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Boer War - Early Boer Success

The Boer invaders seemed to carry all before them, as they had four times as many troops as the British on the scene of action when the war commenced. In the east the Boers quickly overran a large part of Natal; and after a victory at Glencoe on October 20, 1899, where the British General Sir William Penn Symons was mortally wounded, they were defeated at Elandslaagte the next day by the British under General French. The British under General Sir George Stewart White were at once besieged in Ladysmith, and the siege lasted over four months, during which the city was constantly bombarded and three desperate attempts to relieve it failed. On October 24, 1899, General White defeated the Boers at Reitfontein; but on October 80, 1899, the Boers captured the Royal Irish Fusiliers at Nicholson's Nek. On their western frontiers the Boers also invaded Cape Colony and British Bechuanaland; and Kimberley, the seat of the Diamond fields, and Mafcking, an outpost town on a South African prairie, two hundred miles north of Kimberley, were both besieged and bombarded by Boer invaders. Cecil Rhodes was in Kimberley at the time, and the city was defended by a small garrison under Colonel Kekewich for four months. Mafeking was gallantly defended by a small British garrison under Colonel Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, who held out heroically for seven months before he was relieved.

Orange Free State Boers crossed the Orange River into Cape Colony and overran a large area; and for months there was considerable fighting with various results around Colesburg and Rensburg, General French commanding the British in that region. On the western frontier for months Colonels Pilcher and Plumer were operating against the Boers.

In the meantime British troops from Great Britain and her colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and British India were hurried to South Africa. Great Britain was loyally supported by public sentiment at home and in her colonies throughout the world. Popular sentiment outside of the worldwide British Empire was against Great Britain, though the various governments observed neutrality and obstinately refused to intervene.

In the north of Cape Colony the British under General Lord Methuen defeated the Boers under General Cronje in the great battles of Belmont, Graspan and Modder River, November 22-23, 25 and 28, 1899. In December the British met with three great disasters in different quarters—General Sir William Forbes Gatacre being defeated at Stormberg Junction, in northern Cape Colony, on December 10; General Lord Methuen being defeated at Magersfontein, on the Modder River, where General Wanchope, commander of the Highland Brigade, was killed, December 11; and General Sir Redvers Henry Buller being defeated at Colenso in trying to force a passage over the Tugela River to relieve Ladysmith, December 15.

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