[Sidenote: Hopes of Sir George White's strength felt at home.]

Reports of the concentration of large commandos of Transvaal and Free State burghers on the Natal border had been telegraphed home by the High Commissioner and the Governor of Natal on the 28th of September, and reached the Colonial Office during the night of the 28th-29th. The plan, therefore, of an advance through the Orange Free State, which was adopted by the Cabinet on the following day, by implication assumed that the force assigned to Sir George White for the defence of Natal would be sufficient to check the threatened invasion until a forward movement of the army corps in the western theatre of war should draw away from the republican host the Free State men for the protection of their own territory.

[Sidenote: Situation when Sir R. Buller arrived.]

The events of the first three weeks of the war showed that Sir George White, without assistance, would not be able to protect Natal, and the situation which met General Buller on his disembarkation in South Africa on the morning of the 31st October could not but cause him grave anxiety. The Natal Field Force, after three strenuous efforts at Talana, Elandslaagte and Lombards Kop to repel the enemy's columns of invasion, lay concentrated at Ladysmith, and to the north, east, and west was already closely watched by the enemy in superior strength. General Buller was convinced that the troops needed rest, and could for a time only act on the defensive. He therefore telegraphed to General White, on 1st November, suggesting that he should entrench and await events either at Ladysmith or at Colenso. Sir George's reply showed that he had already entrenched himself at Ladysmith, and could not now withdraw. South of Ladysmith there were only very weak posts at Colenso and Estcourt, and one regular battalion at Maritzburg. For the moment, the safety of the capital of Natal appeared to be precarious, and Sir Redvers even deemed it necessary to request the Naval Commander-in-Chief to take steps for the protection of Durban from land attack. In Cape Colony the Boer forces close to the Orange river had been strengthened by reinforcements from the commandos originally assigned to watch the Basuto border. Moreover, there was some reason to believe that another commando from the north was moving down upon Kimberley, and this report, coupled with the lack of news from Mafeking, rendered it for the moment doubtful whether Baden-Powell might not have been overwhelmed.[136] The first units of the expeditionary force were not due at Cape Town for some ten days. The complete disembarkation at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and East London would not be finished until early in December.[137] The British Commander-in-Chief could not hope, therefore, for at least a month, that his field army would be complete in organisation, equipment, and transport, and ready to commence an advance into the Free State. Notwithstanding these anxieties, General Buller was at first inclined to adhere to the scheme originally designed, and to wait until he could remove the pressure on Ladysmith and Kimberley by striking straight at Bloemfontein. He so informed Lord Wolseley in a telegram despatched from Cape Town on 1st November. Yet a few hours later it became evident that the whole case was graver than Sir Redvers had at first conceived. Both from the telegrams of Sir George White and from those of Sir Archibald Hunter, from whom, as his own chief-of-staff, Buller had called for a personal report on affairs in Natal, it was manifest that Ladysmith was certain to be cut off from the outer world. General White telegraphed: "I have the greatest confidence in holding the Boers for as long as necessary," but he added that "reinforcements should be sent to Natal at once. Ladysmith strongly entrenched, but lines not continuous and perimeter so large that Boers can exercise their usual tactics." General Hunter reported that "Ladysmith lies in a hollow, commanded by heights too distant for us to hold, and now possessed by the enemy"; and that "the Boers are superior in numbers, mobility, and long-range artillery." In Cape Colony the Intelligence officers at Naauwpoort and Stormberg telegraphed that a commando, 800 strong, had crossed the Orange river at Norval's Pont, and that another Boer force, stated to be 3,000 strong, with two guns and a Maxim, was crossing the Bethulie bridge. The enemy's successes in Natal were, in fact, encouraging the Free State commandos to establish connection with the disaffected in the eastern and midland districts of Cape Colony. As regards the general attitude of those in the Colonies who sympathised with the Boers, General Buller was aware that for the most part they possessed arms and ammunition, and that if their districts were invaded the young men would join the enemy. The information in his possession led to a belief that the greater number were for the moment still very undecided, wondering which side would win, and that their whole attention was fixed on Ladysmith and Kimberley. If the relief of those places could be effected, the hostile elements, it was held, would not stir; but if the two towns should fall, a dangerous rising was thought probable. Meanwhile at Kimberley, although the reports of the officer in command of the garrison did not appear to Sir Redvers to show any immediate anxiety, yet the successful defence of that place depended on other than the regular troops,[138] and there were indications that the strain of the situation was being already felt. Urgent appeals were addressed by the civil community to the High Commissioner, drawing his attention to the large number of women and children within the town, the possibility of the cattle, on which the meat supplies of the invested population mainly depended, being captured by the enemy, and the difficulty of maintaining order amongst the 10,000 "raw savages" employed in the mine compounds.

