Mafeking is a dull, unimportant town in the veld with a history that attracted the Boers to it.
They considered that, like Natal and Kimberley, it did not rightfully belong to Great Britain. They were a community of trekking and centrifugal atoms, especially in the direction of territories in the possession of native tribes, and their own country, though sparsely inhabited, was not spacious enough for them. The bucolic ambition of the Boer, which is to dwell in a house from which he cannot see the smoke of his nearest neighbour's chimney, can be satisfied in a flat country only when the house stands in the midst of a farm many thousand morgen in extent.
For a generation or two before the war, the Transvaalers had been encroaching upon Bechuanaland. A Baralong chief named Montsioa was dispossessed of Mafeking and could obtain no redress from the British Government, which at that time was in an intermediate frame of mind, and did not necessarily act on the assumption that in every dispute between white man and native the latter was in the right.
Thus encouraged, the Transvaalers annexed Bechuanaland in 1868, but three years later it was taken away from them under the Keate award, in an arbitration to determine the respective rights of Boer and native over the debateable territory.
After the war of 1881, the Transvaalers supposed that the British Government would be unlikely to assert itself, and two little impudent republics of adventurers were set up in territory which the award had declared to be within the British sphere of influence. Montsioa fought for his rights, but the British Government lay torpid for some time. Finally it was goaded into action by a proclamation issued by Kruger annexing the territory to the Transvaal. He soon found it advisable to cancel the proclamation, and in 1885 the Republics of Goshen at Mafeking and of Stellaland at Vryburg were effaced by an expedition led by Sir Charles Warren. Bechuanaland was again annexed by proclamation, but on this occasion to the British Empire.
The resentment of the Transvaalers against Mafeking, which originated in the conviction that they had been wrongfully deprived of it, was aggravated by the fact that it was the starting place of the Jameson Raid.
On October 13 nearly 7,000 burghers, with six guns, under P. Cronje, sat down before it. He expected to have little difficulty in recovering it. Appearances were encouraging; the town was open and defenceless, and he was probably aware that it was held by a weak garrison. Why the British should have occupied such an out-of-the-way place as part of their plan of campaign, he could not understand, but there it was, inviting attack.
Of the half-hearted measures taken by the War and Colonial Offices in 1899, when a war with the Transvaal seemed to be more probable every day, one of the most intelligent was the commissioning of R. Baden-Powell, who had formerly served in Bechuanaland and had recently commanded the 5th Dragoon Guards, to "organize the defence of the Bechuanaland and Rhodesia frontiers." It would neither involve a great expenditure of money, nor be likely to wound the susceptibilities of the Transvaalers, who might be provoked by more vigorous and minatory measures: and thus little harm would be done if after all it were found to be an unnecessary precaution.
For these reasons it commended itself to Pall Mall, but its chief merit was that it sent to South Africa a capable, versatile and zealous soldier, whose mind did not run in the grooves. Yet if Baden-Powell had been sent to Kimberley instead of to Mafeking, Kimberley would probably have fallen—after an outbreak of civil war within the lines between him and Rhodes. It would have been impossible to insulate the personal electricity with which each of them was so highly charged, and short circuiting must have occurred.
The object of the contemplated display upon the Bechuanaland and Rhodesia frontiers was twofold. They ran through the indefinite border belt which separated black from white territory, and activity on them would not only be witnessed by the tribes and exert an impressive influence on the native mind, but would also draw away the Boers and prevent them concentrating their forces. The central position of Mafeking on the Western line, and the stores and supplies which had been collected in the town, attracted Baden-Powell to it. It was singularly ill-adapted to hold defensively against an active enemy.
In spite of recruiting difficulties raised by the Facing-both-Ways Ministry at Capetown, which in a less tolerant and philosophic age would at once have been swept away by a storm of indignation, he raised two irregular regiments: the Rhodesian Regiment, which was sent into Rhodesia under Plumer, and the Protectorate Regiment under Hore.
The Cape Ministry did what it could to prevent the Protectorate Regiment going to Mafeking, and the corps was in fact mustered outside the Cape Colony, and only entered the town a few days before war was declared. As at Kimberley, so also at Mafeking, the Schreiner sect set itself placidly to thwart the gentle and tentative early efforts of the British Government to deal with the situation.
When P. Cronje appeared before Mafeking, Baden-Powell had a force of less than 1,200 men, none of whom were regular soldiers and less than half of whom were efficiently armed, with which to sustain the siege of an open town by 7,000 Boers. He had also four small field guns of obsolete pattern, to which were added later on a home-made howitzer and an ancient man-of-war's smoothbore, which had left the foundry during the Napoleonic wars. In its youth it had probably fought the French through a porthole, and now having in the interval trekked across the South African veld into the possession of a native tribe, was discovered in a Baralong kraal, restored to active service, and, mounted on a Dutch wagon, aided in the defence of a little settlement 400 miles away from the sound of the sea.
In one respect only Baden-Powell had the advantage over Kekewich at Kimberley. His burden was not increased by discord within the lines. The civilians behaved with exemplary composure and put themselves unreservedly into his hands.
An archaic but effective simplicity characterized the methods of the defence. Baden-Powell eked out his slender stock of men and instruments with tricks and devices that might have been employed at the siege of Troy, but which none the less deceived and confounded the slow-witted besiegers, whom he scandalized with gibes and taunting messages. When asked to surrender to avoid further bloodshed, he replied that the only blood hitherto shed was the blood of a chicken in a compound; and on another occasion he reproved Cronje for inactivity. Many of the incidents read like passages from the Iliad. The besiegers were allured into determined attacks upon dummy trenches; deceived by bogus orders shouted for their information through a megaphone; alarmed by the sudden appearance of cavalry within the lines, for did they not see the glint of lances? The lances were weapons that had been forged in the railway workshops, and carried round, as it were in a parade before the footlights by a body of supers making a gallant show upon the stage.
What should be done in a besieged place with such an embarrassing asset as ten tons of dynamite? Buller would have handed them over to his second in command for disposal, and then if any accident occurred would have disclaimed responsibility for it. Gatacre would have taken the chances, but would not have hesitated to pitch his tent if necessary beside them. Colvile would have searched his orders for instructions. Baden-Powell, not being able to rid himself of the explosive by firing it, arranged that it should be fired by the enemy. He loaded it on railway trucks, which he propelled a few miles out of the town and then abandoned. There was no Laocoon to warn the Boers, and they rushed at what they thought was an armoured train in trouble. In the skirmish the dynamite exploded, and although no one was hurt the enemy was terribly scared, and the resisting powers of the garrison virtually augmented.
