De Wet's encounters—His capture of the Irish Loyalist Yeomanry at Lindley—De la Rey's victory at Nitral's Nek—Surrender ot Prinsloo—An American Consul where he ought not to be—-Early fruits of Lord Roberts' drastic policy—Burghers return to the commandoes—Burning a widow's home—Her retort—The Cordua "plot"—Battle of Dalmanutha—Lord Roberts annexes the Transvaal—Defeat of Ollivier—Correspondence between Roberts and Botha—Death of Theron—President Kruger sails for Europe—The British gain control of Delagoa Bay railway—The Foreign Volunteers return home—De Wet's policy adopted by all the Boers—De wet escapes from a trap—Captures and recaptures—is defeated at Bothaville—disgraceful "rejoicings" at return of London volunteers—Savage press sentiments in England—"Concentration" camps resolved upon—President Kruger lands in France—Lord Roberts relinquishes command to Kitchener and returns to England—De la Rey beats Clements at Nooitgedacht—"Punch's" diary of a week's achievements by the British—De Wet again baffles surrounding columns— Second Boer invasion of Cape Colony—Commandant Kritzinger—Botha captures and releases the oft-captured Liverpools—Kitchener's summary of the situation.
I returned from South Africa at the end of May, 1900, and was thus cut off from communication with the Transvaal and Free State leaders in the field, and from other means of obtaining direct Boer information. The facts and incidents relating to the events recorded in this diary are derived mainly from sources of general knowledge, and are not included in the volume with a guaranty of accuracy, or on any authority other than that which attaches to ordinary public report carefully examined.
In condensing the narrative of conflicts and occurrences from the 1st of June, 1900, to the present date into the form of a Diary of the War, my desire is to give my readers a rough, consecutive record of the combats between the opposing forces, in the absence of such information as would enable me to continue the descriptive | accounts of battles, as in previous chapters. Accurate knowledge is wanting of these more or less continuous engagements, and of other occurrences in South Africa since the English possessed themselves of all the channels of communication. They still enforce a rigorous press and postal censorship, and only leave the Boers the opportunity offered by a chance message of giving to the public in Europe and America their own versions of victories or defeats, or of their enemies' methods of conducting the campaign.
The Boer history of the past two years, and of the struggle on to the end of the war, will be told by competent authority some day, and the following imperfect account of what has happened during that time must necessarily take the place, for the present, of the fuller and better authenticated record which has still to be written.
I omit mention of numerous small encounters between detached bodies, in which the casualties were too few to lend importance to such skirmishes.
June 1-7.—Patrols of De Wet's, forming part of scattered commandoes, located some farm-burning Britishers in the locality of Ficksburg, O.F.S., and successfully ambushed them. Thirty surrendered.
Do Wet captured a convoy at Vredefort Road, on its way to Heilbron. It consisted of 150 Highlanders who were escorting food and necessaries for General Colvile's army, in the northeast of the Free State. Fifty-five wagons and their contents were secured. The British attempted no resistance. An officer from De Wet, bearing a white flag, rode into the enemy's camp with a summons to surrender. They surrendered, were disarmed, and subsequently released.
Captain Daanie Theron and his scouting corps were attached to De Wet's commandoes while these were operating in the rear of Lord Roberts' march on Pretoria. It is a legend of the Free State laagers that the Highlanders who were captured on the 4th of June, had been piloted during a portion of their journey by a young lad, born in Kroonstad, of Scotch parents, who rode a bicycle and produced a pass bearing Lord Methuen's signature. The "lad" disappeared the night before the convoy fell into De Wet's hands.
The capture of the men of the Duke of Cambridge's Own 13th Imperial Yeomanry, and of the "Irish Hunt Corps" (so called from its select composition, since it comprised earls, landlords, judges' sons, and Belfast Orangemen), occurred as follows, on the 31st of May: It was the first adventure of this section of the Imperial Yeomanry Volunteers in the war. Their commanding officer was Colonel Spragge, and they were under orders to march from Kroonstad to Lindley, as a reenforcement for General Colvile's column. On arriving at their destination, it was found that Col-vile had withdrawn from the town on that morning, following an engagement with a Boer commando, and had proceeded due north for Heilbron, a distance of some fifty miles.
While considering what course to take under these circumstances, it was discovered by Spragge that a Boer force had surrounded Lindley, and was about to attack the Duke's Own and the Belfast "huntsmen." The British officer disposed of his men in the way best calculated to enable them to defend themselves, and the first, and the last, fight of these Irish loyalists in the war began.
Accounts vary in the details of the struggle. I have been assured that not half-a-dozen burghers lost their lives in the conflict with the Yeos during the three days' running battle which ensued. Spragge retreated from the town after finding that his assailants were in possession of the hills which dominated it. He was pursued closely by De Wet and his men, and driven into a position where he was easily held by his adversary, until, on finding there were no reenforcements coming either from General Colvile in the north, or Lord Methuen, who was somewhere in the Kroonstad district, the corps uplifted the white flag and became De Wet's prisoners. Less than ten per cent, of them had been placed hors de combat in the three days' fight. Had they only held out for a few hours longer, Lord Methuen would have succeeded in reaching them from Kroonstad.
After being disarmed, the whole body of over 450 men was sent across towards the Natal border, under an armed guard of eight burghers.["The National (British) Review," January, 1901, p. 666.]
Two earls were among the surrendered Yeos. On the 7th of July De Wet released all his prisoners, including the titled ones.
On the 6th of June a composite force of about 800 British were in charge of a huge quantity of stores, intended for Lord Roberts' army, near Roodeval, fifty miles north of Kroonstad. General Colvile's column was somewhere east, and Lord Methuen's immediately south, of this position. The Derbyshire Militia Regiment and other troops were in camp as a protection for the stores. During the night Commandant Nel, with a section of De Wet's forces, stole in between the two British columns, attacked the Militia at dawn, and finally captured the stores and ammunition. The Militia fought well for four or five hours before hoisting the white flag. Over 400 surrendered.
June 8-15.—During the middle of June De Wet's activity was chiefly directed to the rear of Roberts' army, on the line of his communications, where Lord Methuen, with a large column, was defending these south of Kroonstad. By the exercise of his accustomed strategy, the Boer general enticed his opponent away north, in the direction of Heilbron, and, on Methuen walking into the snare, De Wet wheeled round and destroyed the railway for several miles between Smaldeel and Kroonstad, after which he successfully eluded the pursuit of the returning English column.
On the 12th Lord Roberts reported an engagement between his forces and those of General Botha eastward of Pretoria. He said: " The enemy fought with great determination, and held our cavalry on both flanks, but Hamilton caused the enemy to fall back on their second position eastward, which they are still holding." Botha was finally compelled to retire eastward, while Robert's forces returned to Pretoria.
On the same date, Lord Roberts addressed a letter to Commandant-General Botha advising him to give up the struggle, saying: " The British force under my command so greatly exceeds the Boer army in numbers that, tho the war may be prolonged for a few more weeks, there can be but one result."
On General Botha requesting that operations should cease all along the line of hostilities, during an armistice which would enable him to consult with other generals and the members of his Government, Lord Roberts refused this condition and the negotiations ended.
The British general's "few weeks" are now (March, 1902) »inety in number, and the war is not yet over.
