On Friday the 15th December the Ladysmith relief column under Sir Redvers Buller. attacked the enemy in full force. The Dutchmen held very strong positions north of Colenso, their camps and laagers being linked with those surrounding the southern side of Ladysmith, while to the south of the river they also held a formidable and commanding post. About three miles in front was an open plain, with hardly a vestige of cover in any direction. All around was a crescent-
Upon their defensive works the Boers had spent a vast amount of labour. Besides rows
of trenches cunningly concealed by grass and scrub upon the flats on both sides
of the river, barbed wire entanglements complicated the situation both at the trenches
and under the Water at the river fords. The water of the river was also deepened
by means of cleverly-
But, of course, the intricacy of these ingenious arrangements was only discovered
at the cost of bitter experience. Later on, a great deal of after-
Selections from the general orders of the day will show the proposed plan of action,
and help to an understanding of how much one side may propose and the other dispose
in a modern campaign :-
"Orders of Lieutenant-
"CHIEVELEY, Dec. 14, 1899 (io P.M.).
"1. The enemy is intrenched in the kopjes north of the Tugela; one large camp is
reported to be near the Ladysmith road, about five miles north-
"2. It is the intention of the General Officer Commanding to force a passage of the
"3. The 5th Brigade (Major-
"4. The 2nd Brigade (Major-
"5. The 4th Brigade (Major-
"6. The 6th Brigade (Major-
"7. The officer commanding the mounted brigade (the Earl of Dundonald) will move, at 4 A.M. with a force of 1000 men and one battery, No. I brigade division, in the direction of Hlangwane Hill. He will cover the right flank of the general movement, and will endeavour to take up a position on Hlangwane Hill, where he will enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. The officer commanding the mounted troops will also detail two forces of 300 and 500 men, to cover the right and left flanks respectively and protect the baggage.
"8. The Second Brigade Division of the Royal Field Artillery will move, at 4.30
A.M., following the Fourth Brigade and will take up a position whence it can enfilade
the kopjes north of the iron bridge. The Sixth Brigade (Major-
It must be remembered that the railway bridge had been blown up, but a footbridge still existed.
Before dawn Lord Dundonald with a mounted brigade and a battery of artillery moved
to the east, while General Hart and his brigade started to try and cross Brindle
Drift. The field-
Yet the gunners stood tight at their guns, and the infantry with set faces like masks
of bronze, regardless of companions that drop thick and fast around upon them, stared
death straight in the face-
Certainly the advance of H ildyard's men was a noble achievement. Their effort to
capture the road bridge and hold the village of Colenso in face of a scene of carnage
was an act of splendid courage and determination; but they were assailed with so
deadly a storm of shot and shell that they had no choice but to retire. Though they
had imagined the village to be evacuated, the place had been swarming with Boers,
they evidently having expected to be attacked in this quarter. Not only were they
Roberts, the gallant and the beloved, dropped, wounded in five places, while his horse was blown to bits, and Congreve, his jacket riddled to ribbons, was hit several times. Schofield, by a miracle, came whole from the ordeal, and succeeded in the almost impossible task of hauling off the two guns, for which all three and many others had risked their lives. The rest of the guns were captured by the enemy, but of this anon.
General Barton's brigade, like Hart's and Hildyard's, failed to effect its object. It was found impossible to obtain possesslpn of Hlangwane Hill, which was much more strongly held than it was believed to be. The troops were assailed from thence by such galling shell and rifle fire that they were eventually forced to retire.
On the extreme right, the mounted troops, under Lord Dun donald, made a vigorous attack at the Hlangwane Hill, on which was posted the Boer pieces which had wrought such devastation among the British batteries. However, in advancing up the valley, they were outflanked by the Boers, and had eventually to retire under a storm of bullets. The irregulars, for their part, worked splendidly. The South African Horse advanced on the front under a heavy shell fire. Thorneycroft's Horse, the Natal Carabineers, the Imperial Light Horse, and the Mounted Infantry at the same time attempted the flanking attack; but the Boer lines, which ran along some high ground to the right of the flanking party, defeated their best efforts. Owing to the bad light, and to the fact that the Boers used smokeless powder, their fire failed to reveal their position, and the discomfort of the attacking party was considerable.
Meanwhile the 7th Battery, which was with Lord Dundonald, kept shelling Hlangwane and Fort Wylie in turns, the latter being done in order to assist the general advance. About noon Lord Dundonald was ordered to retire. This, however, was immediately impossible. So soon as the men began to move they became targets for the foe. Many of the men were reluctant to retire at all, and were pressing in their desire to still "have a go" at the enemy. The retirement at last, after a two hours' struggle, was accomplished without undue loss. The 7th Battery, under command of Major Henshaw, made splendid practice. During the engagement Lord Dundonald sent a team of gun and waggon horses, under Captain Reed, to assist the 14th and 66th Batteries to recover their guns. Captain Reed returned to the 7th Battery, and though he came back with a bullet in his leg, he insisted on remaining with it until he was ordered back to camp.
