The dash for Bulwana. 2
The plan of attack. Reconnaissance to Hussar Hill. 2
Procrastination at Hussar Hill. 3
Boer positions on the right bank. 3
Feb. 17. The attack on Cingolo. 4
Dundonald seizes Cingolo. Further advance postponed. 4
Feb.18. Attack on Monte Cristo. Lyttelton's plans. 4
Attack of the 2nd Brigade. 5
4th and 6th Brigades capture Green Hill. 5
Criticism of the day's operations. 6
Buller refuses to pursue. 6
The Boer withdrawal. 6
Feb. 19-20. Buller cautiously advances to the river. 7
Alternatives before Buller: the tactical crossing. 7
The strategical move to head off the Boers. 7
Buller's only object to get to Ladysmith. 8
His conviction that the Boers were going. 8
Boer demoralization. Botha advises retreat to Biggarsberg. Kruger's reply. 8
Boers take up new positions. Their unsteadiness. 9
Feb. 21. Buller begins crossing over. Somerset L.I. in action. 10
Prompt revival of Boer spirits. 10
Feb. 22. Crossing continued. Buller sanctions attack on Wynne Hills to cover the advance. 10
Wynne's advance. 11
Wynne Hills occupied. Insecurity of position. 11
Arrlval of 60th Rifles. Cathcart's charge. 12
Arrival of E. Surreys. The night on Wynne Hill. 12
The night on Wynne Hill W. Devons reinforce Wynne Hill E. 12
Bullet's orders for continuing the advance. 13
Feb. 23. The morning on the Wynne Hills. 13
Buller decides to attack Inniskilling Hill. 14
The advance to Hart's Hollow. 14
Hart orders the attack. 15
The Inniskillings gain the first crest. 15
The two charges across the slope. 15
Losses in the attack. Troops hang on for the night. 16
Feb. 24. Brooke's force falls back from the hill. 16
A renewed attack ordered and postponed. 16
Standstill of the operations. Confusion of units. 17
Danger of position. Panic on night of 24th. 17
Opportunity for Boer counterstroke. 17
Buller begins to realize necessity of a new plan. Decides to shift pontoon bridge. 18
Feb.25. Partial armistice. Redistribution of commands. 18
Sundry movements on Feb. 24-25. 18
Feb. 25-26. Preparations for the attack. 18
The scheme of attack. 19
Boer exhaustion. Uncertainty as to Buller's intentions. 19
Feb.27. Construction of new bridge. 6th Brigade crosses and moves into position. 20
Barton captures southern and central part of Pieter's Kopjes, but cannot get further. 21
Kitchener's dispositions. Preliminary movements of 11th Brigade. 21
Capture of Railway Hill. 21
Capture of Inniskilling Hill. 22
Last kopje of Pieter's captured at nightfall. 22
Criticism of the battle. 22
Boer demoralization, Botha's plans for covering retreat frustrated by Joubert's flight. 23
Feb. 28. Buller's disinclination to pursue. 24
Dundonald rides on into Ladysmith. 24
March 1. Attempt of Ladysmith force to harass Boer retreat. 24
Buller stops Burn-Murdoch pursuing and makes White recall his force. 25
Boer flight continued to Glencoe. Kruger at Glencoe. 25
March 3. Buller's formal entry into Ladysmith. 25
Underlying causes of Buller's failure. 26
Dangerous influence of small wars. 26
Peace training of British Army. Not Buller but the nation to blame. 26
Defects and virtues of Buller's army. 27
When Buller, on February 7, finally abandoned Vaal Krantz, he informed White that he was going to "slip back" to Chieveley, drive the Boers off Hlangwane on the 10th, and the very next night attempt to take Bulwana from the south. To Roberts he described his intended operation as a "desperate effort" to capture Bulwana. This time, then, so it seemed, if never before, secrecy, rapidity, and desperate determination were really intended to characterize Buller's action. '
The time Buller had allowed himself was, perhaps, almost too short, and on the 8fch he signalled to White that he would take two days longer. While the force was following slowly — Lyttelton marching in on the llth and Warren on the 12th — he himself spent the 10th and llth at Chieveley, and considered the exact form his attack should take. The Boer positions on the right bank of the Tugela were no longer, as in December, confined to Hlangwane only, but extended, strongly intrenched, due east of it for over two miles along the left bank of the Gomba Spruit to a steep, but not very high hill, afterwards known as Green Hill. From here the trenches, now lighter and more scattered, were drawn back north-eastwards to the southern end of Monte Cristo, the bold and lofty central portion of the line of heights which stretches across for some six miles between the Tugela and the Blaauwkrantz. Buller decided to make the eastern or outer flank of these positions the object of his attack. Barton suggested to him that he should march directly on Monte Cristo and Oingolo, the hill south-east of it, under cover of a feint on Hlangwane, and the next day send part of his force from Cingolo Nek eastwards over the Tugela, whence a fairly open and level country led up the valley of the Klip River to the eastern foot of Bulwana. But Cingolo Nek was seven miles away, and Buller preferred to advance by more gradual stages. On the 11th he ordered Dundonald to take out a mixed force early next morning and intrench himself on a low, bush-covered rise, known as Hussar Hill, three miles east of the railway and facing Green Hill at about two miles distance across the Gomba. Hussar Hill was seized after slight opposition. Buller rode on to it, examined the Boer positions for nearly an hour, and then ordered the whole force back to Chieveley. The retirement was sharply harassed by the enemy's snipers. This change of plan, due, perhaps, to fear of a Boer attack, was veiled by describing the day's proceedings as a "reconnaissance." No plans were made for an early start on the 13th, and when the day turned out very hot Buller decided to do nothing. So much for the swiftness and desperate resolve of the dash on Bulwana. The much-disappointed White, seeing no signs of the relieving force on Bulwana that morning, anxiously inquired for news. At the same time he informed Buller that there had been a general movement among the Boer camps on the Upper Tugela on the previous day, and that many of the enemy had gone eastward. In other words, while Buller wasted time marching out to Hussar Hill and back again, the Boers had discovered that Burn-Murdoch's force at Springfield was only a blind, and were coming back to Colenso.
Procrastination at Hussar Hill.
At on the 14th Buller moved out with Dundonald's brigade, the Second Division, now under Lyttelton, and composed of the 2nd and 4th Brigades, and the Fifth Division, to the latter of which the 6th Brigade was also attached, and after some skirmishing occupied Hussar Hill. Lyttelton's leading battalion, the 60th Rifles, moved on to Moord Kraal, a low rise two miles further east, but were recalled, as Buller did not wish any further advance to be made that day. The troops intrenched themselves on a wide front, their right resting on the Gomba, their left somewhat drawn back. Barton's brigade was on Hussar Hill itself; Lyttelton to the right; "Warren's division on the left; the mounted troops on both flanks. The idea next morning was that Barton's brigade should hold Moord Kraal to cover the advance of Lyttelton's division against Cingolo Nek. This was done by But beyond that nothing happened. Lyttelton's division spent the whole morning moving a mile. The day was very hot; the troops were already tired with standing about in the burning sun. Lyttelton began to doubt the advisability of attacking Cingolo Nek without first securing Cingolo; and after he had conferred with Buller the attack was postponed for the day. On the 16th Lyttelton's division moved out cautiously against Cingolo. But the day was again hot, and, after advancing a little way, the troops were recalled, as " the object of the reconnaissance had been effected." During these days a vigorous but entirely objectless bombardment had been kept up on the Boer trenches on Hlangwane and Green Hill by the guns on Hussar Hill, as well as by those near the railway, which had been reinforced by a 6-inch naval gun on the 12th and by three more 4-7 guns on the 15th. The Boer guns behind Green Hill and a howitzer south of the Onderbroek Spruit, on the far bank of the Tugela, replied occasionally. In five days Buller had covered just five miles in his desperate dash for Bulwana. The weather during these five days was undoubtedly hot. But it was no less hot on the dusty plains of the Free State, and. it was during these same days that Roberts's army did some of its hardest marches, trudging and staggering along to victory under the impulse of a clear directing brain and a keen will. It was the absence of these impelling factors, and not the heat, that was the real cause of the present futile performance. The heat was but an excuse for indecision and feebleness of purpose.
If the operations up to this point had served any purpose whatever, it was to indicate to the Boers precisely the spot at which the British attack was to be delivered. Reinforcements had steadily come back from the Upper Tugela, and by the 16th there were from 5,000-6,000 Boers, with 12 guns, in and around Colenso. Of these some 2,000-2,500, with four or five guns, held the positions on the right bank. The Bethel commando, with some of Wakkerstroom, held Hlangwane; the Middelburgers, under Fourie, held the Green Hill positions; the Heidelbergers and Boksburgera held the trenches further east, up to and including Monte Cristo, while on the 15th, in view of the obvious menace to Cingolo, Christian Botha, L. Botha's brother, occupied the slopes of that hill with some 300 Swazilanders. Lukas Meyer had been in command at Colenso during the operations on the Upper Tugela, and, though Joubert apparently now wished Botha to command, Botha was unwilling to assert himself against his former chief. For the present, therefore, the indolent and ineffective Meyer seems to have had the entire conduct of affairs in his hands—a serious misfortune for the Boers. The Boer position on the right bank was strong, but by no means impregnable. Its flank could easily be turned. Its means of communication with the left bank — a large ferry pont below the junction of the Onderbroek Spruit, and an ingeniously constructed bridge of railway sleepers and metals laid across the rocks just above the Falls — were very inadequate either for reinforcement or for retreat, and neither the bridge nor the few drifts that couli. be crossed on horseback would be available in case of a sudden rise of the river.
At 5 a.m. on the 17th Buller gave Lyttelton verbal orders to attack Cingolo Nek and Monte Cristo. Dundonald was to co-operate on the right, while Barton and Warren's division were to support on the left and form the pivot of the whole movement. Being given a fairly free hand, Lyttelton decided to occupy Cingolo before entering the nek, though cavalry scouts who had climbed the southern end of the hill the day before had reported it unoccupied. He ordered Hildyard to attack the north-western end of the hill, while Norcott advanced directly towards the nek, and Barton supported. At 6 a.m. nearly fifty guns came into action from Hussar Hill and Moord Kraal against the trenches and wooded kloofs of Green Hill, Monte Cristo, and Cingolo. A few minutes later Lyttelton moved off, Hildyard's brigade leading, the others echeloned on the left. Progress was slow owing to the endeavour to maintain exact alignment over the rough bush-covered ground, and it was 9 a.m. before the West Yorks, Hildyard's leading battalion, came under long-range fire from Christian Botha's men on the western crest of Cingolo. At the same time the Boers crept forward in the bush and opened fire all along the line. A small party which had established itself on a knoll just across the Gomba, about half-a-mile south-east of Green Hill, was particularly effective, till Barton advanced the Irish Fusiliers, who cleared the knoll, and thus successfully covered both their own brigade and Norcott's from sniping. For this exercise of initiative Barton, whose orders had been not to cross the Gomba, was sharply reprimanded by Buller, and the Fusiliers were subsequently recalled. Meanwhile Hildyard, finding that his advance would meet with determined opposition, decided about 10 a.m. on a further outflanking movement. The Queen's were accordingly despatched through the bush to the right with orders to climb the south-western end of the hill, and then advance along the summit. This would take some hours, and Lyttelton meanwhile halted his line to give the flanking movement time to take effect.
Dundonald had bivouacked that night with the larger half of his brigade near the junction of the Gomba and Blaauw-krantz, some two miles east of the infantry. His orders, given him by Buller on the assumption of a direct attack on Monte Cristo, were to move behind the flanks of the infantry to protect them, and, if opportunity offered, to outflank any parties of the enemy that might appear on Cingolo Nek. Hearing during the night that the Boers were on Gingolo itself, he wisely decided to seize his opportunity and make a real turning movement. So instead of drawing info the west of Cingolo in rear of the infantry, as ordered, he took his men, some 650 m all, by a circuitous and hidden route to the extreme southern end of the hill. After an hour's climb through thick bush the head of the force reached a small plateau near the summit about noon, and began forming up. But the Boers were just becoming aware of the move and bullets were beginning to fly. Dundonald pushed on at once the Composite Eegiment moving along the summit, the South African Light Horse on the eastern slopes. The Boers were too surprised to make an effective resistance. The irregulars never gave them a chance to stand, but swept the whole summit to Cingolo Nek. The Queen's, reaching the summit at 2 p.m., after an exhausting climb, found Dundonald's men ahead, and followed rapidly after. Unfortunately Dundonald does not seem to have communicated what he was doing to Lyttelton, and it was not till nearly 3 p.m. that the cessation of the fire from the Boers on the crest, and the sight of the Queen's in their place, made the situation clear to him. He pushed forward again and occupied the lower slopes of Cingolo and a small kopje half-way up to the nek. The Boers, who had fallen back from the nek, kept up a hot fire from Monte Cristo, Green Hffl., and the intervening ground, and he now swung his troops more to the left in preparation for the attack. But it was already 5 p.m. ; by the time the attack was pushed home it would be dark, and it would be difficult to make full use of the victory gained. Buller accordingly ordered the troops to stand fast and bivouac in the positions they occupied. It had been a fairly successful day, thanks largely to Dundonald's initiative, and to Lyttelton's sensible dispositions. What prevented the success from being complete was, partly, the lack of communication between Dundonald and Lyttelton, and, partly, Lyttelton's own decision to wait for the development and completion of the flank attack, instead of continuing to press on. Had he done so he might have lost a few more men, but he would probably have been in a position to strike home, possibly to cut off the Boers on Cingolo, as soon as the flank attack made itself felt.