June 10-23.—A portion of De Wet's commando attacked a train at Leeuw Spruit, north of Kroonstad, which, according to report, contained Lord Kitchener. The English general is said to have had a narrow escape from being captured. He sprang from his carriage, seized a horse, and rode to the nearest British camp. The attack on the train was made by Theron and his scouts.
Sixty miles south of this place another train was attacked at Zand River, and 2,000 mail bags intended for Roberts' army were destroyed. The burghers engaged in this exploit belonged to De Villier's command under Boerman.
June 24-30.—A convoy carrying stores for the English garrison at Lindley was assailed by some of De Wet's men, led by General Philip Botha. A spirited fight ensued, in which 15 British were killed and 50 wounded. The convoy fought its way out of the encounter, however, and succeeded in reaching its destination.
July 1-7.—Lord Roberts despatched a combined cavalry and infantry force of near 10,000 men with thirty guns to operate against De Wet in the northeast of the Free State. Generals Hunter, Rundle, Clements, and Paget were in command of separate columns of this force. De Wet and Prinsloo fell back south before these divisions to Bethlehem, where they fought an engagement, and were compelled to retire still southward towards the Wittebergen Hills. General Prinsloo, who was in charge of the largest body of the Tree State burghers at this time, made for the Brandwater region of these hills, close to the Basutoland border, where he allowed himself to be surrounded by Hunter's forces, now divided into six columns. De Wet and President Steyn, with 1,500 men and six guns, doubled back north, under cover of night, and successfully broke the encircling cordon—one of the objects being to draw off the pressure upon Prinsloo's position.
In the meantime, General Louis Botha with a force of 3,000 men fought an engagement with Colonel Mahon and General Hutton, in command of some 8,000 troops, at Bronkhorstspruit, near the sixth railway station, east of Pretoria. This fight was mainly one of artillery, and there were only a few casualties on both sides.
July 8-15.—On the 11th of July, a section of General De la Rey's commando, under Commandant Beyers, attacked General Smith-Dorrien and four British battalions with two guns, at Heckpoort, southwest of Pretoria, defeated them, and compelled them to retreat.
On the same date, a few days after General Buller had visited Lord Roberts at Pretoria, and the meeting of the two generals in the Transvaal capital had been duly acclaimed by the English war press as heralding, " the final conquest of the Republic," General De la Rey attacked another British force at Nitral's Nek, defeated them with a loss of over 300 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and captured two guns. This engagement was fought within eighteen miles of Pretoria. The place is on the Rustenburg road, where it crosses a branch of the Krokodil River, and some twenty-five miles north of Heckpoort. To the west of Nitral's Nek, a high kop dominates the lower ridges of the Magaliesberg Hills. It was from this elevation the Boers were able to locate the exact position of the enemy. They seized the heights above the English camp to the west, while a small cooperating body advanced from the opposite direction and occupied another hill in the early morning; both contingents opening fire simultaneously upon the surprised British. They captured the enemy's guns and turned them upon the second position, which was ultimately stormed and taken.
The English forces consisted of five companies of the Lincolnshire Regiment, a squadron of the Scots Greys, and some men of the Royal Horse Artillery in charge of the guns. The fight lasted for some hours, and terminated in a complete victory for De la Rey's men; the British surrendering on finding their casualties increasing under the fire of their own guns in Boer hands.
On the same date a force of Dragoons, Hussars, and other regiments was attacked by Commandant Kemp at Waterval, nearer still to Pretoria, and defeated, the British retreating.
July 16-23.—General De Wet and President Steyn with a well-mounted flying column and a few light guns made for Lindley, pursued by General Broadwood, after having broken through Hunter's surrounding columns. Broadwood was joined in the pursuit by other officers and forces who were met on the route, and the combined Britishers got in touch with their foes on the 19th. De Wet divided his commando into two sections, placed one under Commandant Nel, and, agreeing with him upon a rendezvous west of the railway in the locality of Reitzburg, rode past Broadwood in the night-time, attacked and captured a convoy north of Kroonstad, and left his pursuers far behind. On reuniting with the other section of his force at a strong position near Reitzburg, De Wet awaited the approach of Broadwood to attack him, but this officer, | on reconnoitering his opponent's preparations, refused to attack, and awaited reenforcements.
July 24-31.—In the meantime, Prinsloo remained hemmed in by General Hunter's surrounding forces in the Brandwater region. He surrendered his men, three guns and a million rounds of ammunition, on the 30th of July. General Ollivier, who had charge of the Rourville commando, with whom there were a body of Cape Volunteers, rode through the British lines on the night previous, and got away north. The burghers who remained with Prinsloo numbered 3,500. It was the next largest surrender of Boers to that of Paardeberg, but, unlike Cronje's heroic combat, it possessed no redeeming feature, military or patriotic. It was an action worthy of Prinsloo's record in the war, which was barren of a single successful engagement, and replete with instances in which his discretion held no intercourse whatever with the soldierly I instinct of the Boer.
It was believed in Boer circles in Europe that a large proportion of the burghers who were included in Prinsloo's surrender were non-combatants.
August 1-7.—A section of De la Rey's command was attacked near the Magaliesherg range of hills, west of Pretoria, by General Hamilton. Forty English were killed and wounded in the engagement. The Boers retreated west; their casualties were not reported.
On the same date a train containing British soldiers and supplies was attacked south of Kroonstad by Theron and his scouts. The train was derailed, and 60 soldiers were made prisoners. It happened that Colonel Stowe, United States Consul at Cape Town, was traveling by the train. He flew the flag of the great Republic from his carriage window! The attack on the train was represented by the London press as " an outrage upon the American flag." The real outrage consisted in the United States flag being so used on such an occasion. That flag had no right to fly over an English train carrying armed troops, engaged in actual war against a country towards which Mr. Stowe's Government had, at least, professed the relations of neutrality.
During the months of July and August, reports from the theater of the war went to show that Boers who had given up the campaign after the capture of the Transvaal capital were returning again in considerable numbers to the fighting laagers. Lord Roberts' proclamations, and the treatment accorded to burghers who had gone home to their farms, were responsible for this renewed activity. " Unconditional surrender" was the English general's terms to men who had fought a valiant and unmatched combat for their country, while it was seen that those who had been induced to lay down their arms and to return to their homes, under promises not to be molested, were deprived of their horses as well as of weapons, and left unarmed and unprotected amidst the Kaffirs of districts which the war had largely thinned of their white inhabitants.
A wiser and a more chivalrous policy on the part of the British after the surrender of Pretoria; a policy which, while asserting England's predominancy in South Africa as a result of the war, would have remembered and acted upon Lord Salisbury's public declaration, " that England was seeking neither territory nor gold mines " in the hostilities against the Transvaal, but the vindication of those rights and claims which his Government had proclaimed to be the sole purpose of their armed interference in the internal affairs of the Republic; this would have ended the conflict with political credit to the victors in the struggle, and without embittering Boer national feeling. Public opinion everywhere would have acclaimed such a policy as just, prudent, and humane. England failed to rise to the level of such an attitude of national manliness. Roberts' terms were, instead, those which a victorious English army has ever imposed upon a weak foe. But, in this instance, the grave and costly mistake was made of considering the Boers as being beaten when they had lost only their capital and the railway lines held by the British, while seven-tenths of the Transvaal were still virtually in their possession. The British blundered brutally, and they were destined in consequence to pay for their revenge to an extent and in a manner of which they had no thought when loudly acclaiming their already dearly-purchased triumph in the capital of the little Republic.