Generals Buller and Clery were ubiquitous, riding coolly about and directing where the hurricane of lead was thickest, and running risks which rendered all who saw them anxious for their safety. Indeed, as some one remarked, one would have thought they were lieutenants trying to make a name, and not generals with the responsibility of an army on their minds. The loss of either of these prominent officers would have been counted by the Boers as a sign of victory, and therefore, when one was hit in the side and another in the arm by glancing bullets, there was considerable alarm among those who were near enough to observe what had taken place. Captain Hughes, R.A.M.C., was killed, and others of the Staff were wounded. Lord Gerard twice had narrow escapes, his horse being twice wounded.
A squadron of the Imperial Horse had an exciting experience. The men, who had dismounted to move in extended order across level country, were beginning to cross a ploughed field. Suddenly a rifle volley was opened upon them, and they were forced to lie down for cover. But the enemy, though on a kopje not 500 yards distant at this time, was quite invisible; and on this clear, hot day, though the song of the Mauser went on persistently, there was no smoke to betray the enemy's position. The Imperial Horse lay quiet, and the enemy thinking they were perhaps annihilated ceased firing. Presently, however, when the troopers ventured out, the firing was renewed, and many were killed and wounded. It is invidious to menti6n special regiments when all fought so resolutely. 'Fhe behaviour of the irregular forces, however, was the subject of general remark. They held their position under a heavy crossfire, refusing to retire without their wounded. And when they did retire, the movement was executed without flurry, with precision and composure, as if the battlefield were one vast manceuvring ground. Meanwhile the Boers still struggled to outflank our' right, and the 13th Hussars had a lively time, Colonel Blagrove having his charger shot under him; but there were few serious calamities, only two of the troopers being killed.
Many instances of heroism were recorded on the part of men and officers belonging to all the regiments engaged in the battle. Lieutenant Ponsonby, of Thorneycroft's Horse, while endeavourmg to save a wounded man, was fired at, the shot striking his unhappy burden and mortally wounding him. The young officer was slightly wounded himself, but managed to escape after shooting his assailant dead at very close quarters. The conduct of the Dublins was the subject of universal praise. They lost heavily; some 216 out of 900 men. When ordered to retire, although the crossing of the Tugela Drift was a sufficiently fearful experience, they were intensely disgusted. "Let us only see the beggars!" they asked. "Give us a chance with the bayonet!" said these gallant fellows, who had already passed through a hurricane of shot and shell. The Scottish Fusiliers lost 75 out of 301, but they were still ready, still bent, if allowed, upon carrying the bridge at all costs. Their enterprise was badly rewarded. They got left in an untenable position and were surrounded.
Captain Herbert, Staff Officer to Colonel Long, had his horse killed under him, while
the Colonel himself was severely wounded by a bullet from a shrapnel shell. Captain
So many valiant deeds were performed that space will not admit of all being recounted.
The irregulars and regulars seemed determined to out-
The circumstances attending the capture of the guns were deeply tragic. Late in
the terrible afternoon, when the red sun was sending horizontal rays across the blood-
The following is the list of casualties in the engagement at Colenso :-
Royal Field Artillery-
Colonel L. G. Brooke (a), Lieutenant G. F. Brooke (a). Royal Dublin Fusiliers. -
Captain G. H. Ford-
(a) dangerously wounded; (b) seriously; (c) slightly.
Our losses were 1167 all told. Killed, 5 officers and 160 men; wounded, 36 officers and 634 men; missing and prisoners, 26 officers and 311 men, a terrible list for one day's work.
Sad to state, our ambulances were designedly fired upon. Five shells fell in the
neighbourhood of a waggon packed with wounded, and one party of ambulance men was
forced twice to abandon their work of succour. The tents of the field-
On the 16th. of December an armistice was agreed.upon, to last from noon till midnight, to enable both sides to collect and bury their dead.
The following "recommendations to notice" illuminated the somewhat sad nature of the General's despatch
"From the General Commanding-
"CHIEVELEY CAMP, Dec. i6, 1899.
"S1R, I have the honour to bring the following cases of Distinguished Service in the Field to your notice.
"At Colenso, on December 15, the detachments serving the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, had all been either killed wounded, or driven from their guns by infantry fire at close range, and the guns were deserted.
