The Siege of Ladysmith.
[Sidenote: Location of Ladysmith]
The siege of Ladysmith began November 2, 1899, the third day after the British disaster at Nicolson's Nek, that is, the affair in which six companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers marched out with four companies of the Gloucestershire regiment to seize the Nek, seven miles northwest of Ladysmith, and they were caught, the mules stampeded with artillery and ammunition, and the Fusiliers and supports were penned, and there were next day empty camps and the British Empire was shaken. The town of Ladysmith is 169 miles from Durban, 3,285 feet above the level of the sea, and is the chief town of the Klip River division of the Klip River country in Natal; it is on a tongue of land formed by the Klip River. There is a sheltering semi-circle of hills. The position of General White, the British commander, is out of town on the hill tops that overlook Ladysmith. The town hall in this place is of the Doric style, and cost $30,000. It is of blue whinstone and white freestone. The town is an important railway center, and has shops for railway repairs. The distance from Colenso where Buller was checked is only sixteen miles. Dundee is distant forty-seven and a half miles; Glencoe forty-two miles; Estcort fifty-three miles. When General Symons won the fight at Dundee and was mortally wounded, he ordered that he and other wounded be placed in hospitals and his column marched to Ladysmith. General Symons had won the field, carried a very strong position brilliantly but with heavy loss, and retreated before the rushing reinforcements of the Boers. General Yule set out with the able-bodied troops--four battalions of infantry, three batteries, and a small body of the 13th Hussars. By daybreak they were nine miles away in the hills. At 2 P.M. they had reached Beith, subsequently passing unmolested through the rocky defiles of Waschbank, emerging safely on the third day into the open country. General White, finding a Boer attempt would be made to cut off Yule, sallied forth and drove the Boers from their position on a hill 8,000 feet high. [Sidenote: Timely Arrival of Naval Brigade] While General White was out fighting, the Naval Brigade, that has done so much to assist the British defence of Ladysmith, arrived. General White reported 3 P.M., October 30th:
"I sent No. 10 Mountain Battery with Royal Irish Fusiliers and Gloucester Regiment to take up a position on the hills to clear my left flank. The force moved at 11 P.M. last night, and during some night firing the battery mules stampeded with some of the guns, which, however, I hope to recover. The two battalions have not yet returned, but are expected this evening."
[Sidenote: First Serious Reverse]
This was the first notice of the disaster. At 11.35 P.M., October 30th, General White sent his announcement of the first "serious reverse," in these terms:
"I have to report a disaster to a column sent by me to take a position on hill to guard the left flank of the troops in these operations to-day.
"The Royal Irish Fusiliers, No. 10 Mountain Battery, and the Gloucester Regiment were surrounded in the hills, and, after losing heavily, had to capitulate.
"I formed the plan in carrying out which the disaster occurred, and am alone responsible for the plan.
"No blame whatever attaches to the troops, as the position was untenable."
[Sidenote: The Excitement in London]
The excitement and depression in London about this news was representative of that throughout the empire, and it was astonishing in its degree. The Boers hastened to close around Ladysmith and cut off railroad and telegraphic communication, and very soon had connected railway tracks giving themselves free run into Natal and communication with Pretoria. In the gloom of these inauspicious incidents the siege of Ladysmith began, forcing the policy of relief of places in the most difficult country to prevail, and making costly combats certain, and scattered operations, according to ordinary judgment, necessary. It is a question that will long be discussed whether it would have been better to destroy the stores at Ladysmith and withdraw the troops to Colenso, or even further, for concentration and movement with one irresistible column, but this is all speculation. The siege of Ladysmith is a stirring chapter of history forever.
[Sidenote: Distribution of Forces]
Sir George White's official report was forwarded by Sir Redvers Buller from Cape Town, under date of November 9th. Sir George took command of Natal forces October 7th, and he says:
"The information available regarding the positions occupied by the armies of the two Dutch Republics showed the great bulk of the forces of the Orange Free State were massed near the passes of the Drakensberg mountains, west of Ladysmith. The troops of the South African Republic were concentrated at various points west, north, and east of the northern angle of Natal."
