South Africa and the Transvaal War, Vol. 2 (of 6) - From the Commencement of the War to the Battle of Colenso, - 15th Dec. 1899
by Louis Creswicke
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Many instances of heroism were recorded on the part of men and officers belonging to all the regiments engaged in the battle. Lieutenant Ponsonby, of Thorneycroft's Horse, while endeavouring to save a wounded man, was fired at, the shot striking his unhappy burden and mortally wounding him. The young officer was slightly wounded himself, but managed to escape after shooting his assailant dead at very close quarters. The conduct of the Dublins was the subject of universal praise. They lost heavily; some 216 out of 900 men. When ordered to retire, although the crossing of the Tugela Drift was a sufficiently fearful experience, they were intensely disgusted. "Let us only see the beggars!" they asked. "Give us a chance with the bayonet!" said these gallant fellows, who had already passed through a hurricane of shot and shell. The Scottish Fusiliers lost 75 out of 301, but they were still ready, still bent, if allowed, upon carrying the bridge at all costs. Their enterprise was badly rewarded. They got left in an untenable position and were surrounded.

Captain Herbert, Staff Officer to Colonel Long, had his horse killed under him, while the Colonel himself was severely wounded by a bullet from a shrapnel shell. Captain White-Thomas, while on his way back to the limbers to get blankets for the injured, received a nasty wound. Colonel Brook (Connaught Rangers) was shot, and while being carried off the field by some of his men, one of these was wounded. The Colonel insisted on being put down, but Pat also insisted that he was equal to carrying his burden to a place of safety, and did so, though a shot had pierced his neck and passed clean out on the other side.

So many valiant deeds were performed that space will not admit of all being recounted. The irregulars and regulars seemed determined to out-distance each other in feats of chivalry. Private Farmer, of the Carabineers, struggled to save a comrade at the risk of his own life. Colour-Sergeant Byrne, in a storm of bullets, gallantly saved three of his comrades who were drowning, though he and they were heavily weighted with ammunition and equipment. Major Gordon, wounded as he was, fiercely and nobly led on his men till he dropped from exhaustion. The conduct of some of the drivers was simply amazing, and their daring was repeated and reflected in the achievements of the infantry. Quite wonderful was the bearing of these men, mere private soldiers, in their magnificent nobility of sacrifice, their utter regardlessness of self. Each strove to set an example to the other of steadfast, almost reckless devotion to duty.

The circumstances attending the capture of the guns were deeply tragic. Late in the terrible afternoon, when the red sun was sending horizontal rays across the blood-dyed field, a strong party of Boers swam the river for the purpose of seizing the guns and forcing the wounded, who were huddled together in the donga, to surrender. It was a fearful moment. Our worn-out, fainting, and dying men were lying about drenched in their own gore, helpless, and none could move to save the precious guns from falling into alien hands. Some raged, some wept with mortification at their powerlessness to stay the inevitable. Three Boers approached them for the purpose of demanding their instant surrender, and were shot at from the donga. A larger body then arrived, and though Colonel Bullock doggedly refused to surrender, and was struck down by their leader, they eventually forced the party to submit. It is said—let us hope it was mere report—that they threatened to shoot the wounded if they did not! However, the fact was mentioned by Sir Redvers Buller, who doubtless had been well informed on the subject.

