Lord Roberts breaks his pledge made in proclamation - Boers in great disorder on leaving Pretoria - Make grand stand at Donkerhoek - General Buller arrives in Transvaal - Battle of Dalmanutha.
After the occupation of Pretoria, Lord Roberts issued his usual proclamation, to induce the burghers to lay down their arms. They were not to be sent away, their property was not to be molested, and they were to be allowed to peacefully occupy their farms. Thousands of the burghers, really believing that the war was over, took advantage of this proclamation and surrendered their rifles. Almost the entire Rustenburg district surrendered, and hundreds of men of the other districts did likewise.
As in the Free State, so in the Transvaal, as soon as Lord Roberts had the men and the guns in his possession, he at once violated his pledge, sent the men away, and afterwards destroyed all their property. The reason that the Boers did not make a stand at Pretoria, was that every shell the English might fire would land in the town, and kill women and children. Of course, this would please the English immensely, but the Boers never gave them the chance. As it was, they fired a few shells on the outskirts of the town, and wounded three Boer women. The English are bent on killing women, because they know that, so long as they are in the land, the Union Jack trembles with fear as it floats above them.
The Boers were in the greatest disorder when leaving Pretoria. There seemed to be no head, and burghers were going in all directions, north, east, south and west. General Botha ordered as many as he could reach, to proceed on the Delagoa railway line toward Middleburg. The English now made up their minds that there was no more fight in the Boers, and that the time was ripe to make a gallant display of dash and bravery on the fast retreating Boers. All titled persons of noble blood, were anxious to fill the London press with long accounts of their brave exploits, and Lord Roberts himself was not behind them in his desire for praise. The result was, that a large force was started in pursuit of the Boers, with Lord Roberts in command. The fleeing Boers, on reaching Donkerhoek, about fifteen miles from Pretoria, were assembled by General Botha and General de la Rey, and all agreed not to run any further. There were about 7,000 of them, and they took up a position on a line about twenty miles long. It was on the 12th of June, that the British army, and the lords, dukes, earls and so forth, appeared on the scene, and proceeded at once to wipe out what was left of the Boer forces. A very hot fight was the result, and the Boers wiped up the English, and gave them such a shock that they did not recover their nerve for months. Go to the graveyard in Pretoria, read some of the inscriptions on the head-boards, and you will find some missing earls, dukes and soforth, accounted for. Lord . Roberts turned tail also and went back to Pretoria, to get out some more proclamations. He is a wonderful general, on paper, but on the battle field he is a pitiful failure.
After this fight, General de la Rey, with 1,500 men, went to the Rustenburg district west of Pretoria, where all the burghers had laid down their arms. Lord Roberts had not had time yet to violate his pledge, so the men were still on their farms. General Botha now made Commandant Ben Viljoen a fighting general, and he proved a most excellent man. The Boers regained hope, and were as full of fight as ever. From Donkerhoek to Machadadorp is about 110 miles, a long stretch of beautiful, rolling prairie, well watered, dotted here and there with beautiful farms, and in all respects suited for cavalry, infantry and artillery to display great skill and excellent, work. General Botha is a nervy man, and he determined to contest every inch of ground to Machadadorp, and make it cost the English much time and many men to cross the fair prairie. Every day General Botha and his small force fought the English army, and in all the engagements he was generally successful, as is shown by the fact that it required sixty days to drive him back to Dalmanutha, nine miles from Machadadorp. Here he took up a position to make a firm stand. He had to scatter his men along a line about twenty-four miles long, in order to prevent the English from turning his flanks. I think the position at Machadadorp was much better and stronger, but he did not think so. I believe now, however, if he had the opportunity again, he would try his luck at Machadadorp, for his line would not be over ten miles long, his flanks would be safe, and in case of defeat, he could retreat in good order.
I left General Buller and his army at Ladysmith on February 28th. Now he appears on the scene again. He had a most difficult task to fight his way through the mountains of Natal and cross into the Transvaal, but at last he had succeeded, and was on his way to join the army opposed to General Botha. It was about the middle of August that General Buller arrived. The entire British force now to attack the Boer forces was about 65,000 strong, while General Botha had less than 7,000 men. He did not have hills and mountains, as in Natal, but, instead, open, rolling prairies. It looked as if the English would ride right over us and kill or capture our whole force, but they didn't. Lord Roberts sent about 600 women and children in open coal trucks to Belfast when it was midwinter and so cold that no one could keep warm. He did this, thinking that the Boers, rather than see their women and children suffer, and probably die, would come in and surrender. He was fooled, however, for General Botha put them all on the train and sent them to Barber ton, where it was warm and where all had friends. Lord Roberts likes to fight women and children and takes as much pleasure in seeing them suffer as does Lord Kitchener. After General Buller arrived and took command, there was fighting daily on some part of the line for nine days before the final effort was made on the 27th of August. In the centre of our line were seventy-two of the Johannesburg police, who were on the ridge between Belfast and Dalmanutha. They had built for themselves stone breastworks about two feet high, but a shell would easily destroy any of them.
