Kroonstadt: May 16, 1900.
On the same day that Ian Hamilton's force won their fight at Houtnek, to wit, the 1st of May, the advance of the main army towards Pretoria, long expected, long prepared, long delayed, began, and the Eleventh Division marched north from Bloemfontein to join the Seventh, which was entrenched at Karree Siding. On the 3rd both Infantry divisions moved forward along the railway, their left protected by Gordon's Cavalry Brigade and Hutton's Mounted Infantry, and after a sharp cannonade drove the Boers from their positions covering Brandfort and entered the town. The advance was resumed on the 5th, and the enemy were again met with, this time holding the line of the Vet River. Another artillery action ensued, in which the British 5-inch and naval 4.7 guns were very effective, and at the end of which the West Australians and other parts of Hutton's Mounted Infantry force, pushed across the river in gallant style and captured an important kopje. The Dutchmen then retreated, and the Field-Marshal's headquarters on the 6th were fixed in Smaldeel. His losses since leaving Bloemfontein had not amounted to twenty-five men.
Ian Hamilton, in spite of the long marches his troops had made, was impatient to push on from Winburg without delay, and, following the track to Ventersburg, to seize the drifts across the Sand River, twenty miles to the north. The great speed of his last movement had outpaced the Boers, and their convoys were struggling along abreast of, and even behind, the British column, trying vainly to slip across our front, and join the burgher forces accumulating for the defence of Kroonstadt. By marching forthwith--great though the strain might be--the General hoped to secure the bloodless passage of the river, and perhaps cut up some of these same toiling convoys. Accordingly, having collected from the town about three days' stores--Sir Henry Colvile helping him unselfishly with mule waggons--he set his brigades in motion on the afternoon of the 6th, and marched nine miles towards the Sand.
But Lord Roberts had decided to remain at Smaldeel until his temporary bridge over the Vet River was made and the trains running, and he did not choose to run the risk of the Boers concentrating all their forces upon any single division of his army, such as would be incurred if Hamilton pushed forward alone. The principle was indisputable; but, of course, in practice it resolved itself into another instance of balancing drawbacks, for delay gave the enemy time to get his breath, and meant that the Sand River passage would be opposed. Besides, if the Boers had flung all their strength upon Hamilton, we were 7,000 bayonets, 3,000 horse, and nearly forty guns, and would have beat them off with a shocking slaughter. To us it seemed a great pity to wait; but to the Chief, in whose eyes the Army of the Right Flank was but one column of that far-flung line which stretched from Rundle near Senekal, along the front of the main army to Methuen near Boshof, Hunter at Warrenton, and Mahon far away on the fringe of the Kalahari desert, it must have been a very small matter, and certainly not one justifying any loss of cohesion in the general scheme. So I have no doubt that it was right to make us halt on the 7th and 8th.
On the former of these two days of rest Lord Roberts sent for General Hamilton to meet him at a point on the branch railway line mid-way between Winburg and Smaldeel, and they had a long private conference together. On the 9th, the whole army marched forward again towards the Sand River. I rode with the General, who managed somehow to find himself among the cavalry patrols of the right flank guard, and we watched with telescopes three long lines of dust in the eastward, which, under examination, developed into horsemen and waggons marching swiftly north and turning more and more across our front. It was clear that if we had pushed on without halting, all these commandos would have been prevented from reaching Kroonstadt. The General contemplated them hungrily for some time, but they were too far off to attack, bearing in mind the great combination of which we were a part. The flanking patrols, however, exchanged a few shots.
The march was not a long one, and by mid-day we reached the halting-place, a mile south of the river. The headquarters were fixed in a large farm which stood close to the waggon-track we followed.