The following is the list of casualties in the engagement at Colenso:—

Royal Field Artillery—Killed: Captain A. H. Goldie, Lieutenant C. B. Schreiber. Royal Dublin Fusiliers—Killed: Captain A. H. Bacon, Lieutenant P. C. Henry. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers—Killed: Captain Frank C. Loftus. Devon Regiment—Wounded: Captain M. J. Goodwyn (b), Captain J. F. Radcliffe (b), Captain P. U. W. Vigor (c), Lieutenant H. B. W. Gardiner (c), Second Lieutenant H. J. Storey (c). Rifle Brigade—Wounded: Second Lieutenant R. G. Graham (b), Captain W. N. Congreve (c). Fifth Brigade Staff—Wounded: Captain Hon. St. Leger Jervis (b). Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers—Died of wounds: Major G. F. W. Charley. Wounded: Captain A. G. Hancocks (a), Captain W. F. Hessey (b), Captain E. J. Buckley (b), Lieutenant H. A. Leverson (b), Second Lieutenant T. W. Whiffen (b), Lieutenant A. D. Best (b), Lieutenant W. W. Weldon (c), Lieutenant J. G. Devenish (b). Border Regiment—Wounded: Major K. H. G. Heygate (b), Captain J. E. S. Probyn (c), Lieutenant G. T. Marsh (b). Connaught Rangers—Wounded: Colonel L. G. Brooke (a), Lieutenant G. F. Brooke (a). Royal Dublin Fusiliers.—Wounded: Major A. W. Gordon (b), Captain H. M. Stewan (b), Second Lieutenant M'Leod (b). Royal Irish Fusiliers—Wounded: Captain T. E. R. Brush (b). Royal Horse Artillery—Wounded: Colonel Long (a). Royal Field Artillery—Wounded: Lieut.-Colonel H. Hunt (c), Captain H. D. White-Thomson (c), Captain H. L. Reed (c), Captain F. A. G. Elton (b). Lieutenant Frank Goodson (c). Royal Army Medical Corps—Killed: Captain M. C. Hughes. Wounded: Major F. A. Bracington (? Brannigan) (c). Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry—Killed: Lieutenant C. M. Jenkins. Wounded: Lieutenant W. Otto (b), Lieutenant Ponsonby (c), Second Lieutenant Holford, 19th Hussars (attached) (a). Natal Carabiniers—Wounded: D. W. Mackay (b), Lieutenant R. W. Wilson (c). South African Light Horse—Wounded: Lieutenant B. Banhurst (b), Lieutenant J. W. Cock (c). King's Royal Rifles—Wounded: Lieutenant Hon. F. H. S. Roberts (since died). Field Artillery—Prisoners: Second Lieutenant R. W. St. L. Gethin, Major A. L. Bailward, Lieutenant A. C. Birch, Second Lieutenant C. D. Holford, Major W. Y. Foster. Devon Regiment—Prisoners: Lieut.-Colonel G. Bullock, J. M'N. Walter, Lieutenant S. N. F. Smyth-Osbourne. Essex Regiment—Prisoner: Lieutenant W. F. Bonham. Royal Scots Fusiliers—Prisoners: Captain D. H. A. Dick, Captain H. H. Northy, Lieutenant E. Christian, Lieutenant E. F. H. Rumbold, Lieutenant M. E. M'Conaghey, Second Lieutenant G. E. Briggs. Royal Artillery—Missing: Lieutenant S. T. Butler. Connaught Rangers—Missing: Captain G. H. Ford-Hutchison, Second Lieutenant E. V. Jones.

(a) dangerously wounded; (b) seriously; (c) slightly.

Our losses were 1167 all told. Killed, 5 officers and 160 men; wounded, 36 officers and 634 men; missing and prisoners, 26 officers and 311 men—a terrible list for one day's work.

Sad to state, our ambulances were designedly fired upon. Five shells fell in the neighbourhood of a waggon packed with wounded, and one party of ambulance men was forced twice to abandon their work of succour. The tents of the field-hospitals were no sooner erected than shells fell all round them, and the men were forced to desist from their labours. The heroic conduct of the civilian stretcher-bearers was generally the subject of remark. These men, though fired at by the enemy and injured, continued zealously to carry on their humane work, and assisted in saving many lives which might otherwise have been sacrificed. The force of the enemy opposed to us was estimated at 12,000 to 14,000. From a tactical standpoint the Boers had overwhelming advantages. Their numbers were immense, and the dangerous high-banked river, which they themselves had carefully dammed and filled with wire entanglements, made a formidable shield for the defensive party. In addition to this, they had constructed long, highly scientifically-arranged trenches, along which their Nordenfeldt gun could quickly travel, and thus defy any attempt of our gunners to get the range. Still the Naval guns were wonderfully worked, and wrought considerable havoc among the Boers in the over-hanging kopjes. Though their loss could not be accurately estimated, it was declared to be about 2000. The trenches were said to be choked with dead Dutchmen.

On the 16th of December an armistice was agreed upon, to last from noon till midnight, to enable both sides to collect and bury their dead.