One of the most stupidly vindictive measures that was ever adopted to put down resistance on the part-of a spirited adversary was Lord Roberts' orders that, wherever a railway track was injured or a train fired upon, the farms for a radius of ten miles were to be burned. The railways were practically the only means of transport and communications for the British armies with their base at Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth, and this being so, no more legitimate acts of warfare could be carried out than attacks upon these most vulnerable lines behind the enemy's advance. The spirit and letter of the code of civilized warfare were specifically and audaciously violated in such orders, and the law of a savage, vindictive vandalism substituted, by the British generalissimo.
One of these English decrees was being put in force by some troops between Heidelberg and Standerton in the Transvaal, when the lady who occupied one of the farms doomed to the flames asked the officer who had notified her of the fate of her home, why this deed was to be done?
"It is Lord Roberts' orders, Madam."
"But what have I, a widow, done to have my children's home burned? "
" The railway has been torn up a few miles away, and ___ "
" But, surely," replied the woman, " if Lord Roberts and 150,000 British soldiers cannot protect the railway, a widow and her children cannot be expected to prevent its being injured?"
During the month of August Lord Roberts added a little variety to his daily reports to England by detailing an account of an alleged Boer plot to kidnap himself. This feat was to be performed, it appears, inside of Pretoria, with a British army of occupation all round.
The instrument of the "plot" turned out to be a dissipated young Uitlander, who had served in the Transvaal Artillery. His name was Cordua. He was to seize Lord Roberts, on a convenient opportunity, and carry him off through the English lines to those of General Botha! This was the English story of the precious plot. When the facts leaked out, it transpired that the whole scheme, in its invention and purpose, was the work of an English agent-provocateur, named Gano, who had found a convenient tool in Cordua for the construction of the sensational " conspiracy " in which Cordua was to be the principal and victim, and Gano the vigilant and well-rewarded agent who discovered the contemplated " crime."
Cordua was court-martialed, found guilty on the evidence of Gano, and, with Lord Roberts' approval, shot within the precincts of Pretoria Jail.
The entire German press denounced this act as brutal and unnecessary. The " Vossische Zeitung " voiced the views of its contemporaries in saying: " It is another hateful incident of a war brimful of hateful incidents. Cordua was a man quite irresponsible; the mere creature of a British agent-provoeateur."
As recorded in a previous chapter, General De la Rey with a relatively small force, had conducted a brilliant campaign west of Pretoria, after his victory at Nitral's Nek in June, and Lord Roberts had to despatch a large number of troops under General Ian Hamilton to extricate Baden-Powell from Rustenburg, and to rescue other British garrisons which the indomitable Lichtenburger and his splendid commando had driven into defensive positions. By the middle of August, De la Rey had beaten three such garrisons into a retreat and compelled Generals Hamilton and Baden-Powell to retire to the shelter of greater British forces nearer Pretoria. General Carrington with his incomparable Australian " Bushmen " and Yeomanry found safety in what is believed to have been the swiftest running performance on record in the war. He reached a refuge in Mafeking. Methuen, Carrington, Baden-Powell, and the relieving column under Ian Hamilton, thus gave De la Rey, for a time, the wide berth of the entire Rustenburg and Zeerust districts where his effective force was estimated to be from 1,500 to 2,000 only. Finally, Lord Kitchener and a strong force had to be despatched to Elands River to rescue Colonel Hoare and his garrison of Rhodesians and Yeomen, whom Carrington and Baden-Powell had, as related, left to their fate. Hoare had made a gallant defense before his rescue.
Concurrently with these events, the little army of the Tugela under Christian Botha and Lukas Meyer had retired before General Buller, evacuating Natal and falling back through the southeast of the Transvaal, in line with General Louis Botha's retreat eastward along the Delagoa Bay railway. There was very little fighting during the carrying out of this movement.
After bringing his forces to Laing's Nek, General Buller sought an interview (in June) with General Christian Botha, which was granted. He appealed to the Boer officer to give up the struggle, which was now hopeless for the Transvaal, adding: " If the war goes on the Boers' homes would be destroyed and their property would suffer a great deal of damage." (South African War Despatches, Vol. II., p. 85.) The Boer general replied, that the Boers would only lay down their arms on being guaranteed their independence. General Buller wired to Lord Roberts for an answer to the questions asked by Christian Botha, and received the reply: " My terms with the Transvaal Government are unconditional surrender."
In his report to Lord Roberts of this interview, General Buller said: " I have in front of me about half the Transvaal forces now in the field" (p. 87).
Near the end of July President Steyn, who was with De Wet at Reitzburg, in the Free State due south of Potchefstroom, resolved upon crossing into the Transvaal for a conference with Generals Louis Botha and De la Rey and the members of the South African Republic. The British forces which attempted to prevent this movement were two cavalry and two infantry columns, south of the river, under Generals Knox, Hart, and Ridley. On the north side, Lord Methuen and General Smith-Dorrien barred the way, with other columns, while Lord Kitchener was in chief command of all the surrounding, pursuing, and hemming-in forces. De Wet not only crossed the big river in safety, but selected a drift for the passage called by his own name, and rode past the Kitchener barriers, making for Rustenburg; while his lieutenant, Commandant Nel, held the enemy at bay near Frederickstad. Near the former town, De Wet had an interview with De la Rey. In cool contempt for all his pursuers, he then rode eastward to within twenty miles of Pretoria, and, learning that Baden-Powell, who had been rescued shortly before from De la Rey by Ian Hamilton, was near by, he wrote him a letter, summoning him to surrender. After this joke at the expense of the lords and generals who were on his track, he directed his course northeast of Pretoria, and, with a small escort only, succeeded in reaching the place where it had been arranged that President Steyn was to have his conference with the Transvaal leaders.
By the end of the month all the generals who had been engaged in the task of surrounding De Wet, arrived in Pretoria with the tidings of their failure.
Of all the numberless achievements which will immortalize this great Boer general in military annals and romance, probably no one of them will be found to surpass in brilliancy of dash, in consummate soldierly tact, courage, and resource, this running fight between 1,500 Boers and the columns and bundles of generals whom De Wet virtually conducted, in the carrying out of his purpose, for fully 200 miles, from the borders of Basutoland almost to Lord Roberts' headquarters in Pretoria.
General Ollivier, who also broke away from Prinsloo's surrounded commandoes on the 30th of July, on the 27th of August attacked Winburg, held by General Bruce Hamilton. The Boer general was defeated and captured along with three of his sons who fought by his side. It was Ollivier who was mainly instrumental in defeating General Gatacre at Stormberg, on the 10th of December, 1899.
August 23-30.—On the failure of Lord Roberts' plan to capture De Wet or to prevent his entering the Transvaal, the British Commander-in-Chief moved all his available forces east to Belfast, on the Delagoa Bay line; Botha having fallen back beyond this point from Middelburg. General Buller had advanced in the wake of Christian Botha's force, parallel with the line of Lord Roberts' movement, so that the two British armies were in touch near Belfast, while Louis Botha's old commandoes, now under his brother, were able to cooperate with the burghers whom the Commandant-General had led from the Vaal River to Dalmanutha.