This farmhouse was certainly the best purely Dutch homestead I have ever seen in the 500 miles I have ridden about the Free State. It was a large square building, with a deep verandah, and a pretty flower-garden in front, and half a dozen barns and stables around it. The construction of a dam across the neighbouring spruit had formed a wide and pleasant pool, in which many good fat ducks and geese were taking refuge from the wandering soldier. At the back, indeed, on all sides but the front of the farm, rose a thick belt of fir-trees. Within the house the ground-floor was divided into three excellent bedrooms, with old-fashioned feather-beds and quaint wooden bedsteads, a prim but spacious parlour, a kitchen, pantry, and storeroom. The parlour deserved the greatest attention. The furniture was dark and massive. The boards of the floor were deeply stained. In the middle was a good carpet upon which an ample oval table stood. The walls were hung with curious prints or coloured plates, and several texts in Dutch. One pair of plates I remember represented the ten stages of man's life and woman's life, and showed both in every period from the cradle to the grave, which latter was not reached until the comfortable age of one hundred. The woman's fortunes were especially prosperous. At birth she sprawled contentedly in a cradle, whilst loving parents bent over her in rapture, and dutiful angels hung attendant in the sky. At ten she scampered after a hoop. At twenty she reclined on the stalwart shoulder of an exemplary lover. At thirty she was engaged in teaching seven children their letters. At forty, she celebrated a silver wedding. At fifty, still young and blooming, she attended the christening of a grandchild. At sixty, it was a great-grandchild. At seventy she enjoyed a golden wedding. At eighty she was smilingly engaged in knitting. Even at ninety she was well preserved, nor could she with reason complain of her lot in life when, at a hundred, the inevitable hour arrived. 'Be fruitful and multiply,' was the meaning of a Dutch text on the opposite wall, and a dozen children black and white (little Kaffirs, the offspring of the servants, playing with the sons and daughters of the house) showed that the spirit of the injunction was observed; and these are things with which the statesman will have to reckon.
The inmates of the farm consisted of the old man, a venerable gentleman of about sixty years, his dame, a few years younger, three grown-up daughters, a rather ill-favoured spinster sister, and seven or eight children or grandchildren of varying ages. There were in all seven sons or grandsons--two were married and had farms of their own; but all, including even one of fourteen, were 'on commando' at the wars, some, perhaps, looking at us and their home from the heights across the river.
The General politely requested shelter for the night, and a bedroom and the parlour were placed at his disposal; not very enthusiastically, indeed, but that was only natural. The staff settled down in the verandah so as not to disturb the family. Ian Hamilton, keenly interested in everything, began at once to ask the old lady questions through an interpreter. She gave her answers with no good grace, and when the General inquired about her youngest fighting son--he of fourteen--her sour face showed signs of emotion, and the conversation ended for the day. On the morrow, however, just before he crossed the river, he had to come back to the telegraph-tent pitched near the farm, and found time to see her again.
'Tell her,' he said to the interpreter, 'that we have won the battle to-day.'
They told her, and she bowed her head with some dignity.
'Tell her that the Dutch will now certainly be beaten in the war.'
'Perhaps her sons will be taken prisoners.'
'Now tell her to write down on a piece of paper the name of the youngest, and give it to my aide-de-camp; and then when he is captured she must write to me or to the Hoofd-General, and we will send him back to her, and not keep him a prisoner.'
She thawed a little at this, and expressed a hope that he had been comfortable while beneath her roof, and then--for the guns were still firing--he had to hurry away. But the aide-de-camp remained behind for the paper.
During the time we spent in this homely place I made a thorough inspection of the farm, especially the parlour, where I found one very curious book. It was a collection of national songs and ballads, compiled, and in part written, by Mr. Reitz. I afterwards succeeded in buying another copy in Ventersburg; indeed, it has been widely disseminated. The first part consists of patriotic Boer poems--the Volkslied, the Battle of Majuba, the Battle of Laings Nek, and other similar themes. The second half of the book is filled with Reitz's translations of English songs and well-known ditties into the taal. John Gilpin, besides being a burgher of credit and renown, was eke a Field-Cornet of famous Bloemfontein. Young Lochinvar had come from out of the Boshof district. The Landdrost's daughter of Winburg found a lover no less faithful than a famous swain of Islington. The pictures were mightily diverting. The old Field-Cornet Gilpin--'Jan Jurgens,' as he called himself now--was shown galloping wildly along, on a pulling Basuto pony, through the straggling streets of, let us say, Ventersburg, his slouch hat crammed over his eyes, his white beard flapping in the wind, while a stately vrouw, four children, and a Kaffir, flung up their hands in mingled wonder and derision.
