Battle of the Platrand, 6 January 1900

Battle of the Platrand, 6 January 1900

Battle of the Platrand, 6 January 1900

The battle of the Platrand was the only serious Boer attack on the British lines during the siege of Ladysmith.

The Platrand is a two and a half mile long ridge that dominated the south side of Ladysmith. It had been occupied by the British from the start of the siege in November 1899 and was seen by many the key to the defences of Ladysmith. Its lose would certainly have made Lieutenant-General Sir George White’s task much harder.

The British recognised the importance of the Platrand and had fortified the hills at each end. At Caesar’s Camp, on the eastern end of the ridge, they had built walls seven feet high. There they had 400 men from the Manchester Regiment, HMS Powerful and the Natal Naval Volunteers, and one 12 pounder gun. Wagon Hill, at the west end of the ridge, was not so strongly fortified, but work was in hand on two gun emplacements. The garrison of Wagon Hill was 600 strong (three companies of the 1st King’s Royal Rifle Corp and the Imperial Light Horse, as well as a detachment from the Royal Engineers). The Natal Naval Volunteers moved a 3 pounder gun onto Wagon Hill the day before the Boer attack, and two naval guns were being moved onto the hill when the attack began. The British commander on the Platrand, Colonel Ian Hamilton, had around 1,000 men to defend the two and a half mile long position.

The Boers intended to attack him with twice that number. 1,000 Transvaal men under Schalk Burger were to attack Caesar’s Camp. De Villiers with 400 Free Staters were to attack Wagon Point. Finally 600 men from Vryheid and Winburg and a unit of Germans were to attack the middle of the ridge, between the two hills. However, not everyone in the Boer camp was convinced that the attack was worthwhile. Many men who were meant to have taken part in the third attack decided not to take part.

The attack went in at 2.30am on 6 January. Under cover of darkness the fighting was chaotic. Hamilton was woken by the noise. Finding a strong Boer attack underway, he used a newly installed telephone to call for reinforcements. Amongst other troops, White sent field artillery that played a crucial part in the daylight fighting.

At daybreak the Boer attack had failed to reach the summit of the ridge, but the Boers held a line along the entire southern side of the hill, and threatened to outflank the British position. Boer guns on neighbouring hills now joined in, and the British position looked vulnerable. However, the field guns sent by White now arrived, and helped stabilize the position.

The fighting went on from early morning till noon without a break. After a short break the Boer attack was resumed. By now British reinforcements had arrived on the hill. The Boers failed to make supporting attacks elsewhere around Ladysmith, allowing White to move troops to the Platrand. The Devonshire Regiment made a particularly significant contribution, clearing a pocket of Boers from the southern side of the ridge with a bayonet charge, in the process loosing a third of their strength. Finally, as darkness fell at the end of the day the remaining Boers retreated down the hill.

British losses were high. 168 men were killed, out of a total of 417 casualties. Five Victoria Crosses were won (two posthumous). Boer losses were probably just has high. Officially they were reported at 64 dead and 119 wounded, but the Rifle Brigade counted 99 Boer dead on their part of the hill. Amongst the Boer dead was De Villiers, shot dead in a close encounter with Hamilton. The failure of the attack on the Platrand demoralised the Boers. It was their last attempt to capture Ladysmith.

Military History Journal Vol 2 No 1 - June 1971

This article is a transcription of a talk by Professor Barnard of the University of South Africa to the S.A. Military History Society. For a detailed account, fully documented, on General Botha's role in this battle the reader is referred to Professor Barnard's book Generaal Louis Botha op die Natalse Front, 1899-1900 (Cape Town 1970).

Those of you who attended my talk on General Louis Botha's role at the battle of Colenso will recall the main features of his conduct of that fight. At the beginning of December 1899, about two months after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, General Botha, who was then, at 37, the youngest general in the Boer forces, was put in command of the Tugela front at Colenso. Here he was to face the British army under General Sir Redvers Buller, which was to attempt to relieve the encircled British troops at Ladysmith (see Map 1). Botha had at his disposal 4 500 burghers, four guns and a pom-pom. General Buller commanded a reinforced division of 20 000 officers and men, with 44 guns. Yet so skilfully did Botha lay his ambush that on 15th December 1899 Buller stumbled blindly in to it - or, more correctly, marched into it with open eyes in broad daylight.

General Botha on Dopper, Glencoe, March 1900

The results for Buller and his army were, of course, disastrous. He withdrew from the battlefield having suffered more than 1 300 casualties (according to his own returns) and abandoning intact 10 field guns and 12 fully loaded ammunition wagons. Two days after the battle Buller was superseded as British Commander-in-Chief, South Africa, by Field Marshal Lord Roberts. He remained, however, commander of the British forces in Natal, and therefore Botha's adversary in the subsequent battles of the Tugela line.

Despite his remarkable victory at Colenso, Botha's force was not nearly strong enough to destroy Buller's army. Nor, with most of the Boer commandos in Natal tied up in the futile siege of Ladysmith, could he wrest the initiative from the enemy. Safely out of harm's way at Chieveley and Frere, Buller could recover his composure and rebuild his army, and there was nothing Botha could do in the circumstances but to prepare for the resumption of the British offensive.

At the beginning of January 1900, President Kruger in fact made an attempt to break the stalemate. He ordered an all-out attack on the commanding feature of Platrand (i.e. Caesar's Camp and Wagon Hill), a vital sector in the British defences round Ladysmith (see Map 1). In this way the President hoped that the fortress might be reduced and the investing commandos released for offensive operations in Southern Natal and on the western front south of Kimberley. But the ailing Commandant-General Piet Joubert and his indifferent deputy, General Schalk Burger made an awful hash of the attack. They shamefully sacrified the heroic vanguard of the assault column - a handful of Free Staters and Transvalers who in the early morning hours of 6th January 1900 reached the crest line of Platrand and came within a toucher of occupying the ridge and tearing a gap in the defence perimeter.

By this time Buller's army had been reinforced by the arrival of the 5th Division under Lieut-General Sir Charles Warren to more than 30 000 officers and men, with 66 guns. General Warren, a self-assured and eccentric veteran of 59, did not exactly endear himself to his commander by his outspoken criticism of Buller's inaction since the battle of Colenso. When he suggested that the next attack should be directed towards Hlangwane Hill, which was indeed the weak link in the Colenso defences, Buller cut him short. "What do you know about it?" he asked. Buller had already decided to by-pass the Colenso position by moving the bulk of his army some 20 miles up-stream and breaking through to Ladysmith in a wide outflanking movement.

The move began on 10th January 1900 after two days of incessant rain. The downpour had turned the countryside into a quagmire and every spruit into a torrent. Leaving one brigade and four naval guns at Chieveley to mask the Colenso position, Buller ploughed and slithered westwards across the sodden plain with the rest of his army - 24 000 men with 58 guns, accompanied by huge ammunition and supply columns. It took him six days to concentrate at his forward base - Springfield, 16 miles to the west - and build up supplies for 16 days (see Map 1). The slow, clumsy (procession precluded the possibility of surprise and confirmed the following opinion on Buller by one of his staff officers: "He took care that supplies were abundant, but often, and to his cost and ours, placed supply before strategy at critical moments."

Buller's plan for the break-through, very briefly, was as follows: Major-General Lyttelton was to cross the Tugela River at Potgieter's Drift with two infantry brigades, a howitzer battery and a field battery (altogether approximately 9 000 men and 12 guns) to carry out a holding operation against the Boers in the arc of hills facing the northward loops in the river. General Warren was to cross at Trichardt's Drift, five miles up-stream, with three infantry brigades, a mounted brigade and six batteries of field artillery (altogether 15 000 men and 36 guns). He was to work his way round the great barrier of hills to the west of Spioenkop - the Tabanyama range - in order to turn the Boer flank which Buller believed rested on Bastion Hill. Then, having reached the Acton Homes area, he was to advance along the road over the undulating plain towards Ladysmith in rear of the hills. Lyttelton began to cross the river in the early hours of 17th January and Warren later in the day (see Map 2).

Warren's troops crossing pontoon bridge at Trichardt's Drift, 17th January, 1900.

After the battle of Colenso General Botha, as I have said, prepared for the next British attack. He believed that this attack would again be launched in the Colenso sector - because of its proximity to the railway and its vulnerability to a turning movement on his left, towards Hlangwane Hill and the ridges further to the east. Towards the end of December 1899 he became indisposed - exhausted, as he put it, by the tension and anxiety of the previous weeks and by pressure of work, day and night (and, he might have added, under constant shell-fire). When his former chief, General Lucas Meyer, returned to Colenso at the beginning of January 1900 after two months' medical treatment in Pretoria, Botha hoped that he would now be able to take a short period of leave. This was the state of affairs when General Buller began his march towards the Upper Tugela.

The Boers in the area at that time numbered only 1 000 - 500 Free Staters with one gun under General Andries Cronje at Brakfontein, facing Potgieter's Drift, and 500 Johannesburgers at Porrit's Drift (see Map 1). Reporting the British move to General Joubert, Botha stressed the urgency of sending reinforcements to the Upper Tugela from Ladysmith. Reinforcements from his own front at Colenso left during the night. The next few days, from 11th January onwards, were a period of feverish activity for Botha. Early in the mornings, long before daybreak, he left his headquarters at Colenso for the threatened sector, a ride of three and a half hours on horseback. There he supervised the construction of defences in the Brakfontein area, since it was expected that the British would attack by way of Potgieter's Drift. In the evenings after sunset he returned again to Colenso to organize the dispatch of additional reinforcements, ammunition and supplies, and to dictate his reports to President Kruger and General Joubert.

He did not move his headquarters to the Upper Tugela because he still hoped to be able to get away on leave before the impending attack. When, however, he mentioned his indisposition in one of his reports, hinting that either General Schalk Burger or General Daniel Erasmus be put in command on the Upper Tugela, and later expressing a wish to take a few days of leave, President Kruger intervened. He indicated in no uncertain manner that he wanted Botha to take command on the new front at all costs. Here, the President said, every man would have to fight to the limit. In a telegram to Botha he requested him - "respectfully" - not to insist on leave until the battle had been fought. ,,Ik beschouw dat uwe tegenwoordigheid onder deze moeilijke omstandigheden ten uwent onmisbaar is", he said, "God zal u helpen en ondersteunen in uwe moeilijke taak." ("I regard your presence in the difficult circumstances on your front as indispensable. God will help and sustain you in your onerous task").

That, as far as Botha was concerned, was that. He left for the Upper Tugela on the morning of 16th January. The Boer forces in the area had by that time been reinforced to approximately 4 000 men with four 75 mm field guns and two pom-poms (to oppose, as you will remember, an army of 24 000 men with 58 guns). Moreover the commandos were deployed (from the Twin Peaks to Doringkop) in anticipation of an attack through Potgieter's Drift and possibly Munger's Drift and Skiet Drift (see Maps 1 and 2). The news that Botha had arrived to take command was received with great satisfaction by officers and men alike. As one burgher put it, "it was a relief - one felt as if a weight of doubt and care and anxiety had been taken from the mind."

Botha spent the night in General Tobias Smuts's camp behind Vaalkrans, still feeling ill. The next morning dawned wet and foggy after overnight rain, but from the lower slopes of the hills General Lyttelton's troops, who had crossed the river during the night, could be seen in the koppies north of Potgieter's Drift. At 5 a.m. Lyttelton's howitzers, supported by 10 long-range naval guns in the commanding hills south of the river, opened fire - a bombardment which was to continue for the next seven days. At 8 o'clock Botha rode over to General Schalk Burger's headquarters, concerned about his right flank which was hanging dangerously in the air. It was here that he learnt about the crossings at Trichardt's Drift, where General Warren was at that moment moving the greater part of Buller's army to the north bank of the Tugela. Apart from a picket of 500 Free Staters and Pretoria burghers in the so- called Wapadnek (Wagon Road Pass) west of Spioenkop, the Tabanyama range was completely defenceless. Five hundred men against an army of 15 000 supported by 36 guns.

Although deeply concerned about the ominous turn of events, Botha now staked everything on his hope that the British generals would lack the boldness for an immediate advance. During the afternoon he returned all the way to Colenso to prize out further reinforcements from the already tenuous lines on that front. That night he was so exhausted that he had to make his arrangements and dictate his dispatches lying down. But on his return to the Upper Tugela the next day (18th January) his hope had been fulfilled.

General Warren believed there were thousands of Boers in the hills ahead of him. He had no intention of advancing before having crossed the river with his entire force and all his guns and wagons - a procession of 15 miles with 15 000 oxen. The crossing was completed only after three days, and by that time he had concluded that the outflanking march by way of Acton Homes, which Buller had ordered, was unfeasible. The route, he considered, was too long for his huge baggage train, without which it was unthinkable for him to move. He chose instead the direct route through the Wapadnek and ordered a frontal attack on the Tabanyama range the next morning - 20th January - to clear the way. Lord Dundonald who had ranged ahead to the Acton Homes area with his mounted brigade and had ambushed there a Boer patrol, was recalled - to Dundonald's intense annoyance.

These plodding manoeuvres suited Botha admirably. They enabled him to extend his front for seven miles along the Tabanyama range and beyond the road near Acton Homes. On this front Botha had at his disposal only 1 800 men, three 75 mm field guns and a pom-pom. But the positions he selected in consultation with his officers showed once again what a skilful tactician he was. From the British vantage points in the Tugela valley only the forward crests of Tabanyama (from Piquet Hill to Bastion Hill) were visible. The real crest of the range, however, lay 600 to 2 000 yards further back. It was along this crest, out of sight of the enemy and with a good field of fire over the gentle slopes to the forward crests, that Botha ordered his burghers to dig in (see Map 3). The future General Jan Kemp, who was one of Botha's field-cornets on Tabanyama, later commented: ,,Al moet ek dit self sê, ons offisiere het darem goed geweet wat hulle doen toe hulle die stellings gekies het." ("Though I have to say it myself, our officers certainly knew what they were doing when they selected those positions.")

The attack on Tabanyama began at 3 a.m. on Saturday, 20th January 1900. Major-General Woodgate's 11th (or Lancashire) Brigade led the climb up the steep slopes to the forward crests, followed by Major-General Hart's 5th (or Irish) Brigade. Since these slopes were dead ground to the Boers, the troops reached the crests in three hours virtually without opposition. The real crest of the range was now revealed to General Warren, and he realized that the Boers were entrenched along it. After his field batteries had been brought forward to Three Tree Hill, Warren opened up against the hills ahead of him with his 36 fifteen-pounders. When the barrage had been kept up for four hours, General Hart began to advance beyond the southern crests with four and a half battalions - Lancashire Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Border Regiment, and York and Lancaster Regiment.

As the battalions advanced within rifle range Botha's burghers responded with their usual deadly Mauser fire. An officer of the Lancashire Fusiliers described the further course of the attack as follows: "Before long, owing to the roughness of the surface, to fatigue and faint heart, the line became disordered, and an uncontrollable tendency asserted itself to collect in pockets on the ground for shelter, for breathing space, and for the summoning of resolution for further advance. On the first few occasions the halt was momentary, but the impulse to linger ever grew until finally, as the sense of physical danger overpowered the mental resolve, and as the hills loomed more threateningly ahead, the laggard progress stopped for good and all, and the tired and dispirited attackers longed only for dark."

