Accounts of minor conflicts omitted—Wide extent of Boer resistance—British casualties in one month (January, 1902) occur in 334 places—Extraordinary facts revealed by Kitchener's figures—Only 1,315 Boers against 220,000 British on January 1, 1902—Explanation of the anomaly—Either non-combatants were captured or surrendered men killed—Number of captured rifles (8,000), a truer index of men put out of action author estimates Boer force on January 1, 1902 to be 12,000—British force, 237,800—British put out of action in War, 115,000— England's war on a nation of 232,000 people—27,000 Boer men, women, and children put out of action—156,000 held in prisons and concentration camps—12,000 are in arms—37,000 at large— Heavy losses of Boers in officers—The four greatest leaders, Botha, De Wet, De la Rey, and Steyn, survive.

I have omitted in my weekly summaries of hostilities and of events relating directly to the war most of the reports in which Lord Kitchener gave the British account of the work accomplished by his army. This was done to economize space and not with the object of ignoring the many " mishaps " inflicted upon the Boers. For a kindred reason I have not mentioned scores of small engagements in which the English got the worst of the encounter. Skirmishes, outpost affairs, attacks on blockhouses, the daily work of scouts, etc., along the entire extent of the field of operations, have necessarily been passed over. They could not be included, even if accurately known in their details, in this compressed narrative of the war from the Boer standpoint, in anything like the space which a single volume affords.

Let me give my readers an illustration, not so much of this self-evident proposition as of the far-reaching, sleepless, and most effective resistance which this marvelous people are making against their leviathan opponent. I take the month of January, 1902, as an example. According to a most careful scrutiny of the casualty lists published by the British War Office, English soldiers were killed, wounded, made prisoners, or otherwise put out of action in no less than 334 different places, in the Transvaal, Free State, Cape Colony, and Bechuanaland, from the 1st to the 31st of that one month, inclusive. Carefully censored accounts of the Boer campaign in Cape Colony also concealed the extent to which British territory was overrun by comparatively small commandoes during 1901. This invasion of the enemy's country in December, 1900, for the second time in the war, and immediately after Lord Roberts had informed the world that the war was ended, put the huge British army then in South Africa in a humiliating light. It plainly indicated to Europe that a force of over 250,000 English troops were unable to prevent such an invasion by a force of Boers ten times less numerous. This invasion was also a great danger to the enemy's position. It threatened a revolt in the rear of his main columns, and menaced his chief lines of transport and communication. Very little reliable news has, therefore, been allowed to reach the public about the practical impunity with which the invading bodies roamed over British territory during 1901; south of the Orange River, almost to the sea, at Mossel Bay; and westward, from Barkly East to Saldanha Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

The original invading commandoes led by Judge Hertzog, George Brand, and Commandant Kritzinger soon split into smaller bodies, so as to spread themselves over wider areas. These sections found secondary leaders in Lotter, Scheepers, Fouche, Myburgh, Maritz, Theron, Van Niekirk, Van Reenan, Smit, Fourie, Louw, Van der Venter, and others. General (Attorney-General) Smuts joined in the invasion in September last, and is now at the head of the largest Boer force in the Colony.

With the exception of what is recorded of the work done by the four or five Chief Commandants of the fifteen or twenty invading detachments, I have been unable to gather information of what the bulk of these small bodies have done in Cape Colony, or in the British territory north of the Orange River, during the period of last year. This part of the Boer fight for freedom has yet to be told.

The Cape Dutch who joined the invaders from the Free State would, in all likelihood, cross the Orange River soon after, and attach themselves to the forces under De Wet, Botha, and De la Rey. They would, naturally, do this in preference to fighting where English officials and spies could take note of the action of local " rebels," and the efforts of such volunteers on the side of the Republic are mostly merged in the general record of the main Boer commandoes.

The success of Lord Kitchener's operations against the widely scattered Boer forces in 1901 is to be measured by the number of opponents his columns have killed and captured, and the extent to which he has weakened the remaining Boer powers of resistance

We have, however, only the English reports of this success. These have been published every week in Lord Kitchener's despatches from Pretoria.

