The Scotsman - Saturday, 17th May 1879
THE ZLOBANA TRAP AND THE KAMBULA REPULSE
(FROM A SPECIAL CORRESPONDANT) MARITZBURG , April 15th , 1879)
The news received by telegraph yesterday of tho probable recall of the High Commissioner and the General has caused the greatest consternation here.
No one was prepared for it. It is the current topic of conversation everywhere around. The portion of the intelligence intimating that the British Government will decide upon the conditions of peace, and that it is opposed to the annexation of Zululand , has given least satisfaction. We are anxiously waiting for something more tangible than tho fow vague telegrams yet received. Brigadier-General Pearson has arrived in the city from Ekowe, and very well and jolly he looks, notwithstanding his long imprisonment. I have obtained from a trustworthy source the following graphic description of the terrible encounter on tha Zlobana Mountain by one who participated in it :-
"On the 27th March we started from our camp at Kambula Hill, in Zululand, to attack a Zulu stronghold some twenty miles away, called tha Zlobana Mountain. We numbered about 800 mounted men, and were nearly all of us volunteers that is, we were not Imperial cavalry. We were under Colonel Wood nominally, but the real command was exercised by Colonel Buller, with whom we were all familiar, and who had taken us in and brought us out of many a plucky exploit. It will Bcarly interest English people to know the names of the different commandants ; they want to know the story and its moral. I shall tell it from the point I saw it: writers who saw more may relate more.
We started about eight o'clock in the morning, and very cheerful and lively we all were. We thought little of the morrow, or if a, few did they only had in their imaginations a day of success and triumph over our savage foes. We had got to hate those Zulus to hate them with a, personal hatred, something like the manner a man hates a snake, or a tiger, or a hungry wolf, knowing that if we do not destroy it we shall ourselves be destroyed.
Well, we started gaily enough. The air was bracing and invigorating; to good lungs and empty stomachs it was positively exhilarating. I may just as well skip all description of the country we passed through or the places we halted at, you will get attempts at the former kind of thing from other sources.
We smoked our pipes and laughed and chatted merrily enough during the day, and about five o'clock in the evening we reached the slope of tho mountain. We were here fired at, but took no notice, as we wanted to get along unperceived, and did not think of the enemy being near us in any numbers. When darkness set in we bivouacked each man holding his horse in hand while he lay down to rest, not to sleep.
During the night there was a terrible thunderstorm , and we got thoroughly drenched. To describe what a South African thunderstorm is would require the pen of a Macaulay and Onida combined; the imagination must suffice. Let him suppose half-a-dozen British thunderstorms combined and that will do. Well, at four a.m we were all astir, feeling miserable enough. In this state we crossed our saddles, which were nearly as soft and wet as our clothes.
We ascended the hill pretty easily, but nearly at the top the Zulus began to make us aware of their presence, and fired upon us from undisceniable fences. We lost Lient. Williams and three or four men of the Frontier Light Horse. We took little notice, however, of this cross fire, as we expected the main resistance at the summit. By six o'clock wo were at the top of the plateau, and our native allies were setting fire to some Zulu huts and collecting the cattle, about 2000 in number, which did not at all seem to understand our movements. The great majority unsaddled our horse for a short time, while, some of the others engages a few Zulus who kept up a desultory fire from some caverns.
After a time we collected at the opposite end of the plateau to which we had ascended, and here we found the Zulus in stronger force than we had estimated. They commenced a heavy fire upon us, and we were engaged fully half an hour with them before we succeeded in silencing them; we lost three or four men during this time. It had got into the forenoon, and about 11 a.m. we became aware of the serious fact that while we had been engaging a few Zulus at one side, a very large number of them had come the way we ascended, and others to our right and left, and that we were being surrounded. A very few minutes observation was sufficient to convey the terrible impression to our minds that once more the Zulus had got us into a trap, and that we were going to have to fight for our lives to get out ot it as best we could or die.
The wily savages began to appear on every side, not in twos or threes, but in hundreds and thousands. Some of them had evidently climbed what to us seemed a positively perpendicular buttress on our left. We looked to our commanding officer to know what was to be done. Our retreat was cut off, and there was nothing to be done but either "fight it out to the end" or endeavour to escape down an almost perpendicular pass a few hundred yards in front of us. There had been too much " fighting it out to the end " in the two months immediately preceding, Isandula, and the prospect of falling at the hands of Zulus was calculated to arouse all that was selfprotective in a white man.