On the night of the 26th, General Buller changed his plans and concentrated his force on the centre, instead of on our left flank, and at six o'clock of the morning of the 27th he began with thirty-six guns to bombard the seventy-two Johannesburg police. As the railway line had been left in good order by General Botha's instructions, two huge siege guns came up on some flat cars. When they were fired, the whole earth seemed to tremble and the explosion of the shell was fairly deafening, yet they did no damage. I could see every one of the seventy-two police plainly, for I was with a Long Tom on a high point to then left. For seven hours without intermission, heavy lyddite shells were bursting on the ground about them and a dozen or so schrapnel were bursting over their heads at the same time. When at about two o'clock in the afternoon I saw a long line of cavalry put in readiness to charge their position, I felt sure that there was not one of them alive, for it did not seem possible for them with their little protection to escape.
Suddenly all the cannon ceased to roar and a dead stillness reigned for a moment, but only for a moment, for here comes the long line of cavalry at full gallop. It rapidly approaches and when within about 100 yards of the police there was a ring of musketry heard that" positively filled me with an ecstacy of joy. The police were still alive, and with such rapidity did they use their rifles, and to such good effect, that saddles were emptied fast, and loose horses were running frantically across the veldt, some dragging wounded men whose feet were caught hi the stirrups. They could not stand such a deadly fire, and turned and fled back, the police continuing to mow them down. They form line, are re-enforced, and again they charge, only to be driven back as before after a heavy loss. Four charges were made, and four times the charges were driven back, and no doubt a fifth charge would have followed had General Botha not ordered the police to retire. These brave men retired as coolly as they had passed through the seven hours' shell storm, and four times driven back that long line of cavalry.
Of the seventy-two men, nineteen were killed and wounded, among the killed being three officers.
Lord Roberts, who arrived at twenty minutes to one o'clock, according to his own report, pronounced this the severest bombardment of the war, and could not understand why the whole Boer force was not annihilated. Of course, Lord Roberts came up just as the battle was over, to save General Buller the trouble of making his report announcing a victory. There is no getting round the fact that Roberts is cute and smart and knows how to use the pen and steal the credit that belongs to others. He certainly deserves the title of Lord, or Earl, or any big-sounding name like that, with at leaist double the number of letters in the alphabet following it as a tail, for he has the gall to keep his title up to the high-water mark. General Botha having ordered a retreat, of course Lord Roberts hastened back to Pretoria to issue another proclamation. He didn't say very much this time, for he was very tired sending cablegrams telling of his great victory, but he still had strength enough to proclaim the war at an end, annex the Transvaal to the British Empire, entreat the burghers to come in like good boys and lay down their arms, and forget his many dastardly deeds.
It was during this battle that that wonderful artillerist, Major J. L. Pretorius put Long Tom to the test that I had so strongly advocated at Ladysmith and other places. The Boer officers were all convinced that it would be dangerous to fire Long Tom except when fastened down to a heavy wooden platform. To build these platforms to stand the work a great deal of labor, at least twenty-four hours of time, and a great deal of strong material were required. My contention was that Long Tom could be used as an ordinary field gun, and would do good work without a platform as well as with one. To have so used this big gun at Ladysmith would have kept the British guessing, and the results would have been very different. At Dalmanutha, Major Pretorius did not have time to finish the platform, so he took the chances of firing Long Tom as he stood without one, and the result was excellent. He found his shooting was just as accurate, and that the recoil was never more than two or three yards. Thereafter Long Tom was always used as an ordinary field gun, and Major Pretorius took him over the mountains by Lydenburg. With the exception of about twenty men, the Irish boys were all dismounted, having lost their horses near Pretoria. They were in position under Commandant Kruger, and when the English broke through our centre it looked as though they would be captured. They had to make about ten miles to reach Machadadorp, where they could take the train, and they barely made connection before the English arrived. The Boers scattered in all directions, some going towards Lydenburg, some to Neil Spruit, some to Devil's Kantoor, and others southward towards Ermelo and Carolina. President Kruger and the Government were at Nell Spruit.