Mistakes of the Boer Generals--British withdraw from
Naauwpoort and Stormberg--General Gatacre takes
command--Advance of the Boers--Omnibus Horses
for the Artillery--Conditions of successful
attack--Gatacre moves upon Stormberg--The forces
detrain at Molteno--The wrong road taken--The column
surprised--The fight--Fatigue of the British troops--A
gun abandoned--Order to retreat given--The dead and
wounded left--Narrow escape of the armoured train--The
return to Molteno--British losses--Disastrous
results--The Boers seize Colesberg--British re-occupy
Naauwpoort--Arrival of General French.


[Sidenote: Mistakes of the Boer Generals.]

[Sidenote: NOV. 1899.] The Boers Miss an Opportunity.]

During early November the operations of the Boers in the central field
of war, along the Cape Colony frontier from Aliwal North to Orange
River Station, were languid in the extreme. Numerous small bodies of
the enemy had appeared in this region, which, as we have seen, was
denuded of all defence and open to any attack; but there was no energy
or combination. Had the scattered commandos been united into one body
and directed by one able brain, they might with little or no difficulty
have pushed south into the very heart of Cape Colony. At Cradock and
Graaff Reinet they had hundreds or thousands of sympathisers, who only
waited for their coming to rise. Ensconced in this mountainous and
difficult country, astride of the railway which runs northward from
Port Elizabeth, and threatening on the one side the line from Capetown
to De Aar, and on the other the railway from East London to Stormberg,
they could have rendered any advance in Cape Colony impossible till
they had been dislodged. The army assailing them would have been
compelled to fight in a miniature Switzerland, where roads, towns and
mountains were only very incorrectly depicted on existing maps. We can
guess from General Buller's troubles in Natal during the advance on
Ladysmith what would have been the issue of such a campaign. For the
British Government, unlike the French or Italian, had never taken the
trouble to prepare its Army for the special contingencies of mountain
war. It seemed to expect that by a special dispensation of Heaven it
would always find level ground upon which to fight.


[Photo by H. Nicholls, Johannesburg.]




[Sidenote: [NOV. 1899.]

We see, then, that if the gravest mistakes had been made by British
generals, the enemy committed yet more colossal blunders. There was
nothing whatever to prevent the Boers from detaching 10,000 men from
Natal in early November and sending another 5,000 south from before
Kimberley, which would have been more hopelessly isolated if the rails
had been broken in the vicinity of Victoria West, far to the south of
De Aar, than it was when the line was cut only at Spytfontein. It is
certain that their foreign advisers, and in particular Dr. Leyds, urged
such a course upon the Boers. They were, one would suppose, shrewd
enough to understand the immense advantages which carrying the war so
far south would give them, but it may be that their armies had the
weakness of all peasant forces, hastily levied and ill-compacted, and
that the individual Boers shrank from going so far afield from their

[Sidenote: British withdraw from Naauwpoort and Stormberg.]

The tiny British garrisons had at General Buller's order evacuated
Naauwpoort and Stormberg, the first on the 2nd and the second on the
3rd of November. From Naauwpoort the British fell back to De Aar, and
from Stormberg to Sterkstroom and Queenstown, the latter place only
ninety miles from East London. There they remained a fortnight in
hourly danger of attack, waiting for the tardy transports that conveyed
the Army Corps. Meantime the Boers occupied Barkly East, Aliwal North,
Jamestown, Burghersdorp and Colesberg. At Aliwal North they seized a
loyal Dutch magistrate, Mr. Hugo, and made him stand upon the bridge
while they were crossing, as they were fully under the impression that
it had been mined. This gentleman displayed such devotion to his Queen,
and such unswerving fidelity to Britain, that he had afterwards to fly
for his life, leaving behind him his wife and children.


[Photo by L W. Ford, Queenstown.


The photograph represents the principal street in Queenstown as
decorated on the occasion of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.]

[Sidenote: General Gatacre takes command.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 18-19, 1899.]

