were two of the late comers who had
been spared from the great Eastern dependency to take the places of
some of those Generals who had returned to England for a
well-earned rest. He had distinguished himself by his systematic
and effective guardianship of the Delagoa railway line, and he was
now selected for the supreme control of the columns which were to
advance from the south and sweep the Roos-Senekal district. There
were seven of them, which were arranged as follows:

Two columns started from Middelburg under Beatson and Benson, which
might be called the left wings of the movement. The object of
Beatson's column was to hold the drifts of the Crocodile River,
while Benson's was to seize the neighbouring hills called the
Bothasberg. This it was hoped would pin the Boers from the west,
while Kitchener from Lydenburg advanced from the east in three
separate columns. Pulteney and Douglas would move up from Belfast
in the centre, with Dulstoom for their objective. It was the
familiar drag net of French, but facing north instead of south.

On April 13th the southern columns were started, but already the
British preparations had alarmed the Boers, and Botha, with his
main commandos, had slipped south across the line into that very
district from which he had been so recently driven. Viljoen's
commando still remained to the north, and the British troops,
pouring in from every side, converged rapidly upon it. The success
of the operations was considerable, though not complete. The
Tantesberg, which had been the rallying-point of the Boers, was
occupied, and Roos-Senekal, their latest capital, was taken, with
their State papers and treasure. Viljoen, with a number of
followers, slipped through between the columns, but the greater
part of the burghers, dashing furiously about like a shoal of fish
when they become conscious of the net, were taken by one or other
of the columns. A hundred of the Boksburg commando surrendered en
masse, fifty more were taken at Roos-Senekal; forty-one of the
formidable Zarps with Schroeder, their leader, were captured in the
north by the gallantry and wit of a young Australian officer named
Reid; sixty more were hunted down by the indefatigable Vialls,
leader of the Bushmen. From all parts of the district came the same
story of captures and surrenders.

Knowing, however, that Botha and Viljoen had slipped through to the
south of the railway line, Lord Kitchener determined to rapidly
transfer the scene of the operations to that side. At the end of
April, after a fortnight's work, during which this large district
was cropped, but by no means shaved, the troops turned south again.
The results of the operation had been eleven hundred prisoners,
almost the same number as French had taken in the south-east,
together with a broken Krupp, a pom-pom, and the remains of the big
naval gun taken from us at Helvetia.

It was determined that Plumer's advance upon Pietersburg should not
be a mere raid, but that steps should be taken to secure all that
he had gained, and to hold the lines of communication. With this
object the 2nd Gordon Highlanders and the 2nd Wiltshires were
pushed up along the railroad, followed by Kitchener's Fighting
Scouts. These troops garrisoned Pietersburg and took possession of
Chunies Poort, and other strategic positions. They also furnished
escorts for the convoys which supplied Plumer on the Oliphant
River, and they carried out some spirited operations themselves in
the neighbourhood of Pietersburg. Grenfell, who commanded the
force, broke up several laagers, and captured a number of
prisoners, operations in which he was much assisted by Colenbrander
and his men. Finally the last of the great Creusot guns, the
formidable Long Toms, was found mounted near Haenertsburg. It was
the same piece which had in succession scourged Mafeking and
Kimberley. The huge gun, driven to bay, showed its powers by
opening an effective fire at ten thousand yards. The British
galloped in upon it, the Boer riflemen were driven off, and the gun
was blown up by its faithful gunners. So by suicide died the last
of that iron brood, the four sinister brothers who had wrought much
mischief in South Africa. They and their lesson will live in the
history of modern artillery.

The sweeping of the Roos-Senekal district being over, Plumer left
his post upon the River of the Elephants, a name which, like
Rhenoster, Zeekoe, Kameelfontein, Leeuw Kop, Tigerfontein, Elands
River, and so many more, serves as a memorial to the great mammals
which once covered the land. On April 28th the force turned south,
and on May 4th they had reached the railroad at Eerstefabrieken
close to Pretoria. They had come in touch with a small Boer force
upon the way, and the indefatigable Vialls hounded them for eighty
miles, and tore away the tail of their convoy with thirty
prisoners. The main force had left Pretoria on horseback on March
28th, and found themselves back once again upon foot on May 5th.
They had something to show, however, for the loss of their horses,
since they had covered a circular march of 400 miles, had captured
some hundreds of the enemy, and had broken up their last organised
capital. From first to last it was a most useful and well-managed

It is the more to be regretted that General Blood was recalled from
his northern trek before it had attained its full results, because
those operations to which he turned did not offer him any great
opportunities for success. Withdrawing from the north of the
railway with his columns, he at once started upon a sweep of that
portion of the country which forms an angle between the Delagoa
line and the Swazi frontier--the Barberton district. But again the
two big fish, Viljoen and Botha, had slipped away, and the usual
collection of sprats was left in the net. The sprats count also,
however, and every week now telegrams were reaching England from
Lord Kitchener which showed that from three to five hundred more
burghers had fallen into our hands. Although the public might begin
to look upon the war as interminable, it had become evident to the
thoughtful observer that it was now a mathematical question, and
that a date could already be predicted by which the whole Boer
population would have passed into the power of the British.

Among the numerous small British columns which were at work in
different parts of the country, in the latter half of May, there
was one under General Dixon which was operating in the
neighbourhood of the Magaliesberg Range. This locality has never
been a fortunate one for the British arms. The country is
peculiarly mountainous and broken, and it was held by the veteran
De la Rey and a numerous body of irreconcilable Boers. Here in July
we had encountered a check at Uitval's Nek, in December Clements
had met a more severe one at Nooitgedacht, while shortly afterwards
Cunningham had been repulsed at Middelfontein, and the Light Horse
cut up at Naauwpoort. After such experiences one would have thought
that no column which was not of overmastering strength would have
been sent into this dangerous region, but General Dixon had as a
matter of fact by no means a strong force with him. With 1600 men
and a battery he was despatched upon a quest after some hidden guns
which were said to have been buried in those parts.

On May 26th Dixon's force, consisting of Derbyshires, King's Own
Scottish Borderers, Imperial Yeomanry, Scottish Horse, and six guns
(four of 8th R.F.A. and two of 28th R.F.A.), broke camp at
Naauwpoort and moved to the west. On the 28th they found themselves
at a place called Vlakfontein, immediately south of Oliphant's Nek.
On that day there were indications that there were a good many
Boers in the neighbourhood. Dixon left a guard over his camp and
then sallied out in search of the buried guns. His force was
divided into three parts, the left column under Major Chance
consisting of two guns of the 28th R.F.A., 230 of the Yeomanry, and
one company of the Derbys. The centre comprised two guns (8th R.F.
A.), one howitzer, two companies of the Scottish Borderers and one
of the Derbys; while the right was made up of two guns (8th R.F.A.
), 200 Scottish Horse, and two companies of Borderers. Having
ascertained that the guns were not there, the force about midday
was returning to the camp, when the storm broke suddenly and
fiercely upon the rearguard.

There had been some sniping during the whole morning, but no
indications of the determined attack which was about to be
delivered. The force in retiring upon the camp had become divided,
and the rearguard consisted of the small column under Major Chance
which had originally formed the left wing. A veld fire was raging
on one flank of this rearguard, and through the veil of smoke a
body of five hundred Boers charged suddenly home with magnificent
gallantry upon the guns. We have few records of a more dashing or
of a more successful action in the whole course of the war. So
rapid was it that hardly any time elapsed between the glimpse of
the first dark figures galloping through the haze and the thunder
of their hoofs as they dashed in among the gunners. The Yeomanry
were driven back and many of them shot down. The charge of the
mounted Boers was supported by a very heavy fire from a covering
party, and the gun-detachments were killed or wounded almost to a
man. The lieutenant in charge and the sergeant were both upon the
ground. So far as it is possible to reconstruct the action from the
confused accounts of excited eye-witnesses and from the exceedingly
obscure official report of General Dixon, there was no longer any
resistance round the guns, which were at once turned by their
captors upon the nearest British detachment.

The company of infantry which had helped to escort the guns proved
however to be worthy representatives of that historic branch of the
British service. They were northerners, men of Derbyshire and
Nottingham, the same counties which had furnished the brave militia
who had taken their punishment so gamely at Roodeval. Though
hustled and broken they re-formed and clung doggedly to their task,
firing at the groups of Boers who surrounded the guns. At the same
time word had been sent of their pressing need to the Scotch
Borderers and the Scottish Horse, who came swarming across the
valley to the succour of their comrades. Dixon had brought two guns
and a howitzer into action, which subdued the fire of the two
captured pieces, and the infantry, Derbys and Borderers, swept over
the position, retaking the two guns and shooting down those of the
enemy who tried to stand. The greater number vanished into the
smoke, which veiled their retreat as it had their advance.
Forty-one of them were left dead upon the ground. Six officers and
fifty men killed with about a hundred and twenty wounded made up
the British losses, to which two guns would certainly have been
added but for the gallant counter-attack of the infantry. With
Dargai and Vlakfontein to their credit the Derbys have green
laurels upon their war-worn colours. They share them on this
occasion with the Scottish Borderers, whose volunteer company
carried itself as stoutly as the regulars.

How is such an action to be summed up? To Kemp, the young Boer
leader, and his men belongs the credit of the capture of the guns;
to the British that of their recapture and of the final possession
of the field. The British loss was probably somewhat higher than
that of the Boers, but upon the other hand there could be no
question as to which side could afford loss the better. The Briton
could be replaced, but there were no reserves behind the fighting
line of the Boers.

There is one subject which cannot be ignored in discussing this
battle, however repugnant it may be. That is the shooting of some
of the British wounded who lay round the guns. There is no question
at all about the fact, which is attested by many independent
witnesses. There is reason to hope that some of the murderers paid
for their crimes with their lives before the battle was over. It is
pleasant to add that there is at least one witness to the fact that
Boer officers interfered with threats to prevent some of these
outrages. It is unfair to tarnish the whole Boer nation and cause
on account of a few irresponsible villains, who would be disowned
by their own decent comrades. Very many--too many--British soldiers
have known by experience what it is to fall into the hands of the
enemy, and it must be confessed that on the whole they have been
dealt with in no ungenerous spirit, while the British treatment of
the Boers has been unexampled in all military history for its
generosity and humanity. That so fair a tale should be darkened by
such ruffianly outrages is indeed deplorable, but the incident is
too well authenticated to be left unrecorded in any detailed
account of the campaign. General Dixon, finding the Boers very
numerous all round him, and being hampered by his wounded, fell
back upon Naauwpoort, which he reached on June 1st.

In May, Sir Bindon Blood, having returned to the line to refit,
made yet another cast through that thrice-harried belt of country
which contains Ermelo, Bethel, and Carolina, in which Botha,
Viljoen, and the fighting Boers had now concentrated. Working over
the blackened veld he swung round in the Barberton direction, and
afterwards made a westerly drive in conjunction with small columns
commanded by Walter Kitchener, Douglas, and Campbell of the Rifles,
while Colville, Garnett, and Bullock co-operated from the Natal
line. Again the results were disappointing when compared with the
power of the instrument employed. On July 5th he reached Springs,
near Johannesburg, with a considerable amount of stock, but with no
great number of prisoners. The elusive Botha had slipped away to
the south and was reported upon the Zululand border, while Viljoen
had succeeded in crossing the Delagoa line and winning back to his
old lair in the district north of Middelburg, from which he had
been evicted in April. The commandos were like those pertinacious
flies which buzz upwards when a hand approaches them, but only to
settle again in the same place. One could but try to make the place
less attractive than before.

