Buller joined by Warren—thirty thousand British against six thousand Boers—Lyttleton crosses Tugela at Potgieter's—Warren at Trichardt's—Five days' fighting without advance of British—Description of Spion Kop—British seize the summit—Penned in by Boers—Terrible execution by Boer artillery—Botha's account of battle—British raise white flag-Surrender repudiated by Colonel Thorneycroft and advancing Boers shot down—British retreat under cover of darkness—Drieling kop saved to Boers by Utrecht men—Why Botha did not shell retreating British—Boer casualties—horrors of the battle-field—exploit of Theron's scouts.
Buller retired upon Chieveley and Frere after the battle of Colenso, and awaited the arrival of reenforcements before making another attempt to reach Ladysmith. He devoted a month to the task of preparing for his second effort to cross the Tugela, and, on being joined by General "Warren and another division, this raising his army to a strength of 30,000 men and ten batteries of artillery, he was ready to try again. He found himself at the head of the largest and best equipped army which the British Empire had put in the field in this generation, and from the boastful tone of his address to this fine force on the eve of its second advance, he felt confident that he could fight his way this time past the burghers who had driven him back from the river on the 15th of December.
During this interval Botha had watched and waited at Colenso, ready for the next move of his adversary. His force had varied in strength according to the situation around Ladysmith. Men were constantly riding from one position to the other, and regular heliographic communication was kept up between Joubert and his young lieutenant while holding two English armies at bay. When, as on the occasion of the assault on the Platrand on the 6th of January, the entire Vryheid commando left the Tugela to cooperate in the attack, Buller had no more than 4,000 men in -front of his 30,000. The British general was only ten miles south of the river, while a third of his opponents had gone fifteen miles north to attack the garrison which the Commander-in-Chief of Natal was to rescue from its investment. Xo thought of or attempt at a dash forward, however, suggested itself to the general who was to have eaten his 22Christmas plum-pudding in Pretoria. So the Vryheiders returned after their unsuccessful mission, and continued to wait for the development of their enemy's further plans.
Botha's and Meyer's commandoes had been augmented by some 1,000 more burghers since Colenso. It was with a force of about 6,000 men that they had to guard the extended lines of the Tugela River and their forty miles of frontage southward. True, these 6,000 men were the finest horsemen in the world, and the best rifle shots. They could concentrate, owing to their magnificent mobility, upon any threatened point in one-fourth the time of their enemies, and they were able to fire, if necessary, 60,000 shots each minute, thanks .to the best rifle which modern improvements have produced. Still, it was a very inadequate body of men with which to defend the vulnerable river. Villebois-Mareuil, who was with Botha all this time, and who had examined the whole line, declared that the positions from Langwani Hill, east of Colenso, to Honger's Poort, west of Spion Kop, would require 50,000 men to hold them securely, and of these Botha had only the number given above at his disposal.
By the 14th of January General Buller, with at least 25,000 men and 50 guns, advanced to the two drifts fifteen or twenty miles west of Colenso. His army was divided into two unequal divisions; the lesser one apparently intending to cross the river at Potgieter's Drift, and the other at the second drift, still further wrest. This second division was the stronger in men and guns, and it was soon apparent that it was this force, which was under the command of General Warren, that would give most trouble to the vigilant commandoes looking down from the hills upon the two columns seeking a common road to Ladysmith.
Under the protection of Buller's guns on Mount Alice, General Lyttleton crossed the river at Potgieter's and occupied some low hills on the north bank without opposition. On the following day General Warren threw a pontoon bridge over the Tugela at Trichardt's, and succeeded, tho not without some opposition, in carrying his men and guns over. The Boers in front retired, firing. Both divisions attempted to advance from their respective locations, but found the ground stubbornly contested by an unknown force,-which seemed to be ubiquitous, and to be found ready and seemingly entrenched at whatever point the British attacked it.
