THE REVERSE AT STORMBERG
General Gatacre left Putter's Kraal and concentrated at Molteno the 2nd Northumberland, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, and Nos. 74 and 77 Batteries of Field Artillery, with Mounted Infantry, Cape Mounted Rifles, the 12th Company of Engineers, and details—in all about 2500 men. At 9 P.M. on December 9th, began the march that was destined to be so ill-fated. The night was black, the ground was rocky, and the guide, a local policeman, from ignorance, under-estimated the distance and led the troops by a circuitous route absolutely into the teeth of the enemy. Instead of going north-east for nine miles, the men were led north-west, a detour of twenty miles. A terrible night-march this, which none who undertook it can ever forget. Tramp, tramp, through the long midnight hours, over hills and down nullahs, through rivers and stumbling over stony kopjes with bayonets fixed, in grim silence, with scarce a whisper allowed, and with never a pipe as consolation lest the scent should betray the stealthy advance. For seven long hours the force, like a phantom procession, trudged and stumbled until they came to a small V-shaped plateau surrounded by kopjes, which, unknown to them, was fronting the enemy's position. This was on a high unscalable eminence called Rooi Kop, that jutted black against the clear grey of early morning. From here the Boers, chuckling doubtless at their own cunning, were slyly watching the approach of the party; for it was now dawn. On nearing the plateau below this eminence, the Irish Rifles, with General Gatacre and his staff at the head of the column, were greeted, to their astonishment, by a fierce tornado which was suddenly opened by the enemy on the right. Though the column was marching in fours and utterly unsuspicious of the position of the enemy, they gathered themselves together with marvellous rapidity. Following the Rifles were over a hundred of the Northumberland Fusiliers, and in the rear the artillery. In a very short space of time General Gatacre got his column into line for action, and a hot fight ensued, in which the Rifles—all honour to them!—distinguished themselves in distressing circumstances. It was not possible to recover easily from the surprise, and it was evident that the General and his men were totally unprepared to meet, and unequal to crushing, a powerful enemy in an intrenched position. Naturally the casualties were many. However, the artillery were soon climbing a small kopje on the left, while the Rifles and Northumberland Fusiliers, in skirmishing order, mounted the hill held by the Republicans. Footsore and weary with their long midnight march, they toiled up the steeps amidst a cruel hailstorm from the enemy's fire, which came pouring at the same time from three separate quarters in flank and rear. One of the almost impregnable hill-tops was gained at the point of the bayonet, but so furious became the storm of bullets that the British, now outnumbered at the rate of seven to one, were forced to retire. Meanwhile the artillery were drawing the fire of the enemy's guns and launching their shrieking shells into the fort that the Boers had constructed at the corner of the kopje. But the position was unassailable. The Boers had expected the attack, and by an elaborate system they had measured and marked off distances from their batteries—a system which could not be upset in a moment. The Dutchmen swarmed in hundreds behind excellent cover and were not to be routed. Our men, who, many of them, had been occupied the whole previous day in fatigue-work, were numb from exhaustion, dropping here and there, fainting or asleep, in the very face of death.
The infantry, with the Maxim detachment, were then ordered to retire towards Molteno, while the artillery remained to cover the retreat. But the retirement was not so easy. The triumphant Boers now brought their guns to the tops of the kopjes, and sent shell after shell to catch the troops as they slowly wound along the valley. Many of the shells burst with terrific force, ploughing up the roadway around our men, and shooting clouds of blinding dust into eyes and ears and throats, but fortunately doing little damage. The Boers also brought their rifles to bear on the little force, and our worn-out troops suffered the horrible experience of being hunted like hares along roads through which they had so laboriously, so hopefully, toiled the night before, tramping the weary ten miles to Molteno with the enemy taking long shots at them from innumerable points of vantage. Their progress was necessarily slow, for sometimes they had to hide in cornfields, to crouch among boulders, and occasionally to fall prone to earth when shells came screaming and bursting along their line of route. Afterwards they would rise again, still holding their life in their hands, and plod on in the expectation that every step would be their last. For eight long miles this exciting form of torture was experienced, numbers of the poor fellows dropping all along the road from wounds, exhaustion, and from the effects of the now fiercely blazing sun. Terrible was their plight both during the attack and after it, for the Boers, as usual, paid no heed to the sacred demand of the wounded or of the white flag, and no sooner saw a party of stretcher-bearers approach to pick up a man than they made the event the signal for a volley. All, therefore, that could be done for those stricken down was to wait patiently till they could crawl a short distance out of the line of fire and swoop down on them and bear them hastily away. The unfortunates who were too severely wounded to so crawl, and those who were killed, had to be left where they fell. Nor did those who were successfully removed in the ambulance waggon fare much better, for this was fired on continually, but luckily, owing to the shells not bursting, caused more horror than harm.
They reached Molteno at last in safety, but with numbers woefully thinned. When they formed up for the roll-call, the ominous silence that followed the call of name after name was more than tragic. Dismay blanched every face. Where were the 366 splendid fellows of the Northumberland Regiment who had started out in rude health only the night before? They were missing, perhaps dead! Where, too, were the roistering, cheery boys of the Royal Irish Rifles—some 294 of them—none of whom, when his name was spoken, was there to give back the word? They too were missing, perhaps dead! In this hour of mute regret those who were left could only thank God that they had come safely through the terrible ordeal, and think with awe on the strange workings of fate that had caused some to be taken and others left.
Naturally enough after a disaster so great, all had something to say of the mistakes which brought it about. Reuter's correspondent declared that "the primary and greatest mistake made on the 10th inst. was that what was to have been at the utmost a four hours' night-march lengthened out to over seven hours, and landed us right into the enemy's position in broad daylight. Of course, the guides went wrong, took the force a roundabout way, and are accordingly blamed. But how is it that our leaders, knowing that four hours should suffice to take them to their objective, should have wandered on for seven without suspecting that something was radically wrong? Then, also, at the end of that time our troops walked, in daylight, in a column four deep, right under the enemy's nose. No scouts or skirmishers were out, and it was here that we lost so heavily, the Boers from covered positions firing volley after volley right into the mass of men below. Again, the men, most of whom had been on duty since 4 A.M. the previous (Saturday) morning, were tired and hungry, and yet were asked to storm the position without rest immediately after a long and tiring night-march."
The Times correspondent attributed some of the misfortune to the fact that "the Berkshire Regiment, by whom the redoubts now occupied by the Boers at Stormberg had been built, and to whom every inch of the ground was familiar, were left at Queenstown, instead of being employed to recapture the works which they had so unwillingly evacuated about a month previously. The consequence of no one knowing where he was going or what he had to attack or when proximity to the enemy had been reached, was that the infantry, marching in fours, were suddenly fired into at a point where, after ascending but a few feet, their further advance against the enemy was precluded by an unclimbable precipice. The moment that the first shots were fired companies doubled straight at the points whence the firing seemed to have proceeded, and commenced to scale the hill. Soon, however, they came upon a perpendicular wall of rock, from the summit of which the Boers were plying their rifles at half-a-dozen yards' distance. Here fell Lieutenant-Colonel Eager, and close to him Major Seton of the Royal Irish Rifles. Colonel Eager was the man who reached the highest point attained by any of the attackers, and was then shot down, where many another British officer has fallen before now, at the head of his battalion, gallantly leading them as in the days of old, when long-range weapons had not been invented."
Others hinted that it was the habit of the General to overwork his troops—a habit so well known that it had earned for him in Egypt the title of "General Backacher." Further comments were made by those who always find the art of criticism so much easier than the art of performance, but to repeat them at a time when the principal actors in the sorry affair are unable to defend themselves would be unjust and ungenerous. Our Generals, besides treachery, had from the first unusual ignorance to deal with. One of our misfortunes has been the necessity to rely for information on friendly Kaffirs, or those who affected to be friendly. Now, as all know, the Kaffirs, even when honest, are scarcely reliable. Their notions of size, for instance, are on a par with those of the man who described the dimensions of a bump by saying it was about the size of a piece of chalk. To the Kaffir an impi is an army, whether small or large, and it is almost impossible to bring home to him the value of exactness. In fact, in the matter of ambiguity the Kaffir has the makings of a politician, and therefore it was no wonder that so many of the well-organised military schemes in this unlucky war came to grief. But in the case at Stormberg there were other difficulties to contend with. The map of the ground was utterly unreliable. The configuration of the hills was incorrectly presented and the distances badly judged. The general knowledge of the direction was so imperfect that none was sufficiently well informed to put a check upon the movements of the guide, nor had the position been reconnoitered by any of those engaged against it. In this way the winding and circuitous route more than doubled the march, knocked up the troops, and ruined the effect of the night assault; for it was full daybreak before the British approached the point of attack. One of the sufferers from the disaster declared that the British were so worn out that after the engagement they threw themselves down and did not mind whether they were taken prisoners or not. He himself crawled to within three miles of the base camp, and then lay down on the veldt and fell asleep. How long he remained asleep he did not know. Most of the prisoners, he believed, were taken by the Boers while the men were asleep.
