Under The Union Jack, No. 7, Vol. 1, December 23rd 1899

BATTLING FOR EMPIRE. THE FORTUNE OF WAR. Drr. 23,1809.} THE WAR IN SOUTH AFRICA. J47 I T is never pleasant to record disasters, but when the record is coupled with an account of the loyal services and gallant bearing of devoted men fighting for their country in circumstances of misfortune, there is much that is encouraging in it after all. The reverse which followed Sir William G atacre’s advance upon Storm berg in the early morning of December ioth has, so far, been the most unfortunate event of the campaign. In this region of disaffection disaster is doubly dangerous, because it can scarcely fail to confirm in disloyalty many sym pathisers with the Boers who have so far hesitated to throw in their lot with the enemy. The country in which the action took place is one of exceeding difficulty. There the railway from Queens­ town curves sharply between rugged hills, and the whole district is such as to favour, in a high degree, the particular tactics of the Boers. Although General G atacre does not attribute blame to the guides who misled him —except for incompetence— there is too much reason to suspect that treachery was really at the root of the disaster. The unfortunate general has the reputation of being a man of unflagging energy, very impulsive and dashing, and he has certainly proved himself to abe splendid soldier where dynamic qualities are required. In command of his brigade which went up for the relief of Chitral he displayed untiring activity, which contributed in no small measure to the success, and in the Soudan Campaign the sam equalities were used to good purpose by the gallant officer. H e has himself said that he would never ask his men to do what he would not do himself and those who served with him in the Soudan are reported to have given him the sobriquet o f “Back -ach er.” This is not the place in which to criticise the action taken by General G atacre. What we are rather called upon to admire is the pluck and enterprise which prompted him to make a forced march at night in order to overpower an enemy by surprise, with whom he would have been totally unable to cope under other circumstances. Whether he received direct orders to take action may never be known, but it is perfectly clear that inaction the region of Storm berg was eminently desirable. Sir Alfred M ilner, in a telegram to the refugees from A liw al North on November 25th, in which he congratulated them on their fortitude and loyalty, explained that the Imperial forces would make every effort to recover the lost ground. Large numbers of the farmers on the border had gone over to the invaders, and it may well be that General G atacre considered that some demonstration on his part was called for. It was not his fault that he was ill provided with troops. The 3rd Division, of which he was supposed to be in command, consists nominally of two brigades, each comprising four battalions, but the whole of M ajor-G eneral B arton’s brigade, with some portion of that under command of M ajor-General Fitzroy -IIa rt, has been sent to Natal. The cavalry belonging to the division was also wanting, so that the advance upon Storm berg was made with a force quite inadequate. General G atacre had with him the 2nd Northum berland Fusiliers, the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, mounted infantry drawn from the Royal Berkshire Regiment and perhaps from one or two more battalions, and the 74th and 77th Field Batteries, with a body of Cape Police. General G atacre’s headquarters were Pat u tte r’s Kraal, which is the station next south of Sterkstroom Junction on the railway from Queenstown to Storm berg. H e left this place after mid-day Son atu rd ay, December gth, with a force which may have numbered 4,000, though it does not appear that he had so many men actually inaction. The advance was made as far Mas olteno, which is the third station south of Storm berg, by train, and thence the troops marched on foot. What happened is not yet accurately known. The advance fromM olteno began at 9.30 on the same night, and was certainly avery arduous and difficult proceeding. The general had under-estimated the distance, apparently basing his calculation upon the evidence of local guides of whom a policeman seems to have been chief. This man took the column by a circuitous route, extending the march by some miles. There was moonlight until 11.30 ,and the men tramped onward, with no distinguishing lights, but with many of the precautions usually taken in such cases. On and on they went, picking their way over the rough surface of the road, kicking against stones, and often pulled up against rocks which sometimes compelled them to strike off into the veldt, w-here the footing was softer. Som etim es,says a correspondent who was with the party, a dark figure would come suddenly, swiftly, and almost noiselessly up, and in a hoarse whisper an officer would ejaculate an order to halt, as the enemy was believed to be near. General G atacre with his staff wras at the head of the column, and when the march had lasted for a period of six and a-h alf hours the force was found at daybreak to be “landed in an impossible position.” The Boers were quite ready for our unfortunate men. Just as the Royal Irish Rifles were entering a depression, a hot and unexpected fire was opened b they enem yon the Aright. t the time the column was marching four abreast, but 110 confusion arose, and the general and his officers brought the troops into line of action, and in a few minutes the battle was raging. The two batteries which had brought up the rear of the column got into position on the side of a small kopje, w'hile the two battalions advanced in skirmishing order to carry the enem y’s position if possible. They were met by a galling fire, but it would appear that they reached a certain height, which, however, they were unable to hold owing to a converging fire poured upon it by the enemy. They wT ere taken in flank and rear and compelled to retreat, their retirement being covered by the guns. Our artillerymen did excellent service, but the guns of the Boers were also admirably served. The retreat was conducted for nine miles, fighting from ridge to ridge, and the enem y’s batteries advanced with the utmost mobility, pursuing our men as they went. N o account has yet been received of how our missing officers and men were cutoff and captured, though it seems probable that an overwhelming force of Boers threw them­selves upon the road before our column had got through the defile. According to the Boers, they took 672 prisoners, and General G atacre reports that theN orthum berland Fusiliers alone lost 336. Moreover, two guns fell into the hands of the enemy, and it became necessary to send the remainder of the two battalions to Sterkstroom “to recuperate,” while General G atacre took up a position at Bushm anshoek and C yphegat. Evidently the reverse was serious, and the necessity of sending reinforcements was sufficiently apparent. It is not possible at the moment of writing to estimate what will bethe influence of the disaster upon the rebellious Dutch. General French Position.’s While these operations were ongoing at Storm berg, General French ,who has with him a considerable force, including cavalry and guns, has been able to advance from N auwpoort to A rundel, and to carry his reconnaissance further along the line to C olesberg. Arundel has therefore become his advanced base, but it is doubtful how far his operations will be affected by General G a ta cre misfortune.’s ORDER THE CHRISTMAS NUMBER OF “NAVY AND ARMY ILLUSTRATED.”
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