[Footnote 123: See maps Nos. 3, 8 and 8 (a).]
[Sidenote: Boer forces unite Oct. 26th. French reconnoitres, Oct. 27th.]
On the very day of Yule's junction with Coxhead, Erasmus was in touch with A. P. Cronje, next day with Lukas Meyer, who, still feeling the blow of Talana, had moved timidly, wide on the left. At 4 a.m. on the morning of the 27th a brigade of cavalry left Ladysmith under Major-General French, and, proceeding to scout along the Newcastle and Helpmakaar roads, was sighted at dawn by Meyer, who was then in laager about seven miles south of Elandslaagte. The Boer leader, anticipating a general attack, at once signalled to Erasmus, upon which a strong contingent of the Ermelo burghers, accompanied by guns, made their way across to him from their camp. French reconnoitred boldly, and at 10.35 a.m. he was able to send in to Sir George White his estimate of the numbers confronting him. On Intintanyoni were 4,000-5,000 men. Other strong bodies hovered between Rietfontein and Pepworth Hill, whilst the enemy to his immediate front appeared to separate themselves into two laagers, whose sites could be clearly distinguished. One, sheltering about 2,000 men, lay at the junction of the Beith and Glencoe roads, some five miles south-east of Modder Spruit station, whilst the other, a much larger encampment, was situated four miles nearer to the railway, that is to say, one mile south-east of it.
[Footnote 124: See page 150.]
[Sidenote: Hamilton with Infantry and Artillery supports him.]
[Sidenote: Troops return to camp.]
Meanwhile Colonel Ian Hamilton had at 10 a.m. marched out of Ladysmith to the Neks between Gun Hill, Lombards Kop and Umbulwana, with a brigade consisting of the 1st Devonshire and 1st Manchester regiments, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, with a brigade division of the 21st, 42nd and 53rd batteries R.F.A., joined later by the 1st Liverpool regiment and the 13th battery R.F.A. This brigade, lying out all day in support of the cavalry reconnaissance, caused continual apprehension to the enemy, who covered all his positions with men and cannon in momentary expectation of an attack. Altogether some 10,000 men with fifteen guns were observed, and for the purpose intended by Sir George White, who was only anxious to gain information, the object of the reconnaissance was accomplished. The attack of the laagers was considered by Sir George White, who rode out beyond Lombards Nek in the afternoon to confer with General French and Colonel Hamilton; but after careful examination it was ultimately decided to await a more suitable opportunity, and the troops were withdrawn.
[Sidenote: Both Transvaalers and Free Staters approach Ladysmith, Oct. 28th.]
On October 28th Lukas Meyer with 2,000 men and three guns pushed forward to Modder Spruit, where he went into laager behind a long flat kopje, now called Long Hill, situated some four thousand yards south-east of Pepworth Hill, the summit of which the Ermelo commando had already piqueted. The Free Staters, coming down from Intintanyoni, rode westward and lay in the evening upon the farm Kleinfontein, joining hands with their allies of the Transvaal across Surprise Hill and the heights above the Bell Spruit. Through their main laager on Kleinfontein ran the railway line to Van Reenen's Pass.
[Sidenote: Cavalry reports Boer dispositions. Oct. 29th.]
On the 29th the cavalry made a reconnaissance eastwards, and reported as follows. The laager which had been close to the Modder Spruit station on the 27th had disappeared, but there were now two encampments to the east and south-east of Lombards Kop, of which the lower appeared to command the road to Pieters, thus threatening the line of communication. Pepworth Hill was strongly occupied, and artillery were now upon it; a large camp lay close to the north-west of the height. The enemy was numerous upon Long Hill. Upon its flat top two or three guns were already emplaced, and an epaulment for another was in course of construction. Behind the hill was a laager.
[Sidenote: White decides on attack.]
This reconnaissance seemed to Sir G. White to furnish the reasons he desired for assuming the offensive. The capture of Long Hill would at least throw back the investing line of Transvaalers. It might do more--break through it altogether, when a sweep north against Pepworth would bid fair to drive together the Transvaal commandos in upon their centre, and roll up the whole. The Free Staters, strung out as they now are, thinly north-west and west, would then be cut off from the rest.
[Sidenote: Plan arranged, Oct. 29th.]
[Sidenote: Carleton to approach Nicholson's Nek that night.]
[Sidenote: Cavalry by dawn of 30th to be on ridges n.e. of Gun Hill.]
[Sidenote: Grimwood to seize Long Hill.]
[Sidenote: Hamilton then to capture Pepworth.]
At 4 p.m. on the afternoon of the 29th his plans were formulated. Long Hill was to be the primary, Pepworth Hill the secondary object, and to secure them the whole of the troops were to be employed. His main army he divided into two bodies, with separate missions. One, consisting of No. 10 Mountain battery, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 1st Gloucester regiment, all commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel F. R. C. Carleton, of the first-named battalion, was to move at 10 p.m. that night northward along the Bell Spruit. The duties of this force were twofold: first, to cover the left flank of the main operation; secondly, to gain and hold such a position towards Nicholson's Nek (if possible, the Nek itself) as would enable the cavalry to debouch safely upon the open ground beyond, should opportunity arise for a pursuit, or, better still, an interception of the Transvaalers as they fell back on the Drakensberg passes. The left flank thus provided for, a cavalry brigade, consisting of the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, and Colonel Royston's regiment of Colonials, under Major-General French, were to reach the ridges north-east of Gun Hill before dawn, from which, by demonstrating against the enemy's left, they would cover the British right. Between these wings, the main infantry attack was to be carried out by the 8th brigade, which, in the absence of its proper commander, Colonel F. Howard, was under Colonel G. G. Grimwood, 2nd King's Royal Rifles, whose five battalions would include the 1st and 2nd King's Royal Rifles, the 1st Leicestershire, and 1st King's (Liverpool) regiments and the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The 1st brigade division Royal Field artillery and the Natal Field battery were to be attached to Grimwood's command. A general reserve of the 7th brigade, consisting of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, 1st Manchester and 1st Devonshire regiments, and, should it arrive from Maritzburg in time, the 2nd Rifle Brigade, were to be under the command of Colonel Ian Hamilton, who, besides his infantry, would have with him the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 18th Hussars, the Imperial Light Horse, two companies mounted infantry, and the 2nd brigade division of artillery. Grimwood was to take Long Hill, and his path thereto was to be cleared by the shrapnel of both brigade divisions. That position carried, he was to hold it, whilst Colonel Hamilton, supported in turn by the fire of the united artillery, was to throw his fresh infantry against Pepworth Hill, and complete the victory.
