- Kock occupies Elandslaagte without orders from Joubert, Oct. 19-20.
- French's first reconnaissance towards Elandslaagte, Oct.20.
- White decides to clear the line. Oct. 21. French's second reconnaissance. Boers shell Natal battery 8.30 A.M.
- French, finding his force inadequate, telegraphs to White, who sends strong reinforcements.
- Sir A. Hunter generously declines to supersede French. Infantry entrusted to Col. Ian Hamilton.
- 11 A.M.-3 P.M. Arrival of reinforcements. Skirmishing on both flanks.
- The Boer position.
- Ian Hamilton addresses his men. The artillery preparation. The battle opens 4.P.M.
- The Devons' frontal advance. Their extended formation. 4.30-5 P.M.
- The flank attack. Manchesters, Gordons and Light Horse carry the ridge. 4.30-5.30 P.M.
- The Boer counter-attack. Gallantry of the Light Horse. The Devons' final charge. 5.30-5.45.
- The cavalry charge home. 5.45 - 6 P.M.
- Night on the battlefield.
- Completeness of the victory.
- Oct. 22. Hurried evacuation of Elandslaagte. Anxiety for Ladysmith hampers White's strategy.
- Oct. 23. Free Staters occupy Elandslaagte.
- Oct.21. Yule decides to stay in Dundee, but moves camp.
- "Long Tom" opens fire from Impati. Camp moved again. Oct. 22. Reconnaissance to Glencoe.
- Oct.22. Yule decides to evacuate Dundee.
- Oct, 22. The night march out. Beith, Van Tonder's Nek, the Waschbank. Oct.24.
- Oct. 24. White moves out force to cover Yule's retreat. Shelled by Boers from Tintwa Inyonl.
- Oct.24. Action of Rietfontein or Tintwa Inyoni.
- Result of the Rietfontein action.
- Oct. 24. Yule at Waschbank. Oct. 25. Retreat continued. Experiences of the night march. Oct. 26. Dundee column reaches Ladysmith.
- Oct.23. Boers occupy Dundee.
- Oct.23. Death of General Symons.
- Oct. 25-27. The Transvalers close in on Ladysmith.
- Summary of the first fortnight of war in Natal.
Kock occupies Elandslaagte without orders from Joubert, Oct. 19-20.
The eastern wing of the Boer army of invasion was disposed of, for the moment, by the victory of Talana. We must now follow the adventures of the small detached force of town Boers, Hollanders, and Germans, under General Kock, which we have already seen established at Elandslaagte on the Ladysmith-Dundee line of communications. It is necessary, first of all, to explain how that force came to be there, for an advance to Elandslaagte at that moment was by no means comprised within General Joubert's cautious plan of operations. The position assigned to General Kock by that plan was the mouth of the Mkupe Pass, by which the old Ladysmith-Newcastle road crosses the Biggarsberg. From that point of vantage his burghers could carry out raids on the railway, harass the flank of any force moving from Ladysmith to Dundee or vice versa, and prevent any British attempt to send a mounted force round the Boer right to cut the railway communications between Newcastle and Dannhauser. The position was admirable for its purpose, but, as in the case of the combined movement upon Dundee, the excellence of the Boer strategical dispositions was nullified by failure in execution. In this instance, however, it was not timidity and irresolution but over-confidence that led to defeat. Leaving Newcastle on the 18th, General Kock with his main force reached the Biggarsberg Pass the next afternoon, and prepared to camp there and await events. Two patrols of about a hundred men each, under Colonel Schiel and Field-cornet Pienaar of the Fordsburg commando, had, however, ridden some distance ahead with orders to reconnoiter as far as the Sunday's River. Finding no enemy they had pushed on, and as already related held up a supply train at Elandslaagte. Instead of retiring after this success, as Colonel Schiel wished to do, Pienaar at once sent back a despatch rider to General Kock to say that he was in an excellent position and to ask for reinforcements. Kock was very reluctant to take such a risky step, but the burghers were eager, and so, apparently without consulting Joubert, he ordered the greater part of his force, about a thousand men in all with two guns, including 140 Germans, 70 Hollanders, and a contingent of Free Staters from the Vrede commando, to saddle up. Starting about sunset the Boers covered the 20 miles to Elandslaagte by 10.30, a very creditable performance. The next day Kock selected a strong position for his guns and a laager on some heights over a mile southeast of Elandslaagte station, and there his men slept most of the day, while the horses recovered from their heavy night's work. If they had been attacked that afternoon it is doubtful if many of them would have got away. In the evening the Boers held a smoking concert in the little hotel to which the English prisoners captured in the train or at the station were invited, and where "God Save the Queen" and the Transvaal "Volkslied" were sung with equal impartiality-a curious prelude to the morrow's battle.
French's first reconnaissance towards Elandslaagte, Oct.20.
October 19 was an anxious day in Ladysmith. Telegraphic communication with Dundee was still open by way of Greytown, but it was liable to interruption at any moment. The direct line of communications was cut, while the Free Staters by advancing to Besters and Dewdrop were threatening Ladysmith from the west. On the morning of October 20 Major-General J. D. P. French, who had arrived in Ladysmith on the previous day and was temporarily in command of cavalry in Natal, made a reconnaissance towards Elandslaagte. General French moved his cavalry out as far as Modder Spruit, twelve miles along the Dundee Road. As his troops left the environs of the town it was known that an attack on Dundee had commenced. The weather was very inclement and the reconnaissance made but little progress. But the advance guard of the 5th Lancers succeeded in capturing two of the enemy's patrols, and from them and other informants it was evident that Elandslaagte was not held by the Boers in great force. In the afternoon news arrived from Dundee. The effect on Ladysmith was magical, and in a moment a heavy weight of anxiety had been lifted from the little station. The first great test had, as it seemed, ended in favour of the British and much of the tension was removed. The elation at the splendid behaviour of the British infantry was, however, tempered with the sad news of Sir W. Penn Symons's mortal wound.
White decides to clear the line. Oct. 21. French's second reconnaissance. Boers shell Natal battery 8.30 A.M.
Reassured by the news from Dundee and by the information as to the strength of the Boers at Elandslaagte, Sir G. White decided if possible to reopen direct communication with General Yule. He accordingly ordered General French to move out early on Saturday morning (October 21), clear the Boers from Elandslaagte, and cover the repair of the railway and telegraph. The force selected consisted of five squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse, under Colonel Scott-Chisholme, and the Natal Volunteer Field Battery, who were to go by road, while half a battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and railway and telegraph companies R.E., were to follow by train. The cavalry started at 4 A.M., and by 8.30 the force, moving along the road to the north of the railway, had advanced to the steep edge of a low table-land almost within a mile of Elandslaagte station. In front of them a level plain stretched for some two miles and a half to the south-east till bounded by a group of rocky kopjes. Half way across this plain lay the station and hamlet of Elandslaagte. In the direct front stood a group of tin houses, surrounded by trees, while to the left stretched away the goods extension leading to the coal-fields. The northern slopes of the valley stood out marked black with smoke stacks and pit mouths. The place was alive with mounted Boers. It was evident that the appearance of the enemy on the sky-line of the table-land had taken the burghers completely by surprise. As soon as they realised that a force was upon them they turned their horses' heads towards the hill slopes behind the line of railway and evacuated the settlement at their best pace. General French now ordered up the Natal battery, which came into action against the principal buildings in the station yard. Two rounds were fired, the second shell falling into the Boer ambulance, whose red cross was not sufficiently visible at 2000 yards. The sequel was unexpected, for barely had the smoke of the second round cleared when two shells from the hillside beyond dropped in rapid succession into the battery groups. Both missiles exploded, and one so damaged the team and gear of an ammunition wagon that it had subsequently to be abandoned. Having established the range, the enemy began to shell the battery freely. They were using a smokeless explosive, but their gun positions stood declared by the flashes against the shadow of the hillside. They appeared to have two guns in position at the foot of the kopjes before mentioned, while with glasses it could be seen that the kopjes themselves and a ridge in the background were covered with men. The Volunteer battery attempted to return the fire, but, as they were equipped with wretched little 7-pounder muzzle loading screw guns, there was little chance of their subduing the fire of a battery of superior caliber at 5000 yards. The Boer artillery practice was a revelation. With their first two rounds they found the range to a nicety, and for the space of ten minutes their projectiles fell on the lip of the table-land where the British guns were in action. The shooting was admirable, but, not being well fuzed, many of the shells buried themselves in the soft earth before bursting. General French saw that there could be no question of occupying Elandslaagte with the small force with him, so he moved his guns back to a position covering the armoured train which had followed him out, and quickly withdrew his force out of range.
