Ch 11: Ladysmith and Kimberley Relieved

General Clery had been wounded and injured in the previous operations, and was forced to relinquish his division to Lyttleton. This necessitated some alteration in commands, but Buller, after a few hours supervision at Chieveley, and without waiting for sleep, made a reconnaissance toward Hlangwane, the possibilities and inducements of which had been hitherto overlooked. His light force was greeted by a warm fire, which enabled the British to locate the guns and their position to a nicety. The Colonials and artillery were followed up on retirement, and were forced to fight their way clear.
   The map of this position proved misleading; Hlangwane was one of a series of hills, all strongly occupied, though the capture of any one of them would in a measure render the others untenable. Buller realised now that he must risk all for a final attempt: hard as were the conditions that he had to face, a fourth repulse would mean his recall. The soldiers still had confidence in him, and his failures could hardly be designated defeats; but public opinion was adverse. Sir Redvers became "Sir Reverse" alias the "Tugela Ferryman," and hostile powers pointed a finger of scorn at the baffled British army.
   On February 14th the army moved eastward toward Hlangwane. The advanced Boer works rested on Huzzar Hill, extending along the irregular spurs and foothills on either side. Mount Cingolo and Monte Cristo, the succeeding eminences, were also strongly occupied, besides Hlangwane, the main position, with its defended lines of communication extending across the river. Huzzar Hill became Buller’s first objective. Hildyard and Norcott made a night march and gained positions on the extreme right of the position. Coke and Wynne led their brigades against the centre, and Barton assailed the left.
   Three new 4.7 guns and one 6-inch gun, which had been sent up from the fleet, accomplished some very effective shelling from Colenso. This combined fire, supplementing the field batteries, shook the Boer position severely; but the burghers held their reply for three hours, allowing the British lines to advance within effective range before they opened. Then, in repetition of Colenso tactics, they loosed their entire force. Six guns, including two heavy Creusots on the hills in rear, and numerous automatic and machine guns, besides successive rows of riflemen entrenched on Huzzar Hill and spurs, swept every inch of the advance.
   But anticipation is a great power. This outburst was no surprise; the troops were prepared for it, and as the positions were unmasked the infantry clung to cover, and a howitzer and seven field batteries, held out of rifle range, drove in the advanced lines, while the naval guns pounded the artillery to silence at extreme range. And ere the burghers had recovered from the demoralization of the effective shelling, the infantry crawled through the brush, and stormed Huzzar Hill with the bayonet.
   The eminence was occupied in force during the night, the naval guns being placed in position, protected by sand-bags, and in a few hours Huzzar Hill was a fortress that could have defied the entire Boer army. From its summit a terrific artillery duel raged with cleverly screened Boer guns on Hlangwane. The cavalry skirmished on the flanks, and cleared Boer guerrillas from the trees, though several officers fell victims to these sharpshooters. Despite the scouting, however, a strong commando managed to detour and sweep in between the pickets and the main position, masking the British artillery with British outposts. Used to riding across country in the darkness, the burghers captured a few sentries, and rode away from the strong party sent to cut them off.
   Buller’s entire force advanced on the 17th, the troops, in continuous line, sweeping forward from ridge to ridge against Cingolo, while the cavalry worked round the extreme flank unseen. The Boers made a stout resistance, and the Queens suffered severely during the frontal attack. But the cavalry suddenly rode hard against the reverse of the position, dismounted, and clambered up, carbine in hand, taking the Boers in rear. Finding the British upon them, the burghers evacuated, escaping by the connecting nek to Monte Cristo as the troopers charged. By sunset Cingolo was cleared of the enemy, guns were in position, and the early relief of Ladysmith seemed again within the bounds of reason.
   All day on Sunday, 18th, the guns pounded Monte Cristo and Hlangwane at a close and effective range, and before night the resistance on Monte Cristo had been subdued. The infantry then closed in on either flank, gaining the eminence with little loss.
