British demonstration in force—Battle of Vaal Krantz—How Viljoen saved the pom-pom—Boers retake Vaal Krantz—Botha's report of battle—Buller seizes Langwani Hill—Again crosses the Tugela—Battle of Grouler's Kloof—Battle of Pieter's Hill —Surrender of the Inniskillings—Buller's use of armistice— Evacuation of Pieter's Hill—Botha's masterly retreat— Kruger's proclamation—End of invasions of Natal.
On Sunday night, February 4, patrols returned from across the river with the information that another forward movement was about to take place on the part of the enemy. General Botha was in Pretoria on a visit to his family, and General Lukas Meyer was in command at Colenso. General Schalk Burger was, therefore, in charge of the burghers on the Upper and Middle Tugela, with General Tobias Smuts of Ermelo, and Commandants Viljoen and Andries Cronje as most prominent officers next in rank. The British were found massing behind Mount Alice and the Swartzkop, which they still held, with the apparent intention of crossing again at Potgieter's Drift, where Lyttleton's forces had gone over previously as a feint to mask Warren's operations further west. Cycle despatch-riders were sent at once to all the Boer positions east and west of Burger's laager at Brakfontein, while telegrams were forwarded to Botha and Meyer.
Early on Monday morning the naval guns on Mount Alice opened fire upon the hills north of Potgieter's, while a large body of British troops passed over by the Drift and advanced tentatively towards the high ridges, immediately east of Spion Kop, held by the Senekal commando. This movement was soon found to be more of a reconnaissance and of a containing effort than a frontal attack; the object being to locate the Boer guns and forces. There was no response to the enemy's artillery, nor any sign of occupation on the plateau, until the British had advanced to within some 1,500 yards of the entrenched burghers. Then the Mausers and Krupps sang out their defiant reply to the thunder of lyddite batteries and field guns, and so well directed was the fire of the Federals that the enemy's movement was arrested. The English guns across the river continued to play upon tho hills in front, but nothing could shake the burghers' hold upon their positions, and the enemy fell back on the Drift, shelled by the two Boer Krupps from Brakfontein in their retreat.
This demonstration in force was, however, only intended to mask a determined attack upon the hills east of Brakfontein, three or four miles nearer Colenso, where two drifts crossed the Tugela, leading through the defile of Patrol Spruit which is the shortest road from the river to Ladysmith. These drifts were immediately under Swartzkop, and the English had carried a battery of twelve-pound naval guns on to this hill during Sunday night. A pontoon bridge was also thrown across the river on Monday at the most eastern passage, Skiet Drift, while no less than fifty additional guns were so placed that they commanded all the positions occupied by the burghers.
These operations on Monday morning did not find the burghers unprepared. Opposite Swartzkop, to the east of Brakfontein, a high hill called Doom Kop was occupied by a Long Tom, while the guns which had been so well served at Spion Kop were in position along the ridge each side of the defile through which the road passed on to Ladysmith. To the left of where the pontoon bridge was thrown over the river, a small kopje called Vaal Krantz stood, under the shadow of a higher hill to its left, with Doom Kop again to the left of that. The chief Boer positions, therefore, extended from Spion Kop eastward to the hills to the left of Doorn Kop, and the crossing of the Tugela by the English at Skiet's Drift was to mean a direct attack upon the low hill of Vaal Krantz, which was occupied by 50 men of Ben Viljoen's Band Brigade, and some 30 of the Standerton commando. This small force, with a single pompom, held this more or less isolated position in accordance with the usual tactics of the Boers. These plans invariably invited the enemy's first attack upon a secondary Boer position—one held well within range of concealed guns behind, or to the left or right, as the nature of the terrain would suggest. The British would concentrate artillery fire and troops upon this secondary position, in response to a challenging fire, and if the burghers were driven out by numbers or guns, the British would rush the place only to be found within closer range of a combined rifle and artillery fire from the hitherto masked main force of their adversaries.
