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"FIGHTING MAC" AT KOODOESBERG


The Boers were now threatening the line between the Orange and Modder Rivers, and in consequence of various reports regarding their movements Colonel  Broadwood proceeded to Sunnyside with the Royal Horse Artillery, Mounted Infantry, and Roberts's Horse, the newly-raised regiment from whom great things were expected. The enemy retired and crossed the Riet River, taking care  to keep well Out of the way, for it was known that "Fighting Mac" was on the warpath, and the last thing the rebels desired was to find their own line of communications interrupted.

On the 3rd of February General  Macdonald with the Highland Brigade,. 9th Lancers, 9th and 62nd Batteries Royal Field Artillery, moved out in a westerly direction with a view to blocking the main drift at Koodoesberg, and thus preventing a force reported to  be coming from Griqualand West from joining that coming from the north for the purpose of cutting Lord Methuen's line of communica-tion. There was also another motive for the movement, and that was to attract the attention and  energy of the enemy while Lord Roberts was arranging for a decisive stroke in another quarter. The march was a trying one owing to the tropical temperature, exposure to a scorching sun, and the perpetual inconvenience of dust.  The troops, however, bore it bravely. . They bivouacked at Fraser's Drift, and on the following (Sunday) morning moved forward to Koodoesberg. The distance-some thirteen miles-was covered, again in sweltering conditions, over a  shadeless expanse of rough road, which reflected the glare of the heavens and threw out hot rays as from a baker's oven. Men dropped continually from sunstroke, and exhaustion, and thirst; but, fortunately, owing to the near  proximity of the river, there were few serious cases. The troops arrived at their destination about one o'clock, without having seen any Boers. On reaching the drift the men refreshed themselves by bathing in the river, a  luxury in which they revelled. But repose was short. A hurried meal of bully beef and biscuits and they were at work again, providing for contingencies. Two thousand yards off were a group of kopjes, behind which it was said  some 4000 Boers were hiding.

The General at once set himself to construct breastworks to protect the drift and secure his positions on north and south of the river, while the 9th Lancers and their scouts reconnoitred the  surrounding country to ascertain the strength and disposition of the enemv. They came on a sm~l picket of Boers-there was a rapid exchange of shots-but on the nearer approach of our troops the Boers fled.

On Monday both sides  of the river were taken possession of. A large body of mounted Boers were seen advancing about 2000 yards off, but beyond firing a few shots at the British force no serious conflict took place. On Tuesday there was a smart race  between our men and a large force of Boers advancing from their laagers. Both parties made for a big kopje, which was cleverly gained by the British after a breathless scramble. The enemy, worsted, galloped oft; pursued by the  Lancers.

At nine o'clock on Wednesday, the 7th, the Boers, who had engaged themselves in dragging a heavy gun to the scene of action, began to blaze out upon the Seaforth Highlanders. These, with alacrity, sprang to action.  As a private said, "It was not a Majesfontein affair this time, and a holy joy filled our hearts at the prospect of having a little bit of our own back." The enemy was established at the north end of Koodoesberg,  whence they shelled the works that were being constructed to protect the drift. At the drift were seven companies of Highland Light Infantry. On the left bank were the Argyll and Sutherland Highianders, half a battalion of  Seaforths, two guns, and the 9th Lancers observing both flanks. Holding the south end of Koodoesberg on the right bank of the river were the Black Watch, half a battalion of Seaforths, one com-pany of Highland Light Infantry,  and four guns (62nd Field Battery). An animated battle ensued, and the British guns did splendid execution. The troops took cover behind hastily-constructed sangars, and the bullets of the enemy failed to touch them. There were  no evidences of the celebrated Boer marksmanship on this occasion. The enemy pounded the hill with shrapnel, and made a ferocious. effort to rout the Highlanders from their position. The 62nd Field. Battery, after some smart  cannonading, which was as effective as it. was vigorous, forced the Dutchmen to shift their gun to a position. farther north. Eventually the weapon of the Dutchmen was silenced. altogether.

Meanwhile, at the request of  General Macdonald, General Babington, with his own regiment of cavalry (12th Lancers) and two batteries of Horse Artillery, had been despatched from Modder River. They started at 11.30 A.M. on the 7th, and had they arrived. In  time might have cut off the retreat of the enemy and entirly hemmed them in.

As it was, they marched along the north side of the Modder, and only arrived at four o'clock, in time, however, to quickly pursue the. foe in his  retreat northwards, which retreat had been begun with all speed on the first hint of the coming of an additional force. The sufferings end~red by some of the cavalry were intense, and one man. expired through exposure and  thirst. Others were in pitiable plight, but finally recovered.

While the great struggle was taking place it was discovered that. the enemy was intrenched at a small drift on the west. Whereupon two companies of the Argyll and  Sutherland Highlanders became engaged in a smart skirmish, and gave the Federals so warm a time that by nightfall, after being shelled in their trenches, they were glad. enough to slink off. By morning the enemy had entirely  evacuated their position, and not a vestige of them was to be seen. Had the cavalry not been utterly worn Out on reaching the scene of action, the Dutchmen would have been caught before they had time to seek refuge ill flight.

The troops then, under orders from Lord Methuen, retired to Modder River. They started from Koodoesberg on the evening of Thursday, made a moonlight march to Fraser's Drift, returning to camp footsore and dilapidated on Friday.  But before leaving, the officers and men who fell in the action were buried on the south bank of the river. Among them was Captain Blair, who, after having been previously struck by a bullet, had been mortally wounded by a  shell. Lieutenant Tait, a very gallant officer, a notable golfer, and a general favourite, also fell, and Captain Evlyn eventually died of his injuries.

General Macdonald's reconnaissance at Koodoesberg Drift was entirely  satisfactory. The position there was important, as it prevented Boer reinforcements from passing vza the chief drift from Douglas to Majesfontein, and the movement served to confound thc enemy, and protect the operations of the  Belmont garrison in the direction of Douglas, not to speak of its value in keeping Boer activities to the west of Majesfontein at the time when Lord Roberts was developing his plans in regard to the east of that place. The  enemy had been kept amused and out of mischief, and been wholesomely trounced into the bargain!

The casualties, which were comparatively few, were as follows

Killed -2nd Royal High1anders-Captain Evlyn; Lieutenant Tait. 2nd Seaforth Highlanders~Captain Blair.

Wounded:-2nd Seaforth Highlanders-Captain Studdert, A.S.C. 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders-Captain Kirk. 9th  Lancers-Second Lieutenant Cavendish; Lieutenant Mackenzie, R.A.M.C.