[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's instructions. Nov. 10/99.]
On the 10th of November Lord Methuen, with his staff, left Cape Town for Orange River station, where he arrived two days later. The orders which he had received from Sir Redvers Buller ran as follows:--
November 10th, 1899.
1. You will take command of the troops at De Aar and Orange River stations, with the object of marching on Kimberley as rapidly as possible.
[Footnote 145: See map No. 9.]
2. In addition to the troops now at De Aar, the infantry of which are being formed into the 9th brigade under Colonel Fetherstonhaugh, you will have under your command:--
i. The 1st Infantry Brigade.--Major-Gen. Colvile. ii. The Highland Brigade.--Major-Gen. Wauchope. iii. The 9th Lancers. iv. The Brigade Division, Royal Field Artillery, under Colonel Hall. v. The Divisional Troops except Cavalry of the Division. vi. Certain Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps and Medical Details which have been collected at the two stations.
I wish you to march from the Orange river to the Modder river, communicate with Kimberley, and to hold the line De Aar, Modder river, so that we shall be able to bring up stores and heavy guns and pass them into Kimberley.
3. The half-battalion Loyal North Lancashire regiment, which will form part of the 9th brigade, is to be left in Kimberley.
4. You will afford help to Kimberley to remove such of the natives as they wish to get rid of, and, generally, you will give such advice and assistance in perfecting the defences as you may be able to afford.
5. You will make the people of Kimberley understand that you have not come to remain charged with its defence, but to afford it better means of maintaining its defence, which will at the same time be assisted by an advance on Bloemfontein.
REDVERS BULLER, General.
Four days later, the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa addressed the following letter to General Methuen:--
[Sidenote: Personal advice from Sir Redvers, Nov. 14th.]
Cape Town, November 14th, 1899. LORD METHUEN,--
I do not want to tie your hands in any way, but I send this letter for such use as you choose to make of it.
1. I think that you will find that the Guards and the 9th Brigade and two batteries Royal Field Artillery will be as large a portion of your force as you can take with advantage.
2. As to mounted men, you will of course take what you require. I think it will be advisable to leave one-half of Rimington's Guides, the party at Hanover Road, and sufficient others to scout 20 to 25 miles on all sides of the line held by General Wauchope.
3. On your departure General Wauchope will have, including the two half-battalions of Berkshire and Munster, four battalions; and if you leave him one battery, six guns Royal Field Artillery, with them he should be able to hold the line to Belmont with perfect safety. Orange River bridge must of course be held at all costs. I hope you will not remain a day longer at Kimberley than you can help.
5. I have already told you that I am sending with you a Naval brigade with four 12-pr. 12-cwt. guns; these guns range 6,000 yards. You will not start without them, will leave them at Kimberley, and such reinforcements not exceeding one-and-a-half battalions as the commandant may require.
6. I have said in my instructions that you will proceed to Modder river. If you can from there get a clear road to Kimberley, so much the better, but you will act according to circumstances. The main object is to save time.
[Footnote 146: The remainder of the letter contains suggestions on tactics and so forth, which are not directly relevant to the subject of this chapter, and are therefore omitted.]
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Information gathered before the march, up to Nov. 21st.]
Before Lord Methuen's arrival at Orange River station, the mounted troops had been engaged in reconnoitring and sketching the country in the neighbourhood of the railway bridge. On the 6th of November a party of the 9th Lancers and mounted infantry, accompanied by guns, had scouted up the railway to within five miles of Belmont. On the 9th another reconnaissance was made up the line, past Belmont, to Honey Nest Kloof, 37 miles from Orange River station. No Boers were seen about Belmont, though they had left traces of their presence in broken culverts and other damage to the railway. After falling back for the night to Witteputs, the patrol marched north-eastward on the morning of the 10th, and encountered several hundred Boers, with field guns, a few miles to the east of Belmont. A skirmish ensued in which Lt.-Col. C. E. Keith-Falconer was killed, Lt. C. C. Wood mortally wounded, and Lts. F. Bevan and H. C. Hall and four men wounded. To the westward of the railway line a detachment of thirty of Rimington's Guides successfully reconnoitred as far as Prieska. Though the information brought back by these reconnaissances was mainly negative, on the 18th November Major R. N. R. Reade, Lord Methuen's Intelligence officer, was able from various sources of information to report that a force, estimated at from 700 to 1,200 men, with four guns, was at or near Belmont; and that a small commando under Jourdaan had been successfully recruiting from the disloyal farmers in the districts of Barkly West, Campbell, Douglas, and Griquatown, which lay to the west and north-west of the line of advance to Kimberley.
[Sidenote: Constitution of 1st Division.]
Thanks to the strenuous efforts of the staff and the departmental corps, the reconstituted first division was by the 20th of November ready to take the field. Equipped with mule transport, and marching with a minimum of baggage, Lord Methuen's column consisted of about 7,726 infantry, 850 cavalry and mounted infantry, two batteries of Royal Field artillery, four companies of Royal engineers and a Naval brigade.
[Footnote 147: For the causes which led to the partial dispersion of the 1st division on its arrival in South Africa, see Chapter XI.]
It was thus composed:--The Project Gutenberg e-Book of History of the War in South Africa, Vol. 1 of 4; Author: Sir Frederick Maurice.
It was thus composed:—
Naval brigade—Captain R. C. Prothero, R.N.:—
One company mounted infantry Northumberland Fusiliers.
One company mounted infantry Loyal North Lancashire.
