The Relief of Kimberley---The Turn of the Tide of War Against the Boers.
[Sidenote: The Difference in Positions of Roberts and Buller]
The first intelligence from South Africa that plainly promised the success of Lord Roberts was that, after his arrival at the Cape, there was no news of what became of the British troops disembarked there, and the newspapers had to be content with the story of embarkations and the thunderous attrition of Buller on the Tugela. He was crossing and recrossing fords, storming kops and retiring from them, and the sound of the pounding of his guns stimulated the garrison of Ladysmith to hopefulness that the hand of help was night. There was no affectation of the solemnities of secrecy and mystery about Roberts. He gave out letters and dispatches occasionally that foretold nothing, and was busy. The transports from England stopped at the Cape instead of Dunbar, and the troops appeared and disappeared. Lord Roberts and Kitchener had maps, and were keeping books.
Sir Redvers Buller found himself committed to attack the invaders of Natal for the relief of Ladysmith and to fight an invisible foe. There has been no account that a British soldier not taken prisoner saw an enemy at the Battle of Colenso. Sir Redvers had no opportunity for maneuvers, the immediate demand upon him was the achievement of the impossible. The Boers were in a fortified enchanted castle, built of mountains, safeguarded by a river, itself an immense intrenchment. The situation of Lord Roberts was different. He was in command of the British Empire and before him was Africa and he was at liberty to choose the road by which to invade the Boer states. There was but one limitation upon his freedom to exercise his power. That was that he should conduct a White Man's War. The London Mail stated the case precisely in these words:
[Sidenote: A White Man's War]
"At the beginning of our campaign we firmly refused to allow men of color to help our arms. Powerful and well-equipped tribes on the border of the Free State clamored for an opportunity to pay off old scores on their hereditary foes, but Sir Godfrey Lagden kept them back. Native Indian rulers begged to be permitted to shed their blood and that of their armies for the Empress; but while gladly recognizing their generous loyalty, England declined their offers. Our splendid Indian soldiers, among the best mountain troops in the world, only waited a signal to do their utmost for us. But England felt that this was a white man's war, to be fought out solely between white men."
The use of the black man would have raised the black flag, and that was the reason why the Asiatic troops of England were not poured into Africa and the natives of Africa invited to get even with the most cruel of the master races. The weapon of race hate by which the Boers might have been exterminated was not drawn by the British whose preference of alternatives was to shed their own blood.
[Sidenote: The Utmost Secrecy Preserved]
A railway map of South Africa pointed out to intelligent people plainly the railway line upon which Lord Roberts could advantageously muster his men to strike the enemy in their homes. Some of the bridges were blown up, some of the rails removed, but the surveys remained. The engineers had marked out the eligible pathway. The Modder River, the scene of the early successes and final fatality of Lord Methuen, reappeared in the war correspondence. A letter from Modder River camp, February 18th, said all the soldiers worked like slaves and the generals of divisions carried out the campaign planned, without faltering or blundering and there was "the utmost secrecy," so that the common people, regimental commanders, and newspaper correspondents did not obtain the slightest inkling of what the immediate future was to bring forth. Even the senior officers, who were assigned the important duty of taking the Sixth Division from Modder River, had but a hazy idea of what they would have to do after the railway had landed their troops at Enslin siding. Consequently, the spies, with which this camp undeniably has been infested, were not only unable to help their paymasters, but, even by the absence of news of our movements, lulled the Boer commanders into fancied security.
[Sidenote: Each Step Carefully Considered]
The time when General Lord Roberts was ready to move was one of critical conditions. The second attempt to relieve Ladysmith by direct movements had just failed like the first, but with greater losses. The total cost of the second effort counted in men was 1,800. The plan of operations had been carefully concealed, and executed with energy, and as one of the expert writers put it, "there was no undue haste, and the troops were not brought under the enemy's rifle fire in close formation, or forced to attempt the passage of a river, of which the water level was not known, in face of a strongly intrenched position held by an unshaken enemy. Each step was carefully considered, and no unnecessary risk was run."
