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 Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions

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joz



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PostSubject: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:32 am

Hello all,

New here (wow what a great forum!) so please forgive any errors. I have tried to search to see if this question has been covered before posting...

I have recently been reading a few different books covering Isandlwana and came across the following 'confidential memorandum' from Lord Chelmsford which I believe was written to Secretary of State for War after the Board of Inquiry.

'I consider there never was a position where a small force could have made a better defensive stand. Assuming it was thought desirable to occupy the whole front of Isandlwhana hill, 300 yards in length, this would have given 4 rifles per running yard to the fighting line. What force of Zulus could have succesfully assaulted a front of battle so defended? The ammunition was abundant; the soldiers were good steady shots; and everyone before the disaster, felt confident they could defeat any numbers that came against them. Had the tents been lowered as was invariably done afterwards by pulling out the tent-poles, they would also have formed an entanglement at a convenient distance from the position to be defended... The ground was too rocky to even throw up a shelter trench, but the waggons which were ready inspanned at 10am (vide Lt Cochranes evidence) could if thought necessary have been formed into a laager'

So my questions...

As laid out above would this really have been a credible and effective defence? By this I mean would the battle not have been such a disaster for the British if the above tactics were used?

And if so then should Chelmsford not have been considerably more specific with his orders regarding the defence of the camp as it seems very obvious to him at least in his above description what should have been done and yet nothing really remotely like this was done on the day of the battle despite the many officers with various and considerable experience of action being present.

My source for this was initially in Saul Davids 'Zulu - The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879' page 212 but I have also since found the passage in French's 'Lord Chelmsford and the Zulu War' page 112. While I realize both books contain some inaccuracies I assume the contents of the confidential memorandum are genuine. Would appreciate anyone who can shed more light on this correspondence in addition to thoughts on whether this 'This is what they should have done' style explanation from LC would have been credible at all.

many thanks
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impi

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:47 am

Joz wrote:
As laid out above would this really have been a credible and effective defence? By this I mean would the battle not have been such a disaster for the British if the above tactics were used?

Joz, I think the outcome would have been the same. In a letter to Frere and column commanders send after your letter above, LC admitted he had under estimated the number of Zulus.
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joz



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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 1:12 am

Thanks Impi -

I'm not even that clear on exactly what LC is suggesting in that passage...

Is he saying that the force should have formed up in a (curving?) firing line effectively with their backs to the hill itself? Keeping ammunition with them inside their perimiter between themselves and the hill?

I get that he is saying the rest of the camp itself would have to have been sacrificed to create a obstacle. Thus is he saying the wagon laager would have served as a barricade for the firing line?

Is it the general consensus that nothing could be done with the force at the camp on the day of the battle that would have changed the outcome?
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John

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 9:13 am

The hill would have formed a natural defence, protecting the rear, and yes Compaines could have formed up infront of the hill. Which when you think about it, it would have made more sense, than the positioning of the men on the day, and yes you would have thought between them, those in command of the camp could have done a lot better, but looking at the military back grounds of the two officers in charge, I'm don't think they were up to the task.
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rusteze

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 10:43 am

Here are some key facts to ponder.

First, the right horn of the Zulu attack went around behind Isandhlwana. So many thousands of Zulus were attacking from the rear. The hill was easily climbed and would therefore offer the enemy the high ground overlooking the entire defensive position.

Second, the hill is not like a vertical cliff face, it has a long rocky slope. So there is not the possibility of a "backs to the wall" defence position and the wagons could not be taken up it.

Third, The defending force would have to point in all directions from some kind of cover. As they did at Ulundi, where they had four times the number of men against a Zulu force half as big.

Lastly, Impi is right, there were just insufficient numbers to withstand 20,000 Zulus.

Steve
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impi

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:05 pm

Steve that's rubbish. It's well known if the defensive position had been adopted has describe by LC the camp would not have been so easily taken. As for climing the hill, you made that up. Because if that was the case the Brits would have done the same.
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rusteze

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 1:24 pm

Quote from Hill of the Sphinx (page 14) by Jackson.

Captain Symons, co author of the Regimental History.