Baden-Powell thoroughly understood the Boer temperament. Many generations' isolation from the progressive European world had rendered it peculiarly liable to be ensnared by simple expedients. It was not wanting in "slimness," but it was the "slimness" or cunning of a primitive race, and was easily gulled by wiles that might have been employed against a tribe of Red Indians. Baden-Powell alone of all the British leaders was aware of this, and he owed much of his success to the knowledge. With but one man to defend each ten yards of his perimeter of seven miles he hypnotized Cronje, a dull man bewildered by a resourceful. His versatility instantly found a way out of each difficulty that beset him. Before he sent out a party detailed for a night attack that might easily go astray, he bethought himself of the device by which a ship is often guided into her haven, and hung up two lamps in the town as leading lights across the veld.
Cronje soon found that Mafeking was not an easy prey. Although in all probability he might at any time have overwhelmed it by sheer weight of numbers, he refrained from making the attempt. It hit out so vigorously and was believed to be so well protected by mines that he requisitioned a big gun from Pretoria, which was mounted south of the town and came into action on October 23. With a weapon throwing a shell more than three times heavier than all the shells that could be fired in salvo by the artillery of the defence, there was no doubt in his mind that the place must fall before the end of the month.
The arrival of the gun quickened the attack for a time. The native location S.W. of the town was made the object of a feint on October 25 to be immediately followed by a real attack elsewhere, but the Baralongs, who had been armed, resisted so stoutly that the operation failed. By the beginning of November the Boers had been cleared out of a newly made advanced trench on the east side; and Cannon Kopje on the south, the possession of which by them would have made a considerable section of the defence works and perhaps even the town itself untenable, was held under a converging fire of artillery by fifty troopers of the British South Africa Police against a thousand Boers.
Five weeks of Baden-Powell were enough for Cronje, who on November 19 trekked away to the south, leaving Snyman and 3,000 burghers to continue the siege. His self-esteem had been wounded because the walls had not immediately fallen to the sound of the big gun, and by Baden-Powell's refusal to take a serious view of the situation in the frequent communications that passed between them. It may be said that Cronje was "chaffed" away from Mafeking; the gibes put him out of conceit with himself, and instead of stimulating him into activity only made him more dull-spirited than he was by nature. He had none of the instinctive military genius which showed itself so notably in most of his colleagues, who, having turned their ploughshares into swords at a moment's notice, were generally more than a match for the professional soldiers against whom they were pitted. He had the misfortune of meeting almost the only British leader then in South Africa capable of instinctively assessing him on the spot at his true valuation; and like a timid poker-player with a good hand, he allowed himself to be bluffed by the flourishes of his opponent. He held good cards, but he feebly threw them down. At Magersfontein he played his hand with skill, but lost the deciding game at Paardeberg.
Baden-Powell was too zealous a soldier to conform to the schism that the operations of war were akin to athletics or sport. Externally his predilections were for the drama. He was a competent actor and manager, and he rejoiced in Mafeking as in a stage play.
Many of his devices were as unsubstantial as stage scenery; the besiegers were the villains of the piece who would meet with their deserts before the curtain fell; there was comic by-play in his ways of beguiling the tedium and the lassitude of the siege, in the bantering messages he sent out to the besiegers, and now and then even in his garrison orders. The little garrison was permeated by the exosmose action of his cheery optimism and humour during seven weary months of waiting; and while it might seem to some that he was treating the serious situation with unbecoming levity, he wisely kept the tragedy of it, of which he was fully conscious, in the background.
His methods were so far successful that in a few weeks he had driven away two-thirds of the force originally opposed to him, and had firmly gripped the place. The enemy's superiority in artillery was neutralized by the construction of underground shelters and warrens in which the women and children took refuge during the daytime, leaving an apparently deserted town to be bombarded. Thus Baden-Powell was relieved from the moral pressure which a large number of casualties among them would have caused; and the garrison suffered but little in the redoubts and trenches. Supplies were plentiful and the water supply secure.
What Cronje had failed to do, Snyman could hardly be expected to accomplish with a considerably reduced force, and the attack became more faint-hearted. He carried out the Cronje policy of comfortable, lethargic squatting, doubting not that the place must fall into his hands sooner or later. Friends and relations tripped over from Johannesburg to admire and encourage his brave burghers at their posts, and some were even allowed as a treat to fire a shot at the Khakis.
No serious operation occurred until the end of the year. On the morrow of Christmas Day, Baden-Powell made an unsuccessful attempt to carry a fort on Game Tree Hill, which commanded the approach to the town from the north. He was unaware of its strength, and the casualties amounted to nearly one-fifth of the force engaged, a loss which he could ill afford; but early in January he compelled the big gun, which could neither face the shells of his little battery of 7-pounders nor the rifles of his marksmen, to withdraw to a more distant emplacement east of the town. Towards the end of the month an encouraging message was received from Lord Roberts at Capetown.
The Boer line of circumvallation was in plan an irregular hexagon, of which the north-east face was pushed inwards and a re-entrant angle formed at the Brickfields; where a fort was built nearer to the town than any other post of the attack, and the operations during February and March were mainly a struggle for the possession of it. After several weeks of sapping and counter sapping, the Boers, though supported by the fire of the big gun in its new emplacement, were expelled from the Brickfields on March 23.
April was marked by the final withdrawal of the big gun, which, after a heavy bombardment on the 11th, was sent away to Pretoria; and by the appearance of young Eloff, fresh from the capital, with instructions to do what he could to stimulate the attack, for once in a way, into real activity. More than a fortnight elapsed before he succeeded. Snyman gave him little encouragement, but could not oppose a mandate from Kruger, Eloff's grandfather.
The Molopo River, after passing south of the town, runs through the only weak place in the defence, the native location, which during the first few days of the siege had been attacked without result by Cronje. Westward of it the steep banks of the river afford a covered way of access to the thickly clustered huts lying within the perimeter of the defence, which Eloff saw might be turned if he got a footing among them.
Early in the morning of May 12 a heavy fire was opened upon the town from the east, but was soon discontinued; and then an alarm came from the S.W. It was Eloff, who, with 300 burghers, had wriggled up the river bed through the outposts and had set fire to the native huts: a signal for the reinforcements which Snyman had promised in writing. It also warned the garrison. The natives were too much terrified to offer resistance, and Eloff, leaving the greater part of his force to hold the location, advanced upon the town. The police building in the open was surrounded and the detachment holding it taken prisoners. A pause was now made to allow the promised reinforcements to come up.
