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fantry scouting: at Colenso we are told that they allowed single men to pass between their lines, so as to reserve their fire for the approaching column. At
this same action 195 men were reported missing-a fact which points to slackness on the part of officers and non-commissioned officers, for allowing men to stray after impossible cover, and then to remain there.
During the lull that followed the action at Colenso, General French had demonstrated how a general can wage war in South Africa if he is provided with suitable instruments. is a puzzle why this had not been done at the beginning. Cavalry are all-important, and horse artillery equally so. The war was in South Africa, and we sent an Army Corps; mules without carts, and guns with shrapnel only. Who did it? Who did it? Lord Wolseley had marched troops across the Transvaal to demolish Sekukuni's kraal; Evelyn Wood, his Adjutant - General, though he missed Majuba, was in ample time to make peace under its shadow; Buller, his righthand man, had taken troops to reoccupy Potchefstroom. There are pigeon-holes in his office crammed with reports by the officers who had fought the Boers in 1881; every one in office admitted that if poor Colley had had a cavalry regiment there would have been one mountain the less to describe in the geography-books of South Africa, so it could not have been the fault of the Horse Guards.
General French with a cavalry brigade, several batteries
of horse and field artillery, a considerable number of mounted men, and some infantry, had a force as mobile as that of the enemy, and could beat them at their own game, keep them constantly on the move, snap up their waggons, push aside their patrols, cut across their rear, and allow them no time to drink their afternoon coffee, tune up psalms, or practise any other cheap swagger of the "simple farmers." He did not depend for information on native policemen or "loyal Dutch," preferring to have it from his own scouts and his own observation. So with a mobile force at his disposal he was able to surprise the Boer position at Colesberg on the 2nd January, and by a clever turning movement to place himself between the Boers and their main laager, thus cutting their line of retreat across the Orange river. His infantry gained sufficient mobility to accompany the mounted men by riding in waggons, and, during the attack, as soon as a position was shelled out by the guns, they moved up and occupied it: so the entire range was retained by the tactics of common-sense in the employment of infantry.
About the same time General Methuen succeeded in clearing out the Boers who for some time had threatened his leftColonel Babington moving out from Modder river with a cavalry brigade towards the northwest, while Colonel Pilcher left Belmont, and, marching with a mixed force, principally of Colonial troops, on New Year's Day captured a Boer laager
and forty prisoners, again largely assisted by admirable common-sense tactics, the victory enabling him to occupy Douglas unopposed.
It is useful to remark how big events often result from the most ordinary precautions. Before Colonel Pilcher started he locked up every Kaffir in his kraal, and had their names called every hour, and so surprised the enemy and captured everything he had. Probably when surprises have been attempted before, no means were taken to prevent the inevitable Kaffir or "loyal Dutchman" from starting on ahead to carry the news to the men who were to be surprised.
A lesson, too, was taught us by our Colonial troopers near Dordrecht. The Cape Irregulars had been worrying the Boers all day; but when they retired for the night, forty troopers under Lieutenant Milford had been left behind. Early next morning a party of Cape Mounted Rifles went to their rescue. They found them hardly pressed by hundreds of Boers, and their ammunition was running short: they had fought all night; the Boers had shot all their horses, but declined to attack the "donga" in which they had taken cover. During the fight the white flag was tried, but the Colonials were not to be taken in they waited for the usual volley, and then returned it, so that Boer and his comrade will wave white flags no more. The lessons that our Colonial brothers taught us here are that you need not give your
self up a prisoner to the Boers as long as you have a cartridge in your pocket; and that the Boer's white flag is a coward's lie.
An officer who had considerable experience of white flags in 1881, when he took command, fell in his men and gave them his experience, adding, "There will be no white flags here." The men knew and understood him, and the Boers knew him, and no white flag came in till after three months, when the sergeant of the "lookout" on the roof of the hovel in which the officer lived put his head down, "There's a white flag coming, sir; shall I take him now, or wait till he comes nearer?
The term "donga occurs SO often that I will describe it. We have seen a duck-pond in a farmyard in summer which has dried up, the mud at the bottom netted over with cracks:
dongas" are these cracks, magnified. When we were new to South Africa a regiment
that had been some time there rode over to ask us to breakfast, and we set out to ride back with them: another officer and myself had some work to finish, and were to follow as soon as it was done, which we did. It was capital going, the veldt as flat as a billiard-table, and we followed our friends' lead, who were far on ahead. Of a sudden we both nearly came to grief in a yawning chasm that wriggled across the way as far as we could see, perhaps fifty feet deep, and double that width, the sides perpendicular. So we fired our
pistols, and our friends returned and shouted to us to look out for a Kaffir path, a strip of bare earth through the high grass along which the natives walk in single file: the path was found, and it led to the chasm, where it zigzagged through the scrub to the bottom and up the other side. I found afterwards it was two miles in lengththat was a "donga," and so koppjes and dongas give themselves airs in South Africa.
The risk attending a series of night-attacks has been alluded to, and the disadvantages under which such attacks are made to the men attacking are vividly illustrated in the reports of the march of the Highlanders on Magersfontein. They were asked to do a thing which an army of well-bred giants would have failed to accomplish. Absolute secrecy is essential to success, and in a country swarming with spies that is almost impossible. There is little doubt that their advance was flashed to the Boers from a farmhouse within our lines. The sorties by night from Ladysmith succeeded because the force employed and the distance to be travelled were small, and spies could be kept under control. But night-attacks are made by men, not machines. You start off a party to march through the night across ground which is difficult going by day, nerves strained to observe the precautions necessary; at the moment of assault the human system is at its lowest point, and the men will nearly always fight on empty stomachs.