"Good as this position might have been against European troops, compelled by the nature of the ground to operate from the open in front, it afforded no protection whatever against Zulus, to whom the rocky broken ground on the flanks was no more an obstacle than a ploughed field to our soldiers at home." It is important to remember that the main hill is not sheer rock. Only the upper slopes are precipitous. The lower part is a mound across which the Zulus could scramble without difficulty, even the summit can be reached easily from the northern end.

So before you start spraying about words like "rubbish" and "making it up" I suggest you do a little more reading of the recognised experts on the battle.

Steve
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90th

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PostSubject: C'ford memorandum   Thu Jul 09, 2015 8:28 pm

John once again you show your lack of knowledge , you my friend have no clue on the ground at Isandlwana , you shouldnt make statements that you really have no idea about . Shocked Shocked Shocked
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90th

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PostSubject: C'ford Memorandum   Thu Jul 09, 2015 8:33 pm

Sorry Impi I forgot to put you in the same response , if you have any idea , you would , or should by now , know , that Pulleine set the troops out as per LC's instructions in the booklet he had written up in Dec 1878 ! . Pearson did the same positioning at Nyezane earlier in the day , but I suppose you are aware of that ! . I was always told if you dont know , dont guess , as you will always be found wanting .
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Thu Jul 09, 2015 10:08 pm

90th wrote:
John once again you show your lack of knowledge , you my friend have no clue on the ground at Isandlwana , you shouldnt make statements that you really have no idea about . Shocked Shocked Shocked

90th perhaps you should enlighten us. As you have been twice, and no doubt know more than anyone else.
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joz



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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:59 am

I just got my copy of F. W. D. Jackson 'The Sources Re-Examined' and read it last night and there are some additional comments in there regarding this issue:

Penn-Symons - 'At the back the steep scarped face of the rock as a base: the summit and sides occupied by sharpshooters, the men and guns in an arc, or some other close formation, around this base: in the front a sloping glacis, free for the most part of any obstacles (the whole of the tents might have been struck in two minutes by pulling away the poles)...'

Capt Montague 94th Foot - '...thought that the camp position had been "foolishly spoken against"... Had the troops held the neck with a slight force supported by an intrenchment, an enemy would have found the front of the camp alone open to attack - their advance moreover, having to climb a sloping glacis, perfectly open on all sides, and specially adapted to artillery or musketry fire. No better position need have been wished for'

and yet conversely Harness didnt think much of the position and we also have the various officers expressing their concern with the camp (Dunbar, Glyn, Degacher and Melvill)
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 1:04 am

Hi joz,

Regulations for Field Forces in South Africa, 1878 Chelmsford had specified how permanent camps were to be protected, the key here is the word 'permanent'. My understanding is that Chelmsford didn't view the camp as Permanent. Ian Knight states, 'The real reason that Chelmsford did not insist upon the camp being fortified was that he did not for a moment believe that the Zulus had the capacity to attack it.'


Q1..The defences described would have slowed an attacking force down for a while but 20.000 determined Zulus would have eventually overwhelmed the defending force.

Q2..The question of Orders and who is 'Responsible', 'Culpable' and 'Capable' will be debated on this forum for an eternity. (But that's why we are here isn't)

Q3..Lord Chelmsford and the word 'Credible' are not often used in the same sentence.


As a member of this forum once said to me,  'Welcome to the enigma that is Isandlawana.'

Regards

Waterloo
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joz



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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 1:12 am

aha Waterloo yes I think I read that thread with the enigma quote only just yesterday!

Yes I have read and understood the issues regarding the camp being temporary and therefore not subject to the Regulation for Field Forces requirements. However as just mentioned in my previous post I think that despite that it is intriguing still that Dunbar, Glyn, Degacher and Melvill remained concerned.

While of course I totally understand the point about the enduring enigma issue and the sheer scale of the enemy comparitive size... I suppose the question I seem to really be asking is

Is it categorical that no change of tactics on the day with the forces available to the defenders of the camp could have changed the outcome of the battle? That is, the battle was lost no matter what Pulleine or Durnford did?

