Victories of De Wet, Botha, and Hertzog—Depressing effect on British army—Martial law still more harshly enforced in Cape Colony—Kitchener cables for Canadian scouts—Organization of Boer traitors into " National Scouts "—Reuter canard of Boer treachery exploded—The German Chancellor on Chamberlain's insult to German army—"He is biting on granite"—Wolmarans captured—Schalk Burger writes Kitchener, denouncing cruelty of concentration policy—Appalling list of deaths of children—Brutal execution of scheepers—Capture of Viljoen—Unauthorized intervention on behalf of Boers by Prime Minister of Holland—Letter of Smuts to Botha—Kitchener plans "drive" to capture De Wet and Steyn—His "waterhaul"—Boer operations in the zuikerboshrand—De la Rey's victory at Yster Spruit—kitchener "avenges majuba day" by huge captures of sheep and cattle—two examples of kitchener's "Kaffir estimates"—Vilonel, the Benedict Arnold of South Africa—Australian petition for recall of " Kangaroo " Volunteers—De la Rey defeats and captures Lord Methuen—He releases the wounded general—Mistaken generosity of the act—How it was returned—British charge Boers with treachery because dressed in captured khaki—Death of Cecil Rhodes.
January 1.—The New Year begins with news that fighting occurred at Laing's Nek and Warmbaths in the Transvaal; Botha's Pass, Heilbron, Bethulie, and Philippolis in the Free State, and in the Calvinia, Wellwood, and the Middelburg districts of Cape Colony, in the closing days of the old year. De Wet was located on some hills south of Heilbron, shortly after his dashing exploit on Christmas Eve.
At Philippolis (south of the Free State, near the Orange River), Hertzog's commando attacked a force of 400 British, captured their wagons, and helped themselves to the Christmas cheer which these contained.
Some recent despatches from Pretoria speak of the depressing effect produced there by the latest successes of De Wet and Botha, and give expression to the feeling that still more reenforcements must be sent to Lord Kitchener if there is to be a speedy termination to the war.
The doings of the martial-law administrators in Cape Colony, as revealed in letters which have arrived by mail in Germany and England, read like a chapter from the history of British Government in Ireland, in 1798. Three " rebels " were shot at De Aar, four more were hung at Burghersdorp, Middelburg, and Cradock ; the friends of the victims and the general public, in each place, being compelled to attend the executions! Several more " rebels " have, it appears, been shot in other places, while a young man named Hoffmeyer Louw, of exemplary character and of strong religious feeling, was publicly hung at Colesberg for having been on commando. To maintain the orthodox British reputation for legal brutality, seven girls, all under the age of twenty, were tried and sent to prison for a month, for the crime of having sung the Boer National Anthem in the hearing of some English officials. Manifestly the making of another Ireland in Cape Colony is in full swing, as an additional result of the war against the Boer Republics.
Lists of casualties published in the press reveal the fact that fighting took place recently in many places not otherwise mentioned in the ordinary war news from Pretoria. It appears also that the total casualties in the fight with De Wet on the 24th of December amounted to 400, while it is believed he took a big haul of ammunition along with the two captured guns.
On the 30th of last month a fight took place in the Calvinia district, West Cape Colony, in which the 2nd Dragoon Guards had some twenty casualties. The Boers were probably Louw's men.
On the 3rd inst. General Bruce Hamilton captured 100 prisoners, including General Erasmus and a considerable amount of stock in the Ermelo district. It is not made clear whether this Boer officer is Commandant D. Erasmus, who had charge of the Pretoria and other commandoes and failed to cooperate with Lukas Meyer in the attack upon General Penn Symons, in the battle of Talana Hill. It may possibly be Jacob Erasmus, who has been reported captured once or twice before. In either case the loss to the Boer fighters still in the field will not be particularly discouraging.
A detachment of Scots Greys sent to surprise a small Boer force near Bronkhurstspruit (40 miles east of Pretoria) were themselves surprised, on meeting with a vigorous reception which cost them twenty casualties; seven being killed. The district east to Middelburg is under the care of men of Trichardt's small commando, who were probably those who encountered the Scotchmen.
Lord Kitchener has cabled to Mr. Chamberlain suggesting the despatch to South Africa of some Canadian scouts as " trained trackers." Canada responds by promising the required help. .
The body called " National Scouts," said to have been organized out of burghers who are sick of the war, and of the Boer leaders, has invited the by-name of " National Skunks " from their kindred still in the field.
Lord Milner presided at the resurrection of the Johannesburg " Star," which played so notorious a part in the Ananias propaganda preceding the war. No more suitable person could have graced such an occasion. The Ten Commandments were probably not referred to by the Chairman or company during the ceremony.
Casualty lists continue to appear which speak of encounters not mentioned in Lord Kitchener's weekly reports. The losses are probably considered too small to call for notice otherwise. They tell, all the same, of the dogged resistance of the Boers everywhere there are half-a-dozen of them left to fight, and they speak of the continued penalty which the aggressor in this unparalleled war has to pay in lives, as well as in money, for the attempt to destroy a little nation.
Another calumny against the Boers by the veracious Reuter has been mailed. It was published as follows, on the 2nd inst.:
" Pretoria, "Wednesday.
"News recently reached Warmbaths that six Boers in the vicinity were desirous of surrendering.
" Two Intelligence Officers named Steere and Kerr went to ascertain particulars, a few men following as a precaution. Steere and Kerr, riding in advance, came on some Boers, and began parleying with them, when fire was opened by other Boers, who were concealed.
" Both officers were shot dead.—Reuter Special."
The War Office has published the following notice:
" Lord Kitchener has replied to a telegram of inquiry that the report recently circulated that two Intelligence Officers, named Steere and Kerr, had been treacherously shot by the Boers near Warmbaths is without foundation."
Early in the week General Christian Botha and Commandant Opperman (the latter having been "killed," for the second time, at the battle of Mount Itala) were engaged with one of the " sweeping" columns, under General Spens, in the southeastern Transvaal. The Boer officers appear to have enticed some of the enemy to engage in a chase of retreating foemen, with the result that 18 of those who accepted the invitation were killed, including 5 officers, while 28 were wounded. The engagement came off near Standerton, inside a blockhouse and fenced district, "swept" of Boers full twenty times during the past two years.
Several laagers are reported about the same time as being surprised and captured by the British. Little or no fighting is recorded in Cape Colony, while General De Wet is still pursued by General Elliot's, and other columns, in his own country. He is said to have received reenforcements recently from General Louis Botha.
January 8-15.—The German Imperial Chancellor, replying in the Reichstag to Mr. Chamberlain's Edinburgh speech, in which the British army in South Africa had been compared to the German army in France in words flattering to the khaki soldiers, said:
" The German army, however, stands too high, and its shield is too bright to be touched by any unjust judgment, and the words apply which Frederick the Great used of a man who had spoken ill of his army, Let the man be, and don't excite yourselves. He is biting on granite.'"
On the 13th and 14th a fight took place at Doornfontein, near Griquatown, about 100 miles west of Kimberley. The British report'24 casualties; the officer of the detachment, Major Whitehead, with several of his men, being killed. The name of the Boer officer who attacked the enemy is not given. It is probably Conroy or De Villiers.
The British have recovered one of the guns taken from Colonel Benson in the battle of Brakenlaagte.
General Botha is located on the Zulu border, convenient to Natal, and is believed to be concerting with De Wet a plan of operations for the New Year.
