The Boer Declaration of War and the Gathering of the Armies.
[Sidenote: Both sides Surprised]
When the Republic of South Africa and the Orange Free State, after a conspiracy of the two Presidents, rushed their armies into what they believed a campaign of conquests, the surprise of the Boers and their allies that they gained so few and small advantages after elaborate preparations and careful openings of their opportunities in striking first, was as at as that of the British that they, indifferently provided and hastily thrust into hot places, could not march headlong in solid columns, storming fortifications, to easy victories.
[Illustration: THE LAST LETTER HOME. An incident at Ladysmith. Red Cross Nurse writing a message of love from a dying soldier.]
[Illustration: THE GUARDS TERRIFIC CHARGE--BATTLE OF BELMONT]
The Boer ultimatum, ordering the British to flee, for waiting on the frontiers would be regarded a "declaration of war on the part of Her Majesty's Government," and that within forty-eight hours, was promulgated on the 9th of October. The material part is in the following words, as per Associated Press report:
THE TRANSVAAL'S ULTIMATUM,
which is signed by F. W. Reitz, State Secretary, is as follows:
"Her Majesty's unlawful intervention in the internal affairs of this republic, in conflict of the London convention of 1884, by the extraordinary strengthening of her troops in the neighborhood of the borders of this republic, has caused an intolerable condition of things to arise, to which this Government feels itself obliged, in the interest not only of this republic, but also of all South Africa, to make an end as soon as possible, and this Government feels itself called upon and obliged to press earnestly and with emphasis for an immediate termination of this state of things and to request Her Majesty's Government to give assurances upon the following four demands:
"First--That all points of mutual difference be regulated by friendly recourse to arbitration or by whatever amicable way may be agreed upon by this Government and Her Majesty's Government.
"Second--That all troops on the borders of this republic shall be instantly withdrawn.
"Third--That all reinforcements of troops which have arrived in South Africa since June 1, 1899, shall be removed from South Africa within a reasonable time to be agreed upon with this Government, and with the mutual assurance and guarantee on the part of this Government that no attack upon or hostilities against any portion of the possessions of the British Government shall be made by this republic during the further negotiations within a period of time to be subsequently agreed upon between the Governments, and 'this Government will, on compliance therewith, be prepared to withdraw the armed burghers of this republic from the borders.
"Fourth--That Her Majesty's troops which are now on the high seas shall not be landed in any part of South Africa."
To these demands is appended the definition of time limit for a reply:
"This Government presses for an immediate and affirmative answer to these four questions, and earnestly requests Her Majesty's Government to return an answer before or upon Wednesday October 11, 1899, not later than 5 o'clock P.M.
It desires further to add that in the unexpected event of an answer unsatisfactory being received by it within the interval, it will, with great regret, be compelled to regard the action of Her Majesty's Government as a formal declaration of war, and will not hold itself responsible for the consequences thereof, and that in the event of any further movement of troops occurring within the above mentioned time, in a nearer direction to our borders, this Government will be compelled to regard that also as a formal declaration of war. I have the honor to be, respectfully yours,
F. W. REITZ,
To the above, Great Britain replied that the demands were such as could not be discussed, and instructed the British agent to apply for his passport, which he did.
On the following day, October 11th, the proclamation of war was formally issued at Pretoria, the Boer capital, and the Orange Free State openly took its place as an ally of the South African Republic, appointing General Petrus Jocobus Joubert Commandant-General of its forces. Both the Transvaal and Free State Boers promptly invaded Natal and took strong positions.
[Sidenote: Centers of combat quickly Defined]
The object was to overrun South Africa, raising the Dutch in revolt, and driving all foes seaward, before the slender British garrisons could be reinforced from England. Thus the war began with surprises on both sides, for the outposts of the English met the onslaught of the Boer columns whose movements were extraordinarily rapid as they were nearly all mounted men, with a hearty appetite for coming to blows. The flood of Boer riflemen on horseback well supplied with artillery, largely living on the country that was to have swept the British into the towns by the sea to meet their incoming transports, was soon arrested. The centers of the cyclones of war were quickly defined.
The British were astonished to meet in the Boer armies evidences of well studied campaigning, thorough armament and generalship in the leaders, and in finding that what was understood to be irregular forces in thin lines of skirmishers were masses of an army of 50,000 men. The British were still more thoroughly surprised on finding themselves hard pressed, than the Boers were that the momentum of the advance of the sweeping successes of which they had such broad expectations, had been suddenly stayed.