The infantry had been checked and pinned, and after dark they withdrew below the southern crests. That night the Boers, tired as they were, continued to work on their defences. They watched the lanterns of the British ambulances and medical personnel collecting the dead and wounded. To guard against a possible night attack the burghers occasionally fired short bursts with their Mausers and shot up flares to light the slopes. The next morning - Sunday, 21st January - General Warren, who had by this time lined the southern crests with all three of his infantry brigades and his mounted brigade, now dismounted, resumed the attack with heavy artillery support. The troops were again repulsed. But Botha's burghers were beginning to show signs of wavering as more shells hit the entrenchments, blasting them away, killing and maiming. The well-known Free State chaplain, the Rev. J. D. Kestell, gave an account of Botha's conduct on this day in his memoirs.

"I visited the battlefield . on Sunday, January 21, when the bombardment was at its fiercest", wrote Kestell. "I found that it had often been so intolerable that the burghers were driven out of the earthworks and compelled to seek shelter behind the hill slopes. But they had always returned and kept up a continuous fire on the advancing soldiers. I found, too, that the English had as yet always been driven back, but that their repeated attacks had not had quite a satisfactory moral effect on the burghers. The direction of affairs was, however, in the hands of . General Louis Botha, than whom there was no man better qualified to encourage the burghers. Just as at Colenso, so here he rode from position to position, and whenever burghers - as I have related - were losing heart and on the point of giving way under the awful bombardment, he would appear as if from nowhere and contrive to get them back into the positions by 'gentle persuasion', as he expressed it, or by other means."

General Warren did not attempt another assault the following day - Monday, 22nd January - but the artillery fire continued and clouds of dust and lyddite fumes rose over the hills. Botha reported that burghers were leaving the front in larger numbers than reinforcements were arriving. He himself had a narrow shave when his horse was shot under him. Warren's troops were reinforced in the morning by another infantry brigade and four howitzers to more than 18 000 men and 40 guns. His force now outnumbered Botha's by ten to one in men and artillery, yet it was the British generals who were forced by the strain of battle to take an ill-considered step.

All this time General Buller had been watching Warren's operations from his headquarters on Mount Alice, as the Times History put it, like an impartial umpire at manoeuvres. He had allowed Warren to convert his original plan to turn the Boer flank into a frontal attack. When he visited Warren and learnt that he now proposed to demoralize the Boers by three or four days' continuous shelling, Buller would not hear of it. During the past six days Warren had achieved nothing and Buller now, understandably, insisted on results, otherwise, he said, he would withdraw Warren's force back across the Tugela. Warren replied that he could only push through the Wapadnek after having taken Spioenkop first, whereupon Buller was said to have commented irritably: "Of course you must take Spioenkop."

Sketch of Spioenkop and the range of hills to the east of it as seen from the Boer side (i.e. from the north). Note the positions of the Krupp gun and Pom-Pom which were hauled up the slope on the morning of 24th January, 1900 to support the counter-attack on Spioenkop by Cmdt. Prinsloo and his burghers. The dotted lines show Prinsloo's route and the position his men took up along the crest line. They left their horses in the gully marked "X" and then climbed the hill.
(Drawn in 1939 by I.J. de Villiers, a grandson of Cmdt. Prinsloo)

And so it was decided to occupy this commanding hill, its flat, rocky summit rising 1 470 feet above the Tugela. To Warren the operation was to be merely the first step in the resumption of his attack on Tabanyama, and simultaneously a safeguard against a humiliating withdrawal. To Buller it was a means of getting Warren to take some action. When Buller told one of his staff officers to accompany the assault force to Spioenkop, the latter asked him what the force was to do when it had taken the hill. Buller thought for a moment and replied: "It has got to stay there." The attackers therefore were simply to establish themselves on the hill. There was to be no attack elsewhere along the front to support them. The rest of Buller's army was to look on and do nothing. That Botha with 1 800 men and a few guns was able to force Buller and Warren into such a haphazard operation was certainly no small achievement.

The force to capture Spioenkop was commanded by General Woodgate and consisted of the Lancashire Fusiliers, six companies of the Royal Lancasters and two of the South Lancashires, Thorneycroft's mounted infantry and half a company of Royal Engineers, altogether approximately 1 700 officers and men. The column marched off from its rendezvous, a gully south of Three Tree Hill, at 8.30 on the night of 23rd January. At 11 o'clock the ascent began, in single file up the south-western spur of the hill with Colonel Thorneycroft leading. Towards 3 o'clock in the morning - Wednesday, 24th January 1900 - as the spur widened towards the summit, the troops deployed in the damp grass in pitch darkness (see Map 3).

Spioenkop was held that night by a detachment of some 50 Vryheid burghers and German volunteers. They had apparently gone to sleep after having completed an emplacement for a 75 mm field gun which Botha had intended positioning on the hill the next morning. A few pickets near the top of the spur woke up from the shuffling ahead of them. There was a loud "Werda!" followed by a burst of rifle fire. Then the troops came in at the point of the bayonet, amid shouts of "Majuba!", "Bronkhorstspruit!". The pickets turned and fled, shouting "Hardloop burgers, die Engelse is op die kop!" One man was bayonetted. The rest, instinctively grabbing their rifles and bandoliers, made good their escape. Having captured the summit, the troops gave three cheers. The waiting gunners on Three Tree Hill responded by shooting a star shell into the air. Then the batteries opened up against the approaches to Spioenkop in an effort to prevent the Boers from recapturing the hill.

It was now approximately 4 o'clock. The crests of Spioenkop and the other hills in the area were shrouded in dense fog. The engineers taped out a position for a trench along what appeared to them to be the northern crest line of the (roughly) 400 square yard summit of Spioenkop. In fact the position was 50 to 200 yards short of the crest line. Moreover it was virtually impossible to entrench on the rocky hilltop and the trenches together with their stone parapets were nowhere deeper than two and a half to three feet.

Meanwhile the Vryheid burghers had arrived breathless and confused at Botha's tent on the koppie to the north of Spioenkop with the tidings of what had happened. It is not recorded what he told them. In circumstances such as these Botha was a cool, calm and unshakeable commander. Spioenkop simply had to be recaptured. By this time the alarm had also been given in the Carolina and Lydenburg laager, where General Schalk Burger had spent the night. Burger ordered the Carolina commandant Hendrik Prinsloo, one of the finest officers in the Boer forces, to storm the hill with a detachment of his men. Botha was informed of this instruction. There is evidence that Prinsloo galloped to Botha's headquarters to discuss the situation and receive his final orders. Botha agreed to reinforce Prinsloo's attack from Tabanyama and to support it with rifle and artillery fire.

Before starting his climb Prinsloo, in accordance with Botha's orders, arranged for covering fire from his rear. A 75 mm Krupp field gun and a pom-pom were hauled on to the ridges east of Spioenkop and a detachment of 50 burghers was placed on Aloe Knoll, a prominent feature at the apex of the eastern spur of the hill. Shortly after 7 o'clock Prinsloo and approximately 65 Carolina men (later reinforced to 84) reached a point some distance below the north-eastern summit of Spioenkop (see sketch). Here Prinsloo addressed them in the mist as follows: "Burgers, ons gaan onder die vyand in en ons sal nie almal terugkom nie. Doen julle plig en vertrou op die Here." ("Burghers, we are going in amongst the enemy and all of us will not return. Do your duty and trust in the Lord.") Then he dispersed them and led them to the summit, the men moving warily from rock to rock like hunters stalking their prey.

Along the crest line they bumped detachments of Woodgate's troops who had pushed forward when it was discovered (as the mist thinned out slightly) that the main trench had been incorrectly sited. Fierce fighting ensued and the battle of Spioenkop was under way. Here and there the exchanges were hand-to-hand, with burghers wrenching rifles from the hands of the soldiers. There were grievous casualties on both sides in the point-blank shooting and the Mauser and Lee-Metford fire formed a cloud in the mist. When the fog lifted suddenly between 8 o'clock and 8.30, a storm of bullets lashed the summit of Spioenkop from the hills on all sides of it - from the western Twin Peak, Aloe Knoll, Conical Hill and Green Hill, where the burghers had been waiting with finger on the trigger.

Now that the sun had broken through, Prinsloo, who had stationed a heliographer - a young fellow named Louis Bothma - on the slope below the summit, was able to give Botha his first situation report. Botha signalled back that more men were on their way and that Spioenkop must be held at all costs. The Boer artillery was thereupon informed of the position of Prinsloo's men along the crest line and soon the shells were raking the overcrowded summit with deadly accuracy. Botha's artillery consisted of two 75 mm Creusot field guns, one 75 mm Krupp field gun and a pom-pom on Tabanyama, a 75 mm Krupp field gun on the koppie from where Botha commanded the operation, and the Krupp 75 and pom-pom on the ridges to the east of Spioenkop - altogether only five guns and two pom-poms (see Map 3). These pieces were as skilfully sited as they were served. The British artillery - 58 guns on the whole Upper Tugela front, as you will remember - tried in vain to locate and silence them. In no other action in the Anglo-Boer War did the Boer artillery wreak greater havoc than Botha's handful of guns on this day.

By about 9.30, when Prinsloo's burghers had borne the brunt of the fighting on Spioenkop for two hours, the first reinforcements arrived, mainly Pretoria men under Commandant "Red" Daniel Opperman. Gradually the surviving British troops on the crest line were driven back to the trenches, having suffered heavy casualties. Two desperate charges from the main trench were beaten off. But the Boer losses were also severe and their dead lay hideously where they had fallen. According to Deneys Reitz, it was only "Red" Daniel Opperman's forceful personality and vigorous language to anyone who seemed to be wavering that kept the burghers in check in his sector. At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon a detachment of Lancashire Fusiliers on the eastern side of the summit waved their handkerchiefs in the air in token of surrender. The Boer fire stopped and a few Pretoria burghers jumped over the British parapets, shouting to the troops in the vicinity to give themselves up. Colonel Thorneycroft then appeared on the scene, saying there was no surrender, and as the British rifle fire resumed the Pretoria men darted back for shelter accompanied by approximately 170 prisoners.

After this sign of wavering in the enemy's ranks, Botha ordered the artillery and rifle fire on the summit to be increased. Thanks to the efforts of Prinsloo and Bothma, and of Botha's scouts and dispatch riders, he was well aware of what was happening on Spioenkop and Thabanyama. The Carolina and Pretoria burghers on Spioenkop were reinforced during the day by detachments from several commandos - Krugersdorpers under Oosthuizen and Kemp and German volunteers from Thabanyama Ermelo and Standerton men under Tobias Smuts and Johannesburgers from the Vaalkrans area. Botha, however, was careful not to put all available reinforcements on Spioenkop. He said later that his men on the hill never exceeded 350. He knew how to deploy his burghers to obtain the best tactical results. In particular, he reinforced Green Hill, whence the south-western spur of Spioenkop, the British line of approach to the summit, could also be kept under fire.

On the other hand there was great confusion on the British side. Woodgate, the commander of the assault column, was mortally wounded early in the fight. Colonel Crofton of the South Lancashires informed Warren of this development in a message which reached him as follows: "Reinforce at once or all is lost. General dead." Warren, who had earlier been told that Woodgate's force could hold on "till Doomsday", never recovered from this shock. His only idea was to send more and more reinforcements to Spioenkop. It does not seem to have occurred to him that he could be of greater assistance to the troops on the summit by launching a diversionary attack across Tabanyama, where on a three-mile front he had over 10 000 men facing barely 1 500 Boers. Altogether four additional battalions and two squadrons of mounted infantry were ordered to the summit, bringing the total number of troops sent there to 4 500. The entrenchments on the hill were choked, not only with fighting soldiers but with hundreds of dead, dying, maimed and cowering non-fighters. In these conditions Botha's artillery and marksmen exacted an appalling toll. Throughout the day there was a serious breakdown in communications with the summit. The only British heliograph on Spioenkop was shot to pieces early in the morning, and by nightfall Buller and Warren were still unaware of the great debAcle that was threatening on the hill.

Late in the afternoon one of Lyttelton's battalions, the King's Royal Rifles, captured the Twin Peaks, to the east of Spioenkop, after a gallant climb up the steep slopes (see Map 3). The Boer Krupp gun and pom-pom had to be hastily withdrawn and the Lydenburg and Carolina burghers who had held the peaks, galloped away across the plain. Botha's line had now been breached, at a loss to the Rifles of approximately 100 casualties including their commander (Buchanan-Riddle), who had been killed. But Buller did not realize that the battalion had presented him with an opportunity to win the day. On the contrary, he was disturbed because he considered that Lyttelton's troops were too widely dispersed. Consequently he ordered the battalion to withdraw after dark. The troops began to leave the peaks at about the time the Utrecht burghers, whom Botha had called over post-haste from Green Hill, arrived at the foot of the hills to begin another counter-attack.

The fighting on Spioenkop gradually died down after nightfall. The din of battle gave way to an eerie silence. Behind the British breastworks the burghers could hear men talking and stumbling about in the darkness, and above all the moans and cries of the wounded. Most of the burghers - some of whom, like the survivors of Prinsloo's original assault force, had been on the summit for more than 12 hours - now began to descend the hill. All of them were exhausted, and many were uncertain about what they were to do and apprehensive of the morrow's prospects. (Commandant Prinsloo was absent at this stage. He had had the painful task after dark of carrying the body of his fallen brother, Willie, off the hill).

Botha knew that the burghers were descending the hill in considerable numbers, but he was not concerned about it. They needed rest, water and food after the day's experiences. In any case he was convinced that the battle had already been won. The British inaction on Tabanyama, their strange hesitation after capturing the Twin Peaks, and the resignation with which they endured their punishment on Spioenkop led him to only one conclusion: that they would withdraw during the night. This he explained in his official dispatch to President Kruger, adding that he would nevertheless take no risk. He would make the necessary preparations in case the battle would have to be resumed the next morning.

British dead in main trench, Spioenkop, 25th January, 1900.

Botha's military secretary, Sandberg, says in his memoirs that he and Botha were so tired that they dozed off more than once while working on this dispatch. But there was to be little rest for Botha during that night. From General Schalk Burger he received the advice that further resistance was futile because the attenuated Boer forces could no longer hold the front. Botha thereupon drafted a written reply in which he seriously urged Burger on no account to lose heart or abandon his positions. "Let us fight and die together", he pleaded, "but, brother, please do not let us yield an inch to the English." Botha went on to express the opinion that the enemy was now so timorous ("kopsku") that if the Boers remained faithful and steadfast he would submit. "I am confident and convinced", he said, "that if only we stand firm our Lord will give us victory."(1)

Towards midnight the dispatch rider who had to deliver this message returned, accompanied by Commandant Prinsloo, with the news that Schalk Burger had indeed pulled out and was in full retreat towards Ladysmith with his Lydenburgers and a number of Carolina burghers. Botha and Prinsloo hurried over to the Carolina laager, which they found in great confusion. Wagons had been packed and horsemen were getting ready to move off in the wake of Burger's flight. Botha addressed the men from the saddle, telling them (as Deneys Reitz puts it) of the shame that would be theirs if they deserted their posts in this hour of danger. He succeeded in rallying them and the men filed back in the dark towards Spioenkop. Later Botha also ordered a detachment of Heidelbergers from Tabanyama to Spioenkop and assembled a fresh assault force at the foot of the hill.