French, finding his force inadequate, telegraphs to White, who sends strong reinforcements.
A few British subjects who had been detained by the Boers when they swooped down upon Elandslaagte managed, during the disorder which reigned in the station when the Natal battery first opened fire, to escape and join General French's column. They included the manager of the Elandslaagte Coal Mine. He was able to give valuable information concerning the strength and composition of the force now in occupation of the hills above Elandslaagte. He added that General Kock anticipated reinforcement both from General Joubert's force at Dundee and from the Free State commandos at Bester's station. Before this, however; some civilian telegraphists had tapped the wire, and General French had telephoned to Headquarters, Ladysmith, that the Boers were in a strong position, and could not be attacked with his present force. Sir G. White realised that the moment had come for striking a hard blow at the Boers, and decided at once to send out as large a force as could conveniently be spared. He replied that the following reinforcements were being despatched: by road, one squadron of the 5th Lancers, one squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and the 21st and 42nd batteries of Royal Field Artillery; by train, seven companies of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment under Major Park, and five companies of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders under Colonel Dick-Cunyngham. On receiving this information General French withdrew his whole force towards Modder Spruit.
Sir A. Hunter generously declines to supersede French. Infantry entrusted to Col. Ian Hamilton.
Sir G. White's first idea had been to send Sir A. Hunter, his Chief of the Staff; with the reinforcement. But the latter chivalrously suggested that it would be unfair to deprive General French of the command, and Sir G. White accepted this act of self-abnegation and entrusted General Hunter with the defence of Ladysmith. He, however, took care not to leave the command of the infantry, which now promised to became the most tmportant part of the force, to the chance of seniority among the regimental officers, but sent with them his A.A.G., Colonel Ian Hamilton, on whose skill as a tactician he could safely rely. With him he sent the order that the Boer position was to be attacked without loss of time, for he was anxious to crush Kock's commando before it could be reinforced, and no less anxious to see his men back in Ladysmith again, before the Free Staters renewed the threatening activity they had displayed on the 18th.
11 A.M.-3 P.M. Arrival of reinforcements. Skirmishing on both flanks.
About 11 o'clock the first reinforcements began to arrive from Ladysmith-the 5th Lancers and the two batteries, the latter having come out at a gallop with double teams. Then the infantry began to arrive by train. As they came out they found French's force waiting at Modder Spruit. Colonel Hamilton was eager to start the attack at once, but General French was reluctant to begin before the whole force had arrived, and the cavalry and artillery horses had been watered. Desultory skirmishing had already been going on between the Imperial Light Horse and parties of the Boers who had followed up the British retreat, and whose movements seemed to threaten an attempt to cut the railway line in rear of the trains. On the right of the railway a squadron of the 5th Lancers and four squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse were sent to clear a ridge, or rather table-land, of higher ground running parallel to the Boer main position, and about two and a half miles to the south-west of it, which was intended to be the starting-point of the infantry attack. The Boers, under Pienaar, being too weak to hold the ridge, fell back towards their main position, trying to draw the British within reach of their supports, but without success. North of the railway, Colonel Schiel's Germans, and another patrol about one hundred strong under Field-cornet Joubert, demonstrated towards Modder Spruit. To check this movement, the squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards was pushed forward about 3 o'clock to the base of a big hill, one of the foothills of Jonono's Kop. As the squadron stood halted and extended in the plain, fire was suddenly opened upon it by a Maxim gun at absurdly short range. The direction of the fire was inaccurate, and no casualty occurred, and, the 42nd battery coming into action, the Germans speedily withdrew into the hills, and riding round eventually returned to the Boer main position when the battle was already in full progress. Joubert's party fell back directly on the Boer laager. As the enemy retired, Major St. J. C. Gore, 5th Dragoon Guards, pressed forward on the west of the railway with the squadron of his own regiment, one of the 5th Lancers, and one of the Natal Mounted Rifles. His object was to turn the right flank of the position on which the enemy had posted their guns. This object was attained with but little opposition. The wire fences which enclosed the railway were cut, and the two squadrons crossed to the east. Here they were discovered by the Boer gunners on the ridge, and for a short period they were exposed to a well-directed shell-fire. Major Gore then retired them to cover in the vicinity of Elandslaagte station in readiness to take up the pursuit whenever required, and the Boer gunners, having a more direct menace to their front in the advance of the British infantry, changed the direction of their fire.
The Boer position.
About 3 o'clock in the afternoon all the reinforcements had arrived, and though but few hours of daylight remained, General French determined to attack the enemy's position above Elandslaagte. The field of operations may well be described at this point. The level veld south of Elandslaagte station is encircled by an irregular horseshoe of higher ground, two and a half to three miles across, and nearly four miles deep from heel to toe. The toe of the horseshoe faces south, and is broad and low, so low as to be hardly distinguishable at its eastern end from the level plain on both sides of it; while the ends which run at right angles to the railway, which they approach to within 2000 yards, are higher, especially the eastern one, which forms the most prominent object south of the railway for some miles round. It is this eastern arm which the Boers had selected as their main position. Rising gradually from the toe up to a final kopje some 300 ft. or more above the level of the veld, it formed a long hogsback ridge, steep on its inner face, but several hundred yards wide on top, and sloping down more gently to the east. Strewn with boulders and cross-barred by smaller ridges and dips affording a successive series of defensive positions, this hogsback was a formidable object to attack. At its north end it dropped suddenly to rise again to a slightly lower rounded hill. Behind the nek thus formed was a steep conical hilt and in the depression between the end of the hogsback and the two kopjes lay the Boer laager. Their two guns were placed just in front of the northern summit of the hogsback. The other arm of the horseshoe was the ridge or table-land which has been described just above as the intended starting-point of the infantry attack.
Ian Hamilton addresses his men. The artillery preparation. The battle opens 4.P.M.
The mounted troops had already cleared this ridge, and the infantry now began to advance towards it. While they were still in quarter column, before starting of, Colonel Hamilton addressed them in a few stirring words. He told them what manner of enemy they had come out to fight, then, pointing towards the distant ridge, he explained how he intended to attack and what he expected his men to do, ending with the confident assertion that he knew they would "shift" the Boers.from their hills before sunset, and that the little newsboys in the streets of London would be calling out the glad tidings of victory next morning. The men cheered and cheered, waving their helmets, and running out of the ranks and crying, "We'll do it, sir! We'll do it!" It was a wonderful scene, not easily forgotten by those who took part in it. Fired by their commander's words, and with a clear idea of what they were called upon to do, the men now advanced. As they approached the first ridge, Colonel Hamilton diverted the Devons to its northern end, letting the Manchesters advance further along to the right, and keeping the Gordons in reserve between the other two. As soon as the leading companies appeared on the exposed plateau of the ridge, the Boer guns opened with common shell. Again the ranging was good but the fire was ineffective. At 4 P.M. the 21st Field Battery galloped up on the left of the Manchesters, and came into action in the open against the enemy's artillery at 4400 yards. For six minutes the enemy returned the fire, laying their guns with great accuracy on the battery in action, but as soon as the 42nd galloped up and unlimbered the enemy ceased firing. But the position of their guns stood declared, and the artillery preparation for the attack now begun. The batteries were at first annoyed by a long range rifle-fire from Pienaar's men, who still clung to the low ground near what, for description's sake, has been called the toe of the horseshoe. The guns were turned on to them and quickly cleared them off; but not before Captain Campbell, R.A., and several men were wounded. Somewhat later, parties of mounted Boers were seen galloping southwards along the front of their position, and apparently endeavouring to leave the field. They were pursued by the squadron of the 5th Lancers and Imperial Light Horse on that flank. It is not clear how far this flight was real-many of the Boers certainly made off when they found that a serious encounter was in prospect-or merely feigned to draw the cavalry into an ambush. Shortly before this Sir George White and his staff arrived upon the high ground in rear of the British guns. Sir George remained till nearly the end of the engagement, though without relieving General French from the direction of the operations, and rode back to Ladysmith in the dark. The scene during the short artillery preparation was a weird and fantastic prelude to the battle. A huge bank of thunder-cloud formed a background to the Boor position, a dense pall of cloud fringed with the light of a setting sun. So dark was this background that every puff of bursting shrapnel showed distinctly to the naked eye. Ever and anon a blinding lightning flash would momentarily chase the gloom away, causing the saw-edge limits of the ridge to stand out sharp and clear against the evening sky. The detonation of the guns, the crashing of the bursting shells, and the turmoil of galloping wagons seemed in harmony with the peals of thunder which at intervals dwarfed the din of battle. But the light was failing, night being hastened by the gathering storm-clouds, and after one brief half hour of artillery preparation orders were conveyed to Colonel Hamilton to set his infantry machine in motion.