On the 18th and 19th Warren attempted to work his way by a detour northeast from the river, so as to turn the Boer extreme right at Acton Homes. Botha countered this movement by threatening Warren's communications with the river and Springfield, and the Englishman turned back with his tenacious adversary hanging like a bulldog on his left flank. On the 20th Botha found his lines on Tabanamyana Hill and on the adjoining kopjes attacked by Warren's whole artillery and by an infantry advance before which he slowly retired back to higher and stronger positions, prepared for such an eventuality. Here the two forces remained, and fought what was chiefly an artillery combat during the 21st and 22nd. On the evening of the latter day, after another similar encounter, the Boers moved east again, slowly, doggedly, to the very positions they had occupied round Spion Kop when Warren had crossed the river on the 17th. It had been a five days' continuous fight, and the enemy found himself at the end of it just where he had started, and not a yard nearer to Ladysmith.
The two divisions of Buller's army were now so located that the Boer main force was midway, between but north of, their positions. Botha's pickets and brandwacht's were extended east and west along the hills from Brakfontein to Tabanamyana. His center was behind Spion Kop, and was entrenched there, with this hill standing between him and Buller's guns across the river.
Botha's real strength lay in the complete concealment of his guns, and in the mystery which he most skilfully succeeded in throwing round the real location and number of men under his command. As at Colenso, he made Buller fight an unknown quantity, and, whether they really believed it or not, his adversaries declared they had almost as many men in front of them as they themselves commanded. This was how matters stood under the shadow of Spion Kop when Briton and Boer had ended the sixth day's running battle, and lay down to try and snatch a dubious rest near the spot where the fight had first begun.
Botha was unwilling to occupy the summit of Spion Kop with any large force, owing to its being dominated by the naval guns on Mount Alice from the south, which was in possession of the enemy. He held lower hills behind, to the east and west of Spion Kop; wisely leaving himself and guns free to move backward to the mountains west and south of Ladysmith, if compelled still to give way before the enemy's superior forces.
Spion Kop slopes up from the banks of the Tugela to a height of about 2,000 feet, the reverse, or north, side not being so steep as that facing the river. There is a deep indentation in the south side of the mountain, extending through the whole of its upper half, while all the approaches on the north side to the top of the hill are over a rough ridge without any cover of any kind. The crown of the hill is quite bare and of a stony character, having an area of some five or six acres, with boulders strewn about. There is a slope from the southwest to the northwest side of the summit with '.a " hump " on the crest of the eastern extremity.
A brandwacht of sixteen men of the Vryheid commando were on the mountain on the night of the 23rd of January. They were the remnant of a larger force which had held the hilltop previous to Warren's advance westward after crossing the river, when every available burgher had to be sent to strengthen Botha's right wing. The brandwacht remained for observation purposes only, and were surprised in the early hours of the morning of Wednesday, the 24th. The enemy had advanced silently up the hill, under cover of a night of inky darkness, and easily rushed the sangars behind which the few burghers had kept guard. Two of the picket were bayoneted after fire had been opened on the British, and the others succeeded in making their way down the northeastern slope of the hill to General Burger's laager. The alarm had already spread through the Boer lines, as it was divined from the firing on the summit of the kop that the enemy had succeeded in seizing it. General Burger acted with prompt decision. He ordered ninety men of the Carolina burghers, under Commandant Prinsloo (of Carolina), to scale the hill up the way the brandwacht had come down, and obtain a lodgment on the northeast side of the open space on the top before the light should enable the enemy the easier to occupy the whole of the hill. At the same time fifty Heidelbergers were despatched to a kopje farther west of the hill from whence they could reach the flank of the English across an intervening valley with rifle fire. A kindly-disposed fog which fell over the scene in the early morning enabled these orders to be carried out without a hitch, and so close were the opposing forces to each other when the sun rolled up the curtain of mist from the crown of Spion Kop for the war tragedy to commence that the Carolina men sprang at the nearest British troops and actually wrested the rifles from them before they had recovered from the surprise which the unexpected presence of the Boers created. The English were driven back at once from that point of the crest thus taken by the burghers, and the fight for the possession of the plateau began. The crest line thus seized gave .shelter to the Carolina men in shooting back the enemy, and enabled them to extend right and left, so as to open as wide a circle of fire upon their foes as the position would allow.