[Footnote 136: See Sir R. Buller's despatch to Secretary of State for War, dated 1st November, 1899.]

[Footnote 137: Before leaving England Sir R. Buller had informed the War Office that he proposed to disembark the 1st (Methuen's) division at Cape Town, the 2nd (Clery's) at Port Elizabeth, and the 3rd (Gatacre's) at East London; but, having regard to possible changes in the strategic situation, he requested that every ship should call at Cape Town for orders.]

[Footnote 138: See Vol. II.]

[Sidenote: Difficulties to be dealt with.]

The consideration of these reports and representations made it evident that the whole situation had changed from that contemplated when the original plan of campaign had been drawn up. For an aggressive advance on Bloemfontein there was as yet no adequate army. The component parts of it were on the high seas. Even after they should have arrived, much time and labour would be required, before they could be welded together, and supplied with all that was needed for an offensive march into a country so distant from the coast. On the other hand, if Ladysmith should meanwhile fall, the Boer commandos at present surrounding that town would be set free to seize not only Maritzburg but probably also the seaport of Durban, the possession of which would give to the republics direct access to the outer world, and would, as was believed by both Boer and British, be a signal to all the disaffected in Cape Colony to take up arms. In the western theatre of war, the early relief of Kimberley was an object dear to the hearts of all loyalists, and its loss would undoubtedly give an immediate impetus to the wave of rebellion. The necessity for immediate action was urgent, both in Natal and Cape Colony, but the former appeared for the moment to present the more critical situation. Sir Redvers, therefore, on the 2nd November, telegraphed to the War Office:

"I consider that I must reinforce Natal, hang on to Orange River bridge, and give myself to organise troops expected from England. I am, therefore, withdrawing the garrisons at Naauwpoort and Stormberg. I shall send Gatacre's division on arrival to Natal, and with Methuen's and Clery's try to keep the main line open, and to relieve Kimberley. I do not wish to be pessimistic, but it seems to me I shall have to wait until March to commence active operations."

[Sidenote: Messages from and to home. "Extreme gravity."]

On receipt of this report Lord Lansdowne telegraphed an enquiry whether the division sent to Natal should be replaced by a fresh division from England. On the 3rd November, in consequence of further reports from Natal, Sir Redvers telegraphed to the Secretary of State:

"Telegraphic connection with Ladysmith was interrupted yesterday, and White's force is isolated. He is well supplied with everything, except ammunition for his naval 12-pounders, which are the only guns that can compete with hostile artillery. I regard the situation as one of extreme gravity. Colenso bridge and Maritzburg are held by one battalion each; we are protecting Durban from the fleet. I shall despatch the first reinforcements I receive to Durban, but I cannot conceal from myself that if the enemy previously occupy, even with a small force, the country south of Mooi River, the relief of White by troops just landed will be an almost impossible operation, unless he can hold out six weeks at least from now."

[Sidenote: Nov. 4/99. Sir Redvers decides to go to Natal.]