The Devons' frontal advance. Their extended formation. 4.30-5 P.M.
Colonel Hamilton's dispositions were admirably simple:- The Devons were ordered to advance across the open veld, directly against the front of the Boor position, while the half battalion of Manchesters, supported by the five companies of Gordons, was to work round to the right on to the enemy's left flank. Once within effective rifle range the Devons were to content themselves by holding the enemy while the flank attack forced its way along the summit of the ridge towards the enemy's gun positions. When the right moment came both attacks were to be driven home together. The two batteries of field artillery were to support the infantry advance, moving in to closer ranges as the attack developed. The advance of the Devons across an absolutely open plain commanded by the enemy's position gave Colonel Hamilton an opportunity for putting to the test of practice the conviction implanted in his mind by the experiences of the Tirah campaign. He had already, in the little spare time available since tile arrival of troops at Ladysmith, practised his brigade in extended formations unknown to the cramped confines and archaic tactics of Aldershot. He now ordered Major Park to draw up his battalion in a formation hitherto unprecedented in European warfare. Three companies in the firing line were to extend over a front of 1000 yards, while scouts, firing line, supports, and reserves were each to be separated by 450 yards, thus giving the seven companies a depth of about a mile. As soon as the firing line was well over the northern shoulder of the plateau, and descending into the plain, the enemy's guns reopened. They found the advancing companies with shrapnel, but two guns could do little against so scattered a target. The missiles went high or, with extraordinary precision, burst in the intervals between companies. Three men only were hit. When the battalion had advanced to about 1200 yards from the position, Major Park, who commanded through out with great coolness, halted and opened fire. The only cover available was to be found in the ant heaps, eighteen inches or more in height and as hard as sunbaked brick, with which the plain abounded. The Devons now came under a severe rifle-fire, but nothing could surpass the steadiness with which this west country corps behaved. It had the admiration of all that day; its advance throughout was slow, deliberate and irresistible. After a few volleys the firing line was reinforced from the supports, and again steadily advanced. Though men now began to drop, and the air whistled with Mauser bullets, there was no sign of streakiness, and though there was no cover the men stepped on undaunted until, about 5 P.M., they were within 800 yards 'of the summit of the hill. The fading light, the dull khaki of their uniforms, and their wide extension saved them from the slaughter that one imagined must be in store for them, as they lay at the bottom of the depression, waiting for the flank attack to develop. Here, with the guns thundering above them, and the soil round them torn with incessant rifle-fire, they lay for over half an hour waiting for the moment when the advance should sound.
The flank attack. Manchesters, Gordons and Light Horse carry the ridge. 4.30-5.30 P.M.
While the Devons were lying in the valley taking advantage of what cover the ant heaps could afford, the flank attack on the enemy's left developed rapidly. The Manchesters. had moved past the batteries, which now advanced straight to their front to a range of 3200 yards, and again silenced, though only temporarily, the plucky gunners on the hill. As the Manchesters, supported by the Gordons, rounded the bend of the horseshoe and faced northwards, they were welcomed by a fierce fire from Pienaar's men, who had already given the artillery such trouble, and who now, in face of superior numbers, retired on their main position. As the infantry reached the foot of the ridge, the storm, which had been threatening so long, burst, and in a few moments the tropical downpour had drenched every one to the skin. The shower was sharp and short, but it gave perfect cover, and by the time it was over the men were among the stones which strewed the crest of the ridge. Here they were joined by the Imperial Light Horse, who, burning with eagerness to take part in the storming of the Boer position, had dismounted and, doubling forward, now extended on the right of the Manchesters. Still further to the right and some way to the south-east Captain Parker's squadron of the 5th Lancers watched the flank and waited for their opportunity to take up the pursuit. The men were now well athwart the enemy's flank and were in position to sweep north-westwards across the plateau. Dropping shots were falling about them, a couple of men were hit, a third shot dead, and then the Gordons were into the firing-line and filling up the gaps in the line of the Manchester Regiment and the Light Horse. There was a short stretch of level grass to cross, bare of all shelter and swept by a furious fire, then a saving dip, with a climb up again to the main plateau of the ridge. Cheerily the men responded to their officers, and wave after wave of kilts and khaki swept up to the skyline. Here they wavered and dropped, for of the leading sections only one in four could pass. A moment they checked - dead, wounded, and quick seemed sandwiched together amongst the boulders. And then all were over; but not all, for a score of stout frames lay tumbled among the clefts of the rain-washed stones. And when the dip was passed, what a task lay before them! They were called to face' half a mile of rough, rock-strewn open, sloping upwards like a glacis, full of the enemy's sharpshooters and intersected at intervals with barbed wire fences. The far summit of the ridge commanded it from end to end as a butt would command a rifle-range. No enemy was visible, but all could feel that that final kopje was alive with small-bore rifles. Stumbling forward among the stones, blundering over the bodies of their comrades as they fell before them, the men pressed on. It had ceased to be a moment for regimental commanders. Even sections could scarcely keep together; it was the sheer courage of the individual alone which carried the line on. Men stopped, lay under stones and fired, were shot as they lay, or rose from cover to rush another dozen yards. Men and officers fell in batches as they crowded together at the gaps in the fences. But here in places the rain of bullets had done the work of wire-cutters. More than half way was won, and yet though the summit of the kopje seemed one continued burst of shrapnel, the fire from it in no wise slackened. Schiel and a handful of his Germans had come up by the farm behind the ridge and made a right gallant attempt at a flank attack. The Light Horsemen shot them down almost to a man as they fearlessly attempted to cross the open. But the diversion put a new heart into the defenders, who, though now beginning to lose more heavily, contested every handsbreadth of the ridge with a stubbornness scarcely less admirable than the gallantry of the advance. It seemed as if our men had done all that could be done. Colonel Dick-Cunyngham was lying wounded in two places. Half the officers of the Gordon Highianders were dead or disabled. Colonel Curran and many officers of the Manchesters had been wounded leading across the dip. Major Sampson of the Light Horse lay on the far side of the dip with a bullet through his thigh. The level crest seemed strewn with countless casualties. Ian Hamilton, who had galloped across from the Devons, came up into the firing line with a strong reinforcement of men whom he and his staff had swept together from those who were hanging back behind the fences, or under the lee of sheltering rocks, men whose hearts had failed them at the critical moment but who only lacked just that word of encouragement which can make the craven a hero. It was to be victory now or never! Colonel Hamilton ordered a bugler to sound the "charge." Out rang the bugle-such buglers as were unhurt took up the note; Drum-Major Lawrence, of the Gordon Highlanders, rushed out into the open and headed the line, playing the fateful call. The sound of the Devonshire bugles came up from the valley bottom, and the persistent rhythm of their firing gave heart to the flank attack. Waves of glittering bayonets danced forward in the twilight. The Boers' hearts failed them at the sight, and they began streaming down the reverse of the position. A mere handful of determined men still held the final kopje. Again the bugles sounded the "advance," and with a great rash the cheering, yelling crowd surged on to the final kopje, over it, and into the still smoking guns, which the Boer gunners with magnificent oblivion to all but the task in front of them served till the steel was almost at their breasts.