[Sidenote: Carleton's column parades 11 p.m. Oct. 29th.]
At 10 p.m. Carleton left his parade ground with six companies (16 officers, 518 other ranks) and 46 mules, and at 11 p.m. arrived at the rendezvous, the level crossing of the Newcastle road close to the Orange Free State railway junction, where the rest of his command had been awaiting him for an hour. It consisted of five and a half companies (some 450 men) of the Gloucester regiment, with 57 mules and a Maxim gun; the 10th Mountain battery, comprising 137 N.C.O.s and men, 6 guns, with 100 rounds for each, 133 mules, with 52 Cape Boys as muleteers, and 10 horses. The total strength of the column was thus about 1,140 men and 250 animals.
[Sidenote: Grimwood starts same night at 12.30.]
[Sidenote: Grimwood's column broken by error.]
Half an hour after midnight Grimwood's brigade (8th) set out eastward in the following order: 1st and 2nd battalions King's Royal Rifles, 1st Leicestershire regiment, 1st brigade division R.F.A., 1st King's (Liverpool) regiment, and the Natal Field battery, with a rearguard of the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Another brigade division, the 2nd, joining the line of march soon after it was put in motion, marched in front of the 1st Liverpool regiment. The whole pressed on for a time quietly and in order. Soon, however, the last arrival, the 2nd brigade division of artillery, in pursuance of orders, when between Flag and Limit hills, drew away from out of the column to the left and passed under the shelter of Flag Hill. The two battalions behind, not being aware of any special instructions given to the artillery, followed it, whilst those in front still pursued their proper route, so that Grimwood's force was cut in two and separated whilst yet but half his march was over. An hour before dawn, Grimwood, unconscious of the mishap to his rear, gained some low kopjes 1,800 yards from the south-eastern flank of Long Hill, and extended his troops across them, the two battalions King's Royal Rifles in firing line, Leicester in support, facing north-west. Here he waited for light. One company, "F." of the 1st King's Royal Rifles, moved cautiously forward to a small kopje, slightly in advance, to cover the front.
[Footnote 125: These battalions were not complete. The King's Royal Rifles had left two companies in Ladysmith, the Dublin Fusiliers three, the Leicester regiment two, the King's (Liverpool) regiment two.]
[Sidenote: French starting 3 a.m. dismounts 4,000 yards in rear of Grimwood.]
[Sidenote: Hamilton at 4 a.m. moves on Limit Hill.]
[Sidenote: First news of disaster to Carleton.]
At 3 a.m. Major-General French rode out of Ladysmith with his two regiments and pushed for Lombards Kop, dismounting his command in a hollow basin between Gun Hill and Lombards Kop, some 4,000 yards in rear, and out of sight, of Grimwood's infantry. The Natal Volunteers, who had been on the ground since the previous night, went on, and, dividing right and left, secured the summits of Lombards Kop and Umbulwana Mountain. Colonel Hamilton, quitting his rendezvous between Tunnel and Junction Hills at 4 a.m., moved, as directed, on Limit Hill, which had been piqueted throughout the night by "G." and "H." companies Gordon Highlanders. As Hamilton rode at the head of his brigade, a man was brought to him who proved to be a muleteer of the 10th Mountain battery. He reported that a sudden disturbance had occurred in the midst of Carleton's night march; all the mules of the battery had broken away, and, so far as he knew, had never been seen again. A little further on an officer of the Scottish Rifles, who had been attached to the Gloucester regiment a few hours previously, appeared amongst the Gordon Highlanders. He, too, told of a stampede amongst the battery mules, and, in addition, of resulting disturbance of some of the infantry companies, amongst others that which he accompanied. Yet a third warning of misadventure on the left was received before dawn. In the early morning the sentries of the piquet of the Leicester regiment at Cove Redoubt, one of the northerly outposts of Ladysmith, became aware of the sound of hoofs and the rattle of harness coming towards them from the north, and the soldiers, running down, captured several mules bearing the equipment of mountain guns. A patrol of the 5th Dragoon Guards, which had been despatched by Sir G. White to try to get news of Carleton's column, was checked at the Bell Spruit, but met on the road a gunner of the 10th Mountain battery, who related the same tale as had already reached that General. This man said that the battery had been suddenly fired on at 2 a.m.; the mules had stampeded and disappeared. Both its ammunition and portions of most of its guns had been carried off. Finally, a brief note from Carleton himself to the Commander-in-Chief announced what had then happened.
[Footnote 126: For gallantry on this occasion Second-Lieut. J. Norwood, 5th Dragoon Guards, was awarded the Victoria Cross.]
[Sidenote: Pickwoad shells Long Hill.]
[Sidenote: Pepworth replies.]
[Sidenote: Downing moves the two Brigade Divs. against Pepworth.]
[Sidenote: and silences the Boer guns.]