The enemy were in possession of the sangars which had been built by the Boers who had previously held the hill, and their solid character can be seen from the picture, taken during the fight, which represents the English in the act of firing across the open space at the Carolina burghers. These latter, however, were the cooler combatants, and the better shots, and the duel with rifles which began early that morning soon avenged the bayoneted sentinels of the midnight surprise. It was to be a fight to a finish.
The English ascended the mountain from, the south (the right-hand) side where pure grit and pluck must determine whether Boer or Briton should hold the bill.
The English on the plateau numbered eight companies of Lancashire Fusiliers, six companies of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, with some 200 more men, including sappers. As against these 900, the ninety Carolina burghers held their crest of the hill. General Botha directed the battle from the slope of a ridge rising northward behind Spion Kop, from whence he could clearly see with his glasses how the fight on the summit was proceeding. He soon recognized that the men sent up by Schalk Burger were greatly outnumbered, and he ordered up some 400 more to the support of the Carolina burghers. These were volunteers from various commandoes who climbed the hill in separate bodies. There were thirty of the Pretoria Village commando, under Field Cornet Zeederberg; also men from the Pretoria District commando, Viljoen's Band Brigade, the German Corps, and a Krugersdorp contingent under Field Cornet Kemp. General Smuts, of Ermelo, was senior in command of the united burgher force who volunteered to help the men on the summit of the kop to keep it.
After Botha had thus strengthened the Carolina men by as many burghers as the space in possession of the Boers would offer reasonable room and cover for, he disposed of his seven guns so that they should cooperate with the men engaged in the deadly combat on the kop, and prevent as far as possible the moving of any of the enemy's guns on to the mountain. He saw the stupid blunder which Warren had committed in sending so large a force of men up to a position where there was not space for more than 500 on each side to fight in, and he prepared to take advantage of the crowding of the unfortunate Tommies on the portion of the plateau where the steady fire of the burghers was keeping them penned in as effectively as a barbed wire fence encloses a flock of sheep.
Almost every English report of this battle, leads the reader to believe that the Boers had one or more pom-poms on the hilltop during the fight. There was no gun of any kind there. The Boer artillery were placed as follows: To the extreme right of Botha's position, some 5,000 yards away, on the west end of the plateau of which Spion Kop was part, there was a fifteen-pound Creusot; still nearer, but on a lower elevation, there was a Krupp of the same caliber; still yet to the west on a round kopje, about 2,000 yards from Spion Kop, a pom-pom was placed; the kopje being very exposed to the British fire and being held by 50 Heidelbergers. Midway between this hill and Spion Kop there was another fourteen-pound Krupp for a couple of hours in the morning, but it was removed by Botha's orders and put on the ridge behind Spion Kop; the second pom-pom was located on the side of a small hill eastward about 2,000 yards from the top of the big kop, while still eastward of this a "smoke-powder" Krupp was worked from the Free Staters' position on Drieling Hill. It was the Krupp back of Spion Kop, and the two pom-poms to the right and left of the hill, which helped the Mausers on the plateau to do the terrible execution among the Lancashire men during the battle. Neither of these guns, however, was nearer than 2,000 yards to the summit where the fight raged, while the three pieces were fired up from a level of, at least, 500 feet lower than the scene of the encounter. The other four guns were employed in guarding the approaches on the east and west sides of Spion Kop, up which the English would have to send their reenforeements from their main lines below on the Tugela.
Major Wolmarans, with Lieutenants Von Wichmann and Groothuizen were in charge of Botha's seven pieces, and no guns were ever better served or ever fought a more unequal or more brilliantly successful artillery combat. Opposed to them on the other side of the plateau down by the river, on the high hills beyond the Tugela, on every available position between Warren's and Lyttleton's cooperating forces, were no less than fifty field pieces, including two 4.7 guns, and a battery of twelve-pound navals. The scene of the sanguinary fight on the mountain was lower than the position occupied by the two huge 4.7 guns, which were thus able to rake the summit of Spion Kop from beyond the river.