General Bruce Hamilton's column surprised a laager near Ermelo, and took 40 prisoners, including Major Wolmarans of the Transvaal Staats Artillery. Wolmarans was one of the founders of that splendid body; having been sent to Europe when young by General Joubert to study the German artillery system after the Franco-German war. He took part in the siege of Ladysmith, was court-martialed and suspended for a brief period on account of the successful night attack made on a " Long Tom " which was under his charge at the time. He subsequently served with Botha during part of the Tugela campaign, and was in charge of his Krupps at the battle of Spion Kop.
De Wet has had a fight with General Elliot's column at a drift near Elands Kop (Lindley district). He had two guns and a pom-pom, and succeeded in holding the English back with his artillery until his men and baggage got safely away.
In the latest Blue Book dealing with the war, a letter from acting-President Schalk Burger to Lord Kitchener, in reply to the latter's proclamation of the 7th of August last, is printed. The concluding paragraph reads:
" While I am writing about this, I cannot help pointing out to your Excellency the improper way in which those poor families were removed, in rain and cold, on uncovered wagons, insulted by Kaffirs and soldiers, and taken with your Excellency's columns as a protection to your troops, in this way preventing an attack from our side. I feel convinced that if the atrocities and the inhuman treatment of our families are brought before the noble and Christian portion of the English people in their true light, they would exclaim, ' Away with such shame.' But the truth is being concealed; but still we believe and trust that altho there may be no justice with England's influential (great) men, there is a just God, and truth and right must be victorious."
A body of Boers under Commandants Kemp and Celliers, of De la Rey's commando,, crossed the Mafeking line, and brought back large quantities of cattle. They were opposed by British posts south and west of the scene of General Baden-Powell's fame, but fought their way back with their seizures.
January 16-23.—The latest returns of the mortality in the concentration camps show that the English are killing their imprisoned foes—women, children, and non-combatants—more quickly than they are disposing of the Boers in the field. In the seven months from June to December, 1901, no less than 16,321 persons died under the British Weyler treatment. This appalling rate amounts to close on one in four per annum of the total population of the camps! Twelve thousand two hundred and sixty-five children are included in this six months' British " bag "; children whose crime consists in being born Boer. And a morally rotten " Christian " world reads these figures in its papers, says, " How shocking!" and turns to the latest Stock Exchange quotations of the Band mines.
Dr. Visser, of Johannesburg, who rendered splendid ambulance service to the Boer armies early in the war, has been tried for treason and on other charges before a military tribunal.
The following despatch appeared in the press on the 20th:
" Graaff Reinet, January 17. " Commandant Scheepers was brought into the Church Square here to-day, and Colonel Henniker read the sentence of death which was passed by the Court and confirmed by Lord Kitchener. The trial of Commandant Kritzinger will commence next week.
" January 18.
" Commandant Scheepers was shot here at three- o'clock this afternoon.—Reuter."
This doing to death of a brave young soldier can add no disgrace to a war which has already covered England with every kind of dishonor. It only sustains the reputation of British arms in a war engineered by lies for the purpose of plunder.
Commandant Scheepers was tried before a court of three officers of minor rank; men of the stamp he had so often and so easily thrashed in the field. He was charged with " arson" and with "murdering natives." The arson consisted in burning the Government buildings at Murraysburg, Cape Colony, together with two houses of Boer adherents who had gone over to the British. He had, however, given no less than eight days' notice to garrison the place before he entered it. He spared the magistrate's house, saying to his son: " I have not the heart to turn your mother into the street, tho1 if I did my conduct would be less cruel than that of your British officers, who have burned down our homes in the darkness, and left our mothers and sisters to shiver in their night-dresses by the side of the sheep kraal." It was officers who had themselves, in all probability, burned some of the thousands of homes destroyed in the Transvaal and Free State who made this act of retaliation against a Government building " a crime."
The charge of shooting natives was even more hypocritical in its shameless effrontery. These natives had been armed and employed as spies and scouts by the English. They had been warned by Kritzinger and Scheepers, when Cape Colony was invaded, that they would be severely dealt with if they took up arms against the Republics, but would not be molested if they remained neutral. On the other hand, British Ministers in Parliament had declared, on the eve of the war, that no native people would be brought into the struggle by England. English officers, nevertheless, armed Kaffirs and employed them in that kind of work which is most dangerous and obnoxious to an enemy—spy work and scouting; and when these were caught in arms, and so engaged, they were rightly shot by the Boer Commandants. To an official at Murraysburg who denied that the natives in that locality had been so employed, Scheepers replied: " You deny using natives against us! Why, I have shot them at 200 yards, and in the front line of fire, where your own men shrank from going. At that range I once gave the order to knock over some thirteen colored scouts when your column was advancing to the attack some 600 yards behind." The incident here recorded surely offers sufficient explanation of why a court of British officers should condemn such a foeman to death.
The facts thus related are taken from a manly Christian protest of an English clergyman, the Rev. Dewdney Wm. Drew, on the 22nd of January, which was sent in an uncensored letter from Cape Town to the " Daily News" of London, and published in that journal on the 12th of February of this year.
Several other Englishmen have borne testimony to Scheepers' kindness towards captured British troops. He had spared many a life which had been forfeit in the rules of war, and was always found -to be generous and humane to the enemies who fell into his hands. But these are qualities which shame the kind of English officer described by Seheepers as fighting from behind armed savages, and hence the verdict which has just been carried into execution.
Misled by press reports into the belief that Seheepers, tho condemned to death, was not yet executed, Senator Teller gave notice he would move in the United States Senate a resolution which had already been adopted in the House of Representatives. It read as follows:
" Scheepers is known to have been captured while sick and wounded in hospital, in violation of the Geneva Convention. His execution will lead to acts of retaliation and reprisal, and it is therefore resolved, the House of Representatives concurring, that the President should request Great Britain to set aside the sentence in the interest of humanity, and to accord Scheepers the privileges and immunities guaranteed by the Geneva Convention."
Commandant Wessels, at the "head of 200 invaders in the Craddock district of Cape Colony, captured 50 of the Town Guard who went out to find the Boers and did not return.
Colonel Wilson, with a column of 400 men and a gun, came in contact with a body of Boers north of Frankfort (north Free State) on the 25th, and fared badly. The English were mainly composed of the Cape Town volunteers, " Kitchener's Fighting Scouts," while the Boers, in about equal numbers, were under Commandants Alberts and Strydum. Strydum had been ambushed the day before, along with 40 of his men, and the British with their captives were attacked by Alberts and Meyer on the way back to Frankfort. Strydum and his men were released by the rescuing party, who then, in a running fight, pursued the British a distance of a dozen miles to the shelter of a larger British force.