One piece began:
Engels! Engels! alles Engels! Engels wat jij siet en hoor.
Ins ons skole, in ons kerke, word ons modertaal vermoor.
I cannot read Dutch, but the meaning and object of the book were sufficiently clear without that knowledge.
F. W. Reitz, sometime President of the Free State, now State Secretary of the Transvaal, looked far ahead, and worked hard. This, the foundation-stone of a vernacular literature, was but one act in the long scheme of policy, pursued, year in year out, with tireless energy, and indomitable perseverance, to manufacture a new Dutch nation in South Africa--the policy which, in the end, had brought a conquering army to this quiet farm, and scattered the schemers far and wide. But what a game it must have been to play! Only a little more patience, a little less pride and over-confidence, concessions here, concessions there, anything to gain time, and then, some day--a mighty Dutch Republic, 'the exchange of a wealthier Amsterdam, the schools of a more learned Leyden,' and, above all--no cursed Engels.
I was considering these matters, only suggested here, when messengers and the sound of firing came in from the eastward. The news that small parties of Boers were engaging our right flank guard did not prevent Hamilton riding over to meet the Chief, nor tempt us to quit the cool verandah of the farm; but when, suddenly, at about three o'clock, fifty shots rang out in quick succession, scarcely 500 yards away, every one got up in a hurry, and, snatching pistols and belts, ran out to see what mischance had occurred. The scene that met our eyes was unusual. Down the side of the hill there poured a regular cascade of antelope--certainly not less than 700 or 800 in number--maddened with fear at finding themselves in the midst of the camp, and seeking frantically for a refuge. This spectacle, combined with the hope of venison, was too much for the soldiers, and forthwith a wild and very dangerous fire broke out, which was not stopped until fifteen or twenty antelopes were killed, and one Australian Mounted Infantryman wounded in the stomach. The injury of the latter was at first thought to be serious, and the rumour ran that he was dead; but, luckily, the bullet only cut the skin.
Thus disturbed, I thought it might be worth while to walk up to the outpost line and see what was passing there. When I reached the two guns which were posted on the near ridge, the officers were in consultation. Away across the Sand River, near two little kopjes, was a goodly Boer commando. They had just arrived from the east of our line of march, and having skirted round our pickets had set themselves down to rest and refresh. Spread as they were on the smooth grass, the telescope showed every detail. There were about 150 horsemen, with five ox-waggons and two guns. The horses were grazing, but not off-saddled. The men were lying or sitting on the ground. Evidently they thought themselves out of range. The subaltern commanding the guns was not quite sure that he agreed with them. Some Colonial Mounted Infantry officers standing near were almost indignant that the guns should let such a chance slip. The subaltern was very anxious to fire--'really think I could reach the brutes'; but he was afraid he would get into trouble if he fired his guns at any range greater than artillery custom approves. His range finders said '6,000.' Making allowances for the clear atmosphere, I should have thought it was more. At last he decided to have a shot. 'Sight for 5,600, and let's see how much we fall short.' The gun cocked its nose high in the air and flung its shell accordingly. To our astonishment the projectile passed far over the Boer commando, and burst nearly 500 yards beyond them: to our astonishment and to theirs. The burghers lost no time in changing their position. The men ran to their horses, and, mounting, galloped away in a dispersing cloud. Their guns whipped up and made for the further hills. The ox-waggons sought the shelter of a neighbouring donga. Meanwhile, the artillery subaltern, delighted at the success of his venture, pursued all these objects with his fire, and using both his guns threw at least a dozen shells among them. Material result: one horse killed. This sort of artillery fire is what we call waste of ammunition when we do it to others, and a confounded nuisance when they do it to us. After all, who is there who enjoys being disturbed by shells just as he is settling himself comfortably to rest, after a long march? And who fights the better next day for having to scurry a mile and a half to cover with iron pursuers at his heels? Even as it was an opportunity was lost. We ought to have sneaked up six guns, a dozen if there were a dozen handy, all along the ridge, and let fly with the whole lot, at ranges varying from 5,000 to 6,000 yards with time shrapnel. Then there would have been a material as well as a moral effect. 'Pooh,' says the scientific artillerist, 'you would have used fifty shells, tired your men, and disturbed your horses, to hit a dozen scallawags and stampede 150. That is not the function of artillery.' Nevertheless, function or no function, it is war, and the way to win war. Harass, bait, and worry your enemy until you establish a funk. Once he is more frightened of you than you are of him, all your enterprises will prosper; and if fifty shells can in any way accelerate that happy condition, be sure they are not wasted.