The British force in men and guns (26,300 men and 131 guns) enabled Lord Roberts easily to outflank the slender line of opposition which Botha had to extend fully twenty miles from the Zwarts Kopjes, on the mountain road to Lydenburg, south to a hill at Bergendal, on the Delagoa Bay railway. This hill was held by no more than 100 of the renowned " Zarps," or Johannesburg Police, under Lieutenants Pohlman and Van der Merwe; the former having been one of the Boer officers who captured the ten British guns at Colenso. The small police force formed the left wing of the Boer lines with a solitary pom-pom, while the Commandant-General and Ben Viljoen, with the bulk of the commandoes, held the ground north to where the " Black Hills " overlooked the alpine roadway which led to Lydenburg.
The fight continued for the greater part of three days, and ended in a successful attack upon the ridge at Bergendal held by the Band Police. General French had succeeded in turning Botha's right, while General Buller had carried out a similar movement against his left, and then turned his twenty guns upon the hill held by the Zarps. A counter attack in support of the Police was made by Captain Pretorius with a Long Tom and a fifteen-pound Creusot, from a hill some 8,000 yards away. The Police and their artillery support held the hill at Bergendal against all asaults for the greater part of Sunday, but had finally to cede to the overwhelming fire of the enemy's guns. In vacating the hill the Zarps suffered severely, losing more men in the retreat from the position so long and so heroically held than during the whole time they had fought against such overwhelming odds to retain it. Lieutenants Pohlman and Van der Merwe were killed, along with about twenty, of their gallant corps.
Following up the retiring Boers from Dalmanutha, a section of Buller's force, composed of the Liverpool Regiment, were ambushed in a hollow among the hills by Botha's rear-guard, and decimated.
September 1-7.—Lord Roberts issued a proclamation annexing the Transvaal. This easy conquest was effected in the following terms:
"Belfast, September 1st: Under the provisions of Her Majesty's warrant, dated July 4, 1900, I have this day issued a proclamation announcing that the Transvaal will henceforth form part of Her Majesty's dominions.
At the date when this Chinese Mandarin method of beating an enemy was put in force the British troops held about one-tenth of the territory of the Transvaal.
That a general who could so easily conquer his enemies, on paper, should next find fault with their system of fighting was natural and to be expected. The correspondence between Lord Roberts and General Botha on this head—the unsoldierly threats of the Briton side by side with the gentlemanly and dignified attitude of the Boer —is so typical of the spirit in which the war has been conducted on both sides, and so illustrative of the moral and martial differences of the two races, that the letters cannot be omitted from this diary.
The British Commander-in-Chief wrote as follows:
" Army Headquarters, South Africa.
" Sept. 2, 1900.
" Sir: First—I have the honor to address Your Honor regarding the operations of these comparatively small bands of armed Boers who conceal themselves in the railway, thus endangering the lives of passengers traveling by train, who may or may not be combatants.
" Second—My reason for again referring to the subject is that except in the districts occupied by the army under the personal command of Your Honor there is now no large body of Boer troops in the Transvaal or Orange River Colony, and that the war is degenerating into operations carried out by irregular and irresponsible guerrillas. This would be so ruinous to the country and so deplorable from every point of view that I feel bound to do everything in my power to prevent it.
" Third—The orders I have at present issued to give effect to these views are that the farm nearest the scene of any attempt to injure the line or wreck a train is to be burnt, and that all farms within a radius of ten miles are to be completely cleared of all their stock, supplies, etc.
"Fourth—In connection with the foregoing the time has now come when I must refer again to my communication of the 5th of August, 1900, to which letter Your Honor replied on the 15th of August. I feel that when once the war has entered into the stage of irregular or guerrilla fighting I should not be doing my duty towards the national interests if I continued to permit the families of those who are fighting against us to remain in towns guarded by us. This is not now a question of supply so much as one of policy and of securing ourselves against the transmission of intelligence to our enemies. I should esteem it a favor, therefore, if Your Honor would warn all burghers or command those who have their families living in districts under the control of our troops to make early preparations for their reception and accommodation. The removal of these families will commence in a few days, those at Pretoria being the first sent. They will proceed by rail to the British outposts and there be made over to any one Your Honor may depute to receive them.
" I will keep Your Honor informed of the number to expect day by day and I will take this opportunity of informing you that, as nearly all the passenger vehicles belonging to the Netherlands Bail-way Company have been removed eastward, the families must, 1 regret to say, travel in trucks, for the most part open ones. I will endeavor to provide Mrs. Kruger, Mrs. Botha and as many other ladies as possible with closed carriages, but I am not sure that I shall succeed in finding any. I would suggest that Your Honor should send suitable accommodations for them. I need not say how distasteful this measure is to me, but it is forced upon me by the apparent determination of you and your burghers to continue the war after all doubt as to its ultimate issue has ceased. I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
" Roberts, Field Marshal, Commanding in South Africa.
" To his Honor, Commandant-General Louis Botha."
I To this letter the head of the Boer army replied as follows:
" Commissariat Camp, Sept. 4, 1900.
" To Lord Roberts, Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief of the British Troops in South Africa:
"Your Excellency—In reply to your Excellency's letter of the 2nd I have the honor to make the following reply, to wit: Considering that our military forces are very small in comparison to those of your army, it can naturally not be expected to find large commandoes of Boers everywhere in the field, and therefore it stands to reason that whatever was expected from our side was to be accomplished by small bodies (commandoes), as throughout the whole course of the war and even now we are still compelled to cut our forces up into small bodies in order to resist the robbing patrols under Your Excellency's command, who ravage the country and carry away stock and provisions from the various homesteads.
" Second—With regard to your contention that there exists no regular body of war forces except those under my personal command, I deny emphatically any such statement, since our military troops are still divided and controlled on the same basis as in the beginning of the war according to the laws of the country.
" Third—With regard to article 3 of your letter now under consideration, I am already cognizant of the fact that similar barbarous acts were perpetrated by troops under your command, and that not only near or along railway lines, but also far away.
"Whenever your troops moved about, not only houses were burned down or blown up with dynamite, but also helpless women and children were driven from their homes and deprived of food and clothing without the slightest ground for any such deed.
" Fourth—With regard to article 4 of your letter now under consideration, I sincerely regret to see that the determination of me and my burghers to persevere in the strike for our independence will be avenged by you on our wives and children. Since it is the first instance of this kind known to men in the history of civilized warfare nothing else remains for me to do but to protest against your proposed intentions, it being against the principles of civilized warfare and extremely cruel to women and children.
" It is especially cruel in the case of aged women were it with regard to the wife of His Honor, the State President, who, as you must be aware, cannot travel without fear of losing her life, and it would simply mean a murder to force her to travel thus. The pretext mentioned by you, viz., that by such action you wish to protect yourself against any information being brought over to us, is doubtless a delusion, since such precaution was not deemed necessary by you when our troops were in immediate vicinity of Pretoria. It is unnecessary to add that we have never received any information through women and children with regard to military operations.
" Fifth—In case Your Excellency persists in carrying out your plans, which I trust will not be the case, I request Your Excellency to give me notice in time of date and particulars of their expulsion, as I intend to take steps to send the families on to Europe.
