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PostSubject: THE ISANDULA DISASTER   THE ISANDULA DISASTER EmptySat Mar 08, 2014 9:13 pm

"THE ISANDULA DISASTER. The following letter from Mr J. G. Thrupp (Civil Surgeon) will be read with interest. It's dated Rorke's Drift, January 31st.

"My Dearest Everybody,—There ia a chance of sending you another letter, 80 here goes. My last might have alarmed you—this is a sedative. Now for an account of what has happened. We crossed over into Zululand on the 4th of this month, expecting a fight at the river which forms the boundary, which fight did not come off. We remained encamped on the bank of this same river for a week or so, and then moved on ten miles inland or there abouts  Before doing this, however, we had a bit of a fight in the storming of a kraal. We lost three men, and had fifteen wounded, and the enemy dropped about fifty. If they had had ten men who could shoot straight they ought to have knocked us all over, but they hadn't. Well, as I said, we went on ten miles or so inland, all cook-a-hoop, and pitched our camp at a place called Isandula, and from this place we had several large patrols another fifteen miles inland. I was in charge of a field hospital, to which were attached the l-24th Regiment, the Mounted Infantry, and the Mounted Police and Volunteers. On the 21st. we heard that an army of Zulus was approaching and encamped ten miles distant from us therefore the next day, at three a.m., the whole of our column set off to meet the enemy, leaving the 1 -24th Regiment in the camp with some Mounted Police and Volunteers, also a few Native Contingent, about eight hundred men in all. I should have stayed in camp with the l-24th in the ordinary course of things, but I expected a big fight, and so set off with the column, taking two of my horses and my civilian servant. Well, we had a bit of a fight, but very little damage done, and intended to stay out all night, so therefore sent a message into camp to have our tents and things brought out, the General and his staff being with us all this time. Well, I had just set my stove to work for a cup of tea, when boot and saddle sounded, and the word was passed that the enemy were attacking our camp in the rear.' We hardly believed it, but started at once to go back, a distance of some eighteen miles. When we were within four miles of the camp it was pitch dark, and we then knew that a terrible misfortune had happened. We fought our way into the camp from that distance, both big guns and rifles, getting no return fire from the enemy, though we knew the place was full of them. When we had retaken the camp (about two thousand five hundred of us) we could see nothing, but passed a good many dead bodies in fact, I had to sleep a foot from one myself. "We expected to be attacked all night long, and had one bad false alarm. We numbered about two thousand five hundred men, of whom only one thousand were whites, and the rest natives and the greatest cowards alive (thank God, we have since got rid of them all). With- in a mile or two of us there must have been at least fifteen thousand of the enemy, and we did not know what damage had happened to our camp, how many were killed, or anything at all, and had no means of knowing until the morning. Well, morning came, and I went round. I will not attempt to describe what I saw to you. The Indian Mutiny was nothing like it, I suppose. Anyhow, no one had escaped of the l-24th and the company of the 2-24th. All my old friends with whom I had been mess- ing for months were dead around me, and horribly mutilated—but I will not attempt to describe what I saw. Anyhow, about eight hundred men, black and white, on our side were simply slaughtered, mostly without a bullet wound, but not before they had killed outright some two thousand odd of the enemy, and wounded another two thousand or so. Then they were overwhelmed and stabbed with asse- gais. My poor stores servant, who was a first- rate man, was lying outside my tent, with his head cut off and the body ripped open, and of course everything had been carried off and the tent cut away. Out of the l-24th two men es- caped, viz., the colonel and myself, both having having gone out. with the column to the ex- pected fight. I say myself, as I had been at- tached to the l-24th for a long time as their surgeon, and they were fine soldiers, and every officer was a personal friend of mine. After I had finished my inspection of the ground I joined the column which was marching back to this place, viz., Rorke's Drift, which is on our side of the river forming tho boundary. At Rorke's Drift there is a mission house which iad been turned into a hospital, and next to the house a shed turned into a store-house for food for the troops. When we got within sight of the place we found the house in flames and the enemy all round. They made off when we came in sight, and then on going up to the mission station we found it had been splendidly defended by a lieutenant of the 2-24th Regiment with about ninety men. The house forming the hospital had been burnt, and with it many patients, and some fifty or sixty of the enemy. They had fought all night, and killed nearly four hundred of the enemy, and probably wounded as many more. They had probably been attacked by three thousand, and would have eventually had to give in if we had not arrived, as they were nearly out of their ammunition. They had made a barricade of corn bags, and it was a pretty sight to see the piles of Zulus that lay dead just under these ramparts. We all fixed up in this place, and barricaded it as