Here is a personal experience. I accompanied a party of about eighty men to attack a position. The way there had been carefully marked, all precautions were taken, so the men arrived where it was wished, and lay down in the long, wet grass just as day was breaking: they had had a good supper before starting, and were in excellent spirits. They lay in the grass for half an hour, and it was very cold; my teeth chattered, so I thought they would think that I funked. A false attack was made, and the Boers rode straight for us, as was intended, preceded by a scout, a big man on a big horse, who rode on the top of us. I jumped up and gave the word to fire a volley, and that Boer turned and fled as any other man would do with eighty bullets after him, but not one of them touched him-the men were so deadly cold, shivering. Five minutes afterwards, when they had swung their arms round, they got at the Boers and scored bull's-eyes. That was a comfortable night-attack.
Now take the Highlanders at Magersfontein. All Saturday night they bivouacked in the open 4000 yards from the enemy's lines; they had a cold ration, no fire or smoking was allowed, and it rained hard all night. The ground was studded with bushes and cactus hedges. At one o'clock in the morning after this cheerless night they moved off in quarter-column: it was pitch dark, the rain poured down, the wet ground was very miserable; the column was packed in as solid a block as
it was possible to pack men; a guide rope stretched from front to rear to keep them together. In the dark a certain amount of confusion naturally occurred, and the companies got a little mixed up. Then at 3.45 A.M. the usual terrific firing in front broke out, and there was instant confusion was anything else to be expected? In what condition were men who twelve hours previously had a cold ration, had lain on the squelching ground without cover, fires, or pipes, and for the last three hours had stumbled in thick darkness through pouring rain over sloppy ground, packed as tight as herrings in a barrel? What fight was left in these men? They had struggled within 200 yards of the trenches; one brave soldier was found 100 yards nearer. If men can do as much as that in the dark, what would they have done in daylight? Troops can advance in open order under cover of their own artillery without excessive loss. Lord Methuen did not recognise that Highlanders are men, not machines.
As the month wore on the tension became intense. All England knew that General Buller with about 30,000 men was facing an equal number of Boers strongly entrenched, the Tugela between them, and Sir George White with his brave but fading-away garrison in rear, and that any moment the spark might light the volcano. Men had cheerfully acquiesced in the reticence of the telegraphwire, waiting day after day
till the strain on their minds became almost unbearable. News dribbled through of "demonstrations" and trifling “reconnaissances" by Thorneycroft's Horse, of the number of shells fired daily, and of the narrow escape of officers sketching, but nothing more. Days had passed, weeks had followed, and Boers were still south of the Tugela, and we took it for granted they were not in the way because no attempt was made to clear them out. It was always known they held Inhlawe on the west, the cavalry had been to look at them; when General Buller attempted to cross at Colenso 1000 cavalry with a battery of Field Artillery were detailed to move towards that hill and endeavour to turn the Boers out: it was gallantly attempted, but its capture was beyond the power of mounted men. General Barton's brigade was sent after them in support, but the Boers were found in strength with guns in position on Inhlawe and on the higher range behind; yet no assistance came to the Colonial troopers, who were set to attempt an infantry task, so they had to retire after wellnigh winning the position. It seemed strange that this isolated hill, swarming with Boers and heavy guns, the Tugela in flood in their rear, and 30,000 British troops in front, did not fall into their hands. A correspondent who was present at the action of the 15th December describes how the 2nd Queen's, 2nd Devonshire, three batteries of Field Artillery in line, and six naval 12-pounders in OX
waggons trying to range alongside them, advanced towards the outlying houses of Colenso. The batteries might have been moving down the Long Valley at Aldershot, so excellently were they aligned, the timberfringed bank of the river 600 yards in their front, when suddenly burst out an awful crash of Boer musketry, "as usual," from buildings, lines of trenches south of the river, and from the river's bank itself. "Unfortunately, it had not been suspected that the Boers had ventured to construct cover upon the south side of the river." But we held it with 30,000 men, and had held it ever since November 25th, when General Clery reoccupied Frere, ten miles south of Colenso. For some time it was reported that a large force, with guns, was intrenching itself at Springfield, seventeen miles south-west of Colenso, yet the Boers were allowed to construct their works undisturbed except by some reconnoitring cavalry, which always retired on the apparition of Boers: could not a brigade with a battery or two have been spared to interrupt them, to be followed by an attack when the river was in flood? Men at a distance reasoned that to allow the Boers undisputed possession of the south bank of the Tugela certainly was an oversight, although the picture seen through 6000 intervening miles is different to that which paints itself in its framework of koppjes, and bush, and boulders, and it was recognised that if the object-glass was blurred it was for some good reason. The art of war consists in doing some
thing which the enemy cannot foresee: the intended plan must anticipate that of the other side, or it will not succeed. Secrecy and silence are essential, and with the telegraph flashing the smallest details in South Africa to the uttermost parts of the world, that is not possible. So the Boers possessed in peace our side of the river, wondered, with us, at the strange oversight, and went their ways without suspicion. So we watched and waited.
Then on Sunday, 7th Janu
came a telegram from Ladysmith that set every heart to beat: "Enemy attacked Cæsar's Camp at 2.45 A.M. in considerable force. Enemy everywhere repulsed.”
11 A.M. "Attack continues, and enemy has been reinforced from south."
12.45 P.M. "Have beaten enemy off at present, but they are still round me in great numbers. I think renewed attack very probable."
3.15 P.M. "Attack renewed. Very hard pressed."
The sun failed, and we were left to wait in darkness. But in the afternoon news arrived: "The attack continued until 7.30 P.M. The enemy were repulsed everywhere, with very heavy loss."
At 2 P.M. General Buller made a demonstration towards Colenso.
The telegrams referred to a new departure in Boer tactics, hitherto purely defensive. At dawn on the 6th January they commenced a most determined attack on the works round Ladysmith. The containing