A report was circulated that General Gatacre had shot with his own hands the guide who led him astray, but this statement was entirely incorrect. The military authorities thoroughly sifted the case of the sergeant of the Cape Police who acted as guide on the occasion, and it was allowed that he erred genuinely in mistaking the enemy's position.
The following officers were wounded in the engagement at Stormberg:—
2nd Royal Irish Rifles—Lieutenant-Colonel Eager (since dead), Major Seton, Captain Bell, Captain Kelly, Lieutenant Stephens, Lieutenant Barnardstone. Suffolk Regiment—Second Lieutenant Maynard. Missing: Captain Weir, Lieutenant Christie, Second Lieutenant Rodney. 74th Field Battery—Lieutenant Lewis. 77th Field Battery—Major Percival. 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers—Missing: Major Stevens, Captain Fletcher, Captain Morley, Second Lieutenant Wake, Second Lieutenant Coulson, Lieutenant Radcliffe. Dorset Regiment—Three hundred and six non-commissioned officers and men were also missing.
The scene of General Gatacre's disaster was on the junction of the eastern line of railway in Cape Colony running from East London through Queenstown, Molteno, and Burgersdorp to Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State. There were many strategical reasons for wishing to seize upon it. First, it was desirable to engage the enemy in the centre, and so save the Boer commandoes from falling in too great strength on Lord Methuen's line of communications. Secondly, from the situation of the place it was possible also to effect a junction by rail with General French. Thirdly, a victory gained in the centre of the disaffected districts would have been a feather in the cap of the General, for it must have drawn to him such waverers whose vacillating loyalty was daily growing dangerous. The melancholy reverse was, therefore, from many points of view to be regretted. Perhaps, however, it achieved one object. It forced those at home to realise the necessity for sending more than sprinklings of troops to meet a strong, courageous, and well-equipped foe.
The General, in giving an explanation of the reverse, declared that the operation which proved so wretched a failure was started under the promise of complete success. By himself and the local guide, however, the distance was under-estimated. He did not consider that the guide was guilty of treachery, merely of unintentional error. However this may have been, it is certain that the British plans were entirely well known, and that the Boers had had ample time to prepare for the coming of the force. It was evident that the gallant General did not take a leaf out of the book of Metellus, the Spanish commander, who, when asked how he should proceed the next day, said, "If my shirt knew I would put it in the fire." Possibly, being a great theorist, as was poor Sir George Colley, he may have agreed with the opinion held by Marshal Bugeaud, that military affairs were too often wrapped in mysterious silence. Certainly there was no secrecy about the strategy of the advance on Stormberg, and the guileless manner in which the General trusted to the guidance of a local policeman was commented on none too generously by the distressed public, whose disappointment was too great to allow them to look coolly at the ups and downs of warfare and the fallibility of human designs. General Gatacre, after the reverse, held Bushman's Hoek and Cyphergat, two positions to the south of Molteno, where he could await the reinforcements which would shortly reach him from the Cape.
AT MODDER RIVER
At dawn on the day following the battle the guns opened fire, with a view to effecting the clearance of the enemy, but it was soon discovered that the Boers had made themselves scarce, preferring to march through the long midnight hours to remaining where a chance of the bayonet might be awaiting them. Their artillery they at first left, but discovering that the British had not crossed the river, they returned and removed it to Spyfontein, where the next encounter was expected to take place. Had only the troops been less worn out—they were so expended that they could scarcely move one leg before the other—these guns might have been captured and victory assured. But fatigue must overcome the finest warriors, and ours had done prodigious work in circumstances of the most trying and varied kind. The next morning Lord Methuen's forces quietly occupied the town, and spent the day in the melancholy duty of burying the dead.
Owing to the carcasses of beasts and the corpses of dead men in the stream, the troops had soon to bivouac some three miles farther up. There they could enjoy the rare luxury of a bath and drink their fill in safety. No "wee drappie" ever cheered the heart of Scotsman as did the quarts of Modder that went down the throats of thirsty Highlanders who had been toasted inside and out during the long hours of the battle. As one appropriately, if not elegantly, described it:—
"When it comes to slaughter You'll do your work on water, And lick the bloomin' boots of him that's got it."
But the water everywhere was bad, and for safety boiling was imperative. For some days the men had been bathing in and drinking from the polluted stream, and it was quite wonderful that enteric had not seized upon the troops. A Dutch lady stated that she had seen four dead Boers with stones round their necks thrown into the river by their comrades, but when the bed of the stream came to be investigated, at least seventeen corpses were hauled out. The enemy's loss was estimated at 500, and doubtless those of the slain who were not lying under an inch layer of sand were disposed of in the river. The air, too, was far from salubrious. The winds of evening were reminiscent of the dead horses and mules that remained half-buried on the banks. Fortunately the vultures and ants, and other useful agents, soon reduced the pestiferous masses to harmless skeletons.
Meanwhile the rest of the Highland Brigade was on its way up to join Lord Methuen at headquarters. Some went by train and others marched, as the line—a single one—was frightfully congested with traffic. Stores and ammunition and baggage of all kinds were being sent up, while the wounded, in "emptied" trains, were being sent down. The march was a trying one, even for hardy men who could well have managed twenty-five to thirty miles a day on their native heath. Now, they were supposed to carry 35 lbs. each, without counting clothes, and twelve miles a day in the broiling heat of a South African midsummer was counted remarkably good going. What with rifle, 100 rounds of ammunition, a big coat, a two-quart water-bottle, field-glasses, and haversack, officers and men were nearly as heavily weighted as itinerant peddlers. They carried their warlike pack over sandy roads that threw off clouds of dust which caked hair and skin, and made the whole outer man a complete study in kharki. What failed to go down their throats went into their eyes, blinding or worrying, while overhead a merciless sun blazed and tortured. There was no shade; there was little water. The night was cold as the day was hot. In the small hours the men were thankful for the single blanket which was allowed each of them, and which was carried in mule and bullock waggons for their use. Luxuries for the toilet were no longer in vogue. A sponge, a shirt, a pair of socks—these made the sum total of the Highland officers' wardrobe. Some still stuck to their razors, and others had succumbed to necessity and wore nature's hirsute decorations, plus a peppering of ochreous dust. But they were in the best of tempers, and looked forward to some reviving dips in the Modder on their arrival there.
Lord Methuen resumed command of the troops on the 6th of December, and all were glad to find that the injury to their gallant commander had been slight. It was now clear that the Boers intended to make a stand at Spyfontein, for they were preparing for themselves fortified positions such as their souls delighted in—deep, and long, and rocky. They had time at their disposal, for a long halt at Modder River was imperative for the purpose of replenishing the ammunition of the artillery batteries and for bringing up relays of stores and food. Our expenditure of ammunition in the fight on the 28th was said to have been 200 rounds per gun, and consequently an extra supply was necessary before pursuing aggressive operations.
Having deserted the river, the Boers were now planted in front of and on the British right flank, so close indeed that daily passages at arms took place between our patrols and those of the enemy. Several of Rimington's Scouts were wounded, and wild rumours of approaching attack were afloat. During the night of the 6th and the morning of the 7th the communications by rail and telegraph at Enslin were cut.
On this occasion the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment had a narrow escape. They had been left by Lord Methuen to guard the line of communications at Enslin, and there they were attacked by a Boer force 1000 strong. Fortunately the General, hearing the news, despatched in hot haste to the assistance of the regiment the 12th Lancers and the Seaforth Highlanders, who had just arrived at the camp, under Brigadier-General Wauchope, together with the 62nd Field Battery. The attack commenced at 4.30, and continued till eleven, at which time the Lancers and Seaforths appeared. The Boers thereupon retired with all speed, the Lancers following closely in pursuit. The British loss was one killed and six wounded. On the same day the first train ran over the temporary bridge which had been rapidly constructed by the Engineers, whose smart workmanship elicited general admiration.
An interesting affair took place on the 9th of December. At night one of the Naval 4.7-inch guns, which had been fitted with a field-carriage and dignified with the name of "Joe Chamberlain," was hauled by a team of thirty-two oxen to a ridge on the north side of the town. At an early hour in the morning the Naval detachment manned the gun and opened fire on a Boer position that had been previously located by Colonel Rhodes. More than a dozen shells were scattered among the enemy, causing frightful consternation. The Boers at the time were busily engaged in constructing an emplacement for one of their 40-pounders, but when "Joe Chamberlain" made himself not only heard but felt, there was a stampede. The lyddite ploughed up the hills with terrific uproar, and the surrounding atmosphere appeared as though a sirocco of red sand had swept over the district.
The force now massing on the Orange River, with Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen in command, consisted of:—
2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd Northamptonshire, 1st Loyal North Lancashire (Mounted Infantry), 1st Loyal North Lancashire, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, 3rd Grenadier Guards, 1st Coldstream Guards, 2nd Coldstream Guards, 1st Scots Guards, 9th Lancers, 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 1st Highland Light Infantry, 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, Part of 2nd Royal Highlanders (Black Watch), several Companies of Royal Engineers, 18th, 62nd, and 65th Field Batteries, one or two Horse-Artillery Batteries, part of Kimberley Light Horse, part of Diamond Fields Horse, Naval Brigade, Contingents from Australia, several Companies of Army Medical Corps, Field Hospitals, Colonial Mounted Irregulars, Rimington's Scouts, South African Reserve.