"About 500 yards behind the guns was a donga, in which some of the few horses and drivers left alive were sheltered. The intervening space was swept with shell and rifle fire.
"Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade, who was in the donga, assisted to hook a team into a limber, went out and assisted to limber up a gun; being wounded, he took shelter, but seeing Lieutenant Roberts fall badly wounded, he went out again and brought him in. Some idea of the nature of the fire may be gathered from the fact that Captain Congreve was shot through the leg, through the toe of his boot, grazed on the elbow and the shoulder, and his horse shot in three places.
"Lieutenant the Honourable F. Roberts, King's Royal Rifles, assisted Captain Congreve. He was wounded in three places.
"Corporal Nurse, Royal Field Artillery, 66th Battery, also assisted. I recommend the above three for the Victoria Cross.
"Drivers H. Taylor, Young, Petts, Rockall, Lucas, and Williams, all of the 66th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, rode the teams, each team brought in a gun. I recommend all six for the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.
"Shortly afterwards Captain H. L. Reed, 7th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, who had
heard of the difficulty, brought down three teams from his battery to see if he
could be of any use. He was wounded, as were five of the thirteen men who rode with
him; one was killed, his body was found on the field, and thirteen out of twenty-
"I recommend Captain Reed for the Victoria Cross, and the following non-
W. Ayles, wounded.
"I have differentiated in my recommendations, because I thought that a recommendation for the Victoria Cross required proof of initiative, something more, in fact, than mere obedience to orders, and for this reason I have not recommended Captain Schofield, Royal Artillery, who was acting under orders, though I desire to record his conduct as most gallant.
"Several other gallant drivers tried, but were all killed, and I cannot get their
REDVERS BULLER, General."
Appended is an account of the battle given by Captain Walter Norris Congreve, one of the heroes of the day. It is deeply interesting, though it makes little reference to his own gallant action for which he gained the Victoria Cross
"Our big Naval guns shelled the enemy's position off and on all day, but could get no response. We could see very few Boers about, and it was a horrid position to attack. . . . I don't believe any troops could have taken it. However, we tried yesterday and failed. We bombarded every place that looked like holding Boers for two hours, without response and without a sign of a Boer. To see the shells bursting, you would have thought nothing could have been left alive in the vicinity. After this, infantry, which had already got into position, advanced line after line and extended widely. Instantly thousands of bullets began pattering about, and their guns pitched shells all over the place. Where they came from no one could see till the end. Sir Redvers Buller rode all along the line, and came in for a good deal of attention from bullets and shells.
"My first experience was my stick being knocked out of hand by a bullet; then a horse
beside me was killed by a shell. About 10 o'clock two batteries which had advanced
far too close ran short of ammunition. Their waggons were about Soo yards behind,
the horses and men sheltering in a deep narrow nullah. General Buller told them
to take the waggons up to the battery, but instantly they emerged a stream of bullets
and shells fell all round, and most of the men got into the nullah again. Generals
BuIler and Cleary stood out in it and said, 'Some of you go and help Schofield.'
A.D.C. Roberts, myself, and two or three others went to the waggons, and we got two
waggons horsed with the help of a corporal and six gunners. I have never seen even
"My first bullet went through my left sleeve and just made the point of my elbow
bleed. Next a clod of earth caught me a smack on the other arm ; then my horse got
one; then my right leg one, and my horse another. That settled us, for he plunged,
and I fell about 100 yards short of the guns we were going to. A little nullah was
by, and into that I bobbled and sat down. I had not been in a minute before another
bullet hit the toe of my boot, went into the welt, travelled up, and came out at
"At about 11 o'clock the fire slackened, and I went out, finding poor Roberts badly
wounded, and with help got him into the nullah. There we lay from 11 till 4.30:
no water, not a breath of air, no particle of shade, and a sun which I have never
felt hotter even in India. My jacket was taken to shade Robert's head, and what with
blood and dirt I was a pretty object by the time I got out. At 4.30 the Boers rode
up and asked us to surrender, or they would shoot us all. Colonel Bullock was the
senior unwounded officer, and had, perhaps twenty rifles all told. He refused, and
they at once began a fusillade from fifty yards distant, and our people returned
it. It was unpleasant, and only a question of minutes before they enfiladed our trenches
and bagged the lot. Bullock's men knocked over two, and they then put up a white
flag, parleyed, said we might remove our wounded, and the remainder either be taken
prisoners or fight it out. However, while we were talking 100 or so crept round us.
We found loaded rifles at every armed man's head, and we were forced to give in.
One of our ambulances came up, and we were gradually collected at one spot, and a
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