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A Handbook of the Boer War

Pretorius retired across the Vaal where he joined Potgieter


ill success of his mission provoked him to reprisals, and he proceeded to stir up trouble in the Orange River Sovereignty, which had recently been formally proclaimed British Territory. If not actively loyal it was peaceably disposed until the arrival of Pretorius, who soon drove out the British Resident and the little garrison of Bloemfontein and set them on the run as far as Colesberg in the Cape Colony. He was defeated at Boomplatz in August, 1848, by Sir Harry Smith, a veteran of the Peninsular War, and British authority was for a time reestablished over the Sovereignty. The Colonial Office soon however tired of the new possession and gladly scuttled out in 1854 in order to avoid the task of reaping the harvest of a clumsy and grotesque policy, which it had formulated a few years before, of hemming in the _voortrekkers_, who had settled north of the Orange River, with a barrier of native states set up for the purpose on the east and west; and which now threatened to involve it in a quarrel which naturally arose between Moshesh, the Basuto chief, and the emigrants whom he had been appointed to restrain.

Pretorius retired across the Vaal where he joined Potgieter, who, after the failure of his attack on Dingaan in 1838, had gone into Moselekatse's country and had driven him beyond the Limpopo. A Republic was set up beyond the Vaal which the British Government recognized as independent in the Zand River Convention of 1852.

justify;">Such is in brief the story of the Boers' claim to Natal. They considered it to be their lawful heritage out of which they had been jockeyed, and in October, 1899, they seemed to have a chance of recovering it. They boasted that they would not only win back Pietermaritzburg, which was named after two leaders of the Great Trek, Pieter Retief and Gert Maritz, but that they would establish themselves on the shores of the Indian Ocean. It was not the vainglorious gasconade of a swashbuckler. Four months after October 11, 1899, when the Boer ultimatum expired, the British Army was still engaged in endeavouring to drive out the Boers from British territory, and hardly a rifle had been discharged in the enemy's country.

Napoleon was in the habit of impressing upon his officers the necessity of studying past campaigns, both modern and ancient; but those who anticipated confidently that the Boer War would soon be brought to a successful close by the British Army were led into their error by the history of past campaigns. There was, however, one campaign, the War of Independence in North America, which the discerning might have recognized as an analogous struggle; but it was overlooked, and the history of the great European conflicts was established as the leading authority. The occupation of the populous places and the control of the means of access to them, which seemed to present few difficulties, meant the end of the war and the subsequent negotiations as to the amount of the indemnity or other penalty to be paid by the defeated.

But not only were the necessary preliminary successes deferred far beyond the expected time of their accomplishment--Bloemfontein was not occupied until five months, nor Pretoria until eight months had rolled by since that October dawn when the Boers crossed the frontier into Natal--but the prospect of the end of the War soon began to recede into the perspective of infinity: and even now, after an interval of some years since the peace of Vereeniging, when, like the proportions of some huge edifice which can be truly comprehended only by the observer who views it from a distance, the various incidents and phases of the War begin to assume their relative importance, the difficulty of discovering some guiding principle which shall reconcile the Great Boer War with other wars is as great as ever.

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