At dawn Pickwoad's brigade division, which was now deployed 1-1/2 miles south-eastward of Limit Hill, opened at Long Hill at 3,700 yards. But Long Hill was silent. The three gun emplacements visible upon the crest were empty. Instead, at 5.15 a.m., a heavy piece fired from Pepworth Hill, and a 96-pound shell fell near the town, its explosion greeting the 2nd Rifle Brigade, which, having detrained at 2.30 a.m., was marching out to join Hamilton's force at Limit Hill. The next, following quickly, burst in Pickwoad's line of guns, and Coxhead's artillery, which attempted to reply, found itself far outranged, whilst Pickwoad's three batteries maintained for a time their bombardment of Long Hill. In a few moments four long-range Creusots of smaller calibre (75 m/m) joined in from either side of the 96-pounder, two others from lower ground about the railway below the height. Both Coxhead's and Pickwoad's batteries were covered with missiles. Colonel C. M. H. Downing, commanding all the artillery, quickly assumed the offensive. Dissatisfied with his position, the left of which, lying to the east of Limit Hill, was so encumbered with rocks that of the 53rd battery only two guns could fire at all, and those of the other batteries of the 2nd brigade division only by indirect laying, he drew that part of his line clear, and moved Coxhead's three batteries, the 21st, 42nd, and 53rd, out into the open, facing north-west, to within 4,000 yards of Pepworth. Troubled, while the change was in course of taking place, by the accurate shooting from that hill, Downing then ordered Pickwoad to change front to the left and come into action against Pepworth on the right of, but some distance from, the 2nd brigade division. The guns on the low ground under the shadow of Pepworth were soon mastered. The battery upon its summit, at distant range for shrapnel, withstood yet awhile; but ere long the gunners there, too, temporarily abandoned their weapons, and only returned when a slackening of Pickwoad's fire gave opportunity for a hasty round. At 6.30 a.m., therefore, and for some half hour more, the trend of battle seemed to the artillery to be in favour of the British. After that, however, fresh hostile guns opened, and the rattle of rifles arose in ever-increasing volume, not only from the broken ground to the right, where Grimwood's infantry lay lost to view amongst the low, rolling kopjes by the Modder Spruit, but also far to the rear, towards Lombards Kop. Yet no British were seen advancing. It was evident that the infantry and cavalry were not delivering but withstanding an onslaught.
[Footnote 127: This is shown on map 8 as the first artillery position.]
[Sidenote: Grimwood expecting support from the right, suffers from that quarter.]
The attack which Grimwood found to be developing rapidly against him was less surprising from its suddenness than from the direction from which it assailed him. Those with him, as described above, lay in the precise position designed for them. He had taken the precaution of covering his right rear, until it should be protected by the cavalry, at first with a half company ("A.") of the Leicestershire regiment, then with two more ("F." and "H.") of the same battalion and the Maxim gun. Furthermore, a kopje to the right front, seen in the growing light to command from the eastward that already occupied by "F." company 1st King's Royal Rifles, was now crowned by "H." company of the same battalion, and all had seemed safe on that side. But now a raking fire from the right assailed all his lines, and Grimwood, instead of outflanking, was outflanked.
Every moment this fire grew more severe; beyond the Modder, Boer reinforcements were streaming in full view up to the line of riflemen shooting along the Modder Spruit. Two guns, which began to shoot from a well-concealed spot near the Elandslaagte road, now took the British line in enfilade, and partially in reverse. The Boer gunners upon Pepworth and the low ground east of it again fired, the smaller pieces into the batteries and infantry, the great Creusot frequently into the town.
[Sidenote: Grimwood fronts the new danger.]
Instead of the anticipated change of front to the left for the destruction of the enemy Grimwood had now, therefore, to prepare a new frontage most speedily, almost to his present rear, for the safety of his brigade. "H." company 1st King's Royal Rifles, on the advanced kopje, first turned towards the east, and coming under heavy fire from three directions, was later reinforced by "A." company of the same battalion. "B." company, which had lain in support of "F.," moved to the new right of "H." and "A.," and, with "E." company, lined up along the rocks facing the Modder Spruit. Meanwhile the officer commanding "F.," the other advanced company, who had turned east, now found his left assailed, and threw back half his command in that direction. The tripod Maxim gun of the 2nd King's Royal Rifles was placed in the centre of this company.
[Footnote 128: It was found to be impossible to get the wheeled gun of the 1st King's Royal Rifles over the boulders of the kopje.]
[Sidenote: 2nd K.R.R. fills gap between 1st K.R.R. and Leicester detachment.]
The 2nd King's Royal Rifles, which had lain in support whilst the front circled round, were now sent to reinforce. Leaving two companies still in support, the battalion changed front to the right, and, extending from right to left, filled the gap between the right of the 1st King's Royal Rifles and the detached 2-1/2 companies of the Leicester regiment. These, with a Maxim, somewhat isolated on the kopje on what was now the right flank, were beginning to be hotly engaged.
[Sidenote: The arrival of two companies R.D.F. connects Grimwood with Cavalry.]
Thus under incessant and increasing fire the 8th brigade swung round, pivoting on the left company 1st King's Royal Rifles, with the detachment of the Leicester as "marker," so to speak, to its outer flank. Two companies of the missing Royal Dublin Fusiliers now arrived to assist the Leicester, and were immediately assailed by some sharpshooters who had worked around the right flank. They therefore prolonged the line to the right, towards the northern spurs of Lombards Kop, and here about 7 a.m. they joined hands with the cavalry, whose movements must now be related.
[Footnote 129: See p. 176.]
[Sidenote: French's operations.]
