Cronje's Surrender and the Occupation of Bloemfontein.
[Sidenote: Cronje Hard Pressed]
The main body of the British army on the Modder soon disposed of the reproach of immobility, and the Boers were disconcerted. They were not prepared for "leaps and bounds" to the front. It has been important in the history of Lord Roberts that his troops became confident and moved with alacrity. Cronje, finding himself getting into the air, confronting Roberts, made a long night march February 15th, and the British swung to the left in hot pursuit, some of the regiments outstripping the supplies; but there was no complaint of fatigue or short rations, or other commonplace troubles, though the rains were heavy and the winds cold. Cronje was driven to the precarious shelter of a river bed, where he formed a laager. Roberts shelled the Boer force and pushed regular approaches to insure victory and save life.
[Sidenote: Cronje Capitulates]
A gallant rush by the Canadians made the Boer position untenable in a strict military sense. There was a fusilade at 3 A.M. on the morning of the 15th, and the most dramatic incident of the eventful day was the appearance of a small white flag moving from the Boer laager to the British lines. It was understood by all who saw it to convey the tidings that Cronje had surrendered. A British officer advanced to meet the flag, and the bearer of it turned back disappearing behind the fortifications. For a few moments the flag-bearer reappeared, and at his side walked--as a correspondent present describes him--"a little, grizzly, old man." The word passed along the British lines, "That's Cronje." It was Cronje, and he was soon in the presence of Roberts, who invited him to take a seat. The Boer commander, when on his way to the British headquarters, was described as a "heavy shouldered, heavy bearded, heavy-lipped man, clad in farm-like garb, wearing a broad-brimmed felt hat and lumbering along on a little gray pony." He showed no emotion, accepted the situation with fortitude, and said he had had a very uncomfortable time. Between 3,000 and 4,000 prisoners marched out of the laager with Mrs. Cronje and her grandson. The prisoners said the onslaught of the Canadians had astonished them. They had been cooped up for ten days and suffered greatly. Cronje was treated with courtesy, and all his personal requests granted. As he desired, his wife, grandson and servants accompanied him. Considering the disparity in forces, he had made a great fight, and to have detained the powerful army of Roberts so long was the best service he could render his cause. The words in which Lord Roberts announced his victory were that Cronje and his force capitulated at daylight, February 27th. The dispatch was dated at Paardeburg, at 7.45 in the morning. Lord Roberts added the capitulation was unconditional, and Cronje was now a prisoner in his camp, and then said, "I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider that this is very satisfactory, occurring as it does on the anniversary of Majuba."
A writer for the Journal says that Cronje was anxious to attempt to cut his way out of the river bed and seize a hill and oppose the idea of surrender to the last moment, but was overcome by a council of war, and that his theory about it was that, rather than lose men in storming the Boer position, Roberts would grant terms. However, when Cronje consented to a council of war, he must have known what the result would be. The scene on the inside of the laager is thus described: "The wrecks of wagons, carcasses of horses and cattle are strewn everywhere, not to speak of scores of corpses partially unburied. The Red Cross men who buried the dead and collected the wounded at Magersfontein, Belmont and Graspan declare they have seen nothing so awful as this terrible spectacle.
"A mute story is told by the fearful sight that Cronje had no alternative but to surrender unless he wished to see his camp converted into a wholesale shambles. Hundreds of dead bodies of both men and cattle were washed down through the British main camp when the river was flooded last week. It is impossible therefore to estimate how many actually fell in Cronje's last stand."
[Sidenote: Cronje and Roberts Meet]
The historical scene of surrender is thus described: "A group of horsemen then approached. On General Prettyman's right rode an elderly man clad in a rough, short overcoat, a wide brimmed hat, ordinary tweed trousers and brown shoes. It was the redoubtable Cronje. His face was almost burned black, and his curly beard was tinged with gray.
"Lord Roberts walked to and fro in front of the cart until the Boer general arrived, when the British commander advanced gravely and kindly saluted the Boer commander. He then motioned General Cronje to a seat in a chair which had been brought for his accommodation, and the two officers conversed through an interpreter.