The Boer counter-attack. Gallantry of the Light Horse. The Devons' final charge. 5.30-5.45.
Down in the laager over the col some half dozen men stood holding a flag of truce prominently before them. Colonel Hamilton ordered the "cease fire" to be sounded. For a moment there was a complete lull in the action, and men began walking down to the camp. Suddenly there was a shot, followed by a perfect blaze of fire as some forty or fifty Boers, who had lain unseen below the rear of the crest, dashed up the steep slope on the right and emptied their magazines point-blank into the soldiers crowded on the top. General Kock himself, in black frock coat and black hat, was at their head, and conspicuous among them was the towering form of Field-Cornet Pretorius. Simultaneously a fierce gust of bullets swept across the ridge from the rounded hill beyond the laager. The men, perplexed by the "cease fire" and staggered by the sudden fury of the attack, fell back a hundred yards, uncovering the captured guns, which the leading Boers laid hold of. A handful of heroic Boer gunners even leapt up from somewhere, charged one of the guns with case and fired a few rounds wildly at the Devons advancing up the front of the hill. It seemed as if all was up, as if the position so hardly won was to be abandoned again. Ian Hamilton sprang forward, shouting wildly to his men that the guns were coming up to help. Lieutenant Meiklejohn, of the Gordons, rushed to the front rallying the disconcerted groups, until he fell desperately wounded in half a dozen places. Brooke and Laycock, Hamilton's and French's A.D.C.'s, and other officers of the Gordons and Manchesters, manfully strove to prevent a panic. French himself was up in the infantry line driving back the waverers. And now the Light Horse, on the right of the wavering infantry, had the opportunity for which they had longed, for which each man of them had joined. In front of them were the men who stood for all that they resented most - the governing oligarchy that had ruled their daily lives; the Hollanders and Germans fostered for their enmity to the Englishmen of the Rand. For nearly four years since the Raid they had endured the sneer that followed every reference to their share in that event. How could they return to Johannesburg if now, in their first fight, in the very hour of victory, they showed themselves inferior to the men whose braggart arrogance they had sworn to humble? Scott-Chisholme, their colonel, who had led waving his silk scarf to his men, had been the first victim of the counter attack. He had stopped to bind up a wounded trooper, and was shot in the leg and immediately afterwards through the hugs. A third shot pierced his brain as they helped him back to cover. His last words, "My fellows are doing well," were not forgotten by the gallant corps he trained and led to their first victory. Officers and men alike leapt forward, rallying each other, rallying the infantry with whom they were intermingled. Johnstone, Mullins, Brabant - to mention but a few of the names-waved the men on to the charge. Once more the swaying line began to move forward, but before they had recovered the ground they had lost, a line of helmeted heads appeared over the edge of the slope on the left and, with a splendid dash, Lieutenant Field, at the head of his company of Devons, was into the battery with the bayonet. It is necessary to explain that as the flank attack had pushed its way along the ridge the Devons and the field batteries had both moved up to closer range, the frontal attack resting within 350 yards of the enemy, before making the final assault, the gunners firing shrapnel at 2200 yards. Then four companies of the Devons had stormed the detached hill on the left, while the three leading companies had rushed up the slope to the main crest, arriving just in time to finally overthrow the enemy's brief but desperate counter-attack. Devons, Manchesters, Highlanders, and Light Horsemen met and dashed for the laager in the dip below. It was a wild three minutes; men were shouting "Majuba!" Then in honest cadence the "cease fire" sounded, the pipes of the Gordons skirled the regimental quick step.
The cavalry charge home. 5.45 - 6 P.M.
A number of Boers had already surrendered when the crest had first been rushed. Others surrendered now, but the mass of them mounted their ponies and rode northwards across the veld in order to strike the Newcastle Road. It was now after half-pAst five and already dusk, but just before darkness became supreme the mass of Boer fugitives were overtaken by the 5th Dragoon Guards and 5th Lancers, who had been kept in leash for this purpose. Their work was simple, and the infantry success on the hill-top was rendered complete by a cavalry pursuit pressed home as far as the light allowed. Major Gore had placed his two squadrons, after he had withdrawn them out of range of the Boer gunners, within a fold of the veld, from which it was possible to observe the whole of the rear of the enemy's position. With glasses the movements of the Boer reserves were visible, also the effect of British shrapnel fire. Only once was a force detached to oppose the cavalry. About fifty men came down a spur of the hill; but these contented themselves with firing a few rounds at the more exposed officers who were reconnoitring the ground. Just as the light began to wane, it was seen that the enemy were vacating the main position. At first they came over the hill in driblets, then in considerable numbers. This was the moment for which Major Gore had been waiting. He passed the word for his two squadrons to advance in extended tiles. The squadron of the 5th Lancers, under Captain M. P.R. Oakes, was on the right, the squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards, under Captain P. H. Darbyshire, on the left. The ground to be crossed was broken and stony, and the left of the line was much impeded by a ravine. As the extended men topped the rise, which had hitherto concealed them, they found themselves athwart of the enemy's line of retreat. About three hundred yards in their direct front was a straggling group of mounted men, moving at a leisurely trot from the field of battle. It furnished the opportunity for which British cavalry had been trained in the past. Major Gore gave the order for which the men had been straining - "Gallop! " - and with levelled lances and bared sabres the two squadrons dashed forward and rode over and through the panic-stricken burghers. As soon as the latter heard the thud of the galloping horses and the exulting cries of the troopers, they opened out and tried to save themselves by flight. But with so small a start their little ponies were no match for the big-striding Walers, and the cavalry were upon them almost before they realised that they were pursued. Some tried to snap their Mausers from the saddle, some threw themselves on the ground, others knelt down vainly imploring for mercy in the agony of their terror. For a mile and a half the Dragoons and Lancers over-rode the flying enemy. Then they rallied and galloped back to complete the havoc and to meet such of the fugitives as had escaped the initial burst. In the second gallop but little sabreing or spearing was done, and many prisoners were taken. Then the scattered troopers were again rallied. The men fell in and cheered madly. There was something awful in the dramatic setting of the scene. The wild troopers forming in the thickening darkness, with their reeking weapons bare; the little knot of prisoners, with faces blanched in fear; herded together at the lance point; the dim patches on the veld, which denoted the destruction which had been dealt, and the spasmodic popping of rifles from remote portions of the field as the fighting died out with last light of day, or as the wounded tried to attract attention. It should be said to the credit of the British troopers that, although they had mercilessly carried out the duties attendant upon a cavalry pursuit, yet, once their duty was accomplished, they showed every solicitude for those who had suffered. Though drenched to the skin themselves, many parted with their cloaks and blankets to cover the shivering limbs of the wounded, and some even shared their covering with the unwounded prisoners they were guarding. The bearing of the prisoners was the same in every case. They seemed to have been completely cowed and almost stupefied by what they had undergone. The men who a few days previously had entered upon the campaign with light hearts, confident in the conviction that the conduct of war was but a hunting party on an exaggerated scale, were brow-beaten and dumb-foundered by their awful experience at Elandslaagte, and there is not the smallest doubt that if the British had, when hostilities commenced, been able to strike several blows as decisive as that delivered at Elandslaagte, the war would never have assumed its ultimate proportions.
Night on the battlefield.
