Louis Botha, who has cut so deep a mark in the pages of history, is only a young man yet, being about seven-and-thirty years of age. He is a "fine figure of a man," standing in the neighbourhood of six feet in his boots. His face is handsome, intellectual, and determined; his expression kindly and compassionate. The razor never touches his face, but his brown beard is always neatly trimmed, for the young Commandant-General is particular in regard to his personal appearance in a manly way, though in no respect foppish. He is now, and always has been, an excellent athlete, a good rifle shot, and a first-class horseman; not given at any time to indoor pastimes over much, though fond of a quiet game of whist. He was born in Natal, of Dutch parents, and married to Miss Emmett, a relative of Robert Emmett, the Irish Revolutionist. Young Botha was educated at Greytown, and though a good, sound commercial scholar, he gave no evidence in his schoolboy days of what was in him. No one who knew him then would have dreamed that before he was forty years of age he would be the foremost soldier of his country. His folk were moderately well off, but the adventurous spirit of the future general sent him inland from Natal when a large number of Natal and Free State Boers enlisted under the flag of General Lucas Meyer, who was bent upon making war upon a powerful negro tribe in the neighbourhood of Vryheid. During the fighting young Botha was his general's right-hand man, displaying even at that early age a cool, level head and a stout heart. When the Boers were firmly settled upon the land Vryheid was declared a Republic, and Lucas Meyer was elected first President. But the new Republic lasted only about three years, and was then, by mutual consent, merged into Transvaal territory, and both Lucas Meyer and Louis Botha were elected members of the Volksraad. Louis Botha retained his seat right up to the time hostilities broke out between Great Britain and the Republics under Mr. Kruger and Mr. Steyn.
During the many stormy scenes which preceded the actual declaration of war Louis Botha proved that he possessed the coolest and most level head in the Volksraad. He opposed the war, and, with prophetic eye, foresaw the awful devastation of his country which would follow in the footsteps of the British army. But when the time came, and his country was irretrievably pledged to war, he was not the man to hang back. He was one of those who had much to lose and little indeed to gain by taking up arms against us, for, by honest industry, he had become a wealthy farmer and stockbreeder. At the first call to arms he threw aside his senatorial duties, and took up his rifle, rejoining his old commando at Vryheid as commandant under General Lucas Meyer. It is said that at the battle of Dundee General Meyer, feeling convinced that the God of Battles had decided against him and his forces, decided to surrender to the British, but Louis Botha fiercely combated his general's decision, and point-blank refused to throw down his arms or counsel his men to do so. What followed all the world knows, and Botha went up very high in the estimation of the better class of fighting burghers. At the Tugela, before the first big battle took place, General Meyer was taken ill, and had to retire to Pretoria, and Louis Botha was then elected assistant-general, and the planning of the battle was left entirely to him.
It was a terribly responsible position to place so young a man in, for he was face to face with the then Commander-in-Chief of the British army, Sir Redvers Buller, a general of dauntless determination and undoubted ability. Experience, men, and all the munitions of war were in favour of the British general; but the awful nature of the country was upon the side of the newly fledged Boer leader, and he made terrible use of it. The day of Colenso, when Sir Redvers Buller received his first decisive check, will not soon be forgotten in the annals of our Army. A man of weaker fibre than the British leader would have been daunted by the disasters of that day, for there he lost ten guns and a large number of men. But Buller carried in his blood all the old grit of our race, and the heavier the check the more his soul was set upon ultimate victory. I have been over that battle ground, and have looked at the positions taken up by Louis Botha. They were chosen with consummate skill, born of a thorough knowledge of the nature of the country and inherent generalship.
I have looked at the country Sir Redvers Buller had to pass through to get at his wise and skilful adversary. The man who dared make the attempt that Buller made must have had nerves of steel, and a soul that would not blench if ordered to storm the very gates of Hades. The worst fighting ground that I saw in all the Free State was but a mockery of war compared to the ground around Colenso, and I have seen some terrible places in the Free State. But a man has to see the ground Buller fought in to realise the magnitude of the task the Empire set him at the beginning of the war. Great as Lord Roberts is, I doubt if he would have done more than Buller did under the same circumstances.
That battle of Colenso made young Louis Botha famous, and from that hour the eyes of the burghers were turned towards him as the one man fit to lead them. At Spion Kop, when the Boer leader, Schalk Burger, vacated the splendid position he had been ordered to take up, Louis Botha's genius grasped the mighty import of the situation, and he at once realised that Schalk Burger had blundered terribly, and it was he who retook those positions with such disastrous consequences to our forces. His fame spread far and near, and his name became a thing to conjure with. When the Commandant-General of the Boer Army, General Joubert, lay dying, he was asked who was the best man to fill his place. And he, the grey veteran, did not hesitate for a second, but with his dying breath gasped out the name of Louis Botha. The Boer Government promptly appointed him to the position, and from that day to this he has been the paramount military power in the Boer lines. He is not the only one of his line fighting under the Transvaal flag. There are four other brothers in the field, one of whom, Christian Botha, is now a general, and a good fighter. As a soldier Louis Botha has proved himself a foeman worthy the steel of any of our generals; as a man his worst enemy can say nothing derogatory concerning him, for in all his actions he has borne himself like a gentleman. He is generous and courteous in the hour of victory, stout-hearted and self-reliant in the time of disaster--just the type of soldier that a great nation like ours knows how to esteem, even though he is an enemy in arms against us.