Feb.18. Attack on Monte Cristo. Lyttelton's plans.
At dawn on the 18th Lyttelton issued his orders for the attack, which he intended to be a continuation of the previous day's manoeuvre. Hildyard and Dundonald on the right of the line were to push on and envelop the enemy's flank on Monte Cristo. As soon as this was done Norcott in the centre, and Barton on the left, were to swing the whole line forward through another quadrant of a circle, pivoting on Warren's troops on their left, and clear Green Hill and the ridge connecting it with Monte Cristo. The chief difficulty of Hildyard's attack lay in securing adequate artillery support, as the position to be taken was out of effective range of the guns on Hussar Hill and Moord Kraal, excepting the two 5-inch guns. In view of this, Lyttelton, with commendable forethought and enterprise, had ordered the 64th Battery to be dragged up during the night to the little knoll halfway up to the nek. The gunners, aided by the Devons, were hard at work all night dragging the guns and ammunition up by hand, distributing the guns in suitable positions, and erecting cover. But their labours were amply rewarded in the morning. Lyttelton's orders for the battery were not to open fire till the infantry advance disclosed the enemy's position, a considerable improvement in tactical conception upon the ordinary futile "preparation" of several square miles of country on the chance of hitting such Boers as might be about. With the same object in view he ordered Hildyard to prepare his advance freely with long-range rifle-fire before attacking.
Attack of the 2nd Brigade.
At 5.30 a.m. Hildyard opened the action with long-range volleys from the Queen's on the northern crest of Cingolo, and with a heavy fire from his Maxims, which he bad moved on to the slope just south of Cingolo Nek. Colonel Kitchener moved the West Yorks up to Cingolo Nek and joined in the preparatory fire against the face of Monte Cristo. Dundonald did the same on the north-eastern slope of the hill, while such of the artillery as had the range supported vigorously. An early attack was desirable, in order to enable the capture of the Boer position to be well followed up, but it was not till that the cautious Hildyard was satisfied that his preparation bad been sufficient. A few minutes later the leading half battalion of the West Yorks on the left, followed on the right by half the Queen's, rushed across the open nek. The Boers on the slope and crest of Monte Gristo opened a heavy fire, but their aim was not improved by the effective supporting fire directed upon them by the rear half battalions of the West Yorks and Queen's across the nek. A little later these crossed in their turn, effectively assisted by the fire of the advanced line, which had found good positions among the rocks and bushes at the foot of the slope. The Devons and half the East Surreys followed next, the other half of the latter battalion being kept lower down Cingolo to fire long-range volleys. The advance then began. Slowly and steadily the infantry worked their way up, the steepness of the slope not only affording cover, but facilitating the task of the supports. The Boers made their way back to the crest. But even there they could not hold their own against the heavy rifle and shrapnel fire directed upon them. Just before the leading company of the West Yorks scrambled up the last, almost precipitous stretch, and reached the summit. A heavy fire was at once opened from positions further back, killing Captain Berney, the first man on the crest. A moment later the whole firing-line. West Yorks, Queen's, and Devons, were over the crest, and, sweeping forward, cleared the end of the hill. The Boers promptly opened on them from behind Green Hill with two guns, a pom-pom, and a Maxim. The troops were withdrawn from the crest, but continued pushing northwards along the eastern edge of the hill, now joined by Dundonald's men on their right.
While Hildyard was preparing his attack, Norcott had swung round his brigade so as to face the ridge between Green Hill and Monte Cristo. Barton's brigade was extended on his left facing the Green Hill. As soon as Lyfctelton saw that the summit of Monte Cristo was won he sent Norcott forward. The advance met with a heavy fire, but was most effectively supported by the 7th Battery, which Buller had sent across the Gomba early in the morning, and which now came into action below the 64th in a position which enabled it to shell the Boer trenches and the laagers behind at 1,600 yards' range. At 12.30 P.M. Lyttelton halted the 4th Brigade to enable Barton to come up on the left. Barton was, probably, reluctant to assume the initiative after his previous day's experience, but after a while, seeing the 4th Brigade waiting, he decided that it was essential to push on. Sending back word to inform Warren and Buller on Hussar Hill, he sent his men forward. Meanwhile the 2nd Brigade had pushed more than half-a-mile along the summit, and at once more crossed over on to the western crest and opened a heavy fire on the Boer laagers below them. The effect was almost instantaneous. The whole Boer resistance collapsed. The moment the 2nd Brigade appeared, Nbrcott, with whom Barton had now drawn level, pushed forward again. But it was too late. By the Scots and Irish Fusiliers had scaled Green Hill, and a few minutes later the Eifle Brigade and Durham L.I. were over the ridge to their right front. But the Boers were already well away, retiring in such order and in so leisurely a fashion that the 7th Battery, which came on to the ridge immediately after, took them for Dundonald's men and forebore to fire. The irregulars, as it happened, were on the eastern slope of Monte Cristo, where they continued, together with some of the 2nd Brigade, pressing after the retreating Boers up to the point where the mountain falls in a sheer, almost precipitous, slope of over 1,000 feet to the Tugela.
Criticism of the day's operations.
The day's operations had thus far proved decidedly successful. The attack of the 2nd Brigade on Monte Cristo had been well thought out and skilfully conducted. It had no doubt been facilitated by the cover afforded by the scrub, which Buller had hitherto so much dreaded. But the essential cause of its success was the fact that it had only to deal with the Boers actually opposite it, while the rest of the Boer force was kept in its trenches by Norcott and Barton, who were simultaneously brought into action along a front of about two miles, and effectively supported by the whole artillery. It is this bringing of his whole force into play that differentiated Lyttelton's tactics on the 17th and 18th from Warren's and Buller's at Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz, and enabled him with a loss of about 200 casualties to drive the Boers out of positions they had held and intrenched ever since December. If, indeed, the capture of positions with the smallest loss of life, and not the destruction of the enemy's forces, were the primary object of war, no fault whatever could be found with Lyttelton's tactics. But, as it is, it must be admitted that, on the 18th as on the 17th, success was frustrated of its completeness by the reluctance to develop the frontal attack together with the attack on the flank. To have done so might have cost another 200 casualties. But it would probably have enabled Norcott and Barton to get home effectively and to punish the Boers in their retreat. Moreover, though the tactics of the 18th showed a marked improvement on previous performances, as far as Lyttelton's division was concerned, this was not true of the force regarded as a whole. No attempt was made by Buller to bring Warren's division into action on the left, or to make use of Hart's brigade at Chieveley, though the simultaneous capture of Hlangwane by the left wing of his force would have made it very difficult for the Boers on Green Hill or Monte Cristo to escape across the river.
Even as it was, there was still plenty of opportunity for effective action after the capture of the Green Hill-Monte Cristo line. Barely four miles of rolling, bushy plain separated the infantry from the inadequate crossing to which the Boers were now making a leisurely retreat. A prompt pursuit might still have caught them in the act of crossing and inflicted the losses required to complete the moral effect of the victory. Such an advance would not only have affected the retiring Boers on the right bank, but also those on the left, whose laagers and positions, from Fort Wylie to the Onderbroek Spruit, -would all have been exposed to reverse artillery fire, and thrown into confusion. Under cover of this confusion and of darkness it might even have been possible to secure a crossing that night and to establish a bridge-head near the Falls, preparatory to a further advance on the morrow. It is interesting to speculate how Kitchener would have used this opportunity had he been in Natal that day instead of at Paardeberg! Buller, at all events, had not the slightest intention of pressing after his beaten enemy. The very moment the troops got into the Boer positions he sent an order to Lyttelton to stand fast and collect his men on the defensive, as the enemy were "apparently receiving large reinforcements from Ladysmith." Barton was anxious to push on to the Boer bridge, but was ordered to stop, and found that he had again incurred Buller's displeasure for having done what the situation obviously demanded without waiting for specific orders.
The Boer withdrawal.
The Boer force accordingly retired unmolested across the Tugela, their retreat covered by the fire of their guns on the left bank. The Bethel commando, however, remained in their positions on Hlangwane. Botha, who had appeared on the scene of operations on the previous day, though too late to remedy Meyer's dispositions, had not yet wholly given up the hope of holding at least a portion of the right bank. At nightfall he sent the Heidelbergers across the river to reinforce Hlangwane, of whose tactical importance he was still as convinced as he had been three months earlier. But in. spite of Botha's promise to reinforce them, the Bethelers abandoned Hlangwane after dark, and the Heidelbergers, failing to get into touch with them, did not advance beyond the long spur which runs northward from Hlangwane to the Falls. On the left bank all was confusion. The laagers were hastily broken up, and before darkness miles of wagons were visible trekking northwards past Pieter's Station.
No further movement was made by Buller till on the 19th, when the whole force, after a prolonged artillery preparation, advanced very cautiously for nearly two miles. Barton marched to Hlangwane, which Thorneycroft's M.I. had already found unoccupied, and Norcott to Bloy's Farm, while the East Surreys established themselves on the highest part of Monte Cristo overlooking the river. A further advance Buller would not hear of. On Hlangwane, Barton's men came under shell-fire from guns on the left bank, as well as under rifle-fire from the Heidelbergers to the north of them. These last, indeed, made a somewhat half-hearted counterattack during a shower early in the afternoon, which was, however, easily repulsed by the Royal Fusiliers. Most of the guns, now reinforced by two more 5-inch guns and two 4.7's, were brought forward to the Bloy's Farm plateau. Two naval 12-pounders reached the northern summit of Monte Cristo by , having been on their way ever since the previous evening. The sailors had a fine opportunity for shelling some of the retreating Boer laagers across the river, but were under strict orders not to fire till they had constructed epaulements. The Composite Rifles occupied Colenso without opposition. During the night the Boers resolved to abandon the right bank entirely. The Heidelbergers were withdrawn, the ferry pont was burnt, and the bridge partially destroyed. Learning that the coast was clear, Buller, on the morning of the 20th, at last sanctioned a cautious advance, covered by heavy artillery fire, over the remaining two miles to the edge of the plateau overlooking the Tugela. The 2nd Brigade was brought down off Monte Cristo to assist in this manoeuvre, only the East Surreys and 12-pounders being left on the hill. Hart meanwhile had marched the Dublin Fusiliers from Chieveley into Colenso, where they had a slight skirmish with a few Boers on the kopjes across the river. Thorneycroft, with a small party of the T.M.I., crossed the river, and the Boers withdrew. In the evening Hart was ordered to retire to Chieveley again. Coke's brigade occupied Hlangwane.
After wasting two whole days Buller had advanced no. further than he might have gone on the afternoon of the 18th. The question of what he was to do next still remained, and there was no longer any conceivable excuse for putting it off. The essential thing, indeed, was that he should do something at once. The exact tactical or strategical form of the plan adopted mattered little if only it was carried out with promptitude and energy. In war most plans are good, except deferred plans. Still, broadly speaking, there were two main lines of action open to him. The first was to cross the Tugela where he was and dislodge the Boers from their positions on the left bank. Along the whole length of the river from the western foot of Hlangwane to Monte Cristo the right bank commanded the left and enabled Buller to force a crossing under cover of his guns. He could cross at Colenso and endeavour to envelope and force back the Boer right on Grobelaar's Hill and Onderbroek in the same way that Lyttelton had forced back their left on Cingolo and Monte Cristo. He could cross over near the Falls, either by repairing the Boer bridge — as was, in fact, done, sufficiently for infantry purposes, by the Scots Fusiliers during the next few days — or by his own pontoons, and then force his way over the single line of hills that here formed the northern rim of the Colenso basin. Lastly, he could, with a view to getting on to the plain east of Pieter's and outflanking the Boer left, cross his men, though not, perhaps, his wagons or guns, at some point lower down between the Falls and the mouth of the tremendous gorge which separates Monte Cristo and its north-westerly continuation, Clump Hill, on the one bank of the Tugela from the sheer cliffs of Eagle's Nest on the other.
The second line of action open to Buller was strategical rather than tactical in its scope. It was the line already advocated by Barton, and now strongly urged by more than one officer on Butler's staff, namely, that of avoiding altogether the great amphitheatre of hills round Colenso, and making, instead, a flank march through Cingolo Nek to the junction of the Klip River and the Tugela, and thence up the open valley of the former river to the rear of Bulwana. The march in question would have been nearly 20 miles altogether, and would have involved the construction of a pontoon bridge. But it presented no insuperable obstacles. And it promised great strategical results. At Bulwana, Buller would be astride of the main line of communications of all the Boer positions at Colenso and on the south side of Ladysmith, and would render them untenable. Unless the Boers detected the object of his manoeuvre at once — and Roberts's experience of a similar march in perfectly open country indicates the unlikelihood of this — he would cut off all possibility of a retreat by the east of Ladysmith. Forced to retire by the west, the Transvaalers, who formed the bulk of the forces thus cut off, would have to make their way round more than a complete semicircle. Buller, meanwhile, would only have to march straight through Ladysmith, picking up such troops as were still effective, in order to head them off. The strategical situation offered all the elements for a success as great as that of Paardeberg.