Meanwhile the British evacuation of Spioenkop, which Botha had expected and prophesied, had occurred. By 10 o'clock that night Colonel Thorneycroft, whom Buller had put in command on the hill during the day, had received no communication from his commanding generals except the news of his appointment. He did not know what, if anything, was contemplated to assist him. His men, he knew only too well, could not stand another day's pounding by the Boer artillery, nor would he allow them to remain merely a defenceless target for the Boer gunners. He therefore ordered a withdrawal. "Better six battalions safely off the hill than a mop-up in the morning," he explained to Winston Churchill, whom he met on his way down the hill. The dead and scores of wounded were left behind on the summit, many of the latter to die from exposure.

British medical orderlies and Boers amongst the fallen, Spioenkop, 25th January, 1900.

Jan Kemp was the first Boer officer to discover at daybreak the next morning - Thursday, 25th January 1900 - that the British had abandoned Spioenkop. Throughout the night he had remained high up on the slopes with a detachment of Krugersdorpers. Despite the gruesome sights of the summit, Kemp could not resist (as he said later) thinking of the "ribbons and medals" a British officer would have received in similar circumstances. On the crest line the burghers held aloft their rifles and waved with their hats to indicate to their comrades below that the enemy had retired. Hundreds of burghers then began to scale the slopes. Botha soon arrived on the summit with members of his staff. He spoke briefly to the British chaplain and medical officers who had come up to attend to the wounded who had survived the night. He ordered his burghers to give them every assistance and gave instructions that coffee should be brought to them from his camp. On his return to his headquarters he sent the following telegram to President Kruger and General Joubert:

"Battle over and by the grace of God a magnificent victory for us. The enemy driven out of their positions and their losses are great. At least 600 dead and a large number of wounded are still lying on the battlefield. The enemy have asked me to remove their wounded and bury their dead, to which I have agreed. The battlefield therefore is ours. Last night the enemy withdrew some distance with their guns and soldiers. Furthermore 187 prisoners were taken . It breaks my heart to say that so many of our gallant heroes have also been killed and wounded. The names will be telegraphed to you later. It is incredible that such a small handful of men, with the help of the Most High, could fight and withstand the mighty Britain for six consecutive days and drive them back on the last day with heavy loss. We have taken approximately 40 cases of Lee-Metford cartridges and a good number of rifles."(2)

Commandant Willem Pretorius of Heidelberg whom Botha had ordered to count the British dead on the summit, reported that there were 650. In addition there remained on the hill 350 seriously wounded soldiers, most of them beyond hope of recovery. In the light of these figures, the official British casualty list for Spioenkop - 68 officers and 976 men - does not appear to be complete. The Boer casualties for the whole Upper Tugela front on 24th January were 59 killed in action, nine died of wounds and 134 wounded. Of Prinsloo's detachment of 84 Carolina burghers, more than 50 were killed or wounded.

After nightfall on 25th January, Warren's force began to withdraw from the north bank of the Tugela. The withdrawal continued throughout the next day and night, often in pouring rain - the extraordinary sight of an army of 20 000 officers and men with 36 field guns and four howitzers retreating before approximately 1 800 Boers. Botha did not harass the withdrawal because he considered his men had had enough. By Saturday, 27th January 1900, Warren's troops were back in their camps near Springfield, which they had left 10 days before. "The net result is that we have once more to chronicle a complete defeat", wrote General Hart of the 5th (or Irish Brigade) in a private letter and the future Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff towards the end of the First World War, noted in his diary: "We stand where we did 10 days ago, with a licking thrown in." The total British casualties during these days were officially given as 1 750. The Boer casualties were 335.

There is no doubt that in tactical skill Botha proved more than a match for the wavering and slow-witted Generals Buller and Warren in the Spioenkop campaign. But it was particularly his resolution and iron will which enabled him to outclass them as a military commander and, with a small handful of burghers, to inflict upon the British army another heavy defeat.

Civil War Edit

The 3rd US Cavalry Regiment was organized on 3 May 1861 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was commanded by COL David Hunter, and second in command was LTC William H. Emory. The Regiment's designation was changed to the 6th U.S. Cavalry on 10 August 1861 due to a reorganization of US Cavalry regiments the Regiment of Mounted Rifles took on the name of the 3rd Cavalry instead. The troopers were recruited from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Western New York. Arriving in Washington D.C. by company between 12 October and 23 December, the regiment joined the Union Army of the Potomac and began its training with a strength of 34 officers and 950 men. Due to supply shortages, all but one squadron was equipped as light cavalry, armed with pistols and sabers. It wasn't until 10 March that the rest of the regiment received carbines. [2] The 6th Cavalry left winter quarters on 10 March 1862 and was assigned to General Philip St. George Cooke's command, who ordered them to make reconnaissances in Virginia of Centreville, Manassas Junction, and Bull Run. On 27 March, the regiment embarked for Fort Monroe and arrived three days later.

Upon arrival, the 6th Cavalry served as forward scouts for the Army of the Potomac's advance units throughout the Peninsular Campaign and received its baptism of fire on 5 May 1862 after the Siege of Yorktown. After pursuing General Joseph E. Johnston's force of retreating Confederates through the city, the armies met at the Battle of Williamsburg on 5 May, and the 6th Cavalry made a name for themselves when CPT Sanders executed a bold counter charge into the teeth of Confederate artillery and a superior force of horsemen and managed to drive them off. The 6th Cavalry continued to serve as scouts for the Army of the Potomac until the evacuation at Harrison's Landing, where they served as rear guards for the evacuating forces. Arriving in Alexandria on 2 September 1862, the 6th was in near constant contact with the Confederates for three months and engaging in skirmishes such as those at Falls Church, Sugarloaf Mountain (Maryland), Middletown, and Charleston. The regiment marched to the Rappahannock River on 24 November and remained in the vicinity until the men marched on Fredericksburg on 12 December.

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, the 6th Cavalry sent a squadron across the pontoon bridge over the Rappahannock River in order to reconnoiter the enemy positions. The Confederate's infantry line was developed, and the squadron withdrew after receiving fire from an enemy artillery battery, losing 2 men and 8 horses wounded. After reporting this information to General Ambrose Burnside, the Union commander, the regiment was withdrawn to Falmouth, where it remained encamped until 13 April 1863. The 6th was one of the Union cavalry regiments that participated in Stoneman's 1863 raid, and during the action, LT Tupper and 10 troopers managed to capture General J. E. B. Stuart's chief quartermaster.

On 9 June 1863, the 6th Cavalry fought in the Battle of Brandy Station after crossing the Rappahannock River. During this famous engagement, the regiment charged the Confederates and lost 4 officers and 63 men killed, wounded, or captured out of 254 engaged. Charging the Confederate guns, LT Madden was hit by an exploding shell, and LT Kerin was captured when the regiment began reforming from the charge. The troopers were moved to the extreme right of the line in order to repulse a Confederate flank attack and charged into the action. Here, LT Ward was killed, and LT Stroll was wounded. LT Stroll was fired upon as he fell and the soldiers who attempted to bear him away were shot down by rebel gunfire. The 6th was to be rear guard of the retiring Union force, and, led by LT Tupper, it checked the enemy at every stop and prevented the harassment of the column. This was one of the most serious cavalry actions of the war, and the 6th lost a quarter of its troopers.

Battle of Fairfield Edit

During the Gettysburg Campaign, and overseen by larger events ongoing nearby, on 3 July 1863 at the Battle of Fairfield, Major Starr with 400 troopers dismounted his men in a field and an orchard on both sides of the road near Fairfield, Pennsylvania. Union troopers directed by their officers took up hasty defensive positions on this slight ridge. They threw back a mounted charge of the 7th Virginia Cavalry (CSA), just as Chew's Battery (CSA) unlimbered and opened fire on the Federal cavalrymen. Supported by the 6th Virginia Cavalry (CSA), the 7th Virginia charged again, [3] clearing Starr's force off the ridge and inflicting heavy losses. Jones (CSA), outnumbering the Union forces by at least 2 to 1, pursued the retreating Federals for three miles to the Fairfield Gap, but was unable to catch his quarry.

"The fight made at Fairfield by this small regiment (6th U.S. Cavalry) against two of the crack brigades of Stuart's cavalry, which were endeavoring to get around the flank the Union army to attack the (supply) trains, was one of the most gallant in its history and no doubt helped influence the outcome the battle of Gettysburg. The efforts of these rebel brigades were frustrated and their entire strength neutralized for the day by the fierce onslaught of the small squadrons. The regiment was cut to pieces, but it fought so well that the squadrons were regarded as the advance of a large body of troops. The senior officer of those attacking CSA brigades was later adversely criticized for allowing his command to be delayed by such an inferior force. Had the regiment not made the desperate stand, the two brigades of Virginians might have caused grave injury in the Federal rear, before sufficient force could have been gathered in their front." [4]

Private George Crawford Platt, later Sergeant, an Irish immigrant serving in Troop H, was awarded the Medal of Honor on 12 July 1895, for his actions that day at Fairfield. His citation reads, "Seized the regimental flag upon the death of the standard bearer in a hand-to-hand fight and prevented it from falling into the hands of the enemy."

His "commander," Lieutenant Carpenter, of Troop H, was one of only three officers of the 6th U.S. Cavalry to escape from the deadly melee at Fairfield. He was an eyewitness and documented Private Platt's "beyond the call of duty" behavior that day. [5] Louis H. Carpenter was brevetted from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel for his actions that day and later during the Indian Wars he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Post-Gettysburg Edit

Shortly after the Battle of Fairfield, the regiment made a reconnaissance of Funkstown, Maryland on 10 July 1863, and was heavily engaged in the Battle of Funkstown losing 1 officer and 85 men killed, wounded, and missing. [2] Arriving at Germantown, Maryland on 8 August, the 6th Cavalry replaced its tremendous casualties and trained and occasionally fought in minor battles with rebel scouts. Leaving winter quarters on 4 May 1864, the Cavalry, under Major General Philip Sheridan were heavily engaged four days later in the Battle of Todd's Tavern in Todd's Tavern, Virginia. The 6th US Cavalry participated in several other raids and battles in Virginia in 1864 under the command of General Sheridan and as a part of the Union Cavalry Corps. These battles include the Battle of Yellow Tavern in Richmond, where J. E. B Stuart was killed, the Battle of Trevilian Station in Louisa County, the Battle of Berryville in Clarke County, the Battle of Opequon near Winchester, and the Battle of Cedar Creek in Frederick County, Shenandoah County and Warren County. [2]

On 27 February, the 6th Cavalry broke camp from its winter quarters and engaged the Confederate Army on 30 March 1865 at the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House in Dinwiddie County. Here, the men of the 6th held out against repeated enemy attacks until their ammunition was exhausted, and during their withdrawal, Confederate troops captured a LT Nolan and 15 6th Cavalry troopers. [2] On 1 April 1865, at the Battle of Five Forks near Petersburg, the 6th Cavalry wheeled to the right of the enemy's positions and advanced until sunset when the battle was won. The regiment then began a pursuit of the retreating enemy and participated in the Battle of Sailor's Creek near Farmville, resulting in the capture of roughly 7,000 Confederate prisoners. During this battle, the 6th was ordered to capture a series of log huts. Some of the men in the ranks hesitated they were cautious and wary of death so close to the perceived end of the war, but LT McClellan, a veteran of the antebellum Army, turned and exclaimed, "Men, let us die like soldiers!" Soon the troopers charged under heavy fire and took the log huts with the loss of three wounded. [2]

At the Battle of Appomattox Court House in Appomattox County on 9 April 1865, the 6th charged at a gallop on the enemy's left flank, but were met with a white flag of surrender. [2] Soon after (at 4 p.m. that day), the rest of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia would surrender, precipitating the end of the Confederacy and the American Civil War. According to the US Army Center of Military History, "The records of casualties during the Rebellion show seven officers killed, 53 men killed in action and 53 other deaths 122 wounded in action and 17 by accident 438 missing, most of these being captured at Fairfield and in other charges,—making a total of 689 enlisted men." [2]

Reconstruction Edit

After the fighting stopped in April 1865, came the Reconstruction era of the United States covering 1865 to 1871. The 6th Cavalry left Maryland, via New York and New Orleans to Texas in October 1865. On 29 November 1865, the 6th Cavalry headquarters was established in Austin where it was part of the Fifth Military District which covered Texas and Louisiana under General Sheridan and later under General Winfield Scott Hancock. [6]

There was little or no fighting during the state of martial law imposed while the military closely supervised local government, enrolled freemen to vote, excluded former Confederate leaders from elected office for a period of time, supervised free elections, and tried to protect office holders and freedmen from violence. However the men did face a low level of civil hostility and violence during this uneasy transition period. [7] For reports of soldiers of the 6th Cavalry killed and wounded in various incidents of 1867–68 see the article on the Fifth Military District. One such incident occurred on 7 March 1868, when CPL Henhold of D Troop led 13 troopers on an expedition to break up the band of ex-Confederate renegades under Robert J. Lee. The pursuit ended at Read Creek Swamp, near Sherman, TX, and the troopers killed 2 and captured 5 of the desperados.