This was what happened at Vaal Krantz, but the fight which was there made by Ben Viljoen and his handful of Band burghers and Uitlanders is probably a feat of sheer indomitable pluck which has never been surpassed in the history of civilized warfare. This hill, which was neither high nor precipitous, stood back about a mile from a sharp bend in the river, and was within range, if not within actual vision, of no less than seventy English guns, including all the navals on Swartzkop. Under cover of these ten batteries a force of some 3,000 troops, advancing in extended order, attacked this hill, and for fully seven hours the eighty men under Viljoen held their ground in magnificent defiance of that combined attack.
The fight with the Johannesburgers began with the construction of the pontoon bridge in the morning. A contingent of Viljoen's Brigade and Du Preez on one side, and a small body of the same command led by Field Cornet Mostert on the other, harassed the enemy with a brisk rifle fire while the bridge was being erected. The English guns, however, cleared the way for the infantry after several hours' bombardment, when the real attack on Vaal Krantz commenced. This was made, as already mentioned, by some 3,000 of the enemy's troops, who extended out right and left with the object of completely enveloping the hill where Viljoen and his handful of heroes were entrenched. It reads as a record of an almost impossible action to speak of so small a body withstanding such an attack from so overwhelming a force, but there is no better authenticated fact in the whole story of the war than that which attests the unsurpassed gallantry of Viljoen and his men at Vaal Krantz, for " Not even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer " the spectacle of such a brilliant feat of determined valor, coolness, endurance, and resource as was shown on that Monday by the Rand men.
Three direct infantry attacks on Viljoen's position were repulsed, when he found it no longer possible to hold his own ground without surrender or extermination. Of his force of eighty men one-third had been killed or wounded; the first of the killed being an Irishman named Michael Fahey. By this time, too, the enemy's right Were within 300 yards of Viljoen's left. How was the pompom to be saved? This was the problem to be solved amidst that torrent of lyddite, shrapnel, and bullets which had rained upon that kopje during the seven hours' contest. Away to Viljoen's right, at a distance of half a mile, behind a projecting ridge, there was shelter, but to reach this place an open space of some 500 or 600 yards had to be crossed under all this incessant fire. Viljoen resolved at all costs to save his gun. He directed the remnant of his men to concentrate their fire on the enemy's lines nearest the route which he and the service of the gun were to take, and then at the given signal out dashed the limber, with horses lashed into a furious gallop, tearing over the open space, in a wild and frantic rush for safety. Shells burst now in front, now behind, all round the flying horses; bullets pursued the drivers and escort as with backs bent, but with reins held in the hands of heroes, the burghers in charge cleared the space with lives and gun intact, only to halt round the first protecting ridge, to unlimber again, face round and ply once more their deadly pom-pom shells upon the enemy's lines. To the credit of human nature be it recorded that some of the English Tommies who witnessed this thrilling act of bravery cheered the foemen who had thus displayed a feat which made all men proud that such acts could be performed in contempt of all the perils that lay athwart the path of dutj\ The remnant of the Band men vacated Vaal Krantz, and the English occupied it with a feeling that all the credit and glory of the day had gone with the defenders of the hill, save where the dead and the wounded lying around shared in the triumphs of a misnamed defeat for Viljoen and his eighty heroes.
Traveling night and day from Pretoria Louis Botha reached the field of battle on Tuesday at noon, and took immediate charge of the burgher forces. He brought with him some of the men from round Ladysmith, and, on making himself acquainted with the enemy's lines and dispositions, assumed the aggressive in a sustained artillery fire upon the troops who had taken possession of Vaal Krantz. This fight, mainly with guns, lasted Tuesday and Wednesday; the English, despite their enormous preponderance of men and cannon, failing to advance a single step nearer Ladysmith than the hill so dearly won on Monday afternoon. So well directed was Botha's furious fire from all his splendidly mobile commandoes, that Buller's huge force was made powerless for all aggressive purposes, and had to put itself in a defensive attitude against the plan of battle which the level-headed young farmer had evolved out of the mistakes made by his opponent. Once on Tuesday a Boer force attempted to recapture Vaal Krantz, but the effort was not successful. Again, on Wednesday night an attack was delivered against a body of reenforcements sent over the river by the enemy to relieve Viljoen's commando defending Vaal Krantz
the troops who had been on the hill since Monday. These aggressive attentions of Botha's were intended to show the enemy that the burghers who barred the road to Ladysmith were confident in their capacity to defend their lines even to the extent of charging those of their foemen. Once more victory rested with the Vierkleur. The general who had cabled to England after Spion Kop that he had found the key to Ladysmith, and would be there in a week, had to amend his message on Thursday, February 8, and say that the key would not turn, and that he was once more south of the Tugela with his 31,000 men and 72 guns; his force having been increased following the reverse of the 24th of January.