[Illustration: THE TREACHERY OF A WOUNDED DERVISH. An incident in the Soudan War 1898.]
[Illustration: THE LAST STAND OF THE KHALIFA'S STANDARD BEARER. A thrilling incident in the late Soudan war. "That one man, alone, was standing alive, holding his flag upright a storm of lead sweeping past him--his comrades dead around him."]
October 10th, the Boer war ultimatum was received. Sir George desired to withdraw the troops from Glencoe, but the Governor of Natal said, "Such a step would involve great political results and possibilities of so serious a nature that I determined to accept the military risk of holding Dundee as the lesser of two evils. I proceeded in person to Ladysmith on October 11th, sending on Lieutenant-General Sir William Penn Symons to take command at Glencoe.
"The Boers crossed the frontier both on the north and west on October 12th, and next day the Transvaal flag was hoisted at Charlestown. My great inferiority in numbers necessarily confined me strategically to the defensive, but tactically my intention was and is to strike vigorously whenever opportunity offers."
Sir George states that it was Sir W. P. Symons' intention to make a direct attack on the enemy's position under cover of a small wood and of some buildings, and continues:
[Sidenote: Symons' Death and Victory]
"At 8.50 A.M. the Infantry Brigade were ordered to advance. The ground was open and intersected by nullahs, which, running generally perpendicular to the enemy's position, gave very little cover. At 9 A.M. Sir W. P. Symons ordered up his reserves, and advanced with them through the wood at 9.15 A.M. At 9.30 A.M. the Lieutenant-General was, I regret to report, mortally wounded in the stomach, and the command devolved upon Brigadier-General Yule.
"About 11.30 A.M. the enemy's guns were silenced and the artillery moved into a range of 1,400 yards and opened a very rapid fire on the ridge over the heads of our infantry. This temporarily brought under the enemy's rifle fire, and enabled our infantry to push on. The ground in places was so steep and difficult that the men had to climb it on hands and knees; but by 1 A.M. the crest was reached, and the enemy, not waiting to come to close quarters, retired."
The loss of a detachment followed, and Sir George says:
"The Boer force engaged in this action is computed at 4,000 men, of whom about 500 were killed or wounded. Three of their guns were left dismounted on Talana Hill, but there was no opportunity of bringing them away."
[Sidenote: Elandslaagte and Engagements]
In his account of the Elandslaagte engagement, Sir George details the fight and closes:
"Our men worked forward in short rushes of about fifty yards. Many of the Boers remained lying down, shooting from behind stones until our men were within twenty or thirty yards of them, then sometimes ran for it and sometimes stood up and surrendered. These latter individuals were never harmed, although just previous to surrendering they had probably shot down several of our officers and men.
"At length the guns were reached and captured, and the end of the ridge was gained, from which the whole of the enemy's camp, full of tents, horses and men, was fully exposed to view at fixed sight range. A white flag was shown from the centre of the camp, and Colonel Hamilton ordered the 'cease fire' to be sounded. The men obeyed, and some of them moved a short distance down the hill towards the camp. For a few moments there was a complete lull in the action, and then a shot was heard, which was followed by a deadly fire from the small conical copje to the east of the camp, and by a determined charge up hill by some thirty or forty Boers, who effected a lodgment near the crest line within fifteen or twenty paces of our men, who fell back for a moment before the fierce suddenness of this attack. Only for a moment, however, for our fire was at once reopened, and, reinforced by a timely detachment of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment, they charged back, cheering, to the crest line, when the remnant of the Boer force fled in confusion towards the north.
"The 1st Devonshire Regiment charged with fixed bayonets, and the cavalry squadrons went through and through the retreating enemy. Sir George White estimates the Boer losses at over 100 killed, 108 wounded and 188 prisoners."