   With Monte Cristo held, Hlangwane could not be long defended. After a few hours rest, the tireless British again fought their way forward, the Fusilier brigade and Thorneycroft’s irregulars sweeping over the outlying spurs, and storming the summit of the main position while the Boers were preparing breakfast. The burghers fled in confusion and the laagers were captured intact, with the entire camp equipment and tons of ammunition. But the guns had been mysteriously spirited away, having been moved out of range in the darkness and hauled over the drift during the morning.
   The Transvaal flag waved over Breytenbach’s abandoned laager and fell trophy to the colonials, then amid loud cheers the British flag proclaimed from the summit that the enemy had been driven beyond the Tugela, leaving their strong but filthy camps behind them.
   Though Botha clung desperately to Fort Wylie and the positions before Colenso, the naval guns on Huzzar Hill soon told him that the line he had striven so manfully to sustain must give way at last. The Dublin Fusiliers re-occupied Colenso village after fifteen weeks absence, and as the burghers pressed down to the river, in face of a heavy shelling, to hold the main drifts, the Engineers had pressed forward on the right before Hlangwane, and thrown a pontoon across the river there. On the 21st three brigades crossed to the north bank of the Tugela. The passage was hotly contested, but Coke’s brigade swept forward, and moving against the Boer flank forced the commandoes to withdraw from the fort and kopjes before Colenso, the Somerset Light Infantry losing 100 men during the operation.
   Botha now rallied his forces for a final stand on the higher eminences of Grobler’s Kloof and Pieter’s Hill, but by the evening of the 22nd, three brigades, the 4th, 6th, and 11th had bivouacked before the position, prepared to make the final stroke in a battle that had raged continuously for eight days and nights.
   Botha, Burgers, and Meyer concentrated their strength, however, on the main eminences, and made a stupendous resistance. From the ring of hills around Ladysmith down to the river bend is one succession of kopjes, seams, and wooded dongas, with steep and mountainous kops blocking the way, extending across Onderbrook to Pieter’s. After crossing the Tugela at Colenso, where it suddenly flows due north, the railroad runs parallel to the river toward Ladysmith, with hills on either flank. When the Tugela again bends eastward, the railroad runs on through a steep ravine into Pieter’s Station. The final Boer line extended across Grobler’s Kloof over the heights before Pieter’s, and small companies were extended to delay every step of the advance through the broken country, chiefly along the railroad line.
   For a distance of four square miles the British fought their way onward, harassed by sharpshooters and detachments that lurked in the rocks, and ambushed from the dongas and brush. By midday on the 23rd, after a night and morning of continuous fighting, the Lancashire Brigade, with Hildyard’s regiments and the Rifles, had forced their way between Grobler’s and Pieter’s at great cost. They soon proved the impossibiliWhile his left centre hung on before Grobler’s, Buller determined to throw his right forward toward Ladysmith, round the Boer left. But the burghers were concentrated on the eminences before Pieter’s, and from the left of their line could command any turning movement in the plain below, with rifles and artillery. It was necessary, therefore, for a successful advance, to clear the enemy from the hills on the eastern end of his line, where it rested on three eminences that dominate the railroad before Pieter’s Station. The Irish were ordered to advance up the track and along the river bank, to seize the foothills at the river bend where the Tugela and the railroad part company, and endeavour to oust the Boers from the hills east of the line, which is here built through a deep ravine.ty of forcing a road directly through such a country.

The Aftermath of the Battle for Pieter's Hill

   In face of a terrific fire the Inniskillings seized a kopje at the foot of their objective, where they were strongly supported by the Dublins and Rangers, and part of Colonel Norcott’s Light Infantry. The honour of the day was intrusted to Colonel Thackeray. It was one hour before sunset when the first advantage was won, and he determined to rush the position before dark, hoping to entrench during the night, when the hill could be permanently held. The southern half of the eminence was stormed in magnificent style by the Inniskillings, and, supported by companies of the Dublins and Rangers, they strove to clear the entire crest along which successive Boer entrenchments were cut and strengthened by stone breastworks.
