"IT is impossible for any Englishman, whether opposed to the war in Zululand or not, to read the accounts from South Africa without a feeling of distress. A British Army is being whittled away there, without either glory or reward. The Royal Duke Commanding-in-Chief himself stated on Monday night in the House of Lords that the war in South Africa, which ought to be a small one to an Empire like this, "im- posed a serious strain upon the Army ;" and now it appears as if with all this serious strain we had not obtained an effec- tive, or at all events, a movable force. Lord Chelmsford is now in command of nearly 30,000 men of all kinds, of whom 16,000 are British Regulars, besides 3,000 more on their way, and has received stores of such amount that it is almost impossible to transport them ; yet the great advance towards Ulundi, which may very well be only the beginning of a long campaign, was not expected to commence before the middle of May, if even then. If the advance is delayed beyond May, the grass in Zululand will be fired, and as the oxen can- not drag their own forage and the stores too, it will be neces- sary to wait another year, at an expense which, even to a soldier, must be frightful to contemplate. What this expense is like, Sir Stafford Northcote, in view of the Elections, refuses to estimate ; but some idea of it may be formed from the following astounding statement in the -City Article published by the Times on Monday,—" As a general result, however, these borrowings must all tend to lessen the available supply of money, and to them must be added the expenditure in South Africa. Competent authorities place that at about £500,000 per week, all told, and it is, at all events, certain that the Government has been drawing bills very heavily from South Africa for some time back. The bills are remitted through the Standard Bank of British South Africa, by whom they are either held in London till maturity, or discounted in the open market. A large floating liability is thus accumulating quite outside the ordinary borrowing channels of the Government, and sooner or later it must lead to considerable remittances of bullion to the Cape." To many of our readers, remembering that the army has not yet marched a mile into the enemy's territory, and recalling Sir Stafford Northcote's assurances on the Budget night, this statement will appear incredible, and we ourselves suspect exaggeration. They must, however, remember that Sir Stafford Northcote's role is to soothe the House of Commons by gentle speeches, not to lead or govern it by argument ; that this trumpery war has already assumed the dimensions of the Crimean war, and that the difficulties of transport are immeasurably greater in South Africa than they were in the Black Sea. The army has to march longer distances, carrying its own food and supplies, in a country without roads, nearly exhausted of waggons, and with oxen procurable only at famine prices, if they are procurable at all. When Mr. A. Forbes, an experienced observer, wrote, April 28th, they were not procurable at all. General Wood had just telegraphed for 200 oxen, and 1,000 more were wanted for the advance of the central column, and the transport department had not procured 100. "Transport is procurable to Dundee, but none beyond, on any terms. The transport authorities have not 100 oxen available for trans-frontier service. They have not sue- ceeded in engaging a dozen drivers and leaders who are pre- pared to conduct teams across the frontier. Nor can they find more. Soldiers cannot drive oxen. They do not know ox- language. The contractor for transport to the Lower Tugela force has given the requisite month's notice that he means to resign the contract." No price will move the drivers to go beyond the frontier, and the system of requisitions to which Lord Chelmsford wished to have recourse has been prevented, very wisely, by orders from home. It would only have produced a stampede of drivers. The supply of mules is quite insufficient to replace the missing oxen, and it really appears possible that the great army assembled in South Africa at such cruel expense, and costing, the Times says, nearly as much as the interest on the National Debt, may be brought to a halt for want of animals, just as the Candahar Division was a month ago, when, as officers pre- sent with it report, it could, for want of camels, neither advance nor retire. A second year of effort and expenditure on this scale would produce results to the British Treasury which even this House of Commons would refuse to endure.
The extreme costliness of the war is not, however, its worst feature. There is also the steady weekly and daily slaughter of men and officers by the enemy, by disease, and by the depression which the South-African climate seems to produce on some constitutions. Not one engagement has pro- duced any result, except the power of retiring safely to some former position, yet in every engagement good men have fallen. It is believed that quite 2,500 of her Majesty's best troops have already been sacrificed, either through slaughter, as at Isandlana and Zlobani, or through disease, as at Help- makaar and Ginglihovo ; and this in addition to the losses among the Colonial European levies, who are scarcely more fortunate than the Queen's troops. The climate is bad, the fatigue great, the water too often pestilential, and no mail comes home without its record of officers who have suc- cumbed—officers many of whom cannot be replaced—and all of whom have cost thousands in education, outfit, and pay, all thrown away when they die with no active service com- pleted. Sometimes the list includes twenty names, some- times seven, sometimes only one or two, but it is never empty, till we have already lost more officers than in a great European battle. The supply of doctors is entirely insufficient, the Horse Guards having failed to make the Army medical career attractive, and the attention to sanitary necessities is apparently nil. Take, for example, this terrible account of the position of her Majesty's 60th Rifles. There is no finer regiment in the Service, nor one with a nobler record, and it specially dis- tinguished itself in that fight at Ginglihovo,—the secret history of which has alarmed old officers more than any incident in the history of this war. But for the steadiness of part of the column, we might have had a catastrophe to which Isandlana would have been a trifle, and which might have