When the burghers regained the slopes of Vaal Krantz on Thursday they found the bodies of twenty-two of the Band men 24 who had been killed on Monday lying unburied; while six wounded burghers, among them being a young son of ex-President Brand, of the Free State, were also found, who related that they had neither been offered food nor drink nor attention by the British on the hill during the two days and nights they had lain there exposed! General Botha expressed himself in the strongest terms of indignation at this evidence of callous British conduct towards helpless and disabled foes, while George Brand, an elder brother of one of the men thus barbarously neglected, told me afterward, when I was sharing his tent in the Orange Free State, that he would remember that inhuman treatment of his brother as long as the war would last.
On the reoccupation of the hill a number of broken Lee-Metfords were found in the English trenches. These damaged rifles gave rise to a Boer story that a number of the Tommies who had held the kopje from Monday to Wednesday had refused to fire or fight any longer in a position which they deemed to be as hopeless as Spion Kop, and that it was this state of feeling among the soldiers on Vaal Krantz which compelled Buller to ferry them again to the south bank of the Tugela.
The British losses in the attempt to get past Vaal Krantz were light in comparison with the duration of the contest; a fact due to the careful cover taken by the troops in their advance upon Viljoen's positions. Buller's casualties amounted to about 300 all told. The Boer losses were largely those of Viljoen's brigade, and are referred to in the following brief account of the battle sent by General Botha to Mrs. Botha, on Friday, February 9:
" From Monday to yesterday evening there has been heavy fighting. I arrived on the scene early on Tuesday. Commandant Ben Viljoen had a fearful heavy day on Monday, on account of himself and 50 burghers being subjected to a terrible bombardment at their position, under cover of which the enemy succeeded in crossing the river, and attacked the kop guarded by the Band commando. These ' klompje' burghers stood gallantly in defense, until quite two-thirds of them were killed and wounded.
" We have resisted the British attacks along the whole line from Tuesday to last night, during which the enemy, while retreating south, also completely destroyed the three bridges recently made by them.
" Our loss up to last night was 30 killed and 15 wounded.
" Again we must thank God that the powerful British enemy has had to retreat in front of our small number."
The tide of Boer victory was destined, however, to ebb soon after the brilliant action of the Rand men at Vaal Krantz. The unequal fight, so long and so successfully waged between forces more unequal in men and guns than ever contended in civilized warfare, could not long continue after four months' duration, without the side having the huge legions making headway by sheer force of numbers. England had poured her men into South Africa from almost all parts of her world-wide Empire. I recollect General Botha handing me a telegram at Glencoe in May which had just reached him from General De la Rey at Brandfort, announcing Lord Roberts' advance over the veldt from the hills above the Modder River. The message said, in pathetic eloquence, " They are swarming over like locusts! I cannot shoot them back!" And so it was with Botha and his little army of 5,000 burghers in Natal. Their ranks had been thinned in every fight, and no recruits came to fill the gaps. The Republics had put their last fighting men in the field, while the British levies were rolling on over the seas in endless processions of transport ships, leaving a trail of smoke on the horizon almost from London to Cape Town, as an army of stokers raced the fleets and steamers along with their crowded cargoes of men and munitions.
