[Footnote 200: See maps Nos. 13, 13(a), 13(b) and free hand sketch.]
[Sidenote: The 1st Division takes up assigned places, Dec. 10th, for night march.]
The preliminary movements for the attack on Magersfontein Hill, the orders for which are given at the end of the last chapter, were duly executed. Major-General Wauchope's brigade spent the first part of the night of the 10th December bivouacked near the dam behind Headquarter Hill. Close to the Highlanders lay the artillery, the 9th Lancers, the detachment of New South Wales Lancers, the Balloon section, R.E., and the mounted infantry. The covering outposts were furnished by the mounted infantry and the Seaforth Highlanders. The brigade of Guards in the evening crossed the Modder and halted on its northern bank, while the 12th Lancers remained south of the river until midnight, when, though originally directed to accompany the brigade of Guards, they joined the 9th Lancers at their bivouac in accordance with a later order.
[Sidenote: Highland Brigade starts 12.30 a.m. Dec. 11th.]
The night was of a darkness such as might be felt. A drizzle in the afternoon had been succeeded by pouring rain, and a thunderstorm was imminent before the start was made. The ground between the bivouac and Magersfontein Hill was known to be obstructed by boulders, ant-heaps, and patches of bush. These various conditions strengthened Major-General Wauchope in his conviction that for the Highland brigade to advance in any but the most compact formation was impossible. At 12.30 a.m. he therefore marched from his bivouac in mass of quarter-columns--or in other words in a column of thirty companies, one behind the other. To minimise the chances of loss of connection during the night, the ranks were closed up as densely as possible, and each soldier was ordered to grasp the clothing of his neighbour. As an additional precaution, the left guides (i.e., the non-commissioned officers on the left of each company) held ropes which ran from front to rear of the mass. At the head of the column was Major-General Wauchope with part of his staff, all afoot. The mounted officers' horses were led by grooms in rear. Major Benson, D.A.A.G., during his reconnaissances of the enemy's position, had taken the compass bearing of Magersfontein Hill, and to him was assigned the duty of guiding the troops to the foot of this kopje, towards which the march was made. On the directing flank, the brigade-major, Lt.-Colonel J. S. Ewart, continually passed up and down, having the names of the officers repeated to him in an undertone, so that he might identify the several companies, and see that they were not losing close touch.
[Footnote 201: The two companies of Seaforth Highlanders, who had been on outpost, did not accompany their battalion, but worked their way to the front later in the day.]
[Sidenote: The Highland Brigade night march.]
To maintain regularity in the march occasional short halts were necessary; but at 2 a.m. there was a more serious check. The torrential rain had clogged Major Benson's compass, and he became uncertain whether the column had not trended away towards the left. Major-General Wauchope sent back for Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart. After a brief consultation, a slight change of direction to the right was made. In daylight and on a level parade ground this is a very simple matter; but in darkness and during a South African tempest, it was by no means easy. The inclination to the right was given to the column. The advance was resumed. Nothing else occurred seriously to retard progress until, just as the top of Magersfontein Hill was first made visible by the lightning, a growth of mimosa bush brought the brigade to a standstill. Major-General Wauchope, had already decided to deploy. To hasten this, he himself led the Black Watch in single file through the bush, and desired Lieutenant-Colonel Ewart to guide the remainder of the brigade round the obstruction. The three battalions in rear, easily avoiding the small patch of thorny shrubs, rejoined more quickly than had been expected, and soon fell into their proper places. When the brigade-major reported their arrival, Major-General Wauchope issued instructions for deployment on the Black Watch, but not in the same order of battalions as he had laid down on the previous day. The Seaforth Highlanders were now to come up on the left, the Argyll and Sutherland on the right, of the battalion of formation. Major-General Wauchope had originally intended that both the Seaforth and the Argyll and Sutherland should prolong the left of the Black Watch, each having two companies in the firing line, two in support and four in reserve. According to this design the twelve reserve companies were to have been formed in two ranks, and were to have occupied approximately the same space from flank to flank as that covered by the six companies in the firing line. The Highland Light Infantry was intended to act as the reserve to the brigade. The presumption is that he changed his plan at the last moment, in the hope of ensuring that his right should completely overlap the eastern flank of Magersfontein Hill.
[Footnote 202: See p. 312.]
[Sidenote: 4 a.m. the Boers smite the brigade in the act of deploying. The consequent rush forward.]
