The occupation of Bloemfontein by the British Army in March, 1900, ushered in the second or guerilla period of the war. Hitherto the struggle had been mainly, though not entirely, maintained against considerable bodies of Boers, who though widely dispersed acted more or less under a common direction; but after the capture of the Free State capital, a system of partisan and irregular warfare was adopted by the enemy.
The change was not suddenly effected. It was an instinctive, almost an imperceptible, development rendered necessary by circumstances. The reverses on the Modder, the failure at Ladysmith, the ill success which attended the attempts to raise the fiery cross in the northern districts of Cape Colony, indicated to the burghers the cause of the instability of their military machine. They discovered, in time, that its centre of gravity was too highly pitched and must be brought nearer the earth. For five months the war had been carried on under the orders of a federal syndicate composed of the two Presidents sitting with casual military assessors, scarcely one of whom was a strategist or capable of viewing the Boer cause synoptically. Cronje was gone into captivity; Joubert was suspected to be half-hearted; and Botha, who had begun so well in Natal, was a disappointment.
The Boers recognized that the British strategy had been astonishingly successful, and that they could not hope to compete with it. But they believed, not without justification, that in minor tactics and the smaller operations of war they were the equals of their enemy and in war-craft his superior. The power of a slender, well-led, and resolute force was shown at Nicholson's Nek, Waterval Drift, and elsewhere, and it began to dawn upon their lethargic minds that the individual efforts of handy commandos acting to a great extent independently offered them the best chance of resisting the invader.39 The new method was almost immediately put on trial and, with certain notable exceptions, continued throughout the war, which mainly by its use was prolonged for twenty-six months against an enemy daily increasing in numbers. Not that the Boers were not at first greatly discouraged by the victories on the Modder, which admitted Lord Roberts to Bloemfontein, and by the tranquillity which suddenly brooded upon the arena of war. Even the Prieska rebellion, from which so much was hoped owing to its proximity to the line of communication with Capetown, was dying away under the vigorous hands of Kitchener, who had been detached from Head Quarters to deal with it.
Many of the burghers availed themselves of a proclamation issued by Lord Roberts on March 15, under which, after taking an oath of neutrality, they were allowed to return to their farms, and there remain during good behaviour. Others took furlough, with or without permission, or fled to Kroonstad. When Joubert remonstrated with De Wet for acquiescing in the exodus, the latter replied that he could not help it. The burghers were not accustomed to discipline and could not be coerced, but they would return with renewed courage by and by.
The demoralization was, however, confined to the burghers who had been fighting on the Modder River. The commandos which had been opposed to Gatacre, Clements, and Brabant in the Cape Colony retired across the Orange in good order under Olivier, Lemmer, and E.R. Grobler; and although encumbered by lengthy trains of ox-wagons, marched up the right bank of the Caledon along the Basuto Border, and established themselves with a strength of 6,000 burghers on Lord Roberts' right flank near Ladybrand and Clocolan: a daring exploit which was justified by its success, as the left flank throughout the trek was exposed to a raid from Bloemfontein or Edenburg. A mounted force 1,800 strong under French was indeed sent eastward to show the flag, detach the waverers, and if possible, intercept the retreat; but the information at Head Quarters was imperfect and the strength of the commandos was greatly underestimated. It was assumed that they had been subject to the disintegration which obliterated the Modder River commandos; but a small reconnoitring column, detached under Pilcher by French from Thabanchu, found itself in presence of a force which outnumbered it thirty times, and was recalled.
The presence of a considerable body of the enemy organized on the flank, the necessity of accumulating a large stock of supplies and stores, and a serious epidemic of fever among the troops, postponed the advance on the Transvaal many weeks beyond the end of March, when Lord Roberts had hoped to set out for the north. The apparent pacification of the country and the alacrity displayed by the burghers in submitting to the generous conditions of the proclamation of neutrality, had encouraged him in the belief that prompt action before the enemy had time to take breath would finally crush the dwindling opposition; but he soon became aware that it was but a lull in the storm, of which the mutterings were almost immediately renewed.