well as possible, expecting an attack in the afternoon this was the day I wrote to you last. Had we been attacked by the large number of Zulus then around us we must have been killed to a man, as there was very little ammunition a mong us, and, therefore when I wrote to you I did not for one moment expect to be alive the next day, but I had eighteen rounds of revolver cartridge, and would have done my share in the slaughter ere they got me. Why they did not attack us God only knows, I don't. Now we have lots of ammunition, a first-rate barricade, plenty of rough food, and six hundred men in this mission-house store, and can certainly defy any number of the enemy under ten thousand, but I do not think there is a chance of their attacking us now, and we shall probably go on to Pietermritzburg in a few days, to refit and get another regiment to relieve us here. All the fighting in Zululand is over for some months. Our disaster is nearly unequalled in British history, and we must have at least five thousand more troops from England, and begin the whole campaign again. Had not this place, Rorke's Drift, held out, the whole of Natal would have been in the hands of the Zulus, and every man, woman, and child in the towns and suburbs slaughtered. Our two columns—Colonel Wood's and Colonel Pearson's -have each been engaged, and driven the enemy off, but with difficulty. We are certainly not strong enough, and have already lost twice as many men as we ought to have done during the whole campaign, though certainly we have probably placed five thousand Zulus hors de combat. Love to all. The following letter also contains a good many fresh points of interest. It is dated Rorke's Drift, February 11. "My dear Jack,—When I wrote to Tom a little more than three weeks ago, I little thought that in a few days afterwards one of the most awful military disasters of modern times would have happened to our column. Of course you will have heard all about it long before you receive this, but I will try and give you a short and true account of the whole affair. At daylight on the morning of the 20th January the whole of our column struck tents and marched about ten miles inland in a south- easterly direction till a mountain called Isandula was reached, where our camp was pitched with its back to the mountain, which rises abruptly, and fronting an enormous undulating plain. No steps whatever were taken to en- trench the camp, owing to which I principally attribute the disaster that followed. On the left and left front of the camp were some high hills, and the Isepezi mountains rose in our front some twelve miles distant; there were also high hills a few miles on our right. On the morning of the 21st a reconnoitring party, consisting of the Mounted Police, the Maritz- burg Carbineers, and the two regiments of the Native Contingent, were sent in the direction of the Isepezi mountains; they reported a large body of Zulus in front of them, and received orders to bivouac where they were for the night. The next morning the remainder of the column, with the exception of the five companies of l-24th Regiment, one company of the 2-24th Regiment, and the usual casuals of all the corps, left camp an hour before daybreak to reinforce the reconnoitring party and try and bring about an engagement. During our absence the camp was taken by an overwhelming body of Zulus and everybody killed, with the exception of the few who managed to get away ■• on horseback. I will first, however, describe our movements under Lord Chelmsford. After marching for about seven or eight miles we came up with i the party that had bivouacked the night before, ] and seeing a body of the enemy in the front 1 advanced against them. They did not await j Our attack, but kept retiring, drawing us on further and further away from the camp. Portions of our troops came up with small bodies of them, and there was a little fighting, during which about forty Zulus were killed, and I think two of our men. The few prisoners who were taken stated that the main body had re- tired to the King's kraal, and as all the men had had a good day's work, as with flank marching, &c., they had marched at least six- teen miles, the General decided that the camp should be moved up to us, and sent back the necessary orders. We then marched to the ground which was chosen for our new encampment and we all commenced to eat of the provisions we had brought out with us. We were  a good twelve miles from camp. Presently a rumour went round that the camp was at- tacked, and the attack repulsed. We were all cursing our luck, thinking what a jolly time our comrades must have had of it. Little did any one of us guess the truth, the awful truth. About four o'clock p.m. most of us were having a quiet sleep, when an aide de camp rode up to say the camp was taken and the Zulus in possession, and we were of course ordered back at once. The men, of all corps, tired as they were, started back with a will, but not one of us believed the tale; we thought that, perhaps, at the worst, the camp was surrounded, and we should have the honour of relieving it, and so we marched on for eight miles, not knowing what to believe. About four miles from camp we met the General, and in a few words to addressed the men, telling them that while we were operating in front the enemy had got round our flank and taken the camp; that our duty was to retake it and fight our way back to Rorke's Drift at any cost. The men one and all simply answered by a hearty English cheer. Our little army was then formed up. The four guns in the centre, three Companies of the 