By the following day, 4th November, General Buller had been able to work out his plans more in detail. It had become more and more apparent that Natal, where now the bulk of the enemy's strength lay, was for the moment the scene of most difficulty and danger, and that the relief of Ladysmith was all-important. For these reasons Sir Redvers decided to proceed himself to Natal for a time to supervise personally that critical operation. He telegraphed, therefore, to the Secretary of State:

"My intentions are as follows: I propose to send Clery and Headquarters 2nd division to Natal to command. With him will go the first three brigade Headquarters except Guards that arrive. These three brigades will be composed of the first line battalions that arrive. Headquarters 1st division will land at Cape Town, and Lord Methuen will command advance on Kimberley with Guards' brigade and one other. Headquarters 3rd division will land at Cape Town or East London, as circumstances require, and will be completed with a new brigade, under Fetherstonhaugh, formed of three extra regiments and one from line of communications, or else colonial regiment.

"I propose to take charge of advance on Ladysmith. If under Providence we are successful there and at Kimberley, I think collapse of opposition possible. These proposals are subject to High Commissioner's views of state of Cape Colony, and to what may happen meantime anywhere else.

"Preparation of extra division seems desirable, but I do not yet see need for its despatch from England. I shall speak with more confidence when I see French, who is, I hope, en route here from Ladysmith."

[Sidenote: More hopeful views.]

On the 5th November Sir Redvers telegraphed further to the War Office that 40 days' supplies for the force under orders for Natal should be shipped direct from England to Durban. The more hopeful view the General Commanding-in-Chief was already taking may be judged from the fact that on the following day, the 6th of November, he requested the War Office to read "January" instead of "March" in the last sentence of his above quoted cypher of November 2nd. Five days later, in reply to a telegram from Lord Lansdowne, stating that another infantry division was being mobilised, and asking by what date it would be required, General Buller reported:

"The defence of Ladysmith seems to have so thoroughly checked advance of enemy, that I have some grounds for hoping the successful relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith may end opposition. On the other hand, reliable Dutch here predict guerilla warfare as a certainty. I think, therefore, that I ought to have another division as soon as possible. My great want at present is mounted men. I am raising as many as I can, and should like, as soon as possible, a few good special service officers."

To this despatch the War Office answered on 14th November that a fifth infantry division would be sent out at an early date, under command of Sir C. Warren.

[Sidenote: The original scheme of march through Free State to be carried out after relief of Ladysmith.]

In arriving at the decisions recorded in the above official telegrams, Sir Redvers Buller had not abandoned the intention of carrying out ultimately the original plan of campaign. On the contrary, with a view to its resumption, after the relief of Ladysmith had been effected, he determined to instruct the General Officer Commanding the 1st division, Lieut.-General Lord Methuen, as soon as he had thrust aside the Boer commandos between the Orange river and Kimberley, to throw into that town supplies and a reinforcement of one and a half battalions of infantry and some naval long-range guns, and then move back to the Orange river, withdrawing with him the women and children and natives. Meantime, while the cavalry division, as its units arrived from England, was being prepared for the front at a camp near Cape Town, its commander, Lieut.-General French, who had been recalled from Ladysmith, was to form a flying column at Naauwpoort, with instructions to risk no engagement, but to manoeuvre and worry the enemy, and thus check any invasion of the central districts of the Cape. On the eastern side of that colony, the Commander-in-Chief decided to assemble at Queenstown a force, under Lieut.-General Sir W. Gatacre, the commander of the 3rd infantry division, whose duty it would be to operate northwards, and endeavour to stop recruiting by the enemy and protect the loyal. On Lord Methuen's return to Orange River, it was Sir Redvers' intention that he should march eastwards in conjunction with French, occupy the bridges of Colesberg, Norval's Pont and Bethulie, and thus prepare for the advance on Bloemfontein, which would be undertaken as soon as the relief of Ladysmith set him (Sir Redvers) free from Natal.

[Sidenote: Dissolution of Army organisation.]