In giving me an account of this battle from which this narrative is largely drawn, General Botha said, in dealing with the artillery employed on both sides:
" Our salvation in the fighting on and around Spion Kop was the astounding inefficiency of Buller's artillery. Our few guns, on the contrary, were splendidly served. The positions were most unfavorable to us, after the enemy had taken the Kop. We had left it in possession of only a few men, owing to the dominating location in which some of Buller's batteries were placed. They could fire down on the hill, whereas we had to fire up from where our guns were placed, in lower positions on the side of the ridge. I had an officer on the side of the Kop who heliographed the exact situation of the enemy on the hill, and where each shell struck. Not a single one of our shots fell among our own men. Our Krupp and pom-poms told with terrible effect upon the unfortunate massed Tommies on the narrow ledge of the hill. The English guns, on the contrary, were responsible for a large number of the casualties on their side; shell after shell missing the mark and falling among the men who were fighting bravely against us; some of whom at one part of the fight actually ran across to our positions to save themselves from the badly-directed fire from their own guns! "
Meanwhile the combat on the mountain top continued fast and furious as the morning advanced. The arrival of the reenforcements from the burgher lines below gave the immediate advantage to the less numerous but more careful, cautious, and more deadly marksmen behind the ring of 500 Mausers on the Boer end of the plateau. Boers naturally extend their lines when firing. They need no orders to do what common sense dictates. The burghers slowly spread themselves to the right and left, moving on their bodies without rising to their feet, and building some kind of cover for their heads as they gradually worked their way round so as to be able to cross-fire their foes. At one point, to the left of the Boer position, those who remained of the Carolina men managed to creep round in this way until they got almost in line with the right of their opponents' sangars, where they were enabled to enfilade their enemies. The men on the British right were thus made to suffer far more severely than those at the other extremity. Almost all their officers had been shot before noon, whereupon a white flag was raised from behind a sangar. The act was not seen lower down the Boer entrenchments, and the fire continued. Again the white flag was raised, whereupon Jan Celliers, of Pretoria, cried out, " Hands up! Come out." The Tommies, who belonged to the Lancashire Fusiliers, stood up in their trench with reversed arms, and Celliers ran across to their lines, followed by some fifty of his men. Firing had now ceased on both sides at the British right, and about 150 of the Fusiliers had moved over to the Boer end of the battle-field in the act of surrender, when a British officer from the English left position arrived with reenforcements which had been sent up from below. He advanced to Celliers, declaring he would not recognize the act of surrender, and shouting, " I am the officer in command; back to your positions, men; the fight must go on." The officer turned out to be Colonel Thorneycroft, who had led the advanced section of Woodgate's men up the hill in the morning. He assumed the command of the British which General Wood-gate's mortal wound had left vacant on the field. All this action on the part of Thorneycroft, who had only just reached that part of the field, may have been in accordance with the rules of war, so far as his own personal proceedings were concerned; but it is an undeniable fact that 200 or 300 of the men whom Woodgate had commanded until struck down had several times asked to surrender by exhibiting the white flag, and had at last, to the number of 150, actually handed over their arms. Thorneycroft learned all this from Celliers, and yet he not only ordered the fight to continue, but saw without protest the men whom he had brought with him jump behind the trenches and open fire upon Celliers and his men before these could get back to the protection of their own lines. The Boers who had remained in their positions could not return the fire at once, as their own comrades and some of the surrendered English were in front; several of both being shot down by Thorneycroft's men. These are the true facts of the white flag incident on Spion Kop, as related by Mr. Celliers and others who witnessed the whole proceedings, and yet it was all but universally reported in the English press, in the war correspondents' narrative of the fight, that it was the Boers who had " treacherously misused the white flag " on the summit of the hill in order to enable them to fire under its cover into the British trenches. The charge was consistent with the customary rule of bluffing resorted to by the English, when an ugly incident on their side could neither be truthfully defended nor explained. As a matter of fact, it was during the cessation of firing at the right of the British position, caused by the hoisting of the white flag on the part of 150 of the enemy's men, that Thorneycroft arrived with reenforcements, and that Celliers and his men were fired upon by the new arrivals.