"Cronje's face was absolutely impassive when he approached Lord Roberts, exhibiting no sign of his inner feelings. Lord Roberts was surrounded by his staff when General Prettyman, addressing the Field Marshal, said:
"'Commandant Cronje, sir.'
[Illustration: MAJOR W. A. WEEKS, Charlottetown, P.E.I., Canada, LIEUTENANT J. C. OLAND, Halifax, Company H, CAPTAIN F. CAVERHILL JONES, St. John's, 3d Regt. Canadian Artillery, CORPORALS H. W. ACKHURST AND C. HANCOCK, both of Halifax. GROUP OF CANADIAN OFFICERS, TRANSVAAL CONTINGENT. PLATE II]
[Illustration: AN ARMORED TRAIN FROM LADYSMITH RECONNOITERING]
"The commandant touched his hat in salute, and Lord Roberts saluted in return. The whole group then dismounted, and Lord Roberts stepped forward and shook hands with the Boer commander.
"'You made a gallant defence, sir,' was the first salutation of Lord Roberts to the vanquished Boer leader.
"General Cronje afterward breakfasted with the British officers."
Cronje's army was promptly sent to Cape Town as prisoners of war, accompanied by their gallant leader--"the Lion of South Africa"--whose heroism everywhere commanded respect.
The detailed report of Lord Roberts is as follows:
"PAARDEBERG, 11 o'clock Tuesday Morning.--From information furnished daily to me by the intelligence department it became apparent that General Cronje's force was becoming more depressed and that the discontent of the troops and the discord among the leaders were rapidly increasing. This feeling was doubtless accentuated by the disappointment caused when the Boer re-inforcements which tried to relieve General Cronje were defeated by our troops on Feb. 2.
"I resolved, therefore, to bring pressure to bear upon the enemy. Each night the trenches were pushed forward toward the enemy's laager so as to gradually contract his position, and at the same time we bombarded it heavily with artillery which was yesterday aided by the arrival of four six-inch howitzers which I had ordered up from De Aar. In carrying out these measures a captive balloon gave great assistance by keeping us informed of the dispositions and movements of the enemy.
"At 3 A.M. to-day a most dashing advance was made by the Canadian regiment and some engineers, supported by the First Gordon Highlanders and Second Shropshires, resulting in our gaining a point some 600 yards nearer the enemy and within about eighty yards of his trenches, where our men intrenched themselves and maintained their positions till morning, a gallant deed worthy of our colonial comrades, and which, I am glad to say, was attended by comparatively slight loss.
"This apparently clinched matters, for, at daylight to-day, a letter signed by General Cronje, in which he stated that he surrendered unconditionally, was brought to our outposts under a flag of truce.
"In my reply I told General Cronje he must present himself at my camp and that his forces must come out of their laager after laying down their arms. By 7 A.M. I received General Cronje and dispatched a telegram to you announcing the fact.
"In the course of conversation he asked for kind treatment at our hands and also that his wife, grandson, private secretary, adjutant and servants might accompany him wherever he might be sent. I reassured him and told him his request would be complied with. I informed him that a general officer would be sent with him to Cape Town to insure his being treated with proper respect en route. He will start this afternoon under charge of Major-General Prettyman, who will hand him over to the general commanding at Cape Town.
"The prisoners, who number about 3,000, will be formed into commandos under our own officers. They will also leave here to-day, reaching Modder River to-morrow, when they will be railed to Cape Town in detachments. ROBERTS."
LONDON, Feb. 28.--The Queen telegraphed General Buller:
"I have heard with the deepest concern the heavy losses sustained by my brave Irish soldiers, and I desire to express my sympathy and admiration of the splendid fighting qualities they have exhibited throughout these trying operations."
In her dispatch to Lord Roberts, following the announcement of the surrender of General Cronje, Her Majesty said:
"Accept for yourself and for all under your command my warmest congratulations on this splendid news."
Lord Roberts replied:
"All under my command are deeply grateful for Your Majesty's most gracious message. Congratulations from their Queen are an honor the soldiers dearly prize."