Pole-Carew, who shortly after the occupation was sent south with a brigade to establish touch with Gatacre and Clements and open up the railway, heard of the Boer movement along the Basuto Border and at once reported it to Lord Roberts, whom he rejoined at Bloemfontein on March 17. Before the end of the month the line was cleared and trains were passing to and fro between Capetown and the capital of the Free State, which had lately been renamed the Orange River Colony. From that time forward the enemy succeeded on one occasion only, and then but for a few hours, in cutting the Springfontein-Bloemfontein railway; and the hazardous advance along the Modder River, which involved the possibility of the Army being left in the air at Bloemfontein, was fully justified.
The Boers, who were supposed to be hypnotized, soon began to show signs of returning animation. At a Krijgsraad which assembled at Kroonstad on March 17, and at which Steyn and Kruger were present, plans for the renewal of the struggle were discussed and measures for enforcing discipline on the burghers were taken. Steyn professed to have information that a Russian advance on India was imminent. The idea of resistance en masse was abandoned, and a policy of flying columns unencumbered with wagons and acting aggressively against the British lines of communication was adopted. It was hoped that a timely demonstration would lure the enemy out of his hold, and that a little encouragement would revive the Prieska rebellion. The determination to continue hostilities in which even Joubert, who after the fall of Ladysmith joined the commandos operating in the Free State, acquiesced, was a proof of the courage and the steady patriotism of the Boer leaders, and the events of the next two years justified their resolution. Joubert, who had attended the Krijgsraad in feeble health, died a few days after its adjournment, and L. Botha was appointed to the thankless office of Commandant-General.
The only direction from which Bloemfontein appeared to be vulnerable was the north, which also was the direction in which Lord Roberts hoped soon to be leading his troops. At a distance of a day's march from the capital, the railway to Pretoria crosses the Modder at Glen, and again the river which had recently figured so prominently in the campaign came upon the stage of war, and not as a last appearance. The railway bridge had been destroyed by the Boers, who thus excluded themselves from action on the left bank. A considerable force was sent out from Bloemfontein to hold the position while the bridge was being rebuilt, and to keep at arm's length the enemy skirmishing on the right bank. It was soon found necessary to hold a more advanced post at Karee Siding, north of Glen, and a force which seems out of proportion to the resistance which, according to the ideas then prevalent at Head Quarters, might be expected, was assembled at Glen on March 28. The VIIth Division under Tucker was brought up from Bloemfontein, and French was recalled from Thabanchu to lead the cavalry. With him, in command of the mounted infantry, was Le Gallais, a remarkable association of two soldiers whose names, though in different languages, were identical. Bloemfontein was denuded of cavalry, but the combined strength of the two cavalry brigades was much under 1,000. The force under Tucker and French, which judging from its strength Lord Roberts seems to have detailed rather as the advanced guard of an immediate march on Pretoria than as the minimum with which the opposition could be safely encountered, numbered about 9,000 men with thirty guns. At Karee Siding were 3,500 burghers under T. Smuts, who had come up to carry out the Krijgsraad idea of enticing the British out of Bloemfontein.
Next day a battle of the usual type was fought. The mounted troops worked upon the flanks of the enemy, who was posted on a line of kopjes on each side of the railway, while the infantry attacked frontally with success and drove back the burghers, who retired in good order towards Brandfort unmolested by the cavalry, which was as before too much exhausted for effective pursuit. Thus, at a cost of less than 200 casualties, Lord Roberts made good the first stage on the road to the north.
Soon after his entry into Bloemfontein Lord Roberts sent out a small mounted column under Amphlett to Sannah's Post, where the water which supplied the capital was drawn from the Modder River. This had been cut off by the enemy, and the Army was dependent upon the disused and tainted wells within the city. The Boer commandos, which under the command of Olivier had retreated from the Cape Colony to Ladybrand and Clocolan, now began to threaten Broadwood, who, when French was sent to Glen, succeeded to the command of the mounted column. Broadwood was compelled to retire from Thabanchu on March 30. Early on the following morning he bivouacked at the Waterworks, whither his convoy under Pilcher had already preceded him; and simultaneously the IXth Division under Colvile and a brigade of Mounted Infantry under Martyr were ordered out from Bloemfontein to help him in.