At about 4 a.m., almost before the officers commanding battalions had issued executive orders for the deployment, a well-sustained fire from the Boer trenches a few hundred yards away, at the foot of Magersfontein Hill, was suddenly poured into the serried ranks of the Highlanders. The brigade was thus assailed at a most inopportune moment, when in the act of changing from mass of quarter-columns into fighting formation, a manoeuvre which under the most favourable circumstances always requires time. To carry it out under the close range of magazine rifles was impossible. By a common impulse, such officers and men as were able to extricate themselves from the mass rushed towards the enemy. In the confusion caused by the unexpected bullets, and by the partial disintegration of the column, due to the onward dash, battalions became intermixed, and regular formation, though not discipline, was lost. Though the dull grey of early dawn nearly put a stop to all supervision, though the Major-General, while leading the two foremost companies of the Black Watch, was almost instantly shot dead, and no one knew who was present to assume the chief command--the crowd pushed forward. A mixed body of soldiers from various battalions succeeded in making their way to within 200 or 300 yards of the enemy. Then, unable to advance further, they flung themselves on the ground behind such scanty cover as there was, and opened fire. In the centre of the group were many of the Black Watch. Lieutenant-Colonel G. L. J. Goff, who commanded the Argyll and Sutherland, was killed, but his officers and men came up, some on the left, some on the right. Lieut.-Colonel J. W. Hughes-Hallett, in accordance with his instructions, brought the greater portion of the Seaforth towards the right. Such was, broadly speaking, the character of the movement, though all were greatly intermixed. The result was that Magersfontein Hill, originally assigned as the object to be assailed, had now an irregular line of Highlanders in the plain at its foot, lapping round its eastern extremity and spreading somewhat to the west of it. Those of the Highland Light Infantry who had not joined the men in front, extended as a reserve in rear.
[Footnote 203: These companies of this, the leading battalion of the brigade, had actually deployed when the Boers opened fire.]
[Sidenote: The course of The Highlanders' attempt on Magersfontein Hill.]
The Scandinavians, posted on the level ground at the junction of the Boer left and centre, had, from the first, enfiladed the British troops. When some of the Highlanders came round the foot of the hill the opposing forces were at close quarters. The Scandinavian commando, resisting bravely, was destroyed by mixed detachments as they pressed onwards. Having thus succeeded in getting round the key of the whole position, Magersfontein Hill itself, these composite parties several times attempted to storm it. Some ninety or a hundred of the Black Watch, under Captain W. Macfarlan, made some progress up its steep slopes. A body composed of Seaforth and Black Watch, perhaps a hundred in all, under Lieut. R. S. Wilson, was also struggling upwards, as was Lieutenant E. Cox, with another party of the Seaforth. It was now daylight, and the British artillery, knowing that the Highland brigade had sustained a check, and unaware that their comrades were on the kopje, scourged the Boer position with shrapnel. Some of the shells burst over the assailants. Though, owing to this mischance, the rest of the stormers could not advance further, the men under Lieutenant Wilson, probably less exposed to the guns, pressed onwards till they were unfortunately taken in flank. Cronje, who had been sleeping at a farm six miles from the centre of his line, was aroused by the sound of battle, and galloping to the hill, chanced to arrive at this moment. The rifles of his escort suddenly smiting Wilson's men from an unexpected direction at short range, checked them and possibly changed the issue of the day. At the same time Boers from the northern end of their left wing, who had hurried up to fill the gap caused by the destruction of the Scandinavians, between the low ridge and the hill, opened upon Wilson's detachment from the rear. Thus assailed from two quarters at once, the attack withered away and all fell back. Some were captured; the remainder made good their retreat to the right of the brigade. The Boers, following up this success, pressed the right wing of the most advanced Highlanders in flank, and gradually drove it back. The brigade came to a halt, and, although the greater part of the Highland Light Infantry was brought up on the right by Lt.-Colonel H. R. Kelham, no further progress could be made. The front line was now dissolved into groups of men, who lay grimly under the storm of bullets poured upon them by the well-concealed riflemen four or five hundred yards away. Then followed from time to time a series of gallant but spasmodic efforts by successive detachments, who attempted to storm as opportunity offered. Senior regimental officers led some of these; subalterns rushed forward with others, but all were equally unsuccessful. As soon as they moved they were fully exposed to a hail of lead, and after a short rush were arrested under close fire by the wire fence which ran across the central defences. Not a few as they attempted to struggle through it were caught by their clothes and accoutrements, and held there, targets for the defenders. The burghers who manned the trenches, though greatly harassed by the artillery, were therefore still able to hold their own against the troops who faced them, and the attack was brought to a complete standstill. For many hours this situation continued. The wearied soldiers remained, fasting and without water, exposed to the blazing sun of a South African midsummer's day and pinned to the ground by an unseen enemy.