The afternoon passed uneventfully away, though the outposts were gradually drawn into a rifle duel with the Dutch sharpshooters in the scrub across the river. In the evening the General returned from his conference with Lord Roberts, and told us the passage was to be forced on the morrow all along the line. The Army of the Right Flank would cross by the nearest drift in our present front. The Seventh Division inclining to its right would come into line on our left. The Field-Marshal, with the Guards and the rest of Pole-Carew's Division, would strike north along the line of the railway. French, with two Cavalry brigades and Hutton's Mounted Infantry brigade, was to swing around the enemy's right and push hard for Ventersburg siding. Broadwood from our flank, with the Second Cavalry Brigade, and such of the Second Mounted Infantry Brigade as could be spared, was to be thrust through as soon as the Boer front was broken, and try to join hands with French, thus, perhaps, cutting off and encircling the Boer right. The diagram--it is not a map--on page 172 will help to explain the scheme.
The operation of the next day was one of the largest and most extended movements of the war, although, probably from this cause, it was attended by very little loss of life. Upon the British side six Infantry and six Mounted brigades, with rather more than 100 guns, were brought into action along a front of over twenty-five miles. The Boers, however, still preserved their flanks. Upon the west they succeeded in holding up French, and on the east they curled round Hamilton's right and rear so that his action here, which in its early stages resembled that afterwards fought at Diamond Hill, was of a piercing rather than a turning nature. But in thus amazingly extending their scanty forces, which, altogether, did not number more than 9,000 men, with twenty-five guns, the enemy became so weak all along their front that the attacking divisions broke through everywhere, as an iron bar might smash thin ice, with scarcely any shock.
On the evening of the 10th, the British forces, in their extended line, lay spread along the south bank of the river, just out of cannon-shot of the Boer positions on the further side. French, indeed, did not rest content with securing his ford twelve miles to the west of the railway, but pushed his two brigades across before dark. The wisdom of this movement is disputed. On the one hand, it is contended that by crossing he revealed the intention of the Commander-in-Chief, and drew more opposition against himself the next day. On the other, it is urged that he was right to get across unopposed while he could, and that his purpose was equally revealed, no matter which side of the river he stayed. During the night Ian Hamilton, at the other end of the line, seized the drift in his front with a battalion, which promptly entrenched itself. Tucker, who proposed to cross near the same point, despatched the Cheshire regiment for a similar purpose. The single battalion was sufficient; but the importance and wisdom of the movement was proved by the fact that the enemy during the night sent 400 men to occupy the river bank and hold the passage, and found themselves forestalled.
At daybreak the engagement was begun along the whole front. I am only concerned with Ian Hamilton's operations; but, in order that these may be understood, some mention must be made of the other forces. French advanced as soon as it was light, and almost immediately became engaged with a strong force of Boers, who barred his path, and prevented his closing on the railway as intended. A sharp Cavalry action followed, in which the Boers fought with much stubbornness; and the Afrikander Horse, a corps of formidable mercenaries, even came to close quarters with Dickson's brigade, and were charged. French persevered throughout the day, making very little progress towards the railway, but gaining ground gradually to the north. Although his casualties numbered more than a hundred, he was still some distance from Ventersburg siding at nightfall. The centre attack properly awaited the progress of the flanking movements, and was, during the early part of the day, contented with an artillery bombardment, chiefly conducted by its heavy guns. Tucker and Hamilton, however, fell on with much determination, and were soon briskly engaged.