Meanwhile De Wet at Brandfort was watching his opportunity of working at the task assigned to him under the Krijgsraad scheme, of attacking the British lines of communication. His anticipation that the burghers would return with renewed vigour from the furlough which they had granted to themselves proved to be accurate. While Smuts was standing up to Tucker and French at Karee Siding, 1,600 men with five field guns under C. De Wet, whose second in command was his brother Piet, were circling to the Waterworks. The initial direction of the march was N.E., in order to conceal the real objective of the raid even from his own men. His intention was to seize Amphlett at the Waterworks, and there lie in wait for Broadwood's convoy. Before reaching his destination he handed over two-thirds of his force to his brother, who early in the morning took up a position on the right bank of the Modder east and north of the Waterworks, while he himself went to the Wagon Drift on the Korn Spruit, where the bed is deep enough to afford perfect concealment to a large body of men in ambush. He occupied it at 4 a.m. on March 31.
A farmer, brought in by a patrol from Amphlett's post, reported to the officer in command of the connecting post at Boesman's Kop that the enemy had been seen; but the officer did not pay much attention to the report, though he communicated it to the connecting post at Springfield in the direction of Bloemfontein; at the same time sending back the patrol to Amphlett at the Waterworks with a reinforcement of his own men. The patrol was fired on while attempting to return to the Waterworks, and retired to Boesman's Kop.
Broadwood, whose column had already been in bivouac near the Waterworks for some hours with the convoy which had preceded it, was at sunrise shelled by Piet De Wet, of whose presence on the right bank of the Modder he had only a few minutes previously been made aware, and in the belief that his front was clear, he at once determined to take up a position on Boesman's Kop.
Rarely had two leaders about to meet in battle been more strangely deceived by the Fog of War. C. De Wet, although cut off from his guns and the main body of his command by an unfordable river, was confident in his lurking place in the Korn Spruit that he could easily repeat his exploit of February 15 and annex another British convoy; yet he suddenly discovered that he had to deal not with a mere escort, but with a strong mounted force and two batteries of Horse Artillery, and he was equal to the occasion.
Broadwood, equally confident that the whole force of the enemy was on his flank on the right bank of the Modder, marched heedlessly into the ambush which De Wet had laid for him in the Korn Spruit, on the direct line between two adjacent British posts, and which neither of them had discovered, although the usual patrols had been sent out. When the patrol from the Waterworks to Boesman's Kop did not return in due course on the morning of March 31, its absence seems to have caused no anxiety to Amphlett.
Broadwood, groping in the Fog of War, believed that the force on his flank was Olivier's, who had driven him out of Thabanchu, and who now, as he thought, had overtaken him. The possibility of a raid from the north did not occur to him. He pressed on towards Boesman's Kop and carelessly approached the sunken and treacherous cutting through which the Korn Spruit trickles to the Modder, between banks of even height which almost up to the brink make no perceptible break in the surface of the veld. His ground scouts and advanced guard were Cape carts full of refugees followed by the wagons of his convoy. Next in succession came U Battery of Horse Artillery with its mounted escort of colonial troops.
Preceded by the Cape carts, which De Wet, in order to disarm suspicion, allowed to cross to the left bank, the column lumbered down the slope into the spruit and was quickly sucked into the trap. In silence broken only by the rumble of the wheels and the Kaffir cries of the drivers, and unseen by the gunners close behind the leading wagons were seized by quiet, determined burghers and placed under guard. The approach to the drift was soon blocked, and in the heart of the entanglement was U Battery. When it reached the incline, men sprang up out of the spruit and lined the bank, and without firing a shot made prisoners of the gunners, who, jammed by the transport, could neither fight nor retire, and were easily taken from their teams and guns, and conducted by their captors down to the bed of the spruit. Only the Major commanding the Battery and the Serjeant-Major got away. Q Battery and its mounted escort narrowly escaped being drawn into the ambush, but were warned in time and galloped back to the railway station buildings.