In discussing the opportunities which now presented themselves to Buller, one assumption has, however, been made. And this is that Buller desired to close with his enemy and to inflict a crushing defeat upon him. Unfortunately neither Buller's actions, nor the language of his orders and messages, show the slightest trace of any such desire. The only desire he entertained was to get to Ladysmith: the less he had to do with the Boers on the way, the better. He had waited two whole days to allow the Boers to evacuate their last positions on the right bank of the Tugela. His hopes and expectations now centred, so it would seem, on their evacuating the left bank also, and allowing him to make his way to Ladysmith unopposed. And, indeed, there were many indications that looked favourable to this hope. All day on the 19th and 20th the Boer wagons streamed away in unbroken lines over the shoulder of Bulwana, and with them went a considerable number of burghers. Telegrams from Roberts and from White confirmed the view that the Boers were going. No attempt was made, however, to find out by scouting what really was happening across the river. Buller had completely lost touch with the enemy and made not the slightest effort to regain it.
The only conspicuously visible indication that did not point to retreat was the presence of a few Boers digging trenches and building sangars on the hills north of the Falls. But the scene was very unlike that which Buller had watched from Mount Alice on January 12, when several thousand Boers were feverishly intrenching on Brakfontein. The general impression conveyed to Buller and to most of those who had been present on both occasions was that the work now being done was a mere precaution to enable a weak rearguard to delay the pursuit and allow the wagons to get well away. With this impression, and with his general attitude towards the problem before him, Buller was not likely to give very serious consideration to strategical or tactical schemes, involving great exertions for the troops, and possibly difficulties of supply, when all he had to do was to wait a little longer for the Boers to get away, and then to march comfortably to Ladysmith by the high road. It was in this frame of mind, apparently, that he rode up Monte Cristo, for the first time, on. the afternoon of the 20th. What he saw from there of the Boer movements confirmed his hope. On the other hand, the sight of the deep gorge at his feet only strengthened his unwillingness to contemplate any movement in this direction. He, however, yielded to the importunity of the staff officer with him, to the extent of sending a young engineer with a patrol, to see if he could find a road suitable for transport and a convenient crossing east of Monte Cristo. The patrol apparently did not penetrate to the open country, for it reported that no road was to be found. But, in any case, Buller's mind was now made up. The Boers were going, and he would follow them quietly to Ladysmith, as he had followed them from Monte Cristo to the bank of the Tugela. The pontoon was accordingly marched to Hlangwane during the afternoon in readiness for a crossing on the morrow. Orders were at the same time sent to Bum-Murdoch to break up the camp at Springfield, and come in to Chieveley; and to Bethune to cross the Tugela and move on Helpmakaar. The relief of Ladysmith was practically accomplished: it was only necessary to march in.
Boer demoralization. Botha advises retreat to Biggarsberg. Kruger's reply.
It was in this spirit that Buller telegraphed to White next morning that he was pushing through to Pieter's, with only a rearguard in front of him, and hoped to be in Lady-smith on the following evening. His message crossed one from White announcing that Boer reinforcements had arrived at Modder Spruit station, and that during the last two days some 750 Boers had been seen riding south past Bulwana, to which White now added that he could detect no signs of the enemy's retreating; all the indications pointed the other way. The fact is that the Boers had undoubtedly been thrown into complete panic on the 18th, and that not only the wagons, but large numbers of burghers trekked away during the next two days. Botha, who had, with but little success, endeavoured to stay the backward movement, and to get the burghers together to intrench a second series of positions, was so impressed by the general demoralization, that he telegraphed to Joubert on the 19th suggesting that the siege of Ladysmith should be raised, and the whole Boer force withdrawn to the Biggarsberg. Meyer and the other commandants concurred in his view. Coming as it did at the same moment as the news of Cronje's unfortunate plight at Paardeberg, this despondent message might well have shaken the most obstinate determination of the Transvaal leaders. It might also have suggested compliance with Botha's advice, as the best means of enabling them to send more men to help Cronje. But neither Kruger nor Joubert were yet ready to sacrifice the prize for which they had contended for so many months. Joubert telegraphed back ordering Botha to stop, and to allow no leave on any pretext for the next fortnight. He even drove across from Modder Spruit himself on the 20th, and remained for a short while on Grobelaar's Hill, looking round and discussing the situation. Kruger's reply, indeed, is a document so characteristic, both in style and in spirit, as to merit quotation, at least in part:—
" Your telegram yesterday with regard to the position on your side. "Worthy sirs and brethren: It seems to me as if your faith and that of your burghers has been replaced by unbelief. The moment that you cease to hold firm and fight in the name of the Lord, then you have unbelief in yon; and the moment unbelief is present cowardice follows, and the moment that you turn your backs on the enemy then there remains no place for us to seek refuge, for in that case we should have ceased to trust in the Lord. No, no, my brethren; let it not be so ; let it not be so. Has not the Lord hitherto given us double proof that He stands on our side ? Wherever our burghers have stood fast, however hard the task, the Lord has beaten back the enemy with a small number of our burghers. My brethren, is it not the same Lord that cleft the Bed Sea and routed Pharaoh and all his host, when Moses stood firm in his faith ? Is it not, again, the same Lord that caused the stream of water to spring from the rocks whence thousands could drink? Is it not still the same Lord who walked on the sea and rebuked the waves of the sea and the winds, and they obeyed Him ? ... It seems to me from a study of God's word that we live at a point of time spoken of in the Revelation, in which the Beast has received power to persecute the Church of Christ in order to purify her, as gold is purified through fire. . . . This, indeed, is the struggle for the crown, both in a material and in a spiritual sense. Bead Psalm xxvii., verse 7, where the Lord says,' Be of good courage, little band of God-fearing ones.' The Lord is faithful, and in your weakness shall He make perfect His strength. Bead Psalm xxxiii., verse 7, to the end, where it says that victory is in the hand of the Lord alone, and not with the multitude of horses and chariots. . . . No, brethren, let us not bring all our posterity to destruction. Stand fast in faith to fight, and you shall be convinced that the Lord shall arise and shall scatter His enemies (Psalm lxvii.). Our faith is now at its utmost test, but the Lord will now shortly prove that He alone lives and reigns. The young men preferred death in the fiery furnace to forsaking their faith. Our ancestors preferred the stake to abandoning their faith, and the Church has been preserved, and all those that have preferred death to forsaking their faith have been as a sacrifice on the altar. Bead this out to all officers and burghers, and my faith and prayer lie in my firm confidence that the Lord shall strengthen His people in their faith. Even if they have no earthly rock behind which to seek cover, they shall win on the open plain."
Even more encouraging than Kruger's message, perhaps, was Buller's continued inactivity. The burghers rapidly recovered from their panic, and, as White reported, those who bad fled now began returning to the positions to which Botha and his stalwarts had been clinging. By the morning of the 21st there were probably 5,000 Boers established and partially intrenched in a complete line of positions extending from the heights west of Colenso on the right to beyond Pieter's Hill on the left, and divided into two equal halves by the Langverwacht Spruit. Lukas Meyer commanded the left wing with the Piet Eetiefers on the extreme left, the Heidelbergers, Lydenburgers and some Standerton men on the Pieter's Heights east of the railway, and the Johannesburgers, Boksburgers, Krugersdorpers and Eustenburgers on the hills afterwards known as Railway and Inniskilling Hills, between the railway and the Langverwacht. Botha commanded the more immediately threatened right wing, with the Ermelo and Middelburg men on the low hills known afterwards as Wynne Hills, and beyond them, in the under-features of Grobelaar's, and on both sides of the valley of the Onderbroek, the Carolina, Bethel, Swaziland, Standerton and Zoutpansberg contingents. Of their guns, a Krupp and a pom-pom were well out on the flank, on high ground west of the Onderbroek, two. Creuzots and a howitzer on the lower plateau of Grobelaar's, two pom-poms, a howitzer and two field-guns at various points in rear of Meyer's positions west of the railway. But though the Boers had recovered courage sufficiently to take up these positions, they were still very unsteady. Their leaders looked to the impending advance with the greatest anxiety, hardly daring to hope that the burghers would sustain a determined attack at any point. That Buller had no intention of attacking at all, but was simply proposing to trundle his army by road all along the front of their positions, and between them and the Tugela, was more than they could have imagined in their wildest dreams.
Buller's orders on the morning of the 21st were simplicity itself. The troops, first line transport, artillery and all, were to cross over as soon as the pontoon bridge was thrown across the Tugela immediately west of Hlangwane, and then turn to the right and follow the river. Warren's division was to go first, then Lyttelton's. Barton, whose brigade was extended along the right bank to the Falls, was to cover the movement, helped by the artillery. Hart was to cross at Colenso and occupy the Colenso Kopjes in order to cover the left rear. At the bridge was begun under intermittent fire from the Boer guns, and finished three hours later. Meanwhile Thorneycroft, who had crossed over with his men at Colenso soon after daybreak, had sent several messages back to Warren informing him that a large body of Boers were in the bed of the Onderbroek Spruit south of Grobelaar's, on the flank of the proposed advance. In view of this, Buller decided to let the advance wait while the Boers were shelled, and thus induced to hasten their departure. Coke, whose brigade was the first to cross, was ordered to push forward his men across the plain west of the low bridge-head kopjes, so as to cover the coming into action of a couple of batteries. At the 10th Brigade began to cross, and occupied the bridge-head kopjes without further opposition than a certain amount of shell-fire. But the moment the Somerset Light Infantry, Coke's leading battalion, debouched on to the open plain beyond, they met with heavy rifle-fire from their right front and from two low kopjes 1,000 yards away on their right flank. Coke sent two of their companies and half the Dorsets to take these kopjes, but, though this was successfully done, the pressure on the Somersets' right flank was not much eased. They pushed on gallantly, and eventually were halted some 1,300 yards in front of the bridge-head kopjes. With admirable steadiness they remained lying in the open for the rest of the afternoon, subject to galling short-range fire from almost every quarter, as the Boers, undeterred by the shrapnel of the guns, which came into action about 4 p.m., flocked down to the Onderbroek, to get such good shooting as they had not had for many a long day. After dark Coke withdrew his men from their untenable positions. This first encounter with the Boer "rearguard" cost the Somersets 90 casualties, including 4 officers killed; some 20 casualties fell to the rest of the brigade.
On the Boers the effect of the day was almost magical. Their drooping spirits had begun to revive the moment they saw Buller enter the Colenso basin, stepping down, as it were, into the arena of the amphitheatre to be shot at from the seats. The futile advance of the Somersets, which they interpreted as an unsuccessful attack, completed their rehabilitation. That evening Botha telegraphed to Kruger:—
" Thanks to our Father the burghers already showed to-day that they had taken heart again, when they had such splendid shooting at the enemy with their Mausers at 300 yards' range. As soon as the moon rises I will go along our whole position in order, if necessary, to encourage officers and burghers still further. . . . With the help of the Lord, I expect that if only the spirit of the burghers keeps up as it did to-day, the enemy will suffer a great reverse."
Another sign of Botha's returning confidence is that he telegraphed to Joubert next morning dissenting strongly from the latter's suggestion that the wagons and laagers should be kept for safety behind the Klip River, and urging that the essential thing was to keep all the burghers in the trenches, and give them no excuse for being away for hours at a time on the plea of fetching something from the laager. In the same telegram he also scouted the notion that there was any danger of the British attempting to cross near Monte Cristo.
On the other hand, the rough handling of the Somersets does not appear in the least to have opened Buller's eyes to the real situation, or to have affected his plans. All night long, infantry, guns and transport poured across the bridge. By daylight on the 22nd Buller had 11 battalions and some 40 guns, with other impedimenta, crowded together in the low-lying and confined space behind the Colenso Kopjes; four more battalions, two of Norcott's and two of Hart's, and quantities more baggage were squeezed in during the morning. The day's proceedings opened with the customary bombardment of the country side, which was kept up with vigour all the morning by all the guns, including the 6-inch and 4'7 guns on the rise in front of Chieveley, though -without any appreciable effect on the invisible Boer riflemen or upon the Boer guns, which continued, from their concealed positions on the heights, to direct a plunging fire on the British troops. It was becoming increasingly evident that the Boers were still there, and intended to oppose Buller's advance. Buller, indeed, realized as much, and signalled to White that morning that he had been "premature in fixing the actual date of entry into Ladysmith," as he was meeting with more opposition than he expected, but that he was " progressing." That the enemy's opposition necessitated a complete alteration in the tactical method of his progression does not seem to have occurred to him. He rejected the suggestion of an attack upon Grobelaar's Hill. But, though still intent on simply marching along the river bank, he realized that it was at any rate necessary to cover the immediate flank of the march. Between the Onderbroek and the Langverwacht, the higher ground came down to within 400 yards of the river at the point where it bends away sharply towards the Falls. Warren suggested that he should attack and occupy the kopje nearest the river with a brigade, and Buller agreed. Warren entrusted the task to Wynne, who ventured to point out, though without effect, that unless Grobelaar's was first seized, his brigade would be subject, both during the attack and still more afterwards, to enfilading fire from higher ground on both flanks. And, in truth, this plan of pushing a brigade into the middle of the enemy's positions and leaving it there to be shot at—embodying, as it did, a complete reversion to the disastrous tactics of Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz, and a total obliviousness to the unmistakable lessons of Monte Cristo—could hardly have been much worse.