" Referring to Your Excellency's remark concerning accommodation for the families, I am prepared to send, for the sake of their convenience, cars to any place mentioned by Your Excellency, as also machines for the line between Watervaal Biven and Watervaal Bridge, provided that Your Excellency guarantees the safe return of such cars and machines.
" Sixth—In conclusion, I wish to state that nothing done by you to our women and children will prevent us from continuing the war for our independence. I have the honor to be,
"Louis Botha, Commandant-General."
During the latter part of August (and the whole of September) the entire western Transvaal, from Krugersdorp to Mafeking and from the Vaal River to Zeerust, was swept by Generals Lord Methuen, Hart, Douglas, Cunningham, Clements, and Broadwood, and as many columns. It was impossible for De la Rey's slender force to make any successful stand against such numbers, and he accordingly avoided an encounter. His commando was split into a dozen small sections, and these hung upon the flanks of the seven or eight columns of the enemy, and harassed them considerably. The English (especially the troops under Lord Methuen) burned numerous villages and farms, seized great numbers of cattle, and created much devastation.
Early in September Captain Daanie Theron was killed near the town in which he had spent his boyhood, and from whence he had organized his corps of matchless scouts. He had attempted, with a handful of men, to cut the water-main which supplied Johannesburg; advancing within ten miles of that unsavory city for the purpose. He was discovered and attacked by General Hart, and retreated on Krugersdorp, closely followed by the English. On the 7th, during a skirmish near this place, the man who had lured so many convoys into Boer hands, held up so many trains, and had successfully scouted for De Wet, met a soldier's death. He lies buried near the town, which has probably contributed more heroes to the war than any other town in the two Republics. His grave, if the enemy gave him one, will be a future landmark of which Krugersdorp will be proud. His fame will never die while Boer memories recall the triumphs and dangers, the perils and adventures of the greatest war fought by their race. What fact will not furnish from his wonderfully daring exploits and consummate ruses against the Rooineks, legend and the pen of romance will weave round the name and genial character, the boyish heroism, and manly deeds of Daanie Theron.
September 8-15.—General Louis Botha fell back to Lydenburg before the British advance, and again moved north as the enemy appeared before that town. The evident purpose of the Boer general was to entice his foes further into the alpine fastnesses of the Zoutpansberg regions, where the climate and the defiles would greatly favor plans of Boer resistance. Roberts, however, recalled Buller from further pursuit, and the campaign for the possession of the Delagoa Bay railway was brought to an end in the occupation of Nelspruit by the English, and in the resolve of President Kruger to remove into Portuguese territory with the view of sailing for Europe from Lourenzo Marquez.
This step was pressed upon Mr. Kruger by Commandant-General Botha, and approved by President Steyn. It was obvious that it would be very difficult to guard and protect the old President in a campaign, such as would henceforth become necessary, of small commandoes and swift movements. It was likewise felt that a visit to Europe by the head of the South African Republic would accentuate interest in the no-surrender phase of the Boer struggle. General Schalk Burger was appointed President of the Transvaal, pro tern, and, all due arrangements having been made, Mr. Kruger sailed for Marseilles in a Dutch warship specially, and significantly, placed at his disposal by the young Queen of Holland.
September 16-23.—The complete control of the railway connecting the Transvaal with Lourenzo Marquez gave the British the great advantage of thereby cutting off, except in smuggling operations, all Boer access to the sea. This meant the loss of possible help in ammunition from European sources, and innumerable other deprivations. It marked the close of large operations on the part of the Boer commandoes in the field, and the commencement of the general plan of fighting which De Wet had carried on so successfully in the Free State since the British occupation of Bloemfontein. Henceforth ammunition would have to be used only in actual combat, and sparingly, while the large guns general schalk burger would have to be buried or destroyed.
Two of the " Long Toms " which were such conspicuous actors in the siege of Ladysmith were destroyed near Komatipoort, while other artillery which had been captured from the English were buried or rendered useless. Roberts did not succeed in capturing a single Boer gun from Pretoria to the Portuguese border.
The few hundred foreign volunteers who had been with General Botha crossed the Portuguese frontier, and surrendered to the officials of that country. These volunteers included most of those I have given an account of in Chapter XXVI. Their usefulness in the field, in a campaign like that of De Wet's, would be handicapped by their ignorance of the country and of its language and, especially by their deficiency in those qualities of endurance and horsemanship which the requirements of such methods of fighting imperatively demanded. They were dismissed with expressions of grateful appreciation for their services by General Botha and State Secretary Reitz, and they ultimately reached their destinations in Europe and America.
Colonel Blake and a few of his men remained behind for special work, and they are still serving the Boer cause in the field. So likewise did a few German and Dutch volunteers.
September 24-30.—These changes in the military situation called for another of Lord Roberts' series of proclamations scolding the Boers for persisting in the struggle, and threatening them with those extra pains and penalties, not yet inflicted, which English armies seldom fail to fall back upon in British warfare. These menaces did not, however, accomplish what an army of 200,000 British troops had not yet succeeded in doing. It was also industriously circulated by all kinds of agencies that General Botha had resigned and given up the struggle.
October 1-7.—A counter proclamation was issued by the Commandant-General on the 6th of October, in the following terms:
"Whereas I have been informed that the enemy circulates all sorts of wrong and lying reports among the burghers, about the Government and myself, our officers and officials are charged to communicate the following information to the general public, and wherever telegraph offices are in working order to wire to all offices that can be reached.
" The Executive Council, after consulting his Honor the State President of the Orange Free State, has decided, in the interests of our cause, to give leave of absence to our State President with the order to go immediately to Europe in order to assist our deputation there in the work they have before them.
" The Vice-President, Mr. Schalk Burger, has been sworn in according to the law, and is now Acting State President. He is assisted by the State Secretary and two members of the Executive Council, Mr. Lukas Meyer and myself, as well as the Assistant State Solicitor and other officials.
" In short, our Government exists still in the same way as before and is now in my immediate neighborhood and in direct communication with me.
" The news given out by the enemy that I have resigned is absolutely untrue. To-day I arrived at the Roosenekal, and I hope to visit at an early date all the commandoes personally.
" I trust that the burghers will not believe those false reports, as they are merely given out to insult our burghers, and to try, in a deceiving manner, to make them act against their duties as citizens; so be warned, and continue the struggle that has already taken so many dear victims from us.
" Let the blood of our brave dead always be a strong voice inducing every burgher to fight for real liberty. We have nothing left to lose, but everything to win. The Government has most firmly decided to continue the struggle, and I am convinced that our burghers will applaud this decision, and act accordingly until the end.
" The burghers are also warned against fine words used by the enemy to deceive them so as to make them put down their arms, because, according to the proclamation of Lord Roberts, they will all be transported to St. Helena or Ceylon as prisoners of war, and they put their property, as it were, between two dangers, for in future I will deal severely with all property of those who put down their arms.
"Lotus Botha, " Commanding General.
"Roosenekal, 6 Oct., 1900.
" Printing office of the Zoutpansberg ' Wachter,' Pietersberg, S. A. R."
October 8-15.—On returning to the scenes of his many previous operations, De Wet recommenced, in the districts around Senekal, his usual tactics, worrying the enemy's flying columns, attacking patrols, and picking up straggling convoys as usual. Early in September he captured a train near Kroonstad with forty-four cars laden with supplies. His reorganized commandoes were divided into four divisions, under himself, General Philip Botha, and Commandants Nel and Haasbrock. While acting on lines of sectional independence these forces were in constant touch with the Chief Commandant, and were always ready to cooperate in any of his larger plans.
