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 The Brisbane Courier. Saturday 22 March 1879

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littlehand

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The Brisbane Courier. Saturday 22 March 1879 Empty
PostSubject: The Brisbane Courier. Saturday 22 March 1879   The Brisbane Courier. Saturday 22 March 1879 EmptyTue Aug 17, 2010 10:09 pm

The Zulu War.

FURTHER PARTICULARS.

"Our South African exchanges to hand by Thurs- day's mail are filled with reports and correspon- dence relating to the great disaster at the camp at Isandala, and to the heroic fight at Rorke's Drift. With regard to the former, mili- tary authorities differ as to who is responsible for the calamity. It is scarcely a secret that in the deliberations which preceded the campaign there was not unanimity. As the story goes, Colonel Bellairs, the Deputy Adjutant- General, represented the minority, whose opinion it was that the campaign would have a more reasonable chance of success if the invading columns were light mobile bodies capable of meeting the enemy almost upon his own terms. It was accordingly proposed to obtain the services of the Basutos to go in with a large proportion of mounted men, and to confine in- fantry and regulars, as much as possible, to gar- rison and escort duty. Against this advice, and against the strongly pronounced feeling of the colonists, a levy of 10,000 men was raised from the Natal natives, and at the very first reverse that contingent has melted away. For the em- ployment of the Natal natives there can be no question that the responsibility rests with Lord Chelmsford, who has taken especial interest in the experiment. It is argued that the General's request for one or two regiments of cavalry at least was met with a denial on the part of the War Office authorities, but no protest appears to have been made against the campaign being undertaken in default of cavalry. The Lieutenant-Governor of Natal has issued a circular, to be read by Resident Magistrates and other officials to native chiefs. It refers to the ruinous overthrow at Isandala, and states, for the information of the natives, the nature of the fight. From that document, we gather that one of the columns of the British troops and Colonial Forces which had entered the Zulu country—the one at Rorke's Drift, with which the Lieutenant-General himself was—had made its way into the country, about ten miles, but, by the want of roads and the wetness of the season, was prevented making other than slow progress.

On the morning of the 22nd January, at about 4 or 5 o'clock, the Lieutenant-General proceeded with the main portion of the column on an expeditionary march further into the country in the direction oocupied by Matyana Mondisa. He left behind him his camp, together with a great number of waggons and stores, under the guard of five companies of her Majesty's troops, two guns of the Royal Artillery, and a few mounted men, to whom were added the mounted Natal Native Contingent under Colonel Durnford. At about 11 o'clock in the day, when the General had proceeded on his march some ten miles, the camp he left behind him was suddenly attacked. About all that transpired in the camp from the moment the General left until his return at nightfall, there is a shroud of mystery. Indi- vidual experiences from hearsay have been put forth in abundance, but unfortunately the experience of no two men seems to have been compatible the one with the other. A great deal of interest attaches to the question of responsibility, and as to who was in command at the camp subse- quent to the departure of the General. It is at any rate certain that, from 3 o'clock until Colonel Durnford's arrival at 9 o'clock, Colonel Pulleine enjoyed the undivided command.

The Cape Argus states that it has been already elicited at a court of enquiry that Lord Chelmsford left written instructions with the officer commanding the camp that the troops remaining there were to act on the defensive, and that these orders were not obeyed. Colonel Durnford, R.E., it is alleged, against the remonstrances of Colonel Pulleine, induced the latter officer to leave the camp. At 9 o'clock it was reported that the Zulus were in immense force, and advancing, driving the pickets and scouts before them. Still nothing serious was apprehended, and it was thought that the enemy showing up in front was in retreat before the General's column. No defensive preparations were made, and the simple idea was to " drive them back." For this purpose a portion of Durnford'e force was sent out in skirmishing order, directly after its arrival in camp, Colonel Durnford having apparently relieved Pulleine of the command by virtue of his seniority. From the tenor of what has been already published, it seems as if Durnford will be made the scape- goat ; but no blame can attach to him for any- thing prior to his arrival at the camp. Six hours had then elapsed since the General's de- parture, and during that period nothing had been done in execution of the alleged orders to put the camp in a position of defence. Accord- ing to the most exact statement Colonel Durn- ford was not in camp for any longer period than ten minutes, and from the moment when he went out to engage the enemy with the natives under his command, the two Colonels seem to have acted each without reference to the other.