Back to their positions went the Boers, and the fight of the morning recommenced, with, if possible, a deadlier spirit on the part of the burghers to drive their foes off the mountain. It was resolved that no more attention would be given to British whiteflags or emblems of surrender. One hundred more men were heliographed for to Botha, and these came gallantly up the hill, and joined the indomitable band on the north and east crest in the deadly combat for the possession of the plateau. Coats were off each burgher, shirt-sleeves were rolled up, and the steady, deadly work of the Mauser fire continued to thin the ranks behind the opposite lines. Thorneyeroft's reenforcements made a poor fight of it, compared with the pluck with which the Lancashire men had withstood the terribly galling fusillade and the shelling by the Boer pom-poms during the morning. The mass of Tommies who had been brought up to replace the men who had been disabled were badly handled by 4heir officers. They were thrust in upon the men who had sustained the Boer attack all the day, and thus offered their foes, in the closer formation caused by their crowding, human targets which only the worst of shooting could miss. The burghers did not miss, and the victims of British blundering continued to fall in greater numbers as the hours sped on.
Here there could be no possible pretense that the English were held back by " formidable entrenchments" or by " Boers behind rocks." The British had the best protection on the hilltop, and the choice of positions, having captured the summit from the Vryheid brandwaeht in the early hours of the morning. The Boers had no gun on the hill, and were never more in numbers than one to six of their foes from the commencement of the fight to the finish. Only an average distance of some 200 yards separated the two lines; the space narrowing at one point to seventy yards. The British had bayonets, as the English accounts of the march of the reenforeing troops up the mountain-side spoke of steel "flashing in the sun," as the khaki-clad regiments made their way to the scene of battle up above. Colonel Thorneycroft, therefore, had every inducement which an officer could desire to charge across that small open space, and overwhelm his opponents with the mere overpowering strength of numbers. He did not do so. The Boers in shirt-sleeves across the way barred the road, with a dauntless pluck which has never been excelled, if it ever was equaled, on any battle-field. Their victory was complete in every feature and detail of the fiercest fight of the war, when the 2,000 or 3,000 British troops on the hill, by the orders of Thorneycroft, seized the cover of darkness under which to retreat. Botha's 600 burghers thus remained victors on the summit of the historic kop after a fight of fourteen hours' duration.
While the encounter on the hilltop was proceeding several minor engagements took place to the right and left of the mountain where it sloped down to lower ground, and then descended southward to the river. The main stream of British reenforcements came up on the western side, and had to run the gauntlet of the Heidelberg riflemen to their left; these, with Viljoen's men and the Pretoria commandoes, bearing the brunt of the fighting at this point. Warren's artillery from the hills below, especially his howitzer battery, covered the march of these British reenforcements, but not sufficiently to shield them completely from the fire of their foe-men in front and flank. Over 100 of the enemy were killed and wounded on this side of Spion Kop. Every attempt made to advance up the ridge from whence the Boer guns pelted their pitiless shells on to the top of Spion Kop was beaten back by Botha's men, with superb ease and effect.
On Drieling Kop, east of Spion Kop, the Carolina commando, ninety of whose men were up above, were almost overwhelmed about four in the afternoon by a large force which had advanced up that way to turn the position of the men on the summit. General Botha was at his wits' end for men when a panting rider from Schalk Burger reached him with an urgent message for help. He instantly ordered all his adjutants to go and keep back the enemy until he could detach the Utrecht burghers from their position behind him, and send them to Drieling Kop. He was left absolutely alone until his secretary, Sandberg, rode back with the tidings that the splendid rush of the Utrechters across to the aid of the Carolina men disconcerted the advancing Tommies, who descended the hill and fell back upon their main body below.
