With The Flag To Pretoria

PREFACE. THE chief point of interest in the South African war apart from its political aspect will always be that it was the first great struggle outfought under the new conditions which smokeless powder has introduced. No invention has made a greater change in the art of war than this the revolution is so profound that it can only be compared with that brought about by the general adoption of firearms four hundred years or more ago. So late as the Spanish-Am erican war of 1898 a large part of the United States army was equipped with the Springfield rifle firing smoke-producing powder so that in that war in spite of the fact that the Spanish Army was supplied with the Mauser, the full consequences of the revolution could not be observed and ascertained. The British Army, when it took the infield October 1899 was face to face with factors the precise effect of which could only be conjectured. Magazine or to give them their older ”name “repeating rifles had been employed as far back as the American Civil War of 1861-5 though they were in every way vastly inferior to our modern Mausers and Lee-M etfords. But smokeless powder was a distinctly novel element. It is easy to ascribe our defeats in the early part of the war as some have ascribed them to the “stupidity” of the British officers and generals. At bottom however it would seem that much of this unsuccess was due to tin new conditions of war coupled with the Boers inherited capacity for taking cover and his absolute knowledge of the country. Again and again our men came suddenly and almost without notice under a deluge of bullets from perfectly invisible rifles. When once engaged in this manner it was difficult for them togo forward and dangerous to retreat. There was no means of guessing the strength of the foe. No dense clouds of smoke revealed at once his location and the exact volume of his fire. It was uncertain whether we had to deal with 500 men using magazine fire or with 5000 firing in a leisurely manner. There may have been a neglect of reconnaissance, yet against troops thus concealed personal reconnaissance repeatedly failed. On their side the Boers had no such difficulty to face infighting 11s. All through our earlier battles we disdained the use of cover and often advanced to the attack in comparatively close form ations—a splendid target. The same invisibility which marked the Boer riflemen marked also their artillery which was not massed but scattered gun by gun wide apart and artfully concealed. As one result of this disposition, we seldom succeeded in silencing the Boer weapons but on the other hand except at Spion Kop they inflicted trivial loss upon us. The enemys most effective gun was the “Pom-Pom ”which though it caused infinitesimal loss of life was especially dreaded by our soldiers for the great rapidity of its discharge. The frequent flashes from its muzzle however rendered it comparatively easy to locate and to putout of action. It has been often debated whether as science progresses war grows more bloody. A learned Russian, M. Bloch had argued before this struggle began that the deadliness of modern weapons rendered mutual annihilation of the two combatants probable. It need scarcely be said that this forecast has been disproved by events. There has been nothing in the present war in the least comparable with the hideous butchery of Borodino when in 1812 with the old flint-lock smooth-bore musket and smooth-bore cannon over 30000 French were killed or wounded out of 125000 and over 40000 Russians out of 110000. Excluding prisoners in no case did the British losses in battle reach one tenth of the force engaged, and in the Spion Kop fighting where the heaviest casualties were incurred they were overspread a week. Another striking feature is the low proportion of killed. Usually in the past the killed have numbered one-third to one fourth of the total wounded. In this war they have generally been from one fifth to one tenth and sometimes an even lower fraction as a result of the use of the small-bore
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