Under The Union Jack, No. 8, Vol. 1, December 30th 1899

Dec. 30,1899.] UNDER THE UNION JACK. 171 BATTLING FOR EMPIRE. SIR REDVERS BULLER’ REVERSE.S I T is long since the British Empire stood face to face with a situation so serious as that raised by the reverse suffered by Sir Redvers Buller on the Tugela River. We had counted very much upon a victory. General Gatacre, we said, had perhaps been rash, and Lord Methuen’s march with its successive victories and its calamitous reverse might have been headlong, but we felt sure that Sir Redvers Buller, who had taken time to bring together his forces, to survey the situation of the enemy, and to develop such strategical movements as were possible, would know how to give us a victory, and, as we hoped, to inflict a blow upon the Boers which would have been locally decisive. But the check which was experienced by the column for the relief of Lady­ smith has not been without its use. W e have learned at last to know our adversary, to recognise the full extent to which he has prepared himself for this war, and to bring home to ourselves the necessity for putting forth every possible effort to bring the war to a speedy and satisfactory conclusion. That it will be more protracted than we expected is almost certain, but that it can end otherwise than by a triumph is impossible. The strength of the Mother Country and the loyalty of the colonies will certainly secure success. Our military operations are taking larger shape. The whole of the remaining portions of the Army Reserve are being called out forces drawn from the Militia, the Yeomanry, and the Volunteers— eager to take their part in the defence of the Empire— will soon be putin the field and further use is to be made of those resources of South Africa which have already won such high praise, and we shall add many more to the gallant troops of our colonial brethren who have done such splendid things in Natal, and who will not be found wanting in any theatre of the war. Sir Redvers Buller now devotes his undivided attention to the conduct of the campaign in Natal, while that fine soldier, Lord Roberts, beloved throughout the Army, has been appointed Commander-in- Chief in South Africa. All that ripe experience can do to crush the Boer confederacy will now be done. Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, the organiser of victory, is the newly-appointed Chief of the Staff. There could be no better combination of force than we are now bringing to bear, and the Government is keenly alive to the necessity of recovering our military prestige, which has been endangered by our three reverses. Foreigners, who have not that sense of proportion which Mr. Asquith spoke of so eloquently, fail to realise the immense strength of this Empire, and do not recognise that even these reverses cannot influence the result of the war. The Battle of the T ugela. The country in which Sir Redvers Buller encountered the Boers is one better adapted to their tactics than to ours. The Tugela River flows down from high mountains, and in the neighbourhood of Colenso is as much convoluted as the Thames below Abingdon. The town itself lies between the railway and the river, and is enclosed in a great horseshoe­ like curve. On the west of the town is adrift, and to the north of it, at the head of the curve, another, while the Bulwer Bridge lies between the two. The river below Colenso flows through a well-wooded valley, and receives many tributaries, being itself broken by waterfalls. General Buller had under his orders something like 30,000 men, though, of course, not all these could be available to attack the position. He moved out of his camp at Chieveley at four o’clock on the morning of December 15th, intending to force the passage of the river atone or other of the drifts indicated, which are about two miles apart. General Clery was in charge of the operation. General Fitzroy Hart was to attack the southernmost drift with the Irish Brigade, while General Ilildyard, commanding the English Brigade, was to push forward through the town and attempt to force a passage at the northern drift. In the centre, General Lyttelton was to take a position, with the Light Infantry Brigade, so that he might support either attack as the need arose. The supposed positions of the enemy were heavily shelled, but it soon became apparent to Sir Redvers Buller that General Hart would be unable to establish himself beyond the river, owing to the great strength of the enemy concealed upon a ridge at the place. The Dublins, 1 nniskil 1 ings, and Connaughts crossed with superb gallantry, but the shrapnel of the Boers was most destructive, and the far bank was untenable. General Buller then directed General Hildyard to make his attack, and the leading regiment of the brigade— the 2nd East Surrey— occupied Colenso Station and the houses near the bridge. What happened next is not very clear, but evidently the attack was strongly resisted, and a disaster occurred to the 14th and 66th Field Batteries, while apparently six naval 12-pounder quick-firers had a narrow escape. The whole of the guns of this brigade were under command of Colonel Long, R.A., who was severely wounded. In his desire to get within effective range this officer advanced close to the river, and found himself under the fire of Boer sharp­shooters, who had been lying concealed. These opened a galling discharge at close range, killing all the horses, and killing and wounding many officers and men. Desperate efforts were made to secure the guns, but only two were saved. Sir Redvers Buller then ordered the troops to withdraw. The losses had been terrible, and Lieutenant S.H. Roberts, King’s Royal Rifles, son of Lord Roberts, was among the officers dangerously wounded, and he shortly afterwards succumbed. One alleviating feature of the casualties, which numbered in all 1,097, was that the proportion of killed to wounded was not high, and that many of the wounds were slight. The deaths of officers and men as first reported were 82, while 667 were wounded and 348 missing. The reverse necessarily imposed a pause upon Sir Redvers Buller, but it was not at all in the nature of a disaster, and the country heard the bad news with becoming calm. Lord M ethuen at theM odder River. Lord Methuen’s retirement after his failure to capture the Boer positions at Magersfontein was brilliantly conducted, and was carried out in the coolest manner, though the enemy opened a terrific fire. At the Modder River the camp is now entrenched, and the position is probably well supplied and secure from direct attack. The position taken up by the Boers is about seven miles north of the camp, where they have established themselves upon the kopjes, and their line extends thence eastward along the broken ridge, behind which is the laager, and further still, turning at right angles, giving the whole line something the character of a horseshoe. Every hill and commanding rise upon the plains has been entrenched and occupied by the Boers. On the north side of the Modder the Boers have again been wrecking the railway by blowing up culverts. On December 15th an artillery reconnaissance was made from our camp in the direction of the scene of the disastrous repulse. The Horse and Field Batteries, with the howitzers and naval guns, shelled the position, though with what effect was not discoverable, and the Boers scarcely replied to the fire. ORDER THE CHRISTMAS NUMBER OF “NAVY AND ARMY ILLUSTRATED.”
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