The decision to despatch to Natal the bulk of the earliest reinforcements arriving from home has been often referred to as "the break-up of the army corps." In a sense it was much more than that. From the point of view of organisation, the transfer of one or more intact divisions of the original army corps to Natal would have been immaterial, since they would have remained still under the supreme control of the General himself. But the urgency of the situation compelled the British Commander not only to detach portions of the army corps, but to improvise hastily, from the general officers and regimental units as they arrived in transports at Cape Town, special forces with hardly any regard to the composition of the divisions as originally fixed by the War Office. Thus to the commander of the 2nd division, Lieut.-General Sir C. F. Clery, who was selected by Sir Redvers Buller to make preparation for the relief of Ladysmith, and to act as his second in command in that enterprise, two cavalry regiments, four brigades of infantry,[139] two brigade divisions of field artillery, a company of Royal engineers, and a pontoon troop were assigned. But of these units, only the 4th brigade, commanded by Major-General the Hon. N. G. Lyttelton, and Lt.-Colonel L. W. Parsons' brigade division, R.F.A. (63rd, 64th, and 73rd batteries), belonged to Clery's division. The 2nd infantry brigade, under Major-General H. J. T. Hildyard, and Lt.-Colonel H. V. Hunt's brigade division (7th, 14th, and 66th batteries), being the first units of infantry and artillery to arrive from England, were removed from Methuen's division, and sent on at once to Natal. To these were subsequently added both the infantry brigades of the 3rd division (the 5th, under command of Major-General A. FitzRoy Hart, and the 6th, under Major-General G. Barton), the 13th Hussars, originally designated as corps troops, the Royal Dragoons, drawn from the 2nd cavalry brigade, and the pontoon troop of the army corps.

[Footnote 139: The decision to despatch a fourth brigade to Natal was made about 22nd November, after the development of Joubert's raid south of the Tugela.]

[Sidenote: Various new distributions.]

The 3rd, or Highland brigade, under Major-General A. G. Wauchope, was at first assigned by the Commander-in-Chief to Lord Methuen, to replace the 2nd brigade, transferred to Natal; but, as it was found later that Wauchope's battalions would at the outset be needed to guard the railway line in rear of Methuen's column, a 9th brigade, under Major-General R.S.R. Fetherstonhaugh, was formed out of the infantry units already at Orange River station, viz.: the half-battalion 1st Loyal North Lancashire, 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, and 2nd Northamptonshire. Lt.-Colonel F. H. Hall's brigade division (18th, 62nd, and 75th batteries[140]) and the 9th Lancers were also allotted to the 1st division.

[Footnote 140: The 62nd and half the 75th had been sent up to Orange River in October; the other half of the 75th and the 18th batteries were delayed on the voyage out by the breaking down of their transport, the Zibenghla, and did not land at Cape Town until 1st November.]

[Sidenote: French's command.]

For Naauwpoort, General French, in addition to the original garrison of that place, was at first given the assistance of the 12th Lancers, a battery of R.H.A., and a half-battalion of the Black Watch, besides two companies of M.I. To these other units were to be gradually added, as soon as they became available.

[Sidenote: Gatacre's.]

Sir W. Gatacre was instructed to develop a force on the eastern railway line from the original Stormberg garrison,[141] the 1st Royal Scots (originally allotted as corps troops), the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers (a lines of communication battalion), the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles (detached from the 5th brigade[142]), and the brigade division (74th, 77th and 79th batteries), of the 3rd division, supplemented by such colonial corps as he could gather together locally.

[Footnote 141: See Chapters II. and XVIII.]

[Footnote 142: This battalion was replaced in Hart's brigade by the 1st Border regiment.]

The dates of the arrival of the various expeditionary units at Cape Town and their disposal are shown in Appendix No. 7.

[Sidenote: Less serious injury of the recasting of army because of ordinary British habit.]

The dislocation of the infantry divisions, which was caused by the necessity for these sweeping changes, would have been even more seriously detrimental had those divisions actually existed prior to the embarkation of the troops from England; but, as has been shown in an earlier chapter, one of the weak points of the British army in 1899 was the imperfect development in peace time of the higher organisation of the troops. Except, therefore, in Major-General Hildyard's brigade, which came direct from Aldershot,[143] and had been trained there by its brigadier under the immediate eye of Sir R. Buller, that confidence, which is established between troops and their superior leaders by intimate mutual knowledge, did not exist, and could not be affected by that reorganisation, which the strategical situation necessitated.

[Footnote 143: Major-Generals Lyttelton and Hart no longer had under their command the whole of the battalions which had composed their brigades at Aldershot.]