[Footnote 204: An officer in the Highland brigade who took the time fixes the hour of this retirement at about 8 a.m.]
[Sidenote: The artillery saves the brigade, and with other corps, the division.]
The accurate and well sustained shooting of the artillery now saved the brigade from destruction. The resolute action of the cavalry and mounted infantry, of the brigade of Guards, and of the Yorkshire Light Infantry on the right, prevented the reverse from becoming a disaster for the whole division. The Naval 4·7-in. gun, under Captain Bearcroft, R.N., with two officers and 80 men, occupied the same ground as during the bombardment of the 10th, the ground, namely, on the west of the railway near the Ganger's Hut. To its right front was the Howitzer battery, while the three field batteries came into action to the north-east of Headquarter Hill, at a range of 2,000 yards. Their first target was Magersfontein Hill, on which they opened about 4.50 a.m., as soon as they could see to lay their guns, but the officers, soon realising that the Boers were holding, not the kopje itself, but trenches cut at its foot, reduced their range to 1,700 yards, with the result that the volume of the enemy's fire sensibly decreased. Half an hour later the officer commanding the artillery, Lieutenant-Colonel Hall, pushed the 18th battery to within 1,400 yards of the entrenchments, and shortly afterwards supported it with the 62nd battery. There these two batteries continued in action for the rest of the day and, thanks to a slight swell in the ground in front of the guns and to a favourable background, with exceedingly small loss. The 75th, which had been supporting the bombardment of the trenches by the other two batteries, was despatched between 9 and 10 a.m. to reinforce G. battery Royal Horse artillery, whose movements will now be recorded.
[Sidenote: Babington's mounted column on the east.]
Shortly before 4 a.m. Major-General J. M. Babington led the 12th Lancers, with G. battery and the greater part of the mounted infantry, to the eastward, hoping to turn the enemy's left flank. In a few minutes the sudden roar from the trenches warned him that fighting had begun, and soon afterwards his patrols were shot at from the low ridge which stretches from Magersfontein Hill to the Modder. He accordingly ordered G. battery to shell this ridge from the ground shown on the map, No. 13. In twenty minutes, the defenders had been at least temporarily silenced. About the time that G. battery opened Major-General Babington sent the 9th Lancers also eastwards, with instructions to force their way along the river to Brown's Drift and thus turn the enemy's left. Very early in the morning they reached Moss Drift, but their repeated efforts to advance further up the Modder were beaten back by musketry. While G. battery was employed against the low ridge, it became evident to Major-General Babington that the Highlanders not only had failed to carry the Magersfontein heights, but that they required instant reinforcement. He accordingly desired Major R. Bannatine-Allason, the battery commander, to move north-east over the scrubby ground, and not to come into action until he was stopped by the bullets or could get a clear view of what was going on at the front. The battery, with an escort of 12th Lancers and mounted infantry, advanced at a trot, and its commander, having obtained information from scattered Highlanders, pushed on towards the low knoll called on the map Horse Artillery Hill, the name by which it became known during the battle. Whilst the wire fence which ran sixty or seventy yards to the south of Horse Artillery Hill was being cut to clear the way the battery came under infantry fire. The commander, on reconnoitring the knoll in preparation for the battery, decided to run the guns up by hand and place them on the reverse slope. Having taken up this situation he was able to continue in action there for twenty-four hours with the loss of only four men. The selected spot was 2,200 yards from the Boer trenches at the foot of Magersfontein Hill, and 1,400 yards from the low ridge, which was a few feet higher than Horse Artillery Hill. In consequence of the position being on the reverse slope there was, between the hill on which the guns were, and the low ridge, "dead ground." That is to say, that no shells from the battery could reach the space which lay nearest in the valley below. Therefore, on the one hand, this could be safely occupied by protecting troops, and on the other, unless some were there, the Boers could almost without risk have assailed the battery and perhaps have carried it by surprise. Before Major Allason's arrival there were on this dead ground many of the Highland brigade. Very soon after G. battery opened fire these men were reinforced by part of two dismounted squadrons of the 12th Lancers under Lieut.-Colonel the Earl of Airlie, who passed between the guns, and by parties of mounted infantry who came up on the right under Major P. W. A. A. Milton. During the early hours of the morning, Major Allason distributed his shells over the trenches at the foot of Magersfontein Hill and along the low ridge down to the river; but on the arrival of the 75th battery R.F.A. on his left, the target was divided. From that time, the 75th ranged upon the Magersfontein trenches and the northern end of the low ridge, while the Horse artillery battery kept down the musketry from its centre and south.
