On Sunday, the 18th of February, the most exciting action of the war took place. It was costly as it was momentous, for it served to decide the fate of the fleeing Dutchman. The scene of the drama was not unpicturesque. From the Paardeberg to the Koodoosrand Drift the Modder flowed along a deep hollow from thirty to a hundred yards in depth. To either side the forks of small dongas radiated, while the high banks were fringed with the feathery foliage of the mimosa and willow. Donga and tree stump afforded excellent cover for the slim adversary, sniper or scout. The river travelled from Koodoosrand Drift west-
The action began at dawn. Firing grew h6tter and hotter with the growth of the morning,
and soon pandemonium was let loose. While part of the mounted infantry was forcing
the rearguard up the river another part was manceuvring on the right front and flank
of the enemy. The Dutchmen meanwhile from King's Kop turned on a quick-
Cronje by this time had realised that his position was critical-
"Every natural protection, such as the ramifications of the dongas which eat into the banks on both sides of the river, had been utilised, though the bombardment from both sides compelled them to abandon their first hasty breastworks cut into the actual top of the bank, which was here from about fifty to a hundred yards from the river itself, and thirty feet in height.
"For the first time here the 'T' trenches, of which much has been said during the present campaign, were used. They did not seem to present the least advantage over the ordinary shapes, except that in an exposed angle they may have provided additional protection against an enfilading fire."
Cronje's first object in entrenching himself in the bed of the river was to arrest the further advance of the mounted infantry, who had taken possession of the bed of the river west of his position. In this he was successful. Worn, harassed, and almost helpless, he determined to make a desperate stand, hoping against hope to gain time till some help from without should arrive. But this help never reached him. A grand enveldping movement commenced, and Cronje; brought to bay, found himself face to face with what proved to be his Sedan.
By this time he and his followers were snugly ensconced in bush and donga and scrub round the laager, and from the trees around they vigorously sniped and poured volleys at the advancing troops. In the advance to the attack the Highland Brigade was on the left, General Knox's brigade in the centre and on the right, while General Smith Dorrien's brigade, after crossing the river by Paardeberg Drift, moved along the north bank. The Highland Brigade had a terrific duty. The Boers, from their position in the bed of the river and on both sides of it, commanded the left of the Brigade, and as the kilted mass moved forward in the open poured upon them a deadly fire, which forced them to lie prone for the rest of the day. Here at noon, when bullets were humming their loudest, General Hector Macdonald was wounded. He had dismounted, and was directing the movements of the brigade, when overtaken by a shot which penetrated thigh and foot. Despite this unlucky accident and a tremendous spell of hard fighting, the brigade exhibited splendid pluck and tenacity. They were destitute of cover, but maintained their position with astonishing fortitude,. and this after the long forced march they had made from Jacobsdal, and while enduring the tortures of maddening thirst, which could not be assuaged. A heavy thunderstorm mercily overtook them in the course of the afternoon and raindrops large as gooseberries clattered down their relieving moisture on the parched and exhausted troops.
On the north bank of the river was Cronje's laager, an environment of waggons, carts, ammunition, and stores. While General Smith Dorrien's force, among which were the Canadians, Gordons, and Shropshires, attempted to charge into the laager, they too were vi~orou shelled by the enemy,
valiantly to a kopie on the south bank of the river. Here they held on undefeatable,
posted a Vickers-
On the east the Sixth Division was hard at work tackling a horde of Boers, who made a last despairing lunge in order to burst
through the entangling forces and push for the south bank of the river. The effort
was stubborn as it was desperate,, but they were defeated by the dash of the West
Riding Regiment, who pressed forward with the bayonet and succeeded in seizing the
drift. Many splendid fellows were wounded and slain in the collision. Mean-
"We left KIp Drift on the Modder River at 6 P.M. Saturday, and marched
all night until seven on Sunday morning, covering 23 miles. During the march we could hear the guns ahead. I was orderly man for Sunday, so, removing my pack, I went to the river for water. Just a little way up the river a brisk fire opened up. When I got back to our lines I found them issuing a ration of rum. I had mine, and it just braced me up.