Eloff's gallant thrust gave the garrison the opportunity for which it had long been hoping. The troops of the western section of the defence closed in and were manoeuvred by Baden-Powell through the telephone. The door by which Eloff came in was shut, not only to a retreat but also to the reinforcements which timidly knocked at it; the burghers holding the location were overpowered, and Eloff's party was penned up in the police building with its prisoners, whose condition was suddenly dramatically reversed. Eloff, seeing that Snyman had failed him, surrendered to the men he had captured a few hours before, within the walls of the prison in which he had confined them.
The ordeal of Mafeking soon came to an end. On May 15 it was reported that the relief column under Mahon, who on that day joined Plumer at Massibi on the Molopo twenty miles from Mafeking, was approaching. The combined forces, though vigorously opposed by Delarey, whom L. Botha had sent when the news of the advance reached him, entered the town on May 17 and ended a siege of 213 days.
Mafeking, the last and most instructive of the sieges, proved that there was hardly any disparity of numbers or preponderance of available military resources that could not be neutralized by good leadership opposed to bad. Baden-Powell had not only detained a considerable Boer force on the edge of the storm, but with a body of irregular troops had beaten the men of Magersfontein, Colenso, and Spion Kop.
The relief of Mafeking, however, did not vitally affect the general situation. The capture of the town during Lord Robert's advance would no doubt have caused annoyance and trouble, but if necessary it could have been retaken without much difficulty. Nor would its fall have greatly benefited the enemy, who probably would have been tempted by the success to hold an unsound position and detain in it commandos urgently required elsewhere.
Kimberley, Mafeking, and Wepener, more than the operations at large, demonstrated the anomalous character of the war. Hitherto, invaders had been accustomed to besiege the invaded, in South Africa the invaded besieged the invaders. Such a reversal of the order of things military had rarely before occurred. The sieges of the Peninsular War are not an exception, for Wellington was from a military, though not from a political point of view, as much an invader as the lieutenants of Napoleon.
Baden-Powell is a suppressed personality whose merit was not fully recognized. With
scarcely an exception, no individual leader was more self-reliant, or handled imperfect tools with greater skill. For seven months he kept the flag flying over the lonely Baralong kraal in the veld. His unconventional even theatrical methods were not to the taste of his serious superiors, who underestimated his success. His only reward was the Companionship of the Bath, which was also bestowed upon the militia colonels, most of whom, from no fault or no want of zeal on their part, but from lack of opportunity, never met the enemy except in some casual paltry skirmish.
The junction of the two columns advancing to the relief of Mafeking—Plumer's from the north and Mahon's from the south—was effected at the right moment, for it is doubtful whether either of them acting alone would have been able to deal with Delarey.
Plumer with the Rhodesian Regiment had been trekking here and there and skirmishing with the enemy for seven months. On the eve of the war he was sent by Baden-Powell to Tuli, a village in Rhodesia not far from the right bank of the Limpopo, which is the northern boundary of the Transvaal. His instructions were "to defend the border, to attract the enemy away towards the north, and then in due time to co-operate with the British force," which it was expected would soon be invading the Transvaal from the south, and also to overawe the doubtful native tribes between Tuli and Mafeking, a distance of 500 miles; and he had under his immediate command at Tuli one irregular regiment 500 strong.
He remained for some weeks seeing to the drifts, which were now in his possession and now in that of the enemy. A Boer raid into Rhodesia on November 2 forced the outlying detachments back upon Tuli, which was seriously threatened by some commandos under F.A. Grobler of Marico. The Government of Pretoria, however, growing anxious at the presence of British troops elsewhere, vetoed a promising enterprise and recalled him. The raid of November 2 was answered a few weeks later by Plumer, who, finding the drifts unoccupied, reconnoitred thirty miles towards the south. Nearly six months elapsed before another British soldier set foot in the Transvaal. A subsequent reconnaissance again found no trace of the enemy on the left bank of the Limpopo, and showed that it was unnecessary for him to remain on the river. He had the advantage of being cut off from communication with superior officers ignorant of local conditions, and was able to act freely upon his own responsibility.
He soon heard news which clearly indicated the way he should go. The railway from Buluwayo to Mafeking was held as far as possible towards the south by patrols of police under Nicholson, and the Rhodesian Volunteers under Holdsworth were also on the line. In the gap between the railhead and Mafeking, a Boer commando, said to have been detached from Mafeking by Cronje, was at Sekwani on the N.W. border of the Transvaal and within striking distance of the Western line. It was face to face with the border tribes and was soon in trouble with them. Although they were not allowed to attack Sekwani independently, they were permitted to co-operate as non-combatants in an attack which Holdsworth was about to make on it, but only on the condition that they did not cross the Transvaal border. This was a refinement of policy which they could hardly be expected to understand, and they precipitated Holdsworth's action by attacking the Boer laager, which lay but a mile or two across the border, on their own account, and the operation had therefore to be abandoned. To avenge this native attack, in which several burghers had been killed, reinforcements were brought over by the Boers from the Pietersburg line, and Holdsworth's position at Mochudi on the Western line, whither he had retired after the Sekwani failure, was endangered.
This was the news which reached Plumer at the end of the year. His original instructions were obsolescent and he readily adapted himself to the altered situation. He saw that it was more important to clear the railway north of Mafeking than to remain where he was on the chance of a Boer invasion of Rhodesia, of which his reconnaissances south of the Limpopo saw no sign. The nearest station on the Western line was Palapye, and on December 27 he set out on his midsummer march of 170 miles to it. Within a fortnight, his little force of irregulars, which three months before had been sent out into the South African wilderness to perform duties that might have engrossed a division, passed away from Tuli beyond the Limpopo on to the visible stage of war near Mochudi.
In the middle of January, 1900, he reached Gaberones. On his left flank Sekwani was still occupied by the enemy, though in reduced numbers; in front of him the Boers were not only strongly posted on the railway at Crocodile Pools, but able to draw upon Mafeking for reinforcements, by the help of which they successfully resisted an attack on February 11. Plumer's force, though augmented by detachments he had picked up on the line, was unequal to the task of advancing along it. He therefore decided to diverge from the railway and advance by way of Kanya, a native town lying twenty miles west of the line.