[Sidenote: Closing in of Ladysmith]
The close of the General's report is full of significance:
"Reverting to my action at Rietfontein on October 24th, I may mention in general terms that my object was not to drive the enemy out of any positions, but simply to prevent him crossing the Newcastle road from west to east and so falling on General Yule's flank. This object was attained with entire success, the enemy suffering severely from our shrapnel fire, which was very successful in searching the reverse slopes of the hills on which he was posted. Our own loss amounted to one officer and eleven men killed; six officers and ninety-seven men wounded, and two missing. The details of this action, as well as the various plans and returns, which should accompany a despatch, will be forwarded later; but I am anxious that this report should be sent off at once, as it is very doubtful whether any communications by rail with Pietermaritzburg will remain open after to-day."
[Sidenote: Defences of Ladysmith]
The story of constructing the fortifications of Ladysmith is very handsomely told in a letter dated November 21st:
"The defences were incomplete, and it was felt that the enemy, if determined, could make an impression upon every section. Probably the civilian population had not realized this, but it was obvious to those concerned in their construction; and if it had not been for the moral effect of the naval guns it is doubtful if the defences would have been finished in time to meet the assault when it was made. The devotion with which the sailors drew and returned the enemy's fire while all other troops were engaged in building breastworks stands unprecedented. The first three days their guns had little or no parapets, and the men had to stand to in the open. The luck of the British service was with them, for, though the ground round the guns was furrowed and plowed in every direction, no appreciable damage was done to any group. With the naval gunners drawing the fire it was possible for the men to work at day on some of the posts. But on others nothing could be done except at night, and the men, as soon as they were relieved from holding the crest lines, were forced to exchange rifle for pick and shovel and to spend the night intrenching. But each twenty-four hours that the Boers delayed the assault saw the safety of Ladysmith increase, until, by November 7th, those responsible for the line of defences were confident that we could hold our own. But after the experience of November 9th, the Boers have made no further attempt to reduce Ladysmith by storm.
[Sidenote: A Narrow Escape]
There were eleven miles of defences. This early incident of the siege is told:
"Colonel Ian Hamilton and staff, including Lord Ava and Colonel F. Rhodes, escaped a serious burst by a few moments. They were about to have breakfast when a shell from the Peppworth battery entered the plinth of the house and, passing into the cellar, burst under the breakfast table. The force of this explosion drove the floor planks of the room through the ceiling and roof."
The famous war correspondent, G. W. Stevens, who died of fever in Ladysmith during the siege, gave at a dash a diagram and picture of the city that will be memorable for British valor and the tenacity of the Boers, and the proof that the former are as fierce on the offensive as they are firm on the defensive, and Ladysmith will be fixed in history as a spot that was for months the pivot upon which events that effected the destiny of nations turned. This paragraph is an outline drawing of the correspondent whose reputation was won in adventures of hardihood, personal bravery in going to the fire lines where history is made, and a rare talent for rapid and vivid pencillings by the way:
[Sidenote: Surroundings of Ladysmith]
"If the reader will bear in mind what a horse's hoof inverted looks like, he may get a mental picture of Ladysmith and its surroundings--the heels of the horseshoe pointing eastward, where, five miles off, is the long, flat top of steep Bulwaan, like the huge bar of a gigantic horseshoe magnet, The horse's frog approximately represents a ridge, behind which, and facing Bulwaan, but separated from it by broad stretches of meadow, with the Klip River winding a serpentine course through them, between high banks is Ladysmith town. Between the frog and the horseshoe lie our various camps, mostly in radiating hollows, open either to the east or west, but sheltered from cross fires by rough kopjes of porphyritic boulders that have turned brown on the surface by exposure to sunshine. Bushy tangles of wild, white jasmine spring from among those boulders with denser growth of thriving shrubs, bearing waxen flowers that blaze in brilliant scarlet and orange."
