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 Letter from a Naval Officer with Relief Column

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Petty Officer Tom

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PostSubject: Letter from a Naval Officer with Relief Column   Tue Feb 21, 2017 5:09 pm

Lower Tugela, Zulu Side, March 27
Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford marched from this place with a force of about 6,000 strong, consisting of ,000 English troops, and 2,000 Native Contingent and Colonial Volunteers.  The English troop were composed of the 57th Regiment, 99th, 3rd Battalion 60th Rifles, 91st Highlanders, and Naval Contingents of Shah, Boadicea, and Tenedos – forming the artillery of the column – with two 9-pounder guns, two Gatling guns, and four 24-pounder rocket tubes.  The principal object of the advance of this column was to relieve Colonel Pearson’s column at Ekowe, where it had been shut up since the 22nd of January.  The immense train of necessary waggons and carts caused the advance to be a very slow process, especially as the track was rendered heavy, and, in many places half knee deep in thick mud, by the recent rains, to say nothing of the innumerable rivers and drifts to be crossed, where, in many cases, from 28 to 30 oxen were required to drag one waggon through.  On halting at night the waggons are always formed up in laager, i.e., so as to form an enclosure into which all the oxen, mules, and horses are driven and secured.  The laager is generally in the form of a square or oblong, according to the nature of the halting ground.  The waggons are placed so that the front wheel of one overlaps the hind wheel of the next ahead, thus making a most compact barrier against an inroad of the enemy.   From 15 to 20 paces outside the laager a shelter trench is dug, and in t in rear – and his space the troops bivouac – sleeping!!! – with their rifles by them.  The corners of the square are generally defended by the guns, rockets, and Gatling guns of the Naval Contingent.  As soon as the entrenchment is completed the troops man the trenches – two ranks on the knee and two ranks in reserve – and when all are in their places and the arrangements for the night concluded, the men make themselves as comfortable as possible with waterproof sheets and great coats, but all ready for the “alarm: being sounded, and to man the trenches at a moment’s notice.  On April 1, about noon, the column arrived at a portion of the country call Ginghilovo, about 20 mile from the Lower Tugela drift, and about 2 ½ miles on the south side of the Inyazani River.  A strong laager was formed here, to be held by a comparatively small number of men, while the main body advanced for the relief of Ekowe.  The country passed through between the Tugela River and Ginghilovo resembled more anything else one vast extent of park ground.  The herbage, luxurious in its growth , looking perfection for grazing cattle undulating hills, and the drifts and smaller hollows well wooded in most instances, altogether making the scenery, especially towards daylight in the morning, almost perfection.  It seems strange to pass through such a glorious country, capable of growing almost anything, and yet no signs of cultivation to be seen, beyond here and there a small patch of Indian corn (called mealies in this country.)  The natives evidently only cultivate sufficient ground for the actual subsistence.  They have no money in the country.  A man’s wealth consists in the number of cattle he possesses, and all transactions are carried on by barter in cattle.  The water in the rivers and drifts is comparatively wholesome at this time of the year, just after the rains; but in the dry season many of the rivers almost cease to flow, and the drifts are dry.
 On the morning of the 2nd, at six a.m., the native scouts came in, reporting that large bodies of Zulus were crossing the Inyezani River, and moving to the right and left through the bust on the banks.  Very shortly afterwards they could be seen from the encampment coming up and rapidly enclosing the English position.  They were moving at a wonderful pace, trotting along about eight deep, as far as it was able to determine at the distance.  At 6.30 the Zulus attacked the camp on all sides, keeping up a steady and determined fire from the thick, long grass, and taking advantage of every bush and pieces of scrub to hide behind.  They skirmished splendidly, running from one piece of cover to another, like bucks.  Firing now commenced from all sides of the square.  The Gatling guns and rockets did effective work at their respective corners; also the nine-pounders with their shell.  At 8 (after an hour and a half) the fire of the Zulus began to slacken, and they to retire, so the Native Contingent and mounted men were sent in pursuit, which was continued to the Inyazani River.  No doubt, a large number of the enemy were cut off in this retreat.  It is almost impossible to state with any accuracy the numbers of the enemy on this occasion, but in all probability they mustered from 10,000 to 12,000 strong.  They evidently had a mistaken idea of the strength of the English forces, or they would never have attacked them.  On all former occasions they have singled out smaller numbers to attack with overwhelming columns of their own.  The casualties on the English side were wonderfully small – one officer and four whites were killed, and 34 wounded; two Native Contingent killed and eight wounded  The actual loss on the Zulu side is very difficult to state with accuracy.493 were collected within a radius of about 900 yards from the camp, and buried the same afternoon, and during the two or three days following 900 more were disposed of; at the same time it was very evident that many bodies were lying about in the long grass, all round the camp, for the air was poisoned in all directions.  The plucky way in which the Zulus came up to the entrenchments under a galling fire was wonderful.  Seven were found lying between 27 and 35 paces of one of the Gatling guns.  The rockets, too, did effective work.  In one place 13 Zulus were found lying close together, evidently killed by one rocket.  They were all on their faces, as they had thrown themselves when they saw the rocket coming.  They were fearfully burnt by the back fire and covered with sulphur.   Of course there were many hairbreadth escapes on the English side.  The adjutant of the regiment was shot through the helmet, the ball entering just above the forehead, and passing out almost exactly at the back.  Another officer was struck by a bullet in the belt.  It entered his pistol ammunition pouch, and bent some of the ball cartridges – evidently a spent bullet, but with the force enough left to have made an unpleasant hole.  Two officers were severely wounded.  One, the commanding officer of a regiment, I am sorry to say, died on the 6th.  The other, a staff surgeon, R.N., is now going on very fairly, but this is a bad climate for healing.  One of the attacking Zulu regiments was one of those engaged in the massacre at Isandlula, for quantities of belts, pouches, etc., of the 24th Regiment were found on the dead, and in one instance an infantry officer’s sword.  More accoutrements were found on the banks of the Inyazani River, thrown away by the retreating army before crossing.  Numbers of shields and assegais were lying by the banks also.  The guns found were principally muzzle loaders, the bullets well cast and wrapped in bits of “clout.”  Their powder is carried principally in horns.  The next morning, April 3, the General marched with the relieving column for Ekowe.

(Source:  The Western Mail, May 23, 1879)

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PostSubject: Re: Letter from a Naval Officer with Relief Column   Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:14 pm

PTO I give up, where are you finding these letters.
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Petty Officer Tom

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PostSubject: Re: Letter from a Naval Officer with Relief Column   Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:24 pm

littlehand,

I spent a couple of hours searching the British Newspaper Archives over the past three years.  You have to purchase a subscription, but it is worth it.

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