Waiting until the artillery duel seemed to be going in favour of Downing's batteries, French gave the word for advance about 5.30 a.m. The 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars, who had been lying in mass in the hollow, quickly extended in a north-easterly direction, with orders to work round the Boer left. The route taken by the brigade lay for some distance within rifle range of the western flank of a line of low kopjes, which, running down north-east as an irregular spur of Lombards Kop, and parallel to the Modder Spruit, pointed in the direction of Long Hill. At the termination of this ridge, the high ground, dropping sharply to the plain, offered an outlet to the eastward. For this gateway French's two regiments were making. They had all but reached it when a sharp blaze of rifles broke from the kopjes to their right. The squadrons thereupon wheeled to the right, the troopers dismounted, and running a short way to the new front, they soon reinforced a ridge, already thinly held by the right of Grimwood's infantry, from whence they replied to the sharpshooters on the kopjes beyond. It was soon evident that the Mausers were becoming the masters of the carbines, and French, seeing the impossibility of breaking through, at any rate at this period, ordered his brigade to retire. As the men took to their horses, a gun, opening from the enemy's left, threw shell rapidly amongst them, and made the inequality of the combat yet more apparent. The two squadrons of the 5th Lancers, who were on the left, drew back over the plain, whilst the 19th Hussars retraced their path under the ridges, both rejoining General French under the lee of Lombards Kop, north of Gun Hill and of their original point of departure. French immediately threw his command forward again, and his two regiments, with some of the Natal Carbineers, all dismounted, crowned the high ridges running northward and downward from the summit of Lombards Kop, and were soon deep in action with superior numbers all along the line. About 8 a.m. Major-General J. F. Brocklehurst, who had only reached Ladysmith at 3 a.m., arrived at Lombards Kop with two squadrons ("B." and "D.") of the 5th Dragoon Guards, followed by the 18th Hussars; and Downing, withdrawing the 69th battery from the line of guns still shelling Pepworth, despatched it with all haste in the same direction. Of Brocklehurst's reinforcement, the two squadrons 5th Dragoon Guards came up on the right of the 19th Hussars on the crest, and found themselves at once under fire from the front and right flank. Of the three weak squadrons of the 18th Hussars--all that remained after the catastrophe of Adelaide Farm--one was directed to reinforce the 19th Hussars on the eastern slope of Lombards, the other two climbed to the right of the 5th Dragoon Guards to the south. Sharp fire from a pom-pom and many rifles met them on the shoulder of the ridge, and it seemed as if the British right was to be overmatched. But the 69th battery, which had moved up the Helpmakaar road, escorted by a squadron of the 5th Lancers, now arrived, and, boldly handled, quickly relieved the pressure in this portion of the field by drawing the enemy's attention to itself. Pushing on through the Nek which joins Lombards Kop to Umbulwana this battery came into action on an underfeature south of the road one mile beyond it, and enfiladed the Boer left. Soon, however, it found itself the focus of an increasing fusilade, and its commander, Major F. D. V. Wing, saw that to continue to work the guns would entail a grave loss of men. He therefore determined to withdraw from his dangerously advanced position. It was impossible to bring up the teams, but the gunners ran the guns back by hand. The battery withdrew almost intact, and, coming into action again, kept the balance level by steady practice carried on from the Nek itself.
[Footnote 130: Following Talana, see p. 140.]
[Footnote 131: This is the position shown on map 8 (a).]
[Sidenote: Grimwood receives Artillery support.]
Meanwhile, Grimwood was being hard pressed on the low kopjes to the northward, and his line became thinner every moment as he endeavoured to meet the continual attempts upon his flanks. Two Boer guns shelled steadily the much exposed 8th brigade from various points, and when about 8 a.m. a pom-pom, joining in the bombardment, killed with its first discharges some of the ammunition mules and scattered the rest far and wide, Grimwood sent urgent messages to the artillery for support. Sir G. White was at that moment himself with the batteries, which were being enfiladed again, this time by some guns on the low ground below and south of Pepworth. He promptly despatched the 21st and 53rd batteries to positions from which, facing eastwards, they could support both the cavalry and Grimwood. The 21st moved far southward, and from a gap in the hills between the infantry and cavalry soon rendered for the left of the latter the same service as the 69th was performing for the right. The 53rd battery, coming into action near the Elandslaagte road, engaged the Boer guns on Grimwood's front, and though kept at extreme range by Sir G. White's orders, succeeded in much reducing their effect. At the same time the 13th battery also left the line facing Pepworth, and, wheeling eastward, shelled the hostile artillery on the left front of the infantry with good results.
[Sidenote: 9 to 11 a.m. a stationary battle.]
For two hours, from about 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., the engagement continued with little movement of either army. The Boers, being now within 800 yards of the British, could advance no further, but sent a steady stream of bullets against the ridges, pinning the cavalry to Lombards Kop and the infantry to their line of hillocks along the Modder. By 9.30 a.m. Grimwood's last available reserve was put into the firing line, and he could prolong his front no more, though the enemy still threatened his flanks. The artillery was strangely dispersed. Far on the right the 69th battery stood in action upon Umbulwana Nek; the 21st battery on the northern side of Lombards Kop covered French's left and Grimwood's right; out in the open to their left rear the 53rd battery shot above the heads of the right wing of the infantry, whilst farther northward the 13th sent shrapnel over the left wing. Only the 42nd and 67th batteries remained on the site first held by the artillery facing north-west, where the former suffered considerable losses from the heavy enfilade and frontal fire which recommenced. For the Boer artillerymen, encouraged by the diminution of the British gun-power at this point, had not only returned to the pieces upon Pepworth, but placed fresh ones upon the northernmost spurs of Long Hill itself.
[Sidenote: Reserve absorbed by action.]
The reserve on Limit Hill, under Colonel Ian Hamilton's command, had been reduced considerably by the successive demands of the battle. He had been early deprived of most of his cavalry and all his artillery, and shortly after 8 a.m., on a report coming of a hostile advance against the left flank, two squadrons ("E." and "F.") of his remaining mounted troops, the Imperial Light Horse, had left him to occupy some kopjes on either side of the railway close to Aller Park, from which they could see the enemy moving in strength about the heights of Bell Spruit. At 10 a.m. the 1st Manchester regiment was also withdrawn from Hamilton's brigade, the right half-battalion proceeding towards Lombards Kop, the left half passing into the open as escort to the artillery. The former portion eventually became incorporated with French's firing line, whilst the latter lay out upon the shelterless ground between the original artillery position and the new one taken up by the 13th battery, where they suffered somewhat severely from the intermittent shells.