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 7:55 am

Joz
I would disagree with most of my esteemed friends on the forum on a number of issues you raise. Firstly I don't believe that the formation of the troops was a deliberate pursuit of Chelmsfords standing orders but rather a defence line formed to react to the ongoing situation. The proponents of the Chelmsfords order theory have really to answer one question and that is: 'How did the NNC get posted to the critical knuckle area.'
There is a discussion on the forum that Julian Whybra and I held on this topic, eventually we agreed to disagree ( as with most discussions on the forum).
Various companies were being sent hither and thither, apart from the two on the spur, others were sent to guard the guns whilst one was sent of to its piquet position of the night before. When the battle commenced these companies retreated into the defence curve we know existed, not a straight line as Chelmsfords orders state. It was, in my opinion, that retreat that formed the line. From the time the companies were sent onto the ridge the die was cast.
Your other point of could the day have been won? Yes it could, with a dramatic shift in tactics: Abandon the camp, retreat onto the saddle with ammo waggons in the centre, and form square. Both sides of that saddle are devoid of cover with massed well supplied guns it would have been a massacre.
Just my view point that my Aussie mate will attempt to rip to shreds, he should be watching cricket any way.

Cheers
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rusteze

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:37 am

Morning Frank

I agree that the shape of the defence line was a product of the companies falling back before the Zulu attack. A couple of questions.

1. I read somewhere recently that, because of the numbers involved, the Zulu actually had more rifles available than the defending force. While I am sure their ammunition and accuracy (at least compared to the imperial troops) was much less, do you think that might have been a factor if an attempt had been made to form square on the saddle (ie with higher ground on both sides).

2. What is your view on Clery's comment that an imperial force might have occupied the top of Black's Kopie to offer a credible defence. That would give an all round view and require an up hill attack.

Steve
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:15 am

Morning Steve
Thinking along the lines of a Zulu army, committed to the battle, of around 10000, not including the reserve and right wing in those figures, its really possible that the would have been an average of 1 in 25 ( I cant remember where I got that figure/estimate from ) there would have been around 400 maximum. In terms of how much ammunition they had I would suggest not a lot and reading of the positions of the bodies, there wasn't a lot near the firing lines, that would suggest that there weren't to many casualties initially when the most firing would have taken place. There was also a fair amount of bullets flying high, one of the QMs was shot in the early part of the battle. So a long winded answer to say no I don't believe it was a factor. I think it was more a factor at RD, Dabalamanzi was a big gun man and Im sure after being trained by John Dunn a lot of that knowledge was passed on to his men.
Im damn sure if the force had accupied the top of the kopie we would still be trying to get to them today. Firstly its a bitch of a climb ( Gary actually gave up on his first attempt ) and because of the shape the Zulu army would compress more and more as they got to the top. Sitting ducks, even for thrown rocks and boulders. Clery was an astute tactitian. Didn't he lecture?

Cheers
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joz



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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:30 pm

Thanks Frank and Steve and everyone for replying here, am finding all this really helpful.

There certainly seems to have been quite a lot of shooting coming from the zulus during the earlier phases of the battle as there are numerous mentions in the accounts of them firing and details of the approximate range etc.

It also seems that 'defending the camp' and 'adjusting tactics to form a credible defence and not be wiped out' were not really both achievable?

Is it an accurate statement to say that for a time at least the camp defenders had checked the chest and the left horn?
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:44 pm

Hi Joz
Extremely accurate. At one point Pope was overheard talking about the thrashing the Zulus were taking. He faced the left side of the chest/right side of the left horn.
Above the Durnford Donga there is an upward incline to a ridge, the left horn was taking such a savage beating they withdrew to the Eastern side of that ridge then moved strongly to the South to outflank Durnford.
One of the biggest issues is exactly what you say, defending the camp. That's what Pullein tried to do and fight of the Zulu outside the camp perimeter, Most of the best fighting options would have actually been within that perimeter, but then Pullein would have lost control of the camp and stores etc.
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 3:32 pm

Joz

Returning to the question of the confidential memorandum, you might like to take a look at Zulu Victory by Lock and Quantrill which gives a full list ( Chapter 9) of the questions posed by the Duke of Cambridge to Chelmsford and his replies (one of which you quoted). Ian Knight comments in Zulu Rising ( page587 ) that Cambridge saw through Chelmsford's replies and his conclusions were sharply critical of the sense of over-confidence and propensity to underestimate Zulu capabilities. Knight points out that Cambridge also criticized Chelmsford's decision to split his forces, his inadequate reconnaissance and failure to ensure that the camp was properly defended.

Steve
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 4:26 pm

Lord Chelmsford House of Commons.

