Under the Union Jack, No. 18, Vol. 1, March 10th 1900

March to, moo.} UNDER THE UNION JACK. 411 BATTLING FOR EMPIRE. PAARDEBERG THE mind of the public, as these pages togo press, is concentrated upon the flight of General Cronje from Magersfontein, the stubborn defence which he offered in the hollow by the Modder River, and the surrender imposed upon him on February 27th, the anniversary of Majuba. Nothing so remarkable has so far happened in the history of this war as the wonderful skill with which Lord Roberts’s combinations were developed to bring about this end, and there has been nothing so satisfactory as the extra­ordinary endurance manifested by the troops in the course of the operations. General French’s flank advance to the relief of Kimberley— a place now restored to us, and returning to prosperity in the midst of a more settled country— was avery line military performance, but it was equalled by the hard riding and marching of the troops in pursuit of Cronje. It is hard to say at what period the Boer general first realised the impossibility of continuing to hold Magersfontein, but it is high testimony to his military skill that he was able to extricate himself from that position. Fortune certainly favoured him for a time, for, when General French had gone aluad to Kimberley, he was able to trek across the front of the position held by our troop: along the .Modder River. He thus passed between the two forces, beginning his march at midnight on February 15th, and directing his course by S-holtz Nek, apparently with the intention of crossing the Modder at Ivlipkraal Drift, about twenty-five miles from his starting point, and some eight miles east of Klip Drift, where we had established our passage of the river. His long ox train was discovered by our scouts on the morning of the 16th, and the mounted infantry crossed the drift in pursuit, followed by two- batteries and several battalions. A rear-guard action was fought, in which the Boers made further progress, though a large number of their waggons were cutoff. Cronje’s rear-guard fought desperately, while part of his forces at night crossed Klipkraal Drift and continued to march in the direction of Bloemfontein. It is •quite possible that if the Boer general had abandoned his ox train he might have got away altogether. Lord Kitchener was, however, able to check the flight. After some of the hardest marching ever accomplished by British troops, and recalling some of the memorable work in Central India during the Mutiny, they succeeded in heading off the main force, and Cronje was driven to take refuge in the Modder Valley near Paardeberg, his troops having marched something like forty miles, day and night, with scarcely a pause. The running fighting continued on the 17th, and there was a sanguinary action on the 1 Sth, when our troops were accomplishing the complete investment of the position. The place in-which Cronje had taken refuge has been described as a veritable death-trap, but he was able to continue his resistance there much longer than was anticipated, though from the beginning his case was hopeless. At the place the Modder River lies in a deep hollow, and the river itself is between high banks, in which it was possible, with no great difficulty, to dig out shelters on the principle adopted by the garrison at Ladysmith, while numerous narrow dongas open upon the river at right angles. In such a situation the Boers were able to prepare for a somewhat lengthened defence, and they were inspired by a desperate resolve to resist. Terrible losses were inflicted upon them, but it would appear that Cronje refused to pass the women and children who were with his force through the British lines. The fighting on the 1 Sth was of avery desperate ¦character, and the brunt of it was borne by MacDonald’s, AND MAJUBA. Smith-Dorrien’s, and Chermside’s Brigades, the Flighlanders having reached the scene after a magnificent forced march from the Modder River Camp. The object was to drive the Boers from the plain into the “trench ”formed by the river course, and to completely enclose their position. The Highlanders suffered heavily in crossing the open on the south side, while General Smith-Dorrien’s Brigade crossed to the north bank by Paardeberg Drift to attack the Boer laager which had been established on that Aside. gallant attempt was made to charge into the laager, but failed, though ultimately it was seton (ire by our artillery. The work of enveloping the Boers went on, and gradually they were driven back more and more into the valley, our troops seizing the heights and establishing positions for guns 011 both banks, and occupying the drift to the east. At night silence descended upon both camps, for the men were thoroughly tired outwith their long exertions. O11 the 19th the work of completely encompassing the Boers was accomplished, and a desultory bombardment began. At noon Cronje asked for a twenty-four hours’ armistice to bury the dead, which was very properly refused, but he seems to have gained time by making some deceptive overtures for a surrender. When the purpose was revealed in the after­noon a howitzer battery and three field batteries opened a terribly accurate fire, and lyddite was rained into the trenches with marvellous precision. The resistance was continued on the 20th, the Boers showing marvellous inactivity strengthening their deences and preparing to resist. Every opportunity had been given to them to surrender, but as there was no sign of their doing so, Lord Roberts, who had arrived on the scene, ordered a general bombardment. The 1 Sth, 62nd, and 75th Field Batteries and two 12-pounders were on the south bank, while on the other side were the 65 th (howitzer), 76th, 81st, and 82nd Field Batteries, and the Naval 4‘7in. guns. It is probable that never before has such a tremendous fire been concentrated upon one point, for lyddite was freely used. Although the Boers had secured shelter, the slaughter was no doubt terrible, for the shells searched every bush and ravine. The tragic resistance was continued upon the succeeding days, but in view of the fact that Cronje’s position was con­sidered to be hopeless, Lord Roberts did not exert the whole of his destructive power. W e were inclosing on every hand, and the sappers 011 both banks, east and west of the Boers, were carrying their trenches nearer and nearer to the certain end. The gallantry of all the troops concerned aroused universal admiration, and great regret is felt that General MacDonald has been wounded, though not so severely as was at first thought. .The purpose of General Cronje was, of course, to holdout until relief could, if possible, reach him but Lord Roberts was well informed on that point, and the Boers were in no position to detach adequate reinforcements from the scattered positions in which they are distributed. While the invest­ment of Koodoosrand was ongoing the cavalry were well occupied incompletely dispersing various scattered parties of Boers, and took about 600 prisoners, the chief attempt to reach Cronje being made by General de Wet, who, with 1,000 men, was defeated on the 23rd and following days in a series of minor actions. The purpose was to seize and fortify various kopjes so as to command the somewhat open position which our troops occupied above the riverbanks. Cronje capitulated unconditionally at daybreak on February 27th, with about 4,000 men. Four 6in. howitzers had been brought into action against him, and the sapping of “UNDER THE UNION JACK’’—PHOTOS. OF ALL THE GENERALS AT THE FRONT.
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