Before Viljoen's force made its way over the line it had its
revenge for the long harrying it had undergone by a well-managed
night attack, in which it surprised and defeated a portion of
Colonel Beatson's column at a place called Wilmansrust, due south
of Middelburg, and between that town and Bethel. Beatson had
divided his force, and this section consisted of 850 of the 5th
Victorian Mounted Rifles, with thirty gunners and two pom-poms, the
whole under the command of Major Morris. Viljoen's force trekking
north towards the line came upon this detachment upon June 12th.
The British were aware of the presence of the enemy, but do not
appear to have posted any extra outposts or taken any special
precautions. Long months of commando chasing had imbued them too
much with the idea that these were fugitive sheep, and not fierce
and wily wolves, whom they were endeavouring to catch. It is said
that 700 yards separated the four pickets. With that fine eye for
detail which the Boer leaders possess, they had started a veld fire
upon the west of the camp and then attacked from the east, so that
they were themselves invisible while their enemies were silhouetted
against the light. Creeping up between the pickets, the Boers were
not seen until they opened fire at point-blank range upon the
sleeping men. The rifles were stacked--another noxious military
tradition--and many of the troopers were shot down while they
rushed for their weapons. Surprised out of their sleep and unable
to distinguish their antagonists, the brave Australians did as well
as any troops could have done who were placed in so impossible a
position. Captain Watson, the officer in charge of the pom-poms,
was shot down, and it proved to be impossible to bring the guns
into action. Within five minutes the Victorians had lost twenty
killed and forty wounded, when the survivors surrendered. It is
pleasant to add that they were very well treated by the victors,
but the high-spirited colonials felt their reverse most bitterly.
'It is the worst thing that ever happened to Australia!' says one
in the letter in which he describes it. The actual number of Boers
who rushed the camp was only 180, but 400 more had formed a cordon
round it. To Viljoen and his lieutenant Muller great credit must be
given for this well-managed affair, which gave them a fresh supply
of stores and clothing at a time when they were hard pressed for
both. These same Boer officers had led the attack upon Helvetia
where the 4.7 gun was taken. The victors succeeded in getting away
with all their trophies, and having temporarily taken one of the
blockhouses on the railway near Brugspruit, they crossed the line
in safety and returned, as already said, to their old quarters in
the north, which had been harried but not denuded by the operations
of General Blood.

It would take a volume to catalogue, and a library to entirely
describe the movements and doings of the very large number of
British columns which operated over the Transvaal and the Orange
River Colony during this cold-weather campaign. If the same columns
and the same leaders were consistently working in the same
districts, some system of narrative might enable the reader to
follow their fortunes, but they were, as a matter of fact, rapidly
transferred from one side of the field of action to another in
accordance with the concentrations of the enemy. The total number
of columns amounted to at least sixty, which varied in number from
two hundred to two thousand, and seldom hunted alone. Could their
movements be marked in red upon a chart, the whole of that huge
district would be criss-crossed, from Taungs to Komati and from
Touws River to Pietersburg, with the track of our weary but
indomitable soldiers.

Without attempting to enter into details which would be unbecoming
to the modesty of a single volume, one may indicate what the other
more important groupings were during the course of these months,
and which were the columns that took part in them. Of French's
drive in the south-east, and of Blood's incursion into the
Roos-Senekal district some account has been given, and of his
subsequent sweeping of the south. At the same period Babington,
Dixon, and Rawlinson were co-operating in the Klerksdorp district,
though the former officer transferred his services suddenly to
Blood's combination, and afterwards to Elliot's column in the north
of Orange River Colony. Williams and Fetherstonhaugh came later to
strengthen this Klerksdorp district, in which, after the clearing
of the Magaliesberg, De la Rey had united his forces to those of
Smuts. This very important work of getting a firm hold upon the
Magaliesberg was accomplished in July by Barton, Allenby, Kekewich,
and Lord Basing, who penetrated into the wild country and
established blockhouses and small forts in very much the same way
as Cumberland and Wade in 1746 held down the Highlands. The British
position was much strengthened by the firm grip obtained of this
formidable stronghold of the enemy, which was dangerous not only on
account of its extreme strength, but also of its proximity to the
centres of population and of wealth.

De la Rey, as already stated, had gone down to the Klerksdorp
district, whence, for a time at least, he seems to have passed over
into the north of the Orange River Colony. The British pressure at
Klerksdorp had become severe, and thither in May came the
indefatigable Methuen, whom we last traced to Warrenton. From this
point on May 1st he railed his troops to Mafeking, whence he
trekked to Lichtenburg, and south as far as his old fighting ground
of Haartebeestefontein, having one skirmish upon the way and
capturing a Boer gun. Thence he returned to Mafeking, where he had
to bid adieu to those veteran Yeomanry who had been his comrades on
so many a weary march. It was not their fortune to be present at
any of the larger battles of the war, but few bodies of troops have
returned to England with a finer record of hard and useful service.

No sooner, however, had Methuen laid down one weapon than he
snatched up another. Having refitted his men and collected some of
the more efficient of the new Yeomanry, he was off once more for a
three weeks' circular tour in the direction of Zeerust. It is
difficult to believe that the oldest inhabitant could have known
more of the western side of the Transvaal, for there was hardly a
track which he had not traversed or a kopje from which he had not
been sniped. Early in August he had made a fresh start from
Mafeking, dividing his force into two columns, the command of the
second being given to Von Donop. Having joined hands with
Fetherstonhaugh, he moved through the south-west and finally halted
at Klerksdorp. The harried Boers moved a hundred miles north to
Rustenburg, followed by Methuen, Fetherstonhaugh, Hamilton,
Kekewich, and Allenby, who found the commandos of De la Rey and
Kemp to be scattering in front of them and hiding in the kloofs and
dongas, whence in the early days of September no less than two
hundred were extracted. On September 6th and 8th Methuen engaged
the main body of De la Rey in the valley of the Great Marico River
which lies to the north-west of Rustenburg. In these two actions he
pushed the Boers in front of him with a loss of eighteen killed and
forty-one prisoners, but the fighting was severe, and fifteen of
his men were killed and thirty wounded before the position had been
carried. The losses were almost entirely among the newly raised
Yeomanry, who had already shown on several occasions that, having
shed their weaker members and had some experience of the field,
they were now worthy to take their place beside their veteran

The only other important operation undertaken by the British
columns in the Transvaal during this period was in the north, where
Beyers and his men were still harried by Grenfell, Colenbrander,
and Wilson. A considerable proportion of the prisoners which
figured in the weekly lists came from this quarter. On May 30th
there was a notable action, the truth of which was much debated but
finally established, in which Kitchener's Scouts under Wilson
surprised and defeated a Boer force under Pretorius, killing and
wounding several, and taking forty prisoners. On July 1st Grenfell
took nearly a hundred of Beyers' men with a considerable convoy.
North, south, east, and west the tale was ever the same, but so
long as Botha, De la Rey, Steyn, and De Wet remained uncaptured,
the embers might still at any instant leap into a flame.

It only remains to complete this synopsis of the movements of
columns within the Transvaal that I should add that after the
conclusion of Blood's movement in July, several of his columns
continued to clear the country and to harass Viljoen in the
Lydenburg and Dulstroom districts. Park, Kitchener, Spens, Beatson,
and Benson were all busy at this work, never succeeding in forcing
more than a skirmish, but continually whittling away wagons,
horses, and men from that nucleus of resistance which the Boer
leaders still held together.

Though much hampered by the want of forage for their horses, the
Boers were ever watchful for an opportunity to strike back, and the
long list of minor successes gained by the British was occasionally
interrupted by a petty reverse. Such a one befell the small body of
South African Constabulary stationed near Vereeniging, who
encountered upon July 13th a strong force of Boers supposed to be
the main commando of De Wet. The Constabulary behaved with great
gallantry but were hopelessly outnumbered, and lost their
seven-pounder gun, four killed, six wounded, and twenty-four
prisoners. Another small reverse occurred at a far distant point of
the seat of war, for the irregular corps known as Steinacker's
Horse was driven from its position at Bremersdorp in Swaziland upon
July 24th, and had to fall back sixteen miles, with a loss of ten
casualties and thirty prisoners. Thus in the heart of a native
state the two great white races of South Africa were to be seen
locked in a desperate conflict. However unavoidable, the sight was
certainly one to be deplored.

To the Boer credit, or discredit, are also to be placed those
repeated train wreckings, which cost the British during this
campaign the lives and limbs of many brave soldiers who were worthy
of some less ignoble fate. It is true that the laws of war sanction
such enterprises, but there is something indiscriminate in the
results which is repellent to humanity, and which appears to
justify the most energetic measures to prevent them. Women,
children, and sick must all travel by these trains and are exposed
to a common danger, while the assailants enjoy a safety which
renders their exploit a peculiarly inglorious one. Two Boers,
Trichardt and Hindon, the one a youth of twenty-two, the other a
man of British birth, distinguished, or disgraced, themselves by
this unsavoury work upon the Delagoa line, but with the extension
of the blockhouse system the attempts became less successful. There
was one, however, upon the northern line near Naboomspruit which
cost the lives of Lieutenant Best and eight Gordon Highlanders,
while ten were wounded. The party of Gordons continued to resist
after the smash, and were killed or wounded to a man. The painful
incident is brightened by such an example of military virtue, and
by the naive reply of the last survivor, who on being questioned
why he continued to fight until he was shot down, answered with
fine simplicity, 'Because I am a Gordon Highlander.'

Another train disaster of an even more tragic character occurred
near Waterval, fifteen miles north of Pretoria, upon the last day
of August. The explosion of a mine wrecked the train, and a hundred
Boers who lined the banks of the cutting opened fire upon the
derailed carriages. Colonel Vandeleur, an officer of great promise,
was killed and twenty men, chiefly of the West Riding regiment,
were shot. Nurse Page was also among the wounded. It was after this
fatal affair that the regulation of carrying Boer hostages upon the
trains was at last carried out.

It has been already stated that part of Lord Kitchener's policy of
concentration lay in his scheme for gathering the civil population
into camps along the lines of communication. The reasons for this,
both military and humanitarian, were overwhelming. Experience had
proved that the men if left at liberty were liable to be persuaded
or coerced by the fighting Boers into breaking their parole and
rejoining the commandos. As to the women and children, they could
not be left upon the farms in a denuded country. That the Boers in
the field had no doubts as to the good treatment of these people
was shown by the fact that they repeatedly left their families in
the way of the columns so that they might be conveyed to the camps.
Some consternation was caused in England by a report of Miss
Hobhouse, which called public attention to the very high rate of
mortality in some of these camps, but examination showed that this
was not due to anything insanitary in their situation or
arrangement, but to a severe epidemic of measles which had swept
away a large number of the children. A fund was started in London
to give additional comforts to these people, though there is reason
to believe that their general condition was superior to that of the
Uitlander refugees, who still waited permission to return to their
homes. By the end of July there were no fewer than sixty thousand
inmates of the camps in the Transvaal alone, and half as many in
the Orange River Colony. So great was the difficulty in providing
the supplies for so large a number that it became more and more
evident that some at least of the camps must be moved down to the
sea coast.

Passing to the Orange River Colony we find that during this winter
period the same British tactics had been met by the same constant
evasions on the part of the dwindling commandos. The Colony had
been divided into four military districts: that of Bloemfontein,
which was given to Charles Knox, that of Lyttelton at
Springfontein, that of Rundle at Harrismith, and that of Elliot in
the north. The latter was infinitely the most important, and
Elliot, the warden of the northern marches, had under him during
the greater part of the winter a mobile force of about 6000 men,
commanded by such experienced officers as Broadwood, De Lisle, and
Bethune. Later in the year Spens, Bullock, Plumer, and Rimington
were all sent into the Orange River Colony to help to stamp out the
resistance. Numerous skirmishes and snipings were reported from all
parts of the country, but a constant stream of prisoners and of
surrenders assured the soldiers that, in spite of the difficulty of
the country and the obstinacy of the enemy, the term of their
labours was rapidly approaching.

