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 Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Burmester Pulleine

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PostSubject: Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Burmester Pulleine   Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Burmester Pulleine EmptySun Mar 22, 2009 11:45 am

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Henry Burmester Pulleine

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Burmester Pulleine (1838 - 22 January 1879) was an administrator and commander in the British Army in the Cape Frontier and Anglo-Zulu Wars. He held the acting rank of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel. Pullenie was born in Yorkshire, the son of a vicar. His original commission into the British Army's 30th Regiment, was obtained without purchase in 1855 after his graduation from the Sandhurst. He transferred to the brand new 2nd Battalion of the 24th in 1858 as a Lieutenant. He was promoted Captain in 1861 and in 1871 Pulleine bought a majority in the regiment's 1st Battalion which was then sent to South Africa. Despite a brevet promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1877 Pulleine still had no experience of war.
This would soon change when war broke out between the British and the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape. During British operations in the Cape Frontier, Pulleine was responsible for the formation of a force of irregular cavalry. Called 'Pulleine's Rangers' it was made up of ex-railroad workers from King William's Town. The unit acquitted itself well in the war, and with the conflict over it was disbanded and Pulleine took over as commandant of Durban-KZN and then Pietermaritzburg.

It has never been established where and when on the battlefield Pulleine died as his body was never positively identified. An unknown source indicated that he died 'early' in the fighting. This would explain Coghill's later comment that Pulleine was 'already dead,' and the inability of Durnford to locate him once his force returned to the camp during the height of the battle. It would also explain Melvill's apparent dereliction of duty in abandoning his men. If Melvill knew Pulleine was dead it would not have made sense to remain on the field with the colour. It is also equally possible that Pulleine survived the British collapse only to be killed in one of the desperate last stands which took place after it became obvious the British were doomed.however in his book 'a lost legionary in south africa' Commandant George Hamilton Browne describes coming across and saluting Pulliene's corpse on his way back from visiting his tent on the morning of the 23rd, as Browne was commandant of the 1st/3rd NNC who's tent's were at the extreme left of the camp it seems probable that Pulliene was killed in the camp and not in one of the big last stands in the saddle or 1st /24th camp.

Pulleine is often portrayed, including in the 1979 film Zulu Dawn, as an administrator with no real knowledge of battlefield command. His service in the Cape Frontier proves this not to be the case, and while praised for his administrative work in the 1860s, he was also commended for this war service as well.
He is also often criticised for the way he deployed his troops before the attack on the camp. This however, cannot be blamed entirely on Pulleine. Accepted thinking at the time was that the Martini-Henry Rifle the British were armed with was best deployed in a firing line such as the one Pulleine created. In addition the terrain shielded the movements of the Zulu army from the view of the British. Critically short of reliable scouts Pulleine was effectively blind beyond the cavalry vedettes he had placed around the camp. Consequently Pulleine could have had no idea of the location or the strength of the Zulu force or its possible intentions and, as a result could not deploy his troops effectively.
Despite this Pulleine had received orders from Chelmsford to pull in his infantry close to the camp, which was in accordance with Chelmsford's own standing orders for units in camp in enemy territory. Pulleine did not do this or, as was also mentioned in the standing orders, laager his wagons or entrench his position, all things Pulleine had time to do before he was attacked.

One possible explanation for this is that Pulleine's command structure was interfered with by the arrival of Durnford. Durnford's orders, as given to him by Chelmsford's secretary Crealock, were ambiguous and led to confusion as to who was actually in charge of the camp. As Durnford was a full Lieutenant-Colonel rather than a brevet he should have taken command but did not preferring to remain with his own troops. This dual command structure meant that Pulleine may have felt he should defer to Durnford's request that the 24th support him and therefore deploy his companies far away from the camp. It could also explain Pulleine's hesitation at vital moments.
Pulleine, like almost all other officers at the time, seriously underestimated the calibre of his enemey, believing that they would wilt under rifle fire as native armies had in the recent Cape Frontier war. However the Zulu warriors were far more durable than the British believed and had a far more aggressive military philosophy. As a result they would attack as soon as it became possible with the aim of enveloping and wiping out the enemy. Pulleine was caught off balance by this all-out attacking strategy, potentially explaining his deployments away from the camp.
Finally Pulleine had spent so much time away from his regiment that he did not know many of the junior officers of the 24th as well as some of the more senior commanders. This made communication difficult and may have hampered the efficiency with which Pulleine's orders were carried out.
After advancing into Zululand, early on 22 January 1879, Lord Chelmsford split his force and went in search of the main Zulu army, leaving half in camp at Isandhlwana under the command of Colonel Henry Pulleine 1/24th. The Zulus attacked the camp with a force of 25,000 warriors. Out of 1,700 British and Colonial troops in the camp, 850 were killed. The 24th Foot - later the South Wales Borderers - lost 596 men that day. Colonel Pulleine's last message to Lord Chelmsford reads as follows: 'Staff Officer - Report just come in that Zulus are advancing in force from the left front of the cam (8.5 am). H B Pulleine, Lt. Col'. The message was received at 9.30 am by Captain Hallam Parr, a Staff Officer in the field with Lord Chelmsford.

Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Burmester Pulleine,last Message to Chelmsford
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Photos supplied by 1879 Graves

Source: 'Zulu,' Saul David, Penguin 2005 'A Lost Legionary in South Africa', Col G Hamilton Browne. T, Werner Laurie. 1912.
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