[Sidenote: Yet serious enough. Sir Redvers goes to Natal without a staff.]

Nevertheless, as regards staff arrangements, serious inconvenience was for the moment inevitable. Sir F. Forestier-Walker, although appointed officially to the post of General Officer Commanding the lines of communication, had, through some oversight in London, not been given the full staff, as prescribed by the regulations, for an officer performing those onerous duties, and had been forced to improvise assistants from such special service officers as he could lay hands on. There was from the outset, therefore, a shortage of staff. Officers were, moreover, urgently required for the development of local troops and for censorship duties. The original Headquarter staff had been calculated on the hypothesis that the whole of the expeditionary corps would operate in the western theatre of war, Sir George White being responsible for the Natal command. The rearrangement carried out by Sir R. Buller created in Natal a second field army. For this no Headquarter staff was available, without robbing the Cape of needed men. He therefore kept with him only his personal staff during his temporary absence in Natal, and issued orders there through the divisional staff of General Clery. He decided to leave the rest of the Headquarter staff at Cape Town to supervise the disembarkation of the reinforcements from England and their formation into a field army.

[Sidenote: Help from the fleet.]

The reports of the fighting during the opening phases of the war had shown that our difficulties were mainly due to three causes--the superior numbers of the enemy, their greater mobility, and the longer range of their guns. In the operations he was now about to undertake, Sir Redvers hoped partially to make good these deficiencies by borrowing ships' guns from the Navy and by locally raising mounted men. The Naval Commander-in-Chief had already lent one contingent, under Commander A. P. Ethelston, R.N., to garrison Stormberg. Another such contingent, under Captain the Hon. H. Lambton, R.N., was in Ladysmith, and, at the request of Sir R. Buller, Captain Percy Scott, R.N., in H.M.S. Terrible, had been despatched to Durban to arrange the land defences of that port. Rear-Admiral Harris, with the approval of the Admiralty, now consented to the Stormberg party being brought back to Cape Town, with a view to its marching under the command of Capt. R. C. Prothero, R.N., with Lord Methuen's column, to Kimberley and there remaining as a reinforcement of the garrison. The Naval Commander-in-Chief further agreed to organise yet a third detachment to assist in the relief of Ladysmith. The cheerfulness with which the Naval authorities rendered assistance to the army in this time of stress and strain was only in conformity with the traditions of both services; yet the readiness shown by the officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines in adapting themselves and their weapons to the circumstances of a land campaign won the profound admiration even of those who were best acquainted with the practical nature of the normal training of the personnel of the fleet.

[Sidenote: Raising colonial corps, for Natal.]

The calling out of colonial mounted corps, both in Cape Colony and Natal, is mentioned in Chapter I. and Chapter II. Mounted men were urgently needed by all the columns in process of preparation, but, adhering to his opinion that success in the relief of Ladysmith was the most crucial matter, Sir Redvers decided to despatch to Natal the first unit enlisted at Cape Town--the South African Light Horse. The first party of "Light Horse" embarked at Cape Town for Natal on the 22nd November. In Natal itself two mounted corps, under the command of Major (local Lieut.-Colonel) A. W. Thorneycroft, Royal Scots Fusiliers, and Major (local Lieut.-Colonel) E. C. Bethune, 16th Lancers, were already being formed.

[Sidenote: Brabant in eastern districts.]

Mr. Schreiner, the Prime Minister of Cape Colony, had, at the suggestion of General Buller, endeavoured to raise in the districts of Middleburg, Cradock, and Somerset East, a burgher force to maintain internal order and repel invasion, but the local civil authorities were unanimous in advising that an application of the Cape Burgher law would furnish some recruits for the enemy. Captain Brabant (now Major-General Sir E. Brabant), an ex-Imperial officer, was, with the concurrence of the Cape Government, instructed to raise a mounted corps from the loyalists in the eastern districts.

[Sidenote: Work now done.]

