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A Handbook of the Boer War

Vaalkrantz standing between Doorn Kop and the Twin Peaks


At

daylight on February 6, the situation was favourable to the Boers. Botha had arrived and had taken over the command from Prinsloo. The heavy gun sent from Ladysmith had been mounted on Doom Kop, which was now held by reinforcements under L. Meyer; other good positions east of Vaalkrantz had been strengthened; and some of the guns on the Brakfontein position had been moved round. Vaalkrantz standing between Doorn Kop and the Twin Peaks, was shelled simultaneously from the left front, and the right rear, as well as from Green Hill;[28] it seemed as if Spion Kop were about to be repeated.

Buller opened on Green Hill with artillery, and on the hill north of the main hill of Vaalkrantz, in the hope of making the North Hill assailable. In view of a retirement, a pontoon bridge was, at Lyttelton's request, thrown across the river under the main ridge. He discouraged a proposal made by Buller to attack the North Hill by a force creeping along the foot of the westward slope of Vaalkrantz, covered by fire from the ridge.

Buller was now stalemated. The artillery fire had not cleared the way to the North Hill, and Lyttelton was unable to move on it, but he said that he could hold on for the rest of the day if no more artillery were brought to bear on him from the S.E.

Finally Buller determined to shift the responsibility. He reported the capture of Vaalkrantz to Lord Roberts, and in effect

asked what he should do with the white elephant. To carry out his plan would "cost from 2,000 to 3,000 men," and he was "not confident of success." Was Ladysmith worth it? Yes, replied Lord Roberts without hesitation, Ladysmith was worth it and it must be done.

In the evening Lyttelton, having thwarted an attempt by the enemy to recover Vaalkrantz, was relieved by Hildyard. On the following afternoon, Buller, in spite of Lord Roberts' message, made up his mind to withdraw. Further reconnaissances had shown that the North Hill, even if taken, could hardly be held. A council of war was summoned, at which, as might have been anticipated, Hart alone was for persevering, and at which Warren again put forward the scheme rejected by Buller at Frere, but now gladly adopted by him, of advancing on Ladysmith by way of Hlangwhane.

Orders were issued for the withdrawal of the force from Vaalkrantz during the night. It was skilfully carried out, and Buller was once more ferrying his men across the Tugela, having for the third time failed to reach Ladysmith.

On February 8 the Army was retracing its steps on the road by which four weeks before it had marched from Springfield to Potgieter's Drift; and on the 11th it was concentrated at Chieveley, from which eight weeks before it had been thrown at the Colenso heights. All the Tugela operations had been conducted in a rarified medium. Want of determination, want of system, the absence of maps, the lack of a sufficient staff, were responsible for two months of misadventure. Buller, like the Boers, was easily discouraged by failure, but unlike them was unable to quicken himself readily for a renewed effort. He lost confidence in himself, and then in his subordinates. Like a nervous child, he opened the door of a dark chamber, but was afraid to enter. The terror of the unknown drove him back in a panic. When his plans, which were usually well thought out, miscarried, he became peevish, and scarcely made an attempt to reconstruct them. Only an Army of which the backbone was the stolid, unimaginative Englishman of the lower classes, and which believed that its leader was doing his best, could have remained undemoralized by the campaign on the Tugela.


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