[Sidenote: Ladysmith threatened.]
Meanwhile Colonel W. G. Knox, who, in the absence of the army, had been placed in charge of the defences of Ladysmith, was by no means secure. Left with a garrison of a few companies of infantry, he detailed two of these, with the 23rd of the Royal engineers, and the two Boer guns captured at Elandslaagte, to cover the north of the town, posting them upon a ridge north-west of Observation Hill. Here he found himself confronted immediately by strong bodies and two guns of the enemy, who manoeuvred about Bell's and the adjacent kopjes. He was soon strengthened by two guns and 88 men of the 10th Mountain battery, hastily collected and reorganised after their stampede from Carleton's party. But at no time could Knox do more than hold his own, and the strength and boldness of the Boers, who at one time threatened the town, seemed the last confirmation of Carleton's fate.
[Sidenote: Sir George withdraws the troops.]
[Sidenote: 13th battery covers retreat.]
About 11 a.m. Sir G. White, having first despatched his Chief of the Staff, Major-General A. Hunter, to investigate the situation, decided to withdraw. To cover the movement he sent out three squadrons ("B.," "C." and "D.") of the Imperial Light Horse which remained in reserve at Limit Hill. The 13th battery, receiving an order to support them as closely as possible, galloped in and unlimbered 800 yards behind Grimwood's line. So screened, the infantry began to retreat at 11.30 a.m. As the men rose from their shelters, a storm of fire broke from the enemy's ridges. But the gunners of the 13th battery, turning the hail of bullets from the infantry, faced it themselves. Almost the whole volume of the enemy's fire soon centred on this battery. From the right, four Boer guns concealed in the scrub raked the line; those upon Long Hill bombarded from the left, whilst from the left rear the heavy shells from Pepworth also struck in, hitting direct four of the six guns. When twenty minutes had passed thus, and Grimwood's brigade had almost removed itself into safety, the battery which had shielded it looked as if it must itself be lost.
[Sidenote: 53rd battery relieves 13th.]
From their rear Major A. J. Abdy, commanding the 53rd battery, had marked the perilous situation of the 13th and, obtaining permission from Colonel Coxhead, advanced to succour it. Galloping to the front, across a deep donga, the 53rd wheeled to the right of the 13th and ranged upon some Boer artillery 2,350 yards to the eastward. By the orders of Major-General Hunter, who was on the spot, the 13th retired first, some 800 yards. But before it could come into action again, the 53rd, left alone on the plain, drew in its turn the fire of all the Boer guns. A shell exploded beneath a limber, blowing the wheels to fragments, so that the gun could not be removed, and had to be temporarily abandoned. As soon as the 13th re-opened the 53rd was able to draw back. In re-crossing the donga a gun upset, and the enemy's shells burst over it, but whilst the battery fell back to a new site to support the 13th, Lieutenant J. F. A. Higgins, having been left with the team in the donga, succeeded in righting the gun, and restored it to its place in the line. A few minutes previously, Captain W. Thwaites, with six men, had ridden forward, and now returned, bringing with him on a new limber the gun which had been disabled in the open. Only the old limber and a wagon of stores remained derelict.
[Sidenote: The Infantry, under the protection of the guns, get away.]
[Sidenote: The Naval guns appear and silence the Boers.]
So covered, the infantry had been getting away with unimpaired discipline, but in great confusion, owing to the intermixture of units and the extreme exhaustion of the men. Two Maxims were abandoned, but useless, on the kopjes--those of the Leicestershire regiment and 2nd King's Royal Rifles--the mules of both having been shot or stampeded by the last outburst from the Boer lines. The enemy made no serious attempt to follow up the retirement. Some Boers did indeed speed forward to the now empty kopjes, and began shooting rapidly from thence, but under the fine practice of the 13th battery the musketry soon dwindled. The Creusot on Pepworth Hill sounded on the right, and every part of the route to be traversed by the troops lay within range of its projectiles. About noon, a report, as loud as that of the great French cannon itself, came from the direction of the town, and the batteries on Pepworth sank immediately to silence under the repeated strokes of shells from British Naval guns. Captain the Honourable Hedworth Lambton, R.N., had detrained his command of two 4.7-in., three 12-pr. 12-cwt. quick-firing guns, with some smaller pieces, 16 officers and 267 men at 10 a.m., the very time when the enemy's 6-in. shells were bursting over the railway station. After conferring with Colonel Knox, he was in two hours on his way towards the fight with the 12-pounders, reaching the place held by Hamilton's brigade. But in view of the imminent retirement, this was too far forward, and Lambton was ordered back. Whilst he was in the act of Withdrawing, the gunners on Pepworth, descrying the strings of moving bullocks, launched a shell which pitched exactly upon one of the guns, and tumbled it over. Lambton, however, coming into action nearer the town, opened heavily and accurately on his antagonist, and reduced him to immediate silence.
[Footnote 132: Rear-Admiral Sir R. Harris, K.C.M.G., in Naval command at the Cape, had been requested (October 24th) by Sir G. White to send a heavy gun detachment to Ladysmith "in view of heavy guns being brought by General Joubert from the north." It will be seen with what promptitude the request was acceded to and acted upon by the Naval commander. In ninety-six hours the guns were disembarked from H.M.S. Powerful at Durban; seventeen hours later they were in action.]
[Sidenote: The garrison reaches Ladysmith by 2.30 p.m.]