General Buller has telegraphed his thanks to the Queen for her telegram of "gracious sympathy and encouragement."
OTTAWA, Ont., Feb. 27.--Joseph Chamberlain cables to Lord Minto:
"LONDON, Feb. 27.--Her Majesty the Queen desires you to express to people of the Dominion her admiration of the gallant conduct of her Canadian troops in the late engagement, and her sorrow at loss of so many brave men.
The Governor-General received the following dispatch:
"LONDON, Feb. 27.--I desire to express congratulations on Cronje's surrender effected by gallant Canadian aid. Deep sympathy for Canadian losses. Am proud to have lived among them. LOUISE."
LONDON, Feb. 28.--Lord Roberts has forwarded an additional list of the British casualties during the three days' fighting at Paardeberg, showing twelve killed, eighty-two wounded and four missing, including seven officers and four Canadian privates wounded.
Up to this morning the total number of casualties was 12,834,--of which 2,319 were added during the last fortnight. Ten of the eleven Scotch regiments lost about 2,050, and eight of the Irish regiments, 2,000. Of nearly 200 Colonials the Royal Canadians lost 121 and the Victoria mounted contingent, 26. The casualties are classified thus:
Killed, 1,993; wounded, 6,838; missing, 3,173; disease, 830.
The following is quite in the spirit of Lord Roberts' famous report of satisfactory news on Majuba Day.
"At 3 A.M., to-day a most dashing advance was made by the Canadian Regiment and some engineers, supported by the 1st Gordon Highlanders and 2d Shropshires, resulting in our gaining a point some 600 yards nearer to the enemy."
It is officially stated that, if it had not been for peremptory orders to stop, the Canadians would have stormed the Boer laager itself on the morning of the surrender, and it was in evidence that they could have gained their point that caused the anniversary surrender of the Boers.
[Sidenote: Kruger Willing to Compromise]
The hurried appearance of President Kruger among his troops soon after Cronje's defeat, and his sudden willingness to compromise for the sake of peace, and utterances to that effect at Bloemfontein, causing his congregations to shed tears, make known his understanding that his cause in his opinion verged upon a collapse, but the faith was strong in him that the Lord would deliver him, and the aged President whose diplomacy has been the subject of so much admiration by those who indulge a specialty of disliking the British, was carried away by the thought that as his enemies had vindicated their military power and honor to some extent, they could therefore afford to make peace, and his experience in the war that closed at Majuba suggested that advances on his part might be attributed to a gracious condescension and result in peace making; and as he has been well advised of the general course of the press of Europe and America, he had a certain justification in feeling that his appeal for pacification would arouse the European nations at least to propose arbitration.
[Sidenote: Kruger visits Bloemfontein]
It was on March 6th, that Mr. Kruger started to visit the Free State laager, and a Pretoria dispatch announced that he made the journey "to arrange a compromise between the Transvaalers and the Free Staters." This showed a more serious disturbance of the relations of the allied states than had been made known, but the old President's shrewdness had not failed to warn him that the invasion of the Orange Free State threatened the existence of both the Boer States, and that if there was a chance for peace it would be necessary to be speedy in coming to the decision to make such offers as he might believe himself generous in formalizing with that certain vagueness that has been one of his strong points, enabling him to add sinister interpretations in the final construction of the principles of proposed protocols. He had not been at Bloemfontein many hours before his state of mind caused him to communicate pacific intentions to the British Government, and the understanding of the Premier and the Colonial Secretary was that the Transvaal President was of the opinion his cause was lost if he could not obtain time for negotiation.
There was an uprising in London when the Queen drove through the streets to Buckingham Palace, animated by the auspicious news from South Africa, and guided by her intuition that the people would be glad to see her; and the public enthusiasm surpassed all that has been witnessed, including her jubilee receptions. She is described as looking "old and worn, but her face radiant with happiness;" and the spectators shouted "Welcome home!" and followed her with "a mighty roar of cheering in which was an undertone of tenderness and affection." She has followed the course of the war with evident anxiety and intelligence, and Her Majesty's expressions of appreciation, good cheer and sympathy have been many, and full of womanly charm; and all this has been exercised in such times and ways and places as to demonstrate close relation to political tact. The ties between Her Majesty and her subjects were multiplied and strengthened by the thrilling vicissitudes of the war, while the Empire has had an attraction unknown until the African crisis came for the colonies; and the colonial contingents from Canada, New Zealand and Australia, have become the pioneers and missionaries of British Imperial confederation--a fact of world-wide and deep significance.