[Sidenote: Preparations for the Siege]
The Natal Witness has contained striking accounts of the situation in Ladysmith. "The people cut off in the town, having been notified that Joubert would begin the bombardment in a day or two, sought places of safety. The Royal Hotel people flitted to the deep, rocky ravine through which the Port road runs towards the camp. In the bottom of the ravine, with precipitous banks on each side of the high stone viaduct, used once for the conveyance of water to the town, towards the mouth of the ravine, a well-protected little camp was formed, and here the Royal continued to cater for such of its guests as thither went. The Railway Hotel closed. Mr. and Mrs. Chisnall, of the Crown Hotel, did better than the others. They kept their hotel open, and, not too much afraid of shells, which never came, continued to do their best for their clients, despite shrinkage of supplies. Along the bottom of the ravine, already referred to, were numerous tents, people--men and women--took up their abode amongst the trees and rocks, and several individuals found holes amongst the rocks on the sides of the ravine into which they could stow a few of their possessions, and crawl into, themselves, when the shells began to whistle overhead.
[Sidenote: Caves Excavated for Families]
"In the clay banks of the ravine caves were excavated. Many of these places showed there had been no lack of energy and ingenuity employed in their preparation. Narrow entrances opened into cavities large enough, some of them, for a dozen people to stand upright in at one time, and into these interiors had been brought bedding, seats, food and cooking appliances. Some folks, less energetic or less apprehensive, contented themselves by scooping out the banks so as to have a few feet of covering over their heads. Into one of these scooped-out terraces were set two long garden seats, and on these the father and mother and a big family of little children intended to sit in a row when the shells began, with their backs firm against the earthen wall behind, and their eyes upon the Klip River below. Within a distances of less than half a mile between twenty and thirty such places had been prepared.
"Monday, November 7th, the bombardment began. Early in the morning Boer shells were whistling overhead, banging and crashing as they reached the earth, from end to end of the town. There is a glorious uncertainty about Boer shells. Whether their erratic course is due to deliberation or merely the result of poor gunnery, I cannot pretend to decide. But the fact remains that the shells from the Dutch positions fell in the most unexpected places.
"Some fell near the camps by the river, and some caused considerable alarm to the cave-dwellers by alighting near their cool retreats. Others, again, went far over Ladysmith, striking the bare hills, causing a loud report and a cloud of dust, and that was about all. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the shelling was heavy. Shrapnel came from Umbulwan, and the shells bursting over the town; the bullets, iron segments and shot rattled on the housetops at times like hail. From 4 o'clock to 4.20 twenty-two shells came from the Boer guns, but taking the entire day the number of shells would not average one every two minutes."
[Sidenote: Town Hall Struck]
"Shelling by the enemy's smaller guns started before 8 o'clock (November 22d), but the backyards of houses in the vicinity of Port road west, was the designation of the missiles. "Slim Piet" chimed in after breakfast, with no respect for the Red Cross. After sending a few into the centre of the town, he succeeded in striking the right wing of the Town Hall, which has all along been the office of the town clerk. The bomb--a 94-pounder--entered the roof, crashed through the ceiling, and thence against the back wall of the wing. Here it encountered a well-constructed stone wall about two and a half feet thick. The resistance was tremendous, but a portion of the wall gave way with the explosion, which wrecked the inside of the office, smashed every pane of glass, and threw splinters in every direction. The most remarkable thing about this was that at the moment several soldiers belonging to the Hospital Corps were engaged at breakfast under what was considered the friendly shelter of the wall. When the partition wall gave way they were literally covered with the falling debris, and many received bruises and scratches, but not one was severely wounded.
[Sidenote: Patients Removed]
"A huge cloud of dust rose high above the building, intermingled with the smoke, which issued forth from the windows. About fifty patients were inside the Town Hall at the time, and these were immediately removed into a large excavation adjacent to the building. A stone weighing about seventy pounds was thrust from the wall a distance of about 100 yards. The "Powerful" men's reply to this bomb of "Slim Piet's" was a plugged shell, which had the desired effect of silencing him for a few hours. The other Boer guns kept taking hot shots. One of these from Lombard's Kop struck and exploded on the top of a partially built house, which was being used as the kitchen for the Natal Police Field Force. Trooper Duncanson, who was at work there, was hit on the right side by portions of the shell, and died almost immediately. Then there was a cessation until dusk, when "Long Tom" sent half a dozen shells into Ladysmith very close to the Town Hall. "Night cometh on apace," and soon all was wrapped in darkness. The elements went to war; thunder and lightning, rain, and a half gale prevailing. Heaven's artillery seemed to mock the puny thunders of man's more deadly weapons. The Boers started firing at 10.40 P.M., and our guns, which must have been trimmed and ready, responded with alacrity.