Cronje had not followed up the great victory at Magersfontein by any action of any kind that would lessen the strain upon Botha, or make for the better safety of Bloemfontein in face of Lord Roberts' arrival, and of his preparations for an advance on the Free State capital. This supreme movement of the British would, if successful, render the position of the Federal forces in Natal perilous, and the news of Roberts' presence at the Modder River on the 9th of February was ominous information for the valiant little army of the Tugela, which had for two months been the only portion of the Federal armies, excepting De la Rey's and Ollivier's commandoes around Colesberg, engaged in a continuous field campaign against the enemy.
On Monday, the 12th of February, 300 of the Middelburg commando patrolling near the Blaaukrantz Spruit, south of Colenso, were engaged by a force of some 800 of the enemy who had ridden north from Chieveley on reconnaissance purposes. The British retired after some firing, and the burghers returned with information that preparations were being made for another attack. Large bodies of Buller's troops were observed, on the two following days, moving northeastward towards the ridges south of Langwani, but beyond skirmishes between patrols on both sides, and a repetition of the old cannonading by the British naval guns, no serious engagement occurred. The old positions at Colenso were fully reoccupied by the burghers withdrawn from the Upper Tugela, and by the 18th
Botha and Meyer were again prepared with the same force to dispute Buller's fourth attempt to pass the river.
It was seen, however, as the movements of the enemy were developed, that his immediate objective was not Colenso, but Langwani and the hills still further eastward. These latter hills were only held by small parties of burghers, and any large movement of the enemy on these positions, with the object of turning the extreme Boer left, would render Langwani Hill untenable in its isolated location south of the Tugela. Events were to show on the early morning of Sunday, February 18, that Buller had at last found the key to the door which might unlock the way to Ladysmith.
Once the Federal left was turned east of Langwani, the retention of that hill by the small Boer force which held it became impossible. There was also the doubt as to whether the enemy would attempt to cross the river at a drift west of Pieter's Station, in the north bend of the Tugela, or force a way by Colenso with Langwani in his possession. Tactically, Buller ought to have done both —to have crossed simultaneously with his huge force, as he might have done—but his former experiences deterred him from following up the advantage gained by his right in the seizure of the Boshrand and Bandges Hills.
The possession of these hills and of Langwani was spiritedly contested by the Middelburg, Swaziland, Bethel, and Ermelo commandoes, on the 18th, but the forces against them were fully twenty to one, while the loss of the positions on their extreme left made a continued effort to hold the lines south of the river a mere sacrifice of burgher life: so Botha's men fell back, and crossed to the north side of the stream. The loss in the fighting on and around the hills was not heavy, but the loss of the possession of Langwani was felt as a stunning blow to the operations in Natal. The fire of the big Creusot gun from near Pieter's Railway Station during the attack on the Boer commandoes across the river was very effective, as was also the action of the pom-poms, and the British losses numbered more than 150 in the engagement of the 18th.
On the 21st Buller resolved to try his luck at Colenso again, having now the whole south bank of the Tugela in his possession; his object being to force a way past Grobler's Kloof, which would be the easiest, if not the shortest, way to the lines south of Ladysmith, where he could receive the assistance of White's guns at Caesar's Camp. Eeports had doubtless reached the English lines that Prinsloo's Free Staters had left the defending positions north of Colenso, and had retired through Van Reenan's Pass to meet the invasion of their own country by Roberts' army, and this news may have determined Buller to resolve upon making a second Colenso redeem the disaster of the first. But the burghers of Colenso first, and of Spion Kop, tho reduced in numbers, were still a body of fighters to be reckoned with, and as the English negotiated the Tugela by two pontoon bridges on that Wednesday morning, they found the ridges in front held by Botha's men, with never a sign that they were going to allow untoward events to slacken their fire or unnerve their souls in the fight against the enemy of their homes and country.
The British crossed the river in large force east and west of Colenso, covered by guns from the hills eastward; no opposition being offered beyond a rifle attack by the Boxburg and Heidelberg men, who were posted in the river bed. These retired on the positions along the Onderbroek Spruit road, the British following. They were allowed to approach near to where the Middelburg and Ermelo men were located, when these opened such a terrific fire upon them that they retreated back to the river, leaving 150 killed and wounded behind, and no further attempt was made that day to get past a spot so well defended. On Thursday the Boer guns were located where they commanded the two roads by Pieter's Station and Grobler's Kloof, and with Buller's immediate intentions now pretty well understood, it was resolved that he should only pass to Ladysmith over the bodies of the burghers in front of him.