[Footnote 205: The fence which runs north-west from Moss Drift.]
[Footnote 206: See map No. 13(a).]
[Footnote 207: See Footnote at the end of the chapter.]
[Sidenote: The night-march of the Guards and their entry into the fight.]
At 1 a.m. the brigade of Guards fell in and moved towards its rendezvous, near the previous bivouac of the Highland brigade; the two battalions of the Coldstream were followed by the Grenadiers and the Scots Guards. Owing to the extreme darkness of the night, the storm, and difficulties similar to those experienced by Major-General Wauchope's brigade, connection was not maintained in the rear half of the column. The battalion of Scots Guards, in consequence of some confusion during the march, which they attribute to the fact that two companies of the regiment in front of them had lost connection, became detached from the column, and therefore halted till dawn. The two companies in question went on to the place ordered, but the Scots Guards marched to Headquarters, where they were detailed to act as escort to the Howitzers and Field artillery, and did not rejoin their brigade until the 12th. The three other battalions pushed on to the rendezvous which they reached about half an hour before the Boers opened on the Highlanders. After Lord Methuen had realised that the attack had failed, he ordered Major-General Colvile to occupy the often mentioned low ridge, but to avoid committing himself to a decisive engagement. Keeping the Grenadiers as a general reserve, Major-General Colvile directed the two battalions of Coldstream, the 1st on the right, the 2nd on the left, towards Horse Artillery Hill. The 2nd battalion moved in echelon from the right with four half companies in the firing line, four half companies in support, and four companies in reserve. The 1st battalion was in much the same formation, but being on the immediately exposed flank, took the precaution of posting two companies in echelon on the right rear. As the brigade approached the low ridge it was seen that the 1st battalion was in danger of being enfiladed. The direction was accordingly changed to the right; and, as the new line of advance would necessarily carry the brigade to the south of Horse Artillery Hill and therefore connection with the Highland brigade would not be established, unless special provision for it were made, Major H. G. D. Shute was ordered to move half his company of the 2nd Coldstream to the left, to keep touch with Major-General Wauchope's right. This half-company reached Horse Artillery Hill, and passing the battery, pushed forward against the ridge about the same time as Major Milton with his mounted infantry and the dismounted 12th Lancers entered the dead ground in front of the guns. At about 6 a.m. Major-General Colvile was ordered to reinforce the right of the Highland brigade, and accordingly sent forward the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream. Several hours later he also sent two companies of the 1st battalion to strengthen this part of the line. Lt.-Colonel the Hon. A. H. Henniker-Major, who commanded the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream Guards, received urgent appeals for help from the dismounted Lancers and mounted infantry, then hotly engaged at very short range with the enemy, who were hidden behind the bush and boulders on the northern end of the low ridge. In order to enable them to retain this ground, so important because of the protection its possession by infantry afforded to the two batteries on the hill behind it, he was compelled to send almost half of his battalion to their assistance. Later in the day the 12th Lancers and M.I. were withdrawn. From that time onwards, the portion of the 2nd Coldstream occupied the place hitherto held by these mounted troops, and remained there until the next morning; the rest of the 2nd Coldstream was more to the right, and like the 1st battalion, which prolonged the line towards the river, was engaged against the enemy's left wing until nightfall. During the course of the day two companies of the Grenadiers were sent up to reinforce the firing line, and to connect the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Coldstream. Many of the Guards, the dismounted cavalry, and the mounted infantry, were fighting all day at exceedingly short range. In some cases barely 100 yards separated the skirmishers from the Boer riflemen, but Major-General Colvile had not sufficient strength to push home a decisive attack upon the ridge, even had his instructions not forbidden him to do so.