On 12 July 1870, CPT Curwen B. McClellan led a detachment of 53 troopers on a patrol from Fort Richardson when they came into contact with a large force of 250 Kiowa warriors under Chief Kicking Bird at the Little Wichita River. 6th Cavalry historians note how the Indians charged and fought bravely at close range. Chief Kicking Bird personally killed CPL John Given with a lance thrust. [8] Despite being outnumbered, CPT McClellan was able to retreat to safety after killing 15 Kiowa and wounding many more, and losing 2 men killed and 9 wounded. [2]

Red River War Edit

In 1871, the regiment was transferred to the Department of the Missouri where it continued to engage Native American tribes and fought in the Red River War. On 9 September 1873 a drunken row among 6th cavalrymen in Hays, Kansas resulted in two troopers being killed. [9] On 30 August 1874, COL Nelson A. Miles led an expedition of 6th Cavalry Troopers and 5th U.S. Infantry soldiers and engaged 600 Southern Cheyenne on the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River. Despite the Indians occupying a series of bluffs, the cavalry was rapidly deployed and charged the enemy, scattering them into the nearby canyons. [2] The regiment was commended for its actions in the battle. [2] While carrying dispatches on the Texas plain on the morning of 12 September 1874, 4 Troopers from I Troop, 6th Cavalry and 2 civilian scouts were encircled by 125 Kiowa warriors. PVT Smith was immediately shot and mortally wounded, and the remaining scouts and troopers found meager refuge in a Buffalo wallow where they fought off their attackers until nightfall. All the men, civilians included, received the Medal of Honor for their dogged will to survive. On 8 November 1874, Troop D of the 6th Cavalry and Company D of the 5th U.S. Infantry attacked and destroyed Chief Grey Beard's Cheyenne village on McClellan's Fork of the Red River. Two captive settlers, Adelaide and Julia German, who had been captured on their family's journey to Colorado, were also rescued during the fight. [10]

On 1 December, CPT Adna Chaffee led I Troop on a night attack to surprise the Indians on the North Fork of the Red River and managed to rout them and capture 70 of their mounts. The winter of 1874–75 was rough and cold on the Great Plains, and the Indians were not able to conduct their raids in such cold. [2] There was relative peace until 6 April 1875, when M Troop engaged a band of 150 warriors near the Cheyenne Agency. 9 Cheyenne were killed and 4 Sixth Cavalry troopers were wounded. On 19 April 1875, a party of Cheyennes left the reservation heading north, and 40 Cavalrymen from H Troop under LT Austin Henely pursued them. After a rapid campaign of scouting and hard riding, the troopers caught up with the band at Sappa Creek, Kansas. The ensuing gunfight left 27 Indians dead for the loss of 2 US soldiers from H Troop. 134 Indian mounts were also captured. [2]

Apache Wars Edit

In 1875, the 6th Cavalry marched south to relieve the 5th Cavalry Regiment in Arizona, and the various Troops were sent across the territory to occupy forts and patrol the area in search of hostile Apaches. [2] On 9 January 1876, A and D Troops, posted at Fort Apache, were the first of the 6th Cavalry to engage the Apache. One Indian was killed, five were captured, and the others were driven away. In the spring and summer of 1876, the entire 6th Cavalry Regiment went into the field to move the Chiricahua onto the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. There was a small engagement on 10 April, but the majority of the Indians were moved onto reservation land. However, many of the warriors fled to the mountains and continued a guerrilla war from there. [2] The cavalry continued to occupy forts and patrol the Arizona Territory and fought recorded engagements against the Apache on 15 August, and 5 October 1876. In January 1877, LT John A. Rucker led a detachment of Troopers from Troops H and L overtook an Apache band in the Pyramid Mountains, New Mexico on 9 January 1877. They killed 10 Indians, and captured 1, along with their entire herd, weapons and ammunition supply, stolen goods from settlers, and $1,200 in Mexican silver. [2] Capt. Whitside and two Troops of the 6th Cav founded Fort Huachuca, SE of Tucson, in March 1877.

On 20 August 1877, several bands of renegade Apaches crossed into Arizona from Mexico, and elements of the 6th Cavalry were deployed to stop them. After tracking the war party through rough country bereft of water, the troopers found that the trail went into the land of the San Carlos Reservation. The detachment commander sent a telegraph asking permission to enter the land, but the troopers were forced to act before a response was given. The Warm Springs Indians, or the Chíhéne, attempted a breakout from the reservation, and CPT Tupper led Troop G with elements of B, H, L, and M on a rapid pursuit. Between 9–10 September, a series of running gun battles left 12 Indians killed and 13 wounded, and the rest were returned to reservation land. [2] Smaller encounters happened on 13 and 18 December 1877, and 7 January and 5 April 1878. While patrolling near the Mexican border, a flash flood swept away LT Henely, so LT Rucker plunged in with his horse in order to save his classmate and friend, only to be swept away himself. The death by drowning of these two officers was universally lamented by the regiment, and by the people of Arizona, who knew them well. [2] The regiment continued to patrol the territory despite the loss of these officers, and engaged the Indians in minor battles until 1880. [2]

While scouting in the San Andres Mountains in New Mexico on 9 April 1880, a detachment of C Troop and L Troop under CPT McClellan happened upon a squadron of Buffalo soldiers from the 9th Cavalry Regiment engaged in a losing fight with Victorio's Apaches. CPT McClellan led a charge which dispersed the Indians and relieved the 9th. After this incident, Victorio launched numerous raids, but was repelled on 7 May by E Troop under CPT Adam Kramer at the Battle of Ash Creek. [2] Despite a dogged pursuit, Victorio escaped and continued his raids. Nearly the entire regiment was involved in constant patrolling to catch him, but the Apache Chief managed to attack the overland stage near Fort Cummings and killed the young son of CPT Madden, who was visiting from college, and planning on visiting his father for the summer. [2]

In the summer of 1881, Troops D and E along with a company of Apache Scouts were led by General Eugene Asa Carr in the Battle of Cibecue Creek. In this battle, the Apache Scouts revolted and turned on the cavalrymen and in the fierce fight CPT Hentig along with 6 men were killed, and 2 wounded, but the Apache medicine man, Nock-ay-det-klinne, was killed as well. The troopers were forced to withdraw, but they had completed the expedition's goal. When the command returned to Fort Apache on 1 September, they found it to be under attack, and in the following Battle of Fort Apache, the Indians were driven off for the loss of three soldiers wounded. [11] The White Mountain Apaches surrendered to the Agency shortly after. The year of 1881 was a time of hard scouting in the Arizona and New Mexico deserts and canyons, chasing elusive bands of renegade Apaches, with little reward, until April 1882.

On 28 April 1882, CPTs Tupper and Rafferty led 39 Troopers from G and M Troops, along with 45 Apache Scouts across the Mexican border to the Sierra Enmedio near the town of Los Huerigos. [12] Here, the command discovered a band of Apache in camp, believing that they were safe from the cavalry so long as they were in Mexico. While the men moved into position, they were spotted by a small food gathering party, and the fighting commenced. The Apache chief, Loco, called out to the Apache Scouts in an attempt to get them to betray the Americans, but this angered them and they cursed him and fired faster. Having only three rounds per man remaining, CPT Tupper ordered a withdrawal where he was joined by 9 other Troops of the 6th Cavalry under COL James W. Forsyth. The Indians lost 14 warriors killed and 7 women, for the loss of 1 American killed and 2 wounded. Returning the next day, COL Forsyth found the Apache camp deserted. [13] On 17 July 1882, Troops E, I and K of the 6th Cavalry joined with elements of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of Big Dry Wash. Here, they defeated Apache war leader Na-tio-tish in a pitched battle, where two 6th Cavalry officers earned the Medal of Honor LT Frank West and LT Thomas Cruse.

Throughout the rest of 1882 and 1883, the 6th Cavalry was constantly scouting and on guard against the Chiricahua raids from south of the border. In March 1883, GEN Crook took I Troop under CPT Adna Chaffee on an expedition to the Sierra Madres in Mexico where they captured 400 hostile Apache and their chiefs. [2] In June 1884, the 6th Cavalry exchanged stations with the 4th Cavalry Regiment in the New Mexico Territory. They had served in Arizona for nine years and had fought in countless small actions during their time there. In New Mexico, the Regiment was headquartered at Fort Bayard with the Troops spread out across the territory. In May 1885, the regiment briefly returned once more to Arizona to engage their old enemies, the Arizona Apache renegades who had broken from the reservation and fled south. The troopers pursued them 500 miles into Mexican territory and patrolled the border until July 1886, preventing these renegades from returning to raid American settlements. [2] In the meantime, B and F Troops were detached to Colorado in pursuit of hostile Utes and engaged them on 15 July 1885. Aside from frequent scouting in Navajo country to keep peace between the civilians and Indians, the 6th Cavalry was not engaged in any large operations during this period of time. [2]

An 1887 letter from Charles Winters, Troop D of the 6th Cavalry, describes a soldier's experiences during the Apache Wars in New Mexico:

Dear Friend!

I will now take and write to you a few lines, to let you know that I am yet alive, and doing well. I joint(sic) the Army in January, 86 and had a good fight with Geronimo and his Indians. I also had two hard fights, where i came very near getting killed, but i got true alright. I was made Corporal when i first enlisted, but have now got high enough to be in Charge of Troop D. 6th U.S. Cavalry and it requires a good man for to get that office, and that is more than i expected. Charley White from Cranbury came out with me and got in the same Troop with me, and I sent him with twenty more men out on a Scout after Indians and Charley was lucky enough to be shot down by Indians the first day, and only three of my men returned. I was very sorry but it could not be helped.

The Territory of New Mexico is a very nice place never no Winter and lots of Gold and Silver Mines all around but for all that it is a disagreeable place on account of so many Indians. I like it first rate and I think as soon as my five years are up I will go bak(sic) to Old New Jersey but not today. My name isn't Charley Winters no more since i shot that man at Jefferson Barracks when he tried to get away from me. My Captain at time told me to take the name of his son who died and so my name since then is Charles H. Wood. I will now close and hope that you will soon write and let me know how you are getting along. Give my best regards to all and to yourself and oblige.

My address is:
Charles H. Wood
Troop D. 6th Cavalry
Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Ghost Dance War Edit

Duty in the deserts of the Arizona and New Mexico Territory was broken in 1890 with the beginning of the Ghost Dance War. Troops of the 6th Cavalry were transported by rail to South Dakota in order to fight the resurgent Sioux. They arrived at Rapid City on 9 December 1890, and by 1 January 1891, the men had encamped near Wounded Knee Creek. Here, Troops F and I of 3rd Squadron were awaiting the arrival of K Troop at the assembly area when they heard gunfire on the White River. [2] Suspecting this might be their comrades, Major Tupper sounded "boots and saddles" and galloped towards the gunfire through the snow. Captain Kerr, commanding K Troop, was seen defending his wagon train from Sioux warriors by F and I Troops from atop a bluff. Major Tupper formed a skirmish line and advanced his men toward the Indians despite their horses being exhausted. [2] The Sioux warriors were heard to loudly taunt "Come on!" in English at the advancing troopers as they fired away. Nine Indians were killed and the rest were forced to retire to a nearby village. This was the sole engagement in which the 6th Cavalry fought during the war. They remained in the Northern Great Plains for some years longer, standing by near reservation land. [2]

Johnson County War Edit

In 1889, the Johnson County War began in Powder River Country, Wyoming when cattle companies started ruthlessly persecuting alleged rustlers in the area, many of whom were innocent settlers that competed with them for land, livestock and water rights. At the "Shootout at the TA Ranch," on 13 April 1892, Troops C, D, and H were called out from Fort McKinney to quell the violence. Local ranchers and cowboys were laying siege to a ranch complex (the TA Ranch) owned by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, or WSGA. The WSGA were known to the locals as "The Invaders." Colonel J.J. Van Horn, the officer in charge of the Squadron, negotiated with Sheriff Angus to lift the siege of the ranch, and in return the Invaders were to be handed to civilian authorities. The Sixth Cavalry took possession of Frank Wolcott, a prominent member of the WSGA, and 45 other men with 45 rifles, 41 revolvers and some 5,000 rounds of ammunition, before escorting them first to Fort McKinney and then to Cheyenne, WY. While the 6th was patrolling the countryside in order to keep the peace, on 18 May 1892 cowboys from the Red Sash Ranch set fire to the Post exchange and planted a bomb in the form of gunpowder in a barracks stove. Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood, the officer who had negotiated the surrender of Geronimo and was now serving with the 6th Cavalry, was responding to the fire and was injured by a bomb blast in a barracks his left arm was shattered, rendering him too disabled to serve in the Cavalry. The 6th was relieved of its duties in Powder River Country later that year by the 9th Cavalry.

Spanish–American War Edit

In 1898, the Spanish–American War broke out after the USS Maine sank in Havana Harbor under mysterious circumstances. The 6th Cavalry was quickly recalled from their frontier postings and sent to camp in Florida where they awaited for transport to Cuba. After being forced to give up most of their horses and some of their men in order to fit on the ship, the 6th finally arrived in the theater of war on 24 June 1898. The 6th was commonly posted near Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders," and the men gave the US Volunteers a nickname the "Weary Walkers," because their horses were left in Florida as well. [14] On 1 July 1898, at the start of the Battle of San Juan Hill, the troopers were forced to lay down in a thicket of vines and bushes, making it impossible to see, while Spanish fire hurtled over them. At around 9 am, the men started forward under heavy fire and clawed their way through thick vegetation headed for the top of the hill. Advance elements of the 6th passed by US troops who had been pinned down and they began to cheer, which drew the attention of Spanish gunners, who fired grape shot into the 6th Cavalry's line. [14] Under the covering fire of Gatling Guns, the men managed to take the heights, and settled in for renewed fighting in the morning. The men held the heights until 4 July, when a truce was initiated to exchange prisoners. The 6th Cavalry continued to fight minor battles with Spanish units and guard Spanish prisoners until the end of the war. [14]

Upon returning home, the various 6th Cavalry troops spread out across the nation, and F Troop was even sent as far as California to guard Yosemite National Park from poachers, as the US National Park Rangers were not a powerful enough entity yet.

Boxer Rebellion Edit

In 1900, the 6th Cavalry Regiment was part of the International China Relief Expedition with the objective of relieving the defenders of the Beijing Legation Quarter in Peking, China during the Boxer Rebellion. The Manchu Dynasty claimed that it could not protect Western citizens from the "Righteous and Harmonious Fists," commonly known as the Boxers, but in fact Empress Tzu Hsi was actually supporting them in order to drive out the Europeans. [15] During the march to Peking, the 6th Cavalry acted as the expedition's scouting force and acted as pickets to protect the column from Chinese attack. Unlike in Cuba, the 6th Cavalry had their mounts for the campaign and were well suited to the cavalry role of scouting and screening. During the Battle of Peking, the 6th played a minor role but still joined in on the massive looting of the city that followed. For the individual cavalry trooper, the China Relief Expedition was an adventure in a far off land, with only minor combat. [15]

The Philippines Edit

Shortly after campaigning in China, the 6th Cavalry was sent to the Philippines to join the Philippine–American War. From 1900–1903 they conducted counter-insurgency patrols and had several minor violent encounters with Emilio Aguinaldo's rebels, but their main enemy was the tropical heat and environment. In 1903, the regiment was posted to Fort Meade, South Dakota where it spent three years in garrison. In 1907, the Moro Rebellion was heating up and the 6th Cavalry was once again sent to the Philippine Islands. The Moro people were a Muslim culture living in the Sulu Archipelago and the island of Mindanao, and they held practices unacceptable to their new American rulers including slavery. The Moros also practiced a tradition called juramentado in which a devotee attempted to kill as many Christians as possible in order to gain a place in paradise. [15] However, they made war on themselves as much as they did with their other enemies, resulting in fractured bands. The 6th Cavalry fought several engagements against the Moros in the jungles and mountains but, as it was earlier, their main enemy was the tropical environment and its diseases. [15]

Vic Hurley, an American author who was a member of the Philippine Constabulary, wrote the book Jungle Patrol in 1938, arguing that Colonel Alexander Rodgers of the 6th Cavalry Regiment (brother of Thomas S. Rodgers) had implemented the strategy of mass graves and pig entrails: [16] [17]

It was Colonel Alexander Rodgers of the 6th Cavalry who accomplished by taking advantage of religious prejudice what the bayonets and Krags had been unable to accomplish. Rodgers inaugurated a system of burying all dead juramentados in a common grave with the carcasses of slaughtered pigs. The Mohammedan religion forbids contact with pork and this relatively simple device resulted in the withdrawal of juramentados to sections not containing a Rodgers. Other officers took up the principle, adding new refinements to make it additionally unattractive to the Moros. In some sections the Moro juramentado was beheaded after death and the head sewn inside the carcass of a pig. And so the rite of running juramentado, at least semi-religious in character, ceased to be in Sulu. The last cases of this religious mania occurred in the early decades of the century. The juramentados were replaced by the amucks. . who were simply homicidal maniacs with no religious significance attaching to their acts.