On the 15th an armoured train with a small detachment of the Berkshires
reconnoitred to a point well beyond Stormberg, and returned, without
incident and without seeing anything of the enemy, to Queenstown.
On November 18 General Gatacre himself arrived with his staff from
Capetown, accompanied by a portion of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles.


[Photo by Cumming, Aldershot.


Born 1843. Entered the Army in 1862; was Instructor of Military
Surveying at the Royal Military College, 1875-9; Deputy-Adjutant
and Q.M.G. with the Hazara Expedition, 1888; served in Burma, 1889,
Chitral, 1895, Soudan, 1898, and commanded the British Division at
the battle of Khartoum; in command of South-Eastern District, 1898;
appointed to command the 3rd Division in South Africa, with rank of
Lieut.-General, October, 1899.]



[Sidenote: NOV. 21-DEC. 1, 1899.] Gatacre's Reinforcements Diverted.]

Sir William Gatacre had the reputation of being an excellent though
somewhat too daring general. He had great experience in savage warfare;
in Chitral he had commanded a brigade and won golden opinions; in
Egypt he had served under Lord Kitchener, that exact disciplinarian
and stern judge of men, and had commanded the British brigade at the
Atbara, where he led in person the impetuous assault upon the Dervish
zeriba. At Omdurman he had charge of the British division. He was a
man of the most intense energy--"Back-acher" was his nickname among
his soldiers--sparing others not more than himself. On Sunday, the
19th, he addressed his men at Church Parade and told them the news
of the repulse of the Boer attack by the Ladysmith garrison. On the
21st he reconnoitred Bushman's Hoek, an important point on the railway
between Queenstown and Stormberg, where the road and line climb to
a great height over a shoulder of the Stormberg range, and where he
placed a small detachment of Colonial troops. Halting at Sterkstroom,
he reviewed and congratulated upon their appearance the Kaffrarian
Rifles--a local force. Next day he moved his little force, composed of
the Irish Rifles, Berkshire Mounted Infantry, and a few Cape Mounted
Rifles, forward to Putter's Kraal. He had with him six screw mountain
guns and six Maxims of the Cape Mounted Police. Here he halted some
days and waited for reinforcements. The want of men in Natal for the
relief of Ladysmith and the protection of the Colony being pressing,
his troops were for the most part diverted and he was sacrificed.

[Sidenote: Advance of the Boers.]

Now, at last, the enemy moved. On November 26 a commando of about 1,500
Boers advanced from Burghersdorp and seized Stormberg Junction, thus
cutting off all communication between General Gatacre on the one side
and the British forces at De Aar on the other. At the same time there
were reports that 3,000 Transvaalers were moving to Burghersdorp,
but as a matter of fact the majority of them appear to have gone to
Colesberg. Some, however, with a heavy 40-pounder and at least one
field gun did join the Stormberg commando.


Much of the Boer accuracy of marksmanship may be attributed to their
periodical Wapenschouwings. These are Bisley contests in miniature.
From far and near the Boers (in times of peace) assemble at the farm of
the Landdrost, or principal man of the district, and for three or four
days engage in rifle shooting contests for prizes in money and kind.
The occasion is made use of for various Boer festivities, in which
dancing always forms a prominent part. No regular targets are used, but
bottles or empty paraffin tins are suspended at various distances, and
accuracy of aim is encouraged by continual shifting of the objects to
be fired at, so that the sighting has to be guessed by the marksman.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 2-6, 1899.]

By December 1 only two of the eight battalions forming General
Gatacre's division had arrived. He had still no cavalry and no

[Sidenote: Omnibus horses for the Artillery.]

On the 2nd, Dordrecht, a small place some miles to the north-east of
Sterkstroom, was occupied by a commando of the enemy numbering about
500 men. About this date there were probably 3,000 Boers in all in the
Stormberg district, but they were much scattered and showed little
sign of mischief. Meantime the small British column was reinforced by
two field batteries, the 74th and 77th. Their horses, however, after
the long voyage were in very poor condition. Fully half of them were
omnibus or tram horses, without the slightest artillery training,
though the batteries might well have had a week's careful exercise in
England, since they only left on November 2. Most of the horses had
only been received a few hours before the embarkation took place, and
were, in consequence, quite new to their work. An ammunition column
followed the two batteries, but the supply of ammunition was barely
sufficient for one great battle. All these deficiencies hampered the
general terribly, and account in some degree for his ill-fortune.