On March 6 he reached Lobatsi, where he was forty-five miles from Mafeking. He found, however, that it was an awkward place to defend and soon quitted it, as Baden-Powell seemed to be in no immediate need, and was in fact averse to Plumer's small force throwing itself upon the besiegers. With the greater part of his command, the rest being sent back to hold the railway at Crocodile Pools, he withdrew to the base which he had established at Kanya; afterwards advancing to Sefetili, thirty miles from Mafeking, where he awaited the approach of Mahon's relieving column from the south. Baden-Powell, rejoicing in his siege, was not anxious that the game which he was playing so well should be brought to a premature conclusion, and was more afraid for Plumer than for himself.
Plumer filled in his two months at Kanya and Sefetili by occasional raids in the direction of Mafeking and by an expedition towards Zeerust. The column in the south, of whose movements many false reports reached him from time to time, seemed to be tarrying by the way, and it was not until May 12 that he received a message from Lord Roberts that it was nearing its destination.
For some weeks after his entry into Bloemfontein, Lord Roberts was unable to arrange for the direct relief of Mafeking by a column specially detailed for the purpose. He had originally intended that this should be done by Methuen, but subsequently ordered him to operate in the Free State on the left flank of the advance on the Transvaal. He hoped to apply his favourite method of an automatic relief, brought about by external pressure elsewhere. At the end of April, however, when it had become an urgent matter, he ordered Hunter, who had recently arrived at Kimberley from Natal, to send out a mounted force under Mahon, following it himself with the rest of the Xth Division.
He left Kimberley on May 3, and on the following day Mahon set out from Barkly West on his 230 miles' march to Mafeking. Mahon advanced wide of the railway up the Hart's River, which joins the Vaal at Barkly West, his right flank being covered by Hunter, who kept close to the Vaal. Mahon met with no serious resistance until he had covered 200 miles of his journey, when he found a force which had been sent down from Mafeking across his path, and which diverted him to Massibi; where he joined Plumer on May 15.
The advance of the main and less mobile body under Hunter was aided by demonstrations made by Methuen from Boshof. With three columns claiming their attention the bewildered Boers were unable to do more than offer a stout but ineffectual resistance to Hunter on the Vaal on May 5. Two days later he occupied Fourteen Streams and restored the railway communication across the Vaal, having during his halt taken possession of Christiana, a village in the Transvaal a few miles up the river. It was now no longer necessary for him to hurry after Mahon, and his advance northwards was made at leisure. Early in June he occupied Lichtenburg, where Mahon rejoined him.
Mafeking as well as Kimberley were now in the hands of Lord Roberts, but the Western line joining them to Capetown was not yet secure. The districts of Cape Colony west of De Aar and Hopetown were remote and backward, and sparsely inhabited by discontented and unprosperous Dutch farmers. Nearly a year before, while the Cape Government was placidly blinking under the shadow of Table Mountain and only taking action that thwarted the attempts of the Imperial Government to prepare for war, and like the unjust steward intriguing for reception in Boer houses if the Empire should fail, arms had been sent into these districts by the Boers of the Republics, and courses of instruction in the use of them were actually being held.
To stir up the discontented and set the veld on fire, a party of Transvaalers swooped down from Vryburg before the war was many days old. Rebel commandos were raised, and most of the districts lying between the Orange and the Molopo were involved, some of them being annexed by proclamation to the Republics. For several months the trouble was confined to the right bank of the Orange, but during February it passed over to the left bank.
In pursuance of his policy of striking swiftly and strongly at the centres of population, and not from neglect, Lord Roberts had left the rebellious and disaffected districts more or less to themselves, in the belief that indirect action would retrieve the situation and that his advance would take the heart out of the rebels and deter them from crossing the river; and for some months there had been no British troops south of the Orange except at De Aar and Hopetown.
Now, however, the railway, which until his arrival at Bloemfontein was his only line of communication, was threatened. The Prieska and Herbert districts on the left bank of the Orange, and even the remote Gordonia district lying in the angle between the Orange and the Molopo, which was too far away to be included in the first batch of proclamations, were annexed by the Boers. There was much danger of the advancing army not only finding its communications broken, but also a formidable rebellion springing up behind it.
The troops on the line were insufficient to deal with the situation, and Lord Roberts was obliged to draw upon Clements, who was acting in the other disturbed districts of the Cape Colony south of the Free State. Lord Kitchener, who chanced to be passing through De Aar on his way back from Naauwpoort, where he had been sent to look after the central advance, made arrangements for the Prieska operations and rejoined Lord Roberts at Kimberley; but his presence was soon required again at De Aar. Three columns had started westward from the line, but the centre column, which was composed of the troops withdrawn from Clement's command, met with opposition in the Prieska district, and was compelled to retire on March 6. When the news reached Lord Roberts he sent Kitchener to take charge of the operations, which from that time was successful. The rebellion south of the Orange was suppressed; the leaders disappeared; and by the end of the month Kitchener was free to return to Head Quarters at Bloemfontein.
Not many weeks, however, elapsed before there was trouble in Griqualand, a considerable portion of which was in the hands of rebel descendants of the burghers of the Great Trek, who were joined by rebels expelled from the districts south of the Orange during the late operations. A column had been sent out against them from Kimberley by Methuen in March, but Lord Roberts disapproved of the expedition and it was recalled. At the request of Sir A. Milner, who from the first had been of the opinion that the British hold on South Africa was in greater danger from rebellion in the Colony than from the commandos of the two Republics, Lord Roberts consented to send a force into Griqualand under the command of Warren, who was brought round from Natal, and returned to the country through which he had worked in the Bechuanaland Expedition of 1885. In the middle of May, Warren set out from Belmont. The only regular troops in his column were a few Irish mounted infantry. Douglas was easily taken on May 21, and on his way to Campbell he was compelled by supply and transport difficulties to halt at Faber's Put, where at dawn on May 30 he was surprised by the rebels, who, knowing that they had not to face regular troops, anticipated an easy victory. They succeeded in almost surrounding the camp before the alarm was given, but after a brief struggle were driven off.
Early in June Campbell and Griquatown were occupied; and on the 24th Kuruman, which had been in the hands of the rebels for nearly six months, was recovered. Near Khies, lower down the Orange, the force which had been left to watch the banks after the suppression of the Prieska rebellion, some of the fugitives from which had returned to the river under the leadership of a Jew, attacked and carried their laager. This and the Faber's Put affair were the only serious fights in the clearing of the Colony north of the Orange.
Thus by the end of June Lord Roberts had secured the railway from Mafeking and Kimberley to the south.
CHAPTER XI - Bloemfontein to Pretoria
The agile mind of Lord Roberts rather than the heavy hand of his Chief of the Staff is discernible in the method of the advance on the Transvaal.