In all the petty and yet necessary operations of these columns, two
incidents demand more than a mere mention. The first was a
hard-fought skirmish in which some of Elliot's horsemen were
engaged upon June 6th. His column had trekked during the month of
May from Kroonstad to Harrismith, and then turning north found
itself upon that date near the hamlet of Reitz. Major Sladen with
200 Mounted Infantry, when detached from the main body, came upon
the track of a Boer convoy and ran it down. Over a hundred vehicles
with forty-five prisoners were the fruits of their enterprise. Well
satisfied with his morning's work, the British leader despatched a
party of his men to convey the news to De Lisle, who was behind,
while he established himself with his loot and his prisoners in a
convenient kraal. Thence they had an excellent view of a large body
of horsemen approaching them with scouts, flankers, and all
military precautions. One warm-hearted officer seems actually to
have sallied out to meet his comrades, and it was not till his
greeting of them took the extreme form of handing over his rifle
that the suspicion of danger entered the heads of his companions.
But if there was some lack of wit there was none of heart in Sladen
and his men. With forty-five Boers to hold down, and 500 under
Fourie, De Wet, and De la Rey around them, the little band made
rapid preparation for a desperate resistance: the prisoners were
laid upon their faces, the men knocked loopholes in the mud walls
of the kraal, and a blunt soldierly answer was returned to the
demand for surrender.

But it was a desperate business. The attackers were five to one,
and the five were soldiers of De Wet, the hard-bitten veterans of a
hundred encounters. The captured wagons in a long double row
stretched out over the plain, and under this cover the Dutchmen
swarmed up to the kraal. But the men who faced them were veterans
also, and the defence made up for the disparity of numbers. With
fine courage the Boers made their way up to the village, and
established themselves in the outlying huts, but the Mounted
Infantry clung desperately to their position. Out of the few
officers present Findlay was shot through the head, Moir and
Cameron through the heart, and Strong through the stomach. It was a
Waggon Hill upon a small scale, two dour lines of skirmishers
emptying their rifles into each other at point-blank range. Once
more, as at Bothaville, the British Mounted Infantry proved that
when it came to a dogged pelting match they could stand punishment
longer than their enemy. They suffered terribly. Fifty-one out of
the little force were on the ground, and the survivors were not
much more numerous than their prisoners. To the 1st Gordons, the
2nd Bedfords, the South Australians, and the New South Welsh men
belongs the honour of this magnificent defence. For four hours the
fierce battle raged, until at last the parched and powder-stained
survivors breathed a prayer of thanks as they saw on the southern
horizon the vanguard of De Lisle riding furiously to the rescue.
For the last hour, since they had despaired of carrying the kraal,
the Boers had busied themselves in removing their convoy; but now,
for the second time in one day, the drivers found British rifles
pointed at their heads, and the oxen were turned once more and
brought back to those who had fought so hard to hold them.
Twenty-eight killed and twenty-six wounded were the losses in this
desperate affair. Of the Boers seventeen were left dead in front of
the kraal, and the forty-five had not escaped from the bulldog grip
which held them. There seems for some reason to have been no
effective pursuit of the Boers, and the British column held on its
way to Kroonstad.

The second incident which stands out amid the dreary chronicle of
hustlings and snipings is the surprise visit paid by Broadwood with
a small British column to the town of Reitz upon July 11th, which
resulted in the capture of nearly every member of the late
government of the Free State, save only the one man whom they
particularly wanted. The column consisted of 200 yeomen, 200 of the
7th Dragoon Guards, and two guns. Starting at 11 P.M., the raiders
rode hard all night and broke with the dawn upon the sleeping
village. Racing into the main street, they secured the startled
Boers as they rushed from the houses. It is easy to criticise such
an operation from a distance, and to overlook the practical
difficulties in the way, but on the face of it it seems a pity that
the holes had not been stopped before the ferret was sent in. A
picket at the farther end of the street would have barred Steyn's
escape. As it was, he flung himself upon his horse and galloped
half-clad out of the town. Sergeant Cobb of the Dragoons snapped a
rifle at close quarters upon him, but the cold of the night had
frozen the oil on the striker and the cartridge hung fire. On such
trifles do the large events of history turn! Two Boer generals, two
commandants, Steyn's brother, his secretary, and several other
officials were among the nine-and-twenty prisoners. The treasury
was also captured, but it is feared that the Yeomen and Dragoons
will not be much the richer from their share of the contents.

Save these two incidents, the fight at Reitz and the capture of a
portion of Steyn's government at the same place, the winter's
campaign furnished little which was of importance, though a great
deal of very hard and very useful work was done by the various
columns under the direction of the governors of the four military
districts. In the south General Bruce Hamilton made two sweeps, one
from the railway line to the western frontier, and the second from
the south and east in the direction of Petrusburg. The result of
the two operations was about 300 prisoners. At the same time Monro
and Hickman re-cleared the already twice-cleared districts of
Rouxville and Smithfield. The country in the east of the Colony was
verging now upon the state which Grant described in the Shenandoah
Valley: 'A crow,' said he, 'must carry his own rations when he
flies across it.'

In the middle district General Charles Knox, with the columns of
Pine-Coffin, Thorneycroft, Pilcher, and Henry, were engaged in the
same sort of work with the same sort of results.

The most vigorous operations fell to the lot of General Elliot, who
worked over the northern and north-eastern district, which still
contained a large number of fighting burghers. In May and June
Elliot moved across to Vrede and afterwards down the eastern
frontier of the Colony, joining hands at last with Rundle at
Harrismith. He then worked his way back to Kroonstad through Reitz
and Lindley. It was on this journey that Sladen's Mounted Infantry
had the sharp experience which has been already narrated. Western's
column, working independently, co-operated with Elliot in this
clearing of the north-east. In August there were very large
captures by Broadwood's force, which had attained considerable
mobility, ninety miles being covered by it on one occasion in two

Of General Rundle there is little to be said, as he was kept busy
in exploring the rough country in his own district--the same
district which had been the scene of the operations against
Prinsloo and the Fouriesburg surrender. Into this district
Kritzinger and his men trekked after they were driven from the
Colony in July, and many small skirmishes and snipings among the
mountains showed that the Boer resistance was still alive.

July and August were occupied in the Orange River Colony by
energetic operations of Spens' and Rimington's columns in the
midland districts, and by a considerable drive to the north-eastern
corner, which was shared by three columns under Elliot and two
under Plumer, with one under Henry and several smaller bodies. A
considerable number of prisoners and a large amount of stock were
the result of the movement, but it was very evident that there was
a waste of energy in the employment of such forces for such an end.
The time appeared to be approaching when a strong force of military
police stationed permanently in each district might prove a more
efficient instrument. One interesting development of this phase of
the war was the enrolment of a burgher police among the Boers who
had surrendered. These men--well paid, well mounted, and well
armed--were an efficient addition to the British forces. The
movement spread until before the end of the war there were several
thousand burghers under such well-known officers as Celliers,
Villonel, and young Cronje, fighting against their own guerilla
countrymen. Who, in 1899, could have prophesied such a phenomenon
as that!

Lord Kitchener's proclamation issued upon August 9th marked one
more turn in the screw upon the part of the British authorities. By
it the burghers were warned that those who had not laid down their
arms by September 15th would in the case of the leaders be
banished, and in the case of the burghers be compelled to support
their families in the refugee camps. As many of the fighting
burghers were men of no substance, the latter threat did not affect
them much, but the other, though it had little result at the time,
may be useful for the exclusion of firebrands during the period of
reconstruction. Some increase was noticeable in the number of
surrenders after the proclamation, but on the whole it had not the
result which was expected, and its expediency is very open to
question. This date may be said to mark the conclusion of the
winter campaign and the opening of a new phase in the struggle.



In the account which has been given in a preceding chapter of the
invasion of Cape Colony by the Boer forces, it was shown that the
Western bands were almost entirely expelled, or at least that they
withdrew, at the time when De Wet was driven across the Orange
River. This was at the beginning of March 1901. It was also
mentioned that though the Boers evacuated the barren and
unprofitable desert of the Karoo, the Eastern bands which had come
with Kritzinger did not follow the same course, but continued to
infest the mountainous districts of the Central Colony, whence they
struck again and again at the railway lines, the small towns,
British patrols, or any other quarry which was within their reach
and strength. From the surrounding country they gathered a fair
number of recruits, and they were able through the sympathy and
help of the Dutch farmers to keep themselves well mounted and
supplied. In small wandering bands they spread themselves over a
vast extent of country, and there were few isolated farmhouses from
the Orange River to the Oudtshoorn Mountains, and from the Cape
Town railroad in the west to the Fish River in the east, which were
not visited by their active and enterprising scouts. The object of
the whole movement was, no doubt, to stimulate a general revolt in
the Colony; and it must be acknowledged that if the powder did not
all explode it was not for want of the match being thoroughly

It might at first sight seem the simplest of military operations to
hunt down these scattered and insignificant bands; but as a matter
of fact nothing could be more difficult. Operating in a country
which was both vast and difficult, with excellent horses, the best
of information and supplies ready for them everywhere, it was
impossible for the slow-moving British columns with their guns and
their wagons to overtake them. Formidable even in flight, the Boers
were always ready to turn upon any force which exposed itself too
rashly to retaliation, and so amid the mountain passes the British
chiefs had to use an amount of caution which was incompatible with
extreme speed. Only when a commando was exactly localised so that
two or three converging British forces could be brought to bear
upon it, was there a reasonable chance of forcing a fight. Still,
with all these heavy odds against them, the various little columns
continued month after month to play hide-and-seek with the
commandos, and the game was by no means always on the one side. The
varied fortunes of this scrambling campaign can only be briefly
indicated in these pages.

It has already been shown that Kritzinger's original force broke
into many bands, which were recruited partly from the Cape rebels
and partly from fresh bodies which passed over from the Orange
River Colony. The more severe the pressure in the north, the
greater reason was there for a trek to this land of plenty. The
total number of Boers who were wandering over the eastern and
midland districts may have been about two thousand, who were
divided into bands which varied from fifty to three hundred. The
chief leaders of separate commandos were Kritzinger, Scheepers,
Malan, Myburgh, Fouche, Lotter, Smuts, Van Reenen, Lategan, Maritz,
and Conroy, the two latter operating on the western side of the
country. To hunt down these numerous and active bodies the British
were compelled to put many similar detachments into the field,
known as the columns of Gorringe, Crabbe, Henniker, Scobell, Doran,
Kavanagh, Alexander, and others. These two sets of miniature armies
performed an intricate devil's dance over the Colony, the main
lines of which are indicated by the red lines upon the map. The
Zuurberg mountains to the north of Steynsburg, the Sneeuwberg range
to the south of Middelburg, the Oudtshoorn Mountains in the south,
the Cradock district, the Murraysburg district, and the
Graaf-Reinet district--these were the chief centres of Boer

In April Kritzinger made his way north to the Orange River Colony,
for the purpose of consulting with De Wet, but he returned with a
following of 200 men about the end of May. Continual brushes
occurred during this month between the various columns, and much
hard marching was done upon either side, but there was nothing
which could be claimed as a positive success.

Early in May two passengers sailed for Europe, the journey of each
being in its way historical. The first was the weary and overworked
Pro-Consul who had the foresight to distinguish the danger and the
courage to meet it. Milner's worn face and prematurely grizzled
hair told of the crushing weight which had rested upon him during
three eventful years. A gentle scholar, he might have seemed more
fitted for a life of academic calm than for the stormy part which
the discernment of Mr. Chamberlain had assigned to him. The fine
flower of an English university, low-voiced and urbane, it was
difficult to imagine what impression he would produce upon those
rugged types of which South Africa is so peculiarly prolific. But
behind the reserve of a gentleman there lay within him a lofty
sense of duty, a singular clearness of vision, and a moral courage
which would brace him to follow whither his reason pointed. His
visit to England for three months' rest was the occasion for a
striking manifestation of loyalty and regard from his
fellow-countrymen. He returned in August as Lord Milner to the
scene of his labours, with the construction of a united and loyal
commonwealth of South Africa as the task of his life.