"By this time the engagement was pretty brisk. Our brigade was ordered on the left of the river, which we crossed at a ford just in rear of the camp. The Shropshires crossed first, then followed the Canadians and Gordons. The water was up to our necks. Some went deeper and had to swim. We crossed in fours, holding on to each other, formed up in column and advanced a short distance, when we extended to seven paces in skirmishing order. C Company formed to support A Company.
"By this time the bullets were coming pretty thickly, and we had some very narrcw squeaks. We reinforced A Company at 500 yards and opened fire. The Boer fire was heavy, and some of our boys had been hit, but we soon subdued the fire. Their position was in the river, and we were lying out in the open, no cover of any kind except a few anthills. We could see very little to fire at except the fire from their guns. Our line was in a crescent shape, the right on the river, and the left extended along about 500 yards. In the afternoon our troops were ordered to cease fire. As soon as we stopped they started sniping, which made us hug the ground.
"Shortly after joining the firing line Captain Arnold of A Company was struck. The
Boers started a murderous fire on the stretcher-
Captain Arnold's wound was mortal, but Lieutenant Mason, who was also shot, was not dangerously hurt.
A Colonial, writing from the front at Paardeberg, said that fighting "went on during the day until about five o'clock, when the Cornwalls arrived in support. The officer comnianding this battalion seemed to think that too much time had already been spent in fighting the Boers, so ordered the charge. The result was fatal to the Cornwalls, as they had to retire. The Canadians, acting under the orders of the commanding officer of the Cornwalls as senior officer, also charged, and with a like result; but the Canadians, in place of retiring, simply lay down and remained. It was during this charge that most of the fatalities occurred. The unfortunate commanding officer of the Cornwalls was killed, and Captain Arnold and Lieutenant Mason of the Canadians wounded. The Brigadier subsequently expressed his regret that the charge took place, but at the same time warmly congratulated the Canadians on their behaviour, as did Lord Roberts also."
Of gallantry and daring there was no end. From dawn till sunset raged a battle of
appalling fierceness, of magnificent persistency. From drift to drift the hollows
reverberated with the perpetual roll of musketry, the brawling of multifarious guns,
the hoarse cheers of charging troops, the shouts of the unflinching enemy. Curling
smoke burst in wreaths and garlands from the sides of the hills and rose against
the purple of thunder-
At dusk the scene was weirdly, terrifically picturesque. From the south and north
sides of the river shells hurtled through the air, falling and exploding along the
The Modder might have been the along between fringed and sloping But there was none to admire the
At night there was peace. placid purling Thames winding banks to ~he bosom of the sea.
pretty scene. All were worn out, and glad to drop to sleep where they had fought, while the bearer~parties~" body~snatchers," as they were Jocosely styled~picked their way in the darkness, doing their deeds of mercy with zealous, unflagging perseverance. During this time many deserters from the enemy came in. They had seen the hopelessness of their case, and had been urging, uselessly, the implacable Cronje to surrender.
The following is the list of those who were killed and wounded during the fight
P. Grant, Second Lieutenant D. P. Monypenny (died of wounds), Second Lieutenant
A. R. Moneneff. 1st Gordon Highianders-
Lieutenant F. G. S. Cnnningham. Black Watch-
Smith, Lieutenant English, Second Lieutenant Kettleweli. Canadians-
Waterhouse. 1st Yorkshire-
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|The Web Thickens|
|The Zulu War|
|Isandlwana, an hour by hour account|
|Affairs at Home|
|The First Anglo Boer War|
|Between the Wars|
|The Fate of SGT Elliot|
|The Siege of Pretoria|
|The Reform Movement|
|The Critical Moment|
|The Fate of the Raiders|