There were two courses open to the British Army. It might have deliberately pulverized and extinguished each atom of opposition within reach in the Free State, and have taken no step to the front until the rear and the flanks were absolutely and finally clear of the enemy; or it might have advanced boldly towards the Transvaal with the ordinary precautions for the protection of the lines of communication and of the flanks.
Lord Roberts adopted the latter course. He had tried it with success in the Afghan War twenty years before, when he marched even more "in the air" from Kabul to Kandahar. The tedious process of "steam-rollering" the Free State was not to his taste, nor would the expectant British public at home have understood it; and it would have been severely criticized by the military experts. It would have concentrated before him north of the Vaal all the Boer forces which could not be crushed on the spot, and have left the resources of the Transvaal for some time untouched: free communication with the outer world by way of the neutral port of Lorenzo Marques, the treasury of the Johannesburg gold mines upon which the enemy could draw, and the railway and mining workshops in which munitions of war could be manufactured.
Lord Roberts therefore determined upon a swift advance from Bloemfontein. He was confident that the occupation of places would bring the war to an end without an excessive loss of life; and he would probably have been right if he had been engaged in a European war. He did not see, however, that the Boers derived little or no strength from their towns, which were rather a source of weakness; they were men of the veld and the veld was their strength.
De Wet's guerilla advanced Chermside to the command of the IIIrd Division, in place of Gatacre sent home. A new Division, numbered the VIIIth, under a new commander, Sir Leslie Rundle, a general with an Egyptian reputation, was assembled south of Bloemfontein in April.
The siege of Wepener called for activity from Bloemfontein as well as from the Orange, and Lord Roberts sent Rundle to Dewetsdorp, where his presence would, it was hoped, not only draw the Boers away from Wepener, but deny them a retreat to the north. Pole-Carew with the XIth Division and French followed Rundle, but De Wet abandoned the siege on the approach of Hart and Brabant from the south, and his brother P. De Wet scuttled away from Dewetsdorp on the approach of Rundle; and the commandos ran the gauntlet successfully. Their hereditary trekking instincts told them when to move and how to move, and their mobility had not at that period been recognized by the British Staff. Wepener was indeed relieved, though not from Bloemfontein, but the subsequent divagations of the Boers baffled three British divisions which were endeavouring to squeeze them northwards and head them off. A strong rearguard was left by the Boers at Houtnek, ten miles north of Thabanchu.
Lord Roberts' position at Bloemfontein, and on the line of communication, had never been seriously endangered. The brilliant affairs of Sannah's Post and Mostert's Hoek were no doubt annoying to the British Army and encouraging to the enemy. At home the importance of them was greatly exaggerated. If the advance on the Transvaal was delayed by them and the subsequent operations arising out of the siege of Wepener, more time was given to prepare for it; and the British Army was usefully informed of a fact which hitherto had hardly been suspected, namely, that the enemy derived much of his power from mobility, resourcefulness, and aptitude for guerilla.
Lord Roberts' plan for the movement on the Transvaal was an advance in line, on a front which extended from Ladysmith to Kimberley. It soon became an echelon owing to the slow movements of Buller in Natal. In the centre at Bloemfontein were the troops under the immediate orders of the Commander-in-Chief; on the left at Kimberley were Methuen, and Hunter with the Xth Division which had been brought round from Ladysmith. Between the centre and the right the intervention of Basutoland and the Drakensberg prevented the effective co-operation of the Natal Army with Lord Roberts; and a portion of the interval was occupied by the enemy.
The centre columns under Lord Roberts were about 43,000 strong. Hunter and Methuen in the west had each under his command about 10,000 troops, while Buller's force, which was much nearer to the Transvaal objective than the centre, and which was still lingering on the banks of the Klip River two months after the relief of Ladysmith, numbered about 45,000. Ian Hamilton, who had done so well in the Elandslaagte and Caesar's Camp affairs, was not allowed to waste himself in the Natal lethargy. He was recalled from Ladysmith, and after taking part from the Bloemfontein side in the Wepener operations, was given command of a column which was sent on, a few days before the general movement, in the direction of Winburg to protect the right flank of the central advance and to fend off from it the hovering Boer commandos which had been pressed northwards by the April operations. He started from Thabanchu on April 30 and was soon in action with the Boer force a Houtnek under P. Botha. The battle lasted until nightfall and was renewed next day, when, with the help of reinforcements from French and Colvile, Ian Hamilton forced the Boers to retire on Clocolan.
Meanwhile there was energy on the left. Methuen had been for some time in occupation of the Boshof district, where he was in a position to threaten Kroonstad as well as the commandos at the Vaal bridge at Fourteen Streams between Kimberley and Mafeking. The relief of the latter was to be undertaken by a flying column under Mahon supported by Hunter's division. On May 3 Lord Roberts left Bloemfontein for the north. Kelly-Kenny's Division remained in charge of the Free State capital, while Chermside's policed the railway and the country in rear. Rundle at Thabanchu was instructed to prevent the enemy from regaining a footing in the districts east and south of Bloemfontein, and Methuen to push on towards the left bank of the Vaal beyond Hoopstad. No definite orders were sent to Buller, but for two months there had been a constant interchange of suggestions, counter-suggestions, plans, and projects for co-ordinate action.
Lord Roberts' objective was now Pretoria. The country in front of him was not difficult and he had a railway behind him. The line of communication with the south was fairly safe, and it was estimated that not more than 12,000 Boers with twenty-eight guns, under Delarey and L. Botha, who had been brought round from Natal to take chief command during the crisis, barred the way into the Transvaal; not including the loosely associated commandos operating on the right flank under the general control of De Wet, the Prince Rupert of the Boer War.
The nearest Boer post was at Brandfort, a few miles north of Karee Siding. On the right was the Winburg intervening column, 14,000 strong, under Ian Hamilton, who dragged in his train a weak supporting Division under Colvile, his superior officer in an anomalous position obliged to conform to his movements, and without authority to direct them. Brandfort was occupied that evening by Lord Roberts at the cost of six men killed. Vet River, the next obstacle, was secured on May 5, and crossed on the following day by the greater part of the main column. Ian Hamilton went into bivouac eight miles north of Winburg, which was occupied by his henchman Colvile.