The second traveller who sailed within a few days of the Governor
was Mrs. Botha, the wife of the Boer General, who visited Europe
for private as well as political reasons. She bore to Kruger an
exact account of the state of the country and of the desperate
condition of the burghers. Her mission had no immediate or visible
effect, and the weary war, exhausting for the British but fatal for
the Boers, went steadily on.

To continue the survey of the operations in the Cape, the first
point scored was by the invaders, for Malan's commando succeeded
upon May 13th in overwhelming a strong patrol of the Midland
Mounted Rifles, the local colonial corps, to the south of
Maraisburg. Six killed, eleven wounded, and forty-one prisoners
were the fruits of his little victory, which furnished him also
with a fresh supply of rifles and ammunition. On May 21st Crabbe's
column was in touch with Lotter and with Lategan, but no very
positive result came from the skirmish.

The end of May showed considerable Boer activity in the Cape
Colony, that date corresponding with the return of Kritzinger from
the north. Haig had for the moment driven Scheepers back from the
extreme southerly point which he had reached, and he was now in the
Graaf-Reinet district; but on the other side of the colony Conroy
had appeared near Kenhart, and upon May 23rd he fought a sharp
skirmish with a party of Border Scouts. The main Boer force under
Kritzinger was in the midlands, however, and had concentrated to
such an extent in the Cradock district that it was clear that some
larger enterprise was on foot. This soon took shape, for on June
2nd, after a long and rapid march, the Boer leader threw himself
upon Jamestown, overwhelmed the sixty townsmen who formed the
guard, and looted the town, from which he drew some welcome
supplies and 100 horses. British columns were full cry upon his
heels, however, and the Boers after a few hours left the gutted
town and vanished into the hills once more. On June 6th the British
had a little luck at last, for on that date Scobell and Lukin in
the Barkly East district surprised a laager and took twenty
prisoners, 166 horses, and much of the Jamestown loot. On the same
day Windham treated Van Reenen in a similar rough fashion near
Steynsburg, and took twenty-two prisoners.

On June 8th the supreme command of the operations in Cape Colony
was undertaken by General French, who from this time forward
manoeuvred his numerous columns upon a connected plan with the main
idea of pushing the enemy northwards. It was some time, however,
before his disposition bore fruit, for the commandos were still
better mounted and lighter than their pursuers. On June 13th the
youthful and dashing Scheepers, who commanded his own little force
at an age when he would have been a junior lieutenant of the
British army, raided Murraysburg and captured a patrol. On June
17th Monro with Lovat's Scouts and Bethune's Mounted Infantry had
some slight success near Tarkastad, but three days later the
ill-fated Midland Mounted Rifles were surprised in the early
morning by Kritzinger at Waterkloof, which is thirty miles west of
Cradock, and were badly mauled by him. They lost ten killed, eleven
wounded, and sixty-six prisoners in this unfortunate affair. Again
the myth that colonial alertness is greater than that of regular
troops seems to have been exposed.

At the end of June, Fouche, one of the most enterprising of the
guerilla chiefs, made a dash from Barkly East into the native
reserves of the Transkei in order to obtain horses and supplies. It
was a desperate measure, as it was vain to suppose that the warlike
Kaffirs would permit their property to be looted without
resistance, and if once the assegais were reddened no man could say
how far the mischief might go. With great loyalty the British
Government, even in the darkest days, had held back those martial
races--Zulus, Swazis, and Basutos--who all had old grudges against
the Amaboon. Fouche's raid was stopped, however, before it led to
serious trouble. A handful of Griqualand Mounted Rifles held it in
front, while Dalgety and his colonial veterans moving very swiftly
drove him back northwards.

Though baulked, Fouche was still formidable, and on July 14th he
made a strong attack in the neighbourhood of Jamestown upon a
column of Connaught Rangers who were escorting a convoy. Major
Moore offered a determined resistance, and eventually after some
hours of fighting drove the enemy away and captured their laager.
Seven killed and seventeen wounded were the British losses in this
spirited engagement.

On July 10th General French, surveying from a lofty mountain peak
the vast expanse of the field of operations, with his heliograph
calling up responsive twinkles over one hundred miles of country,
gave the order for the convergence of four columns upon the valley
in which he knew Scheepers to be lurking. We have it from one of
his own letters that his commando at the time consisted of 240 men,
of whom forty were Free Staters and the rest colonial rebels.
Crewe, Windham, Doran, and Scobell each answered to the call, but
the young leader was a man of resource, and a long kloof up the
precipitous side of the hill gave him a road to safety. Yet the
operations showed a new mobility in the British columns, which shed
their guns and their baggage in order to travel faster. The main
commando escaped, but twenty-five laggards were taken. The action
took place among the hills thirty miles to the west of

On July 21st Crabbe and Kritzinger had a skirmish in the mountains
near Cradock, in which the Boers were strong enough to hold their
own; but on the same date near Murraysburg, Lukin, the gallant
colonial gunner, with ninety men rode into 150 of Lategan's band
and captured ten of them, with a hundred horses. On July 27th a
small party of twenty-one Imperial Yeomanry was captured, after a
gallant resistance, by a large force of Boers at the Doorn River on
the other side of the Colony. The Kaffir scouts of the British were
shot dead in cold blood by their captors after the action. There
seems to be no possible excuse for the repeated murders of coloured
men by the Boers, as they had themselves from the beginning of the
war used their Kaffirs for every purpose short of actually
fighting. The war had lost much of the good humour which marked its
outset. A fiercer feeling had been engendered on both sides by the
long strain, but the execution of rebels by the British, though
much to be deplored, is still recognised as one of the rights of a
belligerent. When one remembers the condonation upon the part of
the British of the use of their own uniforms by the Boers, of the
wholesale breaking of paroles, of the continual use of expansive
bullets, of the abuse of the pass system and of the red cross, it
is impossible to blame them for showing some severity in the
stamping out of armed rebellion within their own Colony. If stern
measures were eventually adopted it was only after extreme leniency
had been tried and failed. The loss of five years' franchise as a
penalty for firing upon their own flag is surely the most gentle
correction which an Empire ever laid upon a rebellious people.

At the beginning of August the connected systematic work of
French's columns began to tell. In a huge semicircle the British
were pushing north, driving the guerillas in front of them.
Scheepers in his usual wayward fashion had broken away to the
south, but the others had been unable to penetrate the cordon and
were herded over the Stormberg to Naauwport line. The main body of
the Boers was hustled swiftly along from August 7th to August 10th,
from Graaf-Reinet to Thebus, and thrust over the railway line at
that point with some loss of men and a great shedding of horses. It
was hoped that the blockhouses on the railroad would have held the
enemy, but they slipped across by night and got into the Steynsburg
district, where Gorringe's colonials took up the running. On August
18th he followed the commandos from Steynsburg to Venterstad,
killing twenty of them and taking several prisoners. On the 15th,
Kritzinger with the main body of the invaders passed the Orange
River near Bethulie, and made his way to the Wepener district of
the Orange River Colony. Scheepers, Lotter, Lategan, and a few
small wandering bands were the only Boers left in the Colony, and
to these the British columns now turned their attention, with the
result that Lategan, towards the end of the month, was also driven
over the river. For the time, at least, the situation seemed to
have very much improved, but there was a drift of Boers over the
north-western frontier, and the long-continued warfare at their own
doors was undoubtedly having a dangerous effect upon the Dutch
farmers. Small successes from time to time, such as the taking of
sixty of French's Scouts by Theron's commando on August 10th,
served to keep them from despair. Of the guerilla bands which
remained, the most important was that of Scheepers, which now
numbered 300 men, well mounted and supplied. He had broken back
through the cordon, and made for his old haunts in the south-west.
Theron, with a smaller band, was also in the Uniondale and
Willowmore district, approaching close to the sea in the Mossel Bay
direction, but being headed off by Kavanagh. Scheepers turned in
the direction of Cape Town, but swerved aside at Montagu, and moved
northwards towards Touws River.

So far the British had succeeded in driving and injuring, but never
in destroying, the Boer bands. It was a new departure therefore
when, upon September 4th, the commando of Lotter was entirely
destroyed by the column of Scobell. This column consisted of some
of the Cape Mounted Rifles and of the indefatigable 9th Lancers. It
marked the enemy down in a valley to the west of Cradock and
attacked them in the morning, after having secured all the
approaches. The result was a complete success. The Boers threw
themselves into a building and held out valiantly, but their
position was impossible, and after enduring considerable punishment
they were forced to hoist the white flag. Eleven had been killed,
forty-six wounded, and fifty-six surrendered--figures which are in
themselves a proof of the tenacity of their defence. Lotter was
among the prisoners, 260 horses were taken, and a good supply of
ammunition, with some dynamite. A few days later, on September
10th, a similar blow, less final in its character, was dealt by
Colonel Crabbe to the commando of Van der Merve, which was an
offshoot of that of Scheepers. The action was fought near
Laingsburg, which is on the main line, just north of Matjesfontein,
and it ended in the scattering of the Boer band, the death of their
boy leader (he was only eighteen years of age), and the capture of
thirty-seven prisoners. Seventy of the Beers escaped by a hidden
road. To Colonials and Yeomanry belongs the honour of the action,
which cost the British force seven casualties. Colonel Crabbe
pushed on after the success, and on September 14th he was in touch
with Scheepers's commando near Ladismith (not to be confused with
the historical town of Natal), and endured and inflicted some
losses. On the 17th a patrol of Grenadier Guards was captured in
the north of the Colony, Rebow, the young lieutenant in charge of
them, meeting with a soldier's death.

On the same day a more serious engagement occurred near Tarkastad,
a place which lies to the east of Cradock, a notorious centre of
disaffection in the midland district. Smuts's commando, some
hundreds strong, was marked down in this part, and several forces
converged upon it. One of the outlets, Elands River Poort, was
guarded by a single squadron of the 17th Lancers. Upon this the
Boers made a sudden and very fierce attack, their approach being
facilitated partly by the mist and partly by the use of khaki, a
trick which seems never to have grown too stale for successful use.
The result was that they were able to ride up to the British camp
before any preparations had been made for resistance, and to shoot
down a number of the Lancers before they could reach their horses.
So terrible was the fire that the single squadron lost thirty-four
killed and thirty-six wounded. But the regiment may console itself
for the disaster by the fact that the sorely stricken detachment
remained true to the spirited motto of the corps, and that no
prisoners appear to have been lost.

After this one sharp engagement there ensued several weeks during
which the absence of historical events, or the presence of the
military censor, caused a singular lull in the account of the
operations. With so many small commandos and so many pursuing
columns it is extraordinary that there should not have been a
constant succession of actions. That there was not must indicate a
sluggishness upon the part of the pursuers, and this sluggishness
can only be explained by the condition of their horses. Every train
of thought brings the critic back always to the great horse
question, and encourages the conclusion that there, at all seasons
of the war and in all scenes of it, is to be found the most damning
indictment against British foresight, common-sense, and power of
organisation. That the third year of the war should dawn without
the British forces having yet got the legs of the Boers, after
having penetrated every portion of their country and having the
horses of the world on which to draw, is the most amazingly
inexplicable point in the whole of this strange campaign. From the
telegram 'Infantry preferred' addressed to a nation of
rough-riders, down to the failure to secure the excellent horses on
the spot, while importing them unfit for use from the ends of the
earth, there has been nothing but one long series of blunders in
this, the most vital question of all. Even up to the end, in the
Colony the obvious lesson had not yet been learnt that it is better
to give 1000 men two horses each, and to let them reach the enemy,
than give 2000 men one horse each, with which they can never attain
their object. The chase during two years of the man with two horses
by the man with one horse, has been a sight painful to ourselves
and ludicrous to others.

