South African units

Steinaecker's Horse

This corps was raised in June 1900 by Major F Von Steinaecker to operate in Zululand and on the Swaziland border of the Transvaal. Their leader had served as a lieutenant in the Prussian Army, but had subsequently been, for nearly twenty years, in South and South-West Africa. Before raising his 'Horse' he had done one of the most daring exploits performed in the course of the war. 

In November 1899 Steinaecker had enlisted as a private in the Colonial Scouts, a Natal-raised corps. He was soon promoted Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant, but in December he left the Scouts to command a small party serving under the Intelligence Department. The Colonial Scouts were disbanded in March 1900, and in that month Steinaecker, now a lieutenant, selected six men, of whom Scouts Duncan, Lawson, Gray, and Carmichael served with him for many months, Lawson finishing as a captain, and being present at the disbandment of the corps in February 1903. With this small party Steinaecker left Eshowe on 3rd April 1900, and rode or walked through Zululand and Swaziland, a distance of 500 miles. Their horses having died of horse-sickness, the party were on foot when the Transvaal border was reached. On their journey they had picked up a British settler, Holgate, afterwards a captain in this corps. He knew the country thoroughly, and as a guide in the last stages was invaluable. The party intended to attempt the blowing up of the great bridge at Komati Poort, but found it too strongly guarded. Steinaecker and three men now struck through the bush, swam the Komati river "when the crocodiles were off their feed", travelled all the night of 16th June, and on the 17th, after dark, placed nearly 100Ib of dynamite between the masonry and girders of a bridge at Malelane, forty miles up the line, and destroyed it. The fact that the Boers afterwards restored the bridge does not detract from the credit due to Steinaecker and his gallant men for their splendid piece of daring, which, strangely enough, was never recognised in despatches.

Having returned to Natal, Lieutenant Steinaecker now recruited for his 'Horse'; and after having them equipped, he and his corps embarked on a warship and were landed through the surf at Kosi Bay, in the north corner of Zululand, not, however, without the loss of a boatload of arms and saddlery, the boat upsetting on the dangerous bar. Steinaecker's force now made their way to the Transvaal border, south of the Delagoa Railway. On 20th July 1900 he and a party of his men were successful in capturing Commandant Van Dam and another leader.

When the armies of Lord Roberts and General Buller reached the eastern confines of the Transvaal, Steinaecker's Horse, now recruited up to 450 men, moved farther out into the very wild and unhealthy country which lies west of the Portuguese border. From Komati as a centre they gradually extended their raids to the north and south for great distances, thereby denying to the enemy the use of the eastern lowlands for rest and recuperation. They also guarded closely the long eastern border against Boer despatch riders and ammunition runners. In time the corps completely occupied and pacified the whole low veldt to the Olifant's river, holding over a dozen permanent posts scattered over a large province.

The corps had now become one of the most complete and self-contained units in the country. They had their own intelligence, transport, workshops, etc and were able for over a year to work the Selati railway with their own men.

In their eminently unhealthy district, Steinaecker's men had much most arduous and very dangerous guerilla campaigning; but being a corps specially recruited for such tasks, and having an admirable leader, they escaped serious casualties for a long time.

In Lord Roberts' telegram of 14th November 1900 he said: "On the 8th inst, a party of Steinaecker's Horse, raised for service in the Komati Poort district, captured 16 Boers trying to cross from Portuguese territory at Nomahash, a place by which the Boers have been trying to get ammunition brought into the Transvaal". A day or two later 5 more were taken. At this time there were several encounters with despatch riders, which almost uniformly ended in favour of the patrols of the corps.

In July 1901 the corps met their first piece of bad luck. On the 22nd a party of about 100, many of whom were without horses, returned from a successful foray, bringing in some prisoners, stock, and a party of surrendered Burghers to Bremersdorp in Swaziland, a post which had been held by the corps for six months. They were followed by a force of Boers under Generals Oppermann, Smuts, and Grobelaar which many times outnumbered them. The detachment evacuated the town, hoping to get clear away; but on the 23rd they were caught up by the enemy, and after a running fight, in which they lost 4 killed and a greater number wounded and captured, were forced to abandon their baggage. Captain Greenhill-Gardyne was said to have conducted the retirement most ably. A party of the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) made a very fine march from Komati Poort to assist, but did not arrive in time.