Half company mounted infantry King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
New South Wales Lancers (30 of all ranks).
Royal Field Artillery:—
Brigade division R.F.A.—Lt.-Colonel F. H. Hall.
7th Field company.
8th Railway company.
11th Field company.
30th Fortress company.
1st (Guards) brigade—Major-General Sir H. E. Colvile:—
3rd battalion Grenadier Guards.
2nd battalion Coldstream Guards.
1st battalion Scots Guards.
1st battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.
2nd battalion Northamptonshire.
2nd battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
[Footnote 151: Two companies of the Royal Munster Fusiliers also arrived at Belmont from Orange River on the 22nd November, and were attached to the 9th brigade.]
[Footnote 152: The remainder of this battalion formed part of the garrison of Kimberley.]
The medical services for the 9th infantry brigade were furnished by the divisional Field Hospital of the 1st division, and the 3rd brigade Field Hospital formed the new divisional Field Hospital. Subsequently, when the 3rd (Highland) brigade joined Lord Methuen's force at Modder river, its Field Hospital was provided by the 2nd division Field Hospital and the Bearer company by "A." company Cape Medical Staff Corps, under Lieut.-Col. Hartley, V.C.
[Sidenote: Supporting forces. Wauchope. French.]
Behind the 1st division, the Highland brigade, under Maj.-Gen. A. G. Wauchope, guarded the railway up to the Orange river, and overawed the disaffected element among the inhabitants along the line of communication. In the neighbourhood of Colesberg, Lieut.-General French, with a mixed force of all arms, was engaged in stemming the tide of invasion from the Free State, and by incessantly occupying the attention of the commandos opposed to him, prevented their massing against Lord Methuen's right flank as he advanced towards Kimberley.
[Sidenote: March fully known by Boers. They prepare to meet it.]
The Boers were not taken by surprise by Lord Methuen's preparations for an advance. Their spies and sympathisers kept them fully informed of all the steps taken. In anticipation of a dash upon Kimberley they had carefully prepared defensive positions along the railway at Belmont and at Rooilaagte, or, as we term it, Graspan. To some 2,500 burghers, under Commandant Jacobus Prinsloo, was entrusted the duty of thrusting the British back towards the Orange; and, if the task should prove beyond their strength, De la Rey, who, with his commando was then investing the southern defences of Kimberley, could easily reinforce them. A large supply of stores had been collected at Jacobsdal, while subsidiary depôts had been formed at Graspan and in the neighbourhood of Koffyfontein.
[Sidenote: 4 a.m., Nov. 21st., march begins.]
At 4 a.m., on the 21st of November, the 1st division marched from their bivouac on the northern bank of the Orange river. The General followed the course of the railway in order to facilitate the carriage of supplies, not only for his own column, but also for the inhabitants of the town into which he was to throw stores and reinforcements. The troops halted about 8 a.m. at Fincham's farm, near Witteputs, twelve miles north of the Orange River bridge. The 9th Lancers and mounted infantry were at once thrown forward with orders to reconnoitre northwards on a front of about twelve miles. They found the enemy in some strength among the hills which lie to the east of Belmont station, and drew fire, fortunately with very slight loss. Lieut.-Colonel Willoughby Verner, D.A.A.G., for topography to the army corps, sketched the Boer position from the low hills east of Thomas' farm, about a mile and a half south-east of Belmont station. These sketches were subsequently reproduced and distributed among the officers of the column before the action of the 23rd. Later in the day Lord Methuen himself studied the ground from the hills near Thomas' farm, and then returned to Witteputs, followed by the mounted troops, many of whom had covered forty miles during the day.
[Footnote 153: See map No. 10.]
[Sidenote: Approach to Belmont.]
In the grey of the morning of the 22nd of November, the mounted infantry swooped from Witteputs upon Thomas' farm, occupied it, and threw out a chain of posts facing the station of Belmont and the hills to the east. Lord Methuen, with his staff, the brigadiers commanding the infantry brigades, Lt.-Col. Hall, C.R.A., and Lt.-Col. Sharpe, C.R.E., arrived shortly afterwards, and again reconnoitred the Boer position from the high ground above Thomas' farm. When the General had completed his reconnaissance, he dictated the orders for the attack which he proposed to deliver on the morrow. Then, leaving the mounted infantry to hold the ground they occupied, and to protect the companies of Royal engineers who were on their way from Witteputs to repair the railway, Lord Methuen returned with his staff to the column, to prepare for a further advance that afternoon. During the morning there was intermittent firing between the mounted infantry outposts and parties of the enemy, who occasionally showed themselves for a short time, and then disappeared without affording any clue as to the strength of the force concealed among the kopjes. In the afternoon the Boers brought two guns into action, chiefly directed against the 7th Field company R.E., then employed in improving the supply of water at the site selected for that night's bivouac near Thomas' farm. To silence this artillery fire the 18th and 75th batteries were hurriedly despatched from Witteputs, and in order to save the troops at Belmont as quickly as possible from this annoyance, the Officer Commanding trotted nearly the whole distance. The horses, still weak from the effects of the long sea voyage, suffered severely from the strain. Five indeed actually died of exhaustion, and all were so weary that during the engagement of the 23rd, the artillery was unable to move with any degree of rapidity.
[Sidenote: Division gathers before Belmont, Nov. 22nd.]
At 4.30 p.m. the remainder of the troops marched from Witteputs and reached their bivouac at Thomas' farm just before nightfall.