The total was about 14,000 men.
The number of Boers prepared to meet the British advance was supposed to be between 15,000 and 18,000, but, in spite of this, it was decided that some onward move must soon be made. The week's delay for the arrival of reinforcements and other preparations was now over, and Spyfontein was ahead. There the Boers held, if possible, a stronger position than any that had yet been attacked. Towards the east they were congregating from the direction of Jacobsdal, and the extent occupied by them was already enormous. Lord Methuen, if he meant to get to Kimberley at all, was forced to attempt to do so by frontal attack, as the area occupied by the Boers was so great that no other means of tackling them was feasible. Still the troops were in excellent spirits, the prospect of shortly relieving a besieged multitude giving them courage to compensate for their fatigue.
On the morning of the 10th there was a voluntary Church Parade. According to a wag who reported from the camp, a Saturday-night's order was given, which stated briefly that Presbyterians must go washed, Church of England might go unwashed! The question of ablutions did not affect the devotions of Tommy, who heartily joined in the singing of hymns, which he said reminded him more than anything else of home.
THE BATTLE OF MAJESFONTEIN
On Sunday, the 10th of December, Lord Methuen, having completed his plans, moved forward from his position for the momentous fight, which was not only to decide the fate of Kimberley, but determine the attitude of the waverers among the Dutch, of which there were now very many. The Boers occupied a wide crescent-shaped front, extending some six miles from the hills on the west of the railway at Spyfontein to the kopjes on the east of the Kimberley road at Majesfontein.
The northern portion of the position consisted of a kopje about three miles long, and the southern end terminated in a high hill which was looked upon as the key to the position. Towards these rugged kopjes the veldt sloped gently upwards from the river a distance of five miles, and though from afar this plain seemed to face the ridge of hills spreading from east to west, it in reality penetrated wedgewise into the boulder-strewn area. Someone described the great Boer position as the end of a pocket, a veritable cul de sac, doubtless lined with Boer guns and Boer trenches—the jaws of a dragon, in fact.
Orders were given that this stronghold was to be bombarded, and from 4.50 P.M. to 6.30 P.M. the guns, including the Naval 4.7-inch, played over kopjes and trenches with accuracy, and, it was thought, with deadly effect. The operation was carried on with precision and perseverance as long as a gleam of daylight lasted, but no response was elicited from the enemy, who carefully concealed their very existence. At night a tremendous downpour of rain descended and saturated the troops, who were bivouacking where they were, some 4000 yards in front of the Majesfontein position, thus rendering their already uncomfortable situation more uncomfortable still. But this was merely an item in the misfortunes they were shortly destined to endure.
The general plan was for the Highland Brigade, supported by guns, to assault the southern end of the kopje, their right and rear being protected by the Guards Brigade. According to Lord Methuen's despatch, it seems that before moving off Major-General Wauchope explained all that was to be done, and the particular part each battalion was to play in the scheme: namely, that they were to march direct on the south-west spur of the kopje, and on arrival near the objective before daybreak the Black Watch were to move to the east of the kopje, where he believed the enemy to be posted under shelter, while the Seaforth Highlanders were to march straight to the south-east point of the kopje, with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders prolonging the line to the left; the Highland Light Infantry to be in reserve until the action was developed. The brigade was to march in mass of quarter columns, the four battalions keeping touch, and, if necessary, ropes were to be used for the left guides. The three battalions were to extend just before daybreak, two companies in firing line, two companies in support, and four companies in reserve, all at five paces interval between them.
Soon after midnight the march began. The distance was only two and a half miles, and daybreak was due about 3.25 A.M. But the gruesome night rendered the progress of the troops unusually slow. Rain came down in torrents, thunder growled, lightning played over the hill, glinted on rifles, and disorganised the compasses by which Major Benson was steering his course. Towards dawn the gloom of Erebus seemed to deepen rather than lift, and in the obscurity they must have been quite unaware of the exceedingly close proximity of the enemy, for the Highland Brigade—in the following order, Black Watch, Seaforths, Argyll and Sutherland, and Highland Light Infantry—continued to approach in quarter column though within some two hundred yards of the Boer entrenchments. It was imagined that the Dutchmen were in force on a kopje on the other side of the veldt, and not a soul suspected the existence of the formidable line of intrenchments on which our soldiers were gaily advancing. Before they could discover their mistake they were greeted by the Dutchmen—who had allowed the brigade to approach without showing any signs of life—with a raking fire on their flanks. The whole hill seemed on the instant to become alive with the roar of musketry. Fire vomited as from a live volcano at their very feet. A moment before they had seen only a dark barrier of bush and shrub, and then, flash! the earth yawned, crackled, and emitted the flame of hell.
So seemed to them the sudden conflagration in that first, awful moment. They started back—a confused, congested mass, with death in their midst. Their Colonel then ordered the Seaforths to fix bayonets and charge. The officers commanding other battalions followed suit. At this moment, darkness still reigning, some one called "Retire." There was a rush, many hurrying and hustling off to obey one order, while others were still charging forwards to obey the other. The confusion was intense, dead men dropping thick as autumn leaves, bullets whirring, shouts, orders—conflicting orders—ringing out on every side. For some seconds the rout of the gallant Highlanders seemed to be imminent. Their retirement, however, was due mainly to sudden panic, the consternation and amazement at the murderous outburst, blazing as it did in the dim deceitful dusk, from the unsuspected trenches. These, it must be owned, were most skilfully concealed at the foot of a series of kopjes. They were screened from sight by a tangle of brushwood and scrub, while round the glacis of the trenches was crinkled a triple line of barbed wire. When, therefore, a deadly furnace broke from this tangle, the troops were aghast. For the first moment the superb crowd, unduly huddled together and helpless, threatened to become disorganised, but it was only for a moment. The Highlanders retired some 200 yards, and then they instantly formed up, such as were left of them, for out of two companies of the Black Watch only fifty men escaped. A more tragic scene than that at the onset of the battle cannot be conceived. From all directions came an avalanche of lead, sweeping south and east and west in the gloaming, and flecking the whole visible universe with red. Cries and groans and curses and shouts intermingled with orders innumerable. "Advance," shouted some one; "Retire," called another; "Fix bayonets," cried a third; "Charge," roared a fourth. Meanwhile Seaforths and Black Watch, scrambling and tripping over the bodies of fallen comrades, were pressing on through the high wire entanglements, tearing their already excoriated legs, and struggling for the enemy's trenches. Here fell their gallant leader, dauntless Wauchope—fell never to rise again. But dying he cheered on the men of the Black Watch by his side. "Good-bye, men," he called to them with his last breath; "fight for yourselves—it is man to man now." And they did fight, struggling over and over again to make their way to the trenches in spite of the menace of almost certain death. Valiantly they held their ground, availing themselves of such cover as there was, bushes and scrub that were dotted here and there, and returning to the deadly greetings of the Mausers no mean reply. At this time the avalanche of buzzing, whirring, death-dealing lead was enough to make the stoutest heart quail, but the officers were seen marching boldly forward, and where they led—veritably into the jaws of death—there their loyal Highlanders followed. Meanwhile, so soon as it was light enough to see, the artillery had come to the rescue, and so remarkable were its performances that even the enemy confessed that on this day they had suffered greater loss than at any other time during the war. The howitzer battery was placed directly in front of the position, and poured forth a terrible fire over the whole face of the hill. Lyddite shells sped snorting into the trenches, and, with a terrific detonation, shot up the earth in clouds. One destroyed a laager on the kopje, others did fearful execution, striking the hard rocks and boulders, and spreading devastation far and wide. But still the enemy failed to budge from their strong entrenchments. The 62nd and 18th Field Batteries, under Majors Grant and Scott respectively, took up a position behind the Highlanders, sending shell after shell into the enemy's position with such amazing accuracy that the Boer numbers were considerably thinned. During this feat they were assailed with a scourging storm of lead from the whole line of intrenchments. The Boers displayed more than their ordinary courage, standing upright in their trenches, and sometimes advancing, the better to aim at the aggressive "men-women," as they called the kilted warriors, though at other times they completely hid themselves and fired wildly, in consequence of holding their guns above the level of their heads. The Brigade, nevertheless, advanced to within 300 yards of the enemy, where they pluckily held their position in the teeth of galling fire for some hours. Both their tenacity and their dash were astounding, for the volleys of the enemy were accurate and persistent, and sufficiently deadly to demoralise the most veteran troops in the world. The Boers, having been reinforced during the engagement, their number had now mounted to some 18,000 men. Eye-witnesses have described this, his fourth fight, as quite the stiffest on Lord Methuen's record, and have declared that the obstinate resistance of the Highland Brigade, and the magnificent coolness and daring of its officers, quite equalled the most splendid deeds of British history. The Brigade about noon was reinforced by the Gordons, and these, as they advanced towards the wire-girded trenches, were exposed to a terrific cross-fire from the enemy, their route having taken them past a Boer trench from which the concealed foe promptly assailed them, and they found themselves literally battered by volleys in front, flank, and rear.