When the squadrons rallied the greatest uncertainty still existed as to what had taken place in the other parts of the field. Night had fallen with South African rapidity, and with it a miserable drizzle set in. The cavalry and their prisoners cautiously advanced upon Elandslaagte station, hardly sure even whether it was in Boer or British occupation. It proved to be the latter, and the wounded from the infantry encounter were already arriving at the station. Here the prisoners were housed, while the troopers found a more or less cheerful bivouac by building huge fires from coal which was stacked in the station. They also were able to help themselves unstintedly from the supply train which the Boers had captured in the station on October 19, and which had again fallen into the hands of its rightful owners. But all had not fared so well. Certain details of the cavalry had failed to make the rallying point, or had become separated in the darkness. These detached parties spent a miserable night on the veld, but took several prisoners, whom they brought safely into camp in the morning. The infantry, too, were compelled by the fast-falling darkness to bivouac on the position which they had won. They got little rest in the cold and the rain and with the moaning of the wounded round them. It had been impossible to carry more than a part of the wounded down to Elandslaagte station while daylight lasted, and the sad and gruesome task of searching lasted long into the night. Among those found on the hill was brave old General Kock, mortally wounded through shoulder and groin. As a boy of twelve he had fought the English at Boomplaats, and he was still to live just long enough to listen from his deathbed in Ladysmith to the roar of his own guns shelling the town. His body was sent back to Pretoria to receive the last honour of a public funeral.
Completeness of the victory.
The victory was complete. The Boers had been driven out of a strong position of their own choosing and their retreat converted into a demoralised rout. They had left three hundred wounded and whole prisoners in British hands and all the equipment of about 1000 men. Kock's force was completely broken up. The success was due to the bravery of tile troops, to the admirable co-operation of the three arms throughout, and not least to the skill with which the infantry attack was developed. In the wide formations he adopted, and in the broad gap of several thousand yards left between the two halves of his attack, Colonel Hamilton showed an insight into the changed conditions of warfare which many other generals were destined still to learn by bitter experience. Considering the character of the position to be taken, the numbers of the attacking force were very small. Nor were the losses, 5 officers and 50 men killed, 30 officers and 175 men wounded, excessive under the circumstances. The Gordons and Imperial Light Horse suffered most heavily, in part owing to the way in which they got crowded together on the narrowing ridge in the course of the attack instead of spreading down the eastern slope. As at Talana the pro-portion of officers among the casualties was very high. The Boers undoubtedly made a much better fight of it than at Talana. The guns were bravely served, and the stubbornness of the defence and the boldness of the last counter-attack deserve the highest praise. But they had not yet learnt fully how to make use of their ground, in order to counteract the rain of British shrapnel or check the rush of British infantry. Their casualties, out of a force of about 1000 men actually engaged, were heavy: at least 60 killed, 120-150 wounded, and nearly 200 prisoners. Though forming only a small part of the force the German and Hollander contingents both suffered severely, the latter losing two officers killed and two wounded out of foun Commandant Ben Viljoen, who seems to have made off with his men at an early stage of the fight, was almost the only important Boer who succeeded in escaping.
Oct. 22. Hurried evacuation of Elandslaagte. Anxiety for Ladysmith hampers White's strategy.
While the weary troops threw themselves down to rest on the heights they had won, and while General White was still riding home through the dark, Sir A. Hunter telegraphed out an urgent message that the force was required back in Ladysmith at once. It was only in the course of the day that the ephemeral nature of the success at Talana Hill and the difficulties of General Yule's position at Dundee were realised at headquarters. With that realisation had come the doubt whether; after all, it was any use attempting to re-establish the railway communication with Dundee - the avowed object of General French's expedition in the morning. That being so, there did not seem to be any particular advantage in so large a portion of the Ladysmith force remaining detached sixteen miles away. But the strongest motive for the recall of the troops lay in the apprehension raised by signs of renewed activity on the part of the Free Staters at Bester's, whose numbers, it would seem, were considerably overestimated at the time. By three in the morning the cavalry and guns were already on their way back, and as soon as day dawned the infantry began to be hurried down from their bivouac and into the trains. Whether the fault lay with the alarmist character of the messages from headquarters, or with the officers responsible for carrying out the withdrawal, the withdrawal degenerated into a regular scuttle. Large quantities of captured stores, rifles and ammunition were abandoned, and the two guns, once Dr. Jameson's and now recaptured on Elandslaagte Hill, all but shared the same fate. Even more surprising, fully thirty or forty prisoners were simply left behind to their own devices. There certainly was no force of the enemy in the immediate vicinity of Elandslaagte which warranted the feverish haste in which the retirement was carried out, and even if it was advisable to reinforce Ladysmith a small force might well have been left to clear up and to impress the enemy's patrols with the idea that Elandslaagte was still held by our troops. And, menacing as the approach of the Free Staters was, one cannot help feeling that a bolder strategy which would have ventured to neglect that menace and attempted to make some positive use of the signal victory of Elandslaagte would have been attended by far better results. An immediate advance to Glencoe would have been possible enough, for there were no Boers between it and Elandslaagte, but there was nothing to be gained from such a move comparable to the risk run. But there was yet another course, if Ladysmith had only known or guessed the true state of affairs. The remnants of Kock's force had fled north in utter disorganisation, very few of them stopping to look round before they got to Newcastle. The important pass through the Biggarsberg was left completely open, and a small mounted force could have ridden through unopposed. The blowing up of the bridge over the Ingagane, and the interruption of telegraphic communication with Pretoria, would have created a panic in the Boer Head Laager at Danuhauser, and would probably have resulted in a general falling back of the Boer army. It was a great chance for a cavalry leader like the Confederate general Stuart. But it is doubtful whether at the time the purely isolated character of Kock's advance was understood in Ladysmith, and it would seem rather as if the Staff were under the impression that the whole of Joubert's force was updn them. Though if that was the case it is all the more difficult to understand why no steps were taken to blow up the Sunday's River bridge, not five miles beyond Elandslaagte station. In dwelling on the apparent hesitation and lack of enterprise of Sir G. White's strategy it is necessary to remember how he was hampered by anxiety for the safety of Ladysmith. If the heights round Ladysmith - Pepworth, Bulwana, Caesar's Camp - had been adequately fortified before the outbreak of war; Sir G. White could have moved about freely and his army might have been a real field army instead of being like a dog tied to its kennel by a chain. And even if it was impossible to make up for past neglect in a week, yet if Sir G. White had from the moment of his arrival detached part of his infantry and the town guard to intrench themselves on the heights round the town, he might have been able to effect much more with the rest of his force. However; it is easier, perhaps, to pass criticisms and make suggestions after the event than to realise the difficulties and uncertainties Sir G. White's little force had to face in the first weeks of the war.
Oct. 23. Free Staters occupy Elandslaagte.
The Free Staters during the next few days showed no signs of wislifrig to attack Ladysmith in force. But a force of some 1000 to 1500 men of the Winburg and Heilbron commandos, under general A. P. Cronje, including among its ranks one Christian de Wet, destined soon to make his mark on the course of the war; moved round the north of Ladysmith, and late in the afternoon on October 23 an advanced patrol under Commandant Nel reoccupied Elandslaagte. They inadvertently fired on a British burial-party on the battlefield, and were struck with amazement at finding the position unoccupied. After the return of the hospital train, these same scouts dislodged the supports of a culvert near Modder Spruit siding. Early in the morning a patrol of the 18th Hussars, thirty strong, under a sergeant-major; had ridden into Ladysmith. They were the advance guard of the column which had been detached to Glencoe by General Yule with the object of cutting off the Elandslaagte fugitives. They had ridden into the enemy and had been engaged in a desultory mannen Finding themselves cut off from Dundee they had dropped down the Glencoe Pass and wandered into Ladysmith without casualty. The incident is noteworthy as it lends emphasis to the small necessity that existed for the hurried scuttle out of the Elandslaagte position.
Oct.21. Yule decides to stay in Dundee, but moves camp.