The following "recommendations to notice" illuminated the somewhat sad nature of the General's despatch:—

"From the General Commanding-in-Chief the Forces in South Africa to the Secretary of State for War.

"CHIEVELEY CAMP, Dec. 16, 1899.

"SIR,—I have the honour to bring the following cases of Distinguished Service in the Field to your notice.

"At Colenso, on December 15, the detachments serving the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, had all been either killed, wounded, or driven from their guns by infantry fire at close range, and the guns were deserted.

"About 500 yards behind the guns was a donga, in which some of the few horses and drivers left alive were sheltered. The intervening space was swept with shell and rifle fire.

"Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade, who was in the donga, assisted to hook a team into a limber, went out and assisted to limber up a gun; being wounded, he took shelter, but seeing Lieutenant Roberts fall badly wounded, he went out again and brought him in. Some idea of the nature of the fire may be gathered from the fact that Captain Congreve was shot through the leg, through the toe of his boot, grazed on the elbow and the shoulder, and his horse shot in three places.

"Lieutenant the Honourable F. Roberts, King's Royal Rifles, assisted Captain Congreve. He was wounded in three places.

"Corporal Nurse, Royal Field Artillery, 66th Battery, also assisted. I recommend the above three for the Victoria Cross.

"Drivers H. Taylor, Young, Petts, Rockall, Lucas, and Williams, all of the 66th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, rode the teams, each team brought in a gun. I recommend all six for the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.

"Shortly afterwards Captain H. L. Reed, 7th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, who had heard of the difficulty, brought down three teams from his battery to see if he could be of any use. He was wounded, as were five of the thirteen men who rode with him; one was killed, his body was found on the field, and thirteen out of twenty-one horses were killed before he got half-way to the guns, and he was obliged to retire.

"I recommend Captain Reed for the Victoria Cross, and the following non-commissioned officers and men, 7th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, for the Medal for Distinguished Service in the Field:—

"86,208 Corporal A. Clark, wounded; 87,652 Corporal R. J. Money; 82,210 Acting-Bombardier J. H. Reeve; 28,286 Driver C. J. Woodward; 22,054 Driver Wm. Robertson, wounded; 22,061 Driver Wm. Wright, wounded; 22,051 Driver A. C. Hawkins; 26,688 Driver John Patrick Lennox; 22,094 Driver Albert Nugent, killed; 23,294 Driver James Warden; 32,087 Driver Arthur Felton, wounded; 83,276 Driver Thomas Musgrove; 26,523 Trumpeter William W. Ayles, wounded.

"I have differentiated in my recommendations, because I thought that a recommendation for the Victoria Cross required proof of initiative, something more, in fact, than mere obedience to orders, and for this reason I have not recommended Captain Schofield, Royal Artillery, who was acting under orders, though I desire to record his conduct as most gallant.

"Several other gallant drivers tried, but were all killed, and I cannot get their names.—I have, &c.,


Appended is an account of the battle given by Captain Walter Norris Congreve, one of the heroes of the day. It is deeply interesting, though it makes little reference to his own gallant action for which he gained the Victoria Cross:—

"Our big Naval guns shelled the enemy's position off and on all day, but could get no response. We could see very few Boers about, and it was a horrid position to attack.... I don't believe any troops could have taken it. However, we tried yesterday and failed. We bombarded every place that looked like holding Boers for two hours, without response and without a sign of a Boer. To see the shells bursting, you would have thought nothing could have been left alive in the vicinity. After this, infantry, which had already got into position, advanced line after line and extended widely. Instantly thousands of bullets began pattering about, and their guns pitched shells all over the place. Where they came from no one could see till the end. Sir Redvers Buller rode all along the line, and came in for a good deal of attention from bullets and shells.

"My first experience was my stick being knocked out of my hand by a bullet; then a horse beside me was killed by a shell. About 10 o'clock two batteries which had advanced far too close ran short of ammunition. Their waggons were about 800 yards behind, the horses and men sheltering in a deep narrow nullah. General Buller told them to take the waggons up to the battery, but instantly they emerged a stream of bullets and shells fell all round, and most of the men got into the nullah again. Generals Buller and Cleary stood out in it and said, 'Some of you go and help Schofield.' A.D.C. Roberts, myself, and two or three others went to the waggons, and we got two waggons horsed with the help of a corporal and six gunners. I have never seen even at field-firing the bullets fly thicker. All one could see were little tufts of dust all over the ground accompanied by a whistling noise, 'phut,' where they hit, and an increasing rattle of musketry somewhere in front.