The Guards Brigade meanwhile were taking a heavy share of the work. They occupied the centre and right, moving due north over a level plain which was shelled by the Boers from the ridges. The extreme right rested on the river, where the Yorkshire Light Infantry, under a tremendous fire, held the drift. These clung tenaciously to their position throughout the day, even after all their ammunition was exhausted. They fired in all some 7000 rounds, inflicting terrible damage and losing only ten wounded.
About two o'clock, after the enemy had been reinforced, the firing, which had temporarily slackened, began again with stertorous uproar. The air was thick with projectiles dealing death and mutilation on every side. Then it was that the real disaster of the day occurred. The portions of the shattered Highland Brigade, which, in spite of the shock to its numbers, had stuck manfully to its terrific duty, suddenly became disorganised. As a matter of fact, though it was not at the moment recognised, nearly all its officers had fallen. A few minutes later and they retired, by whose order none knows. The order was given. No shouting of counter-orders could rally them; and indeed how could it, since the revered familiar voices of their commanders were silent, some of them perhaps never to be heard again! Major Ewart, Brigade-Major of the Highlanders, rode up with an order—almost an entreaty, some say—from the commanding officer to the effect that all he asked of the Brigade was to hold the position till dark. But the officer in this desperate situation could actually find no other to help him to repeat the command to the scattered remnant, and he was thankful for the assistance of Colonel Dawney, who, as a civilian, was surveying the battle from Horse Artillery Hill. Eventually a rally was effected, and the brigade, stiffened and supported by the Scots Guards, got back to the guns; but their nerve was shattered by the terrific experiences of the morning, by the losses they had sustained, and by the disappointment of being unable to fulfil the glorious expectations which the renowned Highland Brigade has ever encouraged and ever nobly fulfilled.
It will serve no purpose to dwell further on the miserable details of mighty effort wasted, splendid lives sacrificed, and gallant hearts crushed by mischance. There are moments when, like the Oriental, one can but lift helpless hands to the Unseen and cry "Kismet!"
While the engagement was going forward, Major-General Pole-Carew sent an armoured train, under cover of a Naval gun, within 2500 yards of the Boer position. This gun during the whole day, whenever occasion required, made itself prominent by its magnificent practice, firing lyddite shells behind the main ridge, and searching kopjes, trenches, and laager with amazing accuracy. For instance, at one moment a train of bullocks drawing guns was seen by the Naval Brigade—in the next the whole affair had ceased to exist! In the same summary way the Guards dealt with the foe. They came on a picket of some forty Boers, who had been left for purposes of observation, and in shorter time than it would take to tell the tale the whole party were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. The troops held their own in front of the enemy, entirely clearing them out of the upper intrenchments until darkness put a stop to the operations. This was another of the day's misfortunes, for at the very hour of dusk the Boers were deciding to evacuate their position. Then our troops intrenched themselves in face of the Boer position. But finally, on the following day, they had to retire to Modder River on account of the scarcity of water.
Nearly all the loss was borne by the Highland Brigade, who lost fifty-three officers either killed, wounded, or missing, and a total of 650 of all ranks. Our line was three and a half miles long, while that of the Boers was almost double. The loss of the enemy in mounted infantry was enormous, and their Scandinavian commando of eighty strong, which, under Baron Faderscwold, had been removed from Mafeking, was entirely destroyed, every man being killed or wounded except seven, who were taken prisoners.
There seems to be little doubt that Lord Methuen's ill-success was largely due to treachery, for in the course of the battle an officer detected a Cape Dutchman on the left rear in the act of exchanging signals with the Boers. In fact, much of the information supplied both to General Gatacre and General Methuen was found to be deliberately false, and it was known that the districts through which they had to pass were seething with disaffection. For this reason most probably this glorious and desperate fight proved a drawn battle, but there were, of course, other possible causes to be considered. Lord Methuen had advanced from De Aar with a brilliant army which had already acquitted itself nobly, though with great loss, in three battles, against an enemy entrenched in stony hills. With his thinned force of some 8000 men he now hurled himself against troops which not only had been greatly reinforced, but were situated behind complicated earthworks miles in length, built on the most approved system of modern tactics.
In regard to strategy, there was no doubt that the Boers had scored. They had been lying in wait fully aware of our plans, and had the approach of the troops signalled to them by means of a lantern fixed high on the hills. The Highlanders were fairly at their mercy. By the time the shouts and orders and counter-orders had rung out, those who had uttered them were dead or dying, and many who were left were rushing—rushing and dropping—to get out of the fiery furnace into which they had been led. It must be remembered that on that day there was no artillery preparation; the heights had not been searched, and the enemy was master of the field. The artillery operated later in the morning; but after the first momentary retirement the Brigade of its own accord formed up, consigned itself again to the hell of flame and death, and there stuck as targets for the enemy till midday.
In the official despatch occurs the line, "I attach no blame to this splendid brigade." Fortunately there is none among the great multitude to whom the story of the tragic affair is known who would dream of associating the word blame with the glorious band who so grievously have suffered. Where the blame rests it is not for the civilian to say. Indeed the exact facts of the matter can never be known, as the two dead heroes most concerned cannot speak, and those who live can never argue with certainty of facts occurring in the turmoil of battle. In reference to the Brigade Lord Methuen said:—
"I have made use of Lieutenant-Colonel Hughes Hallett's report (the acting Brigadier) for the description of the part the Highland Brigade took in this action. Major-General Wauchope told me, when I asked him the question, on the evening of the 10th, that he quite understood his orders, and made no further remark. He died at the head of the brigade, in which his name will always remain honoured and respected. His high military reputation and attainments disarm all criticism. Every soldier in my division deplores the loss of a fine soldier and a true comrade. The attack failed; the inclement weather was against success; the men in the Highland Brigade were ready enough to rally, but the paucity of officers and non-commissioned officers rendered this no easy matter. I attach no blame to this splendid brigade."
Examples of individual daring and individual self-abnegation during this glorious though ineffectual fight were too numerous to be quoted. The Medical Staff, for instance, exposed themselves with a persistence that was truly marvellous, succouring the injured and carrying them off to shelter, till in some instances they themselves were shot. Very tragic was the state of the gallant wounded, the bravest of the brave, who had dared to advance too near the trenches, for these in the wretched plight could not even enjoy the medical attention lavished on the others, as no sooner were the doctors seen to be approaching them than a storm of fire was immediately sent in their direction. The patience of the sufferers was at times more than heroic. Notwithstanding their agonies and the horrible pangs of thirst that are the inevitable result of wounds, some, knowing that water was too scarce to go round, would not consent to do more than moisten their lips from the water-bottle offered them, while others hid the fact of their being wounded, so as not to absorb attention from those more in need of it than themselves.
The Marquis of Winchester was one of those who fell nobly. For the most part of the day he seemed to have a charmed life, and though bullets whizzed through his helmet and round his ears, he moved fearlessly among his men instructing each as to the direction in which he should fire. At last, however, came the fatal shot which pierced his spine and laid him low.
The gallant colonel of the Gordons, Colonel Downman, was seen shouting on his men till a bullet dealt him a mortal wound. Another Scottish hero, a private, was heard wildly remonstrating as the stretcher-bearers tried to remove him from the field. His ankle was smashed, but he still roared that he had been wounded for twelve hours, and had been fighting all the while, and was still as fit as any man in the army!
He was not alone in his valour, for instances of remarkable gallantry occurred on every side. Sergeant Gash (Rimington's Horse) singly assisted a wounded man, sticking to him under a heavy fire till the poor fellow was placed out of harm's way, and Lieutenant Riley (Yorkshire Light Infantry) bore on his back a man of the Mounted Infantry while covered by Sergeant Cassen and Privates Bennett and Mawhood. The reason why so many officers fell may be attributed to the fact that the Boers employed sharpshooters who walked coolly about lifting their field-glasses and picking off such persons as appeared in any way conspicuous. The prominence of the officers, however, was not due to peculiarity in their uniforms, they having discarded swords, revolvers, and belts, and adopted kharki aprons over their kilts. One of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote pathetically of the awful day's work. He said:—
"We were in quarter-column of companies in line—that is, we were offering a front of, say, 50 yards—and immediately behind, following in double ranks, were company after company of the Highland Brigade, of, say, 3500 men. Suddenly the whole hillside was one mass of flame, and the Seaforths, leading, received a discharge of rifle-fire from over 16,000 Boers. It was awful. Talk about 'hell'—the hillside was one continuous line of fire. We immediately scattered and spread one in lines right and left.... Monday's work was a huge blunder, and who is to blame I do not know; but there is no doubt the Highland Brigade were led like lambs to the slaughter. We were led more as if we were on a Volunteer review at Hyde Park. We had a sorrowful job on Tuesday night. We had fifty-three dead brought in and buried. You could hear nothing but the wailing of the pibrochs as the Highlanders were buried."