[Sidenote: From Modder River to Bloemfontein]
The march from the scene of Cronje's defeat at Modder River to Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State, was interrupted by a number of minor engagements, resulting in considerable loss of life, but no serious halts were made. On Monday, March 12th, General French's cavalry arrived on the outskirts and demanded the surrender of the city, threatening bombardment if refused. Four A.M. Tuesday morning was named as the limit of time allowed for consideration. Meantime General Roberts arrived with the main army. A white flag was hoisted Tuesday morning, and a deputation of the Town Council, with Mayor Kellner, came out to meet Lord Roberts at Spitz Kop, five miles south of the town, making a formal surrender of the place.
Lord Roberts made a state entry at noon. He received a tremendous ovation. After visiting the public buildings, he went to the official residence of the President, followed by a cheering crowd, who waved the British flag and sang the British national anthem. They were in a condition of frenzied excitement.
President Steyn had the evening before moved the government of the Free State to Kroonstadt, 125 miles north of Bloemfontein, on the road to Pretoria.
In the afternoon, Lord Roberts led his army triumphantly into the city, established his headquarters at the President's house, where many wounded soldiers were also taken by his command, and at 8 P.M. sent the following dispatch to his Government, which was given out by the War Office the next evening:
"BLOEMFONTEIN, March 13, 1900.
"By the help of God and by the bravery of Her Majesty's soldiers, the troops under my command have taken possession of Bloemfontein.
"The British flag now flies over the Presidency, evacuated last evening by Mr. Steyn, late President of the Orange Free State.
"Mr. Frazer, member of the late Executive Government, the Mayor, the Secretary to the late Government, the Landrost, and other officials met me two miles from the town and presented me with the keys of the public offices.
"The enemy have withdrawn from the neighborhood, and all seems quiet. The inhabitants of Bloemfontein gave the troops a cordial welcome."
[Illustration: THE OBSERVATION BALLOON. Used by the British in observing the Boers' position. This balloon caused great annoyance to the Dutch and they tried in vain with rifle and cannon to puncture it.]
[Illustration: WOUNDED OFFICERS CHATTING IN WARD NO. 1]
The delay in the sending of this message is attributed to the field telegraphs not being connected with Bloemfontein on Tuesday evening.
Wherever Lord Roberts' dispatch was read, his reference to the "late" President Steyn and the "late" executive was immediately fastened upon as highly significant.
Overtures for peace had been made, by Presidents Kruger and Steyn, some days before the occupation of Bloemfontein, but the terms were not such as England would entertain, and the burghers were promptly informed by Lord Salisbury, that his Government would consider no conditions looking to the independence of the South African Republic or the Orange Free State, This reply caused bitter disappointment to the South African Presidents, and President Kruger cabled the following characteristic message:
"PRETORIA, March 13, 1900.
"The burghers will only cease fighting with death. Our forces are returning in good order to our first line of defense on our own soil. The Natal campaign was longer in our favor than we expected.
"The British will never reach Pretoria. The burghers, Steyn, Joubert and myself, as well as all others, are united. There are no differences. God help us."
[Sidenote: The War Solely Defensive]
Presidents Kruger and Steyn addressed to Lord Salisbury the following proposition:
"BLOEMFONTEIN, March 5th.
"The blood and the tears of thousands who have suffered by this war, and the prospect of all moral and economic ruin, wherewith South Africa is now threatened, make it necessary for both belligerents to ask themselves dispassionately and as in the sight of the triune God for what they are fighting, and whether the aim of each justifies all this appalling misery and devastation.
