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A Handbook of the Boer War

Which Lord Roberts received soon after he reached Jacobsdaal


On

the assumption that Cronje was endeavouring to effect a retreat on Bloemfontein, it was necessary to confine him to the right bank of the Modder. He was already in possession of Klip Kraal Drift, and although he could hardly hope to pass his wagons across it in sight of an active enemy, it was not his only chance. Within ten miles of his laager were Brandvallei, Paardeberg, and Vendutie Drifts, each of which would give him access to the southern bank.

The task before the pursuing army was therefore to drive in his rearguards from their successive positions and prevent him getting comfortably away to secure a passage across the river. At nightfall on February 16 it seemed likely that he would succeed. His convoy in the main laager at Klip Kraal had had twelve hours' rest, and his rearguard had maintained itself on the second position; in spite of a frontal attack on the right bank, and of a flank attack on the left bank made by a battery and a force of mounted infantry which had crossed the semicircle formed by a northward bend of the river between Klip Drift and Klip Kraal Drift. The guns even succeeded in throwing a few shells into the laager, but ran short of ammunition. Kitchener, who remained with Kelly-Kenny as military assessor, had early in the day advocated a raid up the river in order to head off Cronje at Paardeberg Drift, but the exhaustion of the troops prevented the enterprise.

Next day the chase

began in earnest--to borrow for the occasion, as was done so frequently during the war, a metaphor from the sporting world--but only a few of the hounds were on the spot, and the rest of the pack were at Kimberley and Jacobsdaal.

When the report of Cronje's retreat from Magersfontein, which Lord Roberts received soon after he reached Jacobsdaal, was confirmed by a message from Kitchener, he ordered French, who at that time was engaged with the enemy some miles north of Kimberley and endeavouring to capture the Long Tom whose recent arrival from Ladysmith _vi?_ Pretoria had scared the Kimberley civilians into a threat of surrender, to hurry eastward and endeavour to place himself between Cronje and Bloemfontein; but owing to a break in the field telegraph cable the message was delayed. Kelly-Kenny was at the same time instructed to carry on the pursuit.

But the situation had not yet clearly disclosed itself, and Lord Roberts did not abandon his intention of sending Colvile's and Tucker's Divisions towards Kimberley; and their orders to march on the lower drifts of the Modder held good. Cronje's retreat in an unexpected direction was hard to explain. Was he going to meet the reinforcements which Buller had just reported were on their way from Natal? De Wet had just shown that there was a vigorous and enterprising body of the enemy ready to raid the railway south of Kimberley, and it was possible that he might have been reinforced from Colesberg.

Towards evening, however, a second message came from Kitchener at Klip Drift. He summarised the situation on the Modder, which he was unable to control with the troops at his disposal, and said that he was asking French to proceed to Koodoos Drift to check Cronje from the east. Lord Roberts was not the man to adhere stolidly to his own plan when a better one was laid before him. The orders to the Divisions were cancelled, and before midnight on February 16 Colvile was marching out to join Kelly-Kenny in the chase. Tucker, whose Division had hardly recovered from the Waterval Drift affair, remained at Jacobsdaal.


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