Ian Hamilton began his action at half-past five, with his heavy guns, which shelled the opposite heights leisurely, while the Infantry and Cavalry were moving off. The Boer position before us ran along a line of grassy ridges, with occasional kopjes, which sloped up gradually and reached their summits about a mile from the river. But besides this position, which was the objective of the force, the Boers, who held all the country to the east, began a disquieting attack along our right and right rear, and although the Mounted Infantry, and principally Kitchener's Horse, under Major Fowle, held them at arm's length throughout the day, the firing in this quarter caused the General some concern, and occupied the greater part of his attention.
At six o'clock the Twenty-first Brigade began to cross the river, and Bruce-Hamilton, stretching out to his left, soon developed a wide front. The Boers now opened fire with two or three field-guns and a 'pom-pom,' which latter was quickly silenced by our heavy pieces. At the same time, the Nineteenth Brigade, who were containing the enemy's left, became engaged with their skirmishers in the scrub by the river. The four batteries of Field Artillery also came into action, and were pushed forward across the drift as soon as sufficient space was gained by the Infantry. At a little after seven the head of General Tucker's Division appeared on the plain to our left, and that determined officer thrust his men over the river in most vigorous style. Moreover, seeing Bruce-Hamilton committed to an assault, he swung two of his own batteries round to the eastward, and so rendered us material assistance.
Both Smith-Dorrien, who directed the two Infantry brigades, and Ian Hamilton were fully alive to the grave dangers of crowding too many troops on to a narrow front, and the Infantry attack was very sparingly fed with supports, until it became completely extended. This condition was attained about eleven o'clock, when the Camerons were sent across the river to clear the scrub and prolong the line to the right. Bruce-Hamilton now had his deployment completed, and with an admirable simultaneity the whole of the assaulting Infantry rose up and advanced together upon the enemy's position, covered by the heavy fire of twenty-six guns. The panorama was now very extensive. Far away to the left the smoke of lyddite shells, and the curious speck of the war-balloon high in the clear air, showed that the centre was engaged. The whole of the Seventh Division had crossed the Sand, and were now curving to the north-west amid a crackle of fire. Before us the slopes were sprinkled with brown dots moving swiftly upwards. The crest of the ridge was fringed with exploding shells. For a few minutes the Boers fired steadily, and the dust jumped amid the Sussex Regiment and the City Imperial Volunteers. But both Infantry and Artillery attacks were far beyond the capacity of the defence to resist, and by noon the whole of the heights beyond the Sand were in the British possession.
Ian Hamilton had meanwhile ordered baggage and Cavalry to cross. Broadwood was over the enemy's position almost as soon as the Infantry. He proceeded to move in the direction of Ventersburg siding. The enemy, however, had covered themselves with a strong rearguard, and the Cavalry were soon opposed by three guns and a force of riflemen of considerable numbers. Whether Broadwood would have thought it worth while to make here the effort which he afterwards made in the action of Diamond Hill, and order a charge, is uncertain; for at this moment a misunderstanding arose which induced him to change his plans altogether.