Up to this time, Lord Roberts was acting without the cavalry under French, who since the Sannah's Post affair had been working in the Thabanchu district, and who joined the main column on May 9. Though his horses were not in good condition, his arrival increased the power of the centre to strike rapidly at the next obstacles, the Zand River and the town of Kroonstad forty miles beyond, which was now the seat of the Free State Government. The drifts on a section of the river nearly twenty miles in length were seized, the most easterly being taken by Ian Hamilton, who had gradually converged on the centre column and was now on the right of the line. Next day the passage of the river was effected; but Lord Roberts' hope of getting round and grappling each flank of the enemy, who numbered about 3,000 Transvaalers and 5,000 Free Staters, was not realized, and Botha withdrew without serious loss. That night the Army went into bivouac astride the railway between Zand River and Kroonstad.
On the left was the cavalry under French, who next morning raided northwards; but although he was unable, owing to the opposition of a force which came out of Kroonstad, to reach the railway north of the town, a small party of pioneers whom he had sent on succeeded during the night in blowing up the line at America Siding within a few yards of the high-road by which the enemy was retreating. This daring exploit, which although it had not much effect on the situation was not the less meritorious, was carried out by Hunter-Weston, who, just two months previously, had similarly cut the line north of Bloemfontein. The Boers had taken up a position at Boschrand to defend Kroonstad on the south, but French's turning movement scared them, and the position as well as the town was abandoned, in spite of efforts made by Steyn and Botha to arrest the flight. The seat of Government was transferred to Lindley.
The Zand River affair was an incident in the advance rather than a battle. Lord Roberts suffered but 115 casualties. Its effect on the enemy was chiefly moral. The Transvaalers, whose country had not yet heard the sounds of war, were alarmed, but the Free Staters were dismayed. The ties of race and kindred had engulfed them in a war which was not for their own cause, and the brunt of which they had borne for ten weeks. They thought that they had done all that could be expected of them and that the Transvaal must now look after itself. From that time there was no organized co-operation between the allies.
On May 12 Lord Roberts entered Kroonstad. In his advance, averaging thirteen miles per day, he had outstripped the reconstruction of the railway, of which almost every bridge and culvert had been blown up by the retreating Boers, and many miles of the permanent way had been destroyed. A halt was therefore necessary until the railhead could be brought nearer, and to give the Army an opportunity of pulling itself together, which was especially required by the cavalry. Little more than one-half of the 6,000 horses with which French marched out of Bloemfontein on May 6 were fit for service at Kroonstad seven days later.
Ian Hamilton was sent out in chase of the flitting Free State Government. He found it not at Lindley, nor at Heilbron, for it had trekked away to Frankfort. Between Lindley and Heilbron he was attacked in rear by a body of Boers, who emerged from the presumed vacuum behind him, but they were beaten off.
The bulk of the enemy's force which had evacuated Kroonstad, was now in the triangle formed by the railway, the Vaal and the Rhenoster. On its left flank was Ian Hamilton; and French was ordered out to hook the right flank, a repetition of the movement which had failed at Zand River. On May 22 Lord Roberts left Kroonstad.
The enemy, however, again evaded the net. Reconnaissances by French on May 23 showed that Botha had been frightened by the appearance of Ian Hamilton at Heilbron, and had crossed into the Transvaal. The discovery necessitated the recasting of Lord Roberts' plan, and brought about an interesting and entirely successful strategic movement. It was evident from Botha's dispositions that he expected Ian Hamilton to march straight to his front and endeavour to cross the Vaal above the railway bridge at Vereeniging. The difficult drifts and country below it were considered to be a sufficient protection, and were not strongly held by Botha, who on this occasion was completely out-generalled by his opponent.
Lord Roberts ordered Ian Hamilton to march from the right flank to the left, across the front of the main Army, and then in conjunction with French to wheel round to Meyerton on the line between Johannesburg and Vereeniging. On the evening of May 26 he entered the Transvaal at Wonderwater Drift. But Ian Hamilton's column had not the honour of being the first troops of the main body to enter the Transvaal, for he found the cavalry in front of him. French,43 who had been sent out from Kroonstad on May 20, reached the Vaal at Paris on the 24th, and at once threw part of his force into the Transvaal, the rest crossing higher up at Old Viljoen's Drift. He thus fittingly celebrated the last birthday festival of Queen Victoria, which was also appropriately honoured by a proclamation issued on the same day by Lord Roberts, by which the Orange Free State was annexed to the dominions of Her Majesty under the designation of the Orange River Colony—a suitable birthday offering from a distinguished soldier to his Sovereign.
The main body of the Army with the Commander-in-Chief at its head entered the Transvaal at Viljoen's Drift on May 27, and, like the pioneer columns of French and Ian Hamilton, met with no opposition. It was of good augury for the speedy subjugation of the South African Republic. The expected firm stand of the enemy along the right bank of the Vaal, where the great battle of the war was to be fought, was not made. Vereeniging and subsequently Meyerton were abandoned in spite of all Botha's efforts to keep his burghers' faces to the front. He held a strong line enclosing Vereeniging and the drifts and extending from near Heidelberg to Potchefstroom, but it impotently watched the British troops crossing the river. Some opposition was indeed offered to French when he was a day's march from the drift by which he had crossed into the Transvaal, but the bulk of the commandos fell away to the north and took up positions between Johannesburg and Krugersdorp. By arrangement between the Governments, none of the Free Staters accompanied Botha into the Transvaal; but he was in communication with De Wet at Frankfort, and was urging him to act against the railway in the Free State. He must have regretted that the strong hand and will of the man of Waterval Drift, Kitchener's Kopje, Sannah's Post, and Mostert's Hoek, were not with him on the right bank of the Vaal to animate the shrinking burghers of the South African Republic.
The immediate purpose of Lord Roberts was now the capture of Johannesburg, the relations of some of whose inhabitants towards Pretoria had brought on, not only the Jameson raid, but also the war. Although it was not defended by permanent military works, the burghers had taken up a position before it which might be very hard to capture, and there was another and greater cause for anxiety. The task before Lord Roberts may be likened to an attack on a ship manned by pirates, who threaten to fire the magazine as soon as a hand is laid upon the bulwarks. It was seriously proposed by certain persons in authority under Kruger, that on the appearance of the British Army before the city, the mines in which so many millions of British capital were invested should be wrecked; and it is probable that the threat would have been carried out with official sanction if Botha had not set his face resolutely against such a piratical act.