"With this object, and in view of the assertions of various British statesmen to the effect that this war was begun and is being carried on with the set purpose of undermining Her Majesty's authority in South Africa, and of setting up an administration over all of South Africa independent of Her Majesty's Government, we consider it our duty to solemnly declare that this war was undertaken solely as a defensive measure to maintain the threatened independence of the South African Republics, and is only continued in order to secure and maintain the incontestable independence of both Republics as sovereign international States, and to obtain the assurance that those of Her Majesty's subjects who have taken part with us in this war shall suffer no harm whatever in person or property. On these conditions, but on these conditions alone, are we now, as in the past, desirous of seeing peace re-established in South Africa, while if Her Majesty's Government is determined to destroy the independence of the Republics there is nothing left to us and to our people but to persevere to the end in the course already begun.
"In spite of the overwhelming pre-eminence of the British Empire, we are confident that that God, who lighted the unextinguishable fire of love of freedom in the hearts of ourselves and of our fathers, will not forsake us, and will accomplish His work in us and in our descendants.
"We hesitated to make this declaration earlier to Your Excellency, as we feared that as long as the advantage was always on our side, and as long as our forces held defensive positions far within Her Majesty's colonies, such a declaration might hurt the feelings and honor of the British people.
"But now that the prestige of the British Empire may be considered to be assured by the capture of one of our forces by Her Majesty's troops, and that we have thereby been forced to evacuate other positions which our forces had occupied, that difficulty is over, and we can no longer hesitate to clearly inform your Goverment and people, in the sight of the whole civilized world, why we are fighting, and on what conditions we are ready to restore peace."
[Sidenote: The Turning Point]
The design of this communication was to influence the great powers to intervene and bring a pressure upon England to consent to make a fruitless sacrifice of blood and treasure, and put aside as irrelevant the British victories. The reply of Lord Salisbury was:
"FOREIGN OFFICE, LONDON, March 11TH.
"I have the honor to acknowledge Your Honors' telegram, dated March 5th, from Bloemfontein, of which the purport is principally to demand that Her Majesty's Government shall recognize the 'incontestable independence' of the South African Republic and Free State 'as sovereign international States,' and to offer on those terms to bring the war to a conclusion.
[Sidenote: Who Broke the Peace?]
"In the beginning of October last peace existed between Her Majesty and the two Republics under conventions which were then in existence. A discussion had been proceeding for some months between Her Majesty's Government and the South African Republic, of which the object was to obtain redress for certain very serious grievances under which the British residents in South Africa were suffering. In the course of these negotiations the South African Republic had, to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, made considerable armaments, and the latter had consequently taken steps to provide corresponding reinforcements of the British garrisons at Cape Town and in Natal. No infringement of the rights guaranteed by the conventions had up to that point taken place on the British side.
"Suddenly, at two days' notice, the South African Republic, after issuing an insulting ultimatum, declared war upon Her Majesty, and the Orange Free State, with which there had not even been any discussion, took a similar step. Her Majesty's dominions were immediately invaded by the two Republics. Siege was laid to three towns within the British frontier, a large portion of two colonies was overrun with great destruction of property and life, and the Republics claimed to treat the inhabitants of extensive portions of Her Majesty's dominions as if those dominions had been annexed to one or the other of them.
[Sidenote: Accumulating Military Stores]
"In anticipation of these operations the South African Republic had been accumulating for many years past military stores on an enormous scale, which, by their character, could only have been intended for use against Great Britain. Your Honors make some observations of a negative character upon the object with which these preparations were made. I do not think it necessary to discuss the questions you have raised. But the result of these preparations, carried on with great secrecy, has been that the British Empire has been compelled to confront an invasion which has entailed upon the empire a costly war and the loss of thousands of precious lives. This great calamity has been the penalty Great Britain has suffered for having of recent years acquiesced in the existence of the two Republics.
"In view of the use to which the two Republics have put the position which was given them, and the calamities their unprovoked attack has inflicted on Her Majesty's dominion, Her Majesty's Goverment can only answer Your Honors' telegram by saying it is not prepared to assent to the independence either of the South African Republic or the Orange Free State."