The Boer pressure on our right rear had been growing stronger and stronger all the morning, and at length Hamilton, wishing to check the enemy sharply, so as to draw his rearguard over the river after his baggage, told his chief of artillery to find him a battery. Now it happened that only one of the two horse batteries, 'P,' had been able to go with the Cavalry, the other, 'Q,' being too tired to keep up. The chief of artillery therefore proposed to send for the tired battery. Unfortunately, by some mistake, either in giving or taking the order, the orderly was sent for 'P' instead of 'Q.' The man, a sergeant-major, galloped across the river, and, understanding that the matter was urgent, hurried after Broadwood, overtook him just as he was becoming engaged, and demanded the battery. Broadwood, who knew that Hamilton would never deprive him of his guns except for some very urgent reason, sent them at once, abandoned his movement to the north-west, which indeed was now impracticable without artillery, and concluding that the rearguard was seriously involved, turned sharply to the east to assist them. Explanations arrived too late to make it worth while to revert to the original plan, and, perhaps, seeing that French was unable to make Ventersburg siding, it was just as well that Broadwood did not try alone.
Broadwood's latest movement, or the action of the artillery, or the knowledge that the British had successfully forced the passage of the river at all points, induced the Boers who were assailing the rearguard to desist, and the musketry in that quarter gradually died away. Meanwhile, by the exertions of Lieutenant-Colonel Maxse, the baggage had mostly been dragged across the river, and Ian Hamilton made haste to overtake his victorious Infantry, who had already disappeared into the valley beyond the enemy's position. By the time that we reached the top of the high ground, Bruce-Hamilton's leading battalions were nearly a mile further on, and the tail of Broadwood's brigade was vanishing in a high cloud of dust to the eastward. The City Imperial Volunteers, who had lost a few men in the attack, were resting on the hill after their advance, and eating their biscuits. Several dead Boers had been found lying among the rocks, and a burial party was at work digging a grave for these and for four of our own men who had fallen close by. There were also a few prisoners--Transvaalers for the most part--who had surrendered when the troops fixed bayonets. Four miles away to the north-east the trees and houses of Ventersburg rose from a grassy hollow.
The General decided to bivouac in the valley beyond the enemy's position, and to set his pickets upon the hills to the northward. He also sent an officer with a flag of truce into Ventersburg to demand the surrender of the town, and directed Broadwood to detach a regiment and some Mounted Infantry to occupy it, should the enemy comply. In case they should desire to hold the town the 5-inch guns were brought into position on the captured heights.
Hoping to secure some supplies, particularly bottled beer, before everything should be requisitioned by the army, I rode forward after the flag of truce had gone in and waited where I could see what followed. When, about an hour later, a cavalry force began to advance from the direction of Broadwood upon the town, I knew that all was well, and trotted on to join them. My road led me within a few hundred yards of the town, but, luckily for me, I did not enter it alone, and hurried to join the troops. All of a sudden the ominous patter of rifle shots broke the stillness of the evening, and, turning to whence the sound came, I saw a score of Boers standing on the sky-line about a mile away and firing at the advancing Cavalry, or, perhaps, for I was much nearer, at me. The next minute there galloped out of the town about a score of Dutchmen, who fled in the direction of their friends on the western sky-line. Had I ridden straight into the town I should have run into these people's jaws. I lost no time in joining the Cavalry, and entered the streets with the squadron of Blues. It was a miserable little place, not to be compared with Winburg. There were a few good stores and a small hotel, where I found what I sought; but the whole town was very dirty and squalid. Thirty or forty troopers of Roberts's Horse were firing at the fugitive burghers from the edge of the buildings and gardens, while a score of reckless fellows were galloping after them in excited pursuit. The Boers on the hill kept up a brisk fire to help their comrades in, and not a few of the bullets kicked up the dust in the village streets, without in the least disturbing the women and children who crowded together to look at the war, in blissful ignorance of their danger. When some of these people were told that they would perhaps be killed if they came out of their houses while the fighting was going on, they clutched their children and sought shelter with an energy at which, since, after all, nobody was hurt, it was pardonable to laugh.
Night put an end to all skirmishing, and under its cover the Boers retreated--the greater part to Kroonstadt, which, be it remembered, they meant to hold to the death; but a considerable proportion to the east, where they collected with the commandos under Christian de Wet. Broadwood's brigade had captured about a dozen waggons and thirty prisoners. In all there were fifty-two unwounded and seven wounded Boers in our hands at the end of the day. The casualties in Hamilton's force were under fifty. Tucker and Pole-Carew may have lost the same number between them. French, who encountered the most stubborn resistance, had a little over 120. But, in any case, the passage of the Sand River in this long straggling action was cheaply won at a cost of under 250 officers and men.