[Footnote 208: See map No. 13 (a).]
[Sidenote: Lt.-Col. Barter and Major Little at Voetpads, Moss Drift and elsewhere.]
The right bank of the Modder was guarded by the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Early in the morning their commanding officer, Lt.-Colonel C. St. L. Barter, whilst holding the works he had thrown up at Voetpads Drift, ascertained that a commando was passing along the left bank down stream towards Moss Drift, thereby threatening to turn the right of the Guards' brigade. Though the letter of his orders limited him to the defence of Voetpads Drift, he, on his own responsibility, marched up the river with five companies towards Moss Drift. Owing to the severity of the Boer fire, the K.O.Y.L.I. failed to reach this ford; yet their presence not only frustrated the outflanking movement, but checked an intended demonstration on the left bank, and set free two of the three squadrons of the 9th Lancers, who, unable to make headway on horseback, had been fighting dismounted. Major M. O. Little, who was thus released for more suitable service, left one squadron to connect the K.O.Y.L.I. with the right of the 1st Coldstream, and led the remainder of his regiment to the neighbourhood of Horse Artillery Hill, where they remained until ordered back to support the extreme right flank.
[Footnote 209: See map No. 13 (a).]
[Sidenote: Fresh troops available up to 7 a.m. Dec. 11th.]
[Sidenote: Pole-Carew's dispositions.]
[Sidenote: Lt.-Col. Downman leads half of Gordons to support Highland brigade.]
[Sidenote: He is joined by Lt.-Col. Macbean and three more companies.]
Though the early failure of the attack had compelled Lord Methuen to throw the Guards, his reserve, into the fight almost from its beginning, a considerable number of his troops had not been engaged up to 7 a.m. Major-General R. Pole-Carew, to whom had been entrusted the double duty of guarding the camp and, without seriously committing himself, of demonstrating along the railway line, had disposed of his men in the following manner. The Headquarters of his brigade (the 9th), with the Northumberland Fusiliers and three companies of the 2nd Northamptonshire regiment, were near the railway. The other five companies of the Northampton remained in the camp, which was further protected to the north-west by outposts of the half-battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire regiment. Two companies of Royal Munster Fusiliers guarded the armoured train. Besides these, three companies of the Royal engineers and about 240 of the Naval brigade with four 12-pounder 12-cwt. Naval guns were available to man the works if necessity should arise. Close to Headquarter Hill six companies of the Scots Guards lay in rear of the field guns as their escort. A wing of the Gordon Highlanders, under Lt.-Colonel G. T. F. Downman, detached by Lord Methuen's orders from the original duty assigned to the battalion, that of convoying the transport of the division, was also at hand. On his arrival at Headquarter Hill, Lieutenant-Colonel Downman was ordered to march this half-battalion towards the extreme eastern point of Magersfontein Hill and to despatch a message to Lieutenant-Colonel F. Macbean, who was in charge of the rear wing, telling him to leave one company with the convoy and hasten with three companies to Headquarters. When within 2,200 yards of the enemy Lieutenant-Colonel Downman extended, and in successive waves of skirmishers passed through various parties of the Highland brigade. In this formation he pressed forward until the leading line of the Gordon was within 290 paces of the Boers, when further advance became impossible, and a halt was ordered. The supporting skirmishers also halted, and joined the groups which were nearest to them. The movement of these reinforcements across the plain attracted the enemy's attention and caused a recrudescence of his fire, which had been dying down. When the three companies of the rear half-battalion reached Headquarter Hill they were sent to report to Major-General Babington, then at Horse Artillery Hill. Finding that he was not required there, Lieutenant-Colonel Macbean rejoined the remainder of his corps.
[Footnote 210: This order was despatched to Lieutenant-Colonel Macbean at 7.40 a.m.]
[Footnote 211: The distance is verified by Capt. W. E. Gordon, V.C., Gordon Highlanders, who, while in the leading line, fell wounded at a spot which many months later he was able to identify. Thence he paced to the Boer trench. Lt. H. E. M. Douglas, R.A.M.C., crept forward to inject morphia into various wounded officers and men at this very spot. He was awarded the V.C. for this act. This decoration was given to Capt. E. B. Towse, Gordon Highlanders, and Corporal J. Shaul, H.L.I., for gallantry during the action.]