A colour-sergeant of the 2nd Black Watch writing from hospital thus described the moments when the unlucky Brigade which had stood gloriously against the terrific shock first became disorganised:—
"The brigade was moving in mass of quarter-column, with a few mounted scouts in front and our battalion leading the Brigade. We had to file through a narrow part and form up as we got through, and when my company got to its place I could see the dim outline of the hill in front, and thought we were in a very dangerous place if the enemy, as I thought, occupied it, for it was the extreme left of their position, and therefore they were bound to strongly hold the flank. However, the brigade formed up nicely on the open ground, and a lamp that was shining on the left on a prominent spur was put out. Simultaneously the whole of the hillside was lit up with the most damnable discharge of rifles, &c., that any one can possibly imagine. They seemed to be formed up in tiers all up the hillside, and were pouring magazine fire into us at a terrific rate. Then came all sorts of shouts—'Lie down,' 'Charge,' 'Extend,' &c., and of the whole brigade there was only the front rank of A Company of ours that could have used their rifles, as everybody else was straight in rear of them. Well, two companies in front did charge, but were stopped by barbed wire fences and entanglements fifteen yards from the trenches and mostly shot down. Others broke to right and left or retired, and after waiting about a minute for a bullet to hit me, as it appeared impossible to escape one, and as it did not arrive, I thought perhaps it was advisable to go with the remainder. I walked away to the right, still expecting one, but they were all going too high, and it was not yet light. I got clear away and discovered a mob of excited soldiers of all regiments, and with Captain Cameron we tried to get them together, but they had lost their head, and several Boers who had moved out of the trenches to get round our flank happening to fire in this direction, they became disorganised. It was then daylight before sunrise. The Boers, moving smartly, then showered us with bullets, and many were bowled over. I walked along quite casually, shouting to one and another to take cover and keep cool, and I was once followed about 200 yards by quite an accompaniment of bullets, I should say about twelve keeping it up; but as they were evidently aiming at me, none hit me. Slowly getting back with any amount dropping, I lost sight eventually of these persevering gentlemen, when another alarm came from a fresh direction. Thinking possibly it was some of our own troops, I lay down behind an ant-heap facing the direction, loaded my rifle, and waited to be certain before firing. I did not fire, however, as at that moment somebody hit me on the back of the neck with a bar of iron weighing two tons and a half, for so it seemed to me; it quite numbed me for a few seconds, and a chap who had lain down beside me shouted he was shot and began to howl, upon which I politely asked him to shut up and get it bandaged, and I then moved away to find out where they were forming up. After half an hour my equipment became too heavy for me, and meeting a stretcher-bearer he took it off and bandaged me up. The bullet had entered the left side of my neck, and, taking a downward course, passed through the neck and out at the back of the right shoulder. I was then conducted to the ambulance and away to hospital, and on my way down saw the Gordons marching up from the baggage to take a part in it, but the artillery had been working away for two or three hours then."
Could any troops, officerless, unhinged, riddled through and through, instantly gather themselves together with sufficient force to hold out against a foe flushed with triumph and intoxicated with success? Impossible! Students of Napier may recall the description of the panic to the Light Division in the middle of the night, when no enemy was near, and may understand how the bravest and most warlike troops, when exposed to unexpected and unknown danger, have shrunk back in dismay. On the occasion referred to some one called out "A mine!" and such was the force of the shock to the imagination that "the troops who had not been stopped by the strong barrier, the deep ditch, the high walls, and the deadly fire of the enemy, staggered back appalled by a chimera of their own raising." If this result can have been effected by a chimera, how then could anything else be expected by a real shock, a tangible shock, such as the gallant Brigade suffered in that dark hour of horror and despair? It is difficult for the outsider within the protecting walls of home to realise the awful moments, each long as a lifetime, through which these noble fellows passed—moments full of heroism as they were full of pathos! For instance, when the clamour of battle was at its loudest, when no voice of officer could be heard, and the stricken Highlanders were groaning in heaps upon the blistering veldt, Corporal M'Kay, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, standing in the midst of the cyclone of lead, struck up "The Campbells are coming" in order to rally the unfortunate men. These, jaded and broken as they were, drew taut their aching limbs, and, reviving with the heartening strains, once more dragged themselves towards the whirlwind of lead, determining once more either to do or to die.
The desperate situation in which the Highlanders were placed may also be pictured from descriptions given by two more of their ill-starred number.
The first wrote:—
"At twelve o'clock we started to advance. Well, we got to within 500 yards of the position, and if ever a man was led into a death-trap my regiment was. We led the brigade. Our general must have been under the impression that the Boers had left the hill, for he had us up in mass of quarter column. When we got within 500 yards they opened fire at us. My God, I shall never forget it in my life. It was terrible, fearful; we were shot down like dogs, without a chance to return their fire. The groans of those hit sound in my ears yet, and will do for many years to come. Well, as soon as they opened fire we fell flat, and got the order to fix bayonets and charge. We did so. The Black Watch only got into their trenches, and I am happy to tell you my bayonet has still got on it the stain of a Boer's blood. Not having any support from any other regiment, we got the order to retire to 400 yards, and I can tell you there were not many who got into the trenches who ever left them. There is hardly any man in the regiment that has any part of his equipment left whole. I have three holes in my kilt."
The second corroborated the above statement:—
"The Black Watch in front made an attempt to charge the position, but we had to retire and simply run for it, the enemy blazing at us all the way and dropping our fellows like skittles from their splendid positions. There was nothing for it but to lie down and pretend to be dead, and this I did about 5.30 A.M. till I suppose 6 P.M., the sun pouring down on me all the time, and not a drink of water all day, and dare not stir hand or foot, and expecting every instant to be my last. I could hear nothing but the cries, moans, and prayers of the wounded all round me, but I daren't so much as look up to see who they were. Shots and shells were going over me all day from the enemy and our side, and plenty of them striking within a yard of me—I mean bullets, not shells—and yet they never hit me. I believe some of the fellows went off their heads and walked right up to the enemy's place, singing till they dropped them. One youngster lying close to me said he would make a dart for it about 3 P.M. I tried my best to persuade him not to, but he would go. A couple of seconds after I could hear them pitting at him, and then his groans for about a minute, and then he was quiet. About this time the sun began to get fearfully hot, and I began to feel it in the legs, which are now very painful and swollen, besides was parched with thirst. Most of the wounded round me had ceased groaning by this time. As it began to get dark, I managed to wriggle my body through the shrub farther back, and after I had been at it some time, on looking up found myself right in front of another intrenchment of the enemy. They sent a few rounds at me, but they struck just in front and ricochetted over my head. After a bit, it getting darker, I got up and walked back, and there was nothing but dead Highlanders all over the place."
Can anything be more pathetic than these rough outlines of the tragic scene where so many valiant souls sacrificed their lives without a chance to win for themselves even the shroud of glory? Truly in this surprisingly-fought yet disastrous battle—
"A thousand glorious actions that might claim Triumphant laurels and immortal fame, Confused in crowds of gallant actions lie, And troops of heroes undistinguished lie."
Dim, as the dawn of that dire December morning, is our knowledge of the real agony of those appalling moments, the absolute magnificence of these human souls who were ordered to march to the grave as surely as was the Light Brigade at Balaclava. For though Balaclava was a scene of triumph and Majesfontein was one of misery, both brigades started gloriously forth, and both were martyrs to a mistake. If ever monument should be erected to the brave Scottish dead who were sacrificed at Majesfontein, these four words should be carved thereon, that all who hereafter may read of their high failure may remember also, that this failure was entirely due to the tragic fact that "Some one had blundered."
The picture of disaster given by the Daily News was heart-breaking:—
"General Wauchope was down, riddled with bullets; yet gasping, dying, bleeding from every vein, the Highland chieftain raised himself on his hands and knees and cheered his men forward. Men and officers fell in heaps together. The Black Watch charged, and the Gordons and the Seaforths, with a yell that stirred the British camp below, rushed onward—onward to death or disaster. The accursed wires caught them round the legs until they floundered, like trapped wolves, and all the time the rifles of the foe sang the song of death in their ears. Then they fell back, broken and beaten, leaving nearly 1300 dead and wounded."
Yes; dead and wounded—for many of the latter even remained there till morning. Among these was poor young Wauchope, the soul of gallantry. He was hit in four places, and lay for hours in the bitterly cold night glued to the ground in his own gore. He was not picked up till dawn. But gruesome as was his position, he was in the company of heroes. Round and about were the most splendid fellows that had ever worn kilt; Colonel Coode, and brave brilliant MacFarlan, the Adjutant of the Black Watch, who, times and again, rallied not only his men, but any stragglers who could be got to follow his dauntless lead. And beyond all these, close in the teeth of the enemy, was the glorious General, the intrepid warrior, who, after distinguishing himself in many battlefields, in the shambles of Majesfontein "foremost fighting fell."
No word, no lament, can sufficiently express the mourning of the nation. Of him only can we say, as was said of Sir John Moore at Coruna, "If glory be a distinction, for such a man death is not a leveller!" Neither for such a man is there any death! Though his dust may mingle with the dust of the veldt, his actions must stand out for all time, and remind his countrymen that of such glorious, immemorial dust the British Empire has been built!
