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A Handbook of the Boer War

While he himself made for Wepener


Another

hour of resistance would probably have saved it. On the previous evening Gatacre and Lord Roberts received the news that it was in trouble, and a relieving force was hurriedly collected at Bethany from Springfontein and Bloemfontein, and sent out under Gatacre's command. His scouts heard the last shot fired, and the silence which followed seemed to show that all was over. When reports of the surrender reached him near Reddersburg, and before De Wet, only six miles away, had cleared out of Mostert's Hoek, he abandoned the attempt; although some of his advanced mounted troops did indeed come into touch with the rearguard of De Wet hurrying away with his prisoners.

Next day he was recalled to Bloemfontein by Lord Roberts, who held him responsible for the disaster. He had occupied Dewetsdorp, an exposed and isolated position, with an inadequate force, although expressly instructed to leave it alone if he had not sufficient troops for the purpose. Mostert's Hoek supervening on Stormberg ended the career of a most gallant, energetic, and enthusiastic soldier. _Bic peccare in bello non licet_. He was removed from his command and sent back to England.

After leaving Sannah's Post, De Wet seems to have recognized that he was not exactly carrying out the Krijgsraad policy, for he informed Steyn that he was going to Dewetsdorp to "collect the burghers and to obtain dynamite for our operations" against the railway between

Bloemfontein and Bethany. Next day he heard that the British had occupied Dewetsdorp, and soon after that the garrison was retiring on Reddersburg, and the attack on the line, which perhaps he never seriously intended to make, was indefinitely postponed.

For as soon as he had disposed of the prisoners of Mostert's Hoek, he cast his eye round the horizon and descried two other isolated garrisons, at Smithfield and Wepener. Against the former he sent one of his lieutenants, who, however, found the little town evacuated, while he himself made for Wepener, and longing to teach a lesson to Brabant's loyal colonials, sat down before it on April 9 with ten guns and 6,000 men. In the course of the northward advance from the Orange it had been occupied by a detachment from Brabant's force, which was increased by subsequent reinforcements to a strength of nearly 1,900 men under Dalgety, of whom little more than 100 were regular troops, with seven guns. The town itself was not held, but a circular position outside it with a perimeter of seven miles was taken up on the right bank of the Caledon.

De Wet maintained the siege for sixteen days. The failure of an attempt by night on April 10 to storm a post on the southern section of the perimeter deterred the Boers, as at Ladysmith after the abortive attack on Caesar's Camp two months before, from further offensive action; but the position was vigorously bombarded from time to time, and an almost unceasing hail of Mauser bullets fell upon it. De Wet did his best to add Wepener to the scalps of Sannah's Post and Mostert's Hoek; but when two columns detailed for the relief by Lord Roberts under the command of Brabant and Hart, who had come round from Natal with his brigade, reached Wepener from Aliwal North on April 25, they found that the siege had been raised, and that De Wet had trekked away to the north.


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