   With amazing tenacity the Boers held to cover, blazing away from their trenches on the higher portions of the ridge, until the Inniskillings were practically exterminated. When darkness fell the survivors threw up a rude breastwork of rocks, but lay exposed to fire from both flanks during the entire night. Reinforcements went forward at daylight, but the British could advance no farther, and the order was given to withdraw, an armistice being arranged to bury the dead and gather the wounded. When the Inniskillings were extricated, three successive commanding officers lay dead on the field. Corporals brought back shattered companies; and when roll was called just one officer and forty-three men answered for the battalion that had gone in five hundred strong.
   But while the gallant Irish had held their ground at such appalling cost, Buller had been preparing for a skilful movement on the extreme right. Already Boer deserters had come in with stories of demoralisation. Lines of wagons were reported moving back toward the Drakensberg, and Ladysmith heliographed that there was every indication that the Boers were preparing for a general retirement. During the armistice, while Buller again withdrew his troops south of the Tugela, the laagers were being broken up and the disheartened commandoes decided that they could never withstand another attack.
   On the 26th the general British retirement was apparent, and inspired the Boers for fresh efforts. They remounted their guns and re-manned the trenches. But Buller gave them no rest. He moved his entire force back to Hlangwane, and then advanced across the river, due northwest from that position. Covered by an effective bombardment the three brigades crossed the pontoons safely, and moved slightly to the north, against the hills before Pieter’s. Barton closed in first. General Wynne, wounded, was succeeded by Colonel Kitchener, nephew of Lord Robert’s better-known second in command, who led his brigade after Barton; Colonel Norcott with his regiments was on the flank.
   The Scots Fusiliers stormed the farthest mount of the triple position. Kitchener, then loosed his brigade, and the Lancashires and Yorks climbed over the low foothills, two battalions remaining sheltered beside the railroad to turn the flank. Finally these brigades, taking advantage of every inch of cover, reached the skyline of the hill beside the tracks, and taking the Boer trenches in flank they drove the enemy to the further spurs of the position. Colonel Norcott then closed in, the Rifles and East Surrey clambering up the southern and eastern slopes of the triplicated eminence, and finally forcing the Boers from the summit.
   For hours the fighting raged fiercely; every foot of ground was hotly contested, and many fierce struggles were waged ere the burghers were cleared from the outlying spurs. Briton and Boer proved their bravery a hundredfold, and over 100 bodies of the latter were collected and buried by the British, whose losses were also very heavy.
   It was February 28th, Majuba Day, an anniversary that in future will be celebrated by the Boers with sackcloth and ashes. Driven from the railroad, with the hills before Pieter’s lost, Botha could no longer hold Grobler’s. A fairly open plain led up to Bulwhana, and beyond was Ladysmith. Their strong line was broken through at last, and the commandoes mounted and retired sullenly, sadder and perhaps wiser men. Checked by weak rear guards, the main column was soon at Nelthorpe, the cavalry forcing the Boer detachments back and capturing some belated wagons. Captain Gough of the 16th Lancers, with troops of Light Horse and Carbineers, followed closely by Lord Dundonald with the Colonial Cavalry, detoured to the west, driving the Boers from an isolated laager.
   In the gathering darkness a plateau loomed before them. A camp-fire gleamed fitfully, and an outpost challenged:
"Halt! Who goes there?" - "The Ladysmith relieving column!"
   The ragged, emaciated British outpost gave a quavering cheer. Then discipline had its way, the guard turned out and presented arms. The troopers pressed on, and the bearded "Tommies" leaned wearily on their rifles and cried, from the effect of sheer excitement on their weakened constitutions. Then, again, from the main guard:;
"Halt! Who goes there?" - "The relieving column!"
   Cyclists had scorched into the famished city by this time with the news, the gunners fired two signal rockets, and men, women, and children loosed their emotions, pent up by one hundred and twenty weary days and nights of siege, pestilence, and starvation, and rushed forth to greet their deliverers.
   The prolonged siege had pinched Ladysmith to the last extremity. After the disaster at Spion Kop despondency had seized the plucky garrison. Food was then terribly scarce. The continuous shelling of the small city had proved trying to soldiers and civilians; but it was the women and children who suffered most. Over two hundred little ones were shut within the ring of cannon. By day they were forced to hide in bomb-proofs; by night few dared undress, for at some hour the alarm would sound at the flash of a Boer gun, and they were forced to fly through the night to again take refuge until the flight of projectiles abated. These shelters after heavy rains were frequently half filled with mud and water, in which they must perforce stand for hours together.