The two positions most strongly held by Botha and Meyer were Pieter's Hill and Grobler's Kloof; the railway and a roadway to Ladysmith running in between. The Middelburg men, under the gallant Commandant Fourie, were on the east slope of Grobler's, and the Krugersdorp and Rustenburg men holding the western slope of Pieter's Hill opposite, under two men as brave as any who ever fought for freedom—Commandant Potgieter, of Rustenburg, who took the surrender of Jameson and his Raiders in 1896, and Sarel Oosthuizen, a hero of fifty fights, the valiant Field Cornet of Krugersdorp.
The first direct attack of the enemy on Thursday was upon Commandant Fourie's position, after the hill had been subjected for two hours to a continuous cannonading. The English crept forward under cover of this fire, slowly and cautiously, in a widely extended line. They were men of Lancashire regiments, some of whom had been on Spion Kop. No enemy of the hated cause they fought for will think them less brave for feeling, as they must have felt, that they were marching to death or disablement two miles ahead of 20,000 other troops down by the river, who were not allowed to climb these heights in the might of numbers and sweep the few Boers in front before seven times their force of
British adversaries. On they came, until within 400 yards of Fourie's Middelburgers, when there was a crash of leaden thunder, and down went the Lancashire lads in scores before the wall of rifles in front. They wavered, rallied again like the plucky " Lanes" of their fighting county, but there would be no taking of that hillside on that day with Fourie and his burghers to defend it. Back again to the river went the broken lines of the enemy's battalions, beaten once more by fewer but braver men.
Night came on; the English dead and wounded lay out under the starry heavens, with no hands to minister to the wants of those still needing human care; the enemy in his thousands down below at the river, careless or indifferent, thinking only of a possible victory by a further sacrifice of more hired troops on the morrow. The Boers were in their trenches, rifles in hand, as if never in need of sleep, in their vigilant guardianship of the ground committed to their protection.
Friday morning woke serene and bright over the still smoking battle-field. Again began the bloody program of the previous day. Lyddite and shrapnel from navals, howitzers, and field pieces deluged the ridges which crossed the path to Ladysmith, after which the usual advance of infantry was to come. The Boers adopted their invariable common-sense tactics, and remained silent, waiting for the real assault when their enemies should arrive within the range of rifles. The Middelburgers were once more the object of the enemy's first attention as on the previous evening, but there is only the same story to tell of the attempt to take the ridge, and what followed. Fourie and his burghers held their ground, and their foes were driven back after repeated charges, hundreds of dead and wounded being left behind, as on the day before.
This, however, was only the first item in this Friday's program. Three attacks by English regiments had been delivered, and had failed on the Middelburg position. It was now resolved by Buller to assail the position to the left, Pieter's Hill, and the troops selected for the task consisted mainly of General Hart's 5th Brigade. Inniskillings, Dublin Fusiliers, and Connaught Bangers were the chief regiments of this brigade, with other troops added to increase the weight of numbers for the task in hand.
Pieter's Hill, where the Krugersdorp burghers were in position, rises gradually to a height of 1,000 feet above the north bank of the Tugela, in a slope which can be negotiated easily on horseback. To the left (looking south from the Boer positions) there is a drift over the river; to the immediate right the railway and a road to Ladysmith passes, with the Onderbroeck ridges and Grobler's Kloof rising parallel on the west; and north, or back, of Pieter's Hill the railway station is located. The Boer lines, somewhat crescent-shaped in formation, extended over these points; a hill east of the waterfall being Botha's left, and the ridges along the Onderbroeck Spruit being the right—the two roads and the railway to Ladysmith running in between, through long and narrow valleys.