At 2 p.m. Wynne advanced from the kopjes south of the Onderbroek Spruit, the South Lancashires on his right, the Royal Lancastcers on his left, and the Composite Rifle Battalion in reserve. The 60th and Scottish Rifles were advanced by Lyttelton to cover the flank of the movement. The rising ground between the Onderbroek and Langverwacht, known afterwards as the Wynne Hills, was an irregular plateau, broken up into a confusion of minor knolls and ridges like the wavelets on the crest of a lumpy sea. Rising only some 200 feet above the river, it was completely dominated, at rifle range, by the higher ground on every side. Its length from west to east was a little over a mile; its breadth, at the summit, from 300 yards to half a mile. Two well-marked gullies divided the summit roughly into three parts. Seen from the south, the western part appeared an entirely distinct hill from the central and eastern. It was only the two latter, known as Wynne Hill and Wynne Hill East, or Green Hill, that Wynne was ordered to occupy, and it was on them that he directed his battalions. He was under the impression, indeed, that Lyttelton had agreed to cover his flank by occupying Wynne Hill West. But when the advance had got some way across the Onderbroek, and no sign could be seen of troops advancing on the western hill, Wynne realized that there had been some misunderstanding. He promptly diverted the Rifle Battalion to the left, a move which probably saved his brigade from very unpleasant, if not disastrous, consequences. A few minutes later he was severely wounded, and for a second time Colonel Crofton, of the Royal Lancasters, succeeded to the command.
Under a terrific volume of fire the three battalions, now abreast, toiled up the lower slopes, the Boers falling back from the crest before them. But, as usual, the real Boer defence lay behind, a line of sangars running along the northern edge of the western and central portions of the plateau and diagonally across the eastern. Topping the crest, the British met a staggering fire, which- promptly drove them to take cover below it. Only on the central hill did the right hand companies of the Eoyal Lancasters manage to advance a little way on to the plateau along a bush-covered ridge. Here they suffered severely, losing most of their officers, in the next few hours, including Major Yeatherd, who had just taken over the command from Crofton. But the rest of the force, clinging to the reverse slopes, were not much better off. They were sheltered from the sangars in front. But there was hardly a spot on the slope that was not exposed to long-range fire from the cloud of keen-eyed marksmen scattered over the surrounding heights and in the bed of the Onderbroek and Langverwacht. A further extension of the flanks would only have exposed the brigade still more to enfilade or reverse fire; the Rifle battalion on the left was in fact unable to hold more than the eastern face of its hill, while on the right the flank of the South Lancashires was drawn back so as to rest on the river. A more insecure and useless position it would be difficult to imagine, and there is no reason for surprise that, as the hours wore on, without any signs of an improvement, the men began to get shaken. Towards dusk the Ermelo men on the central hill increased their fire and began cautiously pushing forward. The advanced companies of the Royal Lancaster's were unable to hold their own, and suddenly ran back to the crest-line. This started a general wavering of the men under the crest. "Up jumped a number of men and poured down the hillside in confusion. For a moment it seemed as if ths whole force was going to be driven off the hill. But the Boers were slow to seize their opportunity. The troops were speedily rallied, and the front once more made intact. The question was, would it remain so for long? Night was fast coming on, ammunition was running short, and the Boers were steadily creeping forward.
At 6 p.m. Crofton had sent back an urgent request for reinforcements. The first to receive it was Bewicke-Copley of the 60th Rifles, who at once sent forward four companies. "With the last glimmer of daylight these reached the centre of the position, a little to the right of the nek between the western and central hills. At this part of the crest there was a gap in the firing-line, or else it was held so thinly that the 60th, in the darkness, did not discover the fact. All they knew, from the sound of the bullets and the sparkle of the rifles, was that the Boers were close up to them, and, concluding that the enemy had broken through the line, they decided to drive them back. With a ringing cheer they charged up to the crest. Captain the Hon. E. Cathcart, with the leading company, rushed over the crest and across the plateau, right on top of the advancing Boers. Up sprang the Boers and fled back across the plateau, with the Riflemen hot on their heels. But the Boers in the further sangars saw what was happening, and received them with a terrific fire. Losing heavily, Cathcart tried to get his men together and withdraw. But he had got right into the middle of the Boers, who began firing into his little band from every side. Cathcart was killed; his subaltern collected the survivors in a little stone sheep kraal within 70 yards of the Boer sangars. The other companies, meanwhile, ignorant of what was happening in front of them, took up positions on the crest-line.
Meanwhile Crofton's demand for reinforcements had reached Hildyard, whose brigade was lying by the railway, half a mile in rear of Onderbroek Spruit. He ordered forward the East Surreys to support the left, and the Devons to support the right. Groping their way forward to the sound of the firing, the East Surreys eventually reached the nek between the western and central hills. In the darkness and confusion no one in authority could be found, so Colonel Harris had to make what dispositions he could. Ordering Major Pearse, with three companies, to reinforce Wynne Hill West, and leaving a company at the nek, he took the remaining four companies to the right. In the intense darkness two of the companies got lost, and eventually struck the crest of Wynne Hill at its extreme eastern end, where they found Crofton, who put them in reserve under the crest. Harris himself reached the crest a little further to the left. Here he found a great deal of confusion, but, reforming such men as he could get hold of, he took up a position with them and his own two companies, and, as it was impossible to find out if there were any troops in front or not, ordered them to lie down with fixed bayonets. Later on, when the firing subsided, he set them to work building sangars. For some hours, however, heavy firing went on all along the Wynne Hill, the Boers creeping up quite close and being more than once driven back by rushes with the bayonet. A more trying night for troops it would be bard to picture.
On Wynne Hill West, likewise, heavy fighting went on for some hours after nightfall. The Middelburgers made a series of most determined attempts to dislodge the Rifle battalion, and here also the British at one time had to clear their front with a bayonet charge. But, though hard pressed, the reservists held their own with admirable determination, and showed that they had unlearnt nothing of their soldierly spirit. The East Surreys now reinforced them all along the crest, and also prolonged their western flank, intrenching themselves as well as they could. Hearing from the Bines that this flank was completely enfiladed by two small kopjes across the Onderbroek, Pearse asked Hildyard to occupy them. Hildyard sent forward some companies of the Queen's, who seized the kopjes and intrenched themselves during the night. The Devons, meanwhile —or half of them, for, in spite of the precaution of moving in single file, each man holding on to the coat of the man in front, several companies had gone astray—reached the South Lancashire positions on the slope of Wynne Hill East. This section of the line had not been so hard pressed as the centre, and the Devons were kept in reserve at the foot of the hill, where their missing companies joined them in the morning.
Bullet's orders for continuing the advance.
On the evening of the 22nd Buller, who had now transferred his headquarters to the left bank, issued his orders for a general advance next morning. The whole force was to "march along the west of the Colenso-Ladysmith line," Lyttelton's division on the left, and Warren's on the right. The divisions were apparently intended to march in column of brigades, the artillery with their brigades, " one battery when possible following the first battalion of leading brigades, and two batteries between brigades." Only first line transport was to accompany the troops, who were to carry one day's rations. The heavy baggage was to come on when sent for. Coke's brigade was to remain behind to " garrison Colenso and protect the rear of the advance." Its place in the Fifth Division was to be taken by the three battalions of Hart's brigade now in Colenso. All the rest of the force still on the right bank—Norcott's remaining two battalions, the heavy artillery, and the two cavalry brigades—were to cross over the pontoon during the night or early in the morning. The rear was to be brought up by the 6th Brigade, which was, however, to leave a battalion, supported by the mountain battery and four naval 12-pounders, on the north end of the Hlangwane ridge " to keep the right of the advance clear of snipers." These are orders for a march, and for nothing more. Of the tactical features of the ground, of the enemy, not a word, beyond a single reference to "snipers." Considering" when and where these orders were issued—at the end of the most trying and uncertain day's fighting since Spion Kop, and with the army squeezed in between the enemy's intrenched positions and an unfordable stretch of the river —they are almost too bewildering for criticism. One thing is clear. Whether they were issued in the belief that the Boers were actually withdrawing, and that the march would not be seriously opposed, or whether Buller only meant to march up his whole force as far as the cover of the Wynne Hills allowed and then await further developments, the only conclusion that can be drawn from them is that the British commander was still firmly wedded to his idea of moving along the road, and was, even now, unable or unwilling to see that the Boers meant to stay, and that it would require a real tactical operation to dislodge them.
The morning of the 23rd certainly furnished no indications of a Boer withdrawal. The firing on the Wynne Hills,: which had not died down till long after , reopened with full vigour at the first glimmer of dawn. The actual occasion of it was an attempt to rescue the company of the 60th in the sheep-kraal in front of the Boer sangars. Lieutenant Wake had crawled out and made his way through the Boers on the plateau to the crest, where he found Crofton and informed him of what had taken place. Crofton had sent Wake back with orders for the company to hold on till dawn, when he would send a force forward to cover its withdrawal, and had deputed for the task the two companies of East Surreys who had gone astray from Harris earlier in the night. These now moved forward across the plateau till they were nearly level with the kraal, and lay down in open order while the Riflemen slipped out as quietly as they could. At last several coming out together made a noise. A burst of firing came from the sangars and was taken up all along the line. Fortunately it was still nearly dark, or not many would have escaped. As it was, the losses were heavy; among the wounded was Major Smith, who led the covering party. The tremendous burst of fire proved too much for the overstrained nerves of some of the men, and there was a sudden panic in the advanced sangars on "Wynne Hill and "Wynne Hill East. But the men were promptly rallied; two companies of the Devons instantly pushing forward to the sangars when they realized what was happening. As the light grew stronger Harris moved forward a company of East Surreys towards the bush-grown eastern ridge of "Wynne Hill. Here it came under a tremendous fire. Harris was wounded in several places; Lieutenant Hinton killed. But the company hung on doggedly in such scanty cover as the long grass afforded and kept up a heavy fire all day. In the course of the morning the command of the llth Brigade was assigned to Colonel Kitchener of the West Yorks, an excellent choice soon to be justified by the results. For the rest of the day the troops hung on under heavy shell and rifle-fire, and were relieved in the evening by Hildyard's fresh battalions on the central and eastern hills and by the Royal Fusiliers and Welsh Fusiliers from Barton's brigade on Wynne Hill West. The total casualties for the two days were Over 500 killed and wounded.
It was evident from the first, on the morning of the 23rd, that any such advance as that indicated by the previous night's orders was out of the question. The troops, indeed, continued to cross. But Buller decided to defer the actual advance, and meanwhile, following up the principle of the previous day's operation, to send a brigade forward under cover of the Wynne Hills to seize the high sloping-topped hill just beyond, known subsequently as Inniskilling Hill. The capture of this hill would, he hoped, ease the pressure on the flank of the Wynne Hills, and perhaps make it possible to drive the Boers off them altogether. Anyhow, it would enable the force to squeeze its way under cover at least a mile beyond the Langverwacht. What Buller intended to do after that we can only conjecture. Perhaps he may have hoped simply to repeat the same tactics with the next two hills in succession and. thus eventually emerge on to the Pieter's plain. What would actually have happened if the attack on the hill had succeeded is quite clear. The Boers would promptly have turned their whole attention on the captors and attempted to drive them off again. Judging by the experience of Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz, Buller would thereupon have relapsed into an attitude of passive defence. But as a position for passive defence, the summit of Inniskilling Hill was probably even worse than any of those on which Buller had yet exposed his men. It would have been under enveloping rifle-fire from Railway Hill round to the bed of the Langverwacht, and under shell-fire over the whole semicircle from Grobelaar's to Pieter's. Reinforcement or retreat would be equally difficult as long as the Boers held the bed of the Langverwacht. The only question is whether the hill would have been evacuated after two or three days' fighting, or whether the troops would have been driven off by sheer force; whether it would have been a Vaal Krantz, or a Majuba.