Jagersfontein, in the south of the Free State, which was held at the time by a strong British garrison, was attacked by Commandant Visser and a few men near the end of October. Some fifty Boers entered the town during the night unobserved, and at daybreak the following morning opened an attack upon the garrison in conjunction with the main body under Visser from the south of the village. The English held their ground during a three hours' fight, when Visser withdrew, leaving a dozen of his men prisoners. He returned again the same night, stormed the town, released the prisoners, but was himself killed in retiring again from the place.
The English garrisons in Jacobsdal, Fauresmith, Koffyfontein, and Philippolis, all in the south of the Free State, were attacked by small commandoes about this time. The former place was captured by Commandant Bosnian who was killed in the fight, but the town was subsequently retaken by a larger British force. Philippolis underwent a week's siege; armed Kaffirs being conspicuously employed in the fighting by the British garrison. Commandant Scheepers, a youthful Boer leader, led the attacks on the place. He captured some reenforcements sent to relieve the garrison, but was finally driven off by the arrival of larger bodies of the enemy.
The British garrison at Reddersburg, the place where General De Wet had fought and taken near 500 prisoners in April, was captured. There were only thirty men in the second Reddersburg garrison, and as they made no resistance to the 250 Boers who surprised them, they were released after being disarmed. The Boers were led by Brand and Hertzog.
A fight occurred in the west of the Free State, near Hoopstad, between a party of De Villiers' commando and the escort of a convoy under Major-General Settle and Colonial troops. The Boers were beaten off in the first assault, but renewed the attack again, and pressed it so rigorously that the British, who were a body of mounted Colonials, retreated, abandoning two Maxim guns and the greater part of the convoy to their assailants.
Attacks upon railways were renewed in Natal during this month; a party of Boers tearing up the line within a few miles of Ladysmith.
October, 1900, being the anniversary of the war, the Boers were resolved to give Lord Roberts' declaration that the war was virtually ended the most objective contradiction in fully fifty instances of combative activity. In the whole of the Free State fighting was forced by numerous small commandoes, many of them led by new officers. In the west of the Transvaal, De la Rey's men appeared in a dozen centers, and showed that the British only held the few towns in which they had placed garrisons.
In the southeast of the Transvaal, it was found necessary by Lord Roberts to recall General French from the Free State, and send him with a large column to deal with the Boer forces under General Christian Botha, in the Ermelo and Carolina districts. French was harassed all along his march by Botha's men, who, divided into small bodies, hung on the flanks and rear of the enemy until he reached Heidelberg. French's captures were chiefly confined to non-combatants, and to sheep and cattle.
French's column had not yet reached Heidelberg before General Ben Viljoen, with a section of Commandant-General Botha's men, threatened the enemy's posts at Machadodorp, east of Belfast. A body of British sent to attack Viljoen were driven back. General Smith-Dorrien arrived with reenforcements, but was so fiercely attacked in turn that he was compelled to retreat back to Belfast; the Boers charging into his rear-guard, capturing a number of Canadians and killing and wounding several of their foes.
Viljoen's success on this occasion was dearly bought in the death of Commandant Fourie, of the Middelburg burghers, one of the very bravest of the many valiant men whom this war has revealed to an admiring world. He had fought with great distinction at Colenso and in all the Tugela battles, while his defense of the Boer lines against Buller's forces in the British advance for the final relief of Ladysmith merited the high praise which General Botha bestowed upon his resourceful daring on that occasion.
October 16-23.—De Wet's operations between Lindley and Kroonstad, in the early part of October, forced Lord Roberts to organize another "sweeping "movement for his capture. Four columns of mounted men under Knox, Dalgetty, De Lisle, and Porter were despatched to surround the Boer general at Heilbron, in the north of the Free State, where scouts had located him. A circle some thirty I miles in diameter was formed round the town, and it was deemed I almost impossible for the cornered quarry to escape this time. On J drawing the British lines closer, an engagement began which lasted for the greater part of two days. De Wet fought a determined battle with his would-be captors, and then, extricating himself out of the elaborately planned trap, he retired during the night to the northwest, and crossed the Vaal River near the very drift over which he had conducted President Steyn in the middle of August. I His object now was to meet the President on his return journey from the visit he had paid to General Botha and the Transvaal Government. Steyn was accompanied by Botha and a small escort from the Kylstroom district, north of Pretoria, to the Rustenburg ' district, in the west, in which a conference was held with De la Rey. The President was then escorted by De la Rey's scouts south to the Vaal River, west of Klerksdorp, from whence he was to communicate with De Wet.
It may be mentioned here that it was during the visit of the Free State President to Generals Botha, Schalk Burger, and Dr. Reitz that the second systematic invasion of the Cape Colony was re-I solved upon. The object was twofold: To retaliate for the farm burning and general vandalism of the enemy in the west and south-east of the Transvaal, and in the north and east of the Free State, and for the more important purpose of showing the world that the Republics were able, despite Lord Roberts' assertions, to hold the greater portion of the Transvaal and Free State, and to invade British territory as well. The plan was Mr. Steyn's, and was, in both a political and military sense, worthy of the great moral leader of the Boer nation in its unequaled fight against destruction.
De Wet encountered General Barton and a large force some seventy miles south of Johannesburg, on the 20th, when the enemy had the worst of the encounter. Generals Knox, De Lisle, and other officers from whom De Wet had broken away at Heilbron, arrived with reenforeements for Barton, when a fierce fight followed; the casualties being about equal on both sides. De Wet retired west-ward during the night, having learned of the direction in which President Steyn was retracing his course back to the Free State.
November 1-7.—Now began on the part of the enemy a similar effort to that of August to capture the President and the Chief Commandant at the Vaal River. All the drifts east and west of their supposed location on the north bank were blocked by many men and guns. Generals and columns were to the right of them, left, north, and south; De Wet having, all told, 800 men only. A running fight was kept up for three days but, despite the number of his pursuers, he succeeded in crossing the river. Large forces were, however, encountered on the south side, and on the 5th a desperate battle occurred near Bothaville. The fight lasted five hours, and was disastrous for De Wet. He lost six guns and 100 prisoners, and had himself a narrow escape from being captured. He had been, strange to say, surprised during the night by Colonel Le Gallais' men, and while the combat was proceeding General Knox came up with his column, when the burghers had to quit the field, leaving their artillery behind. It was the most serious defeat to which Christian De Wet had yet been subjected during the war. The loss of his entire artillery in the fight was a severe blow both to the Boer general's following and to his prestige. About forty of his men were killed and wounded. Colonel Le Gallais, to whom the credit for this British triumph was really due, was among the English dead. Knox lost thirty killed and wounded.
The return home of the City of London Volunteers, who had campaigned for a few months in South Africa with little or no fighting and only a very few casualties, was made the occasion of one of the silliest and most disgraceful exhibitions of popular rejoicing that was ever witnessed in any city. So disgusting was this cockney orgy of beer, patriotism, and loyal yahooism, that more than one of the London Conservative papers expressed a strong hope that the center of the Empire might not again be the scene of such " loyalty," when manifested in rowdyism and in drunkenness.