[Sidenote: Important Decisions to Be made]
If there had been no political considerations with respect to people of whose tendencies there were doubts to control the action of the British at the beginning of the war their military position would have been much bettered by yielding more ground in Natal, abandoning the positions that the Boers were abundantly able to surround and that were certain to need relief in a few weeks, a condition that would force the British armies to hasten advances on dangerous lines. The scenes of the first chapter of the war had been located by the establishment of arsenals and encampments that must be strenuously defended, if not destroyed, with losses irreparable for many days. The gravest consideration in the first weeks of the war were as to the choice between the better military and political positions. Naturally there was something of both given weight in the selections made. Rather than abandon additional Natal territory the British accepted the conditions in the midst of which they have repeatedly suffered severely, and their columns have been driven to accept the contingencies of extra hazardous operations and relief expeditions driven under the strain of perilous emergency. The British, as well as the Boers and Orange State armies underestimated the work they cut out for themselves. The mutual wonder has been that there was such hot work on both sides.
[Sidenote: Early Days of the War]
During the first weeks of the war the British were busy in securing transports and getting troops and supplies for the voyage of a month, and the news of the passing days was of the scenes of parting at the ports whence the regiments ordered to join the African army of the British, sailed; and next was the announcement of the arrivals of the famous organizations at the ports to which they had been ordered,--speculations as to the time required to put in motion the several columns for the relief of the besieged garrisons, and the meantime the gallantry of the beleaguered British and their style of defending themselves with dashing sorties deeply moved the public, and gave edge and points to attention. The encounters at this time were decidedly educational. The combatants were taught to respect each other. Innumerable war incidents gave zest to the reading of the current literature in which the journals paraded the names of the troop ships, the number of men with rifles, the names of the officers, speculations as to the days and hours the vessels would require to reach the seat of war, the places where the troops could be put ashore to the greatest advantage, the roads they must follow to the front.
[Sidenote: Public Opinion]
This was a period of confidence on the part of the British, mitigated only by occasional furtive suggestions of misgiving. It was almost universally held throughout the British Empire that the divisions on the way would be equal to the demands upon them. The arrival of Sir Redvers Buller to take supreme command was to be a signal for the display of imperial power--the auspicious beginning of the speedy end. It was reasonable that spectators not jealous of the British, and inclined to some form of hatefulness towards them, should accept the information and conclusions of the intelligence of the people of the dominant British Island. The general judgment of the world outside the British Empire--excepting the specialists in detailed knowledge who had made close studies of the shifting situation with growing apprehension of its seriousness, political as well as military--was that the war was to be charged to the account of the land greed of Englishmen, and their persecution of the religious and Republican Boers instead of to the fact that the Transvaal Republicans made up one barbary state, and the alleged Orange Free State another, in a lesser degree wanting in civility, and that these allies were resolute and aggressive in their determination to enslave both the original occupants of the soil and those who had within a few years developed its exceedingly great riches, and the worth to the world of the astounding revelation of the most precious stones and metals.
When we form the intimate acquaintance of the facts we find the friction between the strangely mixed races of the Transvaal was not caused by British expansionists, or occasioned by British aggression, but by the stolid abominable ambition of the Boer race--the same for whom Great Britain had broken the Zulu power in a war that was most expensive in blood and money. The trouble in Africa did not grow from the anxiety of the British for extensions of territory or of privileges. The Boers held all others to be according to the Gospel their inferiors, and the protestation of the British Government that there should be for the sake of peace a very moderate reform amounting to the insertion of an admixture of justice, according to all testimony denied disdainfully, in the administration of the laws, customs and habits of the caste of burghers.
[Sidenote: Two Popular Illusions]
The world so far as it has admitted daylight to aid the inspection of South African affairs has parted with two illusions: First, that the English made the war, second, that they were ready for it, and menaced the liberties of South African peoples when they landed two regiments of regular troops at Durban. It is demonstrated the Boers were the war makers and ready for war, holding the British in contempt for peaceableness under the buffetings to which they had submitted, and for their reluctance to take up arms to defend themselves. It was the Boers who declared war and were first in the field. They had a fixed policy for asserting themselves with increasing energy and ferocity, and they opened the grim game of war in logical accordance with their proceedings ever since England was so magnanimous after Majuba Hill. Their astonishment as to the misapprehensions manifest in the course of warfare thus far, is as great as that of the English at their miscalculations that would seem humorous if they were not most grave.