General Ben Viljoen has been captured with two of his adjutants near Lydenburg under circumstances which would suggest treachery of some kind. It appears the English were informed of a visit which the general was paying to a farm distant some miles from his laager, and in the vicinity of the enemy's lines. A party of British lay in ambush for him on his return, and fired point blank upon the surprised officer and his men. A bullet went through his coat, and one of his adjutants was shot dead. His capture is hailed by the British press as a severe blow to the Boer army. This is true, but not to the extent its enemy believes. Viljoen has been a dashing leader all along, but more of an impetuous, dare-devil soldier than of a commander of the type of Botha or De la Rey. His recklessness at Elandslaagte, born of too great a contempt for the English soldier, had something to do with the defeat of General Kock's ill-fated commando. Everything that true courage could do in one man was attempted by Viljoen to retrieve the fortunes of that disastrous day; but the battle was lost by want of judgment in Kock and in himself, and not for pluck to fight a combat so unequal as that between 800 men and two guns, against 4,000 British and three batteries of artillery. He was wounded in the engagement, but-was in the field again at Modderspruit a few days afterward. He took part in the ill-judged siege of Ladysmith until Louis Botha succeeded Joubert, when the fiery Ben took his Rand veterans with him to the Tugela. His defense of Vaal Krantz with a force of seventy or eighty men and a Maxim-Nordenfelt, against a force twenty times his strength in men and guns, and his heroic rescue of his gun after holding the hill for most of a day, will rank as one of the bravest stands made on any battlefield in the records of war. He fought under Louis Botha in the retreat from Pretoria eastward, and was appointed to the command of the Lydenburg and northeastern districts of the Transvaal, after the Boers abandoned the defense of the Delagoa Bay railway. He attacked and took Belfast from the British as mentioned in this diary; his young son, a lad of 15, being killed by his side on that occasion. He it was who also captured the Victoria (Australian) Volunteers at Wilmansrust, when the prowess of these Kangaroo Imperialists did not excite the admiration of General Bateson. He showed great resource as an officer in his operations during 1901 against the various columns and forces with which he had to contend in the mountainous regions committed to his care. After the many able Commandants who have been killed or captured during the past year, it will be no easy task to find a competent successor for his commando. He will probably be succeeded by his brother Piet Viljoen.
I met General Viljoen in Pretoria on the occasion of the last meeting of the Volksraad. He presented me with the picture of himself which appears in this volume. He is a handsome, athletic-built man in the very prime of life; aged about 40, standing 5 feet 10 inches in height, with a German cast of features, blue eyes, and lightish hair and mustache.
His reply to Lord Kitchener's series of proclamations in September last contained the following sarcastic references to the British army:
" We are accused of murdering Kaffirs; but when Kaffirs are found by us as bands of robbers and murderers we treated them according to law and justice, and did not take Kaffirs prisoners without cause. Considering, however, that according to the in-, formation sent us by Lord Kitchener, these bands of robbers must be English soldiers, we shall, in future, treat them as such.
" Further, it is said that we continue the war without being sufficiently provided with arms and supplies; every Boer, however, knows that we are amply provided with arms, ammunition, and supplies—by the English Government."
Commandant Beyers attacked the British camp in Pietersburg (north Transvaal) on the 25th, and carried off a number of the imprisoned Boers.
The English report the capture of several more laagers in the Transvaal and Free State.
Efforts to bring about peace have been made by the Prime Minister of Holland. He has visited London, and subsequently addressed a note to the British Government, offering the services of his Ministry to bring about a cessation of hostilities, with a view to such a settlement of the war as might be mutually satisfactory. Dr. Kuyper has apparently acted in this manner not alone without the authority, but, it is said, without the knowledge, of the Boer 'leaders in Europe.
Lord Kitchener reports further successes of General Bruce Hamilton in the Ermelo districts, and of other " sweeping " columns in the western Transvaal and Free State; General French claiming that the Boer forces in Cape Colony are dwindling in number, and ?no longer demanding very serious attention.
A few days ago, a British colonel and seven of his men were killed in a fight with Nieuhoudt's force in the southwest of the Free State, near the Riet River.
February 1-8.—Mr. Fischer, the head of the Free State section of the Boer leaders in Europe, in an interview with a Paris paper, expresses himself as follows on the execution of Commandant Scheepers:
" Mr. Fischer describes the shooting of Scheepers as a miserable assassination, and his trial as a sinister comedy. 'I knew Scheepers, and can tell you I would be less unlikely to be an assassin myself than Scheepers—the gentlest of men.' ' Why do not the Boers resort to reprisals?' ' That is not in their nature. A Boer will never kill in cold blood a disarmed enemy. Besides, the execution of men like Lotter, Louw, and Scheepers injures the English more than the most rigorous reprisals could do. "Two correlated pieces of news come from Johannesburg on this 1st day of February.
The first is that Mrs. De Wet, wife of the general, is now detained in a concentration camp in Natal, with her youngest children. This act is so characteristic of English ideas of chivalry that it requires no comment. It is possibly due to the action of Lord Milner rather than to that of Lord Kitchener.
The other item relates that twenty-three British columns are now engaged in the task of capturing her husband. The number twenty-three may be the complement of all the various columns and divisions which have been heretofore fruitlessly employed in the same task, and are now to be combined in one overwhelming final effort. Rumor says that it is the British Commander-in-Chief's resolve to have De Wet as a prisoner, if alive, for the occasion of King Edward's coronation, in June. President Steyn is reported to be with his Chief Commandant, and both are believed to be well within the circle of blockhouses, fences, and living columns now being drawn round the coveted prize of the two most formidable foes of the British still in the field.
Lord Lansdowne has returned a courteously-worded reply to Dr. Kuyper's offer on the part of the Dutch Ministry to cooperate in efforts to bring about peace. The British Foreign Secretary says, in substance: His Majesty's Government will receive and consider any proposals made by Boer leaders in the field to Lord Kitchener, but will not recognize the status of Boer representatives in Europe.
A letter of General Tobias Smuts to Commandant-General Botha, written last September, and found by the British in a surprised laager, has been published by Mr. Chamberlain. It is a manly, dignified, and patriotic letter which will do the Boer cause no disservice. It appears that General Smuts has been deprived of his rank by Louis Botha for having burned Bremersdorp, in Swaziland, after capturing the town from a mixed force of British and Swazi troops. This proceeding displeased the Commandant-General, as " being opposed to Boer principles," and he marked his condemnation of the act by the severe punishment of degradation. . No friend of the Boer cause can read General Smuts' letter without feeling that a great wrong has been done to a brave officer and a most loyal burgher for doing that once which the British have systematically done as a necessary war measure. Doubtless Louis Botha felt that English examples of barbarism were the worst of crimes' in Boer officers, and had to be stopped by stern penalties. But, while this speaks volumes for the humanity of the Boers, the punishment by which the lesson was enforced was, under all the circumstances, unjust and excessive.
I had the pleasure of enjoying General Smuts' hospitality in his camp at Brandfort with General De la Rey, in April, 1900. He was then in charge of the Ermelo and Carolina commando; having been the representative of the former district in the Volksraad before and during the war. He is a man of medium height, with dark hair and beard, of gentlemanly appearance, and aged about forty. He speaks English like a man of education, and would suggest, in his general conversation, a jovial man of the world who hated war and the killing of men as thoroughly as if he were a member of the Society of Friends. He was a Progressive in the Volksraad, and opposed to the Kruger Party, as were De la Rey and Louis Botha; but when England forced the Transvaal to defend its life he was, tho a very wealthy burgher, one of the first men in the field. He has fought right through the war, and has taken part in most of the battles in which Louis Botha commanded. He it was who took the second batch of reenforcements up the steep side of Spion Kop, and helped to win that splendid victory for Boer pluck. Part of the story of that memorable fight which I have given in a previous chapter was taken down from General Smuts' dictation in his tent at Brandfort. It is in keeping with his manly nature to conclude his letter of protest to his superior and friend by saying: " I wish to give you the assurance that I have never lost sight of the interest and the success of our cause. I always served this cause in all sincerity, and I hope to do so in future, also, as a private burgher."
On the 4th inst. a defeat of a portion of De Wet's commando is said to have taken place in the Reitz region of the Free State. Commandant Mears with a force said to be 300 strong and two of the guns captured by De Wet on Christmas Eve were surprised early in the morning and routed; the guns being retaken by the English forces.