Up to that moment not a shot had been fired, but as Q Battery wheeled the Boers lining the bank opened upon it, and in the scrimmage another gun was lost.
The derelict and riderless teams of U Battery at the spruit were shot down by the Boers to prevent the escape of the guns, but not before one gallant team had wrenched its gun out of the enemy's grasp and had broken away. The Boers were now in possession of five guns of U Battery and of one gun of Q Battery. The spruit was shelled with little effect by Q Battery, which unlimbered near the station buildings. Only a plunging fire could have harmed the enemy hidden in it.
It is hard to say whether De Wet or Broadwood was in the greater danger at 9 a.m. on March 31. The former had, it is true, just obtained a dramatic and most encouraging success. He laid a trap for a convoy and found himself in action with a force numerically equal to his own. He had made many prisoners, and almost without striking a blow had captured not only Broadwood's convoy but also six of Broadwood's guns. His force, however, was divided. The portion of it under his own command could not be effectively supported by his brother's command, and was confined in a spruit out of which he could not move, and which was commanded in rear by higher ground.
Broadwood had been outwitted by De Wet and very roughly handled. With a crippled and maimed force he was lying between the jaws of a vice which might at any moment close and crush him. The loss of the convoy was, from a tactical point of view, not an unmixed evil, as he gained thereby greater freedom of action, but the loss of half his guns was for the time being irremediable. The careless and haphazard scouting from the Waterworks and Boesman's Kop, in which he complacently trusted, had lured him on.40 When it was reported to him that the spruit was in possession of the enemy, he could scarcely believe it possible. Whether he or the officers in command of the artillery and the mounted escort were responsible for the extraordinary omission to send out ground scouts in advance of the column is not known, but the guns and wagons would not have been lost had this simple and customary precaution been taken.
Broadwood, who had no information that Colvile and Martyr were approaching from the west, and that the latter was actually at Boesman's Kop, acted in the belief that he would have to deal with the situation unaided. He ordered the mounted infantry under Alderson to hold P. De Wet's force on the Modder, while the cavalry, supported by fire from Q Battery at the station buildings and working south and west of the Korn Spruit Drift, endeavoured to turn C. De Wet's precarious position. Neither of these operations was successful. Alderson could barely hold his own; the turning movement, although aided by a few companies of Martyr's force, was frustrated by small parties of marksmen whom C. De Wet had posted on the ridge in rear; and Q Battery was losing heavily.
At 10 a.m. Broadwood ordered a general retirement. No attempt seems to have been made to communicate with him by heliograph, and he was still unaware that Martyr had been on Boesman's Kop for three hours, and was actually assisting in the turning movement; and that Colvile was hurrying forward to the sound of the firing with the IXth Division. As the battle had begun in the Fog of War, so also therein did it end.
With the utmost difficulty Q Battery, which had been fighting in the open until only Phipps-Hornby and less than a dozen gunners were left to work five guns, was withdrawn. The enemy's fire was so heavy that the teams could not be brought up to the guns, four of which were run back by hand to the station buildings, which afforded some cover. The fifth gun was abandoned, but by the heroic efforts of Phipps-Hornby and a handful of gunners and volunteers from the mounted infantry escort, four guns were brought away.
Meanwhile Alderson was fighting a rearguard action against P. De Wet, to cover the retirement of the guns, and when this was effected, he followed them, closely pursued as far as the Korn Spruit by P. De Wet's burghers, who crossed the Modder at the Waterworks. Before noon the remains of Broadwood's column were formed up near Boesman's Kop. He had lost seven41 guns, seventy-three wagons and nearly a third of his strength in killed, wounded, and prisoners.