I have gone carefully through these weekly reports for the whole of 1901, and the figures come out as follows: Boers killed, 1,692; wounded, 985; prisoners, 11,983; surrendered, 3,683; giving a total, under these four heads, of 18,343 Boers put out of action during the year.

If these figures are even approximately accurate, they reveal some extraordinary facts. In August last Lord Kitchener estimated the number of Boers in the field against him, in the month of July, at 13,500. From the 1st of August to the 31st of December, his weekly reports account for 12,185 Boers killed, wounded, prisoners, and surrendered; a figure which would leave only 1,315 Boers in front of his 220,000 British troops on the last day of the year.

It will be seen from the figures which give the numbers of killed and wounded, according to the weekly Kitchener " bags," that the latter amount to only 60 per cent, of the former, for the Boer casualties during the twelve months. The average in the British casualties during the same period, and throughout the war, is one killed to five wounded; a ratio which also, I think, about measures the disablements in ordinary civilized warfare. What inference, therefore, do Lord Kitchener's anomalous figures suggest?

The English may say that the Boers succeeded in carrying off the balance of their wounded. Their total wounded, on a list of 1,692 killed—allowing for the same average as that of the English casualties—would be 8,460. Lord Kitchener's reports account for only 985. The English theory would therefore mean that the Boers who left 11,000 of their number as prisoners in British hands, succeeded in taking away 7,475 of their wounded in the various encounters which resulted in these casualties. This is, obviously, an absurdity.

The real explanation of Lord Kitchener's figures is this: Most of the prisoners mentioned as such in his weekly reports were non-combatants, women, children, and unarmed men. These were captured, mainly, in laagers, as camp followers of the commandoes. These laagers, which also contained stock and wagons, were as a rule surprised by British forces in the early hours of the morning, and were, in almost all instances, defended by only a small number of armed men. In many cases there was no resistance offered, according to the ordinary reports of these British successes given to the public.

Adding the 1,692 Boers killed in 1901, to the 985 who were wounded, we have a total of 2,677. One-fifth of that number would be 535, which ought to be the number of killed in that total, according to the average English casualties; a figure which would leave 1,157 to the wounded category in the same calculation.

If Lord Kitchener's reports are correct, in relation to the killed and wounded on the Boer side during last year, his troops stand guilty of having killed 1,157 men in laagers, when beaten or in the act of surrendering, over and above the number which ought to have been killed in these encounters.

What has to be done with these figures is to eliminate eight-tenths of the prisoners from the class of combatants; most of them being women, children, old men, and non-fighters; and to reckon only the killed, wounded, and surrendered as the real extent to which the combative burgher forces have been reduced in 1901. These would total to about G,000, in round numbers. Add to these 2,000 more out of the 11,000 prisoners, as representing the adult fighting element found among them, and we get the figure of 8,000, which will be the approximate total reduction of the Boer resisting forces during the year. As Lord Kitchener's " bags " account for some 7,000 or 8,000 rifles only, from January to December, it is obvious that my estimate, which places the number of effective Boers put out of action at or about the number of rifles taken, is nearer the truth than the British'general's figures, which total to 18,000 men, and leave over 10,000 rifles unaccounted for.

My estimate of the number of armed fighting burghers in the field on the first of January, 1902, is 12,000, with Cape Colony as still a potential recruiting ground for more men.

The total British forces employed in the war, and the casualties ¦ suffered by them up to the 1st of January, 1902, are given as follows in British official reports:

Garrison in South Africa on August 1, 1899




Troops from Home and British Colonies


Troops from India




Troops from Colonies other than South Africa .


Troops raised in South Africa




Imperial Yeomanry


Volunteers from UK


South African Constabulary from UK


South African Constabulary from Canada


Scottish Horse




When war began, on the 11th of October, 1899, the English had 22,400 men in South Africa; all regular troops.

By the month of July, 1900, the British forces in the field had increased to 260,000 men, while up to the 31st of December, 1901, the above enormous total of 388,749 had been engaged in the warfare carried on against the Boer commandoes.