On the same date Lord Kitchener reports the defeat and capture of 130 men of De la Rey's commando and the capture of their leader, Commandant Sarel Alberts, by Colonel Kekewich's column, in the Western Transvaal.
February 8-15.—The twenty-three columns engaged in what was to be the morally certain capture of De Wet have failed in their attempt. A great cordon was drawn round him, after months of preparations, and so sure was Lord Kitchener of the success of his latest plan and attempt that he proceeded from Pretoria to Wolvehoek in the expectation of being in at the death or capture of the quarry. He has returned to headquarters without his prisoner.
The lines inside of which De Wet and his men were penned, like so many wild beasts offering sport to hunters, were in the form of a triangle, with sides some eighty miles deep and a base of sixty; the apex being at Wolvehoek, on the Pretoria-Kroonstad railway, about twenty miles south of the Vaal Paver. The enclosing line from thence extended southward to Kroonstad, and was formed of blockhouses; barbed-wire fences, armored trains, and troops. The base line extended across eastward, so as to place the districts of Lindley and Reitz to the north of it, when it took a northern direction, at the junction with the Wilge River, west of Reitz, and followed that stream up to Frankfort; crossing from thence, northwest, to rejoin the western line at Wolvehoek, enclosing Heilbron in its sweep.
The base line east from Kroonstad was held by mixed bodies of infantry and cavalry, with blockhouses, trenches, and barbed wire; while the line going north to Frankfort was composed almost entirely of mounted troops, so posted that they were practically in touch over a distance of forty miles.
The great plan which thus demanded the services of twenty-three columns in its execution required the closing in of the eastern line and that of the base upon the western, or railway, line where armored trains, guns, and searchlights were to deal with the. hunted Boers when forced in that direction by the moving walls of enemies behind. This was to be the culminating scene in the vast " drive." The quarry was inside the net. It only remained to draw the strings and to kill or capture the doomed game.
On the night of the 5th or 6th it is believed that De Wet and Steyn assembled their officers and men in the valley of the: Rhenoster River, between Lindley and Heilbron, and took council how best to escape the latest Kitchener sweeping scheme. There was only one practicable way out of the net, and that was by the plan which had always suggested itself on similar occasions. The commando would split into small sections, make feints upon certain points of the surrounding line, far apart, trust to the usual blundering of the enemy for chances, and to rely upon all or any of these for avenues or opportunities to reach the veldt beyond the surrounding foemen.
Once more the great Commandant showed himself the splendid tactician the admiring world recognizes him to be. Attacks were made at a dozen points in the darkness of the night of the 7th. The enemy's guns responded, all along the line, where suspected Boers were believed to be; and in the general confusion and excitement thus made some cattle were driven against the wire fence in a few places and broken. Some Boers were killed; more, who had failed to get through or had blundered against a blockhouse or column, were taken prisoner; but when the twenty-three generals, colonels, and majors in command of the twenty-three columns engaged in the performance reported upon the " bags " thus made on the morning of the 8th, neither De Wet nor Steyn were found inside the broken net.
In what particular direction, or at what point, or when, the President and the general broke through, or got away, is yet to be learned. The English give a dozen contradictory reports. One theory alleges that De Wet formed some 700 burghers into a column, dressed in khaki, commanded by an " English " officer who gave orders loudly in the khaki tongue, wheeled his men early in the morning of the 7th upon the line which barred the way to the south, and rode through in the direction of Bethlehem, unchallenged.
Such a daring and romantic stratagem would be no more than worthy of the victor in a hundred fights and emergencies requiring his rare and resourceful qualities, but it is probably no more than a guess at the means which enabled him to set the military world laughing once more at his discomfited enemy. It is certain that the newspaper-reading public of every civilized land hailed with delight the news that appeared on the morning of the 10th announcing that the most popular living personage of the age had Raffled his foemen once again.
The exaggerated results of " the great drive," which were dilated upon by the Jingo press, were effectively discounted by the cold facts and figures of Lord Kitchener's weekly report on the 10th. This report, which included all the results of the operations of the entire British army in South Africa for the week, accounted for only 69 Boers killed, 17 wounded, 574 prisoners, and 57 surrenders. The number of rifles taken were 480, which shows that 237 of the prisoners were unarmed, non-combatants.
All the facts, therefore, even on the English showing, go to demonstrate that the huge drive which was to have crushed De Wet was turned by him into a huge fiasco for Lord Kitchener.
In the Calvinia district of Cape Colony, a British detachment of 100 troops were attacked and driven in upon their column, with 25 killed and wounded, during this week.
Commandant Malan scored a smart victory over a British convoy escort between Beaufort West and Frasersburg, in Cape Colony, a few days back. The English, about 160 strong, in charge of 60 donkey wagons, and under the command of Major Crofton, laagered for the night in a strong position. Resorting to the very elementary tactics of feinting to assail one side of the camp while intending the real attack on the opposite side, Malan rushed the laager at midnight from the south, and captured it; Crofton and about a dozen of his men being killed, while some 50 more British were wounded. The Boers galloped into the camp, and fired from their saddles; the encounter resembling in many of its features De Wet's brilliant feat at Tweefontein on Christmas Eve. Malan took some of the wagons, and burned the others. Large reenforcements arrived for the enemy before the Boer force completed its victory, and with these Malan fought a retiring engagement. Tho greatly outnumbered, he got his men and some of the British booty away, with trifling losses on his own side.
In the center of Cape Colony, in the Richmond region, Commandant Wessels still holds his ground, thus connecting a continued line of Boer operations across from east to west of the Colony, despite all General French's efforts to drive the invaders back over the Orange River.
On the 12th a portion of De Wet's force who had broken through Kitchener's big " net" on the 7th and 8th, were located on some hills near Klip River Station by the British. This district is almost surrounded by blockhouses, and lies, in addition, between the two main railway lines running to Johannesburg and Pretoria from the Free State and Natal, respectively. The Klip River flows south from near Johannesburg, almost parallel with the railway, and falls into the Vaal River close by the boundary station of Vereeniging. To the east of Vereeniging, and stretching as far as Heidelberg, there are broken ranges of "rands," or low hills,, with the general name of Zuikerboshrand, and it was to the shelter of these hills that Commandants Alberts, Grobler, and Van der Westhuizen took the men whom they had led through the northern section of the Kitchener cordon.
The position into which they rode ought to have been a closer trap to enter and a far more difficult one to escape from than the wider area from which they had broken away four days previously.
A British force, stated to have been 320 strong, under Major Dowell, was sent from Vereeniging to dislodge the burghers. These latter appear to have been a smaller body than their pursuers. They were observed by the garrison at Vereeniging when on the trek to the Zuikerbosh. The troops detailed for the attack upon them would not be sent, by any intelligent officer, in inferior numbers to engage Boers occupying a position among hills. My view is that Albert's and Grobler's men numbered no more than 250 men.
Major Dowell entrained his detachment at Vereeniging, and proceeded thus to Klip River Station. He then advanced along the river, northeast to where the open veldt rises into the Zuikerbosh hills. The British officer left his horses on this veldt, under a guard, and began to climb the low hills in search of the Boers. These tactics determined the plans of the watchful burghers, who at once divided their force; sending half round to their left to fire upon and stampede the British horses, and to assail the enemy in the rear, while the other half were to entice the English further into the hills, by a pretended " running away" maneuver which has so often led blundering British officers into the exact place in which their adroit adversaries had carefully arranged to attack them.