Langwani Hill, south of the river, is immediately opposite Pieter's Hill, at a distance of some 7,000 yards, and the entire Boer positions were open from there to Buller's artillery attacks; the naval guns being able to rake every point of ground occupied by Botha' men. The other English batteries, numbering sixty more guns, were mostly on the south side of the river, and all within range distance of the places held by the burghers. Every advance b; infantry upon any point of attack was preceded by a bombardment of Buller's entire artillery, and this fact has to be borne in mind when the reader is asked to judge on the relative claims to admiration of the men who charged and those who defended the positions on Pieter's Hill on the 23rd of February. No finer exhibition of endurance, pluck, and nerve has ever been made in warfare than that of the 400 burghers who held that hill against fully fifty guns and repeated attacks of Hart's 5th Brigade.
The morning had been signalized by the repulse of the troops sent against the positions on the Boer right, and early in the afternoon of that memorable Friday, the three regiments named, along with two English regiments as supports, were advanced against Pieter's Hill.
The Inniskillings had been sent in a night inarch up from Colenso along the river to assail the hill from the east in conjunction with the Connaughts, who followed; the Dublins' duty being to protect the flank of the attacking force. The troops were discovered early in the morning by the Ermelo men, who accounted for about fifty of their foemen. This attack was made from a small hill above the waterfall, near the Boer left. The object of Hart's men, however, was to assault the position on Pieter's Hill, west of where they had been fired upon, and, after leaving some men to protect their rear, they moved over some ridges to where the attack on Pieter's was to be delivered.
At this point the Inniskillings and Connaughts were joined by the Dublins, and the whole awaited the order to charge the hill to their right, up the sloping sides of which they would have to move after crossing an intervening space of a few hundred yards, which place alone in the work before them would bring them under the fire of the Boer guns to the north.
It was well on in the afternoon when the order to advance was given, and the three famed British regiments swept westward from the hills they had gained down to the hollow from which they were to climb the eastern and southern sides of the hill in front of them. They went over the ground in wide order, seeking cover where available, while in front of them—but perilously near their own leading ranks—the shells from Buller's guns shrieked and burst over the heads of Boer and Briton alike. The Inniskill-ings were on the left of the advancing brigade, the Dublins in the center, and the Connaughts in the back and on the right; the first of these regiments being in advance in the movement up the hill. On they came, the Boer guns north being unable to fire on to the reverse side of the intervening hill up which the English were mounting. But it was not a day or a case for guns, but for men and rifles, and there amidst that inferno of bursting shells, facing these 2,000 trained soldiers with bayonets gleaming in the sun, the 400 young farmers lay waiting, picking out their targets from among those sons of English and Irish mothers slowly climbing that hill to find a grave beneath its grassy slopes. Suddenly from the left flank of the Inniskillings a fusillade was opened, before the Krugersdorpers in front had yet fired. It was some of the Ermelo men under Tobias Smuts who had followed up the enemy from the left, and no sooner had these opened upon the Inniskillings than crash went the hail of bullets from the 400 Mausers into the troops in front of them, again and again, as with an exulting cheer of defiance and contempt for bayonets the men under Sarel Oosthuizen and Potgieter sprang over their sangars, firing, almost point blank into their foes, and rolling them down the hill broken and dismayed. Back again to the trenches went the Boers, and up again, under persuasion, example, and threats of officers, came the Inniskillings; this time the Dublins being in front, the Connaughts remaining below; all moving over ground on which hundreds of their fellows were lying, many never to advance or retreat again. Once again the English guns miscalculated the distance; Boer officers and men allege other grounds for what happened: but, be that as it may, there was again, as at Talana Hill—also in the case of Irish regiments—shells falling in their ranks; as happened likewise at Colenso, Spion Kop, Magersfontein, and other battles. With deadly riflemen in front and inexpert gunners behind, the British troops moved forward resolutely, bravely, only to find an impossible barrier of fire and death before them, which no men in khaki should pass that day. Down the hill once more went some of those who came up; this time the retreat being a veritable race between Inniskillings, Dublins, and others who should reach the river first. Six hundred men of Hart's Brigade remained on Pieter's Hill, dead and wounded, A few hundred who were unwounded could not getaway from the ring of fire drawn round them. They remained on the field all night; fired at from front by the Boers, and from behind by their own guns; while, as Lieutenant Best, of the Inniskillings, related in an interview after surrender, " On Friday night, at dusk, appreciating the hopelessness of our position and with the view of saving qwt wounded from unnecessary exposure, I hoisted the white flag. There were so few of us left! It being dusk, your people in the trenches did not see our signal, and they continued shooting during the night. My conjecture is they suspected treachery. Our own artillerists on Monte Christo and elsewhere, probably not knowing we were there, so close upon you, poured shell after shell into us—those that fell a little short of your entrenchments, you know—and in this way some of ours were also unwittingly maimed and killed. Oh, it was ghastly! At dawn I raised the white flag again and again, and your people finally came down and disarmed us, and here we are—those that are left of us."