Ladysmith Relieved

   The garrison was ragged, shoeless, and hungry. Meat soon disappeared. Unfortunately, few vegetables had been planted in the vicinity; even Kaffir mealies grew terribly scarce, and the starving horses and mules soon became the staple diet. Disease grew apace. The neutral civilian hospital camp was overflowing, and 181 officers and 4,833 soldiers had passed through the hospital during the first nine weeks of the siege. These figures were doubled during the final eight weeks and the proportion of deaths grew larger.
   In the native quarter there was real starvation, for though the unfortunate people crowded in by the Boers to help eat out the town, received regulation allowance, the same as every soldier of the line, mark you, the unfortunate Hindus preferred to die rather than risk damnation by eating cow’s meat; and curiously their scruples were extended to horse flesh, though some finally accepted this ration in the last extremity.
   The considerate treatment of natives at all besieged towns in South Africa should silence those who speak of British injustice to inferior races. The godly Boers impressed Kaffirs as slaves at all points, and when rations were short allowed them to abjectly starve.
   Colonel Ward had to provide for 16,000 Europeans, most of whom were in regular or volunteer service, though 2000 old men, women, and children were on the "inactive" list. There were also 2,240 Kaffirs and 2,460 Hindus in the city. Even on restricted rations this vast number of people soon ate up available supplies. But necessity fosters invention. Tons of carcass were daily buried beyond the town: the horses and mules grew so thin that little meat could be cut from them. Then Lieutenant McNalty of the Supply conferred with Colonel Ward, the Commissariat General, and after many experiments pure essence of horse was concocted, the locomotive house being improvised as a factory. The animals were shot at one end, emerging from the front door in jars and bottles labelled CHEVRIL. This horse-extract, trade-marked "Resurgam" and issued under the code-signal of Colonel Ward, caused hearty laughs where merriment was scarce, and provided a nourishing liquid food for the besieged, who declared that it out-rivalled Bovril.
   Rice-powder for the face, bran, bird-seed, and washing-starch were taken from the stores and converted into food. A plague of locusts happening in the outskirts proved a three day feast to the blacks, who gathered them in thousands and found them a palatable dish, though the wild honey was lacking. But still, people were hungry. Water was a serious question. Wood was too scarce for continual fires for boiling, and eau de Klip River, seasoned by dead horses and Kaffirs which the Boers tumbled regularly into the stream to be washed down toward the city, was neither tempting nor healthful.
   Buller’s guns had sounded wondrous close during the first attack before Pieter’s. Then again they died away in the distance. But despondency was turned to hope when the Boers were seen hurriedly inspanning their teams and removing their guns. The naval gunners drew heavily on their scanty store to sustain farewells to the last, and then a thunder of battle drawing closer and closer gave the reason of the Boer retirement. But the north of the town was strongly invested, and the end was not speedily expected until the slouch hats of the Colonials were seen approaching, and relief became an accomplished fact.
   The eager townsfolk raced madly out to greet their deliverers. Their number was swelled by the soldiers off duty. Strong men clung to Dundonald’s battle-scarred troopers weeping like children, women kissed their deliverers hysterically, or thrust their children on the saddles of the Colonials. Then the bugles sounded at headquarters, and General White and his staff rode into the Market Square to greet the relief.
   The starved, fever-stricken, ragged garrison and the no less emaciated townfolk crowded round. There was dead silence as General and Earl grasped hands. Then with a voice thick with emotion, White turned, pointed eloquently to the British flag, and lifted his hat. "Three cheers for her Majesty the Queen!"
   The band was formed by the still healthy musicians from various regiments. The voices were weak, and quavered discordantly at the prolonged notes; but when the cheers had subsided, the strains of "God save the Queen" went up from the community gathered in the battered, stricken town; and no tribute more significant or touching has been tendered to the aged sovereign Victoria. White’s speech in response to the cheers the crowd gave him is characteristic: "Thank God we kept the flag flying."