It is not at all improbable that professional critics may hereafter come to the painful con- clusion that, by one officer or the other, an error of judgment was committed, even though no instructions, positive or implied, were wilfully disregarded. But for this adverse judgment we may all be content to wait, for whom will it profit to know whether the blot must fall upon the memory of the unfortunate Durnford or upon that of the more popular Pulleine, than whom the army could boast of no braver soldier or more genial man. Both officers fell in the fight, and Colonel Durnford's last adieu to his native followers was, "Go, my good fellows, fly for your lives. No need for you to stay any longer here. You have done your duty, and if the Queen of England only knew how well you have served her this day, you would all be decorated !" For defensive purposes against such an enemy as the Zulus the camp at Isandala seems to have been defective according to the description given of it by Mr. Drummond, Chief of the Intelligence Department. It was not a situation taken up for a night only, or for a few days, and was in the nature of a standing camp. For this reason the personal responsibility of Lord Chelmsford becomes the greater in allowing it to be formed on that spot, but there may have been what he considered sufficient reason urged by his officers to induce him to wave his own opinion.

On the second material point, the information before us goes to show that the Intelligence Depart- ment in Zululand, like the same department during the late war on the Cape frontier, was a failure. There had been plenty of time to organise a corps of native spies, but Lord Chelmsford appears to have been badly served by the officers whose special duty it was to look after this branch of the army. Nor does he seem to have been better served by the staff- officers to whom Captain Browne, of the mounted infantry, reported the attack made upon him on the 21st January, by Zulus to the left front of the column. In fact, Lord Chelmsford had no " eyes" to his force. His spies and his staff ap- pear to have been blind and dull. Had the General been kept duly informed, the disaster would not have taken place. When the General marched out of camp for Isandala, the enemy showed themselves in considerable force all along the hill tops, but they kept retiring, according to what after events showed was a preconcerted plan. Lord Chelms- ford thought they were falling back on their sup- ports, and a general advance was ordered. At 10 o'clock the General and his staff made a halt for breakfast, and word was brought that the mounted corps, under Major Dartnell, was en- gaged ; and about the same time, that the enemy was observed in force on the left. About 11 o'clock Lord Chelmsford started for- ward to where it had been decided to pitch a temporary camp.

At 12.30 a suspicion that something was going on in camp first struck some of his staff. Mr. Longcast, interpreter to the Lieutenant-General, learned from one of the prisoners that an immense army was expected up from the King's that day, amounting it was estimated from 20,000 to 25,000 men. He was engaged cross-examining some of the other pri- soners, when the report of big guns in the direc- tion of the camp was heard, and the Kaffirs about said, "Do you hear that! There is fighting going on in the camp !" This was at once re- ported to the General, who only stopped a moment, and then moved on to where he was about to select a spot for a camp. Just then a native on horseback was observed galloping down from a ridge where the camp could be seen. He shouted, and on a a staff officer who spoke the language going up to him he said an attack was taking place on the camp—that he could hear heavy firing and see the smoke of the big guns. Lord Chelmsford and staff at once galloped to the top of the hill, and every gla?? was levelled at the camp. All however seemed quiet ; the sun was shining brightly on the white tents ; no signs of firing could be seen, and though bodies of men were observed moving about, they were thought to be some of their own troops.

This was at 1.45 p.m., and not the faintest suspicion that any disaster had occurred crossed the mind of any one. They believed the attack on the camp had been repulsed. The General retired from the ridge at a-quarter to 3 o'clock, and apparently a desire to hear what had occurred at the camp induced him to return to it in person. The carbineers and mounted in- fantry accompanied him. No incident occurred worthy of note during the first seven miles on the return. It was certainly noticed that some of the tents had disappeared, but it was sup- posed they had been struck in accordance with orders given in the morning, and no vestige of suspicion was entertained. When about four miles from the camp, they fell in with the Natal native contingent that had been ordered to return several hours previously, but which, seeing the camp was attacked by a force much superior in numbers, had prudently halted. No information of which the General was not already aware was received from it. Half-an- hour afterwards, while still advancing to the camp, they were met by a solitary horseman coming at a foot pace from the direction of the camp, who, as he came nearer, was recognised as Commandant Lonsdale, who was known to have ridden on earlier in the day, and he informed the General that the camp was in the hands of the enemy. His account of his own adventures is most stirring. He was quietly returning to camp—he had been ill—and was jogging along slowly, being very tired. He had crossed a small waterwash at the south of the camp when his attention was attracted by a bullet passing rather near him, and on looking he saw a black man who had evidently just fired. He thought it was one of his own contingent carelessly firing off his rifle, and pursued his way.