2-24th on each side of them, and the Native Contingent, one regiment on each flank, the Mounted Infantry, Police, and Volunteers scouting in front. By the time we arrived within about fifteen hundred yards of our old camp it was becoming very dark, and our artillery opened fire on the neck of land just below the camp, along which the road to Rorke's Drift lay, and which it was necessary we should take. The men of the 2-24th then rushed forward, with a wild, ringing cheer, and the camp, or, rather, sad to relate, the place where the camp had been, was again in our possession. We found the Zulus had retired, but the wild scene of horror and confusion they had left was dreadful. Among the debris of the looted waggons, dead horses, oxen, &c., we stumbled over the dead bodies of our dear com- rades, nearly all stripped. I had rather not enter into details of the horrible sights I saw. Even then we could not realise the worst, for of course we were only on a portion of the battle-field, and we were in hope, that the main body of our men had retired on Rorke's Drift. We bivoucked for the night in a kind of hollow square, expecting to be attacked every minute. It was a horrible night, very dark, and every man amongst us thought it would probably be his last. We knew about twenty thousand Zulus to be in our vicinity, and beacon fires were burning on the hills all around us. At the first dawn of day we started for Rorke's Drift, and, strange to say, were not attacked on the road, although we could see numbers of the enemy assembling on our flanks and rear. They were waiting for the attack that evidently was to take place on our front; and why this attack did not take place I will tell you presently. On our arrival at Rorke's Drift we found the Company of the 2-24th left behind to protect stores and communications had been attacked the previous evening, and driven the enemy off. Of their fight I will tell you later on, first relating what had really happened to the doomed camp. "Our party left camp about half-past three a.m., as I told you before, leaving Colonel Pulleine, l-24th Regiment, in command. About seven or eight a.m. bodies of the enemy appeared on the hills to the left front of the camp, and soon afterwards retired. Colonel Dumford, R.E., arrived in camp about this time with a rocket battery and some mounted Basutos, and having assumed command at once took out the Basutos and the rocket battery to attack. A fatal error. After they had proceeded a few miles over the hills they became engaged; the rocket battery after firing three shots was surrounded and taken; the Basutos fought well, killing numbers of the enemy. The Zulus then came over the hills in dense masses. For nearly an hour the two guns and the six companies of the 24th were engaged in shooting them down in hundreds, but unfortunately our men were too far in advance of the camp. In spite of their great losses the Zulus still advanced, their numbers were so dense. At one moment they appeared to waver, when it was discovered that the wings of their army had appeared round the rear of the camp. Our men's ammunition was expended, and they had only the bayonet to depend on. The Zulus surrounded them on all sides, numbering over twenty to one, and rushed in. All was over in a short time. The guns tried to escape, but were captured. About eight hundred and thirty white men were killed, and four or five hundred of the Native Contingent. The l-24th lost sixteen officers and four hundred and five men, and the 2-24th five officers and one hundred and eighty men. The Zulus lost about three thousand men. I have not time to tell you of personal acts of valour, but from all ac- counts the men behaved splendidly till over- powered. Had different tactics been observed the camp could easily have been defended till our return, and a disaster turned into a brilliant victory. The few who escaped went through the most hairbreadth escapes. As soon as the Zulus had taken the camp they sent off a body of about four thousand men to attack the camp at Rorke's Drift. One Company of the 2-24th Regiment, under Lieut. Bromhead, had been left behind (consisting of ninety-five men) to protect the Commissariat stores and the barn hospital, in which there were over twenty patients. They only had about an hour's notice that they were likely to be attacked, and they set to work, loop-holing the houses and building barricades with sacks and biscuit boxes, &c. They unfortunately had not time to remove all the patients from the hospital, but it was loop- holed and defended. About five o'clock the Zulus attacked, in broad daylight, in a most determined manner; but they were repulsed again and again in splendid style by the 24th men. They fought on and off for twelve hours, till daylight next morning. About half-past seven p.m., with an enormous rush, they succeeded in taking and setting fire to the hospital, and the men station-jd there succeeded in res- cuing all the patients but four, and retired to the inner entrenchments. The Zulus, finding all their efforts ineffectual, retired, leaving three hundred and seventy dead behind them, and carrying numbers more, and also wounded, away. Our loss was seventeen killed and ten wounded. It was a splendid affair, and the gallant fellows who defended Rorke's Drift de- serve every praise. They saved our column, and probably the colony for the present. Had the Zulus succeeded in taking Rorke's Drift they would have opposed our passage of the Buffalo back, and we should have been attacked in front, rear, and both flanks at the same time, and although we should have