"Said, that it was so stated in the evidence. They were ordered back to take up a final position under the hill, which they ought never to have left, and they endeavoured to do so. That was the reason they turned their backs to the enemy; not that they ran, or attempted to run. In self-defence, he was compelled to refer in detail to the six mistakes which it was alleged by the noble and gallant Lord had led to the disaster at Isandlana. In the first place, he denied that the invading columns were too far apart to render each other mutual support. A reference to the map would show that the position taken up by the columns, having regard to the long frontier line, was the only one that could be properly adopted. With reference to the position of the camp, he defied the noble and gallant Lord to show that the account he had given of its position was inaccurate in any particular. The map which had been placed in the Library of the House, and which accurately described the ground near Isandlana, corroborated that account. With regard to the charge that the ground occupied by the enemy on the day in question had not been sufficiently reconnoitred previously, as a matter of fact, it had been carefully reconnoitred on the day before without the Zulus being discovered. Lieutenant Browne, 24th Regiment, and a party of mounted Infantry, went out by his (Lord Chelmsford's) orders in the direction from which the Zulus advanced, and he must have passed close to the spot where they bivouacked that night. He saw, however, no traces of a large force, simply because they were not there till after dark that evening. On the morning of the attack the vedette was placed, as usual, three miles in advance; and he gave notice of the approach of the enemy long before the actual attack was made, and which, therefore, could not be characterized as a surprise. The enemy did not advance from the direction of the mountains to the north of Isandlana; but from the eastward two of their columns, however, moved along the top of these mountains and came down upon the camp that way. In reference to the statement that the camp should have been intrenched, he had already stated that the ground in the neighbourhood of the camp was so rocky that it was absolutely impossible to make even shelter-trenches round the tents. When the party subsequently came to bury the poor men who had fallen in the battle, they found it almost impossible to dig a shallow grave, owing to the small amount of earth. Nor were there any trees with which to make abattis. The troops had, in fact, to carry their fuel with them. With regard to the assertion that on receiving the message that the camp was attacked, he should at once have returned with his force to its assistance, he had already explained that, by some extraordinary fatality, he never received such a message, if it had ever been sent. All he could say, standing before their Lordships, who, he believed, would give him credit for telling the truth faithfully, was, that neither he nor any of his staff received more than the one to which he had referred at half-past 9 in the morning; and the fact that he immediately sent a messenger back to Colonel Pulleine was a refutation of the charge brought against him. The sixth mistake alleged was that it would have been better if he had allowed Colonel Durnford to continue to discharge his special duties of superintending the fortification of the camp. In reply to this, he could only say that the fact of his sending for Colonel Durnford was evidence that he wished to have him close at hand in order that his advice might be available on engineering questions. Furthermore, he was much indebted to Colonel Durnford for the organization of the force of mounted Natives, which was entirely due to the personal influence which the gallant officer had with the Native Tribes. As far as the formation of the columns of invasion was concerned, the question was a purely technical one, which could not be satisfactorily discussed in their Lordships' House. To justify the strategy which he had adopted, it would be necessary to have a large map; and he would, in fact, have to give a lecture. He would only say that in his view a division of the force into three bodies was absolutely necessary, and was not too much to cover a line of close upon 300 miles. He would, however, be perfectly prepared to discuss the point with anybody who was interested in the subject. He looked back to the campaign with mixed feelings—regret at the loss of the gallant men who fell, and for that sad day of Isandlana, but with pride at what had been accomplished. When the nature of the country in which the troops were operating—the fact that, for military purposes, it may be said to have been a terra incognita—and the numerous difficulties of supply and transport which had to be overcome, were taken into consideration, the six months from January 11 to July 5 could not, he contended, be considered but a short time for the campaign to be brought to a close, and would contrast very favourably with the duration of former Kaffir Wars. He could not but think it unreasonable to say that undue delay had arisen in consequence of the steps which he thought it necessary to take in order to secure the completeness of the expedition. In conclusion, he thanked their Lordships for their attention, but regretted that he should have been called upon to make this explanation."
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 5:05 pm

Chelmsford's statement in the House of Commons contains a passage that I find puzzling.

The sixth mistake alleged was that it would have been better if he had allowed Colonel Durnford to continue to discharge his special duties of superintending the fortification of the camp. In reply to this, he could only say that the fact of his sending for Colonel Durnford was evidence that he wished to have him close at hand in order that his advice might be available on engineering questions.