We must now turn our attention once more to the fortunes of the Dundee column. The crest of Talana had no sooner been cleared than General Yule withdrew his infantry, leaving tile Dundee Town Guard in occupation of the heights. As the troops withdrew, the heavy rain, which had been threatening all day, came down in torrents, and night fell on a scene of dreary discomfort and uncertainty. Great difficulty was experienced in the housing of the wounded. The morning after the battle was as wet arid cheerless as the evening which had preceded it. In grappling with Lukas Meyer's commando tile Dundee column had well-nigh expended itself. As a fighting force it was severely crippled. The casualties of October 20 had left it practically without a directing staff, and the successful assault on Talana had only temporarily brushed aside a small portion of the invading army. Prom the reports of their intelligence General Yule and his staff were not long in realising that they were still confronted with the main force of the invading army, and that, so far from being free to take the aggressive, they were themselves in a very precarious position. General Yule accordingly telegraphed to Ladysmith that he would require to be reinforced in order to make sure of holding Dundee. By 1.30 Sir G. White's reply came: no troops could be spared without sacrificing 'Aidysmith and the colony behind; Yule should try to fall back on Lady-smith, and Sir G. White would do what he could to help him when nearer. This was not a direct order to retire, and General Yule was reluctant to abandon his wounded and the large reserve of supplies accumulated at Dundee. But he rightly considered the camp chosen by General Symons within ordinary field artillery range both of Talana and Impati untenable, and proceeded at once to select a new site some distance farther south and on higher ground.
"Long Tom" opens fire from Impati. Camp moved again. Oct. 22. Reconnaissance to Glencoe.
The men had scarcely begun intrenching when the mist which 'lad hung heavily on Impati all the morning cleared away. During the morning the Boers had dragged up on to the western shoulder of Impati a 64nch Creusot or "Long Tom," which, thanks to British forethought in leaving tile bridges untouched, had come down from Laing's Nek by rail. When at 4 P.M. the divided mist declared the British in the plain, the Boer gunners commenced to lay alike upon the old encampment and upon the men engaged in making the new intrenchments, the latter at a range of 7000 yards. The surprise was hardly less complete than had been the surprise of the first shell from Talana on the morning before. Shell after shell fell amongst the tents and baggage lines. Considering the number and weight of the projectiles the damage was slight but there were some casualties. Lieutenant W. M. J. Hannah, teicestershire Regiment, was killed. At the end of an hour the rain and mist stopped the bombari ment. The force withdrew under cover and spent a comfortless night in pouring rain. The town was at the same time evacuated by its inhabitants, most of whom took refuge in some farm-houses near the position occupied by the troops; others, less confident in the situation, left by road for the south. At 3 A.M. the troops moved to another site selected for a camp still farther to the south, on a foothill of Mount Indumeni. All ranks anticipated a severe struggle, but hour after hour went by and no enemy appeared. During the morning news arrived of the success at Elandslaagte. Many conflicting reports were in circulation, chief of which was that the main column of the enemy, dispirited by two reverses, was in full retreat upon Newcastle. - Acting upon this information, and hoping to intercept some of the fugitives from Elandslaagte, General Yule, at about nine o'clock, marched out with all troops with the idea of occupying Glencoe junction. The enemy were, however, found strongly posted along the ridge from Impati down to the junction. The 69th and 67th batteries came into action against them, and the Hussars had an encounter with a small party, some of their men getting cut off from the rest and eventually making good their way to Lady-smith. Suddenly "Long Tom" opened again upon the force while halted near Glencoe. After a brief cannonade, rain again intervened, and the whole force trudged back through the mire to the position from which they had started in the mormng, accompanied by occasional shells.
Oct.22. Yule decides to evacuate Dundee.
It was then realised by the senior officers that the reports of the demomlisation of the enemy and his retreat of to New- castle were fables. The force had not had time to recover from the severe shock of Talana; it was tired and dispirited by useless marching and counter-marching in mud and rain, and by continually shifting camp to avoid the varied intensity of the enemy's shell-fire. It was necessary to come to some decision. General Yule's position was not altogether unlike that in which Sir John Moore found himself at Lugo. He had several alternatives open to him. An attempt to drive Erasmus out of his position on Impati was practically out of the question. It might be possible to delay another day or two' expecting the Boers to give some opening for a successful attack. Or, again, he might simply take up a defensive position and hold out till he could be relieved. The general seemed disposed to intrench on Talana, at any rate for the time being, and not retreat till forced to do so. Orders were actually issued for a march to Talana at 9 P.M. But his senior officers succeeded in persuading him to follow the example set by Sir John Moore when he retreated to Corunna. It was determined to leave all standing in the camp, and to slip away by forced marches down the Helpmakaar road. There can be little doubt that this decision saved the column from disaster and England from the deepest humiliation. It was necessary to abandon the camp, its three months' store of provisions, a considerable quantity of ammunition and the kits of both officers and men. What was felt much more keenly was that the extreme delicacy of the manoeuvre necessitated the desertion of the hospital, the dying general, and the wounded. It was impossible even to warn the people of Dundee of the intended evacuation. The smallest intimation in the town would have been conveyed to the enemy's lines in time to have impaired the success of the surprise. Dundee - and Ladysmith too - were teeming with Dutch agents. In fact one of the burghers who captured Colonel Möller's force informed a wounded officer that he had been drinking in the sergeants' mess of one of the British regiments the night before. The Natalians said hard things at the time against General Yule for leaving the Town Guard of Dundee to its fate; but under the circumstances it is difficult to see what other course was open to him.
Oct, 22. The night march out. Beith, Van Tonder's Nek, the Waschbank. Oct.24.
The retirement commenced at 9.30 P.M. on the night of Sunday, October 22. The orders for the march to Talana still held good and none but the senior officers and Colonel Dartnell, commanding the Natal Police, who was to lead the head of the column on to the Helpmakaar road, had any idea of the real nature of the enterprise. It was very dark, and the stillness of the night was only broken by the rumble and creaking of the transport and artillery, and the murmur of the teams as they strained to pull their burdens through the slough. So quietly was the man~uvre carried out that the townspeople of Dundee slept through it all, and awoke in the morning in the belief, shared by the enemy, that the camp was still occupied. Just outside Dundee a convoy of thirty4hree wagons containing the supplies for the march, which Major Wickham had loaded up in the old camp after dark, were skilfully dovetailed into the column. Within two hours the whole column, four miles long, was clear of the town, a piece of admirable management on the part of a short-handed staffi The men were dog-tired when they started, and during the halts, which of necessity were frequent, they threw themselves in the slush and slept until the order to advance or close up was next passed down the line. When day dawned the advance guard had placed ten miles between them and the camp. The force then halted for breakfast. But the danger of pursuit from the enemy in their rear, and the possibility that the passes in front of them might be held, made it necessary to delay as little as possible, and at 10 o'clock the sleeping men were shaken up, and the retreat continued. The column reached Beith, where the road branches to Waschbank, at 2.30 P.M., and bivouacked in the mud until nightfall. The most critical stage of the march was now before it. The next six or eight miles of road led through the steep and narrow defile known as Van Tonder's Nek. In that defile a handful of men could have held up a whole army, and the Boers, if they had become aware of General Yule's departure early in the morning, had had ample time to send enough men ahead to make a passage impossible. Fortunately the scouts who were sent forward to reconnoitre the pass reported that all was clean The heights were picketed, and at 11 P.M. the march was resumed. For four weary and anxious hours the tired men dragged themselves down the pass, until the plain at the foot of the Biggarsberg was reached. Once through, officers and men breathed more freely and stepped out, footsore but cheery, over the six miles of plain that separated them from the Waschbank River. The river was crossed in daylight, and the whole column, thoroughly exhausted, threw itself down on the far bank to sleep and get dry in the warm sunshine. It is a safe maxim of South African travel never to halt on the near side of a river, however insignificant. The maxim was once more vindicated, for in the afternoon the river came down in flood, and the outposts on the far side were detained for hours. But the column had now shaken itself clear of the perilous defiles of the Biggarsberg and could congratulate itself on the skill with which it had conducted its escape. The remaining thirty miles of comparatively open country presented no special difficulties, and another day's march would bring it within touch of Lady-smith. Colonel Dartnell, whose local knowledge and cheery confidence had been simply invaluable to General Yule, now left the column and rode into Ladysmith to report its successful arrival at the Waschbank.
Oct. 24. White moves out force to cover Yule's retreat. Shelled by Boers from Tintwa Inyonl.