Buller entrusted the attack to Hart, strengthening his brigade by the addition of two of Norcott's battalions. The guns had been shelling the trenches on Inniskilling Hill from time to time ever since the 19th, a proceeding which no doubt only encouraged the Krugersdorpers to improve them. They 'now concentrated their full attention -upon the hill, the long-range guns from their low-lying positions near the pontoon, while the 7th Battery was sent back over the river to join the 19th and 63rd and the four naval 12-pounders at the north end of the Hlangwane ridge, and on the plateau to the east of it. Hart moved off about 12.30 p.m. as ordered. In spite of the occupation of the Wynne Hills, the Boers still managed to keep up a pretty accurate long-range fire upon the ground in rear of them, and, to avoid this. Hart moved his men along under the river bank. But, as the bank was muddy and the men were forced to move in single file, this considerably delayed the advance, which was already very late in starting. The mouth of the Langverwacht was too deep to wade across, and the troops had to get on to the bank and cross by the little railway bridge. The Boers were in force higher up the Langverwacht valley, and, the moment the head of the column appeared on the bridge, opened a heavy rifle and pom-pom fire on it. The men crossed over in single rushes, but, even so, many were hit. A more serious matter than the casualties was the further delay involved. After the bridge, henceforth known as Pom-pom Bridge, the column took to the bank again. This, at first, however, afforded little cover, and several men were killed, and lay there for the rest of the brigade to step over, their feet imbedded in the mud and their heads in the river. The whole of this unpleasant and extremely slow advance might have been avoided by crossing the pontoon, marching along the right bank, and recrossing by the Boer bridge, of whose partial repair Hart was, no doubt, entirely unaware. At the Boer bridge the leading company inclined to the left and began crossing on to the broken and bushy ground, about a mile in width, which sloped up from the Tugela to the foot of Inniskilling Hill, This ground had been cleared of Boers by the artillery and by the fire of the Scots Fusiliers on the opposite bank, and the leading battalions were formed up here as they arrived. The Inniskillings were in front in two lines, the Connaught Rangers and I.L.I, behind. The right of the line rested on a shallow depression which ran from the Tugela, a little way below the Falls, towards the re-entrant between Inniskilling Hill and Railway Hill to the north-east of it. This depression, known afterwards as Hart's Hollow, was intersected by a donga, full of hummocks and bushes, and afforded good cover.
It was now nearly The Dublin Fusiliers were only just arriving and the two 4th Brigade battalions were still a long way in rear. By the time they arrived it would be night. If the attack was to be carried out at all that afternoon it would have to be begun at once with the troops already on the ground. This might prove a risky undertaking on the other hand, it seemed even riskier to spend the night in Hart's Hollow surrounded by the enemy, who were already keeping up a heavy fire upon Hart's battalions from every quarter. Hart decided to attack. The Inniskillings were to advance on the left and attack the southern face of the hill, the Connaughts on the right to attack the south-eastern corner. The I.L.I, were to cross Hart's Hollow and advance towards Railway Hill in order to cover the attack from flank fire. Off went the Irish battalions, the impetuous Hart repeatedly making his bugler sound the " double" and the " charge" to hurry them on. After pushing on for half a mile in the teeth of a heavy converging fire they reached the railway, which runs close under the foot of the hill, passing through a deep cutting between the hill and a small kopje just to the left of the hollow, and over a culvert near the head of the hollow. For a moment they paused, and Hart at once ordered Cooper of the Dublins to hurry forward half a battalion to "give a fillip " to the final attack. He at the same time suggested that Cooper himself should, with the other half, attempt to take Railway Hill. But the hill was two miles away and the task in itself quite beyond the powers of so small a force, and, deferring to Cooper's advice, he abandoned the idea.
Meanwhile, the leading battalions were up and over the' line, breaking through the barbed wire fence, scrambling down and up the cutting, through another fence, and then up the side of the hill. Immediately from every quarter, from Wynne Hill East and the bushy Langverwacht valley, from the line of sangars on the crest of the hill, from the re-entrant to the right and from Railway Hill, the Boers poured in a devastating fire, which the efforts of the British gunners were quite powerless to keep down. So heavy was the enfilading fire on the right flank that Colonel Brooke of the Connaughts now sent four of his companies through the culvert towards the re-entrant. But neither they nor the I.L.I., who now came up beyond them, were able to effect much. The Inniskillings, who crossed at the left of the cutting and by a level crossing just beyond, were the first at the foot of the hill, and went up the steep face with a rush that nothing could check. At their approach the Boers melted away from the forward crest. Exultingly the men flung themselves over the low parapet into the trench—only to find before them 300 yards of loose boulders, interspersed with scanty thorn-trees, sloping up towards the main Boer position in front of them, and towards a similar position on their left. The second line now came up into the first, and at the same moment Lieutenant-Colonel Sitwell, who had raced up with the leading company of the Dublins, found Colonel Thackeray and conveyed to him Hart's order that the hill was to be taken before sunset at all costs.
Thackeray at once led his men up the slope. But the attack simply withered away before the appalling magazine fire opened upon it. Thackeray was killed. Major Davidson and other officers wounded, and the line ran back and threw itself down behind the parapet. By now the Connaughts were on the crest to the right of the Inniskillings, and the rest of the Dublins had come up on the left. After a brief colloquy, Sitwell and the other officers on the crest decided, in view of Hart's orders, that the attempt must be renewed. In the waning evening light the Irish regiments leapt over the parapet and rushed desperately forward across the slope. It was the supreme moment which the Boers knew was coming, and for which they had husbanded themselves. From every crack and cranny along the flanks of the hill and from the unbroken trench in front the rifles crashed-and roared. The gunners across the river strained their eyes in vain. It was already too dark to distinguish friend and foe, and they dared not keep up their fire. Officers and men fell at every step as they rushed steadily onward. Major Sanders, the surviving field officer of the Inniskillings, was killed, and the command fell to Captain Jones. Half-way across the plateau it became beyond the power of human endurance. Those who could turned and ran for the crest, the Boers leaping to their feet and emptying their magazines after them. Those who had got furthest forward threw themselves on the ground and waited till merciful night closed over them.
It was a magnificent attack, displaying all the finest qualities of the brave Irish regiments that took part in it. That its object was a futile one, that its failure was probably even an advantage in the end, adds a regret to losses that would have been cheap if expended for a better purpose, with the stern, yet prudent, lavishness of true generalship. The total casualties in the actual attack on the hill amounted to about 450, or fully 30 per cent. of the companies engaged. Of these the Inniskillings, who lost three officers killed and nine wounded, suffered more than half. The Boer losses were, naturally, much less—perhaps 50 or 60 out of the 400-500 men actually on the hill, and another 20 or 30 casualties in the other commandos. But the Krugersdorpers were undoubtedly severely shaken by the tremendous fire of the heavy guns on their narrow hill-top, by the impetuosity of the British attack, and by the loss of their commandant, F. Potgieter, who had been Botha's right-hand man during the last few days. After dark Brooke and Sitwell rallied some 500-600 men and set them to work, under a steady fire, building a large curved wall half way down the slope. Brooke also succeeded in getting in touch with his detached companies. These had penetrated a considerable way up the re-entrant, together with the I.L.I., and had fallen back on the railway at dusk, the irregulars in some confusion after the wounding of their commander, Major Hay. Leaving three companies of the Connaughts to guard his right rear, he placed the fourth directly in rear, and a company of I.L.I, to guard the left. These last seem to have been seized by a panic later in the night and to have disappeared. At came the first news from Hart, an order to hold on till dawn, when a battalion and a half would be sent to reinforce. The rest of the night was spent clinging to the steep slope—long anxious hours disturbed by constant sniping and by the cries and moans of the wounded.
Dawn found Brooke's decimated force in a precarious situation, of which the Boers were not slow to take advantage.. The sniping at once began to increase, and the snipers, advancing round the western end of the hill and down the Langverwacht, began to pour a deadly reverse fire into the troops behind the wall. It was then that the disappearance of the company of I.L.I, was discovered. Just after dawn Major McGrigor, Hart's brigade-major, had come up the hill and informed Brooke that reinforcements would come shortly. But before they had come the fire had grown so deadly that Brooke and Sitwell decided to fall back to the railway. This was done at with the loss of some lives, including that of the gallant Sitwell. A company of the Inniskillings on the left was not informed of the retirement, and remained on the slope for more than an hour longer. Meanwhile the Durham L.I. had come up to reinforce, and were immediately ordered to reoccupy the wall by Hart, who considered that its occupation would keep the Boers away from the lower crest, from which they might otherwise direct a plunging fire into Hart's Hollow. At the same time the flanking fire which had caused the retirement was kept down by .several. maxims posted on the kopje to the left of the hollow. Before this, in answer to a request sent during the night, Hart had been reinforced by the East Surreys, half the West Yorks, and half the Scottish Rifles.
All the morning of the 24th desultory shell and rifle fire continued along the whole line, the Boers bringing into action two or three more guns sent round from the Upper Tugela positions, where a certain number of burghers were still quite uselessly sitting. Even Buller had now realized that the Boers meant to stand, and that a mere march under cover of flanking detachments was out of the question. But he had not yet evolved any new plan to meet the altered situation, and early in the afternoon determined to repeat the attack on Inniskilling Hill. He, however, improved upon the previous day's plan to the extent of suggesting to "Warren, whom he despatched to Hart's Hollow to undertake the general direction of the attack, that Hart should make use of some of the additional battalions now with him in order to direct a simultaneous attack on Railway Hill. Arriving at Hart's Hollow, Warren arranged with Hart that the latter with two battalions should attack Eailway Hill, while Cooper of the Dublins should lead the rest in a fresh attack upon Inniskilling Hill. By the time the necessary arrangements were made it was nearly , and Hart, with the previous day's experience before him, suggested that the attack had better be postponed till the morning. Buller's assent was obtained to this postponement, and after dark a further message arrived from Buller not to attack till further orders, as he wished to place artillery on Monte Cristo to support the operation.
Standstill of the operations. Confusion of units.
The truth is that Buller's operations had come to a complete standstill. It was impossible to continue them on the present lines without serious prospect of disaster. His force had been frittered away since the 21st in a series of unsuccessful attacks, which had cost over 1,300 men, with practically no results to show for this expenditure. It was now strung out along the river in a chain of thoroughly insecure positions, liable to be cut off from each other, difficult to reinforce, and still more difficult to escape from in case of a reverse. Except that it was even more unsatisfactory, the position closely resembled that of Warren's force on January 23. Here again, as at Tabanyama, all the units had become hopelessly mixed up, while most of the artillery and mounted troops were in positions where they could be least effective. To judge of the extent to which divisions and brigades had been broken up, it is only necessary to consider the dispositions on the night of the 24th. In Hart's Hollow were parts of three different brigades, namely, three and a half battalions of Hart's, two and a half of Norcott's (Durham L.I, Rifle Brigade, and half Scottish Rifles), and one and a half of Hildyard's (7 companies East Surreys, 5 companies West Yorks), the whole under Hart. On the Wynne Hills and along the line of the Onderbroek Spruit were the remnants of Hildyard's and Norcott's brigades, together with two battalions of Barton's (Royal Fusiliers and Welsh Fusiliers) and one of Kitchener's (Composite Rifles), the whole under Lyttelton. Further in rear, from the Onderbroek to the Colenso Kopjes, were Buller's and Warren's headquarters, the whole of the Fifth Division except the Composite Rifles, Barton with one battalion (Irish Fusiliers), and Dundonald's cavalry brigade. On the right bank, from Hlangwane to the Falls, was one battalion of Barton's (Scots Fusiliers) and a squadron of 13th Hussars. In Colenso was Burn-Murdoch's cavalry brigade. Of the guns the 61st and 64th Batteries were with Lyttelton; the 28th, 73rd, and 78th, two 4.7 and four 12-pounder naval guns and four five-inch garrison guns with Buller; the 7th, 19th, and 63rd Batteries, the 4th Mountain Battery, "A" R.H.A., and four naval 12-pounders on the right bank.
Danger of position. Panic on night of 24th.
If ever a force had exposed itself to an absolutely disastrous counter-attack it was Buller's army on the 23rd and 24th. Had the Boers possessed but a tithe of the initiative and enterprise they were to show in the later stages of the war, they now had an unequalled opportunity for paralysing the British advance, perhaps even for breaking up the whole British force. The most obvious form this counter-attack might have taken would have been an attempt to cut off and destroy the battalions in Hart's Hollow. How disastrous such an attack might have proved was shown on the night of the 24th, when the Boers on Inniskilling Hill suddenly poured a heavy fire down upon the regiments bivouacked in Hart's Hollow, while at the same time a certain number of snipers worked round the flanks. Though the Durhams under the hill and the flanking outposts on the railway were unaffected, a regular panic set in among some of the troops in rear. A number of men stampeded towards the river. Others began firing wildly in every direction. Eventually the Rifle Brigade and East Surreys were pushed out on the flanks, and the West Yorks sent to guard the Boer bridge, while order was by degrees restored in the bivouac itself.
Opportunity for Boer counterstroke.