I should have stated that Captain Barton had been detached with a portion of the force to bring in or bury the dead, and that Colonel Weatherley and his corps had also got separated from the main body. Well there was but one outlet for us, and towards it we had orders to gallop. I was in the rear, and when I reached the place the sight was sickening, there was an almost perpendicular pass about ten feet wide and about 300 or 400 yards down, it was filled with rough, ragged boulders,between which were crevicies where, once the poor horse and rider fell he was seen no more. It seemed full of horses and men floundering one upon the other in dire and dreadful confusion, while the Zulus were pouring a murderous fire amongst them. How I got down I do not know; I have not met with a single comrade yet who does. The chief sensation I experienced was that behind me at about 800 yards distance was a very strong force of Zulus, yelling in a manner the most bloodthirsty and fiendish. In one or two places progress was altogether impeded, by chasms six or eight feet wide, and it was only by jumping them, or rather risking the attempt, for many a poor fellow lost his footing and his life here; that farther descent was possible. Nearly all the horses were killed or had to be left before we reached the bottom. All this time the Zulus were firing on us, and, amid the most piteous shrieks for mercy, rushing from the sides of the pass and assegaieing our poor fellows. How any of us escaped it is to me, and almost everyone else, a miracle.
Oh God, it was a sickening sight
Who had a friend or brother there.
At last, somehow or other, I got to the neck of the pass, escaping injury from the heavy fire of the enemy, but only to find that on the plain in front was a big Zulu army engaged with our men, who were divided into parties, and fighting for dear life. It was just hero that the brave Dutchman, Piet Uys lost his life. He had got down safely, but returned to the foot of the pass to assist his young son, where both were cut off and killed. Colonel Weatherley and his corps were almost cut up to a man. They were, as I have said, separated from the main body, and the last that was seen of the gallant Colonel was his commanding figure, sword in hand, killing the enemy right and left, and selling his life as dearly as possible. There were many acts of individual heroism that day, but it is my province to relate what I saw myself, and no more. There were Zulus everywhere around us. Colonel Buller tried to rally his men, but it became a matter of saure qui peut. At the risk of his own life Colonel Buller repeatedly went to the foot of the pass, and returned with some poor fellow behind him who had lost his horse. The retreat home was a flight. We reached the camp in the evening in twos and threes, some with arms and clothing, others almost devoid of either. Some horses were carrying two men, others three; everyone was humiliated and dispirited. We wrapt ourselves in our blankets that night with the devil in our hearts, little knowing that next day we should be dearly avenged. A slight wound in my arm notwithstanding, I slept a sound, peaceful sleep, and awoke at daybreak to see the setting of the morning star, and to realise what I had passed through the previous day. This is one picture of the disaster in " The Devil's Pass " on the Zlobnna Mountain on the 28th March 1879. The personal experience of others will lie different, but the story remains ghastly and terrible. Next morning I learned who were killed. It was to me an awful list. Captain Barton, of the Coldstream Guards; Lieut. Baron von Steitencrom of the Frontier Light Horse; and Captain Hon. Campbell of the Coldstreams, were as brave officers as ever strode saddle. The official reports raveal the losses we sustained in numbers that day. There is a good deal of romance, but more of sadness, in the end of the Austrian Baron who was serving, as a lieutenant with us. Lieutenant Steitencrom served through the whole of the old Colony war, amd had had much experience in the Austrian army before he joined us. I could a tale of sentiment unfold that no morbid, modern woman novelist could surpass. It was getting considerably into the forenoon of tlie 29th before I had sufficiently recovered myself to feel exactly how and where I was. The ordinary morning duties of camp life had been going on and now and then I had come across a companion of the previous day, whos haggard face still betokened how he had been "face-to-face with death". Our camp was to all intents and purposes impregnable. It was proof against an ordinary European army without artillery. About 11 a.m. we learnt that a Zulu spy had been canght, and informed Colonel Wood that the Zulus were to attack us during our dinner hour. Shortly afterwards it was shown plainly enough that this was so. The Zulus could be seen in a huge black mass about five miles away coming on very slowly and leisurely. Everything went on in camp just the same; even the dinner was prepared and eaten. There were 2000 of us, and