Ekowe Camp, January 24
Shortly after I last wrote we (the Naval Brigade) were engaged in getting the whole of this column over the Tugela, an undertaking of no small difficulty, but which was successfully accomplished in four days by means of a pontoon and a hawser. We marched from the Tugela for this place on the 18th inst., and got on first rate up to the day before yesterday, 22d. On that day we commenced march at 5 a.m., and got on all right till half-past eight, at which time we were to halt and breakfast. The order of march was as follows: - The advanced guard on that day happened to be one company of the 3d Buffs, then two companies Buffs, Royal Artillery, Naval Brigade, ambulance, waggons, two companies Buffs, waggons, three companies Buffs, Gatling gun, Royal Marines. The whole line occupied about five miles of road, there being no less that one hundred and thirty waggons , with a team of sixteen bullocks to each waggon. At 8.30 a.m. we had just halted and were waiting, just by a knoll, for the waggons to come up, when we were rather astonished to hear rapid firing in front. The Artillery was at once got into position on top of the knoll, and the Naval Brigade skirmished out on the left flank after half an hour’s return of the enemy’s fire from the top of the knoll. On our left flank was a kraal in which the Zulus were congregating, and giving considerable annoyance. The Buffs, or rather the 4th Company that were up, occupied the knoll and skirmished out on the right flank. The cavalry, it appears, were watering their horses, having dismounted for breakfast, but luckily had not taken their saddles off when they were fired upon by the enemy, and immediately returned their fire. The rockets had been just behind the brigade and were quickly got into position close by the artillery. Then the engagement became general. The first rocket was fired at the kraal and went right through it, driving the Zulus out on the opposite side and killing several. We then fired it, and advanced along the road. All this time we were between two hills, small ones, and under a heavy cross fire. Lieutenant Hamilton and his company engaged the people on the right, and I engaged those on the left. In less than a minute we had four men wounded, and the fire getting hotter, Hamilton and his company, with Captain Campbell leading the way, charged up the hill on the right and cleared it entirely. Unfortunately we were unable to do so on account of there being a steep raving, which we could no cross, so we could only keep up a hot fire on them until they cleared out, by which time two more of my company were wounded, and I myself got a bullet through a furrow in the back of my coat. The furrow was formed by my belt, and I am thankful to have had so narrow an escape.
Meanwhile the enemy had been replaced on all sides, and by 11.30 were entirely defeated, and fled, leaving over three hundred killed and wounded on the field of battle, which shows that they must have suffered tremendous losses, because it is a well-known fact that they always carry off as many of their own killed and wounded as they possibly can. The casualties on our side were nine killed and eight wounded dangerously, and eight more severely, thus making nine killed and sixteen wounded. Colonel Pearson, who commands the column, and Colonel Parnell, of the Buffs, both had a horse each shot under them, and we also lost in mules and bullocks. The whole facts are these: - The enemy, numbering five thousand, had been waiting for us for six days, the spot where they attacked us being a favourable spot of theirs on account of the very favourable position of the surrounding hills as regards the road. The mistake they made was in not waiting until we were at breakfast, when they might have had us at greater advantage. Anyhow they must have been defeated. They cannot stand the Martini rifle, but when that, the rocket and the Gatling gun are all at work with good effect, they have not the moral courage to stay. After the battle was over we marched five more miles, bivouacked for the night, and came on here yesterday. We stop here ten days or more to make an entrenched camp and get up our reserve of ammunition and provisions; we then march on Ulundi, the King’s kraal. We expect to have heavy fighting at a river called the Umvalosi, situated in the thick bush; but attack us how and where they like, we are too strong for them. Besides that, by the time we get there, the other two columns will not be far off.”
(Source: The Standard, March 8, 1879)
Petty Officer Tom