It will readily be conceived from the brief summary of the facts which have been above recorded that the tasks which the Commander-in-Chief, assisted by the Headquarter and lines of communication staffs, had to carry out during the first three weeks of November were of an overwhelming nature. These included the reorganisation of the various bodies of troops which, from the 9th November onwards, arrived daily in Table Bay from England; the disembarkation of the units; their equipment for the field and despatch to the front; the issue of operation orders to the troops in Natal and Cape Colony already in touch with the enemy; the establishment of supply depôts for the field forces, the defence of Maritzburg and Durban from the Boer raid, which threatened those very important towns; the protection of the lines of railway through Cape Colony, with the mere handful of troops at first available; and the checking of the invasion of the Free Staters across the Orange river. To these must be added the anxious watching of the signs in disaffected districts of smouldering rebellion, which a single success of the enemy might fan into a burst of flame; these and other cares formed an accumulation of pressing duties and heavy responsibilities, which fully justify the frank statement of Sir R. Buller to Lt.-Gen. Forestier-Walker on 20th November that "Ever since I have been here we have been like the man who, with a long day's work before him, overslept himself and so was late for everything all day."[144] The position of affairs in South Africa throughout these anxious weeks, in fact, forcibly proved the truth of Lord Wolseley's warning, addressed on 3rd September, 1899, to the Secretary of State that: "We have committed one of the greatest blunders in war, namely, we have given the enemy the initiative. He is in a position to take the offensive, and by striking the first blow to ensure the great advantage of winning the first round."

[Footnote 144: See the end of this chapter.]

[Sidenote: Improved prospects.]

Yet by the 22nd November the labours of the Headquarter staff of the army in South Africa, assisted by the fullest co-operation of the two Governors, Sir Alfred Milner and Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson, and aided by the strenuous exertions of the lines of communication staff in Cape Colony and Natal, had sensibly improved the general situation in both the western and eastern theatres of war. In Cape Colony, no part of Bechuanaland and Griqualand West, it is true, except the areas defended by the garrisons of Mafeking, Kuruman and Kimberley, remained under British authority. But cheery reports from Colonel Baden-Powell gave promise of a prolonged stand at the little northern town, while Lord Methuen's column had on the previous day (the 21st November) crossed the Orange river and made good the first eleven miles of its march on Kimberley. Southward, Major-General Wauchope's brigade was holding the section of the railway line from Orange River station, viâ De Aar, to Naauwpoort, the latter station having been re-occupied, and the formation of a column, to harass and menace the enemy in the direction of Colesberg, had commenced under the direction of Lieut.-General French. On the eastern side of the Colony only had the Boers made any substantial advance; a strong Free State commando had seized Burghersdorp and detached parties to Aliwal North and Lady Grey. Sir W. Gatacre, on the other hand, had assumed command of colonial corps and one and a half battalions of regular troops at Queenstown, and was preparing to move northward, to check the commandeering of British subjects, which Commandant Olivier had instituted in the territory occupied by his burghers. The Basuto chiefs remained true to their allegiance to the "Great White Queen," and by tacit consent their territory was treated by both sides as neutral. In Griqualand East and the native territories east of Cape Colony, the Pondo, Tembu and Fingo tribes continued loyal, and arrangements for the defence of these great masses of native population against Boer raids were being made by Major Sir H. Elliott, who as Commandant-General, under the sanction of the Governor, was defending the passes leading from Barkly East with the Cape Mounted Rifles and some Volunteers.

[Sidenote: Natal. Sir G. White detains bulk of Boers. Time thus gained.]

In Natal Sir George White was holding his own at Ladysmith, and, as he had anticipated, detaining north of the Tugela the main strength of the enemy's army. After some hesitation on the part of the Boer leaders, a raid in force had been made to the south, and had for the moment caused much alarm. But the delay in the movement had greatly diminished its chances of reaching Maritzburg, although the local condition was still one of some anxiety. Reinforcements as they arrived at Durban had been pushed rapidly up by rail north of Maritzburg, and the British troops were now echeloned along the railway up to Estcourt. The vanguard of the enemy's raiding column had reached Mooi River, and his scouts had even penetrated as far as Nottingham Road, but a day's ride from Maritzburg. The Boers were, therefore, well in rear of the British advanced posts, and Lieut.-General Clery felt some doubt whether a temporary retirement from Estcourt might not prove necessary. The chief difficulty was the lack of mounted troops to bring the enemy to action and put a stop to his pillaging the outlying farms of the Natal colonists.