A quaint story of the omnibus horse is told by The Times
correspondent with the column:--

"One of the drivers," he writes, "who had been entrusted with the
charge of a sick horse in addition to an ex-tramcar animal, proceeded
to mount the latter, regardless of the fact that it, probably, had
not had a saddle on its back since it was a colt. The result was much
kicking and rearing, combined with an obstinate determination to remain
otherwise stationary. The man got angry, and, uttering a variety of
anathemas, began to ply his spurs with vigour and intention. Just as
the contest culminated another driver standing by called out, 'Stow
them spurs, Jack; ring yer bloomin' bell!'"

On December 6 the column had a field day, but Colonials and military
observers noted with alarm that no attempt was made to teach the troops
to make use of the advantages of the ground. There was the same blind
rushing at the enemy's supposed position, after quite insufficient
artillery preparation, as in most of the early and sanguinary
encounters of this war.


[Photo from life.


The Englishman is endeavouring to obtain information from the old Boer
farmer and his vrouw (wife). The figures are very characteristic; Boers
of both sexes in middle life develop a tendency towards obesity.]

[Sidenote: Conditions of successful attack.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 6-7, 1899.] More Cavalry and Artillery Needed.]

A few words must here be said as to the method of fighting battles
in modern war. The first step is to ascertain by scouting and
reconnaissance the exact position of the enemy, and, as far as may be,
his strength. Against the Boers, as indeed against any enemy, this
is a matter of exceptional difficulty. Even the greatest generals
in the past, when smokeless powder and long-range rifles did not
exist, and when it was far easier to approach to close quarters, have
found themselves mistaken in such matters. The force and position of
the enemy ascertained, the next thing is to conceal from him your
own intentions and, as far as possible, to strike him unexpectedly.
This was not easy for the British campaigning in a country openly or
secretly disloyal.

When the general has determined upon battle he brings up his artillery
on the enemy's flank and front, and steadily bombards. This is known
as the artillery preparation. Its object is as much to cow as to kill
the foe--to render his shooting uncertain, and to pave the way for
the final attack, which is delivered by the infantry in very open
formation, crawling forward and taking advantage of all cover, till at
last the men are close enough to rush in and use the bayonet. While the
artillery preparation is proceeding, infantry and cavalry work round
the enemy's two flanks and endeavour to get behind him, so as to cut
off his retreat and ensure the capture of his men and guns.

[Illustration: A REFRACTORY MOUNT.

Under the conditions of their subsidies, the Government "commandeered"
a number of horses from the principal omnibus and tramway companies;
horses more accustomed to running in front of a car than to riding
inside one.]


[Photo by Murison.


Parade of the New South Wales Lancers on untrained horses at the
Remount Depot, Stellenbosch.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 6-7, 1899.]

Thus to attack the Boers with success three things were wanted: a good
and numerous artillery; an infantry force sufficient to storm the Boer
positions after the artillery preparation; and cavalry or mounted
infantry in abundance to follow up success and convert it into victory.
Yet, as we have seen, the proportion of artillery sent to South Africa
with our army was absurdly low, and the cavalry and mounted infantry
were enormously below the generals' requirements. Again and again
in the course of the despatches we find our officers complaining
that their hard-won little victories were barren of results owing to
the insufficiency of these two arms. These facts are of the utmost
importance, because they prove that our failure in South Africa, far
from being due to "inevitable" causes, was the result of the complete
disregard of the rules of military science, and, indeed, of common
sense. In the words of Napier's history of the Peninsular War, "it is
fitting first to expose the previous preparations and plans of the
Cabinet, lest the reader, not being fully awakened to the difficulties
cast in the way of the English generals by the incapacity of the
Government, should, with hasty censure or niggard praise, do the former

All through these days of early December, General Gatacre was urged
and pressed by the British loyalists in Eastern Cape Colony to push
forward, stop the enemy plundering their farms, and prevent disloyal
Colonists from joining the hostile standard. The pressure upon him
grew constantly till he was unable to resist it. Against his own
will--against his better judgment--he determined to attempt a perilous
enterprise in a region which is difficult and mountainous, of which
there were no correct maps, and where every inch of the ground was,
through the help of the rebels, known to the enemy.


