Captain William Barton was an Irish soldier of fortune who had previous fought the Indians in South America. He arrived in South Africa and raised over 200 Basutos, who were formed into a irregular cavalry unit. He volunteered his services to the Natal Horse and was given command of the Sikali Squadron. He is confirmed as being present at the Battle of Isandhlwana. During the early stages of the engagement he was ordered to take two troops onto the plateau to investigate the sighting of Zulus and clear them. Barton is later quoted as saying “My mounted men really fought well at their first charge and until all their ammunition was exhausted, they were then compelled to fall back on the camp, where they sought a fresh supply of ammunition”. Seeing that the overall situation was deteriorating, he ordered his men to make a fighting retreat towards the Buffalo River. He was now on the flank and moved his men to cover the river crossing, he then retired firing and was the last man to cross. Many of the retreating men owing their lives to Barton’s actions.
The following is Barton’s own account and statement that led to the award of the Victoria Cross to Private Wassall of the 8th Foot. The original hand written report is held in the National Archives. “On the 22nd January 1879 when the camp of Col Glyn’s column had been taken by the enemy,
"I was retreating towards the Buffalo River to cross into Natal. As I approached the river, a man of the mounted Infantry was riding in front of me (This was Pte Wassall) and I also saw at the same time another man of the mounted infantry struggling in the river and he called out his comrades name, he was apparently drowning. The Zulus were at this time firing at our people from above us, others were down on the river stabbing others of our people on both sides of where I was. The man of the mounted infantry who rode down in front of me dismounted left his horse on the Zulu side and sprang into the river to save his comrade. I consider this man to have performed a most gallant and courageous act, in trying to save his comrade at the almost certain risk of his own life. I crossed the river myself about the same time and I did not think that it possible that either of these 2 men could have escaped alive. Indeed I spoke some days afterwards, to Lieut Walsh of the mounted infantry of the circumstances which I had witnessed and spoke of it to him, as evidence of my seen two of his men lost at the Buffalo River. I have this day identified in the Hospital here, the man whom I saw struggling in the river, and I have also given Lieut Walsh a description of the horse which I saw the other man of the mounted infantry riding in front of me and from which he dismounted to save his comrade”. Signed by Wm Barton Captain dated 11th February 1879. Captain Barton had been engaged on a 6 month contract which was common to all Officers of the Natal native contingent and in May appears to have slipped away once more into obscurity,"