Lord Roberts proposed to effect the capture of Johannesburg by surrounding it. While with the main body of his Army he occupied Elandsfontein on the east, French and Ian Hamilton, the pioneers of the advance from Bloemfontein, would deal with the enemy posted south of the city and then establish themselves, the former near Klipfontein, north of it, and the latter near Florida, west of it. The right and the most vulnerable part of the Boer line was posted on Doornkop near the scene of the surrender of Jameson, the enthusiast, who, a few years before, had endeavoured with a few hundred adventurers and soldiers of fortune to solve the South African question which Great Britain was now tackling with a quarter of a million of trained soldiers.
On May 29 Ian Hamilton attacked the Doornkop position and won it after some hard infantry fighting; French, reinforced by the loan of Hamilton's mounted troops, having thrown a grappling iron round it, thereby rendering it untenable. At nightfall the two leaders were firmly planted west of the city. The movement deceived the enemy, to whom the advance of the main body under Lord Roberts on Elandsfontein came as an unwelcome surprise, though Botha had to some extent prepared for it. The detachments posted by him at various places east of the city offered no effectual resistance, and Lord Roberts went into bivouac that night at Elandsfontein. Johannesburg was entrapped between him on the east, and French and Hamilton on the north and west.
On May 30 the city agreed not unwillingly to surrender, but having regard to the presence in it of splinters of the lately shattered commandos, to the probability of street fighting, and to the risk of injury to the mines, Lord Roberts consented to postpone his formal entry until the following day; by which time the judicious action of the representatives of the Boer Government had averted the impending danger, and the troops took peaceful possession of Johannesburg.
In spite of disquieting news from the Free State, Lord Roberts remained firm in his purpose of advancing on Pretoria without delay. Not only was it the head quarters of Krugerism, but also the place in which the Boer harvest of war—more than 4,000 British prisoners, some of whom had been in captivity since the day of Talana Hill— was garnered.
On June 3 the advance on Pretoria, which it was hoped would be the last important movement of the war, was resumed; Wavell, with a brigade of Tucker's Division, being left behind as Bank Guard over the treasure in the mines. Botha had retired on the capital, but no one knew whether he would endeavour to defend it, or whether the vaunted forts would imperiously address the invader. In view of possible eventualities, however, a siege train, in which were included two 9.45" howitzers which had been hastily acquired in Austria, was taken up to answer Forts Schanzkop, Klapperkop, Wonderboom, and Daspoort if they should speak.
Throughout the month of May there had been alarms and excursions in the capital of the South African Republic. The sound of the plon-plon of the British Army was daily growing more distinct. The house of Ucalegon was on fire. The Volksraad met on May 7, and after a session of three days handed over the situation to the wavering executive Government, which had already made arrangements for an eastward retirement. Kruger, fearing lest his retreat by the Delagoa Bay railway should be cut off, slipped away to Machadodorp on May 29; the forts were emptied and abandoned, and Botha was bidden to do the best he could with the remnants of the Transvaal forces. On June 3 he took up a position on a ridge a few miles south of the city and prepared for the worst.
French, on the left front of the advance, was ambushed in a defile by a commando which had come up out of the west, but cleared himself with slight loss. The forts were dumb. Only the ridges between the city and Six-Mile Spruit were found to be held. The southern ridge was taken, and when the northern ridge was turned by Ian Hamilton, who was recalled from acting at large in support of French, the Boers retired. French passed through Zilikat's Nek and marched on Pretoria north of the Magaliesberg. On June 5 the capital of the South African Republic surrendered to Lord Roberts.
The Boers streamed away towards the east. An attempt made a few days before to cut the Delagoa Bay railway failed, not, however, through the fault of Hunter-Weston, who led the enterprise. The force given to him was insufficient for the purpose, and he was unable to repeat the exploits of Bloemfontein and Kroonstad.
The prisoners of war, whom to the number of 3,000 the Boers had not been able to drag away with them in their hurried flight, and who were in confinement at Waterval twelve miles north of the city, were brilliantly liberated on June 4 by some squadrons of cavalry; which not only ran the gauntlet of the Wonderboom defile, but passed through the Boer posts at the further Poort and snatched away the prize from under the eyes of Delarey, who was covering Waterval with 2,000 burghers and some guns.
On the day of Lord Robert's entry into Pretoria, Buller was still in Natal. They had started simultaneously, and in thirty-four days the main body had marched 300 miles, but the tardigrade Natal Army was now on Lord Roberts' right rear. It had been his hope that Buller would advance step by step with him, and having reached the Transvaal, would strike northwards and establish himself on the Delagoa Bay railway and deny it to Kruger. At Kroonstad, Lord Roberts, seeing that he could not expect assistance from Buller, contemplated detaching Ian Hamilton and sending him into the Eastern Transvaal, but the fear of unduly weakening the main body in view of probable opposition at the Vaal, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, caused him to give up the project. As events turned out, it would in all probability have been successful.
Pretoria was in the hands of the British Army, Kruger was in flight, the war was over said the experts. Without having fought a single action that could be termed a battle, and at a cost of less than 500 casualties, of which but sixty-one men were killed, Lord Roberts had passed from Bloemfontein and had seized the perverse city in which most of the South African troubles of the past twenty-five years had been brewed. The Free State, though kicking, was apparently helpless. There were, however, not a few observers on the spot to whom the easy success and the few casualties were of ominous import. A change in the method of the opposition to be offered in the future to the invader was indicated. The Boers were discovering that they were incapable of waging systematic warfare and were on the point of resorting to guerilla, for which they, as well as the arena, were by nature particularly well adapted.
On the Boer side there was a transitory interval of weakness. Even before Lord Roberts' occupation of Pretoria Kruger wrote doubtfully to Steyn; and after it Botha was inclined to negotiate with the invader. He was with his commandos at Hatherley, a few miles east of Pretoria. A Council of War was held in the office of a Russian Jew, who was a distiller of whisky. The leaders complained that they had been deserted by Kruger, who had slunk away with the civil government and all the money he could lay his hands on, and the general opinion was in favour of abandoning the struggle. A meeting between Lord Roberts and Botha was even arranged, when suddenly De Wet intervened. The news of his successful raids on the line of communication in the Free State relaxed the tension of the minds of the despondent commandants. Easily disheartened and easily reassured, they leapt in an instant from one psychological pole to the other. Botha announced that he was ready to meet Lord Roberts, not only in conference, but in battle. The negotiations were, however, not definitely broken off until after the Battle of Diamond Hill.