Mexico and World War I Edit

The Mexican Revolution, which began in 1911, made security along the Mexico–United States border even less stable than it already was. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson ordered cavalry regiments sent down to the border, among which was the 6th Cavalry Regiment. The regiment patrolled the border in the rugged terrain of the American Southwest much as they had done before against the Apaches, but it was a relatively quiet period of time. [15] However, on 9 March 1916, Pancho Villa and his banditos raided Columbus, NM, sparking the Punitive Expedition. Many months of rough riding took the cavalrymen on wild chases throughout the Mexican deserts, but they could not capture Pancho Villa, and the 6th Cavalry returned home in February 1917. [15] The Pancho Villa Expedition marked the first time in US military history that motorized transport was used, but the cavalry still played the dominant role, as the primitive vehicles found traversing the rough terrain difficult.

The respite would not last long however, as the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allied Powers in April 1917. The 6th embarked for France to join the American Expeditionary Forces on 16 March 1918 from Hoboken, NJ, but they were primarily tasked with remount details, military police duties, or hauling artillery. [15] When the war ended on 11 November 1918, the 6th Cavalry remained in France for several months into 1919 and continued their remount and military police duties. They returned from St. Nazaire, France 16 JUN 1919 aboard the SS Kroonland to New York City. Upon arrival, the "Fighting Sixth" Cavalry was stationed at The Post at Fort Oglethorpe, GA from 1919 until the beginning of World War II. [15] World War I saw the combat debut of the truck, tank, and airplane. These advances in warfare were the harbinger for the end of the horse cavalry, but the 6th Cavalry Regiment would evolve with the times.

World War II Edit

During the years between World War I and World War II, the 6th Cavalry participated in the Army's experiments to modernize the cavalry force and it became a "horse-mechanized regiment" with modern vehicles supported by horse trailers for operational mobility. However, once America became involved in the war after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the 6th Cavalry shed its horses and became solely a mechanized unit. Because of this pre-war experimentation, the 6th was not broken up like many Army outfits, but retained the majority of its original personnel allowing for added stability and training continuity. The 6th Cavalry Regiment was renamed the 6th Mechanized Cavalry Group (MCG), and was organized into two squadrons the 6th SQDN and the 28th SQDN. The 6th MCG was assigned to General Patton's Third Army and arrived in Normandy between 9–10 July 1944. GEN Patton wanted an Army-level reconnaissance unit in order to bypass traditional reporting channels and enable quicker decision making at the field army level this was to be called the Army Information Service (AIS), and the 6th MCG was chosen for the role.

Brittany to Belgium Edit

One squadron would fulfill the duties of the AIS, while the other, in conjunction with the associated parts of the AIS squadron not needed for that role (the tank company and assault gun troop), would serve as a security force for the Army headquarters and "hip pocket" reserve for the Army Commander. [18] The two Squadrons would rotate duties on a 21-day cycle, with a reconnaissance Troop being assigned to every Corps HQ, and platoons detached for every Division. When necessary, Sections (typically 2 Jeeps with an M8 Greyhound) could be detached down to the Regimental level. [19] These detachments all reported to the Squadron operations center, which directly reported up to Third Army HQ, speeding up information flow to the Army level. During Operation Cobra in 1944, the 28th SQDN (supplemented by B TRP, 6th SQDN) provided 15 detachments spread out across the 4 Corps and 11 Divisions in the Third Army, and an additional detachment to provide command and control for AIS nodes in the Brittany Peninsula. The standard time for an AIS message to go from battlefield to Army headquarters averaged two hours, twenty minutes, while the conventional channels took eight to nine hours. [19]

While continuing to provide reconnaissance and security for Third Army units during the Brittany Campaign, on 27 August 1944 A TRP, 28th SQDN was dispatched South to reconnoiter the Loire River from Orléans to Saumur, a distance of 100 miles. The Troop successfully completed this mission in two days, and ensured that all bridges over the river were destroyed so no German counterattack could drive into the Third Army's southern flank. Although Third Army operations covered some 475 miles at the beginning of September 1944, the 6th Cavalry moved information so quickly to Army HQ that GEN Patton was afforded an unprecedented amount of flexibility and battlefield awareness. On 5 September, LTC James H. Polk was replaced by COL Edward Fickett to command the 6th Cavalry, and LTC Polk would go on to command the 3rd MCG. On 18 September, GEN Patton ordered the creation of a Task Force consisting of the assault gun Troops (E/6th and E/28th SQDNs) and the tank Company of the 6th SQDN (F CO), with minor supporting elements to assist TF Polk in operations along the Moselle River. During these operations, the tanks and assault guns provided fire support and gained valuable combat experience until 30 September. [19]

During the month of October, rain and mud slowed AIS communications by hindering the mobility of motorcycle and Jeep couriers. In response, the 6th MCG used carrier pigeons beginning 8 October. Although slower than motorized vehicles, the birds provided a useful alternative when radio communications failed. [19] At the beginning of November, the 6th MCG was ordered to only keep one Squadron on AIS duties to enable to other to be used for direct action. TF Fickett was created by attaching 5th Ranger Battalion, C Co 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and B Co 293rd Engineer Battalion to 6th SQDN. TF Fickett was committed to XX Corps during the attack on the Saar River, and prepared to engage the German 36th Infantry Division on 2 December 1944. [19] Advancing on a two-mile front against the towns of Carling and L'Hôpital, TF Fickett met fierce German resistance but managed to clear their objectives on 5 December. This action destroyed a salient in the American lines that threatened the advance and prevented any Corps level forces from being drawn away from the battle. [19] On 8 December, TF Fickett relieved the 11th Infantry Regiment of the 5th Infantry Division and eventually relieved the entire division. The Task Force covered the frontage of an entire division in an economy of force mission. On 16 December, 6th and 28th SQDNs switched their duties (6th went to AIS and 28th went to TF Fickett), and the TF was reassigned to support III Corps. [19]

The Battle of the Bulge Edit

TF Fickett was forced to leave the 5th Ranger BN behind as they moved North on Christmas Eve, 1944 to support III Corps in the Battle of the Bulge. Operating on the flanks of the 4th Armored Division and the 26th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Neufchateau, TF Fickett advanced on the enemy on Christmas Day. By protecting the western flank of the 4th AD, the cavalrymen allowed that division to reach the surrounded paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne on the following day. [19] "The 6th MCG’s actions during III Corps' relief of Bastogne are highly typical of traditional American cavalry operations. Protecting open flanks and maintaining communications between scattered units were long part of horse cavalry doctrine and practiced often. By their actions, the troopers of the 6th MCG contributed immeasurably to the success of the 4th AD in relieving the 101st Airborne Division. Furthermore, they had additionally conducted a true reconnaissance mission along the flank of the corps, and their efforts aided a subsequent attack by two full divisions. [20] "

On 2 January, the 28th SQDN was attached to the 35th Infantry Division facing Harlange to allow them to divert an infantry battalion to the main effort in the north. Meanwhile, the 6th Squadron patrolled the rear areas of the 26th and 35th ID's until 9 January when both Squadrons moved up to the Harlange pocket. Although not in the Group's orders, COL Fickett ordered an attack, and, using combined arms maneuver, the 6th MCG seized the towns of Harlange, Watrange, and Sonlez where they linked up with the 90th Infantry Division. The Germans in the area had held off the 26th, 35th, and 90th IDs for eleven days, but the 6th MCG defeated them and seized eight 88mm guns, five Nebelwerfer launchers, and 300 prisoners. For their actions in this battle, the 6th Mechanized Cavalry Group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. [21]

Advance into Germany Edit

On 20 January 1945, 28th SQDN relieved the 26th ID and promptly seized a bridgehead over the Wiltz River, the town of Winseler, and then the town of Wiltz. The Cavalry continued the advance and maintained the lines of communication between III Corps and XII Corps as the Third Army attacked across the Our River. [19] By 4 February, TF Fickett was given a five-mile frontage to cover on the opposite side of the Siegfried Line, so they were given the 1255th Combat Engineer BN to assist in improving their positions. On 12 February, the 1255th Engineers seized the town of Viandan with the assistance of the 6th MCG's assault guns and tanks, setting the stage for TF Fickett's attack across the Our River. On 14 February, the engineers left the Task Force. On 19 February, TF Fickett was at the southern end of III Corps' line and its mission was to attack across the river in order to fix the German defenders there to prevent them from interfering with VIII Corps' main effort. German resistance was fierce, and B TRP, 28th SQDN lost 27 men near the town of Viandan. Enemy resistance faltered by 24 February, and TF Fickett attacked towards the towns of Waxweiler, Bitburg, and Mauel in Germany. [19] On 28 February, the 6th MCG crossed the Prüm River and engaged the Germans in a pitched battle to take the town of Waxweiler and the surrounding high ground. In the fight to clear the roads east of Waxweiler, one platoon of the 6th SQDN had every single NCO become a casualty in one day’s fighting. In a rough two-day fight, TF Fickett crossed the Nims River at Lasel and continued moving east, culminating their advance with the seizure of Neuheilenbach on 4 March. [19]

On 5 March, the 6th MCG was sent to protect VIII Corps' Northern flank. Here they assisted the 87th Infantry Division and the 11th Armored Division as they attacked east across the Rhine River. On 26 March, TF Fickett was ordered to pass through the two divisions and serve as the Corps' advance guard into Germany. For this mission, TF Ficket consisted of the 6th and 28th SQDNs of the 6th MCG, 1 BN of artillery, 2 Tank Destroyer COs, 1 CO of Engineers, and 2 Infantry COs of the 76th Infantry Division. [19] TF Fickett further divided itself into five independent Task Forces centered around the Reconnaissance Troops. On 27 March 1945 the advance began and moved swiftly. The next day, 28th SQDN encountered the 6th SS Mountain Division Nord in the town of Schmitten, Germany. A platoon from C TRP was ambushed and shattered by the SS soldiers as well as the platoon that came to rescue them. By the end of the day, the cavalrymen suffered 36 casualties including a tank, a tank destroyer and every Jeep that entered the town. SS resistance was so great, that the TF bypassed Schmitten altogether. By the 29th, the TF had traveled 50 miles and encountered only sporadic German resistance. [19] By the end of March, TF Fickett was stripped of its Tank Destroyer and Infantry augmentations, and was sent to act as a rear guard for the VIII Corps advance to round up German stragglers bypassed by the rapids columns of advancing armor and infantry. [19]

On 11 April, Third Army began advancing toward Czechoslovakia, and 6th MCG was split into two elements 28th SQDN committed a TRP to act as a liaison between XX Corps and VIII Corps, while 6th SQDN operated in a security role on the edges of the VIII advance. On 15 April, the 6th MCG crossed the Saale River, fighting their way through light German resistance, and encouraging pockets of Germans to surrender, or bypassing those who didn't and reporting their location to the following larger forces. Seizing and securing bridges for the VIII Corps advance, the 6th Cavalry entered Czechoslovakia on 20 April 1945. On 12 April, Third Army was ordered to assault into Bavaria, the "National Redoubt" of Nazi Germany. [19] While Third Army advanced into Bavaria, VIII Corps and the 6th MCG remained in Czechoslovakia along defensive position on the Weisse Elster River between Gornitz and Rossbach. The Cavalrymen's last attack occurred on 6 May when they drove across the river, but were stopped on 7 May due to the ceasefire. [19]

The 6th Mechanized Cavalry Group's exemplary service during the Second World War acting as Army level reconnaissance led to their deserved nickname "Patton's Household Cavalry." The Regiment would not go home immediately after the war, however, and it remained as part of the United States Constabulary in West Berlin until 1957. [19]

Cold War Edit

On 20 December 1948, the former 6th Cavalry Regiment was reorganized and redesignated as the 6th Armored Cavalry. The regiment returned to the United States from Germany in 1957 during Operation Gyroscope and was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Inactivated in 1963, the regiment reactivated four years later at Fort Meade, Maryland. In April 1968 the regiment was deployed to assist the suppression of the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots. [22] : 290–3 On 31 March 1971 the regiment was reduced to just the 1st Squadron, which departed for Fort Bliss, Texas. [23] The 1st Squadron was inactivated there on 21 June 1973. [24]

The lineage of the former Troop A, 6th Armored Cavalry was redesignated on 22 June 1973 as Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry, assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, and activated at Fort Hood, Texas. The lineage of the former Troop B, 6th Armored Cavalry was redesignated on 1 July 1974 as Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry, and activated at Fort Knox, Kentucky (organic elements concurrently constituted and activated). Members of 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry, [25] located at Fort Knox, Kentucky, were involved in testing of both the M-1 Abrams (H Company) and M-3 Bradley (E Troop) in the 1980s. [ citation needed ] The 2nd Squadron was inactivated on 30 May 1986 at Fort Knox, and then soon thereafter reactivated on 16 July 1986 at Fort Hood, Texas. Later it was assigned to the 11th Aviation Brigade of VII Corps in Germany.

In the summer of 1974, the Army decided to implement one of the recommendations of the Howze Board and created an air cavalry combat brigade. The assets of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, [26] commanded by Col. Charles E. Canedy, were used to create the 6th Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat). 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry, was transferred to the new brigade on 21 February 1975. The brigade served as a test bed for new concepts involving the employment of attack helicopters on the modern battlefield. (The 6th Cavalry Brigade's lineage is separate from the lineage of the 6th Cavalry Regiment.) [27] Later, in the fall of 1990, two subordinate units of the 6th Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat) deployed in Iraq during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. One of those units was 2nd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, a Chinook battalion from Fort Hood.

On 15 December 1995, the 1st Squadron was inactivated at Fort Hood, and the 4th Squadron was also inactivated in late 1995. Thus only the 3rd Squadron remained at Fort Hood. By this time the 6th, through activations and inactivations, had long since transitioned from armor to aviation. The 1st Squadron was reactivated on July 1996 in Korea.