[Photo by Cribb, Southsea.


On the table are several specimens of shrapnel shells, cut in section
to show their construction. Over the fire-place is a series of diagrams
illustrating the various kinds of fuses.]

[Sidenote: Gatacre moves upon Stormberg.]

On December 7 he decided to convey 2,500 men and six guns northward
by train to Molteno on the next day, and marching thence by night to
attack the enemy's laager at Stormberg at dawn on the morning of the
9th. Unfortunately, on the 8th he was unable to start, and had to
postpone his effort to the next day. Thus there is reason to think that
the Boers, through this delay, had full warning of his intentions.

The attack having been determined upon, it would have been expected
that he would make use of the wing of the Berkshire regiment which
had garrisoned Stormberg before its abandonment, and which knew the
ground well. But that regiment was left behind to guard communications.
It would have been expected that the rules laid down by military
authorities for night attacks would be observed. They are as follows:
That the line of advance should be most carefully reconnoitred by the
general in person, full information obtained as to the enemy, and the
attacking column covered by a swarm of scouts and patrols to obviate
all chance of a surprise. None of these precautions had been taken, and
entire reliance was placed upon guides, four in number, whom events
proved hopelessly untrustworthy. This was in spite of the drill-book
caution that men who know the country well by day are not to be
depended upon at night unless they have often covered the road in the

[Sidenote: DEC. 9, 1899.] Gatacre Decides to Risk an Attack.]

[Sidenote: The forces detrain at Molteno.]

On the 9th the move began. The troops entrained at Putter's Kraal at
4 a.m. They numbered 966 of the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers, some
400 of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, 300 of the 1st Royal Scots, and
two batteries of field artillery with twelve 15-pounders. The mounted
infantry, 257 strong, moved by road with 42 Cape Police. The journey to
Molteno in open trucks took two hours longer than had been expected,
owing to delays on the railway. Upon the way 440 more men of the 2nd
Royal Irish Rifles were picked up at Bushman's Hoek, and 100 Royal
Scots dropped to guard the camp. In consequence of the vexatious
delays, instead of three hours' rest being given the men at Molteno,
before undertaking the march, only one hour could be spared. At 9·15
p.m. the infantry marched off into the darkness to cover by a wide
detour the last nine miles intervening between Molteno and the enemy's
position. To watch Molteno itself the remnant of the Royal Scots was


Army blacksmiths at work shoeing horses.]

[Illustration: SCENE ON THE RAILWAY.

Showing precipitous rocks such as checked the charge of the
Northumberland Fusiliers and Irish Rifles.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 9-10, 1899.]

"No operation of war," says Mr. Winston Churchill, "is more critical
than a night march. Over and over again in every country frightful
disaster has overtaken the rash or daring force that has attempted it.
In the gloom the shape and aspect of the ground is altered. Places,
well known by daylight, appear strange and unrecognisable. The smallest
obstacle obstructs the column, which can only crawl sluggishly forward
with continual checks and halts. The effect of the gloom upon the
soldiers' nerves is not less than on the features of the country.
Each man tries to walk quietly, and hence all are listening for the
slightest sound. In such hours doubts and fears come unbidden to the
brain, and the marching men wonder anxiously whether all will be well
with the army, and whether they themselves will survive the event. And
if suddenly out of the black silence there burst the jagged glare of
rifles and the crash of a volley, followed by the yell of an attacking
foe, the steadiest troops may be thrown into confusion."

