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 The Battle of Ulundi

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PostSubject: The Battle of Ulundi   The Battle of Ulundi I_icon_minitimeFri Mar 05, 2010 9:31 pm

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Before daybreak next morning, the Irregular cavalry, Colonel Buller stole quietly out of camp and crossed the river, cautiously advancing in the semi-darkness. Fortunately the enemy had withdrawn entirely from the neighbourhood of the river. This was of the utmost importance. In not disputing the passage of the drift, the Zulus abandoned their last opportunity of taking the British troops at a disadvantage. Here, as elsewhere throughout the war, they exhibited a marked absence of the slightest conception of tactics. Of which contrasted strangely with their thorough appreciation of military organization. The position they might have occupied consisted of broken ground rising smartly from the drift, and thickly overgrown with euphorbia, cactus,laondhlirans is no imttmce to the contrary. Here the To'ind peculiarly favoured their regular mode of attack, and tied the whole British force been there instead of half, they would have attacked at the any time and in the same manner, in short as soon as they were ready. That they purposed drawing off half the force is, I believe, a fiction.

kirgebef, tondolosa, and scrub. A narrow crooked waggon track was the only line our men could have advanced by with any regularity, and such was the immense numerical superiority of the enemy, coupled with the advantage they, manoeuvring in the bush, would as savages have possessed over heavily accoutred European troops, that it would have been easy for them seriously to have impeded our progress. However, as they had just allowed the Column to pass free through fifteen miles of even worse bush country, throughout twelve of which not a drop of water was to be found, it was not extraordinary to find the' last half mile undefended.

A faint aureole tinge of yellow over the hilltops heralded the approach of day. Bugles were sounded. The time for action drew Near.’ Fall in there, fall in. Silence in the ranks," was heard on all sides, and one after another, in the grey misty dawn, the regiments marched down to the river. The drift was crossed without, firing a shot. With the exception of ammunition and water carts no vehicles accompanied the expedition. At the council of war held after Colonel Buller's admirable reconnaissance, it had been decided to give battle to the enemy in the open. On the first clear ground reached by the column orders were given to form a square, and Lord Chelmsford's commands rang out with a dash and energy, reflected in their execution.

The disposition of the troops was as follows:Brigadier- General Wood's flying column led the van; the second division, under Major-General Newdigate, brought up the rear. On the front face of the square were two Gatling guns under Major Owen, flanked by five companies of the eightieth regiment under Major Tucker. On the right flank were two seven-pounders of Major Tremlett's battery under Lieutenant Davidson, seven companies of the 13th Regiment under Major England, divided by two more of Major Tremlett's guns under Captain Browne and Lieutenant Slade, and four companies of the 68th Regiment under Major Whitehead, two companies being on each flank of a nine-pounders of Major Le Grice's battery, under Lieutenant Crookehden.

The rear face was composed of one of Major Le Grice's guns, two companies Of the 21st regiment under Major Hazlerigg, and three companies of the 94th regiment under Colonel Malthus. On the left were placed the remaining three companies of the 94th regiment, two seven-pounders of Major Harness's battery under Lieutenant Parsons, eight companies of the 90th Regiment under Major Rogers, and two guns of Major Le Grice'Sy that had been temporarily attached to Major Harness’s battery, under Lieutenant Elliot.

The interior of the square was occupied by two companies of engineers under Major Chard and Captain Anstey, a company of Natal native Pioneers, the doctors,hospital stretchers, ambulance hammocks, etc. , with their bearers, the native contingents of both columns under Major Bengough and Captain Loraina White, and the ammunition and water-carts. Colonel Buller's Irregulars were in advance and on the flanks, whilst two squadrons of the 17th Lancers and Captain Shepstone's Basutos formed the rearguard.

"Fix bayonets." A momentary rattle ran round the square; bright rows of glittering steel flashed in the early sunlight, and the motionless ranks were ready, nay eager, for action. There was a little pause of Silence, then '* March! " Echoed down the lines; " March, March, mar-r-ch! " mingled with ** Walk March! " of the artillery; and with measured tramp of infantry, trundling of guns, clanking of harness and accoutrements, the square moved forward. Even before the rearguard had completed the passage of the White Umvaloosi drift, a small detachment of Zulus was observed cautiously reconnoitring from a distant hill on the left rear of the Kne of march. Stationary, but significant, like the black cloud on the horizon which precedes a storm, they crouched upon the sky-Une and attracted little notice. For a while no other scouts were visible, but by the time the troops had halted and fired the first kraal Ulambogwemya their numbers were considerably augmented. The hillsides near them became thickly dotted with dusky warriors, who, scattered about in twos and threes, hovered restlessly on our flanks. Still their movements were characterized by extreme caution. They formed only the advanced guard of the right horn; no signs had yet appeared of the other.