Proclamations of martial law in various parts of Cape Colony, which were intended to intimidate the Dutch sympathizers with the Boer cause, produced the opposite effect. Recruits for the commandoes were the result of such measures. The old tyranny of military rule only evoked the old revolt against this kind of despotism, and the area of England's troubles in South Africa was thus deepened and extensively widened.
Summing up the details of British losses during the first month of the second year of the war—the month just after Lord Roberts had "annexed" the Transvaal, by proclamation—I find a record of 15 officers and 165 men killed in action; 70 men who died of wounds; 300 who died of disease begotten of the campaign; SO killed in accidents, and 97 missing. Thus, not counting the sick in South African hospitals, or the unfit who were invalided home, nor all troops captured and again released, the total casualties for October, 1900, figure to 727; a number not much under the average monthly losses previous to the "conquest" of the Transvaal by proclamation.
November 8-15.—These losses and encounters, following so soon after British officers and papers had boasted of a termination of the war, produced a very savage outburst of journalistic ferocity in England. Several editors openly advocated the shooting of all Boers found in arms "within the Queen's conquered territories." These incitations from Great Britain naturally incited the generals in South Africa to adopt still sterner measures in the prosecution of the war. Houses were more frequently burned, especially in localities where raids had taken place, or other signs of reawakened Boer activity were found. Women and children were turned out of these homesteads, and revenge was thus taken upon them (after having been made British subjects, by Lord Roberts' proclamations) for the successful acts of warfare of their relatives. A despatch from Pretoria about this period gave the world an example of the civilization which England had imported into the Transvaal. This message said: " Not a single Boer house in the country between Dundee and Vryheid has been left standing. All have been burned by the British troops."
That these measures were the result of a humiliating feeling of anger at the failure of a huge British army to put down the determined resistance of the Boers, was manifest from the relative extent of territory held by both forces at the commencement of the second year's campaign. From the Orange River to Barberton, in the east of the Transvaal, a distance of 500 miles; from Barberton, west to Mafeking, 350 miles; and from Vryheid, in the south of the Transvaal, to Kimberley, on the western border of the Free State, the English troops only held the railway lines and about thirty towns and villages; with these lines, however, subject to attack at fifty different points. The Boer forces were in virtual possession of the intervening sections of the two Republics, and of a great portion of Cape Colony. Over the whole of the territory thus still remaining as really unconquered, numerous conflicts had taken place, as related, during the month of October.
It was now resolved by the English to depopulate the towns and villages which they could not garrison after capturing. The inhabitants were to be "concentrated" in central camps, and to be fed by the British; the declared object being to prevent the non-combative Boers from giving assistance or information to the fighting commandoes. But the obvious purpose of the plan was to try to subdue the otherwise unconquerable burghers in the field by subjecting their wives and children to suffering and penalties for the continues resistance of their relatives. It was a resort to General Weyler's plan for the extermination of the Cubans. At the same time all press correspondents, except a few who represented rabid Jingo war organs, were to be excluded from the area of hostilities and of the Weylerite operations; a significant evidence of the kind of " warfare " upon which the British had resolved. All food—even growing crops—cattle, and horses were to be swept from the veldt, and nothing was to be left undone to end the "fanatical" resistance of the very people who were to have been rescued by England's kindly care from the rule of "a corrupt oligarchy," a year previously.
De Wet pulled himself together so soon after his defeat at Bothaville, on the 5th, that he appeared with 1,500 men before the British garrison in his native village, Dewetsdorp, twelve days subsequently, and summoned the 500 Highlanders and others who held the place, to surrender. This they refused to do, and a fight began which continued for a week. The garrison ultimately flew the white flag, and De Wet got two of the enemy's guns, in part payment for those which he had lost at Bothaville.
November 16-23.—President Kruger landed in Marseilles from the Dutch warship " Gelderland" on the 22nd, and was accorded a popular welcome unparalleled in the history of the city's public demonstrations. Deputations were present with addresses from thirty municipalities of France, and from numerous societies in Holland, Germany, Italy, and Ireland. In a speech which he delivered on the occasion he said: "During my lifetime I have had to fight the savages of South Africa many a time. But the barbarians we have to fight now are worse than the others. They even urge the Kaffirs against us. They burn the farms we have worked so hard to construct, and they drive out our women and children whose husbands and brothers they have killed or taken prisoners, leaving them unprotected and roofless, and often with-out food to eat. But, whatever they do, we will not surrender. We will fight to the end."
From Marseilles to Paris, similar manifestations of French sympathy were given at each large city, culminating in a thorough Parisian reception at the hands of 200,000 people in the capital.
November 24-30.—On the 29th the French Chamber of Deputies adopted, without dissent, the following motion:
"The Chamber of Deputies, on the occasion of the arrival of the President of the Transvaal in France, is happy to address to him a sincere expression of its respectful sympathy."
On the following day the Senate, in like manner, passed a similar resolution.
December 1-7.—General De la Rey attacked a convoy which was on its way from Pretoria to Rustenburg on the 3rd. Fifteen of the escort were killed and twenty-three wounded; the convoy being captured. So active were the general's forces in the Western Transvaal, where, at least, half-a-dozen British columns had been operating during the three previous months, that the British defenders of Johannesburg had to construct barbed wire fences round the entire city as a protection against night raids by bands of De la Rey's commandoes.
Lord Roberts relinquished the chief British command in South Africa during the month of December, and sailed for England to assume the position of Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, rendered vacant by the expiry of Lord Wolesley's term in that post.
December 8-15.—General Christian Botha attacked a body of British in the Vryheid district of the Transvaal, on the 10th, the fight lasting the whole day. The Boers were reported as losing 100 in killed and wounded; the enemy's casualties being 6 killed, 19 wounded, and 30 missing. The English report of this engagement represented the Boers as " drawing off " from the battle-field at seven at night, but it was not stated that they were pursued.
A party of Brabant's Horse (noted looters and house-burners) were surprised about the 13th, north of the Orange River, at Zastron, Free State, and suffered to the extent of 4 killed, 16 wounded, and 120 prisoners.
On the same date General De la Rey attacked a large force of British under General Clements at Nooitgedacht, in the region of the Magaliesberg Hills, forty miles southwest of Pretoria. Generals Broadwood and Clements were employed in surrounding De la Rey's commando, 1,000 strong, at the time. The Boer general cut in between the two forces during the night, and attacked Clements' column, numbering 1,200, in the early hours of the following morning. In the first assault by the Boers the English held their ground. De la Hey then turned his attention to a position on a hill between Clements' camp and Broadwood's force which was held by four companies of the Northumberlands and some other troops. He stormed the hill and captured over 500 of those who held it, including eighteen officers. This dashing feat was completely successful, the English loss in killed and wounded, as in prisoners, being severe. The advantages of position and of numbers were entirely on the British side, but the fierceness of De la Rey's onslaught, the better tactics of the Boer officers, and the panic created among the Northumberlands, who had been captured at Stormberg once before, gave the victory to the West Transvaal Commandant-General.
After sweeping the hill and bagging the Northumberlands, the Boers rushed on the main camp below in the valley and drove Clements out of it; the English general retreating southward to Heckpoort.
The name "Nooitgedacht" stands for "Never thought of it," in the Taal (Boer) tongue.