Shortly after this Major Steinaecker surprised a laager and took 18 prisoners, and from this time onwards the corps had on many occasions severe fighting in localities where help was very far distant. On 7th August 1901 a post of 25 men on the Sabie river was attacked by a strong force of Boers. The post had been newly established, and the fortifications were not complete. The enemy, who numbered about 300, attacked vigorously and lost heavily. Commandant or General Moll was wounded in the attack, and was afterwards captured by a patrol of the corps. The defenders had Captain H Farmer Francis killed, several wounded, and the remainder captured. Captain Francis had served with the Imperial Light Horse throughout the siege of Ladysmith, and thereafter in the relief of Mafeking. His brother, also in the ILH, was killed outside Mafeking.

At the end of August Captain Gardyne, in command of a small party, captured 11 Boers, some waggons, and much stock, 150 miles north of Komati Poort.

In February 1902 Captain Holgate, the scout of the bridge destruction party, with 16 men, surprised and captured 18 of the enemy on the Swaziland border.

Early in 1902 an extra squadron of Steinaecker's Horse was raised for service in the Pietersburg low veldt, in which district they did a lot of fighting under Colonel Colenbrander (see Kitchener's Fighting Scouts). On 16th April this squadron were heavily engaged, and lost 5 men killed and Lieutenant Robertson and 11 men wounded.

Lieutenant and Paymaster J Hartley, who had been attached to Lord Methuen's column in the Western Transvaal, was killed in the disaster to that General's column on 7th March 1902 (see Cape Police).

After the conclusion of the war Steinaecker's Horse, in somewhat reduced strength, remained in occupation of the eastern border until February 1903, when the South African Constabulary took over a number of the officers and men, and the others were disbanded.

In 'Temple Bar' for July and August 1901 there are two admirably written articles, headed "A Byeway of the Boer War", by Captain Greenhill-Gardyne who was long attached to Steinaecker's, which give an excellent picture of the hard but most exciting—and to any lover of adventures most interesting — life led by Steinaecker's Horse. Their district was one in which few white men could live, as is proved by the fact that every regular regiment which had the misfortune to be stationed near Komati Poort lost more than 50 per cent of its strength through fever. The regulars were generally accommodated in tents or huts, but Steinaecker's men had often to lie out for weeks at a time in districts so wild that lions were a most real danger,—as in the Sabie river valley,—and more than one poor fellow was seized and carried off almost from the camp fire, while one was taken by crocodiles. Many of the corps did not see the railway for months on end, while some of the wounded had actually to be carried over 150 miles before reaching any sort of hospital.

The Mentions gained by Steinaecker's Horse were as follows:—

LORD KITCHENER'S DESPATCHES: 8th August 1901.—Lieutenant J A Baillie, on July 4th, having heard that two despatch riders had crossed the Portuguese Border into Swaziland, followed them with one man by moonlight, and after a hand-to-hand fight killed them both and took despatches. Lance Corporal W S Hains (Harris in Gazette), who accompanied Lieutenant Baillie, was also mentioned, and was promoted Sergeant by the Commander-in-Chief.

8th March 1902.—Troopers D E Wilson and F Hennessy, for most plucky rescue of the body of a comrade which had been carried off by a crocodile whilst bathing in Usutu River, 30th November.

8th April 1902.—Major F V Steinaecker.

1st June 1902.—Lieutenant W P Robertson for good service east of Pietersburg, 25th March to 21st April 1902. Trooper W W Griffin, killed whilst trying to take a wounded comrade to cover.

23rd June 1902.—Captain H F Francis (killed in action); Lieutenants J M Dallamore, D Buchanan. Captain A Greenhill-Gardyne, Gordon Highlanders, Adjutant attached (got Brevet-Major).

Major von Steinaecker commenced the war as a private. His steps are worth noting—Squadron Quartermaster-Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, DSO, Honourable Lieutenant Colonel in army.

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