Colonel Thorneyeroft has been blamed by Lord Roberts and the critics for having retired from Spion Kop after the battle of the 24th; the contention being that the Boers would have given way if the fight had been renewed on the following morning. The true facts do not sustain this view. Those troops who had fought most bravely on the hilltop without food or water during the whole day, and without sleep the previous night, were physically unable to continue the combat, and they retired down the hill, without orders, when darkness had put a stop to the battle. It was under these circumstances that the order to retreat was given. Thorneycroft had no other alternative. It was the generals who did not visit the scene of-the battle upon the mountain that blundered in not sending up fresh troops and half-a-dozen Maxim guns under cover of darkness to replace the demoralized Tommies during the night of the 24th. That would have ended the contest for the possession of the hill early on the morning of the 25th, but the victors in such a problematical triumph would have had to run the gantlet of Botha's guns for the barren glory of holding Spion Kop. In either case the English death-roll would have told a tale of relatively proportionate slaughter.
A dramatic story has been related in connection with Warren's retreat across the Tugela on the 25th and 26th without molestation from Botha's guns. It has been alleged that Botha was urged to let his artillery play upon the retreating enemy, especially when they were repassing the river on a pontoon bridge, but that the Boer general had replied, he was restrained from any such action by heliographic instructions from Joubert " not to fire upon a fleeing foe." This story is without any foundation except the circumstance on which it was built. Ko such instructions had been received, or would have been acted upon if received, had the actual situation encouraged such action on Botha's part. It did not, and for two very substantial reasons. His small force had fought every day, and had worked at trench building every night, from the 17th to the 24th, almost without cessation, and with very little food. They were utterly exhausted after so prolonged a struggle, and it was simply impossible to order men so worn out to forego sleep and rest on the eighth night in order to attack an enemy so enormously stronger in numbers, even on retreat. At nine on the evening of the 24th, while the firing still continued, an officer wishing to see General Botha was told he was in the tent of Major Wolmarans, writing his report of the day's battle for President Kruger. On entering the tent, the general, his secretary, and Wolmarans were found with a half-written report before them, and with heads leaning on the table, in sheer exhaustion, overcome with sleep. Botha's main reason for not attacking Warren's retreating columns was the fewness of his men and guns. He would have had to reveal his real weakness when once he took the aggressive, and removed from the positions which best enabled him to mask his forces and to maintain the delusion—which was a formidable moral factor in favor of the Federal forces—that the Boers were twice or three times as strong in burghers and in artillery as they were in reality. The Boer generals were compelled to maintain this tactical deception as part of their military operations; for if Buller at Colenso, Methuen at Magersfontein, and Warren at Spion Kop, had known or believed there were no more than 5,000 foemen and half-a-dozen guns in front of armies of three or four times that strength in men and artillery, the results of these battles might have been less disastrous to British military prestige, if no less worthy of Boer generalship and bravery. The origin of the story of Joubert's interdiction was the occurrence related in connection with the battle of Modderspruit, when the Commandant-General »did forbid a pursuit of a retreating force, and under circumstances which, unlike those at Spion Kop, warranted and called for the delivery of a smashing blow at a beaten foeman. Had Botha possessed the relatively equal force which was under Joubert's command on the 30th of October, when Warren fell back from Spion Kop on the 25th of January, no possible orders would have restrained him from hurling his opponent's columns into the Tugela. He had beaten 3,000 of Warren's men on Spion Kop into pulp. He could not, with 5,000 or 6,000 burghers, who had been fighting for eight days continuously, engage 20,000 men and 50 guns in an aggressive action the day following without inviting both defeat and disaster.
General Botha declared the Federal loss in the battle of Spion Kop to be 50 killed and 120 wounded. Of these casualties the brave ninety Carolina men who retook the hill in the fog numbered, no less than fifty, or over sixty per cent, of the valiant little band. These ninety held the hilltop against all the men brought up by General Woodgate in the early hours of that memorable morning until they were reenforced by the volunteers from the several commandoes and corps down below; one man against ten, and the ten holding the stronger shelter. But the Carolina men knew how to shoot. They were the heroes of Spion Kop, tho the Pretoria, Krugersdorp, Heidelberg, Band men, and the Germans were alike conspicuous for their bravery.
The total British losses in killed, wounded, and prisoners were fully 1,500, nearly 400 being killed. At no time during the battle on the mountain top did the Boers number fully 600 men. Every
Boer, therefore, accounted for over two of his enemies, in probably the best light ever made by white men.
