Boer War - British Victory

The three great British disasters greatly depressed the British, but made them more resolute than ever in prosecuting the war. Promptly the entire British nation nerved itself to prove that, as of old, it was equal to any struggle, any sacrifice. The whole country seemed with one consent to leap to arms. The Militia, nine battalions of Infantry, was now permitted to volunteer for service in any part of the Queen's dominions where such services might be wanted, while it was arranged that specially selected contingents of Yeomanry and Volunteers would start for the Front as soon as there were found ships sufficient to carry them. Noble as amazing was the hurried response of the Volunteers to the intimation that their services would be accepted for the war. Hastily they pressed forward in crowds to enroll themselves.

A wave of patriotism swept over Great Britain and her colonies, and in the course of a few months over a hundred thousand British volunteers were sent to the scene of war, and by the spring of 1900 about a quarter million British soldiers were in South Africa. Never before had any nation ever sent such a large army so many thousands of miles by water. This immense force was required not only to fight, but also to guard many hundreds of miles of communication. The two British commanders next in rank to the British commander-in-chief, Lord Wolesley, were sent to take command of the forces intended for the invasion of the Boer Republics from the Modder River district of Cape Colony. These were Field-Marshal Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts of Kandahar and Waterford, British commander-in-chief in India, and Major-General Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, late British commander in the Egyptian Soudan, who had crushed the Mohammedan dervishes by his great victory at Omdurman, September 2, 1898. The three leading British commanders—Lords Wolscley, Roberts and Kitchener—were all Irishmen. Most of the British generals in South Africa were either Irishmen or Scotchmen.

The Boers under General Joubert were repulsed in an attempt to take Ladysmith by storm, January 6, 1900. After a week's fighting, the British under General Buller were severely repulsed in a second attempt to relieve Ladysmith, General Warren having captured and lost Spion Kop, a precipitous height, January 23-24, and General Sir Edward Woodgate being mortally wounded; but Lord Dundonald's cavalry defeated the Boers west of Acton Homes, January 17. After four days' fighting, during which General Buller had crossed the Tugela River in a third attempt to relieve Ladysmith, he was again repulsed after he had taken Vaal Krantz, which he held against the Boer attacks, February 8.

Important events in other quarters were the repulse of the Boers at Sunnyside, in the Modder River district, near Kimberley, by Colonel Pilcher's force, largely Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, on New Year's Day, 1900. In the north, on the Rodesian frontier, Kuruman was captured by the Boers, who also repulsed Colonel Plumer's attack near Ramonsta, on February 2, 1900. The Highland Bridge, under General Hector A. MacDonald, was defeated by the Boers at Koodoesberg Drift, on the Modder River, MacDonald himself being severely wounded.

Thus far the war had been fought on British territory, the Boer Turn invaders being generally victorious. This period of Boer invasion and Boer successes was followed by a period of British invasion of Boer territory and British successes. Early in February, 1900, Field-Marshal Lord Roberts began the invasion of the Orange Free State by way of the Modder River district of Cape Colony; while General French, after fighting his way Free northward, finally relieved Kimberley, February 14, 1900, to the great joy of the besieged inhabitants. After ten days' fighting around Cronje's Paardeberg, General Cronje surrendered with four thousand Boers to der Lord Roberts, February 27, 1900, the nineteenth anniversary of the Boer victory of Majuba Hill. On the same day General Buller's Relief of troops captured Pieter's Hill after many days' fighting, and relieved berley Ladysmith the next day, February 28, 1899, amid the rejoicings of and Ladyits people. The relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith and the surrender of Cronje caused great rejoicings in England and throughout the British Empire.

Lords Roberts and Kitchener followed up their victory by the capture of Bloemfontein, the Orange Free State capital, March 13, 1900, and by other successes. Presidents Kriiger and Steyn now made peace overtures to Great Britain and asked for the mediation of President Peace McKinley; but Lord Salisbury rejected all mediation and all over- tuxes, tures except on terms of Boer submission, as the Boers had begun the war by an insolent ultimatum.

Lord Roberts's troops pushed on and captured Kronstad, the new Relief of Free State capital. After much fighting around Wepener, Dewets- TM dorp and Thabanchu in March and April, 1900, the besieged British garrison under Colonel Dalgety at Wepener was finally relieved on April 24th by the British forces under Generals Brabant, Hart, French, Rundle, Chermside and Pole-Carew.