"To date (25th November), the Boers have on three occasions shelled the town and camp at night. In the quietness of the night the noise of the shelling--the firing of the guns and the bursting of the shells--was awful in its volume and intensity."
[Sidenote: Midnight Bombardment]
A Ladysmith letter gives a thrilling account of a midnight bombardment: "To be awakened at midnight by a shower of ninety-four pound shells was a painful shock to the opinion we had formed of the good nature of the Boer Commander. Many people would not believe it, and concluded that they were victims of nightmare. But steel shells, with a bursting charge of melinite, do not encourage delusions.
"By the time half a dozen had rent the sky with terrific crash the town was awake, and silent figures in undress were flitting like uneasy ghosts about gardens and verandas. This was a new and unpleasant experience, very trying to the nerves. It had taken several days to get accustomed to shell fire between dawn and dusk. At first the flight of a shell turned one's thoughts to the caves in the river bank. But, after a time, when one began to realize how little damage was done, the instinct of Fate--more common among men of the East than of the West--asserted itself. The light of the sun and the presence of a crowd gave a sense of security. Everybody, unconsciously it may be, puts the question, "Why should a shell hit me rather than another?" In the solitude and shadows of the night this confidence in destiny is a sorry support. Each man thinks himself the sole target of the enemy, and feels that every shell is aimed at the pit of his stomach.
[Sidenote: An Awe-Inspiring Cannonade]
"The night was dark, and a solemn stillness was in the air, when suddenly the hills burst into intense and lurid life. The long black ridges kindled under a bright red flame. Then come the fateful moments. Scorching the deep blue sky, the shell rushes onward in seemingly interminable flight. During the day, amid the stir of life, this invisible, death-laden progress sounds short and sharp, like an arrow from a bow. The suspense is brief. But at night it sweeps alone like a meteor from horizon to zenith, and descends in a hissing curve like a white-hot bolt plunging into a fathomless sea. A second later and earth and air and sky are rent with the crash of bursting steel; a tongue of flame leaps upward, and the great amphitheatre of hills seethes with steel bullets and fragments of shell. For several nights the enemy kept up this awe-inspiring cannonade. The only result was to disturb one's slumber, and to drive women, children and a few nervous men to the caves."
[Sidenote: Ladysmith Hard Pressed]
January 6th the Boers made a desperate rush to storm Ladysmith, and the last heliographic message received at 3.15 P.M. by Sir Redvers Buller consisted only of the words, "Attack renewed. Very hard pressed." The sunlight then failed, and only a "camp rumour" that the Boers were defeated at 5 P.M., with a loss of 400 prisoners was forthcoming. At 2 P.M. on Sunday, another message reached Frere Camp with the news that the attack had been "repulsed everywhere with very heavy loss."
[Sidenote: Attack in Force Repulsed]
On the 6th "from 3 to 8 the Boers bombarded Ladysmith more heavily than at any time previously during the siege," the main attack was directed against Cæsar's Camp and Wagon Hill, a partially detached spur of the same feature about three-quarters of a mile west. The total extent of front assaulted was about three miles, and the Boer guns on Bulwana Hill and Lombard's Kop co-operated as soon as there was sufficient light. The attack commenced at 2.45 A.M. The first assault was repulsed before 9 A.M., although fighting was still going on when Sir George White's earliest message was dispatched--"The enemy were in great strength, and pushed their attack with the greatest courage and energy." How severe the struggle was is evident from the statement that "some of our intrenchments on Wagon Hill were three times taken by the enemy and retaken by us." At this point, specially exposed, Colonel Ian Hamilton commanded, and "rendered valuable services." Sir George White further reports that "one point in our position was occupied by the enemy the whole of the day; but at dusk, in a very heavy rainstorm," the Boers were driven out "at the point of the bayonet" by the 1st Devonshire Regiment. "The attack continued until 7.30 P.M."