In connection with this account of operations within the Colony,
there is one episode which occurred in the extreme north-west which
will not fit in with this connected narrative, but which will
justify the distraction of the reader's intelligence, for few finer
deeds of arms are recorded in the war. This was the heroic defence
of a convoy by the 14th Company of Irish Imperial Yeomanry. The
convoy was taking food to Griquatown, on the Kimberley side of the
seat of war. The town had been long invested by Conroy, and the
inhabitants were in such straits that it was highly necessary to
relieve them. To this end a convoy, two miles long, was despatched
under Major Humby of the Irish Yeomanry. The escort consisted of
seventy-five Northumberland Fusiliers, twenty-four local troops,
and 100 of the 74th Irish Yeomanry. Fifteen miles from Griquatown,
at a place called Rooikopjes, the convoy was attacked by the enemy
several hundred in number. Two companies of the Irishmen seized the
ridge, however, which commanded the wagons, and held it until they
were almost exterminated. The position was covered with bush, and
the two parties came to the closest of quarters, the Yeomen
refusing to take a backward step, though it was clear that they
were vastly outnumbered. Encouraged by the example of Madan and
Ford, their gallant young leaders, they deliberately sacrificed
their lives in order to give time for the guns to come up and for
the convoy to pass. Oliffe, Bonynge, and Maclean, who had been
children together, were shot side by side on the ridge, and
afterwards buried in one grave. Of forty-three men in action,
fourteen were killed and twenty severely wounded. Their sacrifice
was not in vain, however. The Boers were beaten back, and the
convoy, as well as Griquatown, was saved. Some thirty or forty
Boers were killed or wounded in the skirmish, and Conroy, their
leader, declared that it was the stiffest fight of his life.

In the autumn and winter of 1901 General French had steadily
pursued the system of clearing certain districts, one at a time,
and endeavouring by his blockhouses and by the arrangement of his
forces to hold in strict quarantine those sections of the country
which were still infested by the commandos. In this manner he
succeeded by the November of this year in confining the active
forces of the enemy to the extreme north-east and to the south-west
of the peninsula. It is doubtful if the whole Boer force,
three-quarters of whom were colonial rebels, amounted to more than
fifteen hundred men. When we learn that at this period of the war
they were indifferently armed, and that many of them were mounted
upon donkeys, it is impossible, after making every allowance for
the passive assistance of the farmers, and the difficulties of the
country, to believe that the pursuit was always pushed with the
spirit and vigour which was needful.

In the north-east, Myburgh, Wessels, and the truculent Fouche were
allowed almost a free hand for some months, while the roving bands
were rounded up in the midlands and driven along until they were
west of the main railroad. Here, in the Calvinia district, several
commandos united in October 1901 under Maritz, Louw, Smit, and
Theron. Their united bands rode down into the rich grain-growing
country round Piquetberg and Malmesbury, pushing south until it
seemed as if their academic supporters at Paarl were actually to
have a sight of the rebellion which they had fanned to a flame. At
one period their patrols were within forty miles of Cape Town. The
movement was checked, however, by a small force of Lancers and
district troops, and towards the end of October, Maritz, who was
chief in this quarter, turned northwards, and on the 29th captured
a small British convoy which crossed his line of march. Early in
November he doubled back and attacked Piquetberg, but was beaten
off with some loss. From that time a steady pressure from the south
and east drove these bands farther and farther into the great
barren lands of the west, until, in the following April, they had
got as far as Namaqualand, many hundred miles away.

Upon October 9th, the second anniversary of the Ultimatum, the
hands of the military were strengthened by the proclamation of Cape
Town and all the seaport towns as being in a state of martial law.
By this means a possible source of supplies and recruits for the
enemy was effectually blocked. That it had not been done two years
before is a proof of how far local political considerations can be
allowed to over-ride the essentials of Imperial policy. Meanwhile
treason courts were sitting, and sentences, increasing rapidly from
the most trivial to the most tragic, were teaching the rebel that
his danger did not end upon the field of battle. The execution of
Lotter and his lieutenants was a sign that the patience of a
long-suffering Empire had at last reached an end.

The young Boer leader, Scheepers, had long been a thorn in the side
of the British. He had infested the southern districts for some
months, and he had distinguished himself both by the activity of
his movements and by the ruthless vigour of some of his actions.
Early in October a serious illness and consequent confinement to
his bed brought him at last within the range of British mobility.
On his recovery he was tried for repeated breaches of the laws of
war, including the murder of several natives. He was condemned to
death, and was executed in December. Much sympathy was excited by
his gallantry and his youth--he was only twenty-three. On the other
hand, our word was pledged to protect the natives, and if he whose
hand had been so heavy upon them escaped, all confidence would have
been lost in our promises and our justice. That British vengeance
was not indiscriminate was shown soon afterwards in the case of a
more important commander, Kritzinger, who was the chief leader of
the Boers within Cape Colony. Kritzinger was wounded and captured
while endeavouring to cross the line near Hanover Road upon
December 15th. He was put upon his trial, and his fate turned upon
how far he was responsible for the misdeeds of some of his
subordinates. It was clearly shown that he had endeavoured to hold
them within the bounds of civilised warfare, and with
congratulations and handshakings he was acquitted by the military

In the last two months of the year 1901, a new system was
introduced into the Cape Colony campaign by placing the Colonial
and district troops immediately under the command of Colonial
officers and of the Colonial Government. It had long been felt that
some devolution was necessary, and the change was justified by the
result. Without any dramatic incident, an inexorable process of
attrition, caused by continual pursuit and hardship, wore out the
commandos. Large bands had become small ones, and small ones had
vanished. Only by the union of several bodies could any enterprise
higher than the looting of a farmhouse be successfully attempted.

Such a union occurred, however, in the early days of February 1902,
when Smuts, Malan, and several other Boer leaders showed great
activity in the country round Calvinia. Their commandos seem to
have included a proportion of veteran Republicans from the north,
who were more formidable fighting material than the raw Colonial
rebels. It happened that several dangerously weak British columns
were operating within reach at that time, and it was only owing to
the really admirable conduct of the troops that a serious disaster
was averted. Two separate actions, each of them severe, were fought
on the same date, and in each case the Boers were able to bring
very superior numbers into the field.

The first of these was the fight in which Colonel Doran's column
extricated itself with severe loss from a most perilous plight. The
whole force under Doran consisted of 350 men with two guns, and
this handful was divided by an expedition which he, with 150 men,
undertook in order to search a distant farm. The remaining two
hundred men, under Captain Saunders, were left upon February 5th
with the guns and the convoy at a place called Middlepost, which
lies about fifty miles south-west of Calvinia. These men were of
the 11th, 23rd, and 24th Imperial Yeomanry, with a troop of Cape
Police. The Boer Intelligence was excellent, as might be expected
in a country which is dotted with farms. The weakened force at
Middlepost was instantly attacked by Smuts's commando. Saunders
evacuated the camp and abandoned the convoy, which was the only
thing he could do, but he concentrated all his efforts upon
preserving his guns. The night was illuminated by the blazing
wagons, and made hideous by the whoops of the drunken rebels who
caroused among the captured stores. With the first light of dawn
the small British force was fiercely assailed on all sides, but
held its own in a manner which would have done credit to any
troops. The much criticised Yeomen fought like veterans. A
considerable position had to be covered, and only a handful of men
were available at the most important points. One ridge, from which
the guns would be enfiladed, was committed to the charge of
Lieutenants Tabor and Chichester with eleven men of the 11th
Imperial Yeomanry, their instructions being 'to hold it to the
death.' The order was obeyed with the utmost heroism. After a
desperate defence the ridge was only taken by the Boers when both
officers had been killed and nine out of eleven men were on the
ground. In spite of the loss of this position the fight was still
sustained until shortly after midday, when Doran with the patrol
returned. The position was still most dangerous, the losses had
been severe, and the Boers were increasing in strength. An
immediate retreat was ordered, and the small column, after ten days
of hardship and anxiety, reached the railway line in safety. The
wounded were left to the care of Smuts, who behaved with chivalry
and humanity.

At about the same date a convoy proceeding from Beaufort West to
Fraserburg was attacked by Malan's commando. The escort, which
consisted of sixty Colonial Mounted Rifles and 100 of the West
Yorkshire militia, was overwhelmed after a good defence, in which
Major Crofton, their commander, was killed. The wagons were
destroyed, but the Boers were driven off by the arrival of Crabbe's
column, followed by those of Capper and Lund. The total losses of
the British in these two actions amounted to twenty-three killed
and sixty-five wounded.

The re-establishment of settled law and order was becoming more
marked every week in those south-western districts, which had long
been most disturbed. Colonel Crewe in this region, and Colonel
Lukin upon the other side of the line, acting entirely with
Colonial troops, were pushing back the rebels, and holding, by a
well-devised system of district defence, all that they had gained.
By the end of February there were none of the enemy south of the
Beaufort West and Clanwilliam line. These results were not obtained
without much hard marching and a little hard fighting. Small
columns under Crabbe, Capper, Wyndham, Nickall, and Lund, were
continually on the move, with little to show for it save an
ever-widening area of settled country in their rear. In a skirmish
on February 20th Judge Hugo, a well-known Boer leader, was killed,
and Vanheerden, a notorious rebel, was captured. At the end of this
month Fouche's tranquil occupation of the north-east was at last
disturbed, and he was driven out of it into the midlands, where he
took refuge with the remains of his commando in the Camdeboo
Mountains. Malan's men had already sought shelter in the same
natural fortress. Malan was wounded and taken in a skirmish near
Somerset East a few days before the general Boer surrender. Fouche
gave himself up at Cradock on June 2nd.

The last incident of this scattered, scrambling, unsatisfactory
campaign in the Cape peninsula was the raid made by Smuts, the
Transvaal leader, into the Port Nolloth district of Namaqualand,
best known for its copper mines. A small railroad has been
constructed from the coast at this point, the terminus being the
township of Ookiep. The length of the line is about seventy miles.
It is difficult to imagine what the Boers expected to gain in this
remote corner of the seat of war, unless they had conceived the
idea that they might actually obtain possession of Port Nolloth
itself, and so restore the communications with their sympathisers
and allies. At the end of March the Boer horsemen appeared suddenly
out of the desert, drove in the British outposts, and summoned
Ookiep to surrender. Colonel Shelton, who commanded the small
garrison, sent an uncompromising reply, but he was unable to
protect the railway in his rear, which was wrecked, together with
some of the blockhouses which had been erected to guard it. The
loyal population of the surrounding country had flocked into
Ookiep, and the Commandant found himself burdened with the care of
six thousand people. The enemy had succeeded in taking the small
post of Springbok, and Concordia, the mining centre, was
surrendered into their hands without resistance, giving them
welcome supplies of arms, ammunition, and dynamite. The latter was
used by the Boers in the shape of hand-bombs, and proved to be a
very efficient weapon when employed against blockhouses. Several of
the British defences were wrecked by them, with considerable loss
to the garrison; but in the course of a month's siege, in spite of
several attacks, the Boers were never able to carry the frail works
which guarded the town. Once more, at the end of the war as at the
beginning of it, there was shown the impotence of the Dutch
riflemen against a British defence. A relief column, under Colonel
Cooper, was quickly organised at Port Nolloth, and advanced along
the railway line, forcing Smuts to raise the siege in the first
week of May. Immediately afterwards came the news of the
negotiations for peace, and the Boer general presented himself at
Port Nolloth, whence he was conveyed by ship to Cape Town, and so
north again to take part in the deliberations of his
fellow-countrymen. Throughout the war he had played a manly and
honourable part. It may be hoped that with youth and remarkable
experience, both of diplomacy and of war, he may now find a long
and brilliant career awaiting him in a wider arena than that for
which he strove.