The names of the dead heroes of the two Carolina wards, or companies, who fought so magnificently on Spion Kop were:
Ward 1.—Broeder W. Prinsloo, Theunis Breytenbach, Barend de Koker, C. Potgieter, L., son, Jacob Malan.
The following were wounded: A. de Lange, A. M'Callum, jun.; E. Haenert, N. Harries, Paul Meyer (severely), Frans van Heerden, Johannes Pretorius, J. H. Kilian, Cornelius Breytenbach, C. du Ploop, Izak Smit (slightly), C. J. Davel, W. Pinaham, P. N. Viljoen.
Ward 3.—Killed: Louw van der Mcrwe, T. van Niekerk, 0., son, Cornelius Grobler, D. Botha, 0. Bothma, F. Mare, A. W. van Kraaienburg, Cornelius Meyer, jun., Treurfontein; J. J. Bredtveld.
Wounded: P. de Winnaar, Piet Mare, Hermanus J. Botha, C. J. Coetzee, Gert Smit, C. G. Smit, H. Smit, F. Kraft, C. Kraft, P. van Beenan, L. du Plessis, F. van Niekerk, J., son; Gert Strydom, Stefanus Foure, H, son; W. J. Gernitsen, F. Jongbloed Bon don, J. N. Woest, J. H. Maas, J. R. [Maas?] J. J. Knegscheld, A. J. Viljoen (V.C.).
No other battle-field of the war had yielded the harvest of horrors which Spion Kop presented to the ambulance-bearers and others the morning after the murderous combat of the 24th. Over 1,500men lay dead and wounded within the confined area of the mountain top. They were almost all on the side of the hill which had been occupied by the English, and where the Krupp and pom-pom shells had burst with their rain of missiles. Heads were found a dozen yards from their ghastly trunks; hands and legs were scattered over the rocky surface; torn and mangled bodies were lying in all directions, with scores of dead faces upturned with staring eyes in the sun as if upbraiding high Heaven for permitting such murderous work among men belonging to God-fearing nations. A gruesome, sickening, hideous picture, which the brush of a Verest-chagin, with all its powers of realistic portraiture, could not match in painted horrors from the limitless domain of artistic creations. " I wished," said General Tobias Smuts, in giving me his impressions of the awful scene which met his view after the battle had ended, " that I had had the power of transporting a dozen of these poor, brave, mangled fellows lying there with headless bodies and shattered limbs, to a certain bedroom in Birmingham or in Government House, Cape Town, so that the two chief authors of this unnatural war should see some of the results of their policy on waking from sleep in their safe and luxurious homes. It might induce them to bring this dreadful conflict to a close."
General Botha, in further reference to this battle, told me:
"Again, there was an unaccountable delay in the burying of the English dead, as at Colenso. Several hundred men lay un-buried at the top of the hill, in very hot weather, too, for three or four days. I had granted an armistice of twenty-four hours to General Warren for the purpose of attending to -the wounded and of burying the dead, but it looked by the delay which occurred as if he were more anxious to march his big force back across the Tugela than to attend to the duties for which the armistice had been agreed to by me. I sent in a request twice for any wounded of mine who might have fallen into the enemy's hands, offering to deliver over all his wounded who were with us, without obtaining any response. At last he sent me four men, and I returned him 300."
The delay in burying the British dead on Spion Kop induced the Kaffirs of the locality to loot the battle-field, carrying off belts, boots, and other articles belonging to the slain. A number of these natives were seen marching about with helmets on their heads mimicking the fallen British soldiers. A witty Boer officer named them "The South African Native Lancers," out of contempt for the pig-sticking heroes of Elandslaagte.