Meanwhile Mafeking had been closely invested and besieged by the Relief of Boers for seven months, during which the brave little British garrison under Colonel Baden-Powell had held out heroically, the garrison being reduced from two thousand men to about two hundred and refusing every demand for surrender, thus making its gallant commandant the real hero of the war. British relief expeditions had been on the way to relieve the beleaguerd little outpost for many months, and finally the relief expedition under Colonel Mahon reached Mafeking about the middle of May, 1900, and relieved its heroic commandant and his brave little garrison, after a very spirited action, in which the heroic garrison participated by making a spirited sally, May 17th. Colonel Baden-Powell was rewarded for his gallant defense of seven months against tremendous odds by being promoted to the well-merited rank of Major-General.

Lord Roberts continued his march northward through the Orange Free State and invaded the Transvaal late in May, 1900; and after severe fighting his forces occupied Johannesburg, the "Golden Reef City," May 31, 1900, and Pretoria, the Transvaal capital, June 5, 1900. President Kruger fled on the approach of the invaders and proceeded to Waterwelboven, and thence by rail to Lorenzo Marques, in Portuguese South-east Africa, whence he finally sailed for Europe, arriving at Marseilles, France, on November 22, 1900, and meeting with enthusiastic popular receptions in Marseilles and Paris, and afterwards in Holland; but his former friend, the Emperor William II. of Germany, refused to receive him. In May, 1900, three Boer delegates visited the United States, where they received ovations from their sympathizers; but they were given only an unofficial reception by President McKinley. In the meantime the British had formally annexed the Transvaal as the Vaal River Colony and the Orange Free State as the Orange River Colony.

After the British occupation of Johannesburg and Pretoria and the flight of President Kruger from his capital General Louis Botha succeeded him as President of the Transvaal. The active power of the Boers had now passed away, though the two Generals Botha, the two Generals DeWet and other Transvaal leaders, along with President Steyn, of the Orange Free State, continued the struggle for two years longer. During these two years the war was wholly of a guerrilla character, and there were constant struggles between small bands of British and Boers, the most active and enterprising of the Boer leaders being DeWet, who performed some remarkable feats. The great result of the war was to strengthen the British Empire, the various British colonies throughout the world loyally supporting the Mother Country; Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the British colonies in South Africa fully attesting their devotion to their parent state.

With the opening of 1901 Lord Kitchener tried new schemes. He withdrew all his detached garrisons except in the most important centers, and set himself to make his railway communications perfectly secure. He determined to make the area of operations a waste, and instituted the concentration camps, into which he intended to bring the whole of the noncombatant inhabitants of the two republics. Although there were no great disasters, the new policy was not prolific in success. The enemy invariably dispersed before superior forces, and the removal of the women and children from the farms did not have the effect of disheartening the burghers as had been anticipated — it rather mended their vitality by relieving them of responsibility for their families' welfare. In the meantime, the concentration camps were becoming filled to overflowing, and a steady stream of captures and surrenders were reducing the hostile power of the republics.

The British army of over 200,000 men rested in the garrison towns and in the blockhouses, relieved of the long marches and dangerous drives that had previously exhausted the troops actively employed. The Boers in the field were reckoned to be not over 8,000, though in reality they were twice as numerous; yet Lord Kitchener could not rely on his troops, constantly renewed by fresh drafts from England, more untrustworthy than the earlier volunteers. He was hampered still more seriously by lack of horses. The Government was buying horses in the British Islands, Hungary, the United States, Canada, the Argentine Republic, Australia, and India at enormous expense, requesting the remount department in South Africa to reduce its demands. During 1901 the Government sent 129,000 horses, and m 1902 continued sending them at the rate of over 13,000 a month. The United States alone furnished 201,000 horses and mules from the beginning of the war. The horses, however, were used up almost as fast as fresh shipments came owing to hard usage, sickness, and lack of proper nourishment. There were scandals in the contracts for horses and for fodder, clothing, and other army supplies.

The blockhouse system was gradually extended over the country, enclosing areas that were cleared in sections by mobile columns. The clearing consisted in burning all dwellings, destroying or carrying away all crops, stores, and other movables, driving ofT the cattle, and taking the peoÇle found on the farms into concentration camps, the native districts in the northeast part of the Orange River Colony were devastated in the same way, all huts and grain burnt, cattle seized, and the natives removed to concentration camps, but receipts were given for property commandeered or destroyed.

In the whole war the British lost 5,774 killed and 22,829 wounded, while the Boers lost about 4,000 killed. The number of Boer prisoners in the hands of the British at the end of the war was about 40,000.

Join the mailing list