Leaving aside the idea that Chelmsford had called him forward to give advice on engineering questions (if he did he never told anybody, particularly not Durnford), which camp is being referred to? What "special duties for superintending the fortification of the camp"  and who gave Durnford orders to do that? He can't have meant Isandhlwana because Durnford was only there for a short while before Chelmsford's order to pack up and move forward arrived. And it wasn't to be fortified anyway according to Chelmsford.

So what is being referred to?

Steve
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joz



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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 8:30 pm

Hi Steve,

Yes I have both 'Zulu Rising' and 'Zulu Victory' and was very interested to read the initial questions posed to LC but even moreso the subsequent findings that went on to basically list the same questions and in almost all cases left the blame on LC. Which strategically speaking I think is correct. I think I am trying to find out if tactically something different could have been done to alter the outcome.

With regards to splitting the force I find it astounding that it was effectively split 3 times over that critical period. The two thirds of the force that were away from the camp and strung out in penny packets across a wide area were very lucky to not suffer the same fate as the camp defenders. I think the only reason they werent also attacked is probably because the zulu focus really was on the prize of the camp itself.

John that passage from the House of Commons is very interesting and summarizes well the list of questions posed to LC and conclusions. I also have no idea what the special engineering duties refers to... Most of Lc's replies to the questions posed by the Duke of Cambridge were very wooly indeed.

I see also in Jackson's 'Sources Re-Examined' Clery also says in regards to the Isandlwana camp 'The Isandhlwana hill had been the point selected by the Lieutenant-General commanding as the halting place for that night'...

to which 'Crealock noted against the passage "the neighborhood of the' would have been more correct, had the General fixed the site. I know from his own lips on the 22nd, that it would not have been on the same spot". I think Jackson goes onto say that perhaps there had been a misunderstanding as to the General's wishes.

Yet it is noted that LC rode on to fix the site of the next camping ground on the 22nd.

Reading between the lines and the known reactions of at least 5 officers who didnt seem to think the Isandlwana camp was adequately sited seems to suggest LC picked the camp sites and officers below him grumbled and murmured a bit about it. Both Dunbar and Glyns objections were brushed aside.

So yes back to the original confidential memorandum and the question of whether total defeat was inevitable? It certainly appears that defence of the camp and survival were mutually exclusive.

I'm still up in the air as to whether the tactics as laid out in the memorandum by LC would have changed the outcome or whether some other disposition could have led to anything but total defeat. I realize the enigma as mentioned but then with all the events of the war to follow on we do have quite a number of examples of tactics that worked. Of course many of those options would not have been available.
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90th

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PostSubject: LC's memorandum   Fri Jul 10, 2015 9:37 pm

Impi I have attempted to enlighten your kind self several times about the lay of the land at Isandlwana , either you havent bothered to read it , or the '' light '' isnt on Joker
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:56 pm

Impi stick with Frank's observations of the land. He leaves room for opinions, and discussion.
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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:04 pm

rusteze wrote:
Chelmsford's statement in the House of Commons contains a passage that I find puzzling.

The sixth mistake alleged was that it would have been better if he had allowed Colonel Durnford to continue to discharge his special duties of superintending the fortification of the camp. In reply to this, he could only say that the fact of his sending for Colonel Durnford was evidence that he wished to have him close at hand in order that his advice might be available on engineering questions.

Leaving aside the idea that Chelmsford had called him forward to give advice on engineering questions (if he did he never told anybody, particularly not Durnford), which camp is being referred to? What "special duties for superintending the fortification of the camp"  and who gave Durnford orders to do that? He can't have meant Isandhlwana because Durnford was only there for a short while before Chelmsford's order to pack up and move forward arrived. And it wasn't to be fortified anyway according to Chelmsford.

So what is being referred to?

Steve

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rusteze

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PostSubject: Re: Chelmsford Confidential Memorandum - some questions   Sat Jul 11, 2015 12:55 am

Thank you John. Now I understand. Strathnairn was saying Durnford should not have been taken away from his engineering duties to create and command the native contingent. Strathnairn said special duties superintending the fortification of camps (plural) and strongholds. Chelmsford, in his reply, misquotes this as camp (singular).  Nothing directly to do with Isandhlwana.

Steve
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