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A Handbook of the Boer War

Of a direct advance by way of Hlangwhane and Pieter's Hill


Not

a few incidents in his life are difficult to explain. The donation of ?10,000 to the funds of the Parnellite Party by an ardent English Imperialist who had never expressed any particular enthusiasm for Home Rule may have been a _douceur_ to prevent the Irish members from attacking him in the British Parliament. He had not forgotten that Parnell inaugurated the policy of obstruction carried to the length of all-night sittings upon the occasion of the discussion of a Cape Colonial question in the House of Commons. Possibly Rhodes was a Home Ruler not in spite of his Imperialism but because of it. Home rule was necessary to it. The function of the Imperial Parliament was the general control of the affairs of the Empire, leaving local politics to be dealt with by local legislatures.

The strong and dominant personality of Cecil Rhodes came to the front at a time when the British Empire was beginning to show signs of lassitude and appeared to be growing tired of itself. Patriotism was being slowly transmuted into a limp and sickly cosmopolitan altruism. He checked this decadence, at least for the time being, but passed away before he was able to subdue it.

CHAPTER V

A Tragedy of Errors

The lassitude induced by the battle of Colenso affected each combatant on the Tugela. The Boers put the finishing touches to

their works on the left bank, and at their leisure continued the position across the river eastwards from Hlangwhane. They did not seem to have been withdrawn in force[26] to assist the besiegers of Ladysmith in the great assault on Wagon Hill and Caesar's Camp on January 6, for a demonstration ordered by Buller at White's request during the crisis showed that the Tugela front was as strongly held as ever.

On January 8, Buller, whose Head Quarters were at Frere, was reinforced by the Vth Division under Warren, and he now resumed his original plan, out of which he had been scared by Magersfontein, of advancing on Ladysmith by way of Potgieter's Drift, rejecting an alternative plan proposed by Warren, which differed little from that by which the relief of Ladysmith was effected six weeks later, of a direct advance by way of Hlangwhane and Pieter's Hill. Between Buller's army and Ladysmith lay not only the tortuous and difficult Tugela, but also a barrier of heights and ridges through which there were but four or five possible ways of access, one of which had already been tried without success, to the beleaguered city lying on a plain considerably above the level of the open ground on the right bank of the Tugela.

Buller, having selected the route which seemed at the time to be the line of least resistance, began on January 9 to transfer the bulk of his force from Frere to Springfield, a distance of sixteen miles, but owing to difficulties of transport and the necessity of accumulating a large stock of supplies at the new base, it was six days before the concentration was effected. One brigade was left at Chieveley to watch the Boer front at Colenso.

In Orders issued at Frere on January 9, Buller announced that he "proposed to effect the passage of the Tugela in the neighbourhood of Potgieter's Drift, with a view to the relief of Ladysmith." His scheme was based upon imperfect information and misleading maps, and was in fact not so much a surprise flank attack, as all his movements had to be made in full view of the enemy, as an attack from a position higher up the river that must be frontal, because the enemy would have ample time to make it so: and herein lay its weakness. When, however, he personally surveyed the situation from Mount Alice, which overlooks Potgieter's Drift, the aspect of the curving amphitheatre showed the danger of attempting to force the river at that point. On the N.E. was Vaalkrantz and Doornkop, and the high ridge of Brakfontein, which the enemy had already begun to entrench, and over which passed the road by which he proposed to reach Ladysmith, everywhere commanded by the heights, filled the quadrant towards Spion Kop on the N.W.


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