But the Boers might have aimed at even greater results, in view of the extraordinary position of the British force. Except for the weak detachments on the ridge north of Hlangwane, the whole of Buller's army was cooped together between the river and the Boers at the bottom of the Colenso basin. But, though across the river, Buller had no effective command of the river bank, except in the immediate neighbourhood of his force, and the Boers could have crossed at any point above Colenso or below the Falls. A crossing at dusk, followed by a night, attack on Hlangwane under cover of a vigorous demonstration against Buller's whole front, was not impossible. It would have required consummate audacity: yet not greater audacity than French's ride to Kameelfontein. The results of success would have been infinitely greater. The confusion at daylight in the acres of closely packed wagons, artillery and troops would have been indescribable. The recapture of Hlangwane in the teeth of a converging fire from several hundred rifles directed upon the narrow pontoon bridge, with the Boers pressing in from the rear and shelling from all the heights, might well have proved impossible. All that would then have remained would have been for the troops south of the Onderbroek to fall back on the Colenso Kopjes and make their way across the drifts at Colenso, abandoning most of the guns and baggage, and leaving the rest of the force to its fate. Apart from such a crowning disaster the mere appearance of the Boers on the right bank in any strength would have forced Buller to extricate his troops and abandon the attempt to squeeze his way through the Boer positions.
But Buller himself was already beginning to realize the impossibility of the situation in which he had lodged his force, and gradually to grope his way towards better dispositions and towards a real policy of attack. His plan for attacking Railway Hill and Inniskilling Hill together on the 24th was the first sign of a recognition, however inadequate, of the necessity of attacking on a broader front and with a larger proportion of his force. With the second postponement of that attack in order to bring guns round on to the opposite bank, and on to the underfeatures of Monte Cristo, the last vestige of the march in the presence of a rearguard or of snipers disappears, and we begin to arrive at a genuine tactical scheme. With this new plan in his mind Buller began to think of shifting the pontoon bridge from its position under Hlangwane to the rear of Hart's Hollow to support the new attack. This was undoubtedly the place where it should have been thrown from the first. The river below the Falls was deep and quiet; the ravine in which it ran would cover the bridging operations from observation and attack; a path, leading down from the plateau could, without difficulty, be improved sufficiently to enable the pontoon sections to get down. At the same time, in the existing situation, the transference of the bridge was purely superfluous; it was in no sense an essential feature of the new plan of attack. Such of the troops as were not already in position for the attack might have moved down the left bank or have crossed by the Boer bridge, which could, if necessary, have been repaired sufficiently to allow of the passage of field artillery. The heavy guns and baggage could not move in any case till the tactical issue was decided, and then they might have gone one way just as well as the other. But in Buller, as in Warren, the instinct to cling close to the wagons — an instinct begotten of small expeditions in savage countries — was too strong to be resisted. That evening not only the bulk of the artillery, but also the baggage of the Fifth Division, received orders to recross the river, and Major Irvine was instructed to set the engineers to work next day improving the road and generally getting everything ready for the change.
All this while a number of the wounded from the unsuccessful attacks across the Wynne Hill plateau and across the sloping top of Inniskilling Hill had been lying out between the opposing lines, suffering unspeakable agonies from their wounds, from heat and thirst, and from the stench of the dead with whom they lay intermingled Attempts made by either side to succour them had invariably drawn a heavy fire. Some arrangement for a temporary suspension of the firing was desirable, and- at daybreak on Sunday 25th Buller sent an officer with a request for an armistice. After some parleying Botha and Meyer agreed not to fire upon stretcher-parties, an arrangement all the more convenient to Buller, as it involved no restriction on the movement of troops. So while the stretcher-parties on both sides performed their melancholy task, and the men of both armies were fraternizing on neutral ground — exchanging tobacco, or views on the causes and progress of the war — Buller went on with his preparations. This morning also the fighting-line on the left bank was definitely divided into two commands divided by the Langverwacht. Warren, with headquarters in Hart's Hollow, commanded all troops east of it, facing Lukas Meyer; Lyttelton, facing Botha, commanded all west and south of it, except the 10th Brigade, which guarded Colenso. Buller's own headquarters were once more transferred to the right bank, near the northern edge of the plateau.
For a moment, however, Buller was diverted from the consideration of his own attack by rumours of Boer movements round his flanks, rumours which may possibly have contributed to his eagerness to extricate his force from its present position. Burn-Murdoch's brigade, with the horse battery, was moved to Hussar Hill, Dundonald to Cingolo Nek, a squadron 13th Hussars as far as Weenen, while Barton with the Irish Fusiliers was brought back over the river. On the previous day already the S.A.L.H. had been detached by Dundonald and sent to the Little Tugela on a report of Boer raiders on the left flank. Bethune, it may here be mentioned in passing, had reconnoitred the Boer positions between the Tugela Ferry and Helpmakaar on the 24th, and, finding them strongly held, had fallen back again. Colonel Morris's force, too, on the same date reoccupied the Nkandhla magistracy.
Finding Buller now anxious to extricate himself from the bottom of the Colenso amphitheatre, some of his staff again urged upon him the advantages of a wide turning movement to the east. The idea seems tp have been at least considered, but eventually Buller decided to reject it. To have done so now would have required a complete withdrawal of the force on the left bank, and an abandonment of the footing already gained, and no doubt Buller decided rightly under the circumstances. But his own plan was, during this and the next day, being gradually modified and improved. By degrees Buller was persuaded not only to concentrate every available man and gun for the attack, including even the troops at Chieveley, but also to enlarge the front on which he would operate, so as to embrace Pieter's Hill, east of the railway, as well as Inniskilling and Railway Hills. All day during the 25th and during the following night the guns were moved back across the river and on to the high edge of the plateau facing the Inniskilling and Bail-way Hills. By the morning of the 26th 76 guns were in position, 70 along the mile-and-a-half downstream of the Falls, as far as the high ground extended, and two guns of the 4th Mountain Battery and 4 naval 12-pounders on the Clump Hill spur of Monte Cristo. Only one battery was left with Lyttelton on the left bank. Throughout the 26th a slow bombardment was kept up, chiefly with the object of taking ranges. During the day the Borders were brought up from Chieveley, and the York and Lancasters ordered to follow early next morning, their place being taken by Burn-Murdoch. Dundonald, too, was brought in from Cingolo Nek, to the northern edge of the plateau. In the evening the 11th Brigade was brought across to the right bank. After dark the work of dismantling the pontoon bridge was begun. By the whole bridge was packed on wagons; it was then moved as far as the northern end of Hlangwane, but was unable to proceed further in the dark.
The scheme of attack.
On the 26th Buller, Warren, and some of the staff rode together along the whole length of the right bank as far as Monte Cristo. It was during this reconnaissance that the plan received its final definite shape, largely, it would seem, under Warren's influence. At that afternoon Buller assembled his senior officers and explained the scheme of attack for the morrow. Covered by the artillery, the pontoon bridge was to be thrown as early as possible. The attack itself was to be carried out by three brigades—Barton's, Kitchener's, and Norcott's—which were to attack Pieter's, Railway and Inniskilling Hills respectively. The attack was to be in echelon. Barton was to cross the river first, move down in file under the steep bank for about two miles till extended opposite Pieter's, and then turn sharp to the left, ascend the heights, and attack Pieter's Hill across the open. Kitchener was to follow and deliver his assault on Eailway Hill as soon as Barton's attack made itself felt. Norcott, who had the shortest distance to cover, was not to begin till Kitchener was already on the slopes of Railway Hill. The composition of these brigades was, owing to recent events, somewhat arbitrary. Barton only had the Scots and Irish Fusiliers, but was to borrow the Dublin Fusiliers from Hart's brigade, picking them up after crossing. Kitchener similarly was to pick up the five companies of his old battalion, the West Yorks; the York and Lancasters also were to rejoin the 11th Brigade, displacing the Composite Rifles. Norcott was to borrow the East Surreys to make up for the 60th and half the Scottish Eifles still with Lyttelton. Warren was to have the general direction of Kitchener's and Norcott's attacks. The whole artillery was under Colonel Parsons, and the gunners were specially warned to follow the infantry attacks up closely, and not be too afraid of hitting their own men ; if in doubt, they were to shoot just over the enemy's trenches and thus keep up the impression of sustained shelling. Besides artillery support the attack was to be supported by the fire of the Composite Rifles, Borders, Dundonald's brigade, and the maxims of the attacking battalions on the right bank, and of Hart's men in rear of Norcott. On the left Lyttelton and Coke were to keep in touch with the Boer right all along their front. The plan was really nothing more than a simple frontal attack upon a position strongly intrenched, at any rate as regards Inniskilling and Railway Hills, the only complication in it being the nature of the initial deployment. But it was an attack developed over a front of fully three miles, carried out by a considerable force of infantry, and supported by an overwhelming artillery placed in commanding tactical positions. It was quite good enough to succeed. Indeed, from first to last throughout these operations in Natal Buller had only to give his army its head, and a sufficient front to move on, and he was practically certain to break through almost anywhere.
Boer exhaustion. Uncertainty as to Buller's intentions.
In that respect the prospects were now better than at any previous time, except, perhaps, on the eve of Spion Kop. In point of numbers available Botha and Meyer were still fairly strong. Their weakness lay in the moral condition of the burghers. It was only with the greatest difficulty that the commandants could keep the trenches manned, and induce the burghers to leave the laagers, where, on one pretext or another, they spent the greater part of their time, well away from the dangers and the nerve-shattering din of the battle. Thirteen days continuous fighting was too much for the moral of undisciplined troops, however patriotic. A few days rest was absolutely necessary to restore it. It was here that the Boer system failed; it was here that Buller with his magnificently imperturbable infantry possessed a reserve of strength which, in spite of all mistakes in leading, was sooner or later bound to assert itself. He had only to fight long enough without a break to be sure of victory. With the burghers in this condition an effective counter-stroke was out of the question, however tempting the opportunity held out, and however great the result that might follow upon success. Even the redistribution of positions was difficult; any change was feared by the commandants as likely to hasten a general retreat. Kaffirs had, indeed, brought rumours of preparations for crossing below the Falls, and Joubert urgently warned Botha to concentrate his attention on that part of the position. But, beyond bringing round a few small detachments from Ladysmith and from Botha's right to strengthen Railway Hill and Pieter's, nothing was done. Botha's chief anxiety during these days seems to have been to get the incapable Meyer out of the way and secure an undivided control. He had already suggested privately to Joubert that the Government might order Meyer off to Vryheid on some political pretext. This was done, but apparently Meyer did not pay any immediate attention to the order. With Meyer away, and with a short respite for his men before the fighting began again, Botha hoped that all would be well. That he would now secure this respite, that Buller was retiring after Wynne Hill and Inniskilling Hill, as he had retired after Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz, was a very natural inference from Buller's movements on the 25th and 26th. The massing of the artillery on the plateau opposite Hart's Hollow might, after all, be merely intended to cover the withdrawal of the troops in the hollow. Even if some fresh move was contemplated, it was probable, judging by the former instances, that a few days at the very least would elapse before it was put into action. On the afternoon of the 26th, while Buller was completing his preparations for the attack, Botha was communicating his impression of those preparations to Joubert:
" It is quite possible that the enemy is retiring again. Their wagons and tents, as well as their big guns, have already recrossed the river. Their infantry are still in the trenches, though some of them have already left. It is evident that their losses were heavy. By tomorrow morning we shall know for certain what the enemy's intention really is."
At dawn on the 27th Irvine started with his pontoons for the river, and at once set to work constructing the bridge, while the artillery opened a slow fire. Before a bridge, 100 yards long, was completed, and Barton's two battalions began to cross. The confidence felt by the inner ring of senior and staff officers, that Buller had at last hit upon a rational plan of attack, had immediately communicated itself to the whole force, and it was with the full assurance of victory that the men stepped over the bridge, on which the engineers in a similar spirit had fixed a signpost marking the road "to Ladysmith." As they crossed, the tidings of Cronje's surrender was passed round, and in the true British spirit of emulation Buller's men resolved that Roberts should not be alone in enjoying the credit of making the day a decisive one in British history. Joined by the Dublins on the left bank, Barton's battalions turned to the right and moved along in single file at the foot of the steep slope, in places almost a cliff, with which the Pieter's plateau descends to the Tugela. The movement was seen by the Piet Retiefers on Eagle's Nest, and the gun behind them fired a few shells without doing any damage. Any other detection of or interference with their movements was prevented by the artillery, who kept the Boers in their trenches, and by the riflemen and maxims on the right bank, whose continuous fire effectively prevented any patrols or snipers working near enough to the river to see anything. Soon after Barton halted his brigade, now extended below the whole length of the Pieter's plateau, turned them to the left and formed them up for the attack. The Scots Fusiliers were on the right, the Irish Fusiliers on the left, each with three companies in the firing-line; the Dublin Fusiliers were in support. Barton's orders were for the attack to be made as rapidly as possible in order to push home before the enemy recovered from their surprise. The leading companies of the Irish Fusiliers were to go straight up the hill and rush the nearest kopjes on the edge of the plateau facing Railway Hill. The rest of the line was to pivot round them so as to envelope the whole series of the Pieter's Hill kopjes, which extended northwards for nearly a mile. As a precaution against attack from the direction of Eagle's Nest, the Scots Fusiliers were to send two or three companies to the right.