slaughtered many thousands, yet the press of numbers would have been too great, and the annihiliation of our column would have been completed. It was only on our arrival that morning that we knew what an awful affair the taking of the camp was. We have, of course, lost everything we had. I suppose, personally, I am over one hundred pounds out of pocket by the affair. The only thing I saved was my pony and saddle, luckily I took them out in the morning. About one thousand Martini-Henrys fell into the brutes' hand, and three or four hundred thousands rounds of Martini-Henry ammunition, all our tents, provisions for fifteen days, &c. 1,Ve arrived here destitute, and here we have been ever since, in a kind of state of siege. We have built a fairly strong fort, and have been dying for an attack. It is terribly monotonous work; for we have not been refitted, and for the last three weeks we have not had much change of kit. Mine consists now of one blanket, two pairs of socks, two pairs of trousers, and a red serge coat. Luckily, we found lots of provisions here in the way of Government rations. It is pretty rough work, I can tell you—no tents, no beds. Some of us have a tarpaulin to sleep under at night, but not all; have that. is little protection on wet nights; luckily we have only had four wet nights since we came here, but they "were corkers. We lie down every night about eight and rise before daylight; we don't know what hour we may be attacked in overwhelming numbers. I only wish they would come, they would get quite as warm a reception as they did last time, perhaps warmer, as we have altogether eight hundred men here. Our communications are open with Helpmakaar, and we occasionally ride over ■ there for a change; all news we get from other ] parts of the colony is five days coming. I hope j they will see the necessity of large reinforcements when the news reaches home. I hope I they will, and then we may make a quick business. They must, I should think, now recognise 1 the gravity of the affair. We, I suppose, whether we get fully re-equipped or not, will !;e in the van in any case. I think we deserve that position, for our men have behaved splendidly all through. They have had hardships to endure, worse perhaps than any troops in modern times, and there has not been a grumble. I would go anywhere with them. We have much to avenge and please God we will do it. I pity the Zulus that fall into our hands. You would feel as I do had you seen the awful scenes I did on the night of the 22d January, uncomfortable as we are here, we are all pretty cheery. I will send you papers when I can." THE ZULU WAR. Madeira, Sunday. Amongst the passengers by the Taymouth Castle are Major Coates, of the 99th, and Captain Church, of the 24th. The latter left Rorke's Drift on the 22d of February. The post was well entrenched, with a wall twelve feet high and four thick, with three tiers of fire. After the defence by Chard the garrison buried three hundred and seventy-two Zulus, and two days later one hundred and sixty dead were found in the bush around the post. The following is the latest disposition of the troops. Colonels Rowland and Woods have joined hands. Colonel Glyn is entrenched at Rorke's Drift and Helpmakaar. The Border Guard are distributed along the Natal Bank of the Tugela. At Thring's post are a portion of Pearson's mounted troops. At Macdonald's Farm are fifty mounted men. At Fort Pearson are five companies of the 99th and one hundred of Barrow's horse, and a Commissariat Corps. At Fort Tenedos are two companies of the Búffs and the men of the Tenedos. At Stranger are a company of the 88th, as. also at Durban. There are garrisons at Maritzburg and Grey- town. Natal is now safe, and the alarm has subsided. News from Natal on midday of the 11th instant states that there are no grounds for the reported reverse of Wood's column. A patrol went eleven miles beyond Makatees Kop, and saw but two Zulus. They shot one and burnt a kraal. One man of the Native Contingent was shot by mistake. Wood's mounted force will soon be eight hundred strong, when active operations will com- mence with every prospect of success. The Cape Argus says that the Shah's complement are already en route for the Lower Tugela, where Colonel Laws' expedition for the relief of Ekowe is organising. They will probably wait for the native escort before commencing operations. During the week the gauntlet has not been run any of the native messengers, and attempts to establish communication with Pearson have met with no success. The border posts on the Lower Tugela, up to Rorke's Drift have been strengthened by native levies, and by a larger proportion of mounted men. Government is serving out all available fire arms. Sir Henry Bulwer left for Durban on the 9th instant, in company with Mitchell, the Colonial Secretary, with the object, as reported, of making representations to Lord Chelmsford on the subject of the local forces and the neglect to which the volunteers have been subjected. The arbitrary means employed in raising native levies have evoked indignation throughout the Colony. Colonel Wood remains entrenched at Goddapad, between the sources of the Penvana and Umvolysi. His most recent operations in concert with Colonel Rowland against the irregular bands of the enemy on both sides of the Pongolo have had somewhat discouraging results. Colonel Rowlands' reported victory in the Telahu mountain turned out to be an unsuccessful attack upon the enemy's position. In several subsequent attempts to dislodge the enemy, in which Rowland and Buller have both been engaged, our