As the column stole off into the darkness with gun-wheels muffled in
hide to prevent the tell-tale creaking that might warn the enemy, an
ominous signal was seen. Far away on the right there flashed several
times towards Stormberg a bright light. No one then knew its meaning,
yet unquestionably it was to tell the enemy that the night march had
begun. Already the run of ill-luck which marked the operations of this
column had set in; 160 of Brabant's Horse, 235 of the Cape Police, four
7-pounders, and a Maxim at Penhoek ought to have marched to effect a
junction at Molteno with General Gatacre's force. A telegram which he
had handed in to a telegraph clerk at Molteno with the order was not
transmitted, and so they failed to arrive. The General did not observe
the precaution of requesting a message acknowledging the receipt of his
instructions, nor did he duplicate the despatch.


[Sidenote: The wrong road taken.]

A little beyond Molteno the road forks. To the left runs the Steynsburg
road, which at the last moment was taken by the column. From it a
mountain track led by a detour to the enemy's position. To the right
ran the direct Stormberg road, which General Gatacre had originally
decided to follow. He did not inform the Intelligence Officer at
Molteno of his change of plan, nor did he post an officer at the
junction of the roads to direct those who were following as to his
course. In consequence, the Field Hospital, ammunition waggons, a
Maxim, a detachment of Royal Irish Rifles, and a bearer company took
the wrong road at the start; then, finding that they did not come up
with the column, returned to Molteno, only to be told that the road
they had taken was the right one. Once more they wearily retraced their
steps and bivouacked in sight of Stormberg at 2·30 a.m. Nothing could
as yet be made out of the British column.

[Sidenote: DEC. 10, 1899.] The Enemy Found at Last.]

Hour after hour that column had marched in the darkness; the full
distance to the enemy's position had been covered, yet the guides found
they were nowhere near Stormberg. The night slipped away; day began
to break, and it became plain that surprise was not to be hoped for.
The order was given to "fix bayonets," and about 4·15 a.m. of the 10th
the troops, after seven hours continuous marching, weary and utterly
exhausted, reached the foot of Rooi Kop, the mountain overlooking
Stormberg Junction, on which the enemy were intrenched. The guides
had mistaken the way and had led the force eighteen miles instead of
nine miles, coming in upon the enemy's right rear instead of his right
front. Though two of the Berkshire Regiment with the force had drawn
attention to the mistake when the proper turning was passed, they were
not listened to, such was the blind trust reposed in the guides. The
latter were questioned, and persisted that they were in the right; they
were, they said, taking a somewhat longer line to avoid a rough patch
of road.

[Sidenote: The column surprised.]

If at this moment the uselessness of persisting in the enterprise
with worn-out men had been realised, and a prompt retreat ordered,
no mischief would have resulted. But, far from retreating, the force
pushed on in the dim light carelessly, in close order, as though
there had been no enemy within miles. "No cheering, men, but get in
silently with the bayonet," was General Gatacre's only order. In the
breaking daylight, an admirable target, the column defiled past a line
of kopjes. Suddenly from these burst forth the flash of rifles, and a
staggering fire was poured in upon the mass of men beneath.

[Illustration: A BOER VEDETTE.]

The fire was so fierce that it stopped the column's progress. The
British, and not the enemy, had been surprised. And the British soldier
after twenty-four hours of weary journeying by train, waiting under
arms, and marching, was in no condition to grapple with a fresh enemy,
ensconced in positions of great natural strength. Yet, recovering from
their first astonishment and consternation at the murderous fire,
the British regimental officers and privates of the Northumberland
Fusiliers and Irish Rifles dashed at the kopjes.



[Sidenote: The fight.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 10, 1899.] The Charge Checked.]