Steadily advancing, the square passed on the left of Unodwengo, formerly the residence of the great Panda. This kraal was also fired, but, foreseeing that the smoke of a conflagration involving such a vast number of huts would serve to conceal the movements of the enemy. Lord Chelmsford ordered the flames to be extinguished. Meanwhile, still in the same direction — along the skyline to the left the Zulus had begun to show in great force. Already they were descending towards the plain in columns and companies, preceded by skirmishers. Dense columns could also be seen issuing from Ulundi, away on the right front, whilst their skirmishers, rapidly multiplying in number, became at the same time visible on the front face of the square. As yet, owing to the nature of the ground and the . cover it afforded, no signs of a demonstration could he detected on our direct right or right rear, in which direction the left horn of the Zulu army must, according to their recognized plan of battle, eventually show itself. Evidently, however, the attack was rapidly developing. It now only remained for the troops to reach and await it upon an advantageous position that Colonel Buller had to alien note of on the previous day, and subsequently mentioned to Lord Chelmsford. Wheeling to the right the
march was continued for a few minutes. The square then halted, and, facing outwards, the troops prepared for action.

Uriodwengo was now on the right flank, almost in a line between it and the laager ;Ulundi lay before the front face. The ground surrounding the position was, with the exception of a few small clumps of bush, perfectly open. On three sides it dipped slightly. Formerly it had been "the site of a mission station, fragmentary remains of which were still standing. These were speedily levelled. The few minutes that elapsed before the engagement commenced were otherwise employed in hurrying the dead body of a trooper in Colonel Buller's Irregulars, who had been slain there yesterday, a hasty service being read by the rev Mr. Smith, of Rorke's Drift fame.

In the mean time a few straggling shots and puffs of white snioke on what was now the left face told that the struggle was commencing. The irregular cavalry had opened fire on some of the enemy hidden from the square by long grass and an elevation in the ground. With startling rapidity a brisk fusilade was developed, and scarcely were
the mounted men on this side engaged when Shepstone's Basutos on the right face of the squaire, near Unod.wengo, commenced a hot skirmish with the advanced guard of the left horn of the Zulu army, which at length had revealed itself. In both directions the cavalry were soon forced to retire, closely followed by the enemy, who swarmed over the ridges or undulations in' the plain in great numbers.

The mounted men were now engaged on all sides, maintaining a desultory fire as they fell back on the square, the lines of which were opened to receive them. They galloped in, the infantry closed up, and the artillery opened fire. Not withstanding the excellent practice made by the gunners, and the smartness they displayed in working their guns, the Zulus advanced without any perceptible diminution in speed. Their right and left horns had effected a junction, and their plan of attack had thus been carried out with marvellous rapidity. But a few minutes before, the handful of scouts on our left was the sole visible evidence of the proximity of an enemy. Now the transformation was complete, and the square was thoroughly hemmed in. Thousands and thousands of naked warriors were sweeping towards it, over ground that a moment past was bare save for a few bushes. Above the din of firing, and in its fitfal lulls, was heard the hoarse roar of their shouted menaces and defiant threats :

" We come to trample you down ! We come to trample you down ! " It was the same cry raised with such terrible truth as they rushed on the scattered companies at Isandhlwana, when, lacking ammunition, the British soldiers, dauntless still, fought back to back, bayonet to assegai, with the dogged courage of despair, against crushing and hopeless odds — ^fought on, simply waiting for death to relieve them at their posts. *' We come to trample you down! " To-day it was an empty boast.

Less time had been occupied by the above events than I have taken to describe them. Shrapnel and rockets from the right and left flanks, speedily followed by volleys from the front ranks of infantry on the same faces, had no success in checking the enemy's approach. With determined obstinacy they still advanced, and volley-firing became rapid and general. It was soon apparent that the principal effort was to be made from the rear, in such a manner as to preclude effectually any possibility of retreat to the laager should disaster overtake us.
Over the rising ground Shepstone's Basutos had been forced to abandon, the Zulus poured in a continuous stream. On they came, traversing the right flank partially under cover of Unodwengo, and sweeping out on to the open ground beyond, where their numbers were swelled by the main strength of the right horn.