The fighting quality of the British troops was well illustrated, but the lines of the Boers remained unbroken and unshaken, and the strategic consequences of this failure were more serious than when the first experiment was tried. Still, Ladysmith heliographed January 27th, "We can hold on here." The initial move of Roberts in force was successful. The invisible and invincible foe in inaccessible trenches did not rise to the occasion. The blow that was struck had not been foreseen and the spot selected fortified by the enemy. There was a change described as magical. The magic was that of a free hand and a clear head, and the magician a general capable of generalship. All at once the British columns, cavalry, infantry and artillery were "mobile". The horses "got a move on". The wagons did not stall and tangle--the field guns, big and little, trundled along merrily. The long complained of cavalry materialized under General French, going out and seeking the enemy aggressively and rushing him wherever they found him. There was something new about this. Speaking of the brilliant promise of the advance of Roberts, a military correspondent said:
[Sidenote: A Remarkable Cavalry Movement]
"What is particularly interesting is the presence of General Kelly-Kenny's Division--the Sixth--in this quarter. It was beginning to be understood that General French had brought with him a number of his cavalry from the neighborhood of Colesberg, but the fact that the whole of the Cavalry Division is now under Lord Roberts' control, together with an Infantry Division, the headquarters of which were only a few days ago at Thebus, near Steynsburg, is distinctly surprising and gratifying. The movement must have been carried out with extreme secrecy, and is calculated to greatly disconcert Boer calculations."
[Sidenote: Kimberley Relieved]
The Cavalry Division of General French described as "a magnificent force of regular and irregular horsemen and mounted infantry, whose goal was Kimberley," covered twenty-six miles in twenty-four hours through a fearful heat, and few fell out even when the burning sun was succeeded by terrific tropical rain, accompanied by the continuous and blinding lightning. The road was soon like a morass, but French plodded doggedly on and reached the Modder River at Klip Drift just before midnight. That was business, and Lord Roberts entered Jacobsdal, February 15th. Kimberley was entered February 16th. This telegram was dispatched from that town while French was still invisible.
"At 2 o'clock this afternoon a heliograph message from a range of kopjes to the left of Alexandersfontein announced that General French's column was approaching. The enemy were immediately observed to be fleeing with their guns."
On the day before, the bombardment of Kimberley had been heavy, the Boers firing 100-pound shrapnel shells. Then they fled from their laagers for the first time. February 18th, the country all around the diamond city was cleared of them and Roberts telegraphed: "The engineers have started laying the rails on the line between Kimberley and Modder River. Several herds of cattle have been captured."
The movement of French was so rapid and had such important consequences that it produced an impression that it was a peaceable procession. This extract of a summary report will correct the misapprehension:
"The New South Wales Ambulance Corps, under Lieutenant Edwards, drawn by Australian horses, kept pace with the column and picked up many wounded. They were complimented by the brigadier as being the first ambulance to cross the Modder River.
"Between the Riet and Modder Rivers the enemy attacked our flanks. Our guns promptly opened from a hillside. While our gunners were driving the Boers back with heavy shell-fire, the column pressed on at full speed. Many horses died on the march from exhaustion.
"When we reached the Modder the enemy were found to be intrenched on the opposite side. The Horse Artillery opened fire with shrapnel and the Boers ran. We captured their tents, guns, oxen, wagons, and large quantities of ammunition. The ammunition was in boxes labelled 'Biscuits, Delagoa Bay'."
In this telegram from Roberts there is a trumpet-note of triumph:
"PAARDEBERG, February 19, 7.05 P.M.
(Thirty miles east of Jacobsdal Camp).
"Railway to Kimberley will be ready to-day.
"Methuen proceeds with reinforcements at once, and a large amount of supplies will be forwarded by rail."
A London cable to Canada said:
"A very distinguished officer said to me last night, 'It is regarded as a suspicious thing to prophecy after an event, but 'Johnny' French was under me years ago in India, and when he was only a chubby lieutenant in the 19th Hussars I saw enough of him to know that there was in him the making of such a cavalry officer as would have delighted the soul of 'Stonewall' Jackson."
London fairly rang with praises of General French for days after Kimberley's relief.