[Sidenote: A grave misunderstanding takes Highlanders to rear of guns.]
[Sidenote: Scots Guards protect dispersed Highlanders.]
About 1 p.m. the Boers began to outflank the right and right rear of the Highland brigade. Colonel Hughes-Hallett, Seaforth Highlanders, who was on this side of the line, thereupon gave orders to the men near him, intending to throw back the flank so as to meet the threatened attack. Colonel Downman, Gordon Highlanders, who was in the centre, seeing what was Colonel Hughes-Hallett's intention, raised himself to give to those in his neighbourhood the necessary directions for its execution. He at once fell mortally wounded. The officers strove hard to effect an orderly change of front; but their signals were misconstrued by many of the rank and file, who began to retire. First the right gave way; then at about 1.30 p.m. the movement became general and, covered by a very rapid and well aimed hail of shells from the Field artillery against the works at the foot of Magersfontein Hill, nearly all the Highlanders who were immediately in front of the Boers, gradually and with considerable loss, ebbed away to the guns. The men were reformed at about 3.30 p.m. in rear of the 18th and 62nd batteries. Some groups, however, perhaps altogether amounting to two or three hundred officers and men, held on where they were till nightfall. As soon as Lord Methuen saw the situation, he sent forward the only formed unit that was near enough to the much dispersed troops to cover their retirement. This was that body of six companies of Scots Guards which had been detailed to act in support of the Field artillery. Passing through the broken ranks they halted about 1,500 yards from Magersfontein Hill.
[Footnote 212: During the battle the 18th battery fired 940 rounds, the 62nd about 1,000 rounds, the 75th, 721, G. battery R.H.A., 1,179, and the Naval 4·7-in. 73.]
[Sidenote: A lost battle.]
The unfortunate incidents of the early morning had gravely compromised Lord Methuen's battle array. The attack on the key of the enemy's position, on the success of which his later combinations depended, had failed. The brigade employed in it had fallen back with heavy loss, and was for the moment not available for further employment. Of the three battalions of Guards left to Major-General Colvile, two were fully engaged in holding the right of the British line; the third, or reserve battalion, could not be withdrawn from their support. Major-General Pole-Carew's brigade was so weakened by the absence of the K.O.Y.L.I., who were keeping the enemy back at Moss Drift, and by the number of troops retained in the neighbourhood of the camp for its defence, that it could not be called upon for reinforcements. To oppose the centre of the Boer line Lord Methuen had to rely entirely upon his guns, and on the battalion of Scots Guards which formed their escort. The greater part of his cavalry was fighting dismounted in the bush on his right flank, and of other infantry immediately available he had none. Fortunately the Boers were unenterprising. After rapid shooting at the Highlanders, while they were retreating, the hostile musketry practically ceased, though against the right flank heavy bursts of spasmodic energy occasionally broke out, notably at 5.30, when for a short time it appeared as though an attack threatened Major-General Colvile's brigade. As the afternoon wore on, it became possible to withdraw the cavalry from their dismounted duties, and, although the enemy suddenly opened fire with their guns and pom-poms, these did but little damage before they were silenced by the British artillery. Yet some shells fell among the Highland brigade during its reorganisation behind the field batteries, and it was found necessary to remove it to the original bivouac, which was well out of range.
[Sidenote: Arrangements for night of Dec. 11th.]
At nightfall the 75th battery was transferred from Horse Artillery Hill to the left of the 18th battery. The guns of the brigade division, and of G. battery R.H.A., which was left on Horse Artillery Hill, were kept ready for instant action all night. The Scots Guards established outposts within 1,100 yards of Magersfontein Hill, and the 2nd Coldstream continued to hold the ground they had gained during the day's fighting. The mounted troops were withdrawn to the river, and such of the Guards' brigade as were not on outpost bivouacked on the field.
[Sidenote: The part of 9th brigade and use of the balloon on Dec. 11th.]
The 9th brigade were unable to play any important part in the battle. Major-General Pole-Carew, hampered by the necessity of leaving a considerable body of men to guard the camp, could only demonstrate along the railway in small force. This feint caused Cronje no anxiety, and did not prevent him from withdrawing many of the Potchefstroom commando from his right to strengthen his left during the action. The officer in charge of the balloon, despite a strong wind which impeded his operations, observed and reported this movement. He also informed Lord Methuen of the gradual trickling back of the Highlanders, and of the arrival of reinforcements for the enemy from Spytfontein and the north-east. Thanks also to the help of the balloon, the howitzer battery obtained the range of Boer ponies, concealed behind the low ridge, and accounted for more than 200 of them.