On Saturday morning the fight was renewed, but mainly by artillery; the Boer guns having been removed to better ground during the night time, and being thus able to shell those who held the valley south to Colenso, as well as the troops who clung to the river bank below the shambles on Pieter's Hill. All this time the wounded were unattended to. Scores of them bled to death; others less severely hit suffered agonies from thirst; while over and above all this horror the British shells came pitilessly on to the sides of Pieter's Hill, aimed at the Boer positions, and still falling among the English dead and disabled.
The artillery combat of Saturday was succeeded by a cessation of hostilities on Sunday, following the invariable custom of the Boers not to fight on the Sabbath unless attacked. The Boer general agreed to an armistice, which, like that granted after Spion Kop, was used by Buller for military, and not alone for humane, purposes. Under cover of this truce Buller took his forces once more over the river, and registered his fourth defeat at Botha's hands.
No less than 1,000 British were killed, wounded, and taken prisoner during the continued fight from the 18th to the 23rd; over 1,000 of those falling before the rifles of the burghers defending Pieter's Hill. The Boer loss was, as usual, comparatively small, tho on this occasion it was relatively high for the number of burghers who had borne the brunt of Buller's artillery fire, and of the attack by Hart's Brigade. Thirty-one killed and 130 wrounded were given as representing the united losses of the whole Boer forces engaged from the 18th to the 25th, Commandant Potgieter being included among the severely wounded. The Krugersdorp men lost 14 killed and 31 wounded, the Middelburg, Ermelo, and Rustenburg commandoes coming next in the list of casualties, which was officially published in the Boer press on the 2nd of March, 1900.
Buller made good use of the armistice. Realizing how unshakeable was the hold which Botha held of the two roads passing from Colenso to Ladysmith, the English general abandoned the task of forcing a passage there, and directed his fifth attempt by the way it had been feared he would have carried his first effort to cross on the 15th of December. He held Colenso and Langwani Hill, and, pretending to withdraw his forces south of the river again for rest and recuperation, he swung his whole left round to the bend in the Tugela east of Colenso, threw pontoons over the river, and carried the bulk of his force to the north bank, thus turning Botha's left completely, and menacing the Krugersdorpers' hold on Pieter's Hill. It was a tactical movement, and the only one left for him to adopt after repeated and unsuccessful attempts at frontal attacks and showy demonstrations with bayonets had only cost him soldiers' lives and continued defeats in his many attempts to reach Ladysmith. Buller had at last inserted the key in the lock which was to open the door to White and his imprisoned army.
On Tuesday, the 27th of February, General Cronje surrendered to Lord Roberts at Paardeberg with his army of 4,000 burghers.
On the following day Lord Dundonald with a cavalry force rode north_ from General Buller's lines below Nelthorpe, swept past General Botha's left, and raised the siege of Ladysmith.