At 1 p.m. the cavalry on the right gave up the crests which they had maintained so long, covered up to the last by the 21st battery on the left, and on the right by the 69th battery, whose escort had been strengthened by "C" squadron 5th Dragoon Guards taken from Limit Hill. At 2.30 p.m. French's command was in Ladysmith, following the 1st Manchester regiment, which had retired on the right of the cavalry. With the exception of four companies of the 1st Devonshire regiment, left upon Limit Hill, the rest of the troops engaged had reached their camps a short time previously. Only the tents of Carleton's two battalions were seen to be empty when evening fell.
[Sidenote: Carleton's night march begins 11.15 p.m. 29th Oct./99.]
[Sidenote: The disaster.]
Carleton's detachment had moved from the rendezvous at 11.15 p.m. in the following order: first, under Major C. S. Kincaid, a small party of 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, who marched with fixed bayonets; then Colonel Carleton himself, with Major W. Adye, D.A.A.G. for Intelligence, and the guides; behind them the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, followed by their 46 mules; then the 10th Mountain battery, with 133 mules; then the 57 mules of the 1st Gloucester regiment; next five and a half companies of that battalion, and finally a small rearguard, under Captain B. O. Fyffe, of the Gloucester. The valley of the Bell Spruit was wrapped in profound darkness, yet the force pushed on at a rapid pace, and, in spite of the noise of its progress, was undetected by the Boer piquets on the hills on either side. Shortly after 1 a.m. the van was opposite the southern spur of the height called Kainguba, at the other extremity of which, some two miles due north, lay the object of the expedition, Nicholson's Nek. The column was here in perfect order, the road to the Nek was good, and there was promise of about two hours of darkness to conceal the remainder of the march. But Colonel Carleton, thinking more of the lateness of his start than of the excellence of his progress, and remembering that his orders had not bound him absolutely to Nicholson's Nek, came to the conclusion at this point that, if, as seemed possible, he could not reach the Nek before dawn, it would be extremely rash to be surprised by daylight in a narrow defile. He decided, therefore, at least to make good the dangerous high ground on his left by occupying the nearest crest of Kainguba above him, intending, if time allowed, to continue his march to the Nek from this vantage ground. He therefore wheeled the leading files to the left, and at their head began the boulder-obstructed and finally almost precipitous ascent of the mountain, ordering guides to be left to indicate the point of the change of direction to the units following the Royal Irish Fusiliers. When the head of that battalion had climbed two-thirds of the steep a mysterious and fatal incident occurred. Suddenly from the darkness encircling the clambering soldiers broke out a roar "like that of an approaching train," there was a rush of hoofs and the clatter of scattering stones. In a moment a group of loose animals, whether horses, mules or cattle, it was impossible to discern, bounding down the rocky precipice, tore past the last companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and disappeared as quickly as they had come into the gloom of the valley. The rear of the Irish Fusiliers checked and staggered back upon the long line of ammunition mules. The natural timidity of these animals, many of them almost untrained, had been increased by their long wait at the rendezvous, and by the fact that they were led by strange and unskilled men. Now it became an uncontrollable panic. Leaping round, dragging their muleteers with them, they plunged backwards in terror, wrenched themselves loose, and thundered over the steep slope upon all below them. The battery mules and those of the Gloucester regiment were dashed downwards and joined the riot, and the whole mass poured upon the Gloucester regiment, which had just begun to breast the hill. A shout arose; the men of the front companies were buffeted and swept from the track in every direction. A few shots rang sharply from behind, and a few more faintly from a startled Boer piquet on Surprise Hill. Then the uproar died away in the valley of the Bell Spruit, leaving the column disordered and amazed at its own wreck. It was a disaster complete, sudden, and incurred by no fault of officers or men. Up to this point the night march, conducted in deep darkness and between the enemy's piquets, had been a conspicuous success, and now in one swift moment the hand of fate had changed order into chaos, and success into destruction. But the troops quickly recovered, and indeed but few had yielded to the shock. Many had gathered about their officers with fixed bayonets; many, hurled to the ground, had nevertheless gripped their weapons and looked not for safety, but the enemy. Only fifty of the infantry, and these included many who had been actually stunned by the onset of the frenzied mules, failed to fall into the ranks at the summons of the officers, who, even before the tumult had ceased, were strenuously working to re-organise their commands.
[Footnote 133: The simile of an officer present.]
[Sidenote: 2 a.m. the column reaches summit without guns or reserve ammunition.]
About 2 a.m. the leading files pressed over the crest on to the top of the mountain. An hour of uncertainty and, had the enemy been near, of extreme danger followed. Most of the Irish Fusiliers were now upon the summit, disposed, as best could be, for defence. But the Gloucester at the bottom were not yet formed, and when, about 3 a.m., they came up in such order as they had been able to contrive, they brought only nine of their fifty-nine mules with them. The Irish Fusiliers had recovered but eight. The reserve of ammunition was thus practically swept away. The Mountain battery did not appear at all. Only two of the gun mules eventually arrived, carrying portions of two pieces. Eighty-eight gunners and one hundred and thirty mules had dropped out, and not a complete gun of all the six was available.
[Sidenote: bivouacks on southern edge and awaits dawn.]
[Sidenote: The ground.]
[Sidenote: Carleton chooses a defensive position.]
[Sidenote: Distribution of companies.]