   Two days later General Buller entered at the head of his column. The garrison lined up to greet the Field Force, but were obliged to sit at the roadside through sheer weakness long before the cheering regiments wended their way into the city that they had fought so hard to relieve. And when the "dismiss" rang out what scenes there were! "Townies" found each other, comrades were reunited, and in a few hours refugees who had fled down country were back, some to find members of their family dead, others to meet husband, father, or brother, and reoccupy the little Natal home, pretty, aye, and home, despite the gaping shell-holes and surrounding ruin.
   Before the column came in Captain Denny had brought up wagon-loads of provisions, but with characteristic stolidity the British soldier and civilian bore their hunger a few hours longer to be in line to greet Buller. The ceremony over, nature asserted her sway, and there was an eager rush for simple luxuries that are prized only after such want. Colonel Morgan brought up the main supply column soon after, tons of extras sent from distant friends were distributed, and every one ate, drank, and was merry. Buller’s force had little time for jollification, however. Brother Boer was still hovering in the passes, and divisions were moved forward with little delay to take up positions that would keep him out of Natal.
   Officers now saw the other side of the positions that they had attempted to storm, and no longer wondered at the reverses they had suffered. Natural strength apart, the lines of defence were massive, and incredible. Nature, Boer subtlety, and the brains trained in European military schools had combined to erect the strongest position recorded in history.
   The relief of Ladysmith was a stupendous feat, but as we were breaking through the Boer lines at the Tugela. Lord Roberts was similarly engaged to the north. After perfecting details of his campaign in Cape Town, Lord Roberts arrived at Modder River on February 10th and issued orders for the general advance, planning to outflank the Boer at Magersfontein. For two months little had been accomplished on the Free State border. But reinforcements had been sent up, and divisions mobilised until the command at his disposal amounted to 45,000 men. Gatacre, Macdonald, Babington, and French had been demonstrating and raiding into the annexed districts, but on the 12th the Boers showed in great force before Rensburg, and the British were forced to fall back from Coleskop. But covered by this Boer success, French made a forced march and seized Dekiel’s Drift. On the following day the 6th and 7th Divisions crossed the ford and drove the Boers from their positions on the Riet River.
   While the Boer commandoes were celebrating their capture of Rensburg, and covered by a feint by Colonel Gordon, which drew two further commandoes to Rondeval Drift, French with his cavalry division advanced 70 miles in 3 days and crossed the Modder with Kimberley in sight. He had vowed to Lord Roberts that if he is still alive he would be in Kimberley by 15th; and he was a man true to his word. He crossed Klip Drift on the Modder, capturing three of Cronje’s laagers then, traversing the Boer line of communications, he pressed right on to Kimberley, surprising the main laager and depot. The siege was raised, and French entered the city on the promised day with a loss of just 20 men. Kimberley had not suffered very severely by the investment, though several women and children had been killed by shell fire.
   Alarmed by this rapid counter-march, Cronje immediately evacuated his main positions at Magersfontein and Spyfontein, and retired to Koodoosrand Drift. One of his commandoes overtook and captured the convoy following French with supplies for Kimberley. But Roberts now set his entire command in motion. Jacobsdal was captured and occupied, Kelly-Kenny following hot on Cronje’s heels, overtaking wagons and harassing his rear guard as he vainly strove to withdraw to the hills south of Bloemfontein. The path of the retreat was strewn with dead animals and abandoned wagons, and the Boer cattle were finally exhausted by the rapid pursuit. Tucker’s division headed off the column on the east; the pursuing divisions were close behind, but the batteries and cavalry had detoured and were hovering on the north. Too late Cronje found that the British could leave the railroad, and on the 18th he found himself at bay. He laagered his wagons and prepared for a vigorous defence. Hasty breastworks were thrown up along the banks of Wolveskraal Drift on the Modder River at Paadeberg, bomb-proofs were dug under the trees close to the water’s edge, the pits being eighteen inches wide at the top and leading into excavations that gave effective shelter from shells and bullets.