On the 1st of January, 1902, the following British forces were still in the field:





Imperial Yeomanry




Colonials (including Town Guards, etc.)




The British casualties, officially admitted, during the whole campaign, up to the 31st of January, 1902, are given as under:




Killed in action



Died of wounds



Prisoners who have died in captivity



Died of disease



Accidental deaths



Total deaths in South Africa



Missing and prisoners (excluding those who have been recovered or have died in captivity



Sent home as invalids



Total casualties in South Africa




To these figures must be added the total number of British prisoners taken by the Boers, and the sick troops in hospital in South Africa at the present time. The former would total to, at least, 15,000, while 14,000 will probably represent the latter; making a grand total of 115,459 Englishmen put out of action during the campaign.

The Boer forces and losses figure out as follows: The English having made war on the whole Boer nation, men, women, and children, the entire Boer population of the two little Republics would represent the "army" opposed to the 388,000 English troops.

The Boer population of the Transvaal and Free State in 1899 is not accurately known. The general estimates were for

From South African Republic


The orange Free State


Giving a total Boer population of


Add Cape Colony and other Volunteers


Making a Grand Total of


I estimate the casualties of the Boer armies up to December 31, 1901, as follows:

Burghers killed in the field


Burghers who died of wounds and sickness


Children killed in the concentration camps


Non-combatants, men and women, who have died in the ordinary course of nature, at the rate of 20 per 1,000, for two years, say



Total killed and died



Men, women, and children imprisoned in the concentration camps (estimated)


Combatants and non-combatants in prisons in St. Helena, Ceylon, India, Bermuda, and elsewhere (estimated)


Burghers still fighting, say


Leaving Boer men, women, and children unaccounted for in the Transvaal and Free State to the number of




The number of soldiers put in the field by England during the war thus outnumbered the entire Boer population of the two Republics by more than 150,000 men.

Putting one-fourth of the Boer population unaccounted for in the war statistics down as males, and assuming that one-third of these are old enough, physically fit, and willing to bear arms—and may yet do so—this would add about 3,500 to the potential Boer forces; making, with the 12,000 estimated to be now on commando, a total of 15,500 men yet to be killed, captured, or otherwise disposed of before the war is completely ended.

The Boer losses in officers during 1901 has been severe. Generals Philip Botha, Opperman, and Ben Viljoen; Commandants Haasbroek, Fourie (of Middelburg), Kritzinger, Lotter, Scheepers, Erasmus, and fully a dozen others of secondary rank but of a 87fine fighting record, have been killed, captured, or executed. These burghers were not successful leaders in the field because of their trained military capacity. Not one of them had any such training. They only possessed the ordinary Boer brains, courage, and judgment in a more marked degree than their fellows, and the fine, virile race which endowed such men with soldierly qualities that recall the military fame of Napoleon's young generals, will provide successors who may not be unworthy substitutes for the gallant leaders who have fallen fronting the enemies of Boer freedom.

The four greatest leaders the war has given to the race are still in the field. Botha and De Wet may be said to be in the prime of life. General De la Rey is aged about 53. President Steyn, perhaps the all-round most formidable enemy England's armies have to deal with, is not 50. No finer type of manhood, physical, intellectual, and moral, stands on South African soil than he who, in a chivalrous spirit worthy of the antique heroism of the pre-capitalist age, courageously faced the possible destruction of his country and the death or banishment of himself rather than basely desert the sister Republic and leave her a prey to the British despoiler. If the magnitude of a sacrifice freely made in a righteous struggle ennobles him who makes it, surely there is no nobler man to-day shaming a world of selfish and of sordid-minded men by his life and action than this Bayard of the Boer fight for freedom. It will be found, I opine, when the facts are fully known, that, just as Cronje and De la Rey owed much of the credit won by them for the victory of Magersfontein to' the counsel and suggestions of Mr. Steyn, De Wet has benefited too in many of his brilliant exploits by the aid of the same keen and courageous judgment.

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Category: Davitt: Boer Fight for Freedom
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