When at last both regiments reached the top they were formed in line of quarter-columns--Gloucester on the right. Guided by Adye, they moved towards the southern extremity of the ridge, where they halted, lay down around the crest, and waited for light. Dawn revealed the nature of the position which the diminished detachment occupied. Behind, the southern end of the mountain dropped almost sheer to the valley. In front, to the northward, the hill-top first sloped downward somewhat to a point, where, like Talana, it was narrowed by a deep re-entrant on one side, then rose to a new sky line, which hid from the British troops the remainder of the ridge some 1,200 or more yards from the southern crest. Over it the hill-top narrowed, and ran on for a mile and a half towards Nicholson's Nek. A jungle of tall grass, hiding innumerable boulders, clothed the mountain up to and a little beyond the sky line, ceasing some 700 yards from the southern crest, and between this thicket and the British line were dotted a few ruined stone kraals, of a circular shape and some two feet high. Across the valley of the Bell Spruit, to the east, a group of kopjes stood within long rifle range of, but lower than, Kainguba. In the midst of the British position itself, a small knoll, crowned by two trees, and nearly as high as the grass-grown sky line in front, arose at the end of the mountain before it plunged into the depth behind. Carleton, now decided to stand on the defensive where he was, despatched a message at 3.55 a.m. by a native, acquainting Sir G. White with his mishap, his position, and his plan, and issued orders for the disposition and entrenchment of the troops. The left or western crest of the hill was assigned to the Gloucester regiment, the right to the Irish Fusiliers, a reserve, consisting of two companies ("G." and "H.") of the latter battalion, taking post in front of the knoll at the southern extremity of the summit. The men began at once to build sangars. The position of the Gloucester, which it is necessary to describe in detail, was as follows: Along half of the southern and south-western crest lay "A." company, its right being prolonged by "B." company, and at first by "C." This last-named unit, however, was soon extended across the north of the hill, at right angles to the crest and "B." company, and had half completed a defensive wall when it was again pushed forward about 100 yards to the front, "B." company increasing its extension along the crest to maintain junction with the left of "C." The right flank of "C." company was marked by a round kraal, behind which stood up a small tree, and beyond this the line across the mountain-top was taken up by a company ("E.") of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, which, in its turn, linked on to the defenders ("A.," "B.," "F." companies Royal Irish Fusiliers) of the eastern crest. The formation thus took the shape of a semicircle, behind a diameter, composed of one company Gloucester and one Royal Irish Fusiliers, facing the rise to the northward. Some 700 yards back from these the arc followed the contour of the mountain in rear. Thus back from the fighting line the ground sloped upwards, hiding from it the reserves, and exposing reinforcements from them, or men retreating back to them, to the full view and fire of anyone upon the shoulder which arose in front. Over the brow of this rise "D." company Gloucester entrenched itself in a position to support both "C." company Gloucester and "E." company Royal Irish Fusiliers. Though less than 150 yards in rear, "D." company was, owing to the bulging ground, invisible to "C." company, and the officers of the latter knew nothing of the proximity of its support. The movements necessary to these dispositions had scarcely begun when a slow rifle-fire, commencing from Surprise Hill to the south-west, showed that the presence of the British on the mountain was discovered, and from the very first the toiling soldiers thus found themselves taken in flank and reverse. Stones of manageable size were scarce, tools were lacking with which to move the large ones, and, with the smaller, defences of but the most paltry dimensions could be erected. At this time the danger of the dead ground ahead, and below the left front, became apparent to Carleton, and "E." company of the Gloucester, moving out beyond the front line, took post upon the densely-grown summit of the rise, 400 yards in front of "C." turning its left section to face west. Here it was shortly joined by the half of "H." company, some twenty men in all, sent forward by the O.C. Gloucester in response to Carleton's order (which did not name any precise strength) to reinforce.
[Sidenote: 7 a.m. Boers appear.]
At 7 a.m. bands of mounted men came down from Intintanyoni to the heights east of Bell Spruit, whence they opened fire upon the right rear of the British position. An hour later a hostile battery of apparently four guns suddenly appeared upon the northern end of these heights, and, unlimbering for action, threatened Kainguba in silence for some time, only to disappear northwards without firing a shot. A number of horsemen were seen to ride away with it, and these, bearing to the left, vanished behind Nicholson's Nek.
[Sidenote: 9 a.m. they threaten rear.]
At 9 a.m. a movement still more threatening was descried from the lines of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Groups of horsemen, breaking away from the main laager visible at Pepworth, came riding up the valleys and behind the crests towards the northern end of Kainguba. On the right, amongst the Irish Fusiliers, the Maxim of the Gloucester regiment stood ready for action, and the officer in charge commenced a slow fire upon the stream of Boers. Opening at 1,200 yards, he gradually increased the range to 2,000 yards, and the trotting horsemen had just broken into a gallop as the bullets began to lash amongst them, when an order was received not to fire unless the enemy showed in masses at closer distances, ammunition being scarce.
[Sidenote: Boer movements.]
At 2 a.m. Commandant Van Dam, lying in bivouac with his Johannesburg Police beneath Pepworth, received orders from Joubert in person to proceed at once to the northern summit of Kainguba and hold the ridge above Nicholson's Nek. The Boer officer thereupon galloped for that spot with 400 men, being warned of the proximity of British troops by a Field Cornet of the Pretoria commando, who lay with thirty men on the northern slope of the high ground east of Bell Spruit. Gaining the Nek, the Police found it occupied by 150 Free Staters, who moved away further west on their approach. Van Dam's plan was quickly made. Sending a message to the Free Staters that if they would ride round to the flank and rear of the British, he would attack straight over the top of the mountain, he left fifty burghers in the Nek in charge of the horses, and led the remainder on foot in straggling order up the hill. The crest was gained and half the summit traversed before shots rang out from the shelters of the advanced companies of the Gloucester. But the Boers fired no round until, at 800 yards, the foremost British sangar was visible through the long grass. Meanwhile the Free Staters, under Christian De Wet and Steenkamp, crept around the foot of the steep ground under Van Dam's right, swinging northward. Then they, too, began to climb, and by 10 a.m. Carleton's column was entrapped.
[Footnote 134: Or South African Republic Police (the "Zarps").]
[Sidenote: Development of attack.]