The Dundee column was, however, not yet clear of all possible molestation. Its further advance westward would bring it into uncomfortable proximity to the Free State commando which had reoccupied Elandslaagte on the pre ceding day. This rendered it imperative that the troops in Ladysmith should be used to prevent the enemy from attacking the retreating column on its exposed flank. To effect this object Sir G. White moved out on the morning of October 24 with a force comprising an infantry brigade (Gloucesters, Devons, Liverpools, 2nd King's Royal Rifles ) under Colonel Ian Hamilton, the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse and a strong force of Natal Mounted Volunteers under General French, and the 42nd and 53rd Field and No.10 Mountain Battery, and three days' provisions. His intention was to demonstrate in force against the Free Staters, who were known to be in possession of the Jonono range and of the heights above Rietfontein farm seven or eight miles out of Ladysmith, and thus prevent their coming east of the railway line. The cavalry pushed on ahead, followed at some interval by the main body moving along the Newcastle road in column of route. The cavalry rode nearly as far as Modder Spruit unmolested, but as the head of the main column came opposite the lofty saddle-backed ridge of Tintwa Inyoni (or Intintanyone, the pieturesque Zulu name means "the birds fly high") on the left of the road, there was a sudden flash on the northern shoulder of the ridge and a shell pitched with marvellous accuracy into the leading battery (42nd), carrying off Captain Douglas's haversack and killing a horse. Practically at the same moment the flanking patrols of the 5th Lancers were in contact with the enemy's outposts on the low spurs near the road. These outposts the cavalry drove in, and, dismounting, occupied the spurs themselves. The enemy meanwhile made excellent practice with their gun at 4500 yards, but they used black powder and their position stood at once declared. The ridge of Tintwa Jnyoni ran roughly parallel to the railway for about a mile. At each end it rose into a hill, the southern peak standing out most prominently. This peak and the northern shoulder of the ridge were perhaps 1000 feet high, but the saddle sank very considerably between them. Behind the saddle was the Boer laagen The Boers occupied the ridge and the heights for several miles on either side of it. Between Tintwa Jnyoni and the railway, and likewise parallel to it, was a similar but lower ridge. Between these two riages lay a plain, perhaps 800 yards in width. The ascent from the railway to this lower ridge was gradual, ending at the summit in a stretch of almost level table-land before dropping rather abruptly to the intervening plain. On to this ridge Sir G. White determined, without more ado, to move forward his infantry and artillery in order to shell the enemy out of the commanding heights above him. The range from the northern shoulder of Tintwa Inyoni (where the enemy's guns were posted) to the ridge was 1200 to 1500 yards. To the left of the ridge the valley between it and Tintwa Inyoni runs up into a series of nullahs winding round the bases of two smaller kopjes which overshadow Rietfontein, the homestead from which the engagement takes its official name. Both of the British flanks were protected by mounted troops. The Imperial Light Horse, 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars were on the right, while the Natal Carbineers, Border Mounted Rifles, Natal Police and the Natal Mounted Rifles were called back to take up positions on the left.
Oct.24. Action of Rietfontein or Tintwa Inyoni.
The two field batteries had already been replying to the Boer gun, and now, preceded by No. 10 Mountain Battery, they came into action on the summit of the table-land, and in a few minutes the Boer gun was silenced and removed. The infantry line then deployed along the table4and, the Gloucesters and Liverpools leading, supported by the Devons. As the infantry slowly advanced, they were received with a long-ranged rifle-fire. They came into action about 8 A.M., and remained under long-ranged fire about four hours until the artillery had practically reduced all opposition from the hill tops. At about 10 A.M. it seemed as if parties of Boers were attempting to turn the British left flank from the lower slopes of Nodashwana, a hill south-west of Tintwa Inyoni. The Natal Mounted Rifles and Border Rifles were protecting this portion of Sir George White's front, and they, directed by Sir A. Hunter, proved equal to the occasion, pushing up the valley from Rietfontein farm, and holding the enemy with dismounted fire from the summit of the two small kopjes which bridged the south end of the valley. An unfortunate incident occurred about 11 A.M. when, owing to some mistake or confusion of orders, the Gloucesters began to advance down the face of the ridge. They at once became the target for a murderous fire and lost heavily. Colonel Wilford and six men were killed, and another forty wounded, the Maxim detachment which had followed the battalion into the firing-line being almost annihilated. The battalion was unfortunate, for a squadron of the Imperial Light Horse which lay on its right and advanced with it suffered no casualty, though equally exposed to the enemy's fire. At midday Sir George White, having secured heliographic communication with General Yule's column at the Waschbank, considered that he had attained his object, and under cover of the guns the infantry was withdrawn. The enemy in no way molested their retirement, but the cavalry on the right wing, some of whom had pushed on beyond Modder Spruit and carried on a desultory fight with the Boor skirmishing parties, experienced some difficulty in falling back. As long as they held the low kopjes with dismounted rifle-fire they were secure, but as each vantage ground was evacuated, the Boor skirmishers galloped up to it and poured a galling fire into the retiring horsemen.
Result of the Rietfontein action.
As a sensational action the engagement at Rietfontein presents little of interest, though the casualties in the Gloucester Regiment afforded a striking proof of the deadliness of modern rifles at long ranges. The men were simply called upon to carry out the trying task of demonstrating against a position the defenders of which they could not see, and of suffering casualties without the gratifying knowledge that the enemy were losing as heavily as themselves. The total casualties at Rietfontein amounted to 1 officer and 11 men killed; 6 officers and 98 men wounded. The avowed object of the march was undoubtedly attained. Whether it might have been attained equally well by shelling the hills without bringing the infantry within rifle range, or even by the simple occupation of one or two of the several watching positions available along the Newcastle road, is an open question. Sir G. White certainly believed that he inflicted heavy losses on the Boors, and thus produced a considerable moral effect. But it is doubtful if these losses much exceeded the Boer official return of 9 killed and 21 wounded. The Boers for their part imagined that they had successfully repelled a British attempt to take their position, and were correspondingly elated. Whether such an attack in force could have been carried out without heavy loss from the ridge below Tiutwa Inyoni is an open question. But the Boers had every reason to expect that Sir G. White was endeavouring to oust them from their position. Where they were they not only threatened General Yule's flank, but, what was more important, acted as a screen behind which Joubert's main army could effect its junction with the Free Staters round Ladysmith. The whole strategical scheme on which the occupation of Ladysmith was based demanded that this small body of Free Staters should, even at the risk of heavy losses, be attacked and driven back to the west without delay, so as to allow of free action against Joubert's advancing columns. If Sir G. White considered the force with him insufficient for the task, it might perhaps have been possible to have ordered General Yule to effect a junction with the Ladysmith force somewhere south of Elandslaagte the next day, preparatory to an action on the 26th. However, Sir G. White thought it safest to return to Ladysmith and await General Yule's arrival before taking any further action.
Oct. 24. Yule at Waschbank. Oct. 25. Retreat continued. Experiences of the night march. Oct. 26. Dundee column reaches Ladysmith.