British Cavalry Chase Down General Cronje's Troops at Paadeberg

   For two days a fierce battle raged, the British losing heavily. French and Kelly-Kenny proposed a rolling bombardment to force the Boer into submission but Lord Kitchener ordered a frontal assault which led to a day of disaster, with 80 officers and 1000 men killed or wounded. But the cordon drew closer and closer around the doomed force. Unable to withstand the increasingly heavy attack, De Wet withdraws and abandons his command. With De Wet gone, Cronje has 4500 men left at Paadeberg: he has said he and his men will die before they surrender. The Boers fought on with the desperation of despair, but, unusually, from such a position they suffered no great loss, though their cattle were slaughtered in thousands and the laagered wagons were smashed to pieces and ignited by the continuous bombardment.
   For two days a fierce battle raged, the British losing heavily. French and Kelly-Kenny proposed a rolling bombardment to force the Boer into submission but Lord Kitchener ordered a frontal assault which led to a day of disaster, with 80 officers and 1000 men killed or wounded. But the cordon drew closer and closer around the doomed force. Unable to withstand the increasingly heavy attack, De Wet withdraws and abandons his command. With De Wet gone, Cronje has 4500 men left at Paadeberg: he has said he and his men will die before they surrender. The Boers fought on with the desperation of despair, but, unusually, from such a position they suffered no great loss, though their cattle were slaughtered in thousands and the laagered wagons were smashed to pieces and ignited by the continuous bombardment.
   The end came on the 28th. After ten days resistance, the dawn of Majuba Day was fixed for the final assault. The encompassed burghers had sustained a terrible Mauser fire that repulsed previous attempts to close in, but under cover of darkness, the Royal Canadians advanced and entrenched at the outer line of Cronje’s positions for a final attack. Ere the sun rose the Canadian contingent squirmed through the grass to within 100 yards of the Boer trenches. A French-Canadian company under Major Pelletier was in the lead, when crashing volleys told them that their advance was discovered. Flinging themselves on their faces, the Canadians replied to this fire, suffering severely, but never budging, while two yards behind them an heroic band of engineers under Kincaid and Boileau dug a long trench, into which the Canadians withdrew. Despite the darkness, Kincaid had cut his line at an angle from which half of Cronje’s position could be raked, and a few minutes after sunrise, Boers began to throw up their hands and run to the British lines to escape the rifle fire.
   An hour later, at 6.00 o’clock, a horseman rode out with a white flag, to arrange for unconditional surrender. Having inflicted a loss of 98 officers and 1,436 men during his vigorous defence, Cronje and his command of 4,115 burghers then capitulated. Mrs. Cronje followed her husband to captivity, grimly clinging to a black silk dress stolen from Lady Wilson while a prisoner in the Mafeking laager. The slaughter at Paadeberg was over. It was Majuba Day.

The Surrender of General Cronje to Lord Roberts

   As the popular idol of the hour, Lord Roberts, is reaping most of the credit with the deserved praise for his own success, but remember that Buller’s fiercest fighting also took place on Majuba day and history will record in favour of both generals.
   War news travels slowly from Pretoria. Pieter’s was half won when the news of "Bob’s" success was flashed from Cape Town to Buller. It took far longer to reach the Boers. Despite a tolerable veracity in their war news, the officials at Pretoria naturally took no steps to dishearten their hard pressed forces in Natal. Buller had won, and the burghers were in full retreat, ere the story of Cronje’s defeat and surrender reached them.
   The news turned their withdrawal into a panic, and hastened their movements so greatly that Buller was unable to follow up his victory by making their retreat a rout. But it was the Natal Field Force that relieved Ladysmith, and to them is the credit due.
   With General Buller now in Ladysmith, General French chasing De Wet, and Lord Roberts advancing towards Bloemfontein, it seems that the initial phase is done and the Boer is bloodied, if not beaten. It is March 5th and today I made my farewells to the friends, officers and heroes that I have come to know and boarded the train from Ladysmith to Cape Town; back to England, then to America, and Mary to whom I will soon be married.

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