All our beasts were so exhausted by the labour of dragging the waggons through the steep and rocky drift of the Sand, and by the long pull up the hills on the opposite side, that few of the regiments got their baggage that night, and hence it was impossible to make an early start next morning. But it was known that the Field-Marshal meant to reach Kroonstadt on the next day, and as all the information at our disposal indicated that the Boers were entrenching a strong position along a line of wooded bluffs called the Boschrand, just south of the town, every minute of halt was grudged.
We moved at eleven o'clock, heading direct for Kroonstadt, and persevered for two hours after the sun had set, making in all nearly seventeen miles. The country to our left was flat and open, and as we converged upon the main army we could see, like red clouds with the sunset behind them, the long parallel lines of dust, which marked the marches of the Seventh and Eleventh Divisions; and we knew besides, that, beyond both columns and west of the railroad, French was driving his weary squadrons forward upon another wide swoop. The army drew together in the expectation of a great action. But for all our marching we could never make up the extra distance we had to cover in coming diagonally from the flank, and as darkness fell we realised that the Seventh Division was drawing across our front, and that Pole-Carew with the guard was striding along ahead of us all. That night Lord Roberts slept at America Siding, scarcely six miles from the Boschrand position.
Ian Hamilton marched on again at dawn, transport and convoys struggling along miles behind, and the fine-drawn yet eager Infantry close upon the heels of the Cavalry screen. At times we listened for the sound of guns, for if the enemy stood, the Field-Marshal must come into contact with them by eight o'clock. And when, after nine o'clock, no cannonade was heard, the rumour ran through the army that the Boers had fled without giving battle, the pace slacked off, and the Infantry began to feel the effects of their exertions.
At eleven a message from Lord Roberts reached General Broadwood to say that it did not matter by which road Hamilton's column marched in, as the enemy was not holding his positions. Thereupon I determined, since there was to be no battle, to see the capture of Kroonstadt, and being mounted on a fresh pony I had bought at Winburg, a beautiful and tireless little beast, by an English blood sire out of a Basuto mare, I soon left the Cavalry behind, caught up the rear of Tucker's transport, pushed on four or five miles along the line of march of his division, struck the tail of the Eleventh Division, and finally overtook the head of the Infantry columns about three miles from the town.
Lord Roberts entered Kroonstadt at about mid-day with all his staff. The Eleventh Division, including the Guards' Brigade, marched past him in the market square, and then, passing through the town, went into bivouac on the northern side. The rest of the army halted south of Kroonstadt. Gordon's Cavalry Brigade a mile from the town; the Seventh Division and Ian Hamilton's force three miles away, in a wide valley among the scrub-covered, trench-rimmed hills the Boers had not dared defend. French, whose turning movement had again been obstinately opposed, reached the railway line north of the town too late to intercept any rolling stock. Indeed, Major Hunter Weston, a daring and enterprising engineer, arrived at the bridge he had hoped to blow up only to find that it had been blown up by the enemy.
Thus, by one long spring from Bloemfontein, Kroonstadt, the new capital of the Free State, was captured. It has the reputation of being one of the prettiest places in the Republic, but even when allowances are made for the circumstances under which we saw it, it does not seem that its fame is just. The town looked a little larger than Winburg, though not nearly so clean and well-kept, and the whole place was smothered in reddish dust, and dried up by the sun. The Boers retreated northward along the railway, in spite of all President Steyn's exhortations, which included the public sjambokking of several unwilling burghers, and did not stop except to wreck the permanent way until they reached Rhenoster kopjes. The President, with the members of the Executive Council and the seat of Government--which needs to have a good pair of legs beneath it in times like these--withdrew to Lindley, whither, for various reasons, it soon became desirable to follow them.