we were confident, and eager to be avenged. When they got within about three miles the alarm was sounded, tents struck, the forts manned, and everyone stood to arms. The greater proportion of our native allies, fled thinking it was all over with us; our men seemed pleased rather than otherwise to get rid of them.The Zulus appeared to form themselves into battle array about three miles off, the main body advancing direct to the camp and the "horns" as they ore termed, stretching to the right and left. When they got within about 3000 yards, the cavalry wera sent out, and did good service by drawing them on (firing and retreating), within range of the artillery. The cavalry, being a very small force, retired within the camp, and at about a mile range the artillery opened upon the enemy. The rapidity and precision with which this branch volleyed death and destruction Into the dense masses of Zulus was admirable. Ten or fifteen of them were sent to glory every shot; next day they lay in rows. But still on they came with the ferocity of tigers, never halting, never wavering, never flinching or hesitating for a moment. Say what people may about its being animal ferocity rather than manly bravery, no soldiers in the world could have been more daring than were the Zulus that day. When the main body got within about 800 yards the men of the 90th Regiment, who were opposing them. Opened one of the most deadly fusillades It is possible to imagine. The result convinced me that in daylight it is a dangerous proceeding to bring footmen without cover within half-a-mile of Martini-Henris. Numerous as they were, this galling fire stopped the progress of the enemy, and they began to break up and shelter behind stones and trees. In the meantime the forces that had attacked our right and left flanks had been equally warmly received, and the enemy apparently saw that they must change their tactics. They did so, and scattered themselves and began to creep up through the long grass, while one portion made a desperate rush and succeeded in getting possession of a small hill commanding the cattle laager. Here the Zulus showed that they had good guns, for they kept up a heavy fire, which, had it been well directed, would have inflicted very serious damage indeed upon us. As it was all the shots wore too high, and thousands of bullets passed over our heads uselessly and harmlessly. It was necessary, however to dislodge the enemy from the hill, and Major Hackett with two companies of the 90th were sent out and although they suffered severely they succeeded in doing so , firing volley after volley, and at last charging the position at the point of the bayonet. In bringing back his men Major Hackott was fatally wounded (it is feared), and Lieut. Bright was killed. During all this time fighting had been going on all round, and a, party of Zulus made a desperate rush and got into the cattle laager, driving a company of the 13th out of it. They, however, reformed , and gallantly drove back the enemy at the point of the bayonet. The artillery all the while had been pouring grape and canister into the Zulus with murderous precision. Lieut. Nicholson, K.A., was killed when out in the open with the mule battery. By about five o'clock the enemy evidently began to see we were not to bo taken, and began to slacken their fire, ultimately retiring altogether. At 5.30 P.M., they had fired their last shots and begun to retreat, and the cavalry and horse artillery were sent after them. Terrible execution was the result, and no quarter was shown. Exeter Hall may say what it may, but it was death to every Zulu who came within range of the carbine of a trooper or the stroke of his sabre. The cavalry pursued them about ten miles, returning to camp at dusk. The few native allies we had left did terrible work in this pursuit,and it was difficult for our officers to recall them to return. As they cut off and despatched the retreating Zulus the cry of "Isandhlwana , " resounded in the evening air. The slaughter on that 29th March was terrible; at least 7000 Zulus must have lost their lives. On our side 150 of all ranks will cover our losses. For several days wo have been engaged burying the dead.
On the day following there was an affecting sight the burial of the officers who had fallen. Lieutanant Bright was a most promising young officer, and his loss is severely felt none regret him as much as those who were associated with him. We buried him there with many others as brave and as loyal as he; and we shall give him a soldier's gravestone, with his name and his regiment marked upon it, such as have been planted thick in the Crimean hills and valleys, in the green sierras of Spain, in tropical Ashantee, and long ago where waves the golden corn of Waterloo. The country he has died for will soon heed not his fate, and he will be forgotten like many another, save by those who knew him well and loved him truly.
Sleep soldiers sleep in honoured rest,
Your zeal and valour hearing;
The bravest are the tcnderest,
The loving are the daring".