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A Handbook of the Boer War

Where Gatacre arrived on November 18


To

meet and if possible to thrust back these intrusions French was sent to the Naauwpoort and Gatacre to the Stormberg district. Buller soon found it necessary to order Naauwpoort to be re-occupied, as that town would have afforded a useful base to the enemy from which the main line of railway could be raided in the neighbourhood of De Aar. French arrived at Naauwpoort on November 20 and was for some weeks engaged in protecting the lines and in checking rebellion.

[Illustration: Stormberg.]

The little force of half a battalion of infantry which evacuated Stormberg withdrew to Queenstown, where Gatacre arrived on November 18. He intended to march on Stormberg as soon as he had collected a sufficient force; his own Division, which he had brought out from England, having been diverted to Natal. He soon advanced to Putterskraal near Sterkstroom and about thirty miles from Stormberg, the occupation of which by the enemy on November 25 prevented co-operation between him and French at Naauwpoort.

Meanwhile rebellion was spreading, and owing to the dilatory proclamation of Martial Law by the Cape Government, always reluctant to take action which might wound the susceptibilities of the Dutch population, it had assumed a formidable aspect. Buller was uneasy, and although at first he had cautioned Gatacre to be careful he now suggested his closing with the enemy.

justify;">On December 7, by which time considerable reinforcements had come in, Gatacre felt himself strong enough to tackle Olivier at Stormberg. His plan was to take his column by train as far as Molteno, whence a night march of about eight miles would bring it into position for attacking the Boer laager. The use of the railway would not only enable him to strike more suddenly and with a greater chance of taking Olivier by surprise but would also economise the strength of his force, a portion of which having left the transports only a few days previously was not yet in hard condition. The force with which he proposed to take Stormberg amounted to 2,600 men, who detrained at Molteno soon after sunset on December 9. Gatacre calculated that after a march of about six hours he would be able to rush the position before dawn.

The Boers, to the number of 1,700 men, were in occupation of the Kissieberg ridge, and of a nek which runs westward from its southern end towards a higher hill overhanging Stormberg Junction called Rooi Kop. Gatacre had originally intended to attack the Boer position frontally, but the reports which he received on arrival at Molteno determined him to turn it. The change of plan was not made known to all the troops, with the result that the ambulance and ammunition wagons left the town by the Stormberg road instead of by the Steynsburg road, along which the rest of the column was marching to the new objective. No trustworthy maps were available, and the enterprise was dependent for its success upon the knowledge and fidelity of a sergeant of police and a few native constables who acted as guides and who professed to know "every inch of the way."


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