Broadwood's withdrawal gave C. De Wet the opportunity which he could hardly have dared hope would ever be offered to him. He was reinforced by his brother, and at once drew his spoils out of the spruit and easily got away with them to the right bank of the Modder, where at noon he met the advanced guard of Olivier's force. Although he was in presence not only of Broadwood's force, but also almost in touch with a division of infantry and a brigade of mounted infantry his movements were so little impeded that he was able to bring two of the captured guns back to the left bank, and to bring them into action against a detachment of mounted infantry which was holding Waterval Drift.
Martyr reached Boesman's Kop at 7 a.m., where in the course of the morning he was joined by Colvile, whose Division was also on its way to Waterval Drift. Broadwood, who was about two miles away, was ordered by Colvile to come to him, but he refused to leave his command so long as there was any chance of recovering the guns. He technically committed a breach of discipline, but Lord Roberts subsequently approved of his action. He requested Colvile to advance against the spruit, but the message was not delivered; and Colvile said that it would not have modified his dispositions. He had already refused to listen to the obvious suggestion made by his staff that he should go to Broadwood, who after waiting for two hours in the expectation that something would be done by the infantry division, gave up hope and retired towards Springfield.
Colvile's appreciation of the situation was that it would have been useless to pursue De Wet's mounted troops with infantry. He therefore carried out the letter of his instructions from Lord Roberts, and, seeing that Broadwood's column was apparently safe, went on towards Waterval Drift: whither also Martyr had already sent the greater portion of the mounted infantry. Thus the brothers De Wet gained not only an actual, but also a moral success of the greatest importance to their cause, and took away the prizes they had so unexpectedly won, under the eyes of a strong British force helplessly watching the commandos trailing away across the veld.
Waterval Drift had been indicated to Colvile and Martyr as their objective by Lord Roberts, and they considered that it was their duty to make for it. They did not, however, recognize that instructions must be read in the light of the information at the disposal of the superior officer at the moment of issue, and they adhered to them pedantically.42 Lord Roberts could not have anticipated Broadwood's plight when he ordered Colvile and Martyr to Waterval Drift.
Meanwhile, the news of the disaster had reached Bloemfontein. French's attenuated cavalry brigade, still panting with the fatigue of the Karee Siding affair, was ordered out, and Colvile was instructed to endeavour to make a turning movement, and with French's assistance to act on the Boer line of retreat. By sunset Colvile, after some opposition, was in possession of the Waterval Drift; the enemy having despatched the prisoners, the loot, and the captured guns to the north, was still in occupation of the Waterworks; Broadwood's mangled column was on its way back to Bloemfontein; and French was expected to appear upon the stage at sunrise next morning. The approach of the cavalry, which had picked up Broadwood at Springfield, was delayed by a report, which proved to be unfounded, that a body of the enemy was on the right flank marching on Bloemfontein, and French did not come into touch with Colvile until nearly midday on April 1. After reconnoitring the Waterworks and the Boer positions on the right bank of the Modder, Colvile came to the conclusion that he was not strong enough to attack them. Next day all the troops were ordered by Lord Roberts to fall back upon Bloemfontein.
Broadwood was not wholly, not even mainly, responsible for the Sannah's Post disaster. He was unable to retrace that unlucky first false step when, rashly assuming that the ground had been properly reconnoitred and patrolled, he pushed into the angle between the Modder and its tributary; and there can be no excuse for the negligence which tossed the convoy and the guns into the abyss. But he received neither support nor information until it was too late. No serious attempt was made to let him know that a strong force was on its way from Bloemfontein. Martyr failed to report himself, and Colvile was content to be an interested spectator of the closing scene of the drama. Each leader assumed that the moves of the Kriegspiel had been correctly played and that there was nothing more to be done.
After the occupation of Bloemfontein, the columns operating south of the Orange River were drawn into the Free State. Clements crossed at Norval's Pont, and Gatacre at Bethulie on March 15; Brabant, who commanded the colonial troops of the latter's Division, having reached Aliwal North four days previously. Clements' force advanced in a peaceful procession through the districts west of the railway, meeting with no opposition, and receiving what, under the circumstances, was almost a welcome from the inhabitants. Early in April he joined Lord Roberts at Bloemfontein.