[Sidenote: The "Good Offices" of the United States]
The plea for peace from the two Presidents was taken seriously by its authors, but there could not have been a reasonable expectation that there would be any business results. If there was a remote chance to open negotiations, the suggestion to the State Department of the United States, through our Consul at Pretoria, appeared the only possibility of an open door. The United States would gladly undertake to facilitate peace negotiations, and the Boer communications to this country were transmitted to the British Government, and our "good offices" were not rebuffed but respectfully declined. The British Premier confined himself to a courteous verbal expression. This was all that any sober-minded person expected. The Government of the United States gave evidence of its kindly spirit, and was treated with civility. The South African questions are too deep for settlement until military operations are conclusive. There was no intervention by a foreign power between Germany and France in 1870, or between Turkey and Greece, or the United States and Spain, and there will be no interference in the South African war. Either the Boers or the Britons are to be masters of South Africa.
There were not wanting, even during the period of Boer military successes, signs that the burghers of the two Republics were finding it difficult to serve together. The Orange Free State troops felt that they were having an amount of fighting to do greater than their share of responsibility. The invasion of the State caused at once dissatisfaction and consternation, and the surrender of Cronje caused a panic, but the Boers rallied and skirmished hotly to check Roberts. The Orange men were not united, and Lord Roberts had a popular welcome at Bloemfontein. One of the incitements of the peace proposals of the two Presidents was to arouse the drooping animosities of the Orange men. The foremost of the invaders to enter the Orange Capital were three newspaper correspondents, who were at first thought to be townsfolk, and when found out they were greeted cordially and conducted to a club, where they met Mr. Frazer, of the Executive Council, the Mayor and other officials. These they persuaded to take carriages and go to meet Lord Roberts.
The cavalry were closing up, and the newspaper men introduced the Orange men to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, meant the town would surrender. Lord Roberts entered--made his entry in state--and was warmly welcomed. Everybody appeared glad to see him, and the function was impressive and influential beyond the military pageantry. The first work of the Army of Occupation was to make the railroads available. Three trains were in motion March 15th, managed by British railroad men found in the ranks. Lord Roberts found much to do of a political nature, and issued a series of orders and proclamations, establishing military government on a pacific basis. President Steyn is referred to as the "Ex-President," and his part in bringing misfortune upon his country is discussed with reflections upon his policy. He strove to rally the Orange burghers, but they were down-hearted and largely depressed. The Transvaal Government were on firmer ground, and gave their attention to make ready the destruction of the gold mines with the City of Johannesburg, and the defense of Pretoria.
[Sidenote: The Press on Mediation]
The London correspondent of the Toronto Globe telegraphed of the peace proceedings of President Kruger:
"There are many explanations from American sources, but the action of the State Department is not understood here. Englishmen are asking what Americans would have said, not long ago, if the Madrid Government, in the hour of defeat, had proposed peace on the basis of Spanish retention of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and England had offered her services as a mediator."
But the United States Government merely conveyed a message, and the Standard (London) said:
"We are grateful to the Americans for their good offices, and we should be delighted to accept their assistance if it were possible. But this quarrel is our own, and we must settle it in our own way. We have no reason to complain of platonic and vicarious affection for intervention so long as every government is quite resolved to leave it to its neighbor to begin."
The Mail said:
"Englishmen are sufficiently acquainted with American affairs not to misinterpret the attitude of the Washington Cabinet. President McKinley has behaved to us with scrupulous fairness."
The text of Mr. Balfour's reply in the House to the question about the American mediation was in these terms:
"The United States Charge D'Affaires on March 13th communicated to Lord Salisbury a telegram from Mr. Hay: 'By way of friendly and good office inform the British Minister of Foreign Affairs that to-day he received a telegram from the United States Consul at Pretoria, reporting that the Government of the South African Republic requested the President of the United States to intervene with the view of cessation of hostilities and saying that a similar request has been made to the representatives of the European powers. In communicating this request I am directed by the President of the United States to express the earnest hope that a way will be found to bring about peace and to say that he would be glad in any friendly manner to aid in bringing about the desired result.'"