At the end of a stiff climb of 400-500 feet the men found themselves on the edge of the stony Pieter's plateau. As they neared the top they became visible to the Boers on Eailway Hill, who opened a brisk fire. But Barton gave them no time to change their dispositions, and a moment later the Irish Fusiliers raced across the plateau and captured the nearest kopjes without serious loss. Here they threw up rough defences, and opened a heavy fire on Eailway Hill and upon the further kopjes of Pieter's Hill. The Scots Fusiliers had much further to go, and before their advance had developed, the Boers, whom the rush of the Irish Fusiliers had taken completely by surprise, had had time to reinforce the rest of the Pieter's kopjes. Moreover, as they crossed the plateau a heavy fire was opened on their right front and flank which caused their line to contract. Consequently, even after being reinforced by the companies guarding the right, now replaced by Dublin Fusiliers, they failed to envelop the largest and highest kopje at the northern end of the ridge. They pushed on, however, suffering some loss, including that of their commanding officer. Colonel Carr, wounded, drove out the Boers and seized the central part of the ridge, prolonging the line of the Irish Fusiliers for 600 yards or more (). Several Boer guns now directed their attention to the kopjes held by the British, and the Boers on the northern kopje, strongly reinforced from the laagers in rear, opened a very heavy enfilading fire. Barton, who had been slightly •wounded at the beginning of the action, decided that the kopje must be taken, and got together three companies of the Dublins and a company of Scots for the purpose. Guided by Captain McBean, his brigade-major, the little force worked to the right, but met with a terrific fire. After every officer but one had been hit the advance came to a stop in a donga within 300 yards of the kopje. During all these movements Barton had received but slight support from the artillery. The guns on the plateau opposite seem to have concentrated their attention on Railway and Inniskilling Hills, and to have husbanded their ammunition for what was considered the main attack, and it was to the Monte Cristo guns, apparently, that the support of the 6th Brigade had been confined. For three hours the brigade had borne the brunt of the fight. But the pressure, on its left at any rate, was now at last to be relieved, for Buller had given the word, and Kitchener was rapidly developing his attack on Railway Hill.
Kitchener's dispositions. Preliminary movements of 11th Brigade.
Kitchener had followed Barton across the bridge, and, picking up the West Yorks and Royal Lancasters on the left bank, had moved down as far as the precipitous and bushy gorge which runs down between Railway Hill and Pieter's. From here he despatched four companies of the West Yorks up the gorge with orders to make their way as secretly as possible to the eastern end of Eailway Hill. The West Yorks would thus form the extreme right of his line. The South Lancashires were placed in the centre, and the Royal Lancasters on the left, their left resting on Hart's Hollow. The York and Lancasters were in reserve. Thanks to the volume of fire passing overhead, and to the diversion caused by Barton's appearance on Pieter's, the West Yorks succeeded in reaching their station entirely unobserved, and even captured a few unsuspecting Boers among the rocks (3 p.m.). By this time Buller had already signalled to Kitchener to start, and the other battalions had moved forward and were now as far as the railway waiting for the West Yorks to draw level. Methodically, by twos and threes at a time, the West Yorks worked up the steep face of the bill. As he watched them Kitchener may well have felt himself amply repaid for all the labour he had spent in their training. At last they were well up the slope, and enough of them together to lend weight to the assault.
Capture of Railway Hill.
Kitchener gave the word. In a great wave of khaki they surged up the steep hill-side, the guns keeping up their fire in front of them to the last, and swept on to the summit. At the same moment Kitchener at last let slip the South Lancashires, whose colonel, McCarthy O'Leary, had for the last half hour been straining desperately at the leash. Up leapt the South Lancashires, and in one wild, glorious rush raced for the great trench, which ran along the level between Eailway and Inniskilling Hills. Never checking once, or even pausing for breath, they swept over the broken ground and were into the trench—their gallant and impetuous colonel falling as they reached it—before the Boers had time to run away. A few of the Boers were bayoneted; some 50 or 60 were made prisoners. Meanwhile at the very moment of the assault the Johannesburgers on Railway Hill had been reinforced by a contingent of their own commando, summoned in hot haste from the Upper Tugela. As the West Yorks, now joined by some of the South Lancashires, pushed across the summit they met with a heavy fire from the far side. But they were not to be stopped and swept right over the top, capturing a maxim and several prisoners. Then manning the Boer sangars they poured a heavy fire after their retreating enemies (). The Royal Lancasters had further to go, and had not drawn level when the assault was delivered. Their two leading companies had only one officer each; both had already been wounded, and, for want of leading, the attack hung fire. But, seeing their comrades on the right charging home, the men would not be denied, and sprang forward. As they did so they came under heavy fire from Inniskilling Hill, which was much nearer to them. Ignorant or forgetful of their proper objective, or perhaps realizing that Railway Hill was already practically won, some 50 or 60 of them turned to their left, and charged straight up the steep slope to the summit, killing and capturing a few of the enemy, and securing a lodgment on the crest, whence they brought a cross fire to bear on the Boers in the main trench, now fully busy with the assault of Norcott's battalions.
Capture of Inniskilling Hill.
Warren had allowed Norcott to move up his leading battalions, the Rifle Brigade and East Surreys, as far as the railway at But it was not till , when he saw that Railway Hill was completely in Kitchener's hands, that he gave the order for the attack. The two leading half battalions advanced rapidly up the slope, the Rifle Brigade on the left and the East Surreys on the right. The Rifle Brigade came under a heavy frontal and flank fire, the latter to some extent kept down by the Devons on Wynne Hill East, and had to bring up their supporting companies. The East Surreys were fortunately able to carry their attack through without calling on their supports, for the latter had disappeared. Just after the attack had started an unauthorized signal message reached Norcott from Eailway Hill asking for help. Norcott sent off the rear half battalion of East Surreys, who were nearest, and the half battalion of Scottish Rifles. Kitchener, however, had never asked for them, and when they reached him ordered them back again. Meanwhile the attacking party had taken the crest in fine style, the East Surreys bringing their right up to within 100 yards of the Royal Lancasters already on the crest. The Boers now abandoned the eastern part of the summit, but still kept up a heavy fire from the western end, till the Rifle Brigade advanced and cleared them off. Even then they only fell back on to the hills to the north-west and into the bed of the Langverwacht, and, supported by several pom-poms, kept up an intensely heavy fire on the skyline of Inniskilling Hill till nightfall.
On the right the din of battle continued unabated. Undeterred by their defeat in other portions of the field, the Boers still stood stubbornly at bay on the last kopje of Pieter's Hill. Barton, who, from their strength and the recent arrival of reinforcements, feared a counter-attack, determined to make a last effort to take the kopje. At 6 p.m. he withdrew three companies of Irish Fusiliers, under Major Hill, from the left, which was no longer menaced, and launched them at the kopje, under cover of a heavy fire from the companies of Dublins already established close up to it. In spite of a furious fire the Irish Fusiliers pushed on. Losing a third of their numbers, and all their officers killed or wounded, they reached the southern end of the kopje. But even now they had not dislodged their obstinate enemy from the northern end of it. Unable to push on further, they put up cover, and at found that the Boers had departed.
Criticism of the battle.
Thus ended the fighting of February 27, and with it the campaign on the Tugela. The battle of Pieter's was a successful finale to the long series of reverses, and it was so simply because for the first time in the whole of that campaign, with the solitary exception of Monte Cristo, the army had been allowed to develop a substantial part of its fighting strength; because it was given a front to move on, and because its brigadiers were given the opportunity which they had never had before for the skilful handling of their brigades. Up to this the history of the Tugela campaign had been the record of the failure of slow and hesitating movements, of small forces operating unsupported on narrow fronts. At last the obvious remedy was tried. The attempt was made to work at least half the troops, and all the guns, in combination. The result was instantaneous, overwhelming, and comparatively easily attained. The victory took six hours to accomplish; it cost under 500 casualties, and it rolled the Boers back in utter confusion. The credit of it belongs, in the first place, to Buller: whether he originated the plan or not, he made himself responsible for it. Barton and Kitchener both handled their brigades with skill and judgment; the attack on Railway Hill was an excellent instance of a really well-delivered assault. Colonel Parsons's dispositions for the artillery were admirable — though possibly Barton might have received more support — and contributed in no small measure to the result. Above all, perhaps, does this battle redound to the glory of the rank and file and of the company officers, the heroes of this campaign, who went into it as if the last two and a half bitter months of almost unbroken defeat had never been. The chief criticism that can be directed against the conduct of the day's operations is that the different attacks might have followed rather more closely upon each other, and that the delay thus caused, together with the late start — due to the assumed necessity of transferring the bridge — prevented the possibility of the victory being followed up by an effective pursuit on the same afternoon.
The night of the 27th put an end to the long and strenuous resistance of the Boers on the Tugela. The defeat only completed the demoralization that had already begun to set in. For a moment Botha, who had come round to Meyer's wing that morning, and had practically taken the direction of the battle out of his feeble hands, was inclined to think that something might yet be done, that another position might still be taken up on the chance of the British being more exhausted than they seemed. But there was nothing to be done with the burghers. Such discipline as ever existed was at an end. To all appeals they had but one answer—they were " going home " (huis toe). The only thing to do was to humour them, and trust to rallying them later. In the early hours of the 28th the general retreat began. In a confused mass the wagons streamed away over the plain towards Bulwana. Most of the burghers were with them, or even ahead of them, and Botha had difficulty in keeping together the weakest of rearguards. His chief hope now rested in being able to join Joubert undisturbed, and together with the investing force to take up a covering position to the east and north-east of Ladysmith, approximately on the ground occupied by the Transvaalers when they first drove back White into the town. This was essential, not only to enable the camps round Ladysmith to be cleared, and the wagons sent ahead to the Biggarsberg, but also to give time to the commandos on the right wing of the Colenso positions to come round. These commandos had, on the 27th, been engaged in nothing more serious than an active interchange of rifle-fire with Lyttelton's men, and were now retreating in some order by Grobelaar's Kloof, the Zoutpansbergers remaining in their positions to the last to cover the withdrawal. They were in no immediate danger. But they had to make the complete circle of the Ladysmith perimeter in order to get on to their line of retreat to the Transvaal. They had fully thirty miles to go to Buller's ten; unless Buller could be held in check for at least two days, their plight might well be desperate. Arriving at the investing lines, Botha, to his dismay, found confusion and flight reigning everywhere. In spite of a telegram from Kruger bidding him make a desperate effort to stop Buller, and to hang on to Ladysmith at all costs, Joubert had no sooner heard of the result of the fighting at Pieter's and of Cronje's surrender than he simply gave the word for a general retreat, and, making no attempt to withdraw the commandos systematically or prepare covering positions for Botha's retirement, had hurried off himself to Elandslaagte. The news of his flight only increased the panic among those who were further in rear and more likely to be overtaken or cut off by the pursuing British. .And indeed the position of a great part of the commandos was such that escape seemed hardly possible. Never, perhaps, has a general enjoyed such an opportunity for destroying a beaten and demoralized adversary.
Buller had not the slightest intention of pursuing. The necessity of getting to Ladysmith somehow had at last forced him into the attack at Pieter's. With the success of the attack he immediately relapsed, as on the 18th, into a settled determination to have as little to do with the enemy as possible. If the Boers insisted on taking up another position in front of Bulwana it might be necessary to fight again. But if they were really going away, what was the use of pressing after them, running into rearguard actions, incurring fresh casualties, when it was perfectly possible to march peacefully into Ladysmith, and attain the object of the campaign without further trouble and molestation? At an early hour he crossed the river and ascended Railway Hill, where he spent a great part of the day contemplating with satisfaction the spectacle of the Boer retreat across the plain. Meanwhile Dundonald's brigade crossed the pontoon by , and getting into touch with some of the Boer rearguard near Pieter's Station, kept up a desultory engagement for some hours. Burn-Murdoch's brigade, which had come up from Chieveley on the previous afternoon, crossed at 8 A.M., and was then halted under Railway Hill till about 1 p.m., when Buller at last allowed it to move out on to the plain south-east of Pieter's. Further delay was now caused by Dundonald calling Burn-Murdoch across to support him, but eventually the latter got in touch with the Boer rearguard who were covering the crossing of the Klip. He prevented the Boers destroying the bridge, and then at dusk received an order from Buller to come in behind the infantry.
Towards 4 P.M. Dundonald, who had been gradually pushing forward and had had one or two brushes with parties of the enemy, heard from Major Gough, who was scouting ahead with the Composite Regiment, that the ridges in front were unoccupied. He accordingly moved forward the brigade. The Natal Carbineers under Major Mackenzie, and the I.L.H. under Captain Bottomley, pushed on from ridge to ridge till they reached the open valley south of Intombi. It was now getting late, and Dundonald decided to send the brigade back to Pieter's. But he allowed Gough with his squadrons to go on, and followed himself with his staff a few minutes later. Just before sunset the troopers reached the ford, where almost the whole population had assembled to welcome them, and rode into the town. White with his staff met them in the main street, and a dramatic scene followed, relievers and relieved together joining to cheer the gallant old soldier who had kept the flag flying so long, and whose patient endurance was now rewarded. Thus ended the 118 days of the siege of Ladysmith. The narrative of the -weary closing weeks of the siege after January 6 — the fluctuations of hope and despondency, the struggle against hunger and sickness — will be told elsewhere. At present we have to deal with the main march of military events, and in them the siege of Ladysmith, in its later stages, plays a purely negative and passive part. Now, indeed, on the last day of its separate existence, the Lady-smith force was to give a sign of life, to display a nicker of true soldierly spirit, unavailing, it is true, but none the less useful, if only as a protest against the lethargy of those who could have acted if they had had the will. That evening orders were issued for a small flying column, under General Knox, comprising all the men still able to march, to be ready to move out and harass the retreating Boers in the morning.