[Sidenote: British and Boer losses.]
The British casualties amounted in all to 22 officers and 188 other ranks killed, 46 officers and 629 other ranks wounded, and 1 officer and 62 other ranks missing. Of this total the Highland brigade lost 15 officers killed and 30 wounded, 173 other ranks killed, 529 wounded and missing. Among the battalions engaged the Black Watch suffered most severely: 7 officers were killed, and 11 wounded; 86 men were killed, and 199 wounded. The Boers are believed to have lost 87 killed and 188 wounded.
[Sidenote: Dec. 12th. Lord Methuen decides to fall back to Modder.]
Soon after daylight on the 12th, Lord Methuen made a personal reconnaissance. He hoped to find that, as at Modder river, the Boers had withdrawn before dawn. His own observations confirmed reports he had received during the night, showing that the ground was still strongly held. Major R. N. R. Reade, his intelligence officer, accompanied by a colonial scout named Harding, making his way across the battlefield, had investigated the Boer trenches, and found them occupied. A patrol from the Scots Guards had been received with many shots from the foot of Magersfontein Hill. The General then summoned his brigadiers and the Headquarter Staff to discuss the situation. Major-General Colvile suggested that the troops should continue to retain what had been gained; but Lord Methuen, agreeing with the remainder of his subordinates who took a different view, gave orders for a retirement to the Modder River camp at noon. He left the execution of the operation to Major-General Colvile.
[Sidenote: The gathering in of the wounded.]
While the dead and wounded were being gathered in, a messenger, bearing a flag of truce from the Boers, arrived at the outposts of the Scots Guards to say that the British might send ambulances for those who were lying near the foot of Magersfontein Hill. This was done, and the Royal Army Medical Corps worked side by side with the Boer doctors. For a moment this unofficial armistice was broken by the fire of a gun. The officer in charge of it had not been informed of the suspension of hostilities. A medical officer was sent with an apology, explaining the incident, and the labour of mercy proceeded unhindered.
[Sidenote: The retreat carried out by 4 p.m. Dec. 12th/99.]
When the truce was over, a rearguard, composed of the cavalry brigade and mounted infantry, G. battery R.H.A., and the 62nd Field battery, the Guards' brigade and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was detailed to cover the retreat. The enemy's guns, which during the battle had been notably silent, sent a few shells after the column, but they were soon stopped by the batteries of the rearguard, and by the 4·7-in. gun, which fired 50 rounds during the 12th. By 4 p.m. Lord Methuen's division, not otherwise molested, was once more collected round Modder River station.
* * * * *
The successful choice of the reverse slope at Horse Artillery Hill by Major Allason raises a point of considerable interest. During the war of 1870 the Germans habitually preferred the slope facing their enemy. Though as yet we have not had sufficient details as to the action of the Japanese to enable us to draw definite conclusions, it is practically certain that they will, at least at first, have followed their German instructors in this matter. Yet the two experiences, those of Magersfontein and of the greater wars, are not really in conflict. The reason of the selection of the forward slope during these was that when the battles began the two opposed artilleries were engaged against one another. The shell taking the curve of the hill was found to produce deadly effects both upon the guns, when placed on the reverse slopes, and on the limbers and wagons in rear. The target for the hostile layers against those placed on the slope nearest to them was much more difficult. Moreover, the Germans wished to be able to depend on the arm itself for the protection of its immediate front. For that purpose it was essential that the guns should be able to cover with their shells all the ground that lay before them: there must be no "dead ground." But at Magersfontein the Boer artillery was insignificant, the rifle fire exact and deadly. The circumstances therefore bore no analogy to one another, and Major Allason's judgment was unquestionably right. The infantry were not about to carry out any aggressive movement, and could without injury to the conduct of the whole operation occupy the "dead ground," and so render the position safe. Furthermore, the long array of the guns of a vast army affords very much more security for the artillery front than is given to a solitary battery which could be approached much more easily by skirmishers, so that some independent guardians were needed. It would, however, be a misfortune if this example were taken as one of general application under conditions different from those of this particular day.