Not so with Gatacre and Brabant, who were soon seriously involved. Lord Roberts' view of the situation, which although mistaken was not unwarranted, was that the majority of the Boers were inclined to submit, and would do so but for the malign influence of a small belligerent party; and in order to encourage the waverers to assert themselves, and to give protection to them when they took the oath of neutrality and returned to their homes, he sent out flying columns in various directions to register names, take over arms, and make known the conditions on which surrenders would be accepted.
The story of the Thabanchu column has already been told. Other columns were detached from Gatacre's and Brabant's commands, and Smithfield, Wepener, and Dewetsdorp, and smaller towns were occupied. Lord Roberts' orders for the occupation of Dewetsdorp were conditional on Gatacre's having enough troops for the purpose at his disposal. So little was it expected that the columns would meet with serious resistance that they were unaccompanied by guns, and all Gatacre's artillery was sent to Bloemfontein.
De Wet, a soldier possessed of more power of initiative than many of his opponents, took "upon himself the responsibility of varying the instructions" he had received from the Kroonstad Krijgsraad. The chance of snapping up isolated garrisons allured him from the less brilliant but more practically useful work of hacking at the railway upon which Lord Roberts depended for his communications, and his wonderful and unexpected success at Sannah's Post encouraged him to persevere. He became aware that small columns were scouring the country, administering lightly taken oaths and giving receipts for arms handed in by burghers who protested that they were "sick of the war"; and he determined to deal promptly with these ominous signs.
Between Sannah's Post and Reddersburg he in one day persuaded more than a hundred sworn burghers to break their oaths of neutrality and join him. Whether the energy and resource which he displayed would not have been more profitably expended in a vigorous effort to shrivel up the line between Bloemfontein and the Orange is a matter for speculation. Kruger watched his proceedings with misgiving, and proposed that he should retire northwards, as soon as he had cut the railway, or even without doing so.
Korn Spruit opened Lord Roberts' eyes. He became alarmed for the safety of the railway, and ordered Gatacre to evacuate Dewetsdorp and to concentrate the weak pacificatory columns wandering helplessly over the country. The column of 550 men without guns, sent by Gatacre to garrison Dewetsdorp, had not been there many hours before it was ordered to retire on Reddersburg, and at daybreak on April 2 was again on the march, and soon De Wet was in touch with it. On the following morning he was close to it. In his own account of the affair he says that there was a sort of a race, which was won by the British column, for a ridge near Reddersburg, named Mostert's Hoek. He had with him 2,000 men with four guns, but an invitation to surrender was promptly declined by the defenders, who all that day were beaten on by bullet and by shell. After sunset the last drop of water was served out. Next morning De Wet rushed the western spur of the ridge, which now became untenable, and at 9 a.m. on April 4 the column surrendered and was swept into his net.
Another hour of resistance would probably have saved it. On the previous evening Gatacre and Lord Roberts received the news that it was in trouble, and a relieving force was hurriedly collected at Bethany from Springfontein and Bloemfontein, and sent out under Gatacre's command. His scouts heard the last shot fired, and the silence which followed seemed to show that all was over. When reports of the surrender reached him near Reddersburg, and before De Wet, only six miles away, had cleared out of Mostert's Hoek, he abandoned the attempt; although some of his advanced mounted troops did indeed come into touch with the rearguard of De Wet hurrying away with his prisoners.
Next day he was recalled to Bloemfontein by Lord Roberts, who held him responsible for the disaster. He had occupied Dewetsdorp, an exposed and isolated position, with an inadequate force, although expressly instructed to leave it alone if he had not sufficient troops for the purpose. Mostert's Hoek supervening on Stormberg ended the career of a most gallant, energetic, and enthusiastic soldier. Bic peccare in bello non licet. He was removed from his command and sent back to England.
After leaving Sannah's Post, De Wet seems to have recognized that he was not exactly carrying out the Krijgsraad policy, for he informed Steyn that he was going to Dewetsdorp to "collect the burghers and to obtain dynamite for our operations" against the railway between Bloemfontein and Bethany. Next day he heard that the British had occupied Dewetsdorp, and soon after that the garrison was retiring on Reddersburg, and the attack on the line, which perhaps he never seriously intended to make, was indefinitely postponed.