Lord Roberts had sent Kitchener with a column to see to the trouble in the Free State, and could not put more than about 16,000 men into the field against Botha, who, with 6,000 men, had taken up a strong position astride the Delagoa Bay railway sixteen miles east of Pretoria. His centre was at Pienaar's Poort, where the railway passes through a defile, and his front, which his former experience of Lord Roberts' tactics led him to extend greatly, was nearly twenty-five miles in length, and ran along an irregular chain of hills, kopjes, and ridges. Facing the Diamond Hill and Donkerhoek range, south of the centre, is another range of heights through which the two poorts Tyger and Zwavel pass, and which circles round the source of Pienaar's River towards the Diamond Hill range. North of the centre runs a broken range ending abruptly at the Kameelfontein ridge, which overlooks the broad Kameelfontein valley leading to the Krokodil Spruit; and across the valley rises the Boekenhoutskloof ridge, a detached feature with triangular contours, which, being somewhat in advance, commands the approaches to Kameelfontein ridge, where the Boer right flank under Delarey was posted.
The left flank was on Mors Kop and curved round indefinitely to Kameelzyn Kraal with detached posts in the direction of Tygerpoort. The centre north and south of Pienaar's Poort was the strongest section of the line, and for this reason and for another it was held by comparatively small numbers. Botha was an acute observer and had learnt the moves of the British autumn manoeuvre opening, a holding attack on the centre not intended to be pushed home in order to eke out paucity of numbers operating on a wide front. Lord Roberts, in spite of his superiority of strength, could not hope to inflict a decisive defeat upon Botha's well-posted commandos, but only to remove them out of striking distance of Pretoria, and he was successful.
The earlier movements of the attack on June 11 were in the nature of a reconnaissance in force, as it was uncertain how far to the north and south the Boer front extended. The usual tactics were adopted. French with the 1st and 4th Cavalry Brigades under Porter and Dickson was to work round the enemy's right flank and to endeavour to circle round it to the railway; a demonstrating attack on the centre would be made by Pole-Carew; while Ian Hamilton acted against the left flank.
French approached the Kameelfontein valley and won a footing on Boekenhontskloof ridge, which the Boers were only now moving out to occupy, with his left. His right soon came under heavy fire from Krokodil Spruit Hill on the Kameelfontein ridge, but he succeeded in seizing Louwbaken, which he held tenaciously in spite of Delarey's attempts to work round it and of the shells of a heavy gun posted six miles away near Edendale. Meanwhile his left had been struggling for several hours on the Boekenhoutskloof ridge, which it eventually cleared, and was then able to support the right, which was still clinging desperately to Louwbaken. Throughout the afternoon the Boers continued their attacks on French, but were unable to shift him. At nightfall he found that instead of turning the enemy's right, he had only plastered himself against it. He had already reported the situation to Lord Roberts, who authorized him to withdraw if necessary, at the same time cautioning him "not to risk too many casualties."
Pole-Carew, in the centre, was in action with his heavy guns only, "demonstrating" according to the rules, pending the development of the flank attacks.
The force on the right under Ian Hamilton was strong in mounted troops. He entered the arena through Zwavelpoort, and thrust at the bristling but indeterminate left flank of the enemy. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade under Broadwood evicted a small body of Boers from Tygerpoort, and when the 3rd Brigade under Gordon came up to hold the position until the arrival of an infantry regiment, Broadwood advanced across the valley in the direction of Mors Kop, and soon was not only under shell fire from Diamond Hill, but also under rifle fire from some vague detachments of Boers on his right rear.
Nor was this all, for as he proceeded, the enemy was seen pouncing down from Diamond Hill on to the Kleinfontein ridge upon the line of his advance, and simultaneously he was fired on from the right. Two horse artillery guns, which had been sent out, with an insufficient escort, to deal with the swoop, were almost captured, and were only saved by Lord Airlie at the cost of his own life. The attack on the right was soon checked, but the cavalry instead of outflanking the enemy was itself outflanked and unable to make a further advance.
Gordon had now come away from Tygerpoort, and, in touch with Broadwood, screened the right flank of Ian Hamilton's infantry attack; which after the failure to turn the enemy's left flank, had necessarily to be a frontal movement against the strongest section of his line. Bruce Hamilton, with a brigade of Ian Hamilton's command, crossed Pienaar's River near Boschkop and expelled the Boer advanced front from the Kleinfontein ridge. Ian Hamilton was now face to face with Diamond Hill, but the afternoon was too far spent for further action.
The general idea for the right attack on the following day was a movement by Bruce Hamilton, reinforced by the Brigade of Guards from Pole-Carew's command in the centre. Diamond Hill was taken without much difficulty early in the afternoon, and the Donkerhoek plateau was cleared. A gap was now made in the Boer line, the commandos driven off making for the Donkerpoort ridge on the one side, or the Rhenosterfontein heights on the other. From three positions a double rain of bullets poured upon Bruce Hamilton on the plateau, until the heights were reached by De Lisle's mounted infantry from Broadwood's brigade. Bruce Hamilton's right flank was thus relieved, but between him and the enemy clustering on the ridge intervened the impassable ravine of the Donkerpoort. Night was approaching and nothing more could be done.
On the left, French held his own but no more during the day, and Pole-Carew in the centre had no opportunity of going into action. The capture of the Rhenosterfontein heights occurred at an opportune moment and perhaps averted a disaster. At Delarey's request Botha was on the point of sending reinforcements to the Boer right to enable it to drive away French and fall upon the weak British centre, when De Lisle's success vitally changed the situation.
Next morning, June 13, the British Army found that it had won a victory without knowing it. The Boers had faded away during the night and had abandoned the strongest position which they had ever held in the Free State or the Transvaal. French and Ian Hamilton went in pursuit with no results. Delarey succeeded in circling round towards the Western Transvaal, Botha retired to the east. The casualties on the British side were 176; the Boers professed to have lost but four burghers killed and twenty wounded.
Lord Kitchener was away in the Free State, and the battle was fought under the usual restrictive conditions, that no operation likely to entail serious loss of life was to be undertaken: and the enemy found that the ordeal of combat was not very dreadful.
With the occupation of Pretoria, which was not virtually effected until Botha's retreat from Diamond Hill, the ranging phase of Lord Roberts' campaign was nearly at an end. At the two capitals and at other towns already occupied, he had places of arms, from which without wide divagations of large bodies of troops, he could hope soon to control and eventually to dominate the Republics.
To see to the long and lonely furrow which he had ploughed across the veld from the Orange to the Magaliesberg, and to prevent its being obliterated by the wayward and shifting sand of the desert, was the present task before him.
Plumer raided across the Limpopo into the Transvaal as far back as December, 1899, and Hunter occupied Christiana on May 15.