The history of the war during the African winter of 1901 has now
been sketched, and some account given of the course of events in
the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and the Cape Colony. The
hope of the British that they might stamp out resistance before the
grass should restore mobility to the larger bodies of Boers was
destined to be disappointed. By the middle of September the veld
had turned from drab to green, and the great drama was fated to
last for one more act, however anxious all the British and the
majority of the Boers might be to ring down the curtain.
Exasperating as this senseless prolongation of a hopeless struggle
might be, there was still some consolation in the reflection that
those who drank this bitter cup to the very lees would be less
likely to thirst for it again.

September 15th was the date which brought into force the British
Proclamation announcing the banishment of those Boer leaders who
continued in arms. It must be confessed that this step may appear
harsh and unchivalrous to the impartial observer, so long as those
leaders were guilty of no practices which are foreign to the laws
of civilised warfare. The imposition of personal penalties upon the
officers of an opposing army is a step for which it is difficult to
quote a precedent, nor is it wise to officially rule your enemy
outside the pale of ordinary warfare, since it is equally open to
him to take the same step against you. The only justification for
such a course would be its complete success, as this would suggest
that the Intelligence Department were aware that the leaders
desired some strong excuse for coming in--such an excuse as the
Proclamation would afford. The result proved that nothing of the
kind was needed, and the whole proceeding must appear to be
injudicious and high-handed. In honourable war you conquer your
adversary by superior courage, strength, or wit, but you do not
terrorise him by particular penalties aimed at individuals. The
burghers of the Transvaal and of the late Orange Free State were
legitimate belligerents, and to be treated as such--a statement
which does not, of course, extend to the Afrikander rebels who were
their allies.

The tendency of the British had been to treat their antagonists as
a broken and disorganised banditti, but with the breaking of the
spring they were sharply reminded that the burghers were still
capable of a formidable and coherent effort. The very date which
put them beyond the pale as belligerents was that which they seem
to have chosen in order to prove what active and valiant soldiers
they still remained. A quick succession of encounters occurred at
various parts of the seat of war, the general tendency of which was
not entirely in favour of the British arms, though the weekly
export of prisoners reassured all who noted it as to the sapping
and decay of the Boer strength. These incidents must now be set
down in the order of their occurrence, with their relation to each
other so far as it is possible to trace it.

General Louis Botha, with the double intention of making an
offensive move and of distracting the wavering burghers from a
close examination of Lord Kitchener's proclamation, assembled his
forces in the second week of September in the Ermelo district.
Thence he moved them rapidly towards Natal, with the result that
the volunteers of that colony had once more to grasp their rifles
and hasten to the frontier. The whole situation bore for an instant
an absurd resemblance to that of two years before--Botha playing
the part of Joubert, and Lyttelton, who commanded on the frontier,
that of White. It only remained, to make the parallel complete,
that some one should represent Penn Symons, and this perilous role
fell to a gallant officer, Major Gough, commanding a detached force
which thought itself strong enough to hold its own, and only
learned by actual experiment that it was not.

This officer, with a small force consisting of three companies of
Mounted Infantry with two guns of the 69th R.F.A., was operating in
the neighbourhood of Utrecht in the south-eastern corner of the
Transvaal, on the very path along which Botha must descend. On
September 17th he had crossed De Jagers Drift on the Blood River,
not very far from Dundee, when he found himself in touch with the
enemy. His mission was to open a path for an empty convoy returning
from Vryheid, and in order to do so it was necessary that Blood
River Poort, where the Boers were now seen, should be cleared. With
admirable zeal Gough pushed rapidly forward, supported by a force
of 350 Johannesburg Mounted Rifles under Stewart. Such a proceeding
must have seemed natural to any British officer at this stage of
the war, when a swift advance was the only chance of closing with
the small bodies of Boers; but it is strange that the Intelligence
Department had not warned the patrols upon the frontier that a
considerable force was coming down upon them, and that they should
be careful to avoid action against impossible odds. If Gough had
known that Botha's main commando was coming down upon him, it is
inconceivable that he would have pushed his advance until he could
neither extricate his men nor his guns. A small body of the enemy,
said to have been the personal escort of Louis Botha, led him on,
until a large force was able to ride down upon him from the flank
and rear. Surrounded at Scheepers Nek by many hundreds of riflemen
in a difficult country, there was no alternative but a surrender,
and so sharp and sudden was the Boer advance that the whole action
was over in a very short time. The new tactics of the Boers,
already used at Vlakfontein, and afterwards to be successful at
Brakenlaagte and at Tweebosch, were put in force. A large body of
mounted men, galloping swiftly in open order and firing from the
saddle, rode into and over the British. Such temerity should in
theory have met with severe punishment, but as a matter of fact the
losses of the enemy seem to have been very small. The soldiers were
not able to return an effective fire from their horses, and had no
time to dismount. The sights and breech-blocks of the two guns are
said to have been destroyed, but the former statement seems more
credible than the latter. A Colt gun was also captured. Of the
small force twenty were killed, forty wounded, and over two hundred
taken. Stewart's force was able to extricate itself with some
difficulty, and to fall back on the Drift. Gough managed to escape
that night and to report that it was Botha himself, with over a
thousand men, who had eaten up his detachment. The prisoners and
wounded were sent in a few days later to Vryheid, a town which
appeared to be in some danger of capture had not Walter Kitchener
hastened to carry reinforcements to the garrison. Bruce Hamilton
was at the same time despatched to head Botha off, and every step
taken to prevent his southern advance. So many columns from all
parts converged upon the danger spot that Lyttelton, who commanded
upon the Natal frontier, had over 20,000 men under his orders.

Botha's plans appear to have been to work through Zululand and then
strike at Natal, an operation which would be the more easy as it
would be conducted a considerable distance from the railway line.
Pushing on a few days after his successful action with Gough, he
crossed the Zulu frontier, and had in front of him an almost
unimpeded march as far as the Tugela. Crossing this far from the
British base of power, his force could raid the Greytown district
and raise recruits among the Dutch farmers, laying waste one of the
few spots in South Africa which had been untouched by the blight of
war. All this lay before him, and in his path nothing save only two
small British posts which might be either disregarded or gathered
up as he passed. In an evil moment for himself, tempted by the
thought of the supplies which they might contain, he stopped to
gather them up, and the force of the wave of invasion broke itself
as upon two granite rocks.

These two so-called forts were posts of very modest strength, a
chain of which had been erected at the time of the old Zulu war.
Fort Itala, the larger, was garrisoned by 300 men of the 5th
Mounted Infantry, drawn from the Dublin Fusiliers, Middlesex,
Dorsets, South Lancashires, and Lancashire Fusiliers--most of them
old soldiers of many battles. They had two guns of the 69th R.F.A.,
the same battery which had lost a section the week before. Major
Chapman, of the Dublins, was in command.

Upon September 25th the small garrison heard that the main force of
the Boers was sweeping towards them, and prepared to give them a
soldiers' welcome. The fort is situated upon the flank of a hill,
on the summit of which, a mile from the main trenches, a strong
outpost was stationed. It was upon this that the first force of the
attack broke at midnight of September 25th. The garrison, eighty
strong, was fiercely beset by several hundred Boers, and the post
was eventually carried after a sharp and bloody contest. Kane, of
the South Lancashires, died with the words 'No surrender' upon his
lips, and Potgieter, a Boer leader, was pistolled by Kane's fellow
officer, Lefroy. Twenty of the small garrison fell, and the
remainder were overpowered and taken.

With this vantage-ground in their possession the Boers settled down
to the task of overwhelming the main position. They attacked upon
three sides, and until morning the force was raked from end to end
by unseen riflemen. The two British guns were put out of action and
the maxim was made unserviceable by a bullet. At dawn there was a
pause in the attack, but it recommenced and continued without
intermission until sunset. The span betwixt the rising of the sun
and its last red glow in the west is a long one for the man who
spends it at his ease, but how never-ending must have seemed the
hours to this handful of men, outnumbered, surrounded, pelted by
bullets, parched with thirst, torn with anxiety, holding
desperately on with dwindling numbers to their frail defences! To
them it may have seemed a hard thing to endure so much for a tiny
fort in a savage land. The larger view of its vital importance
could have scarcely come to console the regimental officer, far
less the private. But duty carried them through, and they wrought
better than they knew, for the brave Dutchmen, exasperated by so
disproportionate a resistance, stormed up to the very trenches and
suffered as they had not suffered for many a long month. There have
been battles with 10,000 British troops hotly engaged in which the
Boer losses have not been so great as in this obscure conflict
against an isolated post. When at last, baffled and disheartened,
they drew off with the waning light, it is said that no fewer than
a hundred of their dead and two hundred of their wounded attested
the severity of the fight. So strange are the conditions of South
African warfare that this loss, which would have hardly made a
skirmish memorable in the slogging days of the Peninsula, was one
of the most severe blows which the burghers had sustained in the
course of a two years' warfare against a large and aggressive army.
There is a conflict of evidence as to the exact figures, but at
least they were sufficient to beat the Boer army back and to change
their plan of campaign.

Whilst this prolonged contest had raged round Fort Itala, a similar
attack upon a smaller scale was being made upon Fort Prospect, some
fifteen miles to the eastward. This small post was held by a
handful of Durham Artillery Militia and of Dorsets. The attack was
delivered by Grobler with several hundred burghers, but it made no
advance although it was pushed with great vigour, and repeated many
times in the course of the day. Captain Rowley, who was in command,
handled his men with such judgment that one killed and eight
wounded represented his casualties during a long day's fighting.
Here again the Boer losses were in proportion to the resolution of
their attack, and are said to have amounted to sixty killed and
wounded. Considering the impossibility of replacing the men, and
the fruitless waste of valuable ammunition, September 26th was an
evil day for the Boer cause. The British casualties amounted to

The water of the garrison of Fort Itala had been cut off early in
the attack, and their ammunition had run low by evening. Chapman
withdrew his men and his guns therefore to Nkandhla, where the
survivors of his gallant garrison received the special thanks of
Lord Kitchener. The country around was still swarming with Boers,
and on the last day of September a convoy from Melmoth fell into
their hands and provided them with some badly needed supplies.

But the check which he had received was sufficient to prevent any
important advance upon the part of Botha, while the swollen state
of the rivers put an additional obstacle in his way. Already the
British commanders, delighted to have at last discovered a definite
objective, were hurrying to the scene of action. Bruce Hamilton had
reached Fort Itala upon September 28th and Walter Kitchener had
been despatched to Vryheid. Two British forces, aided by smaller
columns, were endeavouring to surround the Boer leader. On October
6th Botha had fallen back to the north-east of Vryheid, whither the
British forces had followed him. Like De Wet's invasion of the
Cape, Botha's advance upon Natal had ended in placing himself and
his army in a critical position. On October 9th he had succeeded in
crossing the Privaan River, a branch of the Pongolo, and was
pushing north in the direction of Piet Retief, much helped by misty
weather and incessant rain. Some of his force escaped between the
British columns, and some remained in the kloofs and forests of
that difficult country.

Walter Kitchener, who had followed up the Boer retreat, had a brisk
engagement with the rearguard upon October 6th. The Boers shook
themselves clear with some loss, both to themselves and to their
pursuers. On the 10th those of the burghers who held together had
reached Luneburg, and shortly afterwards they had got completely
away from the British columns. The weather was atrocious, and the
lumbering wagons, axle-deep in mud, made it impossible for troops
who were attached to them to keep in touch with the light riders
who sped before them. For some weeks there was no word of the main
Boer force, but at the end of that time they reappeared in a manner
which showed that both in numbers and in spirit they were still a
formidable body.

