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A Handbook of the Boer War

The irregular Pondwana range lying eastward of Vryheid


on his return from leave took over the Natal command from Hildyard. He disposed his columns as best he could, having regard to the contradictory reports which reached him of Botha's movements and intentions. The first encounter occurred on September 17 at Blood River Poort. A mounted column under Gough and Stewart had been sent out from Dundee across the Buffalo to bring away a convoy from Vryheid. Gough soon came into touch with a body of the enemy. It was, he thought, only a local commando, and when he saw it off-saddle he left Stewart in support and went out to surprise it. The nature of the ground prevented a complete surprise, but he partially effected it, only to be surprised himself by the sudden charge of Botha's main body, which was supposed to be a day's march distant. After a brief combat, in which Stewart was unable to intervene, Gough lost the whole of his command of nearly 300 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, as well as three guns. Stewart escaped to the Buffalo.

The crick-crack of Botha's Mausers at Blood River Poort echoed throughout South Africa. Troops from all quarters were hurried to the spot; search parties discovered some columns under W. Kitchener which had lost themselves on the high veld; and so rarified was the military atmosphere, that not only columns but even general officers were scarce. Bruce Hamilton and Clements were brought in.

Botha seems to have regarded his success

as unreal. He hesitated to follow it up, and soon the Buffalo in flood effectually barred the way to Dundee. He now proposed to enter Natal through Zululand, below the junction of the Tugela and the Buffalo. On the point of the angle which, at that time, the Transvaal thrust into Zululand were two British posts, Forts Prospect and Itala. Botha was beginning to be doubtful about the eventual success of his Natal raid, but thought that as he was on the spot he might as well be doing something. He therefore ordered these posts to be taken, entrusting to his brother C. Botha the attack on Itala, and to Emmett and Grobler the attack on Prospect. The failure of each attack with considerable loss on September 26 made Botha reconsider his position. There was no more thought of another campaign on the Tugela, and he determined to retire.

Lyttelton's dispositions continued for some days to be directed against the Natal raid upon which Botha was supposed to be still engaged, and the discovery that he had abandoned it was not made until October 1. His capture did not seem to be a very difficult task, as his only way of escape was the Piet Retief defile by which he had entered the district three weeks before.

There was, however, an intermediate barrier, the irregular Pondwana range lying eastward of Vryheid, where he might be arrested. Lyttelton's plan was that Clements and B. Hamilton should press towards this barrier from the S.W., while W. Kitchener acted as a stop on the north side of it. The range is pierced by several neks, at one of which, lying between the main heights and the Inyati spur, Botha was checked by Kitchener on October 2. He then made a cast eastward to another nek and by abandoning his transport succeeded three nights later in getting round Kitchener's left. He easily kept Kitchener off in a rearguard action and made for Piet Retief. Neither Clements nor B. Hamilton was ever in the running, and Kitchener was hampered by the necessity of watching several neks along a front of twenty miles.

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