On 16 July 1986, four days after becoming the first unit to receive the AH-64A Apache helicopter, the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry reactivated and reflagged as the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry. The 3-6 CAV call sign "Heavy Cav" draws on the 7-17 CAV lineage. Following the 7-17 CAV’s return from a distinguished tour in Vietnam, it became the United States Army's only Attack Helicopter Squadron with more AH-1 Cobras than any other unit. This lent itself to the name "Heavy Cav" which was subsequently adopted by 3-6 CAV as their call sign. The squadron served with distinction at Fort Hood from 1986 to 1996. [28]

In December 1996, 3-6 CAV received orders to deploy to the Republic of Korea. Several months later, the squadron, consisting of 24 Apaches, stood ready to fight at Camp Humphreys, Korea. Assigned to the Eighth United States Army, its mission was to provide a screening force on the peninsula's Western coast. In May 2002 the unit was deactivated and reactivated at Fort Hood, TX in order to be outfitted with AH-64D. On 15 June 2006, the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry was inactivated and its personnel reflagged as the 4th Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment, assigned to the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade. [28]

War on terrorism Edit

In February 2003 2nd and 6th Squadrons were deployed to Kuwait to prepare for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The units were accompanied by their group command unit, the 11th Aviation Group, [29] and supporting AH-64 repair unit, the 7th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, all hailing from Storck Barracks in Illesheim, Germany. When units began making way into Iraq the 2nd and 6th Squadrons accompanied by several other units making up Task Force 11 flew into combat and became a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 2nd Squadron left Iraq to return to Germany and case their colors until return from the Unit Field Training Program at Ft. Hood TX, where their AH-64A Apaches were converted to AH-64D Apache models. Meanwhile in Iraq, the 6th Squadron was performing combat support and convoy safety operations until the unit received orders to return to home station in Germany. After returning to Illesheim and regaining full fighting strength the 6th Squadron received their sister squadron back into Storck Barracks. Together the 2nd and 6th Squadrons trained and began readiness to redeploy in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Army Transformation the squadrons lost their command when the 11th Aviation Group cased its colors in June 2005, the units were absorbed by the 1st Infantry Division and redesignated, thus closing another chapter of the Fighting Sixth.

On 4 January 2005 2nd Squadron deployed from Germany to Afghanistan absorbing elements from other units to become Task Force Sabre. CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, AH-64 Apaches and the necessary support elements composed the aviation task force which deployed to support the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

In 2005 and 2006 as a part of the Army Transformation, squadrons of the regiment were again reorganized, as the Army eliminated from its rolls those OH-58D Kiowa Warrior units designated as attack battalions in light infantry divisions. Several of these attack battalions were reflagged as squadrons of the 6th Cavalry Regiment, replacing AH-64 squadrons that were then redesignated as Armed Reconnaissance Battalions:

  • 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry – 1st Infantry Division – Fort Riley, Kansas
  • 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry – 25th Infantry Division (Light) – Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
  • 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry – 7th Infantry Division – Fort Lewis, Washington
  • 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry – 10th Mountain Division (LI) – Fort Drum, New York

In 2006, 2nd Squadron deployed with its parent unit, the Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, from Wheeler Army Airfield to Iraq. The squadron was recognized with the Order of Daedalians' 2006 Brig. Gen. Carl I. Hutton Memorial Award for their safety record in preparation for the deployment. [30] The Squadron returned to Hawaii in 2007 having lost only one aircrew to hostile fire.

In 2007, 1st Squadron and 4th Squadron deployed to Iraq. The squadrons along with 1st Squadron's parent brigade, the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, replaced 2nd Squadron and its parent brigade. 4th Squadron returned to Fort Lewis during August and September 2008. In October 2008, 1st Squadron began to return to Fort Carson, being replaced by 6th Squadron. 6th Squadron has now taken over operations in Iraq with its parent brigade, the Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry).

From August 2015 to April 2016 3-6 CAV deployed to the Middle East in support of Operations Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve. The 3-6 CAV served with distinction during this deployment, to include selection as the 2015 Department of the Army LTG Ellis D. Parker Award Winner in the Combat Category and the Overall Best Aviation Battalion in the Army. [28]

Modernization Edit

On 16 March 2015, the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, was activated at Fort Bliss, Texas, and assigned to the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division. Again, 3-6 CAV led Army Aviation as the Army's first Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadron formed as part of the 2015 Army Aviation Restructuring Initiative. This conversion assigned three Shadow TUAS platoons to 3-6 CAV's 24 AH-64D Apache Attack Helicopters and combined the lethality and effectiveness of manned and unmanned aircraft.

Battlefield tour: The battle for the Platrand (Caesar’s camp and Wagon Hill)

The siege of Ladysmith during the Anglo-Boer war is the stuff of legends. The Boers had surrounded General Sir George White and his troops since the start of November 1899 but had been generally inactive and unwilling to launch a frontal assault on the town.

The spot at Caesar’s camp where twp VC’s were won by the Manchester Regiment. Watch the video below fore the full story.

That changed on the 6 th January 1900 when the biggest engagement of the siege was fought on the Platrand ( a ridge to the south of the town) when 4000 Boers were tasked with storming the British defensive positions at Caesar’s camp and Wagon Hill.

Under the cover of darkness, the Transvaal and Orange Free State Commandos climbed up the steep slopes taking the British by surprise. The battle that followed was confused and bloody. If the British were pushed off the ridge then the Boers would be able to fire their rifles into the town itself making its surrender inevitable. The tide of war hung in the balance.

In my latest battlefield adventure, my father and I walk the battlefield, tell the story and examine the terrain.


January [ edit | edit source ]

    – U.S. Secretary of StateJohn Hay announces the Open Door Policy to promote American trade with China. – Dr. Henry A. Rowland of Johns Hopkins University announces a theory about the cause of the Earth's magnetism. – Second Boer War: Boers attempt to end the Siege of Ladysmith, which leads to the Battle of Platrand. – S.S. Lazio, an Italian professional sports club, is founded in Rome.
      's opera Tosca premieres in Rome, Italy.
    • The U.S. Senate accepts the British-German treaty of 1899, in which the United Kingdom renounced its claims to the American Samoa portion of the Samoan Islands.
      – Boxer Rebellion: Foreign diplomats in Peking, Qing dynasty China, demand that the Boxer rebels be disciplined. – Datu Muhammad Salleh, leader of the Mat Salleh Rebellion in North Borneo, is shot dead in Tambunan.

    February [ edit | edit source ]

      – The United Kingdom and the United States sign a treaty for the building of a Central American shipping canal across Central America in Nicaragua. – The international arbitration court at The Hague is created when the Netherlands' Senate ratifies an 1899peace conference decree. – Second Boer War: British troops are defeated by the Boers at Ladysmith. – Second Boer War – Battle of Paardeberg: 20,000 British troops invade the Orange Free State. – Second Boer War: The Siege of Kimberley is lifted. – Second Boer War: Battle of Paardeberg: British troops defeat the Boers.
        , Germany's most successful football club, is founded in Munich. : British military leaders accept the unconditional notice of surrender from Boer General Piet Cronjé. , officially established at a meeting in the Congregational Memorial Hall in London.

      March [ edit | edit source ]

        – Two U.S. Navy cruisers are sent to Central America to protect American interests in a dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. – A coal mine explosion in West Virginia, U.S.A. kills 50 miners. – Botanist Hugo de Vries rediscovers Mendel's Laws of Heredity. – The Gold Standard Act is ratified, placing the United States currency on the gold standard. – The British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans purchases the land on Crete on which the ruins of the palace of Knossos stand. He begins to unearth some of the palace three days later. – AFC Ajax, a successful football club in Netherlands, is founded in Amsterdam.Template:Citation needed – The arrival of a Russian naval fleet in Korea causes concern to the Imperial Japanese government.

      April [ edit | edit source ]

      Exposition Universelle view in Paris

      May [ edit | edit source ]

        – Scofield Mine disaster: An explosion of blasting powder in a coal mine in Scofield, Utah kills 200. – The second Modern Olympic Games opens in Paris (as part of the Paris World Exhibition).
          : The British Army relieves the Siege of Mafeking. : Boxers destroy three villages near Peking and kill sixty Chinese Christians. 's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is published in Chicago, the first of Baum's Oz books chronicling the fictional Land of Oz for children.

        June [ edit | edit source ]

          – American temperance agitator Carrie Nation begins her crusade to demolish saloons. – Second Boer War: British soldiers take Pretoria. – The Reichstag approves a second law that allows the expansion of the Imperial German Navy – Boxer Rebellion: Battle of Dagu Forts: Naval forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance capture the Taku Forts on the Hai River estuary in China. – Boxer Rebellion: Boxers gather about 20,000 people near Peking and kill hundreds of European citizens, including the German ambassador. – The Taoist monk Wang Yuanlu discovers the Dunhuang manuscripts in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang, China, where they have been sealed since the early 11th century. – Hoboken Docks fire: A wharf fire at the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, owned by the North German Lloyd Steamship line spreads to German passenger shipsTemplate:SS, Template:SS, and Template:SS. The fire engulfs the adjacent piers and nearby ships, killing 326 people.

        July [ edit | edit source ]

          – The first zeppelin flight is carried out over Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, Germany. – Germancruise linerSS Deutschland breaks the record for the Blue Riband for the first time with an average speed of Template:Convert. -25 – The First Pan-African Conference is held in London. – King Umberto I of Italy is assassinated by the Italian-born anarchist Gaetano Bresci.

        August [ edit | edit source ]

          – Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, was born in London – Boxer Rebellion: An international contingent of troops, under British command, invades Peking and frees the Europeans taken hostage.

        September [ edit | edit source ]

          – The 1900 Galveston hurricane kills about 6,000–12,000 people. – Admiral Fredrik von Otter becomes Prime Minister of Sweden. – Philippine–American War: Filipino resistance fighters defeat a detachment of American soldiers in the Battle of Pulang Lupa. – Philippine–American War: Filipinos under Juan Cailles defeat the Americans under Colonel Benjamin F. Cheatham at the Battle of Mabitac.

        October [ edit | edit source ]

          - The Cook Islands become a territory of the United Kingdom. - Max Planck discovers the law of black-body radiation (Planck's law). - The United Kingdom annexes the Transvaal.

        November [ edit | edit source ]

        • November 29 – Herbert Kitchener succeeds Frederick Roberts as commander-in-chief of the British forces in South Africa and implements a scorched earth strategy. Ώ]

        December [ edit | edit source ]

        • December 14 – Max Planck announces his discovery of the law of black body emission, marking the birth of quantum physics.
        • December 27 – British human rights activist Emily Hobhouse arrives in Cape Town.
        • December 31 – A large standing stone at Stonehenge falls over, the most recent time this has happened.

        Date unknown [ edit | edit source ]

        • Australasian prospector Albert Fuller Ellis identifies phosphate deposits on the Pacific Islands of Nauru and Banaba Island (Ocean Island).
        • In New Haven, Connecticut, U.S., Louis Lassen of Louis' Lunch makes the first modern-day hamburger sandwich.
        • First Michelin Guide published in France. develops a system of blood grouping

        Events and Inventions of the First Decade of the 20th Century

        The first decade of the 20th century resembled the one that had just ended more than it would resemble the rest of the century to come. For the most part, clothing, customs, and transportation remained as they had been. The changes associated with the 20th century would come in the future, with the exception of two major inventions: the airplane and the car.

        In this first decade of the 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest man ever to be inaugurated as president of the United States, and he was a popular one. His progressive agenda foretold a century of change.

        February 8: Kodak introduces Brownie cameras. Manufacturer George Eastman would like a camera in every home, so the cameras sell for $1. Film was 15 cents, plus a 40 cent processing fee.

        June 1900–September 1901: When the bloody uprising known as the Boxer Rebellion occurs in China, the protest against foreigners ultimately leads to the end of the last imperial dynasty—the Qing (1644–1912).

        July 29: Italy's King Umberto is assassinated after several years of social unrest and the imposition of martial law.

        Max Planck (1858–1947) formulates the quantum theory, making the assumption that energy is made up of individual units he called quanta.

        Sigmund Freud publishes his landmark work "The Interpretation of Dreams," introducing his theory of the unconscious as it is reflected in dreams.

        January 1: Australia's six colonies joined together, becoming a commonwealth.

        January 22: Britain's Queen Victoria dies, marking the end of the Victorian era her reign of more than 63 years had dominated the 19th century.

        September 6: President William McKinley is assassinated, and at the age of 42, his vice president Theodore Roosevelt is inaugurated as the youngest U.S. president ever.

        November 24: The first Nobel Prizes are awarded, in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The peace prize goes to Frenchman Frédéric Passy and Swiss Jean Henry Dunant.

        December 12: In Newfoundland, Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) receives a radio signal from Cornwall, England, consisting of the Morse code for the letter "S." It is the first transatlantic transmission.

        May 8: Mount Pelee on the West Indian island of Martinique erupts, producing one of the deadliest eruptions in history, obliterating the town of St. Pierre. It proves a landmark event for vulcanology.

        May 31: The Second Boer War ends, ending the independence of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, and placing both under British control.

        November 16: After President Teddy Roosevelt refuses to kill a tied-up bear during a hunting trip, Washington Post political cartoonist Clifford Berryman satirizes the event by drawing a cute fuzzy teddy bear. Morris Michtom and his wife soon decided to create a stuffed bear as a children's toy, calling it "Teddy's Bear."

        The U.S. renews the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, making Chinese immigration permanently illegal and extending the rule to cover Hawaii and the Philippines.

        January 18: Marconi sends the first complete transatlantic radio message from President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII.

        The first license plates are issued in the U.S., by the state of Massachusetts. Plate No. 1 goes to Frederic Tudor, and it still is used by his descendants.

        October 1–13: The first World Series is played in Major League Baseball between the American League Boston Americans and the National League Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh wins the best of nine games, 5-3.

        October 10: British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1828–1928) founds the Women's Social and Political Union, a militant organization that will campaign for women's suffrage until 1917.

        December 1: The first silent movie, "The Great Train Robbery," is released. A short western, it was written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter and starred Broncho Billy Anderson and others.

        December 17: The Wright Brothers succeed in making a powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, an event that would change the world and have a huge impact on the century to come.

        February 8: The Russo-Japanese War begins, with the two imperialists squabbling over Korea and Manchuria.

        February 23: Panama gains independence and sells the Panama Canal Zone to the U.S. for $10 million. Canal construction begins by the end of the year, as soon as the infrastructure is in place.

        July 21: The Trans-Siberian Railway officially opens for business, connecting European Russia to Siberia and the remote far east.

        October 3: Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955) opens the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was one of the first of such schools for girls and would eventually become Bethune-Cookman University.

        October 24: The first rapid transit subway line on the New York Subway makes its first run, running from the City Hall subway station to 145th street.

        Albert Einstein proposes his Theory of Relativity explaining the behavior of objects in space and time it will have ​a profound influence on the way we understand the universe.

        January 22: "Bloody Sunday" occurs when a peaceful demonstration at Tsar Nicholas II's (1868–1918) winter palace in St. Petersburg is fired upon by imperial forces and hundreds are killed or wounded. It is the first event of the violent phase of the Revolution of 1905 in Russia.

        Freud publishes his famous Theory of Sexuality, in a collection of three essays in German that he will write and rewrite again and again during the rest of his career.

        June 19: The first movie theater opens in the United States, the Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, and is said to have shown "The Baffled Burglar."

        Summer: Painters Henri Matisse and Andre Derain introduce fauvism to the art world in an exhibit at the annual Salon d'Automne in Paris.

        February 10: The Royal Navy warship known as the HMS Dreadnaught is launched, sparking a worldwide arms race.

        April 18: The San Francisco earthquake devastates the city. Estimated at a 7.9 magnitude, the quake kills up to 3,000 people and destroys as much as 80% of the city.