terminated the short-service system summarily. The regiment was left at Ginglihovo without tents or water, and within ten days this was the condition in which it was found by the correspondent of the Standard on the 12th of April. Driven by that hunger for news which impels special correspondents, he had actually ventured to drive in a " spider," apparently a kind of buggy, from the Tugela to Ginglihovo, and arrived there still unharmed, except by the sickening odours, the dead horses and cattle all along the way lying in such numbers that he could have found his route by the smell of putridity. Some of the dying beasts were ap- parently still alive, for the correspondent says, "I venture to sug- gest that when a horse or, above all, oxen fall out of the ranks through ' the sickness,' they should be immediately seen by a veterinary and ordered to be shot ; as it is, the poor brutes are simply left to linger by the roadside and suffer intolerable agonies for days from want of food and water, as, though they have plenty of grass around them, they cannot eat it, and water they are, of course, too weak to go and look for." Those are the beasts ; these are the men :- "Driving into the laager by the corner held by the Gatling and Naval Brigade, I came on the gallant commander of that force, Captain Brackenbury, still looking and speaking cheerily, but evidently beginning to feel the suffering and privations which he and others are undergoing, through the wanton and callous order which has forced these brave men to live without tents, and to drink stinking water. It was all very well for Lord Chelmsford, when taking a flying column to relieve Ekowe, to take as little impedimenta in the shape of tents as possible, but the moment he put his men into a stationary camp, it became a strict necessity that these men should be protected from the intense heat of the sun during the day, and from the intense chills arising from the frosty dews at night. The ab- sence of these tents, added to the fact that the camp was
pitched on a hill distant three miles from any actual flowing water, and had to get its supply from a stagnant puddle at its base, formed by the drainage of the hill on which it stood, caused such an outbreak of illness, that I found on my arrival there ninety-three serious cases on the sick list and four hundred on the visiting list, nearly all being cases of dysentery, colic, and diarrhoea. As for the officers, a more woe-begone lot it has never been my fortune before to see. Thanks to the paternal care of Major Bruce, of the 91st, and some of its officers left behind on the Tugela, the officers of this admirable regiment presented a better appearance than did those of either the 57th or of the Naval Brigade. Private supplies of food had been forwarded to them, and they had not been obliged for weeks to live on that otter abomination in the way of food, Chicago tinned beef.' They therefore looked better, though of course far from well. When, however, I came on the 60th Rifles, and saw them, so cada- verous were their looks, so utterly changed and wasted down from what I had left them but ten short days before, I felt quite dazed when they surrounded me. The colonel was sick, and unable to move; the senior captain was doubled up, and a whole row of fine young fellows were lying for shelter from the burning sun under waggons, eking out their shade with an old tarpaulin—shaking with low fever, and exhausted by continuous dysentery—nine hundred men in the ranks, and only three officers fit to take charge of them, though others were manfully struggling against their sickness and holding the field."
Her Majesty's 60th Rifles has in fact temporarily ceased to exist. The truth of this account is confirmed by an officer in the laager, who writes precisely the same facts in shorter form to the correspondent of the Daily News, and it needs little medical knowledge to foretell the result. Even if the garrison was withdrawn, as we believe was the case after a few days more, half of all those struck will be unfit for active duty in the campaign, partly through the disease, and partly from the weakness it leaves behind, and the liability, which lasts two years, to a recurrence of it, whenever the sufferer is either ex- hausted by fatigue or chilled. The garrison, in fact, emerges from Ginglihovo with more injury to its strength than the Light Brigade came out of that storm of shot and shell at Balaclava. And all this, while there are literally hundreds of young surgeons in England, thoroughly competent, who scarcely know where to turn for bread, and trample one another down in rushes for parish appoint- ments on £150 a year. Lord Chelmsford may well ask for reinforcements, and the War Department may well exert itself to " feed " the dwindling ranks with monthly supplies of men, far too young, we fear, to stand up against a climate which tells on all but seasoned frames.
We do not know that anybody is to blame for all this, except, indeed, for the insufficient supply of doctors ; and we are not blaming anybody. Napoleon could not have got oxen in Natal, any more than Lord Chelmsford, and though he un- doubtedly would have got his men along without them—even if all the food had been carried on men's backs, as in the Zulu Army, which, be it noted, marches about very easily—he would have accomplished it at the price of half his army. But we do know that it is foolishness under such circum- stances to leave Cetewayo no hope except of perpetual impri- sonment, as Bishop Colenso informed Mr. Forbes was now the King's impression as to his fate ; worse than foolishness to stint anything tending to mobility or to hygiene, and sheer insanity to allow Sir Bartle Frere to talk as he does—now that rein- forcements have been sent—of conquering savages who lie beyond Zululand, and who have tasked Cetewayo to the utmost to hold his own. We are buying useless territory already at something like £10 and a life per acre, and no more want to rule from Cape Town to the Lakes than from Gibraltar to Mequinez. We shall reach Ulundi, we suppose, in spite of all prognostications and all losses, whether of men or money ; but if Cetewayo retreats—and he cares no more about one set of huts than another—we shall have accomplished nothing, and the campaign may easily grow to a magnitude which will tax even English resources, and utterly paralyse our influence on the continent of Europe."
Source:The Spectator Archive. 24th May 1879