The weak company and a half in front of the Gloucester, badly sheltered from the converging fire, could do little more than check the foremost burghers. This, however, they did so effectually for a time that Van Dam, fearing for the issue of a merely frontal attack, and hearing nothing of the Free Staters, who had not yet reached their goal, ordered one of his officers, Lieutenant Pohlmann, to take fifty men out of sight under the hill to the right, and not to fire a shot until he arrived within decisive range of the British. Pohlmann moved boldly and skilfully, and, appearing suddenly upon the left of "E." company Gloucester, poured a destructive shower over the defences. The captain of "E." company perceived at once the hopelessness of his situation, asked and received permission to retire, and took his men and those of "H." company back under a heavy fusilade and with severe loss, passing the left flank of "C." company, into whose sangars many dropped for shelter. The section detached to the left, not receiving the order--unable to retire, if it had received it--was shot down to a man. The commander was taken prisoner. Carleton, who had not authorised this retirement, and placed as he was, knew nothing of the necessity for it, then ordered Major S. Humphery to reinforce the diminished companies, and send them back to the abandoned sangars. This Humphery found to be impossible, and thus the front of the position receded to the line of "C." company Gloucester and of "E." company Royal Irish Fusiliers, slightly to their right rear. Nor was this to remain long unbroken; for most of the men of this company of Royal Irish Fusiliers, finding their feeble defences crumbling to nothing under the tremendous fire, drew off gradually towards their comrades on the right, and soon the officers of "C." company Gloucester saw that the prolongation of their line had vanished, and that their right was now completely exposed.
[Sidenote: 11:30 a.m. A heliograph cannot be answered.]
About this time (11.30 a.m.) a heliograph from Sir G. White's main body was seen. Carleton called for signallers to read the message; but so deadly was the fire that three men were wounded in succession, and one man thrice, as they stood by Carleton spelling out the signal. This ran:--"Retire on Ladysmith as opportunity offers." The only heliograph with the column had vanished in the stampede, and Carleton, encircled by musketry, knew that he was as powerless to obey the order as to acknowledge it.
[Sidenote: A fatal misunderstanding.]
The Boers, who had turned "E." company, Gloucester, crawled on to within forty yards of the right of "B." company, threatening to roll it up, and Lieutenant C. S. Knox, its commander, surrounded by dead, found it necessary to go back to fetch up more men. Near him, in the sangar of "C." company, lay Captain S. Willcock of "H." company, and Knox, before starting back, waved his arms to attract his attention, shouting to him that the Boers were coming up from behind, that he, Knox, had to go back, and that Willcock must look to his left. But Knox, with a gesture of his arms, had unwittingly imitated the military signal to retire, and the musketry, which was now one sustained roar upon the mountain, drowned all of his shouting, except the words "from behind." Willcock, therefore, imagining that he was receiving an order to retire, which might have been sent forward from the commanding officer, passed it on to Captain Fyffe, who, in turn, communicated it to Captain Duncan, the senior officer in the sangar. In the short retirement which followed nearly forty-five percent fell.
[Sidenote: Duncan occupies a kraal, and then surrenders.]
Following their retreating companies, Captains Duncan and Fyffe (the latter wounded) halted by a small ruined kraal some fifty yards back, leaped into it with six or eight men, and determined to make a stand. Behind the kraal, the ground sloping upwards, hid the rest of the British lines entirely from a man lying prone in the sorry shelter. So close now were the Boers that the uproar of their rapid and incessant shots overwhelmed all else. To the occupants of the kraal it seemed as though silence had fallen over the British part of the position, and this, though "D." company was shooting steadily, unshaken in the sangar not fifty yards to their right rear. They thought that Colonel Carleton had taken his column from the hill, and that they were alone. For a few moments they lay, the helpless focus of hundreds of rifles, and then, after a brief conversation with his wounded junior, Duncan decided to surrender. Two handkerchiefs tied to the muzzle of an uplifted rifle were apparently invisible to the Boers, whose fire continued unabated. But the white rags, fluttering just clear of the brow of the rise, were marked in an instant from the sangar of "D." company, of whose proximity Duncan and his party were absolutely unaware, and Captain R. Conner, who lay there with the commanding officer of the Gloucester, rushed out towards them over some fifty yards of bullet-swept ground shouting an enquiry. Meanwhile, as the storm of lead still beat upon the shelter, Duncan, taking a towel from a soldier near him, tied it to his sword and held it aloft. For a minute or two the enemy did not desist, and in this interval Conner, running by order of his commanding officer, across to Colonel Carleton, acquainted him with the fact that the flag had been upraised in Duncan's sangar. At the same time a bugle, whether British or Boer will never be known, sounded the "cease fire" somewhere on the British left. There was a hasty consultation between Carleton and Adye as to the possibility of repudiating the surrender altogether, or of applying it solely to the small party which had yielded. But the former officer, raising his eyes towards the spot, saw that the enemy had practically decided the question for him. Having passed by Duncan's kraal they were close in front of his main line, moving quickly forward with shouts and waving of hats, with rifles held confidently at the "trail." Many were already on the flank of the right portion of the British line, which, surrender or not as it would, was thus placed in an utterly untenable position. This right, consisting of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, absorbed in action to the front, knew nothing of the events on the left.
[Sidenote: Carleton submits for all.]
There was yet time to disown the flag. The Boers had so far possessed themselves only of Duncan's sangar; but Carleton shrank from doing what he knew would be construed into the blackest treachery by his opponents, which he knew, moreover, could but prolong the resistance of his trapped and exhausted battalions some half an hour or less. Calling a bugler to him he bade him sound the "cease fire," set a match to his maps and papers, and, with Adye, walked out towards the enemy. Some of the Irish Fusiliers still fought on whilst Carleton, meeting Commandant Steenkamp, handed over to him his sword and revolver; it was some time before the bursts of firing ceased altogether on the right. At about 1.30 p.m. 37 officers and 917 men became prisoners of war.
[Footnote 135: For detailed casualties, etc., see Appendix 6.]