General Wauchope was born in 1846, and entered the army in 1865; was Lieutenant in 1867, Captain in 1878, Major in 1884, Brevet-Lieutenant-Colonel the same year, Colonel in 1888, and Major-General in 1898. He served in the Ashanti War in 1873, was slightly wounded in the advance-guard engagement of Jarbinbah, and severely wounded at the battle of Ordashu. He was mentioned in despatches, and was awarded the medal and clasp.
In the Egyptian War of 1882 he served with the Black Watch, and took part in the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, receiving medal with clasp and the Khedive's Star. Two years later he was in the Soudan Expedition under Sir Gerald Graham as D.A.A.G., and was severely wounded at El Teb, receiving the brevet rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and two clasps for his bravery. In the Nile Expedition of 1884-85 Colonel Wauchope was attached to Major-General Earle's river column, and in the engagement of Kerbekan was again wounded—this time very severely. At the conclusion of the campaign he was awarded two clasps. In 1898 he took part in the Soudan Expedition under Lord Kitchener, and led the first British brigade into action at the battle of Omdurman. For his services he was made Major-General, was awarded the medal and the Khedive's medal with clasps, and received the thanks of Parliament. When the present war in South Africa began, he was appointed to command the Highland Brigade of Lord Methuen's column.
In the political sphere Major-General Wauchope distinguished himself also, though he never entered Parliament. He was, however, Mr. Gladstone's opponent in the re-election for Midlothian in 1892. It was a fight which excited the keenest interest all over Great Britain, and was conducted by Colonel Wauchope with untiring energy. The result was that he reduced the Radical majority from the 4631 of the previous election (of 1885) to 690. He would probably have been returned in 1895, but he was then once more on the active list of the army. In June 1898 he contested South Edinburgh, but lost by a Liberal majority of 831. The news of his death caused a feeling of great distress in the Scottish capital, and the sorrow among his tenantry in Midlothian was intense.
The following is the list of officers killed and wounded:—
Highland Brigade (Staff)—Killed: Major-General Wauchope. Seriously wounded: Lieutenant Macleod (West Riding Regiment). Wounded: Lieutenant Wauchope (2nd Royal Highlanders), Lieutenant Vaughan (1st York and Lancaster Regiment), slightly. 2nd Royal Highlanders—Killed: Lieut.-Colonel Coode, Captain Elton, Lieutenant Edmonds, Captain Hon. Cumming Bruce, Captain MacFarlan, Lieutenant Ramsay. Wounded: Major Cuthbertson, Captain Cameron, Lieutenant St. J. Harvey, Lieutenant Berthon, Lieutenant Tait, Second Lieutenant Bullock, Second Lieutenant Drummond, Second Lieutenant Innes. Slightly wounded: Major Duff, Major Berkeley, Lieutenant J. Harvey. 2nd Seaforth Highlanders—Killed: Captain J. R. Clark, Lieutenant Cox, Second Lieutenant Cowie, Captain Brodie. Missing: Major K. R. Mackenzie. Wounded: Captain Featherstonhaugh, Lieutenant Chamley, Second Lieutenant Waterhouse (dangerously), Second Lieutenant Hall, Second Lieutenant Wilson, Second Lieutenant Clive, Second Lieutenant Baillie. 1st Highland Light Infantry—Killed: Captain Cowan, Captain Lambton. Wounded: Lieut.-Colonel Kelham (slightly), Captain Noyes (severely), Captain Wolfe Murray (slightly), Captain Richardson, Second Lieutenant A. J. Martin, Second Lieutenant Knight, Second Lieutenant Fraser, 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders—Killed: Lieut.-Colonel Goff. Wounded: Major Robinson (since died), Lieutenant Graham, Second Lieutenant King, Second Lieutenant Scott (seriously), Captain Campbell (slightly). 1st Gordon Highlanders-of wounds: Captain Wingate. Dangerously wounded: Lieut.-Colonel Downman, Captain W. E. Gordon, Second Lieutenant Campbell. Seriously wounded: Captain Macnab. Guards Brigade.—1st Coldstream Guards—Wounded: Lieut.-Colonel Codrington, Major Hon. W. Lambton, Captain J. Sterling, Second Lieutenant W. Beckwith, Second Lieutenant G. Follett. 2nd Coldstream Guards—Killed: Major the Marquis of Winchester. Cavalry Brigade (Staff)—Wounded: Captain Briggs (1st Dragoon Guards), Brigade-Major. Mounted Infantry—Killed: Major Milton, Major Ray (1st Northumberland Fusiliers). Wounded: Lieut.-Colonel Bigron (Australian Artillery) (attached), and Lieutenant Cowie. Royal Horse Artillery—Wounded: Lieutenant Tudor (G Battery) and Major Maberley. Royal Army Medical Corps—Wounded: Lieutenant Douglas. Taken prisoner: Major C. H. Burtchaell.
 Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Collier Coode, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Highlanders (Black Watch), entered the army in 1875, obtained his company in 1882, was major in 1890, and lieutenant-colonel in June 1898. From 1884 to 1889 he was an adjutant of the Auxiliary Forces, but until the present campaign had seen no active service.
 Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Lionel Joseph Goff, of the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was the eldest surviving son of the late Mr. Joseph Goff, of Burton Grange, Herts, by his marriage with Lady Adelaide Henrietta Louise Hortense, a daughter of the second Earl of Ranfurly. He was born on March 8, 1855, and entered the army on March 10, 1875, from the Militia, being posted as a lieutenant to the 91st Foot (now the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders). He obtained his company on July 1, 1884, and was adjutant of the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment from January 2, 1888, to January 1, 1893. He reached the rank of major on September 21, 1892, and that of lieutenant-colonel on July 23, 1898. This was not his first service in South Africa, he having taken part with the 91st Highlanders in the Zulu war of 1879, when he was present at the action of Gingindhlovu and the relief of Ekowe, for which he had the medal with clasp. He was a magistrate for Hants and Wilts, and resided at Hale Park, Salisbury. He married in 1894 Ellen, the youngest daughter of Sir Robert Dundas, of Arniston, Midlothian, who survives him.
 Lieutenant-Colonel George Thomas Frederick Downman, of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, who subsequently died of wounds received in this battle, joined the army twenty-three years ago, became captain in 1883, and major in 1891. In 1896 he was appointed second in command of his regiment, and received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy in May 1898. He first saw service in the Soudan campaign of 1884, and was present at El Teb and Tamai, receiving the medal with clasp and the Khedive's star. In the Nile Expedition which followed he was with the River Column under Major-General Earle, and was awarded a clasp. In 1895 he was with his regiment in Chitral under Sir Robert Low, and took part in the storming of the Malakand Pass, being mentioned in despatches and receiving the medal with clasp. Then in 1897-98 he went with his battalion to the North-West Frontier under Sir William Lockhart and was present in the engagement at Dargai and at the subsequent storming of the Dargai heights, being mentioned again in despatches. He was present also at the capture of the Sampagha and Arhanga Passes, and went through the succeeding operations in the Maidan, Waran, and Bara Valleys. His name was mentioned also in these despatches, and his services secured for him, besides his brevet of lieutenant-colonel, two clasps. He was forty-four years of age, and was gazetted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of his regiment in July 1899.
 Augustus John Henry Beaumont Paulet, Marquis of Winchester, Premier Marquis of England and the fifteenth bearer of the title, was born in 1858, and succeeded his father in 1887. Educated at Eton, he entered the Coldstream Guards in 1879, was lieutenant in 1881, captain in 1890, and received his majority in April 1897. He served in the expedition to the Soudan in 1885 as aide-de-camp to Sir John M'Neill, and was present in the engagements at Hasheen and the Tofreck Zereba, and at the destruction of Tamai, receiving the medal with two clasps and Khedive's star. He went out to the Cape with his regiment in the Gascon, arriving there just a month ago. It was only on the previous Saturday that his appointment as second in command of the regiment was notified, the vacancy having been caused by the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Stopford at the battle of Belmont. Lord Winchester was the hereditary bearer of the Cap of Maintenance—a cap of dignity carried before the Sovereigns of England at their coronation. He was a D.L. for the county of Southampton, was unmarried, and is succeeded by his brother, Lord Henry William Montagu Paulet, formerly a lieutenant of the 3rd Battalion Hampshire Regiment, who has just attained his 37th year.
Deeply to be deplored, yet generally recognised, was the fact that so far, no decisive defeat had been inflicted on the Boers. We had fought gloriously, sometimes successfully; great men and brave had written their names in blood on the roll of heroes and had passed away, but nothing decisive had been done. It was true that the enemy had been routed time after time, but he had got away without chastisement, and in most cases with his guns. The main reason for his safe flight was our lack of cavalry, and also the fact, that such horses as we had were not of the same nimble build as those—inferior, yet smart—which were possessed by the Boers. These, thoroughly acclimatised and also educated to the curious nature of the boulder-strewn country, were able to career into space before our heavier chargers could get even with them.