        May 19: The first section of the Simplon Tunnel through the Alps is completed, connecting Brig, Switzerland and Domodossola, Italy.

        W.K. Kellogg opens a new factory in Battle Creek, Michigan and hires 44 employees to produce the initial production batch of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

        November 4: U.S. muckraking novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) publishes the final serial part of "The Jungle" in the Socialist newspaper, "Appeal to Reason." Based on his own investigative journalism at the meatpacking plants in Chicago, the novel shocks the public and leads to new federal food safety laws.

        Finland, a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, becomes the first European country to give women the right to vote, 14 years before this was achieved in the United States.

        March: Typhoid Mary (1869–1938), a healthy carrier of the disease believed responsible for several northeast U.S. outbreaks of typhoid, is captured for the first time.

        October 18: The Ten Rules of War are established at the Second Hague Peace Conference, defining 56 articles dealing with the treatment of sick and wounded, prisoners of war, and spies and including a list of prohibited weapons.

        The first electric washing machine, called the Thor, is sold by Hurley Electric Laundry Equipment Company.

        Spanish painter Pablo Picasso (1883–1973) turns heads in the art world with his cubist painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."

        June 30: A huge and mysterious explosion called the Tunguska Event occurs in Siberia, possibly created by an asteroid or comet landing on Earth.

        July 6: A group of exiles, students, civil servants, and soldiers called the Young Turks movement restores the Ottoman constitution of 1876, ushering in multiparty politics and a two-stage electoral system.

        September 27: The first production Model-T automobile is released by Henry Ford's Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan.

        December 26: Jack Johnson (1888–1946) boxes Canadian Tommy Burns (1881–1955) at the Sydney Stadium in Australia to become the first African-American boxer to be the world heavyweight champion.

        December 28: An earthquake in Messina, Italy with an estimated magnitude of 7.1 destroys the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria, and takes the lives of between 75,000 and 82,000 people.

        De Agostini / Getty Images

        February 5: U.S. chemist Leo Baekeland (1863–1944) presents his invention, the first synthetic plastic known as Bakelite, to the American Chemical Society.

        February 12: The NAACP is founded by a group including W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington, and Moorfield Storey.

        April 6: After wintering near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island, British explorer Robert Peary ​(1856–1920) reaches what he thinks is the North Pole, although modern studies of his field notes place him 150 miles short of his destination. His claim will be formally recognized by the U.S. in 1911.

        October 26: Japan's former prime minister Prince Itō Hirobumi is assassinated by a Korean independence activist.

        Siege of Ladysmith

        71. Podcast on the Siege of Ladysmith: The siege in Natal during the Boer War that ensnared a British army from 2 nd November 1899 to 27 th February1900, but blocked the Boer invasion of the colony: John Mackenzie’s podcasts

        The previous battle of the Great Boer War is the Siege of Kimberley

        The next battle of the British Battles sequence is the Black Mountain Expedition 1888

        Lieutenant General Sir George White: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        War: The Boer War

        Dates of the Siege of Ladysmith: 2 nd November 1899 to 27 th February 1900.

        Place of the Siege of Ladysmith: Northern Natal in Southern Africa.

        Combatants at the Siege of Ladysmith: British against the Boers.

        Commanders at the Siege of Ladysmith: Lieutenant General Sir George White against Generals Joubert and Botha.

        Size of the armies at the Siege of Ladysmith: 5,500 British troops against a varying number of Boers. From the end of the year 1899 the garrison outnumbered the besieging Boers.

        Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Siege of Ladysmith: The Boer War was a serious jolt for the British Army. At the outbreak of the war British tactics were appropriate for the use of single shot firearms, fired in volleys controlled by company and battalion officers the troops fighting in close order. The need for tight formations had been emphasised time and again in colonial fighting. In the Zulu and Sudan Wars overwhelming enemy numbers armed principally with stabbing weapons were easily kept at a distance by such tactics but, as at Isandlwana, would overrun a loosely formed force. These tactics had to be entirely rethought in battle against the Boers armed with modern weapons.

        Boers bringing up a ‘Long Tom’ to bombard Ladysmith: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        In the months before hostilities the Boer commandant general, General Joubert, bought 30,000 Mauser magazine rifles and a number of modern field guns and automatic weapons from the German armaments manufacturer Krupp and the French firm Creusot. The commandoes, without formal discipline, welded into a fighting force through a strong sense of community and dislike for the British. Field Cornets led burghers by personal influence not through any military code.

        Ladysmith and the Klip River: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        The Boers did not adopt military formation in battle, instinctively fighting from whatever cover there might be. The preponderance were countrymen, running their farms from the back of a pony with a rifle in one hand. These rural Boers brought a life time of marksmanship to the war, an important edge, further exploited by Joubert’s consignment of magazine rifles. Viljoen is said to have coined the aphorism ‘Through God and the Mauser’. With strong fieldcraft skills and high mobility the Boers were natural mounted infantry. The urban burghers and foreign volunteers readily adopted the fighting methods of the rest of the army.

        Sergeant and Private Royal Dublin Fusiliers: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        Other than in the regular uniformed Staats Artillery and police units, the Boers wore their everyday civilian clothes on campaign.

        After the first month, the Boers lost their numerical superiority, spending the rest of the formal war on the defensive against British forces that regularly outnumbered them.

        British tactics, little changed from the Crimea, used at Modder River, Magersfontein, Colenso and Spion Kop were incapable of winning battles against entrenched troops armed with modern magazine rifles. Every British commander made the same mistake Buller Methuen, Roberts and Kitchener. When General Kelly-Kenny attempted to winkle Cronje’s commandoes out of their riverside entrenchments at Paardeburg using his artillery, Kitchener intervened and insisted on a battle of infantry assaults with the same disastrous consequences as Colenso, Modder River, Magersfontein and Spion Kop.

        Some of the most successful British troops were the non-regular regiments the City Imperial Volunteers, the South Africans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders, who more easily broke from the habit of traditional European warfare, using their horses for transport rather than the charge, advancing by fire and manoeuvre in loose formations and making use of cover, rather than the formal advance into a storm of Mauser bullets.

        Three generations of Boer soldiers: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        Uniform at the Siege of Ladysmith: The British regiments made an uncertain change into khaki uniforms in the years preceding the Boer War, with the topee helmet as tropical headgear. Highland regiments in Natal devised aprons to conceal coloured kilts and sporrans. By the end of the war the uniform of choice was a slouch hat, drab tunic and trousers the danger of shiny buttons and too ostentatious emblems of rank emphasised in several engagements with disproportionately high officer casualties.

        The British infantry were armed with the Lee Metford magazine rifle firing 10 rounds. But no training regime had been established to take advantage of the accuracy and speed of fire of the weapon. Personal skills such as scouting and field craft were little taught. The idea of fire and movement was unknown, many regiments still going into action in close order. Notoriously General Hart insisted that his Irish Brigade fight shoulder to shoulder as if on parade in Aldershot. Short of regular troops, Britain engaged volunteer forces from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who brought new ideas and more imaginative formations to the battlefield.

        German volunteers in the Boer army: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        The British regular troops lacked imagination and resource. Routine procedures such as effective scouting and camp protection were often neglected. The war was littered with incidents in which British contingents became lost or were ambushed often unnecessarily and forced to surrender. The war was followed by a complete re-organisation of the British Army.

        British hilltop picket: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        The British artillery was a powerful force in the field, underused by commanders with little training in the use of modern guns in battle. Pakenham cites Pieters as being the battle at which a British commander, surprisingly Buller, developed a modern form of battlefield tactics: heavy artillery bombardments co-ordinated to permit the infantry to advance under their protection. It was the only occasion that Buller showed any real generalship and the short inspiration quickly died.

        The Royal Field Artillery fought with 15 pounder guns the Royal Horse Artillery with 12 pounders and the Royal Garrison Artillery batteries with 5-inch howitzers. The Royal Navy provided heavy field artillery with a number of 4.7-inch naval guns mounted on field carriages devised by Captain Percy Scott of HMS Terrible.

        Automatic weapons were used by the British usually mounted on special carriages accompanying the cavalry.

        Royal Artillery 42nd Battery arriving at Durban: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        Winner of the Siege of Ladysmith: The British under White held out until relieved by General Buller, but without great distinction.

        Sergeant of 18th Hussars: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        British Regiments at the Siege of Ladysmith:
        18 th Hussars: from 1922, the 13 th /18 th Royal Hussars and now the Light Dragoons.
        19 th Hussars: from 1922, the 15 th /19 th King’s Royal Hussars and now the Light Dragoons.
        5 th Lancers: from 1922, the 16th/5th Lancers and now the Royal Lancers.
        Royal Field Artillery: 13 th , 18 th , 21 st , 42 nd , 53 rd and 69 th Batteries. No 10 Mountain Battery
        1 st King’s Liverpool Regiment: now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.
        1 st Devonshire Regiment: now the Rifles.
        1 st Leicestershire Regiment: now the Royal Anglian Regiment.
        1 st Gloucestershire Regiment: now the Rifles.
        1 st King’s Royal Rifle Corps: now the Rifles.
        1 st Manchester Regiment: now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.
        2 nd Gordon Highlanders: now the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

        2 nd Rifle Brigade: now the Rifles
        1 st Royal Irish Fusiliers: disbanded in 1922.
        2 nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers: disbanded in 1922.
        Natal Volunteer Artillery

        Map of the Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: map by John Fawkes

        Account of the Siege of Ladysmith:
        The Boer War began on 11 th October 1899 with the invasion of Natal by General Joubert’s Boer army of 35,000 Transvaalers and Orange Free Staters.

        On his appointment as commander-in-chief, General Sir Redvers Buller urged that no British troops should be positioned further north than the Tugela River, until he arrived from England with the British Army Corps. Buller knew South Africa and the Boers and that the force commanded by White was insufficient to venture across the Tugela.

        After the initial British successes of the Battles of Talana Hill and Elandslaagte, Buller was proved correct. White lost the Battle of Ladysmith and quickly found himself trapped by the advancing Boers.

        On 2 nd November 1899, the railway line was cut south of Ladysmith and White’s army was under siege in the town.

        On the last train out were Major General French and his chief of staff, Major Douglas Haig, lying on the carriage floor amidst a hail of bullets, escaping to command the cavalry division with regiments arriving from Britain.

        Last train out before the Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        White was an elderly general, whose career had been forged in an earlier epoch. White had fought in the Indian Mutiny and won the Victoria Cross in the Second Afghan War. Semi-retirement beckoned with the Governorship of Gibraltar, when the South African crisis diverted him to Durban and pushed him back into the front line.

        The warfare in Natal was beyond White’s experience and capability, requiring knowledge of the country, which White did not have. Fighting the well-armed Boers required active and accurate reconnaissance and intelligence. It required energy, hard work and resource and above all insight, initiative and determination, qualities White no longer possessed.

        Observation Hill in Ladysmith: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by Melton Prior

        White knew that he should not permit his force to be pinned down in a useless minor township. He should have retreated precipitously to avoid being caught in Ladysmith. But he could not bring himself to abandon the stockpile of army supplies built up in the town.

        The Ladysmith Balloon: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        When Buller arrived in Cape Town with the British Army Corps, the expectation of him was that he would invade the Orange Free State at a point of his choosing. The strategic pendulum would then have swung firmly in Britain’s favour. White’s investment in Ladysmith, with Cecil Rhodes self-immurement in Kimberley, changed all that. Buller could not permit such a large force as White’s to fall into the hands of the Boers. He was forced to abandon any notion of invading the Free State for a slogging match across the Tugela to relieve Ladysmith.

        The British in Ladysmith and in Kimberley and Mafeking were fortunate that the nature of the Boer commando made it an inappropriate instrument to conduct a siege. Discipline was voluntary and self-imposed. The Boer burgers had to be persuaded to adopt a course of action. They could not be ordered. The Boer was an ideal soldier for a defensive battle, which most of the main battles were for the Boer side. He was not appropriately armed for an assault, having no bayonet, which in the end was the only way to capture Ladysmith and the other towns.

        King’s Post, 2nd Rifle Brigade: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by Melton Prior

        On 9 th November 1899, the Boers stormed King’s Post on the northern perimeter of Ladysmith and Caesar’s Camp on the southern perimeter. After heavy fighting, the Boers were driven back.

        Union Jack flying over the town: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        The siege quickly developed a monotonous routine, with artillery bombardments conducted by either side each day. Long Tom, the heavy Creusot gun, was the main Boer armament, while the Royal Navy gunners replied with a 4.7-inch gun.

        By agreement with General Cronje, a camp was established at Intombi, on the outer south-eastern edge of the perimeter, for the civilian inhabitants of the town. The camp lay on the railway and throughout the siege trains took sickening civilians to its hospital. A condition laid down by Cronje was that once there, no one could return to the main town.

        On 15 th December 1899, General Buller attempted to force the Boer positions on the Tugela at the Battle of Colenso, losing convincingly. The Ladysmith garrison listened to the distant bombardment. At first it was thought that Buller had forced the Boer positions. The next day, the correct news came through to the town by way of a dispatch from Buller to White, explaining that the Natal Field Force had been repelled.

        Further Buller stated to White that he did not consider his army was strong enough to force the line of the Tugela River to rescue the British garrison in Ladysmith and that White should consider firing away his ammunition and making terms with the Boers.

        White and his officers took Buller to be recommending that they surrender to the Boers and indignantly rejected the suggestion.

        Boer gun positioned to the south-west of Ladysmith: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        Buller sent a telegram making the same point to the government in London, receiving a sharp rebuke in reply, stating that there was no question of permitting the Ladysmith garrison to surrender.

        Buller, after the relief, denied that he had meant that the garrison should surrender.

        Boer shell exploding in the kitchen of the 18th Hussars: Siege of Ladysmith 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        As the extent of the defeat at Colenso sank in, the spirits of the Ladysmith garrison fell. Several of the senior officers were aware that, with the withdrawal of many of the Boers to reinforce Joubert’s lines on the Tugela, the British garrison heavily outnumbered the besiegers and yet almost nothing was done to incommode the Boers.

        The Boer bombardments, particularly by their two 6-inch guns, were conducted at unpredictable times.

        Royal Navy 4.7-inch Gun: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        On 24 th November 1899, Long Tom caught a company of the King’s Liverpools massed in the open, inflicting 9 casualties, 5 of them killed.

        On 22 nd December 1899, Long Tom surprised the Gloucesters inflicting 17 casualties. A repeated target for the long-range Boer guns was the main Ladysmith Hospital.

        On the night of 27 th December 1899, Long Tom dropped a shell into the officers’ mess of the Devons on Junction Hill, killing and wounding a number of officers from various infantry regiments.

        On New Year’s Day 1900, a British officer was killed by a shell landing in the middle of a cricket match, the dead officer being in the act of bowling.

        The counter battery fire was conducted by the two naval 4.7-inch guns known as Lady Anne and Princess Victoria. For the garrison, the sound of British guns firing back maintained morale.