Of all the sixty odd British columns which were traversing the Boer
states there was not one which had a better record than that
commanded by Colonel Benson. During seven months of continuous
service this small force, consisting at that time of the Argyle and
Sutherland Highlanders, the 2nd Scottish Horse, the 18th and 19th
Mounted Infantry, and two guns, had acted with great energy, and
had reduced its work to a complete and highly effective system.
Leaving the infantry as a camp guard, Benson operated with mounted
troops alone, and no Boer laager within fifty miles was safe from
his nocturnal visits. So skilful had he and his men become at these
night attacks in a strange, and often difficult country, that out
of twenty-eight attempts twenty-one resulted in complete success.
In each case the rule was simply to gallop headlong into the Boer
laager, and to go on chasing as far as the horses could go. The
furious and reckless pace may be judged by the fact that the
casualties of the force were far greater from falls than from
bullets. In seven months forty-seven Boers were killed and six
hundred captured, to say nothing of enormous quantities of
munitions and stock. The success of these operations was due, not
only to the energy of Benson and his men, but to the untiring
exertions of Colonel Wools-Sampson, who acted as intelligence
officer. If, during his long persecution by President Kruger,
Wools-Sampson in the bitterness of his heart had vowed a feud
against the Boer cause, it must be acknowledged that he has most
amply fulfilled it, for it would be difficult to point to any
single man who has from first to last done them greater harm.

In October Colonel Benson's force was reorganised, and it then
consisted of the 2nd Buffs, the 2nd Scottish Horse, the 3rd and
25th Mounted Infantry, and four guns of the 84th battery. With this
force, numbering nineteen hundred men, he left Middelburg upon the
Delagoa line on October 20th and proceeded south, crossing the
course along which the Boers, who were retiring from their abortive
raid into Natal, might be expected to come. For several days the
column performed its familiar work, and gathered up forty or fifty
prisoners. On the 26th came news that the Boer commandos under
Grobler were concentrating against it, and that an attack in force
might be expected. For two days there was continuous sniping, and
the column as it moved through the country saw Boer horsemen
keeping pace with it on the far flanks and in the rear. The weather
had been very bad, and it was in a deluge of cold driving rain that
the British set forth upon October 30th, moving towards
Brakenlaagte, which is a point about forty miles due south of
Middelburg. It was Benson's intention to return to his base.

About midday the column, still escorted by large bodies of
aggressive Boers, came to a difficult spruit swollen by the rain.
Here the wagons stuck, and it took some hours to get them all
across. The Boer fire was continually becoming more severe, and had
broken out at the head of the column as well as the rear. The
situation was rendered more difficult by the violence of the rain,
which raised a thick steam from the ground and made it impossible
to see for any distance. Major Anley, in command of the rearguard,
peering back, saw through a rift of the clouds a large body of
horsemen in extended order sweeping after them. 'There's miles of
them, begob!' cried an excited Irish trooper. Next instant the
curtain had closed once more, but all who had caught a glimpse of
that vision knew that a stern struggle was at hand.

At this moment two guns of the 84th battery under Major Guinness
were in action against Boer riflemen. As a rear screen on the
farther side of the guns was a body of the Scottish Horse and of
the Yorkshire Mounted Infantry. Near the guns themselves were
thirty men of the Buffs. The rest of the Buffs and of the Mounted
Infantry were out upon the flanks or else were with the advance
guard, which was now engaged, under the direction of Colonel
Wools-Sampson, in parking the convoy and in forming the camp. These
troops played a small part in the day's fighting, the whole force
of which broke with irresistible violence upon the few hundred men
who were in front of or around the rear guns. Colonel Benson seems
to have just ridden back to the danger point when the Boers
delivered their furious attack.

Louis Botha with his commando is said to have ridden sixty miles in
order to join the forces of Grobler and Oppermann, and overwhelm
the British column. It may have been the presence of their
commander or a desire to have vengeance for the harrying which they
had undergone upon the Natal border, but whatever the reason, the
Boer attack was made with a spirit and dash which earned the
enthusiastic applause of every soldier who survived to describe it.
With the low roar of a great torrent, several hundred horsemen
burst through the curtain of mist, riding at a furious pace for the
British guns. The rear screen of Mounted Infantry fell back before
this terrific rush, and the two bodies of horsemen came pell-mell
down upon the handful of Buffs and the guns. The infantry were
ridden into and surrounded by the Boers, who found nothing to stop
them from galloping on to the low ridge upon which the guns were
stationed. This ridge was held by eighty of the Scottish Horse and
forty of the Yorkshire M.I., with a few riflemen from the 25th
Mounted Infantry. The latter were the escort of the guns, but the
former were the rear screen who had fallen back rapidly because it
was the game to do so, but who were in no way shaken, and who
instantly dismounted and formed when they reached a defensive

These men had hardly time to take up their ground when the Boers
were on them. With that extraordinary quickness to adapt their
tactics to circumstances which is the chief military virtue of the
Boers, the horsemen did not gallop over the crest, but lined the
edge of it, and poured a withering fire on to the guns and the men
beside them. The heroic nature of the defence can be best shown by
the plain figures of the casualties. No rhetoric is needed to adorn
that simple record. There were thirty-two gunners round the guns,
and twenty-nine fell where they stood. Major Guinness was mortally
wounded while endeavouring with his own hands to fire a round of
case. There were sixty-two casualties out of eighty among the
Scottish Horse, and the Yorkshires were practically annihilated.
Altogether 123 men fell, out of about 160 on the ridge. 'Hard
pounding, gentlemen,' as Wellington remarked at Waterloo, and
British troops seemed as ready as ever to endure it.

The gunners were, as usual, magnificent. Of the two little
bullet-pelted groups of men around the guns there was not one who
did not stand to his duty without flinching. Corporal Atkin was
shot down with all his comrades, but still endeavoured with his
failing strength to twist the breech-block out of the gun. Another
bullet passed through his upraised hands as he did it. Sergeant
Hayes, badly wounded, and the last survivor of the crew, seized the
lanyard, crawled up the trail, and fired a last round before he
fainted. Sergeant Mathews, with three bullets through him, kept
steadily to his duty. Five drivers tried to bring up a limber and
remove the gun, but all of them, with all the horses, were hit.
There have been incidents in this war which have not increased our
military reputation, but you might search the classical records of
valour and fail to find anything finer than the consistent conduct
of the British artillery.

Colonel Benson was hit in the knee and again in the stomach, but
wounded as he was he despatched a message back to Wools-Sampson,
asking him to burst shrapnel over the ridge so as to prevent the
Boers from carrying off the guns. The burghers had ridden in among
the litter of dead and wounded men which marked the British
position, and some of the baser of them, much against the will of
their commanders, handled the injured soldiers with great
brutality. The shell-fire drove them back, however, and the two
guns were left standing alone, with no one near them save their
prostrate gunners and escort.

There has been some misunderstanding as to the part played by the
Buffs in this action, and words have been used which seem to imply
that they had in some way failed their mounted companions. It is
due to the honour of one of the finest regiments in the British
army to clear this up. As a matter of fact, the greater part of the
regiment under Major Dauglish was engaged in defending the camp.
Near the guns there were four separate small bodies of Buffs, none
of which appears to have been detailed as an escort. One of these
parties, consisting of thirty men under Lieutenant Greatwood, was
ridden over by the horsemen, and the same fate befell a party of
twenty who were far out upon the flank. Another small body under
Lieutenant Lynch was over taken by the same charge, and was
practically destroyed, losing nineteen killed and wounded out of
thirty. In the rear of the guns was a larger body of Buffs, 130 in
number, under Major Eales. When the guns were taken this handful
attempted a counter-attack, but Eales soon saw that it was a
hopeless effort, and he lost thirty of his men before he could
extricate himself. Had these men been with the others on the gun
ridge they might have restored the fight, but they had not reached
it when the position was taken, and to persevere in the attempt to
retake it would have led to certain disaster. The only just
criticism to which the regiment is open is that, having just come
off blockhouse duty, they were much out of condition, which caused
the men to straggle and the movements to be unduly slow.

It was fortunate that the command of the column devolved upon so
experienced and cool-headed a soldier as Wools-Sampson. To attempt
a counter-attack for the purpose of recapturing the guns would, in
case of disaster, have risked the camp and the convoy. The latter
was the prize which the Boers had particularly in view, and to
expose it would be to play their game. Very wisely, therefore,
Wools-Sampson held the attacking Boers off with his guns and his
riflemen, while every spare pair of hands was set to work
entrenching the position and making it impregnable against attack.
Outposts were stationed upon all those surrounding points which
might command the camp, and a summons to surrender from the Boer
leader was treated with contempt. All day a long-range fire,
occasionally very severe, rained upon the camp. Colonel Benson was
brought in by the ambulance, and used his dying breath in exhorting
his subordinate to hold out. 'No more night marches' are said to
have been the last words spoken by this gallant soldier as he
passed away in the early morning after the action. On October 31st
the force remained on the defensive, but early on November 1st the
gleaming of two heliographs, one to the north-east and one to the
south-west, told that two British columns, those of De Lisle and of
Barter, were hastening to the rescue. But the Boers had passed as
the storm does, and nothing but their swathe of destruction was
left to show where they had been. They had taken away the guns
during the night, and were already beyond the reach of pursuit.

Such was the action at Brakenlaagte, which cost the British sixty
men killed and 170 wounded, together with two guns. Colonel Benson,
Colonel Guinness, Captain Eyre Lloyd of the Guards, Major Murray
and Captain Lindsay of the Scottish Horse, with seven other
officers were among the dead, while sixteen officers were wounded.
The net result of the action was that the British rear-guard had
been annihilated, but that the main body and the convoy, which was
the chief object of the attack, was saved. The Boer loss was
considerable, being about one hundred and fifty. In spite of the
Boer success nothing could suit the British better than hard
fighting of the sort, since whatever the immediate result of it
might be, it must necessarily cause a wastage among the enemy which
could never be replaced. The gallantry of the Boer charge was only
equalled by that of the resistance offered round the guns, and it
is an action to which both sides can look back without shame or
regret. It was feared that the captured guns would soon be used to
break the blockhouse line, but nothing of the kind was attempted,
and within a few weeks they were both recovered by British columns.

In order to make a consecutive and intelligible narrative, I will
continue with an account of the operations in this south-eastern
portion of the Transvaal from the action of Brakenlaagte down to
the end of the year 1901. These were placed in the early part of
November, under the supreme command of General Bruce Hamilton, and
that energetic commander set in motion a number of small columns,
which effected numerous captures. He was much helped in his work by
the new lines of blockhouses, one of which extended from Standerton
to Ermelo, while another connected Brugspruit with Greylingstad.
The huge country was thus cut into manageable districts, and the
fruits were soon seen by the large returns of prisoners which came
from this part of the seat of war.

Upon December 3rd Bruce Hamilton, who had the valuable assistance
of Wools-Sampson to direct his intelligence, struck swiftly out
from Ermelo and fell upon a Boer laager in the early morning,
capturing ninety-six prisoners. On the 10th he overwhelmed the
Bethel commando by a similar march, killing seven and capturing
131. Williams and Wing commanded separate columns in this
operation, and their energy may be judged from the fact that they
covered fifty-one miles during the twenty-four hours. On the 12th
Hamilton's columns were on the war-path once more, and another
commando was wiped out. Sixteen killed and seventy prisoners were
the fruits of this expedition. For the second time in a week the
columns had done their fifty miles a day, and it was no surprise to
hear from their commander that they were in need of a rest. Nearly
four hundred prisoners had been taken from the most warlike portion
of the Transvaal in ten days by one energetic commander, with a
list of twenty-five casualties to ourselves. The thanks of the
Secretary of War were specially sent to him for his brilliant work.
From then until the end of the year 1901, numbers of smaller
captures continued to be reported from the same region, where
Plumer, Spens, Mackenzie, Rawlinson, and others were working. On
the other hand there was one small setback which occurred to a body
of two hundred Mounted Infantry under Major Bridgford, who had been
detached from Spens's column to search some farmhouses at a place
called Holland, to the south of Ermelo. The expedition set forth
upon the night of December 19th, and next morning surrounded and
examined the farms.