The Krugersdorp men still held on to Pieter's Hill; the Middelburg, Ermelo, and Zoutpansberg burghers were yet in position on what was the right of Botha's lines on the 23rd. On the 27th both these positions were fiercely attacked by overwhelming and fresh forces of the enemy. All the British guns had again been brought to bear upon the ridges, where the Boers still held on tenaciously, while the troops who had been thrown across the river and had turned Botha's left took the Krugersdorpers' position in flank, and finally forced them from the hill. During the renewed attack on this position by the English, a body of forty of the Johannesburg brigade, under Du Preez, were sent from the right to relieve the Krugersdorp men, who were engaged with twenty times their number. The Band men, in rounding a kopje to reach the north of Pieter's Hill, found themselves surrounded by the enemy, and were forced to surrender. The burghers on the hill were compelled to evacuate it, but they had again rendered a good account of themselves before yielding their position, as seen in the numbers of British lying around where their few foemen had so stubbornly maintained their ground.
It was now, however, a matter of a rear-guard action, as the disastrous news from the Free State had produced its effect on many of the burghers, who had already retired towards the Biggarsberg. The men who had fought for twelve or fourteen days almost continuously had now to face round and keep the pursuing foe at a distance, to save the guns and to secure the way of retreat past
Ladysmith. Botha was everywhere, front, rear, and flank, encouraging his worn-out burghers, looking cheery and confident as usual, trying to inspirit the men, and ever ready with rifles and artillery to turn round and teach the British behind that the men who were retiring were those of Colenso and Spion Kop. He extricated his little force out of its perilous situation with superb coolness and complete success; developing new powers of successful generalship in facing his pursuers again and again, so that General Buller was slow to allow his big legions to follow too soon in the wake of so daring and desperate a foe. Thus every gun and ammunition wagon belonging to the army of the Tugela was withdrawn, and taken with safety past Lad3rsmith to the Biggarsberg hills.
It was on the night of the 1st of March that a few weary, drenched men rode along in the rain on horses scarcely able to carry their riders, with the evil-omened town to their left, the siege of which had been the ill-starred enterprise of the whole Federal campaign. Wagons, carts, men, guns had gone before, in the rear of Joubert's retreat on Glencoe. These few horsemen were Generals Botha and Meyer, with their adjutants, bringing up the last men of the force. The men were utterly exhausted after fully fourteen days of ceaseless fighting, in which many of the bravest burghers had fallen. They were rounding a hill east of Ladysmith, on their way to Modderspruit, when sounds of pursuing cavalry were heard from the direction of the town. Suddenly, however, a small body of men were seen to emerge from beneath the shadow of Lombard's Kop, to spread themselves out right and left of the road over which the rear of the retreating column had passed, and open fire upon the advancing English. They were but seventy men who had thus thrown themselves across what can well be imagined to have been the vengeful resolve of some of General White's garrison, sallying forth to make reprisal for their long and humiliating captivity in the fever-stricken town. The cavalry force, thus foiled, wheeled round, and returned to Ladysmith. Botha, who had been a witness of the little fight, awaited the arrival of the officer in command of the body which had thus given him such timely support, and hailed him as he drew near: " Hello, Blake, is that you? That was well done; Lam thankful to your men for their action." These men of Blake's Brigade had been the special guard of " Long Tom " during most of the siege, and had secured his removal from Lombard's Kop on that very evening when chance also gave them the opportunity of serving, and perhaps also saving, the one man in whom the hopes of Boer nationality were most centered after his brilliant exploits in the Tugela campaign.
President Kruger came from Pretoria to Glencoe to encourage the burghers to persevere in the fight against the enemy; the Government having already issued a proclamation to the Republic relating to General Cronje's surrender, from which I give the following extract:
" Notwithstanding that various rumors were afloat concerning Assistant-General Cronje and his men, and, altho the Government received no further official information with respect to this matter, the Government understands that the surrender must be accepted as a fact.
" However disappointing this may be, the Government is assured that this incident will not discourage our fighting forces in the defense of our independent national existence.
" The conflict as waged up to this point has abundantly testified that both Republics have been able to justify their existence as a self-subsisting nation, and this reverse will by no means cause us to waver in the struggle for our cherished rights.
" We believe that, whatever may occur, the Lord our God will continue to govern.
" In consequence of the invasion of the Free State by the enemy's main forces, and owing to other circumstances, it was necessary to take up other positions. This principally occurred in Natal. We withdrew to the Biggarsberg, and all our commandoes have arrived there safely."