The incident, however, woke him up to some extent, and although he saw redcoats sitting in groups in and around the tents he kept his eyes open, and when within ten yards of the tents he saw a great black Zulu come out of one with a bloody assegai in his hand. This made him look about more; he saw that black men, and black men only, were the wearers of the red coats, and the truth flashed on him. His self-possession did not fail him, for quietly turning his pony round he galloped off before the enemy were aware of his intention. A hundred and fifty shots are said to have been fired after him, but he providentially escaped, and was thus enabled to warn the General, and so save his life and the lives of those with him. Undoubtedly had such warning not been given, Lord Chelmsford, his staff, and the troops with him would have walked without suspicion into the skilful trap thus laid, and, under such cir- cumstances, few, if any, would have escaped. The necessary measures the occasion called for were taken without delay. When they were about three miles from the camp the troops were halted in a watercourse, on the further side of which was the 1st ridge that concealed their advance from those hold- ing the camp. There they were forced to wait for their supports. Meantime the mounted men were ordered to send pickets for- ward to ascertain what was going on, and the contradictory reports they brought in added to the general uncertainty. After an hour and a- half the General ordered Colonel Russell to go forward with the mounted infantry and ascertain the real facts beyond a doubt. He did so, and in a short half-hour returned with the informa- tion that the entire camp was swarming with Zulus ; many of the tents were burning, and the numbers of the enemy holding the road, the only outlet to Natal, were put down at at least 7000. On the arrival of Colonel Glyn, 1-24th, the guns, the police, and the 2-3rd Natal native contingent, Lord Chelmsford placed his men in battle order as follows, and commenced his march on the camp.

The wings consisted of ten mounted corps, next came the native contingent, each keeping dressing with three companies of the 2-24th, which guarded the guns in the centre. In front of the guns rode Lord Chelmsford and his staff. In this order the advance was made, daylight dying away more and more rapidly, until it was dark night as they crossed the waterwash south of the camp. The General spoke to the 1-24th, telling them that he depended on them to retake the camp and reopen the communica- tions, and their cheers implied that they intended to conquer or die. The force continued to advance in the darkness, and the guns opened fire "with the most beautiful effect, from an artistic point of view," but none whatever as far as discovering the position of the enemy was concerned. Sud- denly, through the darkness, the 24th was heard cheering away to the left, and it was known they had taken the hill—the key of the position. These cheers were taken up all along the line, and after the cheers there was no more firing, but a steady advance, and the camp was taken possession of without resistance at 9 o'clock p.m., hours after the last of its brave defenders had been slain, and long after the last of the con- querors had departed with his spoil. A nominal return of the slain at Isandala has been published. It is incomplete, as the names of waggon contractors and others serving in various capacities at the time of the disaster are not included. It is feared the total of Euro- peans killed, when finally ascertained, will not be much less than 900.

The losses by the different corps are as follow :—U Battery, 5th Brigade, R.A., two officers, sixty-one men ; Royal Engineers, three officers, four men; 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, sixteen officers, 405 men; 2nd Battilion, 24th Regiment, six officers, 168 men ; Army Service Corps, one officer, ten men ; Army Medical Department, one officer, one man ; Mounted Infantry, thirteen men ; Natal Mounted Police, twenty-six men ; Natal Carbineers two officers, twenty men ; Newcastle Mounted Rifles, two officers, six men ; 1st Battalion, 3rd Natal native contingent, eight officers, twenty-nine men; 2nd Battalion, 3rd Natal native contingent, nine officers, twenty-eight men ; Miscellaneous Staff, one officer, eleven men. Total, 51 officers, 786 men, or 837 of all ranks.

The troops bivouacked at the camp that night, their dead comrades, oxen dead in their yokes, horses that had been shot, and the debris from the plundered waggons, strewing the ground around them. At dawn next morning the force was again in motion. It was felt that little or no dependence could be placed in the native contingent during a retreat after such a dire reverse. The march to Rorke's Drift was made without further incident. There were plenty of Zulus hovering about, and twice columns of them were passed debouch- ing from the Buffalo, while burning kraals on the Natal side showed plainly whence they were returning. These however had no wish to come into collision with the retreating force, and Lord Chelmsford thought it would be risking too much to make any avoidable attack on them, it being then unknown whether Helpmakaar, with their ammunition and the depot at Rorke's Drift had escaped. Had they even gained a complete victory the force, in common with the whole northern portion of the colony, would have been completely at the mercy of the Zulus if the reserves of ammunition were no longer intact ; while had the force been repulsed, Natal would have been laid open. As they marched steadily forward to Rorke's Drift, the smoke rising from the mission-house on the other side, suggested further disaster. As they neared it men could be seen manning the walls of an old ruin next the building used as a commissariat store—some of them waving coats. The mounted infantry forded the river, and went straight up to them, and it was only when they heard the well-known English cheers that they were fully persuaded it was not the Zulus they had to deal with. It was then learned that the garrison, consisting of eighty men, ten of whom were sick in hospital, had been attacked on the previous day by some 3000 Zulus, flushed by their late victory. The small force under the command of two young officers, conscious of the calamity that had that day overwhelmed the main body of their force, gallantly held at bay and ultimately de- feated an army thirty times their number. They had hardly had half-an-hour's warning during which to make preparation for defending an ex- tremely weak position.
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