"My first bullet went through my left sleeve and just made the point of my elbow bleed. Next a clod of earth caught me a smack on the other arm; then my horse got one; then my right leg one, and my horse another. That settled us, for he plunged, and I fell about 100 yards short of the guns we were going to. A little nullah was by, and into that I hobbled and sat down. I had not been in a minute before another bullet hit the toe of my boot, went into the welt, travelled up, and came out at the toe-cap, two inches from the end of the toe. It did not even scratch me, but I shifted my quarters pretty quickly to a better place, where I found Colonels Hunt and Long, R.A., and a dozen or so wounded gunners; a doctor, Colonel Bullock, and about fifteen men of his regiment—all that were left of the escort and two batteries.

"At about 11 o'clock the fire slackened, and I went out, finding poor Roberts badly wounded, and with help got him into the nullah. There we lay from 11 till 4.30: no water, not a breath of air, no particle of shade, and a sun which I have never felt hotter even in India. My jacket was taken to shade Robert's head, and what with blood and dirt I was a pretty object by the time I got out. At 4.30 the Boers rode up and asked us to surrender, or they would shoot us all. Colonel Bullock was the senior unwounded officer, and had, perhaps, twenty rifles all told. He refused, and they at once began a fusillade from fifty yards distant, and our people returned it. It was unpleasant, and only a question of minutes before they enfiladed our trenches and bagged the lot. Bullock's men knocked over two, and they then put up a white flag, parleyed, said we might remove our wounded, and the remainder either be taken prisoners or fight it out. However, while we were talking 100 or so crept round us. We found loaded rifles at every armed man's head, and we were forced to give in. One of our ambulances came up, and we were gradually collected at one spot, and a colour-sergeant of the Devon Regiment carried me upon his back."


Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO. Edinburgh & London

The above facsimile is printed by arrangement with the Daily Mail Publishing Co., London

TRANSCRIBERS' NOTES General: Errors and inconsistencies in punctuation have been corrected without individual notes. Pages vi, 6, 10: Drakenberg standardised to Drakensberg. Page vii: repeated date 2 November removed. Chart of Staff Appointments; Natal Field Force; 4th Division: Aides- de-Camp(2) blank in original Chart of Staff Appointments; Staff of 1st Army Corps: Orderly Veterinary Officer blank in original Chart of Staff Appointments; 1st Army Corps 3rd Division; 6th Brigade: Aide-de-Camp blank in original Chart of Staff Appointments; Staff of Cavalry Division: Aides-de-Camp (2) Only one listed in original Page 32: rear-guard standardised to rearguard. Pages 35, 36: Isandhlwana/Isandlwana not standardised as it is used as part of a quotation. Page 37: via standardised to via. [N.B. other usages not standardised as part of a quotation.] Page 44: Blue-jackets standardised to Bluejackets. Page 45: similarily corrected to similarly. Page 46: Brvant corrected to Bryant. Page 51: fortunnately corrected to fortunately. Pages 53, 121: Nordenfelt standardised to Nordenfeldt. Page 82: reconnaisance corrected to reconnaissance. Page 91: Comanding corrected to Commanding. Pages 114, 148: debris/debris not standardised as it is used as part of a quotation. Page 120: McLachlan standardised to M'Lachlan. Page 145: comandeered corrected to commandeered. Page 147: sandbags standardised to sand-bags. Page 150: downhill standardised to down-hill. Page 151: search-light standardised to searchlight. Page 183: The quotation from Addison is actually incorrect. It should read: "A thousand glorious actions, that might claim Triumphant laurels, and immortal fame, Confused in clouds of glorious actions lie, And troops of heroes undistinguished die." Page 185 (footnote): Gingindhlovo standardised to Gingindhlovu. Page 187: Repeated 'the' removed from 'remained the the same'


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