The plain was black with them. Without pause or hesitation, if anything indeed with accelerated speed, they pursued their course, closing up together as they crossed the intervening depression in the ground. Then with a magnificent rush they came in a vast crowd straight for the right rear corner of the square. Neither shrapnel, rockets, nor heavy musket firing checked them for a second, and Lord Chelmsford, who with General Newdigate was anxiously watching this phase in the engagement, ordered re- serves to be moved up. It was a superb exhibition of pluck a grand rush. The dash and Slan displayed by these ill-disciplined natives were truly marvellous. With undiminished pace they had advanced across open ground, in the face of a tremendous fire, to with in seventy yards of the square, and a hand-to-hand conflict appeared imminent and inevitable.

Steady, men, steady!" shouted Major Hazlerigg to his companies of the 21st. No caution was necessary. Towards the point they covered the Zulu attack was more particularly directed, but both they and the adjoining companies of the 68th and 94th exhibited wonderful steadiness, and answered immediately General Newdigate's command to cease independent firing and pour a few volleys into the long grass. It was a moment of excitement. Through the smoke clouds we could distinguish the black ranks plentifully scattered with the white shields of the celebrated Umclwiche regiment. They were wavering, pausing as it were for a spring. Only seventy yards off a dense mass, that by sheer weight could have shattered the slender line opposed to them had they continued to advance, and it seemed impossible they could turn when so near. Would they come on ? They come no, the volleys were too much for them ; they have turned, flying precipitately, and a gust of sudden cheering, that must have reached Ketch- wayo in Ulundi, started from the corner^ and in a second swept round the square.

When you cheered we knew that we had lost," said a prisoner afterwards. " Where are the Lancers? Now for the cavalry," was the cry. But on such masses of the enemy as were yet unscattered, and, now that the first impulse of retreat was over were lingering to return our fire, it was deemed yet early to precipitate our handful of regular cavalry. The Irregulars, being^ only armed with carbines, would have been comparatively helpless in a stubbornly resisted charge.

Interest in the fight now veered to the opposite side, or front face of the square, defended by the 80th under Major Tucker, and Major Owen's Gatlings, which, according to the Zulus, we " loaded all night and fired off all day." It was naturally the weakest point in the position. A short dis- tance beyond the lines the ground suddenly- dipped, and this, together with its more numerous clumps of bush and the drifting clouds of smoke, enabled the enemy to draw near without being observed. Never- the less, the men, who were thoroughly well in hand, and formed one of the oldest and steadiest regiments with either column, reserved their fire with the utmost coolness. A few minutes previously a Gatling gun had been removed from this to the left front of the square, before which the Zulus gathered in very heavy colunms. But eventually it proved that neither on this face nor elsewhere (although the attacks were perhaps more prolonged and obstinate) was any onslaught made to parallel the brilliant dash and determination of the rush for the right rear corner of the square.

In the angle made by the 80th and 90th regiments Was Brigadier-General "Wood with his staff. The general was radiant with smiles, and evidently in his element. At his heels was Lieutenant Lysons, the "boy," who also looked as happy as if he had just threw an assegai, which fortunately struck the huckle of his cross-belt, or in all probability there would have been a vacancy
in his regiment.

Following the Lancers, the handful of Dragoon Guards under Captain Brewster, and the Irregulars led by Colonel Buller, Lord W. Beresford, Sir Thomas Hesketh, Baaf, Prior, Blaine, Darcy, Baker and Cochrane, poured out of the square in a sort of rush for the first fence style that soon brought them into close quarters with the enemy. The field on this side was now covered with scattered horsemen, dotted with white puffs of smoke, and flashing with the glance of early sunlight on drawn swords and gUttering lance-heads.

In all directions the cavalry were wheeling, turning, and charging the enemy wherever they hung together in sufficient numbers to attract attention. Meanwhile on the front, right, and left faces of the square, where, not withstanding the result of the main onslaught, the attack was for some time stubbornly persisted in, the firing began to dec-Kne rapidly. Convinced of their defeat, the enemy drew ofif, hotly pursued by the cavalry, nor did they pause until they reached cover in the bush or gained the crests of the surrounding hills. From these points they were dislodged by shrapnel fired with time fuses, which burst time after time among the dusky crowds on the sky-line, and completed their discomfiture. The ridges were deserted; once again, save for scattered bodies of cavahy, the plains were bare, and but a few knots of sullenly retreating warriors in the distance could be distinguished of all the black thousands that a few minutes past had darkened the country side, and surged with savage eagerness over the soil of their birthplace and national stronghold, animated by one impulse, obedient to but one desire, that of defending king and country against the menace of an intruder.
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