Both battalions were simultaneously entangled in the fight. No
organised body of reserves was left to support the skirmishers or feed
the advancing line with fresh men. The stormers, under a tremendous
fire from an invisible enemy only eighty yards away, forced their
way up the steep and stony slopes, encountering wire fences in which
many were caught and delayed. "The Boers," wrote a bandsman of the
Northumberland Fusiliers, "had put up fences with spikes in, and when
we got halfway through we stuck fast. The Boers were laughing at us.
My haversack stuck fast in the fence, and there I was struggling,
with the bullets flying all round me. I managed to get the haversack
off and left it in the fence. Our regiment was 1,100 strong, now we
don't muster much over 500." They neared the top, advancing from
boulder to boulder, when just below a stone wall held by the enemy
they found before them a vertical precipice. It was only a few feet
high--a few feet of sheer unclimbable rock--but such an obstacle will
repel the efforts of the best mountaineer, much more those of weary and
heavy-laden infantry under the very muzzles of the enemy's rifles. At
the same time the Boer artillery opened fire with a heavy 40-pounder of
long range and two quick-firing field pieces. Desperate attempts were
made to scale the precipice, but ladders alone could have enabled the
men to surmount it, and ladders were wanting. At this moment several
shells from the rear burst amongst them. There was nothing for it but
for the infantry to retire and hold the best position they could reach
near at hand.


[Sidenote: Fatigue of the British troops.]

So exhausted were the men by their long march and by the climb, that
when the retreat began many threw themselves down and instantly fell
asleep under the enemy's fire. No efforts of their officers or comrades
could keep them awake. Men fell in a heavy slumber as they staggered
down the mountain side. Others had not the endurance left to march back
through the bullet-swept zone behind them, and sank down on the kopjes
waiting to be made prisoners, because they felt escape was beyond their
strength. The remnant painfully picked their way down the slopes under
the pitiless hail from the Mausers, and doubled back across the 500
yards of open veldt to the nearest cover. It was a terrible scene, and
had the Boers shown the smallest energy or attempted a charge, General
Gatacre's whole force must have been captured or destroyed.

[Sidenote: [DEC. 10, 1899.]

[Sidenote: A gun abandoned.]

The two batteries of artillery had been caught by the enemy's fire on
the march. The ground was so unfavourable that they could not promptly
come into action. They had to wheel and gallop back some hundreds of
yards. At this moment a gun stuck fast in boggy ground; the team of
horses dragging it was instantly shot down by the enemy, and it had
to be abandoned. The other eleven weapons selected a position and
promptly opened on the crest of the kopjes held by the Boers. On them
they directed a most effective shell fire, but, unhappily, some of
their projectiles fell short and dropped among the British infantry,
as they were painfully trying to scale the precipice just below the
Boer position, adding to the confusion. Such accidents are almost
inevitable in war. The Boer shells in reply came fast and thick. The
enemy's 40-pounder was infinitely more powerful and of far longer range
than the British field pieces. The manner in which our gunners stuck
to their dangerous work under its projectiles was one of the consoling
features of this sorrowful day.

[Sidenote: Order to retreat given.]

The attack had failed so hopelessly that, under the cover of this
artillery fire, General Gatacre rallied his men and gave the order
to retreat. But it was difficult to draw the infantry, once heavily
engaged, out of the fight. Some were too weary to move; others lay fast
asleep under the Boer works; others, again, with the stubborn fighting
instinct of the British soldier, preferred to hold their ground, in the
vain hope of snatching eventual victory. Those, however, who responded
to the order proved that their spirit had not been broken by calamity.
They showed a bold front, formed up on a low line of hills covered by
the artillery, and in perfect order began the retrograde movement.
The two batteries of artillery fired alternately, the one falling
back while the other was in action, and held off the Boers. But the
retreat was long and difficult, as the British troops had to describe a
complete semi-circle, everywhere commanded by the Boer guns, around a
central point held by the enemy.

[Illustration: H. C. Seppings Wright.] [From a Sketch by Lieut. T.
N. F. Davenport.


The drawing represents the withdrawal of guns and ambulance waggons
towards Molteno. The steep crags on the right were occupied by the
Boers. Our men being well scattered, the enemy's shells did little


[Photo by Window & Grove.


Paul Sanford, Lord Methuen, was born in 1845, and entered the Scots
Guards in 1864. He was sent on special service to the Gold Coast in
1873, and in the following year became Brigade-Major at Ashanti and for
the Home District. Two years later he was appointed Assistant Military
Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland. From 1877 to 1881 he
was Military Attaché to the British Embassy at Berlin. He commanded
Methuen's Horse and the Field Force during the Bechuanaland Expedition
of 1884-5, and was Deputy-Adjutant-General in South Africa in 1888.
From 1892 to 1897 he commanded the Home District, and at the beginning
of the war with the Transvaal he was given the command of the First
Division of the Army Corps. He arrived in Capetown to take over this
command on November 10, 1899.]