Major Dowell was thus easily led into a position impossible for him to hold, and soon found himself and his men fired upon from all sides. The horses had already been shot at and stampeded, and, unable to hold his men together any longer after a dozen casualties, he ordered a retreat. The Boers, seeing their chance, leaped into their saddles and rode in upon the retiring English, scattering them in all directions. Major Dowell and six other officers valiantly refused to save themselves by running away. They made a gallant stand, and were all shot down; the major being killed and the other six wounded. The mass of their men had bolted towards Klip River Station, and most of the British casualties occurred during the pursuit of these by the Boers. The English lost 10 killed and about 50 wounded in this encounter. The Boer loss was trifling.
February 16-2§.—On the 18th the same Boer force scored another triumph, even nearer to Johannesburg and Pretoria than the scene of the previous defeat of the British. General Gilbert Hamilton was attacked south of Nigel, at a place called Klippan, by Grobler and Alberts, who captured some 50 Dragoons after a brief fight. There were 10 English wounded, and none killed. General Hamilton's force was declared, in the English reports, to be " too weak " to dislodge their opponents. No mention is made, however, in the English reports of the numbers engaged on either side.
It has just been discovered that a Boer prisoner who was taken some weeks ago after a skirmish in Cape Colony, is Judge Kock, eldest son of General Jan Kock, who was wounded at Elandslaagte and died from exposure and neglect at the hands of the enemy. Judge Kock was fighting as a common burgher when captured. In 1896 he presided over the Court before which Jameson and the other captured leaders of the " Raid " were tried in Pretoria.
On the 20th three British columns surprised Colonel Trichardt's laagers northeast of Middelburg, Transvaal, and captured 150 prisoners. It is said in the reports that one of the laagers was that of the Transvaal Government, but that the members of the
Executive had succeeded in escaping. They were probably encampments of sick and of non-combatants only, as no casualties are reported.
The latest news of General De Wet reports him as having broken back north (after his ride south out of Kitchener's net) into the very district of Reitz, from whence some 30,000 British troops succeeding in driving him twelve days ago, when he objected to being captured. No stronger proof of the failure, so far, of the blockhouse system to end the war could be given than this return of the Free State general into the very center of the sphere of its most elaborate development and application. The defeat of Dowell and Hamilton's forces, inside even a narrower and stronger-fenced area, since the great failure of the 7th and 8th, by a section of De Wet's men, almost justifies the name " blockhead " system which the irreverent Boers have given to this latest offspring of England's military genius.
Following the general plan of concerted action which Botha, De Wet, and De la Rey have adopted during the past year, as a means of relieving each other of the enemy's pressure when directed in detail against either of the chief cooperating commandoes, De la Rey delivered a smashing blow at one of Lord Methuen's columns and convoys on the early morning of the 25th. The locality of this latest Boer victory is also very significant. Like the fights at Klip River and Nigel, it took place within the hearing of a strong British garrison, alongside a Kitchener area of blockhouses and barbed-wire fences, and close to a railway line.
The scene of the encounter was about a dozen miles southwest of Klerksdorp, which is the terminus of the railway running westward from the Band through Potchefstroom; a distance of about eighty miles from Johannesburg. Klerksdorp is also the chief British garrison in the southwest Transvaal, and has been taken and retaken by the opposing forces several times during the war. The district west and north of the town has seen more fighting during the past two years than any other locality in the theater of operations, excepting De Wet's region in the northeastern Free State. Klerksdorp has been for some time past the base for British operations against General De la Rey and his chief lieutenants, who are defending the western regions of the Transvaal against Lord Methuen's and other British columns, and convoys are periodically sent out from there to such smaller garrisons as are held by the English in minor towns or villages, west and south.
On the night of the 24th, one of such convoys, with an escort of 700 troops, composed of the 5th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, forming part of Colonel Von Donop's column of Methuen's force, encamped near a spruit, on the convoy's return from Wolmaranstad to Klerksdorp. They were mounted troops, had two guns and a pom-pom, and were commanded by Colonel Anderson.
Yster Spruit, twelve miles southwest of Klerksdorp, runs due south into the Vaal River, and cuts the road from Wolmaranstad to Klerksdorp with one of the usual water-worn hollows peculiar to South Africa. The English laagered to the north of this spruit, with the Vaal River to their right, the scrubby veldt to their left, and the road to Klerksdorp right before them, running through their camp.
The movements of convoys to and from Wolmaranstad were known, of course, to the vigilance of De la Rey, and it is evident from all the facts of the fight on the 25th that the Boer general had marked this escort for attack on its return, and when near Klerksdorp; that is, when the British would least expect to be surprised. The country due north of Yster Spruit is the Lichten-burg region, De la Rey's native district, and every inch of it is known to the great Commandant. It is a " mixed" country of rands, veldt, and scrub, and well suited to the execution of one of those dashing exploits for which De la Rey's name is now synonymous.
During the night of the 24th, he rode in, probably from the region of the Haartebeest hills, with a force about equal to that of the British, and disposed of his men so as to attack the enemy in the early morning. He separated his command into three divisions, in accurate anticipation of what the British would do when surprised, and results answered in every detail to his plan and expectations. A body of men three miles in front of Colonel Anderson would prevent the intervention of reenforcements from Klerksdorp, where the guns would be heard when the action began; a force on the enemy's left flank, under cover of the scrub, would do the chief work of the first attack, while the hollow spruit, in the rear of the English, would offer shelter for those burghers who were to engage the rear-guard, and to create the demoralizing impression on the Tommies that they were being assailed by the usual " superior Boer forces," on all sides.
The British were fired upon from the scrub, to their left, when the convoy began to move off shortly after four o'clock on the morning of the 25th. The distance between the Boers in the low bush and the flank of the escort was only 500 yards. The Boers had worked up as close as this to the enemy's lines in the night time, owing doubtless to the very careless scouting and picket work of, the English, so near the end of their journey back to Klerksdorp. The British returned the fire with both rifles and guns, and gave all their attention to the assailants of their left flank. The attack eased off for a while, and the convoy recommenced its march, when De la Rey's men swept in and over the rear-guard of the English, firing from their saddles, in utter disregard of the enemy's guns. They galloped along the confused line of their foes, overwhelming them by their dash, and riding down all opposition.
The Klerksdorp garrison despatched a reenforcement of 200 mounted men on hearing the guns, but these were encountered by a detachment of burghers who held them back on the road until Colonel Anderson's force was smashed, the guns taken, and the capture of the convoy escort completed.
According to the English report Colonel Anderson had 20 men killed, with about 100 men wounded. All the others were taken prisoner, disarmed, and immediately released, as usual.
The English give the strength of Colonel Anderson's column at 600, and that of De la Rey's at " from 1,200 to 1,700 rifles." This is, obviously, the kind of report which the British supply on all such occasions. Their casualties alone mount up to 650, when the lists are scrutinized, while it has been found a fairly accurate rule to dock British estimates of the Boer strength in a Boer victory by at least 100 per cent, of men. At Magersfontein Lord Methuen reported there were some 16,000 Boers in front of him. There were really only one-fourth of that number. At Colenso General Buller estimated Louis Botha's commandoes to be equal in men to the British troops—said by the Boers to be 23,000, and admitted by the English to be, at least, 16,000. As a matter of actual fact, Botha's burghers at Colenso numbered under 5,000.
