Early in the morning of the 6th of August, as the breaking dawn was tinting the tops of the Lebombo Mountains with its purple dye and the first rays of the rising sun shed its golden rays over the sombre bushveldt, the commando under Commandants Moll and Schoeman were slowly approaching the dreaded M'pisana's fort. When within a few hundred paces of it they left the horses behind and slowly crept up to it in scattered order; for as none of us knew the arrangement or construction of the place, it had been arranged to advance very cautiously and to charge suddenly on the blowing of a whistle. Nothing was stirring in the fort as we approached, and we began to think that the garrison had departed; but when barely 70 yards from it the officers noticed some forms moving about in the trenches, which encompassed it. The whistle was blown and the burghers charged, a cheer rising from a hundred throats. Volley after volley was discharged from the trenches, but our burghers rushed steadily on, jumped into the trenches themselves and drove the defenders into the fort through secret passages. The English now began firing on us through loopholes in the walls and several of our men had fallen, when Commandant Moll shouted, "Jump over the wall!" A group of burghers rushed at the 12-foot wall, and attempted to scale it; but a heavy fire was directed on them and seven burghers, including the valiant Commandant Moll, fell severely wounded. Nothing daunted, Captain Malan, who was next in command of the division, urged his men to go on, and most of them succeeded in jumping into the fort, where, after a desperate resistance, in which Captain ——, their leader, fell mortally wounded, the whole band surrendered to us. Our losses were six burghers killed, whilst Commandant Moll and 12 others were severely wounded. The burghers found one white man killed in the fort, and two wounded, whilst a score of kaffirs lay wounded and dead. We took 24 white prisoners and about 50 kaffirs. I repeat that the whites were the lowest specimens of humanity that one can possibly imagine.
Hardly was the fight over and our prisoners disarmed when a sentry we had posted on the wall called out:
"Look out, there is a kaffir commando coming!"
It was, in fact, a strong kaffir commando, headed by the chief M'pisana himself, who had come to the rescue of his friends of Steinacker's Horse. They opened fire on us at about 100 yards, and the burghers promptly returned their greeting, bowling over a fair number of them, at which the remainder retired.
Alongside the fort were about 20 small huts, in which we found a number of kaffir girls. On being asked who they were, they repeated that they were the "missuses" of the white soldiers. Inside the captured fort we found many useful articles, and the official books of this band. They contained systematic entries of what had been plundered, looted and stolen on their marauding expeditions and showed how they had been divided amongst themselves, deducting 25 per cent. for the British Government.
A long and extensive correspondence now took place about this matter between myself and Lord Kitchener. I wished first to know whether the gang was a recognised part of the British Army, as otherwise I should have to treat them as ordinary brigands. After some delay Lord Kitchener answered that they were a part of His Majesty's Army. I then wished to know if he would undertake to try the men for their misdeeds, but this was refused. This correspondence ultimately led to a meeting between General Bindon Blood and myself, which was held at Lydenburg on the 27th August, 1901.
The captured kaffirs were tried by court-martial and each punished according to his deserts. The 24 Englishmen were handed over to the enemy, after having given their word of honour not to return to their barbarous life. How far this promise was kept I do not know; but from the impression they made upon me I do not think they had much idea of what honour meant. The captured cattle which we had hoped to find at the fort had been sent away to Komati Poort a few days before our attack and according to their "books" it must have numbered about 4,000 heads. Another section of this notorious corps met with a like fate about this time at Bremersdorp in Swaziland. They did not there offer such a determined resistance, and the Ermelo burghers captured two good Colt-Maxims and two loads of ammunition probably intended for Swaziland natives.