[Illustration: THE GORDON'S CHARGING THE BOERS, GROBLERS KLOOF]
[Illustration: GOOD-BYE, DADDIE. The little son of Piper-Major Lang of the Scots Guards bidding his father farewell]
PIETERMARITZBURG, January 11th.
Correct casualty return, Ladysmith, January 6th:
Officers as reported ......... 13
Rank and file ................ 135
Killed ................... --- 148
Officers as reported ......... 28
Rank and file ................ 244
Wounded .................. --- 272
Total killed and wounded ..... 420
[Sidenote: Boer Version of Storming Ladysmith]
The Boer version of their attempt to storm Ladysmith, January 6th, is as follows:
"HOOFDLAAGER, LADYSMITH, Jan. 7th.
"A bold attack was made yesterday morning by the commandoes investing Ladysmith on the British fortifications on the Platrand Ridge. The operations that ensued were most exciting in their character. The storming parties were greeted, on reaching the edge of the rugged plateau, by a tremendous hail of shot and shell from the British artillery. No attempt was made, however, to hold the first line of schanzes, or stone breastworks, at the top of the hill, and these were promptly occupied by the Boer sharpshooters. At the next row, however, an exceedingly stubborn resistance was made, and with good effect, every inch of ground being most stubbornly contested. Conspicuous bravery was displayed on both sides.
"After ten o'clock the British artillery fire slackened perceptibly, but then ensued a most terrific individual contest among the riflemen for the possession of the ridge. At noon a heavy thunderstorm broke over the position, interrupting the battle for two hours. It seemed as though the heavenly batteries were using their best endeavors to create an even more terrific noise than the cannon and the rifles of the contending armies. Though the Burghers succeeded ultimately in gaining possession of most of the British positions on the western side of the Platrand they were finally obliged to retire from most of the ground they had occupied. The British losses were apparently severe, their ambulances being busy for many hours. The Boer losses were about 100 killed and wounded, the Free State contingents being the heaviest sufferers. Simultaneous attacks were made from the different outposts on all the British positions round Ladysmith.
[Sidenote: Thrilling Arm's Length Encounters]
"Operations are continued to-day on a smaller scale, but it is reported that as a result of one of the forlorn hopes one gun and two ammunition waggons have been captured."
"HOOFDLAAGAR, MODDERSPRUIT, LADYSMITH, Jan 9th,
(via Lourenzo Marques, January 14th).
"Further details of the assault of Cæsar's Camp, on the Platrand, are most thrilling in their character. It is clear that the attack was most determined and the defence equally tenacious. The British were most strongly entrenched, and the walls of their redoubts were skillfully loopholed. The combat was so close that the rifles were frequently fired at arm's length between the opposing forces. It was, in fact, a hand to hand encounter in the grey dawn. The men on both sides are reported to have fought like demons, the horror and bewilderment of the scene presenting a picture without parallel in the experience of those who took part in the encounter."
PRETORIA, January 10th,
(via Lourenzo Marques, January 14th).
"An official announcement has just been placarded to the effect that the Federal losses in Saturday's engagement were fifty-four killed (including three Free State and one Transvaal Field-Cornet) and ninety-six wounded.
Lord Duefferin's son, the Earl of Ava, was mortally wounded in the repulse of the Boers, and died January 11th.
The monotony of the siege was varied by several brilliant sorties, in one of which the Boers testified the British did "fine work." On two occasions Boer siege guns were captured and destroyed. A letter dispatched by a Kaffir, dated Ladysmith, January 21st, mentioned that "Buller's guns are eagerly watched shelling the Boer position with lyddite. As each shot strikes, dense volumes of brown smoke arise, the lyddite shells being thus quite distinguishable from ordinary shrapnel shells.