A scouting corps composed of young men, bank clerks, shop assistants, and artisans, chiefly from the Band and Krugersdorp, rendered invaluable assistance to General Botha during the whole Tugela campaign. Their captain, Daanie Theron, was a young Afrikander, of Krugersdorp. They dogged every movement of the enemy's forces, now at Brakfontein, next day west at Acton Homes, next across the river, prowling round Warren's camp-fires at night, in the most daredevil manner; always reporting some valuable intelligence to the general about impending movements against some point in the chain of Boer positions along the Tabana mountains. On the 20th of January three of them—Boos, Slechtkimp, and Hinton—diverted the fire of five batteries of Warren's artillery from a spot where Major Wolmarans was erecting a protection for a pom-pom, on to the top of a high spur overlooking the Tugela, by. climbing this hill, which Botha had evacuated the day before, and unfurling the Transvaal flag on the summit. The three remained on the hill, with a dozen guns playing upon it, until they were satisfied that their tactics had achieved their object, when they succeeded in regaining the Boer lines.
Theron was boyish in appearance, of slight build, with a frank, even merry, expression on his face which invited confidence. This facial evidence of a gentle and jovial disposition was, however, an admirable mask for as daring and as resourceful a spirit as any chief of scouts ever possessed. • His ability to disguise himself was due largely to his clean-shaven, youthful looks, and powers of mimicry. He spoke English without a trace of Afrikander accent, and to this fact was largely due his many successes in obtaining information from within the enemy's lines; one story of his prowess alleging that he penetrated into Ladysmith the night before the Boer attack on the Platrand.
The country along the Tugela was an ideal one for the work of scouting, deep valleys running in between steep-sided hills, with dongas on the slopes of mountains from which every motion of the enemy on both banks of the river could be seen without attracting attention. Innumerable nooks and corners, sheltered by trees or clumps of mimosa, or huge rocks, enabled these young scouts to stalk the clumsy movements of the British, blundering and floundering in labyrinthian mazes, in and out of the paths and spoors which led upward from the winding Tugela to the frowning ramparts of the barrier ridges which shut the way to Ladysmith. It was an ideal country also for Boer fighting, and no general ever made better use of his men and of Nature's cooperation in offering positions in defense of a just cause than did Louis Botha in that wonderful six days' running fight which ended so gloriously in the victory of Spion Kop.
A story is told of an old burgher, aged seventy, who was among the first to volunteer in the reenforcement sent up the mountain by the Boer general. He was accompanied by his grandson, a boy of fourteen. No other Mauser on Spion Kop dealt out a more steady and effective fire during the carnage of the 24th than that of Oom Piet. " One more Booinek down, grandpapa," would be exultingly shouted by the boy as his keener eyes noted the gaps made behind the sangars across the open space, and so the scene continued. Finally Oom Piet's bandolier was emptied of its cartridges, and no other supply was near at hand. The lad, however, was equal to the occasion. Outside the entrenchments lay a burgher who had been shot through the head early in the day, and before the boy could be prevented he vaulted over the boulders, possessed himself of the dead burgher's bandolier, and sprang back again to the side of the old warrior with the ammunition. On the dead being counted the following day the old man and his grandson were found among the slain, lying side by side.
Another record of conspicuous bravery will live in the recollection of the burghers who helped to gain and who may survive the victory of Spion Kop. This was the death of old Nicholas Mentz, a Field Cornet of the Heilbron burghers, forming part of the Free State contingent with Botha's force. On the 18th a patrol of 200 men were sent across the river above Spion Kop to find out the main positions of the English west of Mount Alice. A few of the patrol were riding ahead of the body, and were told by a Kaffir that there were no British in front, where a kopje obscured the view in advance. Mentz and some fifty men rode ahead, and found themselves under a hill held by a large force of the enemy. They resolved, unwisely, to storm the hill, but were shot back by the troops who had been concealed behind, and who were in overwhelming numbers. The burghers retired, but old Mentz, his son Nicholas, and another would not turn from any number of Booi-neks, so they put their backs to a rock and faced the entire force in front of them, firing point blank at their foes. Young Mentz fell wounded; so did his companion, Theron. Old Nicholas was shot in both legs, but he still fired, refusing to surrender. A British-officer, in admiration of the old man's pluck, called upon him three times to stop firing, and prevented his men from killing their valiant foe. He refused to stop, and was killed in the act of firing his last bullet.