The British force became divided in doing this work, and were
suddenly attacked by several hundred of Britz's commando, who came
to close quarters through their khaki dress, which enabled them to
pass as Plumer's vanguard. The brunt of the fight fell upon an
outlying body of fifty men, nearly all of whom were killed, wounded
or taken. A second body of fifty men were overpowered in the same
way, after a creditable defence. Fifteen of the British were killed
and thirty wounded, while Bridgford the commander was also taken.
Spens came up shortly afterwards with the column, and the Boers
were driven off. There seems every reason to think that upon this
occasion the plans of the British had leaked out, and that a
deliberate ambush had been laid for them round the farms, but in
such operations these are chances against which it is not always
possible to guard. Considering the number of the Boers, and the
cleverness of their dispositions, the British were fortunate in
being able to extricate their force without greater loss, a feat
which was largely due to the leading of Lieutenant Sterling.

Leaving the Eastern Transvaal, the narrative must now return to
several incidents of importance which had occurred at various
points of the seat of war during the latter months of 1901.

On September 19th, two days after Gough's disaster, a misfortune
occurred near Bloemfontein by which two guns and a hundred and
forty men fell temporarily into the hands of the enemy. These guns,
belonging to U battery, were moving south under an escort of
Mounted Infantry, from that very Sanna's Post which had been so
fatal to the same battery eighteen months before. When fifteen
miles south of the Waterworks, at a place called Vlakfontein
(another Vlakfontein from that of General Dixon's engagement), the
small force was surrounded and captured by Ackermann's commando.
The gunner officer, Lieutenant Barry, died beside his guns in the
way that gunner officers have. Guns and men were taken, however,
the latter to be released, and the former to be recovered a week or
two later by the British columns. It is certainly a credit to the
Boers that the spring campaign should have opened by four British
guns falling into their hands, and it is impossible to withhold our
admiration for those gallant farmers who, after two years of
exhausting warfare, were still able to turn upon a formidable and
victorious enemy, and to renovate their supplies at his expense.

Two days later, hard on the heels of Gough's mishap, of the
Vlakfontein incident, and of the annihilation of the squadron of
Lancers in the Cape, there was a serious affair at Elands Kloof,
near Zastron, in the extreme south of the Orange River Colony. In
this a detachment of the Highland Scouts raised by the public
spirit of Lord Lovat was surprised at night and very severely
handled by Kritzinger's commando. The loss of Colonel Murray, their
commander, of the adjutant of the same name, and of forty-two out
of eighty of the Scouts, shows how fell was the attack, which broke
as sudden and as strong as a South African thunderstorm upon the
unconscious camp. The Boers appear to have eluded the outposts and
crept right among the sleeping troops, as they did in the case of
the Victorians at Wilmansrust. Twelve gunners were also hit, and
the only field gun taken. The retiring Boers were swiftly followed
up by Thorneycroft's column, however, and the gun was retaken,
together with twenty of Kritzinger's men. It must be confessed that
there seems some irony in the fact that, within five days of the
British ruling by which the Boers were no longer a military force,
these non-belligerents had inflicted a loss of nearly six hundred
men killed, wounded, or taken. Two small commandos, that of Koch in
the Orange River Colony, and that of Carolina, had been captured by
Williams and Benson. Combined they only numbered a hundred and nine
men, but here, as always, they were men who could never be

Those who had followed the war with care, and had speculated upon
the future, were prepared on hearing of Botha's movement upon Natal
to learn that De la Rey had also made some energetic attack in the
western quarter of the Transvaal. Those who had formed this
expectation were not disappointed, for upon the last day of
September the Boer chief struck fiercely at Kekewich's column in a
vigorous night attack, which led to as stern an encounter as any in
the campaign. This was the action at Moedwill, near Magato Nek, in
the Magaliesberg.

When last mentioned De la Rey was in the Marico district, near
Zeerust, where he fought two actions with Methuen in the early part
of September. Thence he made his way to Rustenburg and into the
Magaliesberg country, where he joined Kemp. The Boer force was
followed up by two British columns under Kekewich and
Fetherstonhaugh. The former commander had camped upon the night of
Sunday, September 30th, at the farm of Moedwill, in a strong
position within a triangle formed by the Selous River on the west,
a donga on the east, and the Zeerust-Rustenburg road as a base. The
apex of the triangle pointed north, with a ridge on the farther
side of the river.

The men with Kekewich were for the most part the same as those who
had fought in the Vlakfontein engagement--the Derbys, the 1st
Scottish Horse, the Yeomanry, and the 28th R.F.A. Every precaution
appears to have been taken by the leader, and his pickets were
thrown out so far that ample warning was assured of an attack. The
Boer onslaught came so suddenly and fiercely, however, in the early
morning, that the posts upon the river bank were driven in or
destroyed and the riflemen from the ridge on the farther side were
able to sweep the camp with their fire. In numbers the two forces
were not unequal, but the Boers had already obtained the tactical
advantage, and were playing a game in which they are the
schoolmasters of the world. Never has the British spirit flamed up
more fiercely, and from the commander to the latest yeoman recruit
there was not a man who flinched from a difficult and almost a
desperate task. The Boers must at all hazard be driven from the
position which enabled them to command the camp. No retreat was
possible without such an abandonment of stores as would amount to a
disaster. In the confusion and the uncertain light of early dawn
there was no chance of a concerted movement, though Kekewich made
such dispositions as were possible with admirable coolness and
promptness. Squadrons and companies closed in upon the river bank
with the one thought of coming to close quarters and driving the
enemy from their commanding position. Already more than half the
horses and a very large number of officers and men had gone down
before the pelting bullets. Scottish Horse, Yeomanry, and Derbys
pushed on, the young soldiers of the two former corps keeping pace
with the veteran regiment. 'All the men behaved simply splendidly,'
said a spectator, 'taking what little cover there was and advancing
yard by yard. An order was given to try and saddle up a squadron,
with the idea of getting round their flank. I had the saddle almost
on one of my ponies when he was hit in two places. Two men trying
to saddle alongside of me were both shot dead, and Lieutenant
Wortley was shot through the knee. I ran back to where I had been
firing from and found the Colonel slightly hit, the Adjutant
wounded and dying, and men dead and wounded all round.' But the
counter-attack soon began to make way. At first the advance was
slow, but soon it quickened into a magnificent rush, the wounded
Kekewich whooping on his men, and the guns coming into action as
the enemy began to fall back before the fierce charge of the
British riflemen. At six o'clock De la Rey's burghers had seen that
their attempt was hopeless, and were in full retreat--a retreat
which could not be harassed by the victors, whose cavalry had been
converted by that hail of bullets into footmen. The repulse had
been absolute and complete, for not a man or a cartridge had been
taken from the British, but the price paid in killed and wounded
was a heavy one. No fewer than 161 had been hit, including the
gallant leader, whose hurt did not prevent him from resuming his
duties within a few days. The heaviest losses fell upon the
Scottish Horse, and upon the Derbys; but the Yeomanry also proved
on this, as on some other occasions, how ungenerous were the
criticisms to which they had been exposed. There are few actions in
the war which appear to have been more creditable to the troops

Though repulsed at Moedwill, De la Rey, the grim, long-bearded
fighting man, was by no means discouraged. From the earliest days
of the campaign, when he first faced Methuen upon the road to
Kimberley, he had shown that he was a most dangerous antagonist,
tenacious, ingenious, and indomitable. With him were a body of
irreconcilable burghers, who were the veterans of many engagements,
and in Kemp he had an excellent fighting subordinate. His command
extended over a wide stretch of populous country, and at any time
he could bring considerable reinforcements to his aid, who would
separate again to their farms and hiding-places when their venture
was accomplished. For some weeks after the fight at Moedwill the
Boer forces remained quiet in that district. Two British columns
had left Zeerust on October 17th, under Methuen and Von Donop, in
order to sweep the surrounding country, the one working in the
direction of Elands River and the other in that of Rustenburg. They
returned to Zeerust twelve days later, after a successful foray,
which had been attended with much sniping and skirmishing, but only
one action which is worthy of record.

This was fought on October 24th at a spot near Kleinfontein, upon
the Great Marico River, which runs to the north-east of Zeerust.
Von Donop's column was straggling through very broken and
bush-covered country when it was furiously charged in the flank and
rear by two separate bodies of burghers. Kemp, who commanded the
flank attack, cut into the line of wagons and destroyed eight of
them, killing many of the Kaffir drivers, before he could be driven
off. De la Rey and Steenkamp, who rushed the rear-guard, had a more
desperate contest. The Boer horsemen got among the two guns of the
4th R.F.A., and held temporary possession of them, but the small
escort were veterans of the 'Fighting Fifth,' who lived up to the
traditions of their famous north-country regiment. Of the gun crews
of the section, amounting to about twenty-six men, the young
officer, Hill, and sixteen men were hit. Of the escort of
Northumberland Fusiliers hardly a man was left standing, and
forty-one of the supporting Yeomanry were killed and wounded. It
was for some little time a fierce and concentrated struggle at the
shortest of ranges. The British horsemen came galloping to the
rescue, however, and the attack was finally driven back into that
broken country from which it had come. Forty dead Boers upon the
ground, with their brave chieftain, Ouisterhuisen, amongst them,
showed how manfully the attack had been driven home. The British
losses were twenty-eight killed and fifty-six wounded. Somewhat
mauled, and with eight missing wagons, the small column made its
way back to Zeerust.

From this incident until the end of the year nothing of importance
occurred in this part of the seat of war, save for a sharp and
well-managed action at Beestekraal upon October 29th, in which
seventy-nine Boers were surrounded and captured by Kekewich's
horsemen. The process of attrition went very steadily forwards, and
each of the British columns returned its constant tale of
prisoners. The blockhouse system had now been extended to such an
extent that the Magaliesberg was securely held, and a line had been
pushed through from Klerksdorp and Fredericstad to Ventersdorp. One
of Colonel Hickie's Yeomanry patrols was roughly handled near
Brakspruit upon November 13th, but with this exception the points
scored were all upon one side. Methuen and Kekewich came across
early in November from Zeerust to Klerksdorp, and operated from the
railway line. The end of the year saw them both in the Wolmaranstad
district, where they were gathering up prisoners and clearing the

Of the events in the other parts of the Transvaal, during the last
three months of the year 1901, there is not much to be said. In all
parts the lines of blockhouses and of constabulary posts were
neutralising the Boer mobility, and bringing them more and more
within reach of the British. The only fighting forces left in the
Transvaal were those under Botha in the south-east and those under
De la Rey in the west. The others attempted nothing save to escape
from their pursuers, and when overtaken they usually gave in
without serious opposition. Among the larger hauls may be mentioned
that of Dawkins in the Nylstrom district (seventy-six prisoners),
Kekewich (seventy-eight), Colenbrander in the north (fifty-seven),
Dawkins and Colenbrander (104), Colenbrander (sixty-two); but the
great majority of the captures were in smaller bodies, gleaned from
the caves, the kloofs, and the farmhouses.

Only two small actions during these months appear to call for any
separate notice. The first was an attack made by Buys' commando,
upon November 20th, on the Railway Pioneers when at work near

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