[Sidenote: Sir Redvers, 22nd Nov./99, starts for Natal.]

Such were throughout South Africa the facts known to him when Sir Redvers Buller, having issued instructions for the guidance of the senior officer in Cape Colony, Sir F. Forestier-Walker, and for the three commanders in the field, Lieut.-Generals Lord Methuen, French, and Sir W. Gatacre, embarked at 7 p.m., the 22nd November, in the S.S. Mohawk for Natal. His military secretary, Col. the Hon. F. Stopford, and aides-de-camp accompanied him. The rest of the Headquarter staff remained at Cape Town.

[Sidenote: His views at that time.]

The appreciation of the situation written by the General commanding-in-chief forty-eight hours earlier will place the reader in possession of his views on the eve of his embarkation for Durban. The memorandum ran as follows:--

Cape Town,     November 20th, 1899. GENERAL WALKER,

Before starting for Natal I think I should leave you my appreciation of the situation.

1. Ever since I have been here we have been like the man, who, with a long day's work before him, overslept himself and so was late for everything all day.

2. In disposing the troops which arrived from England I have considered that it was of the first importance to keep Cape Colony from rebellion, even if by so doing I temporarily lost Maritzburg.

3. I consequently have formed a strong column under Lord Methuen which is in a position to take the field and I am forming a force of mounted men and horse artillery under General French, which will, I hope, be able to meet any commandos which may invade the Colony. I have also done all I can to safeguard the western and eastern lines of railway.

4. The state of Kimberley necessitated the first employment of Lord Methuen's force in that direction. He starts to-day. General French is at Naauwpoort, organising a column to attack Colesberg at the earliest possible date.

5. My hope is that the Boers at Colesberg will have been defeated before Lord Methuen returns from Kimberley.

On his return he should send a force to attack the Boers at Burghersdorp. There should then be 1,000,000 rations at Orange River and 1,000,000 at De Aar, and I have directed that supply should be accumulated at Port Elizabeth and East London. He can then open new lines of supply as he moves eastward.

6. As soon as they can be occupied General Gatacre's force should be advanced to Molteno or Stormberg, and any force at Burghersdorp should be attacked.

If the Burghersdorp force has meanwhile advanced south it would be attacked by Lord Methuen, aided by part of General French's force, the two being based on Naauwpoort or Middleburg.

7. The exact nature of this operation must depend on the actual circumstances at the time. The main point is, there will be rations at De Aar and near it to enable a force under Lord Methuen to move along the line eastward, repairing it as he goes, and strong enough to clear the northern districts.

8. As soon as ever circumstances admit the bridges at Norval's Pont and Bethulie will, of course, be seized; in short, the plan is, clear the northern districts by working from west to east, seize the bridges, and, as occasion admits, bring the shorter lines of supply into use. Then concentrate for an advance on Bloemfontein.

9. I think there are enough troops in the Colony to work this programme, except that:

(1) There should be a battalion at Port Elizabeth.

(2) General Gatacre wants another battalion and a battery of   field artillery.

(3) General French should have the second battery Royal Horse   artillery, and eventually three cavalry regiments, and, if   possible, one more battalion.

10. With regard to Natal, I propose to send the 6th Dragoon Guards and 10th Hussars, the 63rd, 64th, and 73rd batteries Royal Field artillery, the remainder of General Hart's Brigade, i.e., three battalions, as soon as they come in. We must do with them the best we can.

11. I think the Colonial contingents had better go to Natal.

12. In my opinion, so long as General White holds Ladysmith the force able to attack you from the Orange Free State is not likely to be serious, but if Natal goes you will have to concentrate for defence, and you should make up your mind what positions to hold. Probably the best military positions about Queenstown, Middleburg, and Beaufort West will be found most convenient.

REDVERS BULLER,     General.