Lord Methuen had fought three glorious battles successfully, and a fourth, equally glorious though productive of no result, insomuch as the distance of his troops from Kimberley remained the same, while their numbers were very materially attenuated. It was reasonably to be supposed that a general who had come victoriously through three engagements—all accomplished within a week—should, in a measure, have exhausted some of his fighting material, and that such unequalled feats of arms as had been displayed must be paid for. The morale and stamina of the troops had been tried in every way. They had faced shot and shell at Belmont, at Enslin, and at Modder River. They had marched many miles under a torrid sun and slept many nights exposed to contrasting cold. Yet, at Majesfontein they had risen to the occasion, and flung themselves into the hurlyburly of battle as though a hint of fatigue were unknown. And their ill-success, it was discovered, was mainly due to treachery, against which it was almost impossible to be entirely guarded.
The one compliment that can be paid to a Boer is to call him "slim" or sly, and this slimness in warfare has helped the foe to circumvent the broader and more open tactics of the Briton. There was, indeed, no knowing how far or how ingeniously the ramifications of "slimness" had extended, and, to be even with them at all, our warriors have needed to add to the courage of lions the astuteness of weasels! Some of the Cape Dutch had worked surreptitiously for the foe, others affected an attitude of neutrality, more dangerous than open antagonism; while Kaffirs, either from fear of being made biltong of, or for bribes, had lent themselves to delude and trick the British on more than one occasion. However, notwithstanding impediments, every one waited anxiously to hear a decisive note in the war news, and continued to hope for the best. Lord Methuen having done his part, all eyes were now turned towards the Natal force and Sir Redvers Buller, in expectation of relief. In England the tension was becoming painful; in the Cape it was causing colourless loyalty to become tinged with doubt; in the besieged towns it was bringing patience to the snapping-point. In effect, the whole nation was standing with bated breath for the great, the important stroke, and the entire world looked to Colenso, that hitherto unknown spot in the Empire, for one of the biggest battles of the campaign.
THE BATTLE OF COLENSO
On Friday the 15th December the Ladysmith relief column under Sir Redvers Buller attacked the enemy in full force. The Dutchmen held very strong positions north of Colenso, their camps and laagers being linked with those surrounding the southern side of Ladysmith, while to the south of the river they also held a formidable and commanding post. About three miles in front was an open plain, with hardly a vestige of cover in any direction. All around was a crescent-shaped constellation of high kopjes. The great hill of Hlangwane, on the left flank of the enemy, though it was not known at the onset, was strongly fortified, and vis-a-vis to the Hlangwane guns on the extreme right were posted more guns. Between these two eminences was the plain aforesaid, veined with dongas which reached to the terribly steep banks of the river, where were more intrenchments. From Fort Wylie, another of the fortified kopjes, the Boers commanded the little village of Colenso and the expanse of country through which Sir Redvers Buller proposed to advance to Ladysmith. The Tugela, wide and deep, ran between the foes, except on the left of the Doer position, where the Dutchmen held both banks of the river.
Upon their defensive works the Boers had spent a vast amount of labour. Besides rows of trenches cunningly concealed by grass and scrub upon the flats on both sides of the river, barbed wire entanglements complicated the situation both at the trenches and under the water at the river fords. The water of the river was also deepened by means of cleverly-made dams, in order that any troops which might endeavour to ford the current would find themselves carried off their feet.
But, of course, the intricacy of these ingenious arrangements was only discovered at the cost of bitter experience. Later on, a great deal of after-the-event wisdom was forthcoming, and the ignorance of all concerned regarding the nature of the position to be attacked was severely commented upon. It was said that no satisfactory reconnaissance of the enemy's position was made, and that accurate knowledge of the nature of the ground to be passed over was not forthcoming. It was also averred that neither subordinate officers nor men were informed of what was expected of them, and that the only maps supplied to regimental officers were small-scale maps of the whole of South Africa, forty miles to the inch. However, it is clear that General Buller fully believed in his ability to force the passage of the Tugela, and viewed the position, though formidable, as less formidable than it really was. From all accounts it was plain that all the generals believed the village of Colenso to be evacuated, and none of them seemed to foresee very powerful opposition from that quarter or to take into account the exceeding rapidity with which the Boers managed to return to positions temporarily vacated.
Selections from the general orders of the day will show the proposed plan of action, and help to an understanding of how much one side may propose and the other dispose in a modern campaign:—
"Orders of Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Clery, commanding the South Natal field forces.
"CHIEVELEY, Dec. 14, 1899 (10 P.M.).
"1. The enemy is intrenched in the kopjes north of the Tugela; one large camp is reported to be near the Ladysmith road, about five miles north-west of Colenso. Another large camp is reported in the hills which lie off the Tugela in a northerly direction from Hlangwane Hill, a rough scrub-covered kopje.
"2. It is the intention of the General Officer Commanding to force a passage of the Tugela to-morrow.
"3. The 5th Brigade (Major-General Hart's) will move from its present camp at 4.30 A.M. and march towards Bridle Drift (a ford about four miles west of Colenso), immediately west of the junction of Doornkop Spruit and the Tugela. The brigade will cross at this point, and after crossing move along on the left bank of the river towards the kopjes north of the iron bridge.
"4. The 2nd Brigade (Major-General Hildyard's) will move from its present camping-ground at 4 A.M., and, passing south of the present camping-ground of No. 1 and No. 2 of the divisional troops, will march in the direction of the iron bridge at Colenso, and the brigade will cross at this point and gain possession of the kopjes north of the iron bridge.
"5. The 4th Brigade (Major-General the Hon. N. G. Lyttelton's) will advance at 4.30 A.M. to the point between Bridle Drift and the railway south, and can support either the 5th or the 2nd Brigade.
"6. The 6th Brigade (Major-General Barton's), less half a battalion as escort to the baggage, will move at 4 A.M. east of the railway in the direction of Hlangwane Hill to a position where it can protect the right flank of the 2nd Brigade, and, if necessary, support it or the mounted troops referred to later as moving towards Hlangwane Hill.
"7. The officer commanding the mounted brigade (the Earl of Dundonald) will move, at 4 A.M. with a force of 1000 men and one battery, No. 1 brigade division, in the direction of Hlangwane Hill. He will cover the right flank of the general movement, and will endeavour to take up a position on Hlangwane Hill, where he will enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. The officer commanding the mounted troops will also detail two forces of 300 and 500 men, to cover the right and left flanks respectively and protect the baggage.
"8. The Second Brigade Division of the Royal Field Artillery will move, at 4.30 A.M., following the Fourth Brigade, and will take up a position whence it can enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. The Sixth Brigade (Major-General Barton's) will act on any orders it receives from Major-General Hart. The six Naval guns, twelve-pounders, now in position north of the Fourth Brigade, will advance on the right of the Second Brigade Division Royal Field Artillery. No. 1 Division Royal Field Artillery, less one battery detached to the mounted brigade, will move at 3.30 A.M. east of the railway, and proceed, under cover of the Sixth Brigade, to a point from which it can prepare a crossing for the Second Brigade. The six Naval guns will accompany and act with the Brigade Division."
It must be remembered that the railway bridge had been blown up, but a footbridge still existed.
Before dawn Lord Dundonald with a mounted brigade and a battery of artillery moved to the east, while General Hart and his brigade started to try and cross Brindle Drift. The field-guns came next with cavalry—the 1st Royals and 13th Hussars—to protect either flank. Major-General Hildyard's brigade advanced to occupy the post of honour in the centre of the theatre of war. On the right were the West Surrey with the West Yorks in support. On the left marched the Devons with the East Surrey in rear. At 6 A.M. the Naval Contingent opened the proceedings. Their 12-pounders began to snort and to roar, and lyddite whizzed and shrieked over to Grobler's Hill and in the neighbourhood of Fort Wylie. But it whizzed and shrieked in vain. The Boers were "mum." They were "lying low," and had determined to keep their position masked as long as possible. They adopted the same tactics which had so confounded us at Majesfontein. The infantry now advanced, while Colonels Long and Hunt made haste—undue haste, as lamentable experience proved—to come into line with their field-batteries. At this moment, when all seemed to be going well, when Hart's, Hildyard's, and Barton's brigades were moving to their several positions, the sudden combined roar of Boer artillery and musketry was heard, coming not, as might have been supposed, from the distance, but from the immediate front, and apparently from all sides. A very cyclone of Mauser bullets swept all around, rattling and barking from the river bank, from trenches north and south of the Tugela, from Fort Wylie, and from every available point of vantage. Flame in tongues and forks belched out as from a crackling bush. The advancing infantry—the Devons and the West Surrey—found themselves almost carried off their feet; leaden hail beat the dust around, digging deep into the earth and sending up spurts of blinding dust, or whistling a warning of death to the heart of many an honest lad and true. So deadly, so awful was this fusillade, that it seemed impossible to do aught but flee. Yet the gunners stood tight to their guns, and the infantry with set faces like masks of bronze, regardless of the companions that dropped thick and fast around and upon them, stared Death straight in the face—stared at and recognised and knew him, and still maintained their ground! More—they advanced; nearer and ever nearer to the invisible enemy they came, afterwards lying down and returning the fire with interest, while the guns of Long's and Hunt's field-batteries boomed and bellowed and vomited fire like Inferno released. Fort Wylie and its neighbourhood were swept with shrapnel and almost silenced, but only for a moment. Disaster was in the air. The concealed sharpshooters of the enemy, who crowded the Boer lines, had applied themselves to making a concentrated attack on the guns, picking off horses and officers and men, and finally reducing the snorting weapons which had been galloped too quickly into action, and were within 700 yards of the enemy's trenches, to a condition of pitiable impotence. Only the third field-battery and the Naval battery could move, and these were quickly drawn off to a place of safety. Amidst this scene of tragedy and uproar the Devons and West Surrey were steadily pursuing their way with a heroism that absolutely defies description. The enemy was driven out of the platelayers' and surrounding houses, and Colenso village was cleared. What the guns failed to do the bayonet accomplished, and before the glint of the steel—the cold, stern steel they so much dread—the Boers had bolted. But all around them Krupps and Maxims and Hotchkiss guns were still working hard, spouting and shrieking, and tearing earth and men and horses, and throwing them together in one horrible, hideous heap.