For as soon as he had disposed of the prisoners of Mostert's Hoek, he cast his eye round the horizon and descried two other isolated garrisons, at Smithfield and Wepener. Against the former he sent one of his lieutenants, who, however, found the little town evacuated, while he himself made for Wepener, and longing to teach a lesson to Brabant's loyal colonials, sat down before it on April 9 with ten guns and 6,000 men. In the course of the northward advance from the Orange it had been occupied by a detachment from Brabant's force, which was increased by subsequent reinforcements to a strength of nearly 1,900 men under Dalgety, of whom little more than 100 were regular troops, with seven guns. The town itself was not held, but a circular position outside it with a perimeter of seven miles was taken up on the right bank of the Caledon.
De Wet maintained the siege for sixteen days. The failure of an attempt by night on April 10 to storm a post on the southern section of the perimeter deterred the Boers, as at Ladysmith after the abortive attack on Caesar's Camp two months before, from further offensive action; but the position was vigorously bombarded from time to time, and an almost unceasing hail of Mauser bullets fell upon it. De Wet did his best to add Wepener to the scalps of Sannah's Post and Mostert's Hoek; but when two columns detailed for the relief by Lord Roberts under the command of Brabant and Hart, who had come round from Natal with his brigade, reached Wepener from Aliwal North on April 25, they found that the siege had been raised, and that De Wet had trekked away to the north.
At Waterval Drift, Kitchener's Kopje, Sannah's Post, and Mostert's Hoek, De Wet showed himself to be a daring and successful partisan leader. He was instinctively drawn towards helpless or unwary detachments. He played his own hand without reference to his partner's, and seemed to be incapable of co-operating in a general scheme of strategy. Perhaps he had not much confidence in those who directed the campaign of defence. He did not act in accordance with the instructions he had received from the Krijgsraad; but who could find fault with a leader who was ever sending in batches of prisoners of war? Many critics say that he was wanting in the true military instinct and spirit, and that he lost the greatest opportunity in his career when he allowed himself to be attracted away from the British lines of communication by the feeble, peregrinating columns. He says that his reason, or it may be his excuse, for not raiding vigorously towards the south, instead of sitting down before Wepener, was the fear lest the Transvaalers should think that the Free Staters had abandoned them to their fate. If his action is open to criticism when judged by the generally accepted principles of warfare, it should be remembered that these are framed from experience only, and are subject to accommodation. By all the rules of the game, the Boers must have been beaten in six months: yet when, after the occupation of Bloemfontein, the cause seemed to be hopeless, the De Wet revival prolonged the contest for two years and more. It is almost certain that, but for De Wet, the war would have been brought to a close in 1900. One man only, and he was Napoleon, added a greater sum to the British National Debt.
The fortune which proverbially attends the bold never deserted him. To the Boer forces at large he was what the pirate adventurers and buccaneers of the Elizabethan period, and the privateersmen of the eighteenth century, were to the National Navy. He sailed where he would under letters of marque from the Presidents. He is the most interesting and the most original personage of the South African War: and when its history is mellowed by time, and its epic is written by some Walter Scott or Homer of the future, De Wet will be the central figure, and his exploits will be sung.
Five years later, having thrown aside his sword, he became a controller of ploughshares as Minister of Agriculture in the Government of the Orange River Colony, and the father-in-law of a British officer who had fought against him.
At the Krijgsraad at Kroonstad Delarey maintained that the commandos were too large and must be subdivided.
The scouting of the British Army in South Africa has been compared to a housemaid searching for an escape of gas with a lighted candle.
A The gun of U Battery, which had broken away at the Drift, was recovered.
In the official handbook on Combined Training issued after the war, it was expressly laid down that "officers, must take upon themselves, whenever it may be necessary, the responsibility of departing from or varying the orders they may have received." This responsibility had been laid by Napoleon upon his officers nearly a century before. See p. 251.