In this instance De la Rey's whole force would probably be the complement of the British escort. Allowing for the men detailed for the purpose of holding back the Klerksdorp reenforcements, the Boers actually engaged in settling accounts with the convoy escort would be under rather than over the number of British rifles opposed to their attack. It is a patent absurdity to conjecture, as Lord Kitchener does in his report, that all the burghers of the West Transvaal, and all De la Rey's chief officers, concentrated at Yster Spruit to deal with 700 British troops, mainly composed of Yeomanry. Kemp may have been with his chief, and probably Potgieter, but Celliers and Lemmer (killed several times already in British reports), Wolmarans and Vermaas, were in all likelihood engaged in other districts. Commandant Liebenberg, who has operated in the Klerksdorp country during the past year, may have been where his intimate local knowledge of the ground would be of great assistance in the execution of De la Rey's coup. The English reports speak of the gallantry of the British rearguard, which was composed of Northumberland Fusiliers, and give an all-round praise to the performance of their own side. The casualties do attest both the fierce nature of the Boer attack, and the stubborn resistance that was made by a portion of Colonel Anderson's troops. But there are no facts connected with the fight so dominant and significant as those which, even on English testimony, speak of the gallop of the Boers in upon their enemies, even after the full morning light had revealed the whole situation to the English, and some two hours after the encounter had first commenced. Two English guns and a pom-pom, a compact force of 700 British, carts and wagons to fight behind, and a British garrison a few miles ahead, offered no effective cheek to the splendid corps of mounted burghers who dashed in upon and rode down an enemy whose organs in the press have boasted again and again of the reluctance of the Boer " to face cold steel." Men who not only do so, but face, fight, and capture English guns, in broad daylight, from a force equal to their own, without the help of artillery, are silent about their own deeds. They let the narratives of their surrendered prisoners speak the. moral of the victory so gained to those who can only hope that numbers alone will wear down or subdue a foeman equal to such courage and resource.
Two days after the disaster to Colonel Anderson's force, a report of Lord Kitchener attempted to redress the balance of damaged prestige by its story of the capture of (singular coincidence!) the same number of Boers in the southeastern Free State as the English taken by De la Rey in the southwestern Transvaal.
The report relates that a number of Boers, about 700 strong, tried to break through the northeast side of the Kitchener Free State "net," still stretched, along the Wilge River. They drove a huge herd of " 6,000 cattle " (how these had got inside the net, which was cleared a fortnight previously, is not told) against the section of the line held by New Zealand Volunteers. These shot back both beasts and men. The Boers lay down behind the dead animals, and returned the fire. They were beaten off, and are said to have gone south, pressed by pursuing troops until they were forced up against the Harrismith-Van Reenan line of blockhouses and barbed wire, where they were ultimately captured. Adding to these the other "bags" of the week's operations (ineluding.2,000 horses, 28,000 cattle, and 60,000 sheep) the English Commander-in-Chief declared, " These satisfactory results are very appropriate on Majuba Day! " It illustrates the state of mind into which Lord Kitchener has been driven by the events of this war, that he should have attempted, in this reference to Majuba, to ignore the significance of De la Rey's victory at Yster Spruit by a statistical array of cattle and sheep, as a marked demonstration of military capacity on the part of an army of 230,000 British troops.
The Boers taken near the Harrismith line were mostly non-combatants. They comprised the camp-followers, cattle drivers, and attendants of some of the fighting sections of De Wet's forces, along with old men. The number of fighting Boers put out of action would probably correspond with the casualties among the New Zealanders in the fight on the 23rd. These are given at 20 killed and 38 wounded in the English reports.
The month closes with this report from Pretoria, relating to the capture of the British convoy and escort on the 25th:
" Kekewieh's and Grenfell's columns are pursuing De la Rey's forces, which are reported to have scattered. Lord Methuen has started with a column from Vryburg towards Lichtenburg, to try to intercept the enemy."
March 1-7.—Accounts from Boer sources of the killed and wounded on their side in the fights at Itala Mount and Fort Prospect, in September last, and at Brakenlaagte in October, have come to hand. H. S. Oosterhagen, of the Transvaal Identity Department, certifies in a communication dated December 12, 1901, that the number of Boers killed at Itala and Fort Prospect was a total of 16, and that 4 more out of 41 wounded, died. At Brakenlaagte, where Colonel Benson's rear-guard was overwhelmed by Christian Botha, the Boer casualties were 13 burghers killed, and 40 wounded. Lord Kitchener's estimate put down-44 killed and 100 wounded to the British account; or near 150 per cent, above the actual Boer losses.
These figures offer an illuminating comment upon English reports of losses inflicted upon the Boers. Reuter had cabled from Ladysmith that 300 Boers were left dead on the field, after the " failure " of the attacks upon Forts Itala and Prospect.
In a " Life of Count Villebois-Mareuil" by his friend M. Jules Caplain, which has just been published in Paris, the author clearly shows that the gallant French officer met his fate at Boshof, in April, 1900, not by a shell, as was generally stated and believed at the time, but by a rifle fired almost point blank at him, on refusing to lay down his arms. In my account of the fight, in Chapter XXV, I give the common version of how he was killed.
The " General" Vilonel who is at present exciting the admiration of the English by his boastful letters to President Steyn and General De Wet, published in the British press, is the Benedict Arnold of the Boer armies. He is a man on the youthful side of thirty, and of good address and education. He fought in the Free State commandoes in the early stages of the war. A too ardent ambition to rise rapidly in military rank caused him to become insubordinate, and he was, in consequence, relegated to the distasteful task of commandeering. This duty was the anti-climax to his dreams of distinction, and he became discontented. From this frame of mind to actual treachery was a transition resulting from wounded vanity, and he deserted to the British.
He supplied the enemy with information relating to the movements and plans of General De Wet and President Steyn, and engaged in the work of seducing other Boer officers to follow his base example. One of his letters was intercepted by a Free State Intelligence Officer, and an appointment was made for an interview. The traitor fell into the trap, was captured, and put upon trial for treason.
The trial took place at Reitz, in the northeast of the Free State, which was then the seat of Government. So merciful did the Boer Court view the abominable crime of which the culprit was proved guilty, that he was sentenced only to five years' imprisonment.
Against this lenient penalty he appealed, and his application was allowed. The second trial took place at Fouriesburg, and was presided over by Judge (now Commandant) Hertzog. The prisoner defended himself. He pleaded that he had acted in obedience to his conscientious feeling, and threw himself on the mercy of the Court. The Judge confirmed the former sentence, declaring that the name of Vilonel would be forever synonymous in Boer memory and tradition with that of traitor to their country and cause.
Subsequently the English surprised the place where Vilonel was imprisoned, and he was liberated. He was thus restored to the labor of treachery for which he had been so leniently punished by a Boer tribunal, and is now the malignant enemy of those who had considerately spared his life. He has become a leader of the " National " Scouts at Bloemfontein, and it is the vaporings of this man which are at present inspiring the English with renewed hope in an early termination of the war.
A petition numerously signed has been presented to the Senate of the Australian Commonwealth, praying that all Australian Volunteers serving with the British in South Africa should be recalled. The petitioners say:
" Our Australian troops, in certain cases against their will, have been largely engaged in this horrible work of burning down the means and results of a people's industry and subsistence, of subjecting their women and children to deportation and disease, and of leaving a vast region of God's once fertile earth a barren waste."