[Sidenote: Fortifications Strengthened; Fever Abating]
"Six Boer camps are visible between Ladysmith and Potgeiter's Drift, and bodies of the enemy have been observed riding towards the Tugela. They are evidently determined to offer a stubborn resistance to the advance of the relief column. They have given no indication of any intention to remove their guns, but have put new ones up recently and are still continually working at their fortifications.
"Since the 6th inst. our fortifications on Wagon Hill and Cæsar's Camp have been greatly strengthened, and Ladysmith is now practically impregnable.
"Doubtless owing to the dry weather, fever has abated in the garrison. The number of convalescents returning from Intombi camp exceeds that of the patients sent out.
"Our commissariat has been most ably managed during the siege, and our supplies are lasting splendidly. All the troops have a sufficiency of wholesome food. The heat is terrific, being 107 degrees in the shade at the present moment.
[Sidenote: Insurmountable Obstacles]
The surroundings of the now forever famous city of Ladysmith have been described as a crescent a horse shoe, and a soup plate with a big piece chipped out. It was named after the Spanish wife of General Sir Harry Smith in 1840. Before the Britain and Boer War it was a noted railway station on the great line to Pretoria and beyond. The siege lasted within two days of four months. Relief came on the last night in February. The besiegers held on after they knew Lord Roberts was successfully invading the Orange Free State, hoping that he might be repulsed, and they resisted with their accustomed energy the fourth attack by the army under Sir Redvers Buller, whose first advance and reverse was December 15th. His second general advance to force the Boer lines on the Tugela pivoted on Spion Kop, gallantly carried and held for some time, but evacuated January 26th. General Buller's third advance was on February 5th, but his attack was not pressed, for the obstacles were manifestly insurmountable except by a sacrifice too great to be considered.
[Sidenote: Success at Last]
February 20th, the fourth advance was made and a severe struggle occurred. The Irish troops distinguished themselves, especially, and the Welsh Fusiliers suffered the loss 252 men killed and wounded. General Buller recalled his battalions from the first position assailed, and put them in again in force on his extreme right and carried by storm Pieters Hill. Buller's artillery was very effectively used on this occasion. On the afternoon of February 28th the British commander ascertained that the ridges toward Ladysmith were unoccupied. Lord Dundonald dashed forward with two squadrons and galloped until there was a challenge. "Who goes there?" The reply was, "The Ladysmith relieving army;" and the cavalry had a great welcome from the thin and pale faced men of the garrison, whose cheers of joy were through physical weakness feeble. The Boers had been observed from Ladysmith hastening away in a continuous stream, trekking North.
The crisis of the siege was when General Joubert ordered that the town should be taken before January 10th. The supreme effort was made at 2 o'clock the morning of the 6th, and directed upon three positions--the one most exposed, the flat topped Hill, Cæsar's camp, crescent shaped, the interior facing the Boers' position--height of crest above the town near 800 feet. The Boers advanced on the two horns of the crescent and gained an advantageous position, which they held for seventeen hours. The fight on both sides was a soldiers battle; and the British success finally was credited correctly to the leadership of the company officers.
A party of sappers, with half a company of Gordon Highlanders, were placing a gun on the critical position, Wagon Hill, and made so much noise the Boers, stealthily approaching, thought for a time their movement was discovered. The British working party added sixty rifles to the defense, and so even was the balance in the combat, the repulse of the assailants was apparently due to the accident of this force having a special service at the point of danger.