forces found it necessary to retire. The enemy remains in possession of the Tolobene and Ingonyana mountains, and the broken country between the Pongolo and Penvana rivers. In consequence of the tenacity with which Umbeline clings to these strong positions, Wood's operations have been for the present suspended. This colnmn is to be largely reinforced by the corps on the Tugela border, their places being taken by the troops shortly to arrive. Oham has not returned. On the 4th he was reported to be on the Noogena, north of the Pongola, close to the Swazi Kraal. According to a late report from Luneberg he has crossed into Swaziland to surrender to the King. The Natal Mercury gives an account of the meeting between Buller and Oham's messenger on the 21st February as follows:—The patrol reached the spot indicated at the time appointed. In place of Oham they met John Calverley, a white man, and two of Oham'# men, with a flag of truce. The former said that Oham had left the kraal at the same time as himself on the evening previous, and that he required Colonel Wood to send his brother Uumkungo, and the police Induna Manzine hostages for his safety in the English camp. After delivering this message to Mr. Lloyd, Calverley said he would ride back and ask Oham to hurry forward. He left one Zulu attendant. After waiting some time the Zulu was questioned, and said, 'Not true that Oham had left the kraal, and that for all he knew Oham was still at home.' Bnller 'moved two miles in advance to a position whence he had a view ten miles round, but there was no sign of Oham or his people. He therefore saddled up and rode back, arriving at the camp at sunset. There is a report that Calverley was present with the Zulus, at the attack at Isandula. He was recognised by the Newcastle Volunteers, and was seen to fire on the troops. At the interview he was mounted on a bay horse, branded with the broad arrow on the neck and haunch, with a military saddle and accoutrements, carrying a Swinburne-Henry rifle, and was well dressed. When he left the Transvaal he was miserably clothed. One of the Zulus with him wore a waterproof. This shows that Oham's people may have shared in the spoil taken at Isandula." Tite Pedo.Motor.—A cheap substitute for I the bicycle is coming into use in the United States. The "pcdomotor," as it is called, is a modification of the parlour skate, with its frame fitted and strapped to the shoe, and four small rubber-tired wooden wheels coming up on either side instead of being kept under the shoe, as in the skate. The two forward wheels being half an inch smaller in diameter than the three- inch rear ones give a slight pitch, which aids the forward impulse, and a metallic wheel at the heel helps the walker to guide and stop himself. The gain in speed is obtained; by the forward motion still continuing while the feet are alter- nately raised, and it is stated that the walker can cover at least double the distance of ordinary striding without any appreciably great effort. Personal rapid transit, or every man his own motor," is one of the great requirements of the present day, when life ;.s almost too short, lengthened as it has been by sanitary science, to enable human beings to get through all that they have to do in the way of business and society with comfort and satisfaction to themselves and each other. If the "pedomotor" really, as is alleged, meets the necessities for swifter transfer between homes and places of business it may prove a convenience but if, in addition to bicycles on the carriage-roads, we are to have pedomotors" on the footways, life will be- come impossible and unendurable to quiet pedestrians who have no desire to be constantly rushing about and whose constitutions will not bear the shock of frequent collisions.—Pall Mall Gazette. The trial has taken place at Long Reach of the first-class torpedo boat recently constructed by Messrs. Yarrow and Co, of Poplar, for the Admiralty. Three runs were made with the tide, and three against it, in the usual way, with the following results :—Mean of first pair, equal to 21.35 knots per hour; mean of second pair, equal to 22.05 mean of third pair, equal to 22.24. Mean of means calculated by the Admiralty method 21.93 knots, which is equal to 2.3.25 statute miles. The load carried during the trial was six and three-quarter tons, which represents the weight of torpedoes, gear, coals, &c. The steam pressure was 1241b. throughout, and during the four first runs the engines were slightly eased, which accounts for the last pair of runs giving the best result. It was found that at speed of between 17 and 19 knots the vibration of the boat was considerable, but when running over 20 knots it entirely dis- appeared, so much so, in fact, that it was quite possible to write legibly on the stern immediately over the screw. It is interesting to note that this craft is of precisely the same dimensions as those already built for the English Government, which on their trials have given speed varying from 18 to 19 knots, and that this little steamer, which is only 86 feet long, stands unrivalled as the the fastest boat in the world. The law suit with regard to Commodore Vanderbilt's will, which involved property of f the value of twenty million dollars, has at length been decided. The court has given judgment for the will, the validity of which was disputed on the ground that the commodore s had been duped by his son with so-called spiritualistic communications"

Source:Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser  4 April 1879.
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