The morning of March 1 found the Boers still in hopeless panic, slowly struggling to get away from the terror of their imaginary pursuers. The main Free State force, with its convoy, was, indeed, safely on its way towards the passes, and a good part of the commandos east of Ladysmith had reached Elandslaagte. But hundreds of wagons and thousands of burghers were still straggling across the plain east of Ladysmith, all striving to join the great crush of wagons now collecting east of Elandslaagte at the Sunday's River drift. An even easier prey was offered by the convoys which had come round by the west of Ladysmith, the greater part of which were still struggling to get across the drift on the Klip River to the north-west of the town, or slowly moving round by the north of it to rejoin their companions. The position guns, which had been taken down from Bulwana and Lombard's Kop late on the previous afternoon, were still at the foot of their hills, and were not loaded into the last train which left Modder Spruit till nearly 11 a.m. Gough's squadrons and the I.L.H. under Karri Davies, who had been sent to reconnoitre the plain towards Bulwana, ascended the hill on one side as the last party of Boers moved away on the other. Before this the Ladysmith "flying column" had crawled out and had begun engaging the rearguard which Botha and Meyer had got together, and with which they were now occupying the hills north and east of Modder Spruit. But the weary and famished troops soon found that it was impossible for them to push any attack home, still less to follow it by a vigorous pursuit. The four-mile march out of Lady-smith had already proved too much for them, and, after struggling manfully to keep their ranks, the infantry were beginning to fall out in batches.
Buller had been informed of White's arrangements late on the 28th. But he had no intention of co-operating, either with his whole force or with any part of it. During the course of the 28th the troops on Lyttelton's wing had moved up to Pieter's, and units had rearranged themselves into some sort of order, while the transport—including 75 wagons of supplies for Ladysmith—crossed the pontoon. The orders issued that evening for March 1 were for a "move in the direction of Ladysmith." Burn-Murdoch's brigade was to cover the right front and flank of the column, Dundonald's the left. In the morning Burn-Murdoch crossed the swollen Klip by the Boer bridge and approached the foot of Bulwana. He heard the sound of firing at Modder Spruit and knew that he ought to make for it. But he committed the fatal mistake of asking Buller's permission before pushing on with his cavalry, and received a peremptory order to stay where he was. Buller himself rode ahead into Ladysmith about , and, meeting White, immediately expressed his strong disapproval of White's efforts, whereupon the latter recalled his fainting but spirited little force. Meanwhile Buller's victorious army, carefully screened by its cavalry against sudden attacks, advanced boldly across the open plain for three miles to Nelthorpe, where Buller rejoined it.
All day long on the 1st the roads east and north of Ladysmith were choked with the debris of the demoralized Boer army. By nightfall most of the wagons and all the guns had straggled into Elandslaagte. One of the Long Toms, indeed, had been abandoned in a drift and had lain there for 36 hours, but was eventually picked up and brought in. Such was the confusion and terror that on a report of the approach of the British the war-commissary, Pretorius, set fire to all the supplies stored up at Elandslaagte. The whole day of the 2nd was spent in getting the wagons over the Sunday's River. Botha and Meyer, who had stayed watching in front of Ladysmith till the night of the 1st, now arrived at Elandslaagte, and endeavoured to get together enough men to occupy covering positions for the day till all the transport was over. But nothing could be done with the burghers; even the posting of sentries at the drift and bridge over the Sunday's River, with orders to shoot the horses of any burghers who attempted to cross, proved ineffective. On the following day the flight continued to Glencoe, to which place Joubert had hastened on the 1st. Here the fugitives were met by Kruger himself, who had hurried down from Pretoria, indomitably resolved to stem the tide of disaster. But neither his entreaties and adjurations, nor even his promise that arbitration or intervention should end the war within a month, availed to inspire the burghers with fresh courage. Some commandos fled all the way to Newcastle before they could be stopped and brought back. On March 5 a great Krygsraad was held at Glencoe. Here it was decided to take up positions on the Biggarsberg, and at the same time to send round as many men as could be spared to oppose Roberts's advance. It was the last council of war that Joubert attended. Already seriously ill, he went off to Pretoria, leaving the command in Botha's capable hands.
On March 3 Buller's army made its formal entry into Ladysmifch, and the bronzed and service-begrimed battalions of the relieving force marched proudly through the streets lined by the haggard and emaciated garrison. It was a stirring moment, full of the pomp and circumstance of war; full also of its pathos, as men recognized old friends and comrades-in-arms, or looked vainly down the ranks for those whom they expected, but whom they were destined not to see again. But there must have been many in both forces who felt that the pomp and the emotion were out of place while the victory was incomplete, and while the beaten enemy was withdrawing unpunished and at leisure. It was not in this spirit that Roberts had set the seal upon his relief of Kimberley. With Roberts the relief had been the prelude to the real task, the destruction of the enemy's forces and the occupation of his capital. With Buller it was the be all and end all. After the parade was over, addresses read by the Mayor, and speeches delivered, Buller issued a special order to the troops of both forces, thanking them for their efforts.
Underlying causes of Buller's failure.
Thus ended the campaign for the relief of Ladysmith. In the memory of the British people it will long live as a deeply dramatic event, with its alternations of hope and disappointment, with its tale of struggle oft renewed, to be crowned with success at the last. But, setting aside its dramatic and emotional significance, it is as a display of supreme military incapacity that it will find its permanent place in history. It is hardly necessary, at this stage, to repeat the criticisms that have already been made in previous chapters on Sir Redvers Buller's generalship; what is really important is that we should understand the underlying causes of his failure, and make use of the lessons it conveys. After all, here was a brave soldier who had served with distinction in various minor campaigns, who since then had risen to high rank in the British Army, whose personality inspired his equals and his subordinates with respect and confidence. What was the cause and meaning of his utter failure? Are they to be sought wholly in the man himself, or in the environment that created and moulded him? To some extent, undoubtedly, the causes of Buller's failure were personal and individual to himself. War is a terrible examiner, of men as of nations: it takes no count of peace reputations; it inexorably drags to light hidden defects of mind and will. In every great war there have been unexpected failures, and always must be. Buller was one of these. But he was also something more. To say that Buller was a disappointment will not explain Colenso, or Spion Kop, or Vaal Krantz, or some of the amazing events recounted in the present chapter. Disappointment implies the failure to act up to a certain presupposed standard. It is a question of degree. But the Natal campaign shows no glimmering of the recognition of the ordinary standards by which generalship can be measured. It is of a kind by itself; conditioned not only by the defects of a single personality, but by the whole constitution and character of the British Army.
Dangerous influence of small wars.
That army, indeed, was in no sense organized for serious war. Neither the training it gave, nor the career it provided, nor the atmosphere in which it lived, were such as to fit its members for the task of conducting real military operations. Neglecting all study of military history and military theory, the only operations it took cognizance of were the punitive expeditions against troublesome savages, or the marches to relieve garrisons cut off by some sudden outbreak of rebellion, which it dignified by the name of wars. As tests of energy, endurance, and personal courage, these expeditions were undoubtedly useful. Of the principles and methods of serious warfare between tactically equal forces they taught nothing. But in the absence of any intellectual training to balance them it was inevitable that the habits and ideas engendered in these expeditions should become deeply ingrained. The real clue to Buller's generalship, and to his whole attitude, is to be sought in the fact that he was applying to a whole army, and against serious opponents, the same methods that he had been accustomed to apply to small columns in little wars against tactical inferiors. To keep the convoy close to the troops, or even in their midst, to look carefully after the soldier's comfort, to go by the easiest and most direct route, were among the most obvious general rules for the wars to which he had been accustomed. For strategy and tactics they had offered no scope. Time in them had rarely been a matter of pressing importance. Their objects had not, as a rule, seemed to justify, and their circumstances had not often called for, a heavy sacrifice of life.
And if that was the character of the ordinary British general's "war experience," what was the character of the peace training which followed, when success in "war" led to high military position ? Was that calculated to foster the good qualities developed in these expeditions, and, at the same time, to balance the false military notions they tended to inculcate? On the contrary, the higher official work of the British Army, with its deadening routine, with its make-believe manoeuvres, with its absence of all that corresponds to the scientific study and planning of war, so far from correcting any errors, only tended to weaken the character and the intellect, and to suppress all warlike instincts. But in an army where generalship was neither theoretically studied, nor tested in practice, it is not surprising that men should attain to the highest offices, and command the fullest confidence of others in much the same. plight as themselves, without possessing the slightest traces of that quality. When the circumstances are dispassionately considered it becomes clear that there really was no conceivable reason why Buller should have shown himself a general. And, if he failed, the blame must rest, not with him, but with the system which made him what he was, with the nation which confidently bade him undertake a task of overwhelming difficulty, for which he was fitted neither by experience, nor by training, nor by disposition. The man himself, baffled, bewildered, distracted, disheartened, at times even unnerved by the terrible responsibility thrust upon him, is a figure which calls for sympathy and regret, not for reprobation.
But the system which failed to create or select a general failed no less to provide him with an effective instrument for: his task. With a well-organized staff, with highly-trained, purposeful subordinates, with a common tradition of military method ingrained in the whole force, no general, however unequal to his position, could have done the things that Buller did. But the environment which made Buller what he was also made those who served under him. His failings were also their failings. The lack of strategical or tactical insight, the indifference to organization and to the securing of information, the slowness, the irresolution, the absence of any real fighting instinct, the fear of bold, far-reaching decisions, the dread of losses—these were defects which, in varying degrees, showed themselves in almost every senior officer who took the field during the war. Buller, indeed, combined all these defects in a more marked degree than any one other, or, at least, was thrust into a position where a more mercilessly searching light was thrown upon them. For that reason he will always remain the typical embodiment of the British military system of his day, as tested in its first contact with the hard reality of war. That the test did not result even more grievously, that Buller did at last break his way through to Ladysmith, was due to two causes: to the weakness of his adversaries, and, above all, to the fundamental soundness of the material of which his army was composed. The deficiencies of the British regimental officer; and of the men whom he led, were many, and they have been dealt with in more than one chapter. But their deficiencies were, after all, completely overshadowed by their virtues; and it was those virtues that, in the end, broke the Boer resistance and relieved Ladysmith. Their fearless courage, their patient endurance, their imperturbable cheerfulness in defeat, their unquestioning loyalty to their leader, lend dignity and pathos to a story most of which would otherwise be profoundly depressing, and give a sure hope of better things. If there is one clear lesson we may draw from the Tugela campaign, it is that British soldiers, trained as they might be trained, and led with courage and science, need fear to match themselves with no army in the world.
At least four hills which played a part in the operations of the next fortnight were called by this name, a sad case of paucity of invention; but in the present narrative the name will be confined to the one here mentioned.
2nd Cavalry Brigade, Welsh Fusiliers, a battery R.F.A., and some R.E.
Clery being invalided. Lyttelton was succeeded in command of the 4th Brigade by Colonel Norcott. Of the 5th Division, Coke's brigade was short of the I.L.I., left at Springfield, while Wynne had left the York and Lancasters at Springfield and the Lancashire Fusiliers at Frere, but had received, instead, a composite battalion of Rifles composed of drafts for the 1st and 2nd K.R.R. and 2nd R.B. in Ladysmith, and commanded by Major Stuart-Wortley. A troop 13th Hussars, the 17th Co. R.E., and the 7th, 63rd, and 64th Batteries, R.F.A., were attached to Lyttelton's division; a troop of Royals, the 37th Co. R.E., the 28th, 73rd, and 78th Batteries to Warren. The 61st Howitzer Battery, 2 5-inch guns R.G.A., and 4 naval 12-pdrs. formed the Corps Troops.
Detachments were already withdrawn during these days to assist in repelling Roberta's invasion, but they were taken from the commandos on the Upper Tugela and subsequently from Ladysmith. Robert's movements were effective, not so much in directly weakening the Boer force at Colenso as in preventing it from being reinforced when the critical moment arrived,
Also known as Manxa Nest or Aasvogel Kop.
After Cronje's surrender and the relief of Ladysmith - this same message was published by Kruger as an address to the burghers of both Republics.
Durham L.I. and Rifle Brigade. Hart's brigade now consisted of Inniskilling Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, Dublin Fusiliers, and a half battalion Imperial Light Infantry (attached in place of the Border Regiment left at Ohieveley),
For rallying some of the men on this occasion Captain Mansel Jones received the Victoria Cross.