Lord Roberts found time as he was gathering his force on the Modder River to transfer the fighting to the Boer States, to address, February 9th, this letter to Presidents Kruger and Steyn:
"In continuation of my telegram of Feb. 5th, I call your Honors' attention to the wanton destruction of property by the Boer forces in Natal. They have not only helped themselves freely to the cattle and property of the farmers without payment, but also have utterly wrecked the contents of many farmhouses. As an instance I would specify Wood's Farm, near Springfield. I would point out how very different has been the conduct of the British troops. It is reported to me from Modder River that farms within the actual area of the British camp have never been entered, nor have their occupants been molested. The houses and gardens have been left absolutely untouched."
The following from the other side of the world shows the cordial reciprocity of appreciation between Lord Roberts and the most remote colonies:
"SYDNEY, Feb. 8.
"Lord Roberts has sent the following telegram to the Governor of New South Wales:
"I had the great pleasure of personally welcoming the New South Wales battery of field artillery and wish to express to your Excellency my high appreciation of the patriotic spirit which led our fellow-subjects in Australia to send such a useful and workman-like body of men to assist in the work of restoring peace, order, and freedom in South Africa."
The Lieutenant-Governor has replied:
"MELBOURNE, Feb. 8.
"Ministers fully appreciate your telegram, and concur in the earnest hope that peace, order and freedom may shortly be restored in South Africa under the British flag."
Lord Roberts has telegraphed to the Governor of Victoria a similar message to that which he has sent to the Governor of New South Wales.
[Illustration: GENERAL GATACRE ORDERING "CEASE FIRING"]
[Illustration: BOER TACTICS. Alluring the English to death with a flag of truce.]
[Sidenote: National Qualifications for Fighters]
The Boer States maintained their invasion of the British Colony of Natal for 100 days, and made for themselves a military reputation that has astonished and instructed the armed nations of the earth. We of the United States have less to learn from them than others have, because we are mobile as they are, and their horsemanship and marksmanship with rifles are among our accomplishments. The Americans, also, are as individuals self-reliant, and that makes men competent to take good care of themselves and keep their heads clear and their hands steady when there is a life and death business to do. Our traditions of Indian warfare have informed our people that among the military arts and qualifications must be ranked the preservation of the lives of soldiers, that they may not by carelessness on their own part or wantonness of superiors be wasted--though the commanding officers must be sure that orders are obeyed, when the reason why is not stated. Our volunteers have in great measure and likeness the same capacities that have distinguished the Boers in the wonderful fight they made against the British. The fact is that as fighting men the Boers closely resemble in many respects the Confederate soldiers who in the great state and sectional conflict in this country, fought with surprising address and displayed such activities--that the infantry under Stonewall Jackson were jocosely, but with justice in the compliment implied, called the "Southern Cavalry." They covered the ground nearly as fast on foot as the Boers have on horseback, and they were men whose rifles were always to be respected. There have been no bloodier wars since the days of Napoleon than that which occurred among the people of the United States when they were construing their Constitution and having a trial of battle over it; and it is a subject of speculation very curious and of interest to people of inquiring minds, what effect upon our war it would have had if at the beginning both sides had been provided with the long range rifles and artillery that are now the necessary equipments of an army. Certainly the combats would have been radically changed, and what might have been the result is left to constructive imagination.
[Sidenote: Roberts and Buller in Co-operation]
The combination of movements with which Lord Roberts opened his campaign of invasion of the Orange Free State began by massing an army of nearly 50,000 men in a place where it was expected, and this happened to be where the enemy were comparatively weak. At the same time, Sir Redvers Buller's army was hammering hard on the Tugela and the thunder of his guns continued to be heard at Ladysmith, from the outer-guarding trenches of which, the explosion of British shells could be seen, announcing that the work of relief, if not progressing, was at least continued. It had long been known by the British officers that the Boers were constantly signalled of the arrival of troops at Durban, and able to correctly gauge the army under Buller's command. They were not so well informed promptly of the movements of troops from Cape Town, and had not believed in the speedy and eagerly swift advance of Roberts, whose reputation might have been known to them, of ability to make his men "keen," which was not the state of the troops whose fine edge had been removed by the "reverses" under Methuen, Gatacre and Buller. The first blow Roberts struck furnishes a fine military study on a large scale. Of course, it materially assisted in raising the siege of Ladysmith as well as that of Kimberley. The presence of the main body of the British army in the Orange Free State, the dispersion of the besiegers of Kimberley, and the capture of Cronje's army, made sure that the only hope of the Boers was in a rushing concentration of their forces, and the lines before Buller in Natal weakened at once.