[Sidenote: An Extraordinary Hard Struggle]
The Boer assailing party was 300 strong, led by de Villiers, and as they were creeping silently up the hillside, Lieutenant Mathias, of the British Light Horse, going down to visit his post, met them and had the presence of mind to turn back with them, and when a few yards from his own picket he rushed forward and gave the alarm. This was at 2.30 A.M. It was pitch dark and the defenders after a spell of indiscriminate firing were driven back. There ensued a struggle of extraordinary character, the flashing of the rifles giving the only light. Colonel Hamilton, in command of the defenders at the ragged edge, telephoned for re-inforcements. The first to arrive were two companies of Gordon Highlanders. At 4 o'clock four other companies were ordered and in the advance Colonel Dick Conyngham was mortally wounded by a bullet that had traveled over 3,000 yards. The re-inforcements did not get up a moment too soon. At daybreak the Boers were pushing more men up the water-way by which the first assailants had advanced and their augmented firing line sorely pressed the handful of Light Horsemen who were re-inforced at the most opportune moment by Colonel Edwards. The Boers displayed their deadly marksmanship, and the Colonel, two Majors and four other officers of the Light Horse were hit within a few' minutes. Lord Ava, Colonel Hamilton's orderly officer, was in this place mortally wounded. The British infantry fire could not dislodge the Boers. It was scarcely possible to see the assailants and to live.
[Sidenote: Desperate Efforts]
To effect a rush necessitated the passage of sixty yards of open. Major Mackworth, attached to the 60th Rifles, attempted to make the rush. He fell shot through the head. Captain Codrington, 11th Hussars, commanding a squadron of the Light Horse, went forward to find cover for his men. Thirty yards away he fell, and just had strength enough to wave the Light Horse back. Lieutenant Tod, with twelve men, attempted to rush the open. He was shot dead three yards from cover.
A terrible rain storm arose, something extraordinary even for Africa. At its height the indomitable Boers increased their efforts. Colonel Hamilton called for Colonel Park, who led three companies to clear the plateau. They were commanded by Lieutenant Field, leading, Captain Lafone's and Lieutenant Masterson's companies following in order. There were sixty yards of plateau to cross; a hundred Boer magazines waiting to sweep it. Three lines of naked bayonets scintillated against the hillside. Then the Colonel rose to his feet, and the three companies rose with him as one man. With a cheer that foretold success the Devons dashed forward. Colonel Hamilton, who was just below when this sudden attack was delivered, ordered up a dismounted squadron of the 18th Hussars, and the plateau was reoccupied.
[Illustration: TRANSVAAL STATE ARTILLERY IN GUN PRACTICE. ARTILLERY CROSSING A DRIFT NEAR LADYSMITH]
[Illustration: DUTCH FARMER RECEIVING ORDERS TO GO TO WAR. GENERAL JOUBERT AT THE SIEGE OF LADYSMITH]
A handful of Boers with desperate valor, appeared on the crest line suddenly and unexpectedly. They were commanded by de Villiers, who dashed for the emplacement of gun.
Major Miller-Wallnutt, the only regimental officer there, and a sapper were shot dead at the gun-pit. Fortunately the sappers who, with fixed bayonets, were stationed near the emplacement, stood firm. Lieutenant Digby Jones, who had commanded them with great gallantry since the night attack, led them forward, and shot de Villiers, falling himself a moment later with a rifle bullet through his brain. Lieutenant Denniss, R.E., went on to the crest-line to search for Digby Jones. He likewise was shot dead and fell beside his brother officer.
While the rain storm was raging and the Boers were advancing through the sluicing waters, there were shouts of "retire." Major Rice pushed forward his sappers again. A subaltern rallied the broken Rifles, and the Highlanders faced round. Then they swung back again with levelled bayonets, and the Boers went headlong down the slopes.
[Sidenote: Great Suffering in the City]
Ladysmith saved from assault, the besieged force endured great privations with heroic devotion, suffering from insufficient and in part loathsome rations, a bombardment that was steadily maintained and above all, fevers arising from hideously unsanitary conditions. General Buller's telegram, dated March 2d, and announcing the success of his fourth advance, was in these terms: "I find the defeat of the Boers more complete than I had dared to anticipate." While the casualty lists during his operations assumed very grave proportions, exceeding 20 per cent. of his effective force, nothing but generalship that was at once adventurous as against the enemy and conservative of his army, would have brought triumph without a far greater expenditure of blood.