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A Handbook of the Boer War

He then retired as usual to the Doornberg


The

first drive of the new pattern lasted three days, the columns reaching the railway on February 8. It was so far effective that none of the enemy broke back through the advancing line, which was vigorously maintained in continuity of pickets by night and of scouts by day; but De Wet was not on the roll of nearly 300 Boer casualties. Although hampered with live stock from which his followers refused to be parted, and in spite of two hovering columns which were acting in support of the southern blockhouse line, he not only broke through it owing to its want of vigilance, but even succeeded in dragging the cattle across it after him. He then retired as usual to the Doornberg. Other parties of Boers broke through the northern blockhouse line; and thus the first of the new drives ended with poor results. As soon as the trouble was over De Wet with his followers again crossed the southern blockhouse line and quietly returned to Elandskop, where he dispersed them.

A second drive to sweep those districts which had not been touched by the first drive was soon put in hand. It was to be performed in two movements by two sets of columns. A force under the Driver-in-Chief Elliott starting eastwards from Kroonstad and the Doornberg would advance in line, resting its right first on Lindley and then on Harrismith, in the vicinity of which it was proposed that it should meet the other set of columns, under Rawlinson, Byng, and Rimington. These, starting on an

extended front which ran from near Johannesburg to within a few miles of Heilbron with their centre astride the Vaal and their right touching the Natal Railway, would advance S.E. to near Vrede; then wheeling to the right march southwards with their left on the Drakensberg; finally, in conjunction with Elliott, pushing the fugitives on to the eastern section of the Harrismith blockhouse line. The operation may be likened to the sweep of two brooms, one acting with a semicircular and the other with a forward movement.

It was begun by Elliott, who started on February 13, and after an abortive attempt to snap up De Wet reached Wilge River on February 22 and awaited the arrival of the other columns; his left being near Tafelkop.

Rawlinson and Byng meanwhile were advancing. On February 19 they wheeled to the right and with their centre near Vrede were now wholly within the Orange River Colony. The two forces were now disposed at right angles to each other, one of the lines containing the angle being the Wilge River, which Elliott was unable to hold in sufficient strength as his front was widely extended. In the vicinity of Harrismith the southern blockhouse line was reinforced by Brook, who succeeded Rundle in the command of the district.

The northern blockhouse line was unable to stem the tide of fugitives flying before Rawlinson and Byng, whose columns were now strung out on a much wider front than that on which they had begun their march. The advance of Elliott had also driven various Boer details into the right angle, in which were now conglomerated not only combatants, but women, children, stock, and transport. Included among the fugitives from Elliott were De Wet and Steyn, who had again come together. With Elliott at their heels, their only chance of escape was to break through the attenuated line of Rawlinson's columns. De Wet's good fortune did not fail him, and with Steyn and a few hundred burghers he severed it at Langverwacht at midnight on February 23 and was again at large. The remnant of the commandos was left behind within the pale with their women, children, cattle, and stuff; and these, augmented by the Harrismith commando, were the prisoners of Elliott and Rawlinson when the drive, in which 30,000 British troops were directly or indirectly engaged, completed its task.


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