[Sidenote: Roberts' Public Utterances]
An element in the character of Lord Roberts not generally familiarly known has been developed in his public utterances since he was commanded to save his country in South Africa. Before he sailed he consented to say something for the interviewer, which shows that he is abreast of the methods of talking to the people, and he said he had "entire confidence in the British soldier." He made a few terse remarks on meeting the Highlanders in Africa after they had suffered so severely in action, and said he had been with them in India and he was glad to see them around him, always wanted to see them when there was hard work to be done. He has repeatedly taken occasion to recognize the high spirit of the Colonial contingents, putting them in places that conveyed a compliment to their courage and effectiveness as soldiers, and he has ministered to their pride in his efficient reports. In announcing the surrender of Cronje, he hoped it was "satisfactory" to Her Majesty's Government, as it was on the anniversary of Majuba Hill. He especially and handsomely acknowledged the obligations of the army in that celebration of the anniversary to the Canadian contingent, "took a day off" to visit Kimberley and address the sickly and half-starved garrison in fitting terms, and dined with Mr. Cecil Rhodes, the strong man who represents British enterprise and ambition in South Africa.
In his correspondence with the Presidents of the Boer States which they opened, Lord Roberts has been courteous in form, but in substance aggressive and incisive. Born at Cawmpore, India, of Irish parents, he has the vivacity of his blood and a talent for saying as well as doing things. There is a statue of him at Calcutta which was decorated with flowers March 1st, and a cable was sent him from Cawmpore, "Your birthplace salutes you."
[Sidenote: General Conditions Favoring the English]
Sir Redvers Buller was not idle when the decisive movements of Lord Roberts were made, and at last his pounding away battered the Boer fortresses, and the Boer commanders, seeing it was too late to take Ladysmith, retreated even more rapidly than they had advanced. General Buller did not permit them to hold him with a thin line while they were making haste to abandon Natal to defend the Transvaal. The distance between the lines of operation by Roberts and Buller made the concentration of the British and Boer armies in their new relations and change of scene a matter of time. The mobility of the Boer mounted infantry and their use of inner lines of rails enabled them to get together and prepare for actions of increased seriousness and magnitude of results. The combatants were released from monotonous sieges by the relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith. The British have had such heavy losses and bitter lessons that, while rejoicing over the good fortune of their arms, they have not weakly acted upon the theory that the war was over when Cronje surrendered and they marched deeper into the hostile state.
[Sidenote: What a Military Specialist Says]
When the third effort of General Buller to relieve Ladysmith by way of the Tugela River approaches failed, the cleverest of the military specialists, writing for the London Press, said, February 10th: "We must now hope that the resources of Ladysmith will last until strong pressure can be brought to bear in another part of the theatre of war, and meanwhile Sir R. Buller is at least detaining in his front the best force the Boers have placed in the field. Whatever may happen in Natal, the further course of the war will not be materially affected. The terrible initial strategic mistake of abandoning a principal objective for a subsidiary operation still over-weights the campaign; but the time is at hand when its baneful influence will cease to fetter our action. The great issues of the war will not be decided in Natal."
That the Boers were sufferers in Natal to an extent much greater than they have reported is shown by a Boer correspondent with the Natal Commandos, dated February 8th, from Lorenzo Marques. He called attention to the necessity of more men and wagons for the prompt removal of the wounded from the battlefield. He states that the present arrangements are most inadequate. He suggests that volunteers should be invited to form ambulance corps at Johannesburg.