The sound of Sir G. White's guns in action at Rietfontein was clearly heard by the column resting by the Waschbank. General Yule sent out two batteries and most of his mounted troops towards Elandslaagte to see if it were possible to give any assistance. But the detachment returned at 4 P.M. without finding any signs of the enemy, though they were able to heliograph to the Ladysmith column. The danger from pursuit was not now so great, as, indeed, is shown by General Yule's action in detaching so important a part of his force, and the troops rested all that afternoon and evening by the river. But the discomforts of the retreat had in no wise diminished. Pain came down in torrents, making the lowland tracks almost impassable for wheeled traffic. On October 25 the march was resumed at 3 A.M., rearguards being strengthened, as the Basuto scouts reported that Boers were hovering about. The swollen Sunday's River was successfully crossed by 10 A.M. Shortly after midday the march was resumed and another six miles covered before the column outspanned. Jt was now within easy reach of Lady-smith, and could hope to march in comfortably the following afternoon. But scarcely had the men thrown themselves down to rest than two squadrons of the 5th Lancers, who formed the advance guard of a supporting column sent out from Ladysmith, rode up. The Lancers were received with loud cheers. But the enthusiasm was damped when it was discovered that they brougitt the news that Ladysmith considered the situation of the Dundee column very serious, and that it was to continue its march at once. This entailed another effort on the part of the weary troops, and at 6 P.M. they fell in for anyther night march. The experiences in this, the last of the flight marches, were frightful The column moved at a snail's pace, each man holding on to the file in front of him lest touch should be lost in the inky darkness The men were sodden to the skin by the streaming torrents of rain, and the track was knee-deep in sticky mud. Wearied, hungry, and miserable beyond endurance, the men fell down asleep in the ranks as they floundered through the mire or stood halted waiting for the baggage to move forward. Oxen and horses fell prostrate in the traces, and, refusing to stand again, were left to die in the track, and completed the disorder of the infantry stumbling over them in the darkness. It sometimes took hours to cover a hundred yards, and the wagon road became an impassable morass. All night through men and animals crawled stolidly and stubbornly through mud and rain. At daybreak the head of the column met the supporting force bivouacked by the Modder Spruit, some seven miles east of Ladysmith. Here a halt was made, while for the next few hours the men staggered in in driblets. Towards midday the force was sufficiently recovered to be able to march into Ladysmith. The men were utterly exhausted by the strain of battle and retreat, caked in mud from head to foot, and dull from the want of sleep. But the battalions shaped as their feet felt the firmer bottom of the Ladysmith roads, and even attempted to sing as they were met with the acclamations of the garrison. Such was the return of the victors of Dundee. It had been a fine march, a necessary retreat skilfully carried out. General Yule was in such poor health that the conduct of the retreat devolved mainly on Colonel Dartnell, Major Murray, and the other officers of his staff, and on the regimental commanders, to whom every credit is due for the successful issue of a difficult and dangerous operation. The men bore the hardships of the long marches by day and night, through rain and mud, following upon an exhausting battle and two weary days of moving about in the Dundee valley, with all the imperturbable cheeriness characteristic of the British soldier. But for the last night the column would have arrived a few hours later in as good condition as could be expected of troops who had to cover the not excessive distance of sixty-four miles of muddy roads in four days. Bat the last thirty-two miles of marching, almost without a rest, culminating in that long night of floundering misery, was a strain which no troops could stand unshaken. The battalions had not time to recover from its ill-effects before their endurance was again put to the test.
Oct.23. Boers occupy Dundee.
Meanwhile the abandoned town and camp of Dundee had been occupied by the Boers. The heavy and cheerless weather in which the retreat was undertaken, though it impeded the column and reduced men and animals to extreme exhaustion, undoubtedly facilitated its escape. On the morning of October 23 the valley of Dundee was so enveloped in mist that it was not until the column was almost at Beith that the enemy became aware that they had been foiled of their prey. During the morning a few patrols, under Field-Cornet Zeederberg, appeared in the plain near Glencoe Junction and scouted the high ground towards Indumeni, but kept at a respectful distance from the camp, and as hospital orderlies and some of the less severely wounded were moving about, the appearance of occupation still remained. At 1.30 P.M. the position gun on Impati recommenced to shell the lines of tents. The officer in charge of the abandoned hospital sent one of his staff to inform the Boer leader that he was shelling the hospital. It is not quite clear whether this message gave away the situation before Zeederberg's scouts had actually entered the town. In any case the Boers entered immediately aften They expressed the greatest surprise and chagrin at the escape of the column, but they made no attempt to follow it up In the afternoon Erasmus's force took regular possession of Dundee. There was no attempt to exercise any control over the burghers, who ran riot in the town and the camp plundering, wrecking, and drinking. Even the hospital failed to escape the zeal of the looters. The orgie went on all night and the next morning; in order to put an end to it Erasmus ordered all spirituous liquors in the town to be destroyed. Gradually some semblance of order was restored, but for many days the wives of the burghers who had flocked into Dundee were busy loading up their wagons with plunder to take back to their farms. Subsequently a magistrate and public prosecutor were installed, and for many weary months the little town was administered as an integral part of the South African Republic. While Erasmus's men occupied Dundee Lukas Meyer set off with a light commando of about 1000 men in pursuit of General Yule's column. But he was in no real hurry to catch up the troops that had handled him so roughly on the 20th, and contented himself by following the British tracks at a leisurely pace.
Oct.23. Death of General Symons.
General Symons died a few hours after the Boers entered Dundee, and was buried quietly in the little English church-yard. General Joubert, with characteristic courtesy, sent a message of sympathy to the hapless general's widow. It has been necessary in the preceding chapter to criticise General Symons's actions somewhat severely. The unfortunate entanglement of Dundee, which exercised so paralysing an effect on Sir G. White's actions during the first fortnight of the war, was undoubtedly due to his insistence, and the success of Talana should not blind us to the neglect of all precautions which preceded it. And yet those qualities of self-reliance and unhesitating initiative which characterised him are so essential to a leader, and have shown themselves so rare among our senior officers in this war, that they may perhaps be held to outweigh all his mistakes. The error of judgment as to the fighting capacity or the Boers was very soon cured; the unwillingness to act promptly and face responsibility, due to a faulty system of training, lasted throughout the war. Penn Symons taught the Boers to respect the prowess of British infantry, and the example of his fearless courage and of his gallant end will live long after his mistakes have been forgotten.
Oct. 25-27. The Transvalers close in on Ladysmith.
The main body of Joubert's force did not halt long at Dundee. Reinforced by Schalk Burger's commando from the Swazi border, the Boers moved down the Glencoe Pass on October 25. With the railway intact from Glencoe to Modder Spruit, and with the Free Staters in undisturbed possession of the Ladysmith end of the line, the rapid concentration of the whole Boor army on Ladysmith presented neither difficulty nor delay. By October 27 the Transvaal commandos were laagered along the whole eastern and northeastern front of Ladysmith, from near Farquhar's Farm along the eastern bank of the Modder Spruit up to Pepworth Hill, north of the railway and within five miles of the town. On its southern side alone, from Dewdrop on the west to Bulwana on the east, was Ladysmith still open. The complete envelopment of the British force could only be a matter of a few days, unless Sir G. White proved strong enough to dislodge the Boers by force. The Boers reckoned confidently on theft power to frustrate any such attempt. The ease with which 6000 Free Staters had pushed forward on the west and north, defeating (as they believed) Sir G. White's attempts to check them at Bester's or dislodge them at Rietfontein, and the rapidity with which "Long Tom" had driven General Yule out of Dundee, were strong arguments to justify that confidence. Talana and Elandslaagte only impressed the Boer leaders in so far as they suggested the need for caution and exemplified the danger of crowding men and guns together on small positions which could easily be swept by British artillery, and even that impression was lessened by the free exaggeration of the numbers of the British engaged.
Summary of the first fortnight of war in Natal.
Thus ended the first fortnight of the campaign in Natal. On the whole the fortunes of war bad been fairly evenly balanced. Sir G. White had gained two minor tactical successes and had managed to extricate himself from the false strategical dispositions with which he had begun the war. But he had failed entirely to carry out his original plan of keeping the Transvaal and Free State forces apart and striking heavily at each of his opponents in turn, and was now face to face with the united forces of the enemy, superior in numbers and mobility, and posted in strong positions so near Ladysmith as to be able to watch almost every movement of his troops. The Boers on their side could claim that they had swept the whole of Natal down to Ladysmith, and that even if they had failed to capture the Dundee column they had taken some 200 prisoners and an enormous supply of stores. Within two days of General Kock's defeat, the Free Staters had occupied the heights on the way to Elandslaagte, from which no serious attempt had been made to expel them, and had ensured the junction of the forces of the two Republics. At Pretoria the highest expectations of success were entertained. For a few hours, indeed, exaggerated reports of Elandslaagte had caused a panic, which it required all President Kruger's imperturbable resolution to stem. But the isolated character of the engagement was soon realised. A strong reinforcement, largely composed of police, was drafted down from Johannesburg, while the broken remnants of Kock's force were left in that town to reorganise themselves. In England the Government and the general public were no less confident that all was going satisfactorily. The dramatic victories of Talana and Elandslaagte obscured the more unsatisfactory features of the situation, which, moreover, were carefully eliminated by the military censorship. There were few who doubted Sir G. White's ability to deliver a crushing blow at the enemy who had in spite of two defeats ventured to come within striking distance of 12,000 British troops.