While the fight was going on, General Broadwood, who had commanded the British at Sannas Post, was within seven miles of Clements' encampment, and must have heard the guns. After inflicting this severe punishment upon the English near where he had previously (in July), at Nitral's Nek, surprised and smashed the Lincolnshire Regiment and taken two guns, De la Rey withdrew to Rustenburg, and soon after released the latest British who had surrendered to him.
The total number of the enemy killed in this striking Boer victory was given, in the first English press reports, as 5 officers and 9 men; the wounded not mentioned; with 18 officers and 555 men of the Northumberland Fusiliers and of Imperial Yeomen reported as "missing." Later and correct reports gave the casualties as 56 officers and men killed, 153 wounded, and the 555 men who had surrendered and were subsequently released. These figures represented a total of 764 casualties. Commandant Beyers' commando, about 400 strong, cooperated with De la Rey in the final attack on Clements, but took no part in the attack upon the hill and the capture of the force which held it.
During this time—the anniversary of the great Boer victories of Stormberg, Magersfontein, and Colenso—the Boers were attacking British columns and posts in the Standerton district, in the south-, cast; at the Magaliesberg Hills, in the southwest; and elsewhere, while they held without opposition the extreme north of the Transvaal. In the Free State, they were aggressive at Vrede, Bethlehem, Reddersburg, and other places; also, across the Orange River, in the Aliwal North district of Cape Colony, and in the northwest, in the Prieska and Britstown regions of the same British territory. Still, General Lord Roberts, when leaving South Africa for London, shortly before the defeat of General Clements, declared that " The war was over "!
December 16-23.—During the preceding part of this month General De Wet had been once more " surrounded," " pursued," " hemmed in," " harassed," and all but captured, as heretofore; only to be found, as usual, doubling upon his pursuers, picking up unconsidered trifles of men and provision, and moving where he wished to go in the eastern and northern regions of his own country—the familiar scenes of numerous previous exploits, and of innumerable marchings and countermarchings of his enemies' columns.
These events, occurring coincidently with Lord Roberts' voyage to England, induced (the London) " Punch " to sum up the situation, for the British army in South Africa, at this time, as follows:
" A Page from a Military Diary.
" Monday. The war practically at an end. Only a few thousand Boers showing fight, in various directions.
" Tuesday. Fighting completely ceased. Only a town or two taken and held by the enemy.
" Wednesday. Peace nearly concluded. Only a British convoy attacked and captured.
" Thursday. The last spark extinguished. Only a few score opponents bidding a large army defiance.
" Friday. Every man coming home. Only a garrison retained -to hold every inch of territory against all comers.
" Saturday. The last day—absolutely. Only the probability of having to continue the defensive movement for an indefinite period on Monday."
In General De Wet's movements north from the Caledon River, on December 12, he was joined by Commandant Haasbroek in the region of Thabanchu, near the Basuto border. The British, under General Knox in strong force, were in command of hills ahead of the anticipated Boer line of movement, with another force in the rear. The situation was full of peril for the menaced commandoes, numbering close on 2,500 men, but it is emergencies of the kind which bring into play De Wet's inexhaustible soldierly resources. Finding himself so placed that all the commanding heights around his position were held by greatly outnumbering foes, he decided upon a course of action which was completely successful. He sent Haasbroek with 500 men westward, as if to clear a way for the commandoes through a place called Victoria Nek, near where a big body of Britishers were located, but he had resolved to make a dash through a wide opening four miles in extent, in another—a northern—direction, and past two strong posts which commanded the entrance to this pass. The very audacity of the move secured its complete success. The British believed that the weakly defended exit which Haasbroek was watching, would tempt De Wet as the safest passage, while they felt convinced that the strongly protected pass to the north was secure against a possible escape in that direction.
Selecting his time for his contemplated dash, and forming his column into a wedge-like line, he gave the word and, with President Steyn leading the charge and the general himself bringing up the rear, the whole commando swept in a magnificent spur-gallop over the level veldt, past the British posts, and out into the country behind the lines of General Knox's surrounding cordons. It was like the "march past" of a hurricane, and was one of the finest exhibitions of cavalry operations given in the whole war.
Haasbroek successfully dispersed his men in small bodies, after the rush of De Wet's forces, and the English generals were left in sole possession of the valley which was to have witnessed the final surrender or capture of the Free State President and his Chief Commandant. De Wet lost one gun and twenty prisoners, only, in the engagement with General Knox's columns.
December 24-31.—During the latter part of December, 1900, two more bodies of Free State burghers commanded by Judge Hertzog and George Brand crossed the Orange River in a second invasion of Cape Colony. A (British) "Treason Court," which had been sitting at Colesberg, was compelled to leave hurriedly for the south, owing to the incursion of more " rebels " into the locality.
One of the invading Boer columns turned west towards Prieska, where there had been severe fighting in the earlier stages of the war; Lord Kitchener having been despatched there at that time by Lord Roberts to overawe the Dutch population with a show of force. Britstown, south of Prieska, was held in this second invasion for several days by a Boer force which had captured a squadron of Yeomanry.
This renewed fighting along the line of British positions and communications saw the coming forward of another Boer leader at this time who was destined to leave his mark on the records of the revolt in Cape Colony. Commandant Kritzinger is, I believe, of German extraction, and joined the Free State army early in the war. He fought with distinction in the Colesberg campaign, and remained in the Southern Free State districts after Generals Ollivier, Grobler, and Lemmer had retreated on Kroonstad, following the surrender of Cronje at Paardeberg. Information about Krit-zinger's early life and of his operations in Cape Colony are yet to be fully obtained when the struggle now going on terminates, and access can be had to sources of accurate knowledge. From a picture purporting to be that of the new commandant, he would appear to be young, tall, and handsome in appearance.
He appeared in the Burghersdorp district of the Cape Colony, in December, at the head of 700 men, and had an encounter with the 9th Lancers, which was reported as being indecisive in its results.
On the 30th of December General Louis Botha attacked a British post at Helvetia, a little to the north of the Delagoa Bay line at Machadodorp, some 150 miles east of Pretoria, killing and wounding about sixty of the enemy and taking 200 prisoners. A 4.7 naval gun was taken with the surrendered British. The troops in possession of the place were the Liverpool Regiment. The Boers retired with their prisoners after the fight, followed by another British force. The Liverpools were disarmed and released after a few days. They had been captured and released once before.
Three convoys of stores and ammunition valued at £50,000 were captured by Boer forces at Kuruman (Griqualand West) and in the Cape district south of Colesberg in December. The escort of the Kuruman convoy made no resistance. The train south of Colesberg which was held up contained a small force of Prince Alfred's Guards.
On the 31st of December, 1900, commandoes from the Free State were in portions of British territory over 300 miles south of the Orange River.
The general situation in the areas of hostilities as the year 1900 was brought to a close was such that the English seemed to be more occupied in defending British territory in South Africa against Boer invasion than in subduing the commandoes which still held the east, south, west, and north of the Transvaal, and almost the whole of the east of the Free State against Lord Kitchener's armies.
Lord Kitchener wound up the year's reports by informing the British War Office, that there was little change in the area of revolt in the Cape Colony, that General French had occupied Ventersdorp, some sixty miles from Johannesburg, that General Clements was strongly opposed by De la Key's forces near Rustenburg, that a convoy was captured north of Kimberley, and that Zeerust, north of Mafeking, was being " besieged " by Boer forces.