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A Handbook of the Boer War

Which Hannay was about to cross


8 a.m. Kitchener was able to report to Head Quarters that Cronje was hemmed in. The cavalry had occupied the ground in rear of the laager, and he "thought that it must be a case of complete surrender." The troops were now set to the assault, and were quickened by an encouraging message from Lord Roberts. But they were almost immediately in trouble. Hannay had placed himself into position for the flank attack from the east, and his battery had already opened fire on the laager, when the guns themselves were shelled. A commando with two guns, under Steyn of Bethlehem, had arrived from Natal, and unobserved had seized a ridge between Stinkfontein and the Modder, which Hannay was about to cross; and although the Boer guns were silenced and the commando compelled to retire, the diversion seriously disarranged the scheme of assault.

Stephenson's Brigade of the VIth Division, when on its way to cross to the right bank at Paardeberg Drift under instructions from Kelly-Kenny, had been recalled by Kitchener, whose orders were so vaguely expressed, that while the Brigadier believed that he was to act in the frontal attack from the south with the other brigade of the Division, he was really intended by the Chief of the Staff to support Hannay's flank movement. He was now compelled to change front to meet Steyn's threat, and Hannay's attack was postponed. Stephenson was then ordered to resume his advance, but apparently still in ignorance that he was expected

to act in co-operation with the mounted infantry, he so disposed his troops that he gave little support to Hannay, who early in the afternoon reported to Kitchener that he was too weak to advance with the flank attack. A peremptory message was returned, in which he was ordered "to rush the laager at all costs," even without Stephenson's support. Some of the words of the order seemed to reflect upon his determination, so he obeyed it literally and immediately. At the head of as many men as he could bring to him on the spot, he charged towards the laager, and when his horse was killed under him he marched on foot to meet his death.

As soon as it was seen that Hannay had thrown himself away, Stephenson was ordered to renew the flank attack. With a portion of his troops and some mounted infantry, he crossed to the right bank at Vanderberg's Drift, and formed to the left. A small body of Hannay's force had won a position near the Boer entrenchments, and it is probable that Stephenson's assault would have succeeded but for a curious accident, which could not have been foreseen, and by which he was deprived of part of his firing line when it was most needed. The setting sun suddenly appeared from beneath a bank of clouds in the west, directly in line with the objective, and the dazzle of the light blotted out the laager, at the same time illuminating the target on which the Boers were firing. A further advance was impracticable, and the troops, which had already fixed bayonets for the assault, were withdrawn when within 500 yards of the enemy's position. Thus the second attempt to get at the laager from the east failed, but Stephenson's action was not entirely without a result, as he was able to put his men into entrenchments, where they remained during the night.

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