Certainly the advance of Hildyard's men was a noble achievement. Their effort to capture the road bridge and hold the village of Colenso in face of a scene of carnage was an act of splendid courage and determination; but they were assailed with so deadly a storm of shot and shell that they had no choice but to retire. Though they had imagined the village to be evacuated, the place had been swarming with Boers, they evidently having expected to be attacked in this quarter. Not only were they strongly intrenched, but the guns on the surrounding hills commanded the position, and when the Boers were temporarily routed the guns still continued to sweep the whole place with such unerring accuracy and fierceness that the ground was thickly strewn with the bodies of the mangled. Until those guns could be silenced, efforts of the infantry were so much waste of valiant flesh and blood; but our power to silence them was at an end. The guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries were doomed. They had, as before said, been approached too close to the river, and thus been exposed to the unerring rifle-fire of the Boer mercenaries. The attack was immediately returned, but before long the whole party, officers, gunners, and horses, were simply mown down. As fast as more horses were brought up they were annihilated. In addition to this the gunners ran short of ammunition. To await the arrival of this, such survivors as there were doubled back to the shelter of a donga twenty yards in their rear. At that time there was no intention of abandoning the guns. Superb were the efforts made to save them. Three officers rushed forward into the open, and, with some heroic drivers and such horses as they could get, made their way very deliberately towards the two field-batteries and into the mouth of a flaming hell. These were Captain Schofield, R.A. (A.D.C. to General Buller), Captain the Hon. F. Roberts, 60th Rifles, and Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade. This glorious bravery was almost an act of suicide, and in sheer amazement at the wondrous valour of these dauntless Britons, the Boer rifle-fire, for one instant, was suspended. In the next, shot and shell burst forth afresh and the scene became too harrowing for description. Roberts, the gallant and the beloved, dropped, wounded in five places, while his horse was blown to bits, and Congreve, his jacket riddled to ribbons, was hit several times. Schofield, by a miracle, came whole from the ordeal, and succeeded in the almost impossible task of hauling off the two guns, for which all three and many others had risked their lives. The rest of the guns were captured by the enemy, but of this anon.
Major-General Hart's Brigade, consisting of the Dublins, Inniskillings, Borderers, and Connaughts, fulfilled in a measure what was expected of them. Some of them actually crossed the Tugela, but, alas! to no purpose. The position near the other side was untenable. A dam had been thrown across the water to deepen it. Cascades of artillery shrapnel were so liberally poured upon them, there was no holding up a head in such a fusillade. Yet they pushed on to the river, and the enemy fell back before them or dropped under their steady determined fire. The Dutchmen were driven to the north bank of the Tugela, and the Irish Brigade gallantly plunged in, thinking the water was knee-deep or at least fordable, and it was only then that they discovered that the wire entanglements that had been spread around the trenches were also under water, and that the flood itself was unexpectedly deep, owing to the ingenious dam that had been constructed by the "slim" adversary. There were now ten feet of water instead of two, and sad was the plight of many a poor fellow of the Dublins and Connaughts, who, weighted with ammunition and accoutrements, found it impossible to swim to shore or even to return. They were drowned in the flood, while others dropped in heaps under the enemy's fire, and even under volleys of our own men, who, unluckily, mistook them for the foe. But the Irishmen's blood was up, and some, at any cost, determined to reach the other side to get one grip of the enemy, but what many of them thought to be the other bank was merely the bank of a winding spruit, which took them no farther towards the foe. The disappointment and rage was intense. Boom, boom, went the cannons roaring their dirge of death; bang, bang, bellowed the Naval battery in reply; rattling and raking came the bullets above the heads of the plunging Irishmen; splash, splash, sang the cold muddy water in their ears as they scrambled from rock to stone or swam for dear life. All that gallantry could do was done, but there was no appreciable advance with them, or indeed anywhere—ill-luck or bad management frustrated the best efforts on every hand. Men fell in heaps; horses with half their bodies blown away littered the veldt; the guns were stuck fast—useless lumber, too valuable to leave, too heavy to get away. Some say that had it not been for the action of the artillery commander in taking a whole brigade division—three batteries—up at a gallop to within 700 yards of the enemy's trenches, the day might still have been ours. The valiant Irishmen would still have pursued their risky advance. Others declared that the want of proper scouting caused the whole fiasco, and that all the pluck of the Irish Brigade was so much heroism wasted. They had no information relative to the intrenchments of the place to be attacked by them, nor any conception of the strength of the opposition they were liable to meet. No scouts appear to have discovered the position of the ford by which they were ordered to cross, or the nearness of the enemy to that point, and consequently the brigade marched in quarter-column into the very jaws of death, only deploying when shells had already begun to burst in their midst. Like the guns of the Royal Artillery, they found themselves before they were prepared in the midst of a close and deadly fusillade—the more deadly and unnerving because on the clearest of days not a whiff of smoke betrayed the quarters from whence the murderous assaults were coming.
General Barton's brigade, like Hart's and Hildyard's, failed to effect its object. It was found impossible to obtain possession of Hlangwane Hill, which was much more strongly held than it was believed to be. The troops were assailed from thence by such galling shell and rifle fire that they were eventually forced to retire.
On the extreme right, the mounted troops, under Lord Dundonald, made a vigorous attack at the Hlangwane Hill, on which was posted the Boer pieces which had wrought such devastation among the British batteries. However, in advancing up the valley, they were outflanked by the Boers, and had eventually to retire under a storm of bullets. The irregulars, for their part, worked splendidly. The South African Horse advanced on the front under a heavy shell fire. Thorneycroft's Horse, the Natal Carabineers, the Imperial Light Horse, and the Mounted Infantry at the same time attempted the flanking attack; but the Boer lines, which ran along some high ground to the right of the flanking party, defeated their best efforts. Owing to the bad light, and to the fact that the Boers used smokeless powder, their fire failed to reveal their position, and the discomfort of the attacking party was considerable.
Meanwhile the 7th Battery, which was with Lord Dundonald, kept shelling Hlangwane and Fort Wylie in turns, the latter being done in order to assist the general advance. About noon Lord Dundonald was ordered to retire. This, however, was immediately impossible. So soon as the men began to move they became targets for the foe. Many of the men were reluctant to retire at all, and were pressing in their desire to still "have a go" at the enemy. The retirement at last, after a two hours' struggle, was accomplished without undue loss. The 7th Battery, under command of Major Henshaw, made splendid practice. During the engagement Lord Dundonald sent a team of gun and waggon horses, under Captain Reed, to assist the 14th and 66th Batteries to recover their guns. Captain Reed returned to the 7th Battery, and though he came back with a bullet in his leg, he insisted on remaining with it until he was ordered back to camp.
Generals Buller and Clery were ubiquitous, riding coolly about and directing where the hurricane of lead was thickest, and running risks which rendered all who saw them anxious for their safety. Indeed, as some one remarked, one would have thought they were lieutenants trying to make a name, and not generals with the responsibility of an army on their minds. The loss of either of these prominent officers would have been counted by the Boers as a sign of victory, and therefore, when one was hit in the side and another in the arm by glancing bullets, there was considerable alarm among those who were near enough to observe what had taken place. Captain Hughes, R.A.M.C., was killed, and others of the Staff were wounded. Lord Gerard twice had narrow escapes, his horse being twice wounded.
A squadron of the Imperial Horse had an exciting experience. The men, who had dismounted to move in extended order across level country, were beginning to cross a ploughed field. Suddenly a rifle volley was opened upon them, and they were forced to lie down for cover. But the enemy, though on a kopje not 500 yards distant at this time, was quite invisible; and on this clear, hot day, though the song of the Mauser went on persistently, there was no smoke to betray the enemy's position. The Imperial Horse lay quiet, and the enemy thinking they were perhaps annihilated ceased firing. Presently, however, when the troopers ventured out, the firing was renewed, and many were killed and wounded. It is invidious to mention special regiments when all fought so resolutely. The behaviour of the irregular forces, however, was the subject of general remark. They held their position under a heavy cross-fire, refusing to retire without their wounded. And when they did retire, the movement was executed without flurry, with precision and composure, as if the battlefield were one vast manoeuvring ground. Meanwhile the Boers still struggled to outflank our right, and the 13th Hussars had a lively time, Colonel Blagrove having his charger shot under him; but there were few serious calamities, only two of the troopers being killed.