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A Handbook of the Boer War

That Warren heard from Dundonald


On

January 13, Buller reported to the War Office that, having found the Potgieter's Drift scheme impracticable, he proposed as "the only possible chance for Ladysmith" to send Warren across at Trickhardt's Drift, five miles higher up the river. The new scheme was based upon a theory which had been evolved out of the experiences of autumn manoeuvre battles collated on the office desks of Pall Mall, that the easiest method of defeating the enemy with a small casualty list was to contain his front and attack one or both of his flanks; and General Officers had come to regard this as the regulation opening to which they were bound to conform.

[Illustration: Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz positions. _Stanford's Geog'l: Estab't._]

Buller divided his force into two unequal portions. Warren with the stronger portion was to attack the Boer right which Buller believed to be weak, while Lyttelton with the remainder demonstrated at Potgieter's Drift. To himself Buller reserved the part of the Chorus in a Greek play, taking a general interest in the action, yet not personally concerned in it; and in that capacity he issued a stirring appeal to the relieving force.

On January 15 "secret instructions" were given to Warren. He was recommended, after crossing the Tugela at Trickhardt's Drift, to proceed west of Spion Kop, and to pivot his right and swing round on to the open plain in rear of the Boer

position facing Potgieter's Drift.

Warren, who was not of opinion that the Boer right was weak, marched out of Springfield on the evening of January 16. Lyttelton had already started, and during the night occupied a position on the north side of the river near Potgieter's Drift.

The task before Warren was hard. In order to carry out Buller's plan he must cross an unbridged river and struggle through a country of which little was known. Next day two bridges were thrown over the Tugela above Trickhardt's Drift, which recent rains had made dangerous, and Hart's and Woodgate's Brigades were transferred to the left bank to cover the crossing: but it was not until sunset on January 18 that the entire force with its tedious transport was established on the north side of the river.

The mounted troops under Dundonald were sent out at mid-day to reconnoitre towards the N.W. and in the course of the afternoon his advanced squadrons came upon a Boer commando which was easily dealt with, but before the issue was decided, he had reported that he was engaged near Acton Holmes, and asked for help. Warren assumed that the mounted troops, which he had sent out to reconnoitre, had wilfully and prematurely forced on an action, and were now in trouble; and it was not until the next morning, after an infantry brigade had been moved out to support them, that Warren heard from Dundonald, whose previous messages had not clearly described the situation, that he was able to take care of himself. Dundonald had at first expected that the main body would follow him, and his reports seem to show that he had hoped to induce Warren to move towards Acton Holmes. He was rebuked for assuming, not unnaturally, that the objective of the operations was Ladysmith, and instructed that the objective was a junction with the other portion of Buller's force. He was summoned to Warren's headquarters and ordered to abstain from further attempts to ride round the enemy's right. Thus, as before at Hlangwhane, a promising cavalry movement by Dundonald was thrown away.

The deliberate march of the British Army from Frere and the delay at the Drifts gave the Boers ample time to prepare for the attack. On January 19, on which day Warren moved to Venter's Spruit three miles from Trickhardt's Drift, they were in occupation of the whole line from Vaalkrantz to the Rangeworthy Heights. Fourie was in command of the left, Schalk Burger of the centre, which included the important features of Green Hill, Spion Kop, and the Twin Peaks; and L. Botha of the right, in which was Bastion Hill.


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