News received from Cape Colony through German and Dutch channels gives details of the execution of Commandant Scheepers, which were not found in the English reports of that military murder. It appears that he was conducted to the place of execution by his enemies, with a military band playing exultingly in the pro-cession! He was so ill that he was conveyed there in an ambulance. He manfully requested to be allowed to stand up, and to face his executioners with unbandaged eyes. This request was refused. The firing party detailed for the task of killing him stood ten paces off, and the reports relate that half his body was blown away by the volley. The chair to which the young and gallant officer had been strapped was then broken up, and the fragments thrown on top of the body of this victim of English savagery. The execution took place on the 21st of January, and the Minister responsible to the British Parliament for the conduct of the war in South Africa had " no information " on this matter on the 7th of March when questioned if these details of Scheepers' execution were in accordance with facts.
March 8-15.—At the close of the last month, when forwarding a final account of the defeat and capture of one of Lord Methuen's columns and convoys, Lord Kitchener cabled from Pretoria that Kekewich's and Grenfell's columns " were pursuing De la Rey's forces," and that Methuen, with another column, "had started from Vryburg towards Lichtenburg to try and intercept the enemy." The publication of this news was a piece of the usual English bluster and bluff which has passed with the British public for military efficiency on the part of their generals throughout this war. The great Boer general has his own independent intelligence department, however, and in this instance he would seem to have known much more about Methuen's movements than Lord Kitchener or the English War Office.
After his defeat of Colonel Anderson on the 25th of February, De la Rey retired northwest from Klerksdorp to the Haartebeest hills, which form an irregular dividing line, running north and south, between the Potchefstroom and Lichtenburg districts of the Western Transvaal. These hills have been a center of De la Rey's defensive operations since he took charge of this division of the Republic, following the battle of Dalmanutha and the departure of President Kruger for Europe. It is from their shelter he has often witnessed the English armies making their devastating marches through the very district in which he was born on the one hand, and of the country southwest of Klerksdorp on the other; to follow and strike at any one of them which might not in its strength in men and guns be too unequal a force for his commando to engage. Here in this favorite and familiar haunt the General awaited the developments which would necessarily follow from the defeat he had inflicted upon the enemy's column at Yster Spruit.
Lord Methuen was at Vryburg when Colonel Anderson's column met with its mishap on the 25th of last month. A direct line westward for about ninety miles from where De la Rey was located on the evening of that date, would pass a little to the north of the town of Vryburg, which is roughly about midway between Kimberley and Mafeking, on the railway line from Cape Town to Bulawayo. It is the chief British garrison after Klerksdorp for the southwestern Transvaal, and lies a little over the western border, in the Bechuanaland territory.
Methuen started from Vryburg on the 2nd of March with a force of about 1,000 mounted men and 300 or 400 infantry; making a column of 1,400 troops, with a convoy of supplies for his force. He had four guns and one or two pom-poms.
His march lay northeastward in a line parallel with the Harts River, which has a course southwestward through the Lichtenburg district. At Graspan Methuen would have a farm of General De la Rey's twelve miles to his right. Two marches north of this point he came in touch with a small Boer force under Van Zyl, whose homestead lies a few miles westward of De la Rey's. This was on the 5th, or three days after Methuen had left Vryburg. Van Zyl was on reconnaissance in connection with De la Rey's plans, and acted as a decoy for the British column, which was compelled to move slowly owing to its ox convoy. It is evident that Methuen followed Van Zyl's retreating burghers, and that these retired towards where De la Rey intended that the attack upon his old adversary of Enslin, Modder River, and Magersfontein was to be made. This spot is close by the Klein Harts River, in an open country, almost due west of Klerksdorp, and about a dozen miles from the hills from whence De la Rey was to swoop down upon his foe.
The Boer attack was again planned for the early morning, but, unlike the surprise at Yster Spruit, this encounter was to be a rush upon the rear of the enemy's column; the slow-moving ox-wagons in the front being a guaranty to the calculating Boer general that Methuen's force would not march ahead of the convoy to any strong position lying in that direction.
The success of Van Zyl's decoying tactics enabled De la Rey to swing his commando to the south of Methuen's force in a night ride. He would proceed for this purpose due south from the Haartebeest hills, parallel with the Makewassi Spruit, for about ten miles, and, crossing this stream, sweep westward towards the Harts River, where, at or near Rooikraal, he would find himself in the early morning of the 6th in the immediate rear of the English column on its slow march north towards where Methuen expected to join hands with two other British forces.
The Boer movement was calculated to a mile, and to time, with De la Rey's accustomed precision; every inch of the ground being known to him. In the ride across from the Makewassi Spruit to the west, he would pass within a dozen miles of his own farm, which lies in the center of the fertile country the English have turned into a howling desert of ruined homesteads. He was thus sure of his ground, and no less confident that he was about to inflict upon the person of the general who had committed most of this ruin a chastisement which would ring round the world, and proclaim again the indomitable character of the Boer resistance to British aggression.
De la Rey's plan of attack was to be one of his irresistible rushes upon the enemy; a charge in the fine old style of cavalry fighting, which has so often broken down all British resistance, and smashed to atoms the boasted prowess of English valor in this war. It was not in any sense to be an ambush, or surprise attack. The Boer general had maneuvered, by aid of Van Zyl's skirmishes, to bring Methuen into the locality where the superb burgher horsemen could sweep in upon all sides of the enemy, and where real fighting capacity should decide the fortunes of the day. The English would not have it to say that they were fired upon from behind rocks, or assailed from the cover of scrub, or other shelter. It was to be a combat in the open, almost between equal numbers —for De la Rey's force, even according to British estimates, was said to be only a few hundred more than Methuen's. The enemy, however, had the advantage in artillery and machine guns.
The English reports of the fight admit that De la Rey's men were clearly seen three miles away, on the early morning of the 6th. This fact enabled Lord Methuen to collect his lines to meet the attack. He closed these in upon the ox and mule convoys ahead, and had his guns ready to meet the impact of the Boer rush.
A noted incident in this memorable fight was the refusal of De la Rey to use the guns he had captured at Yster Spruit a few days previously; that is, in the first instance. He knew, of course, that Methuen had artillery, and all the ordinary practises of warfare would dictate the shelling of the enemy, as a preliminary to a charge upon his position. But the great Boer general knew more than military tacticians teach in their manuals. He knew that men count before everything in successful attacks, and sure of the stamina of those around him in their saddles, and counting at their right value the troops he was about to assail, he relegated the services of his guns to a subsequent part of the action, and resolved to rush his whole commando in a resistless ride on Methuen's column, and overwhelm Tommies, guns, convoy, and all.
This he did in a kind of crescent-shaped sweep upon the enemy's rear-guard, enveloping their flanks at the same time. Despite the labored attempts of Lord Kitchener and of privileged press correspondents to represent the English as making determined stands, fighting coolly and gallantly, and all the rest, the combat was virtually over in the first charge of De la Rev's burghers upon Methuen's mounted troops. These, acting as rearguard and as screens to the column and convoy, broke at once, and fled. There are no other words for their action. They ran away, as fast as their horses could carry them across the Harts River valley, westward to the Maribogo region, pursued for five miles by some of De la Rey's men. This, even English reports admit.