[Sidenote: The dead and wounded left.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 10, 1899.]

It has been said that British soldiers are better at an advance than
a retreat. In retreat the very best troops, especially if galled by
artillery to which they can make no reply, are apt to break and run.
But the soldiers of the Northumberland Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rifles
in this hour displayed a steadiness above all praise--a stubbornness
and endurance which proved their splendid quality, and showed them
equal to any work when well led. They ground their teeth, indeed, as
they saw the dead and wounded left behind unaided and untended. They
flung themselves down when the great 40-pounder shells came hissing
amongst them, and then, when the explosion had come and gone, leapt
up to shake their fists at the Boers. But they did not quicken their
pace. The officers set a splendid example. General Gatacre was in the
most exposed position: wherever the enemy's fire was hottest there he
was certain to be found. The company officers appealed to the men and
helped them in their weary progress. The men in turn aided those of the
wounded who could walk. Lieutenant Stevens of the Irish Rifles, shot
through both lungs, was carried by four gallant privates, who forgot
their own fears and their own weariness in their soldier-like devotion.
He himself made light of his terrible wound, and laughed at the odd
pertinacity of a black policeman, who had used the opportunity of the
action to lay hands upon certain stampeded Boer horses, thus turning
even battle and defeat to personal profit.


[Sidenote: Narrow escape of the armoured train.]

Hour after hour this terrible retreat continued, both officers and
privates staggering, weary, footsore, exhausted, along, expecting each
moment to find that the enemy had intercepted them. But the enemy
showed the usual Boer want of enterprise, and was content merely to
fire shell from the 40-pounder, which for the most part did not burst.
At last, more than thirty hours after their start, the dejected troops
straggled back into Molteno. In some degree they were covered for the
last mile or two of their retreat by an armoured train, which had
advanced towards Stormberg during the fighting, and which had barely
escaped derailment and capture. The fish-plates of the rails were seen
to have been removed some few yards beyond the place where the train
halted, and a Boer gun was observed trained in readiness to play upon
the wreck.

[Sidenote: DEC. 10, 1899.] Compassionate Townspeople.]

[Sidenote: The return to Molteno.]

A private who was in the battle gives this account of the
retreat:--"The hills were unscalable, and after fighting for nearly
six hours we had the order to retire as well as we were able, leaving
most of our wounded and killed behind, as the Boers were working round
to cut us off as we were retiring. We got into Molteno with about
forty-six wounded men about five o'clock at night, after being on the
march for about twenty-two hours. The poor fellows were dropping by
dozens along the road with sunstroke and exhaustion all the way along,
but it made up for all when we got to Molteno. The people were waiting
for us with tea, bread and butter, and everything we could wish for,
and we were glad of it, too, as no man or beast had had anything to eat
or drink, except what we had in our water-bottles, from the time we
started till we returned. Directly the Boers saw a stretcher party go
to pick a man up they fired volleys into them. No one blames General
Gatacre for getting into the trap; everyone is willing to stick to him
and go up and have another go at the brutes. I saw one Maxim gun and
about forty men of theirs go up with one shell of ours. They must have
lost ten times more than us."


Great disaster as was the battle of Stormberg, it was in no way
dishonourable to the private soldier or subaltern officer. These had
fought gallantly and stubbornly; they failed not from any want of
courage or devotion, but because the task set them was beyond the
strength of man. Brave in the advance, they were cool and deliberate in
the retreat. In the military qualities of the common Englishman there
had been no decline since the great days of the past, and this battle
proved it.

[Sidenote: [DEC. 10, 1899.]

[Sidenote: British losses.]