[Sidenote: The Spion Kop Affair]
After the battle of Colenso, and before the successful storming of Pieter's Hill, the public attention was excited and fixed with intensity for some days on the fighting about Spion Kop--the key to the Boer position which was assailed by General Buller, January 21st and 23d. The Kop was carried by a night attack which was a very daring and hardy movement, and abandoned only after a long and bloody conflict. The British began to climb the mountain an hour after midnight, and at 3 o'clock were challenged by a Boer sentinel. When this was done, they, as had been ordered to do, threw themselves flat on their faces and the Boer picket not more than fifteen in number and only thirty yards away, emptied their magazines into the darkness and fled for their lives. "One brave man alone remained" and was killed as the British flung themselves into the trench, "with a cheer that was heard by those who were anxiously listening in the camp below."
The Boers soon yielded their second line of trenches and the British attempted, having gained this much ground, to prepare themselves for the assault that they knew was coming with the daylight. It was very dark and, though they worked hard to protect themselves, found they had laid out their trenches so that they afforded very little shelter. Indeed they were enfiladed and raked on all sides; and it appeared the Boers had six guns ready for them. Two of them Maxim-Nordenfeldts and four other guns on a ridge, completely concealed from our batteries, but able to command them, as was shown by their dropping shells among them periodically during the day. The Boer riflemen followed their usual tactics. They were scattered all over the hill, lying wherever they found cover, and firing coolly and steadily all the time. "To our men they were as usual, practically invisible, and they were far too widely scattered for shell fire to have much effect upon them. At 8 their attack began. It was a most vigorous infantry attack, supported by a converging shell fire from three directions. For the first time in this war the Boer artillery was as deadly as their musketry. The Maxim-Nordenfeldts scoured first one side of the hill and then the other, raising great clouds of dust, and shell after shell bursting where our men lay thickest.
[Sidenote: A Fierce Struggle]
"This condition lasted three hours when the Boers advanced closer and closer, without giving our men a chance, and drove them out of their first line of trenches, but did not stay there long; for the second time we drove them back again at the point of the bayonet, and in one of the trenches this happened three times.
"Two British battalions came up as re-inforcements, and all the way up the men were under fire from the top and from sharpshooters in trenches and behind rocks on the flanks, yet they never wavered once. The climb took over two hours, and when they at last reached the summit they surrounded it and went up the last part with a rush and cheer. It was a stirring sight, and to those who watched it seemed that now, at any rate, the hill was ours. The only ominous thing was that not a Boer left the hill, and the ceaseless fire went on without even a break. This was 5.15, and things were not going well with the main attack."
Information had been given the British that there was a supply of water on the Kop, but that was a mistake, and the troops suffered greatly from thirst, and the rifle fire of the Boers never slackened. There was unusual energy and resolution on the part of the British, notwithstanding their disadvantages and losses, to adhere to the position they had gained in the night, and many valorous efforts, all in vain, to clear the Boers out of the way and overcome their fire, so that at last the various regiments and companies and battalions of the British force engaged, were very much mixed up. They were resolute, but between the darkness and the rough ground and the changes of position there was no little confusion. Six hundred Royal Engineers received orders to go up after nightfall in order to intrench the position, and a part of General Hildyard's Brigade bivouacked under Three Tree Hill, with orders to advance against the main ridge of Taba Myama at dawn. Colonel Thorneycroft, who was in the most critical position, was in ignorance of all this. The condition, in which his force was, has already been described, but besides this his men were suffering considerably from the effects of the day. "The losses had been heavy; his own men had lost 122 out of 194 who had climbed the hill, and the men, who had been under fire all day, although not in the slightest degree demoralized, were yet considerably shaken, and it was exceedingly doubtful whether they would be able to stand another such day's shell fire."
[Sidenote: The Kop Retaken by The Boers]
Each hour's fighting added evidence that the British could not sustain themselves on the Kop and retirement was judiciously ordered and began at 8.30 P.M., January 24th, and as the leading troops went down they met the sappers coming up. The descent was conducted with the utmost order and dispatch, but it was early morning before the last man was off the hill. With the failure to retain Spion Kop failed General Warren's attempt to cross the Spion Kop Taba Myama range, so, on the 25th, a withdrawal across the Tugela was ordered. It took the heavy transport wagons all day to cross the pontoons, and in the night the troops followed them.