It was Methuen's infantry who stood their ground. A fight was put up by this remnant of his force, which continued for a few hours. The Boers rushed two of the English guns, shot down their service, and captured them. The other guns were also well defended, while Lord Methuen collected parts of his broken column into a neighboring kraal. He bravely discarded all thought of cover and of danger, and did all that a gallant officer could do to retrieve, in a forlorn defense of his remaining guns and convoy, the disgrace of the bolting of his mounted men in the beginning of the battle. It was now only a question of bringing the Boer guns to bear upon the kraal to finish the fight, and Commandant Celliers turned Colonel Anderson's two fifteen-pounders upon the British within the enclosure, and rendered the situation hopeless for the enemy inside.
Lord Methuen had in the meantime been wounded severely in the thigh. Colonel Townsend was also down, whereupon De la Rey summoned the enemy to surrender, and the battle was over, with about 40 English killed, 100 wounded, and all who did not run away prisoners. Lord Methuen, Lieutenant-General and second in military rank to Lord Kitchener in South Africa, fell into the hands of his chivalrous victor, with his guns, convoy, and column—or all that had remained of it on the battle-field. The prompt release of Lord Methuen by De la Rey astounded the press of the civilized world by its knightly magnanimity. It created a painful impression among the friends of the Boer cause everywhere, by its uncalculating, and seemingly unpatriotic, generosity. Neither the captured general nor the British army merited any such consideration at Boer hands. Lord Methuen was the first English general to asperse the Boers in the war. He libeled them at Belmont, Enslin, and Modder River in unfounded charges; allegations made, too, in true English fashion, with the object of attempting to offset the true charges of Boer officers that the rules of civilized warfare had been deliberately violated by Methuen's troops at each of these battles. His officers arrested a Boer ambulance at Modder River, and sent doctors and assistants serving under Red Cross ensigns, as prisoners to Cape Town. All this was known to De la Rey, who had fought Methuen in his attempt to relieve Kimberley, and whose superb plan of aggressive defense at Magersfontein enabled Cronje to inflict upon this general and a powerful British army one of the greatest defeats of the war.
The fate, too, of Commandants Lotter and Scheepers was present to De la Rey's mind when he released his captive. These officers had been executed for burning Government buildings in Cape Colony, and for shooting armed Kaffirs. Methuen had burned farms and villages in the Transvaal and Free State, and his men had killed wounded Boers at Modder River. De la Rey's own homestead had been burned by his troops, and the entire district in which he was born—the locality in which poetic justice decreed the defeat and capture of Methuen at his hands—bore testimony to the barbarous methods resorted to by the British in their warfare against the people whom they had so monstrously wronged.
I remember General De la Rey telling me in Brandfort, in April, 1900, how his father's home had been burned, and his property destroyed by the English, in the Forties.
An ex-telegraphist in the Boer service, writing a few days ago to the " Nieuwe Botterdamsche Courant," says that he received the following message at Pilgrimsrust, for the Transvaal Executive, from General De la Rey, last summer:
" I have also received information that my wife has been driven from our farm by Lord Methuen's column. Our farm has been destroyed, the houses have been burnt down, and my wife has been put down in a place where no houses are to be found for miles around. She has put up at a thatched Kaffir hut, where she must have stayed already a considerable time before she was found by our people. What low measures the enemy have recourse to, what personal injuries may be inflicted upon me, tho they may grieve me to my innermost soul, there will be no abatement in my zeal ¦ to pursue our struggle to the end."
But the deeds of the British had no influence upon this Christian hero's action. He saw only a distinguished enemy in his hands, to whose wounds no Boer ambulance could attend; thanks to Kitchener's and Methuen's own measures in preventing even a Red Cross service of humanity penetrating to the Boer commandoes. Discarding every thought except what his chivalrous nature prompted him to do, De la Rey sent his captive in his own wagon to Klerksdorp, allowing him to take even his papers and personal effects along with him.
It was in every sense a noble deed, nobly done, and so the whole of Christendom has recognized and pronounced it. Such knightly courtesy arrested the thought of civilization and told it, in this one act, how unmeasurable is the moral distance which divides the , Boer from the British race in all that concerns the conduct of this war. This was by no means a solitary instance of Boer generosity. Their whole treatment of prisoners has been as persistently kind and humane from the beginning as that of their enemies has been L' the reverse. We need only to refer to the account already given of the treatment accorded by British officers and men to General Jan Kock, who was captured while dangerously wounded at the battle of Elandslaagte, to establish this fact.
De la Rey has, however, in his release of Lord Methuen, enormously increased the prestige of the Boer cause, and gained for it the fixed adhesion of tens of thousands of wavering supporters in Europe and America. The defeat of so important a general, so soon after the capture of Colonel Anderson's column, and so near, in both instances, to the center of Lord Kitchener's authority and operations, has also an importance far beyond the mere success of the engagement. It means additional recruits for the Boer commandoes in Cape Colony, and for the English a considerable prolongation of the war. These results might also have followed had Methuen been retained as a prisoner in some Boer laager. Krit-zinger's life would likewise have been saved, whereas no reliance can now be placed upon English forbearance when their general has been delivered up without any condition attaching to the release.
While Lord Methuen was still in Boer hands the English press allowed itself to be swayed for a few hours by a feeling of appreciation of De la Rey's chivalry. Lord Roberts eulogized him in the House of Lords, and even Royalty was reported to have expressed an interest in the fate of General Kritzinger—the day following the disaster at Tweebosh. When, however, the titled officer was back in the English lines, the British press reverted again to its more congenial task of maligning the Boers. They had worn khaki, and were dressed in English uniforms, and, therefore, fought unfairly. These papers omitted to charge the Boers at the same time with using English rifles and guns served with English \ ammunition, as well. From the point of view of the English press, j all this goes to establish the bad faith of the Boers. The English will not, or cannot, see the side of the Boer character which enables the remnant of a little nation to strip British soldiers of their clothes, rifles, and ammunition with which to keep up the struggle for independence. The troops who allow themselves to be so stripped and disarmed, frequently by inferior numbers of burghers, are lauded by the same British press for their soldierly qualities, but the men who fight a huge army with its own weapons and convoys, captured in the dashing style of Yster Spruit and Tweebosh, are men to be shot if caught in the clothes of the yielding British Tommies.
On March 26, 1902, Cecil Rhodes died near Cape Town of heart disease.
Following so soon after the defeat and capture of Lord Methuen, the death of the organizer and paymaster of the infamous Jameson Raid is another blow to England in this war of repeated disasters to her arms and prestige. In the sense that the Raid of 1895-6 was the cause of the present war, Mr. Rhodes can be said to have been the senior partner with Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Milner in the responsibility for the crime against civilization and humanity which is still creating misery, bloodshed, and horror in South Africa. Mr. Rhodes and others coveted the Band mines just as other Englishmen and associated adventurers had coveted the diamond mines of Kimberley. These succeeded in persuading a previous Colonial Secretary and High Commissioner to violate a treaty bearing England's signature, in order that the Boers should not be the masters of a piece of territory so fabulously rich. What was done with the Sand River Treaty of 1852 was repeated with the London Convention of 1884. Diamonds and gold were weighed against treaties and conventions, and the national honor and international credit and character of England were relegated to a secondary place.
The man whom the Boers believe to be the author of the war has gone to his account. He has not seen the success of the plans , which have plunged the Republic he wished to despoil into its 4 present condition and have dragged the Empire he was ambitious to widen and enrich into the Serbonian bog of disaster and disgrace where it still flounders. Unless satisfactory terms are accorded to his leaders, the ragged burgher contending valiantly for his country and freedom, even tho hope appears to have deserted his cause, will fight on with renewed belief in God's protecting power when he learns that Cecil Rhodes has been summoned to the judgment seat of the Almighty.