The losses were heavy. Besides one gun which stuck in a bog, another
weapon overturned and fell into a watercourse, where it was captured
by the enemy. The killed were thirty-one and the wounded fifty-eight,
almost all taken prisoners, while 633 unwounded men were also captured
by the enemy. A few wounded officers and men were brought into Molteno
from the battlefield by the troops. The British loss in officers was
lighter than usual; but Lieutenant-Colonel Eager, of the Royal Irish
Rifles, was mortally wounded, and both the majors of this battalion
were wounded. The enormous total of prisoners taken was due simply and
solely to the exhaustion of the men.



The capsizing of a waggon on any of the South African coach-roads is by
no means an unusual sight. It is usually caused by careless driving,
as, for example, by attempting to drive straight across a watercourse
or "sluit" on the road instead of taking the waggon diagonally over it,
so as to lessen the strain. On more than one occasion, as on the road
to Stormberg, a like accident has occurred to our guns.]

The Boer force which inflicted this grievous punishment was said, by
the enemy, to have been only 800 strong. It certainly did not exceed
1,500. It was composed of very indifferent material, a fact which
heightened the deplorable nature of the reverse. It displayed neither
vigour nor enterprise, and this though its losses were absurdly
small--five killed and sixteen wounded. At this low cost it had
completely paralysed General Gatacre's column and cut up two of the
finest battalions in the British Army.

It was not the enemy's generalship or marksmanship that won this Boer
success, but the strange run of ill-luck in General Gatacre's column,
and the neglect of all ordinary precautions. As a matter of fact, the
Boer shooting was exceedingly bad, and all who witnessed the action
were astounded to discover that so few had been killed and wounded on
the British side. Surprised as the column was, in close formation, it
should have been all but annihilated.

[Sidenote: Disastrous results.]

The natural result of the defeat was that the Dutch in the district,
who had been sitting on the fence to see which side would win, joined
the victors. Some hundreds of farmers at once repaired to the Federal
standard. General Gatacre found his position so doubtful that he
thought fit to retire from Molteno and fall back to Bushman's Hoek,
where he established his headquarters.


[Sidenote: NOV. 1-15, 1899.] Situation at Colesberg.]

There were stories that, as soon as he discovered that his guides had
misled him, he drew his revolver and shot them. A court of inquiry
investigated the behaviour of the guides after the battle, and decided
that they had erred through inadvertence, not treachery.


[Photo by Fyne, Capetown.


[Sidenote: The Boers seize Colesberg.]

Towards Colesberg the enemy began operations on November 1, crossing
the bridge and advancing to the southward. Naauwpoort had been
evacuated, and they had the whole of the country between that place and
the Orange River at their mercy. They blew up the road bridge across
the river north of Colesberg and a railway bridge on the Colesberg and
Norvals Pont line, which looked rather as though they were afraid of a
British advance than as if they meant a serious invasion. At last, on
the 15th, they seized Colesberg.

[Sidenote: British re-occupy Naauwpoort. Arrival of General French.]

The growing aggressiveness of the Boers compelled the despatch of a
British force to watch them and protect the immense depots of stores at
De Aar. On November 19 Naauwpoort was re-occupied, and three days later
General French with 3,000 men (amongst whom were the 2nd Berkshires,
6th Dragoons, New Zealanders, and New South Wales Lancers) followed in
support to Hanover Road, between De Aar and Naauwpoort. Next day he
proceeded through Naauwpoort with an armoured train and a couple of
hundred men, and found the Boers near Arundel. This was the high-water
mark of their advance in the central field of war.


The British and the Boers interchanged shots, but the casualties were
insignificant. General French pushed north towards Arundel on the 25th,
and repaired the railway line, which had been broken in one or two
places. On December 6 he advanced and seized Tweedale, a station south
of Arundel; on the 7th occupied Arundel, and next day pushed forward
with the greater part of his force towards Rensburg. The enemy opened a
heavy fire upon the British mounted infantry and cavalry, including the
New Zealanders and New South Wales Lancers, but no casualties occurred.
With Arundel in the hands of General French, and a cavalry brigade
watching the enemy, all danger to De Aar vanished. But the force was
too weak to do more than keep the enemy in check until reinforcements
should arrive.

[Illustration: ORANGE RIVER BRIDGE.]