        General White spent most of the siege in his headquarters building in the middle of the town, surrounded by his largely inactive staff. No proper continuous system of fortification or strong points was built. Nothing was done to harass the Boer besiegers. White attempted to maintain the myth that his command was a field force, but did nothing to justify that claim.

        Royal Navy 4.7-inch guns crossing the Tugela River: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by Joseph Finnemore

        Colonel Knox, commanding the northern sector of the Ladysmith perimeter worked hard to fortify his lines. The other sectors were less well served.

        On 8 th December 1899, Colonel Rawlinson persuaded White to permit a raid on the Boer lines. A party of Imperial Light Horse and Natal Carabineers stormed Lombard’s Kop and destroyed two large Boer guns.

        On 11 th December 1899, the Rifles captured Surprise Hill, blowing up a Boer howitzer. This party had to fight its way out but the successes exhilarated the garrison. Denys Reitz was a member of the Boer corporalship that ambushed the retreating Rifles.

        The top of Wagon Hill: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        Colonel Ian Hamilton, the commander in chief in the Dardanelles in 1915, performed less well with his southern sector, containing the vital Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp. Hamilton seems to have had little time for his responsibilities, preferring to stay with his depressive and inactive commander in the headquarters in the centre of Ladysmith.

        President Kruger constantly urged the Boer leaders around Ladysmith to take the town by storm, a course of action they finally agreed to attempt.

        British gun and infantry picket at the Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        On 6 th January 1900, the Boers launched an attack on Ladysmith designed to overwhelm the garrison before the Boers transferred a substantial part of the investing force to the Tugela to help resist Buller’s advance.

        Attacks were launched around the Ladysmith perimeter. Knox beat off the assault on his fortifications with little difficulty.

        Boer attack on Caesar’s Camp on 6th January 1900: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by W. Burton

        The main Boer attack fell on the crescent shaped hill in the southern perimeter known as Caesar’s Camp, the western pinnacle of which was called Wagon Hill.

        Due to the indolence of White and Hamilton, whose sector this was, the area was largely bereft of entrenchments. The Boers approached the brow of the hill in two columns. Finally challenged, the Boers rushed the British posts.

        Boer attack on Wagon Hill: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        The troops on Wagon Hill were the King’s Royal Rifles, Gordon Highlanders and Imperial Light Horse, supported by a Hotchkiss gun. A confused fight took place in the dark.

        Ian Hamilton brought up reinforcements of Gordon Highlanders, Rifle Brigade and the 21 st and 53 rd Field Batteries. Fierce fighting took place along Wagon Hill and in support of the beleaguered companies of Manchesters and Imperial Light Horse on Wagon Hill West and Caesar’s Camp. The Boers were eventually driven back by a renewed attack, reinforced by a dismounted squadron of 18 th Hussars.

        The final movement was conducted by companies of the Devons, who charged the crest of the hill and drove the Boers back, albeit with some loss.

        Devons attacking at Wagon Hill: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by Richard Caton Woodville

        An old Boer was found lying on the hillside with a Martini Henry rifle marked ‘58 th Regiment’ taken from the British during the First Boer War at Laing’s Nek or Majuba Hill.

        The garrison did nothing further to assist Buller’s advance to relieve Ladysmith, other than listen anxiously to the sounds of the fighting on Spion Kop.

        During January 1900, supplies in Ladysmith became seriously short. The remaining cavalry horses were shot for food.

        Devons clearing the top of Wagon Hill: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by W.T. Maud

        Between 20 th and 27 th February 1900, Buller fought his final and successful battle at Pieters, forcing the Boer positions covering the Tugela River crossings.

        On 27 th February 1900, the British pickets on Wagon Hill saw the Boer besiegers trek away across the veldt. Soon afterwards, Buller’s troops marched into Ladysmith. The siege was over.

        General Sir George White greets General Buller on the relief of Ladysmith: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War: picture by John Henry Frederick Bacon

        Casualties in the Siege of Ladysmith:

        The British suffered around 900 men killed and wounded in the Siege of Ladysmith with another 800 men captured by the Boers.

        Boer casualties are not known.

        Follow-up to the Siege of Ladysmith:

        Follow-up to the Siege of Ladysmith:
        Once in Ladysmith Buller made no effort to pursue the Boers who withdrew from Natal. The war in the colony was over.

        Battle Honours and Medal Clasps:

        ‘Defence of Ladysmith’ is a battle honour for the regular British regiments in the garrison.

        ‘Relief of Ladysmith’ is a battle honour for the regular British regiments in Buller’s relieving army.

        The Ladysmith garrison did not know whether they were ‘rogues’ or ‘heroes’ for spending the war in the town. A clasp was issued for the Queen’s South Africa medal ‘Defence of Ladysmith’. Another clasp recorded the ‘Relief of Ladysmith’.

        Anecdotes and traditions from the Siege of Ladysmith:

        Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasp ‘Defence of Ladysmith’

        Capture of the Grivitsa Redoubt in the Siege of Plevna in 1877: picture by Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky

        References for the Siege of Ladysmith:

        Gordon Highlanders cheering the Dublin Fusiliers of Buller’s relieving army: Siege of Ladysmith, 2nd November 1899 to 27th February 1900 in the Great Boer War

        The Boer War is widely covered. A cross section of interesting volumes would be:

        The Great Boer War by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

        Goodbye Dolly Gray by Rayne Kruger

        The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham

        South Africa and the Transvaal War by Louis Creswicke (6 highly partisan volumes)

        Books solely on the fighting in Natal:

        Buller’s Campaign by Julian Symons

        Ladysmith by Ruari Chisholm

        For a view of the fighting in Natal from the Boer perspective:

        71. Podcast on the Siege of Ladysmith: The siege in Natal during the Boer War that ensnared a British army from 2 nd November 1899 to 27 th February1900, but blocked the Boer invasion of the colony: John Mackenzie’s podcasts

        The previous battle of the Great Boer War is the Siege of Kimberley

        The next battle of the British Battles sequence is the Black Mountain Expedition 1888


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        Battle of the Platrand, 6 January 1900 - History

        By John Brown

        In the early hours of October 12, 1899, Commandant-General Piet Joubert and 15,000 Boers crossed the border between Transvaal and Natal near Laing’s Nek in southern Africa. Joubert’s main force, led by General Daniel Erasmus’s 2,000-man commando, followed the railway line south through Newcastle toward the township of Dundee. Paralleling him on his left was General Lucas Meyer’s 3,000-man commando. General Johannes Kock, with his Johannesburg commando and German and Dutch volunteers, came in from the corner of the Orange Free State south of Majuba and advanced on Dundee. London Times reporter Leo Amery vividly described the Boers’ departure as “an endless procession of silent misty figures, horsemen, artillery, and wagons, filing past in the dark, cold night along the winding road that led to where the black shoulder of Majuba stood up against the greyer sky.”

        The Brits and Boers go to War

        The Boers were setting out to punish the British for taking the side of their emigrant countrymen, the so-called Uitlanders, who had flocked into the gold-rich Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State throughout the past two decades. After an abortive raid on Johannesburg by English guerrillas in 1896, relations between the Boers and Great Britain continued to worsen. Transvaal President Paul Kruger gave the British an ultimatum—stop building up British forces in the colonies of Cape Colony and Natal, or face the consequences. Kruger’s ultimatum had expired—unanswered—at midnight on October 11.

        Major General Sir Penn Symons, a headstrong fire-eater, was commander in chief of British forces in Natal. For defense against a Boer attack, he had some 10,000 troops in Ladysmith and had positioned Brig. Gen. James Yule’s 8th Brigade at Dundee, 70 miles northeast of Ladysmith. The brigade comprised four battalions—the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, the 60th Rifles, and the 1st Leicesters. There was also one cavalry regiment, the 18th Hussars, and three batteries of field artillery armed with six 15-pounder guns.

        By separating his forces, Symons had left himself in a dangerous position. It was completely against the advice of General Sir Redvers Buller, who was on his way from England with a 47,000-man army corps and had strongly warned Symons that British forces in Natal should not be pushed too far northward, but instead should be concentrated on the defensive along a line behind the Tugela River. Symons did not take the warning.

        Battle of Talana Hill: a ‘Comical’ Beginning

        Meyer’s commando reached Talana Hill, a steep ridge two miles east of Dundee, at dawn on October 20. In the valley below, Symons had his four battalions on parade in full battle gear. They were facing north toward Mount Impati, a few miles north of Dundee, from which point they knew Joubert’s main army was advancing. Suddenly, some of the troops noticed movements in the mists on Talana Hill and were able to make out Meyer’s commandos hauling three field guns into position. Some of the British troops broke into laughter the idea of a couple of thousand Boers attacking an entire British brigade was comical. A few minutes later, a barrage of 75mm shells wiped the smiles from their faces.

        All three of Symons’s artillery batteries went into action, and for 10 minutes there was a brisk exchange of shells, but no one, at least on the British side, was injured. Even before the exchange ended, Symons had issued orders. Meyer’s commando coming from the east must not be allowed to link up with Joubert’s main army coming from the north. That link could come in just a few hours. Meyer’s commando must be defeated immediately.

        Taking the Hill

        Talana Hill was in fact twin hills, 600-foot Talana to the north and 550-foot Lennox Hill to the south. At the base of Talana was a eucalyptus wood and Smit’s Farm, consisting of a number of farm buildings and fields ringed with stone walls. This was the place, Symons decided, from which to launch a concentrated infantry attack. He would use the tactics of the time, the tactics all regular armies were trained to follow—first, an artillery barrage second, an infantry attack and third, a cavalry charge to cut off the enemy’s retreat.

        Some of Symons’s officers were alarmed by his belief in the virtues of close-order, concentrated attack. To them, an open-order formation was the only tactic to use against magazine rifles. But Symons had made up his mind. His artillery would deal with the southern part of the ridge, Lennox Hill, and his infantry would concentrate in the few hundred yards covered by the stone walls and the eucalyptus wood directly below Talana, before storming the hill in overwhelming strength. There was no time for maneuvering—it was to be a knockout blow before Meyer could link up with Joubert. Symons told his cavalry commander, Lt. Col. B.D. Moller, not to wait for the infantry but to act on his own if he saw a chance. At about 7 am, Moller rode off to the back of Talana Hill to cut off Meyer’s line of retreat.

        The infantry assault began at 7:30. In the lead was the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, followed by the 60th Rifles and the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, who would charge straight through to take the final objective, the summit. The battalions gradually worked their way up the hill in the face of intensive fire from the Boers’ German-made Mauser rifles, but as they reached the top, shrapnel from their own artillery caused severe casualties and halted them. The Boers retreated down the other side of the hill, mounted their horses, and rode away. The artillery did not fire on them, thinking the riders were the 18th Hussars. The Hussars had, in fact, ridden round the back of Mount Impati, where two days later they were surrounded and forced to surrender. The attack had cost the British 51 dead, including the CO of the 60th, and 203 wounded, including Symons, who died a few days later.

        A relief column struggled mightily to reach the besieged township.

        The Boers Close in on Ladysmith

        The British garrison at Ladysmith celebrated Talana Hill as a victory, but General Sir George White was more concerned with Joubert’s main force, some of whom were reported to have occupied Elandslaagte, 15 miles up the railway line from Ladysmith. The Boer troops were Kock’s commando, which had diverged from Joubert’s force. White sent the 7th Brigade, comprising 1,630 infantry, 1,314 cavalry, and 552 gunners with 18 guns and commanded by Colonel Ian Hamilton, by train to Elandslaagte. They found the 1,000-man commando with three 75mm guns occupying a small ridge south of the railway station. Hamilton ordered an immediate attack.

        It was afternoon and a storm was approaching when the British attack went in against volleys of rifle fire. The battalions involved were abruptly brought to a halt. The storm broke over them, giving the battalions an opportunity to renew the attack and clear the crest of the ridge. The cavalry charged as the Boers withdrew, killing some 60 of them, including Kock. British casualties in the action were 50 killed and 213 wounded.

        A new threat to Ladysmith was now developing from the west, with Boer Commandant Henrik Prinsloo coming along the railway from Harrismith. On October 24, White tried to prevent a junction of Prinsloo’s commando and Joubert’s forces by personally leading three battalions of infantry and the 5th Lancers and 5th Dragoon Guards to occupy some hills northwest of Ladysmith. The attempt failed—the Boers had gotten there first.

        “This has not been a successful day”

        Meanwhile, at Dundee, Yule’s brigade was coming under increasing artillery bombardment, including a much-dreaded “Long Tom,” a Creusot 155mm gun throwing a 94-pound shell. Yule sought White’s permission to withdraw to Ladysmith by the one route still open to him. White agreed, and the brigade began a forced march that brought them into Ladysmith on October 26. This increased White’s numbers to 13,745 soldiers and 5,400 civilians, including 2,400 African servants and Indian camp followers. The next day, Joubert’s forces were reported closing in from the north. One commando had occupied Pepworth Hill, four miles northeast of Ladysmith, where it was hastily building a platform for a Long Tom. White decided to attack Pepworth Hill.

        He would use two brigades. The 8th Brigade would make a night march around to the eastern flank of the hill and attack from that direction at dawn on October 30, while the 7th Brigade created a diversion by advancing directly toward the hill. Artillery support would be by 15-pounders and a recently arrived naval gun detachment of four 12-pounders and two 4.7-inch guns. The cavalry would then sweep around the eastern flank and drive the fleeing Boers up against two battalions of infantry that had night-marched around the western flank of the hill.

        The ensuing operation was a disaster. The Boers, whose scouts had warned about a coming attack, had moved their positions to three nearby hills. The British brigades launched their attacks against empty defenses and immediately came under Boer rifle and artillery fire from the three hills. They panicked and retreated, along with the cavalry. The two battalions that had marched around the western flank of Pepworth Hill were isolated and forced to surrender. Lt. Col. Sir Henry Rawlinson described the debacle somewhat mildly in his diary: “This has not been a successful day. Now we shall have to sit down in Ladysmith and stand investment and bombardment, which is very unpleasant. Ladysmith is one of the most indefensible localities I ever came across. It is like the bottom of a tea cup with one side broken out and a large basin outside the tea cup.”

        After the setback, White could still have withdrawn to the Tugela, although he would have had to abandon or destroy a huge amount of stores and supplies at Ladysmith. But he was too depressed to make the decision he did nothing. Three days later, on November 2, Boer commandos cut the railway and telegraph lines south of Ladysmith. All communication with the outside world would now depend upon African runners or carrier pigeons.

        Drive to Durban

        On November 9, Joubert held a council of war outside Ladysmith. As he saw it, there were three options open to the Boers: they could launch an all-out attack on Ladysmith, divide their forces between Ladysmith and the Tugela line, or drive directly south in the hope of reaching Durban before British reinforcements could arrive. It was decided that they would drive directly on Durban.

        The Boers and one of their many 75mm guns.

        To Relieve Ladysmith

        Meanwhile, Buller had arrived in Cape Colony, where he would assemble his corps of 47,000 with the intention of defeating Boer forces while advancing on and occupying Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal. With that accomplished, the presidents of both republics would be forced to surrender. But Buller found, to his consternation, that White was not holding Natal as he had assumed, but had allowed himself to be besieged in Ladysmith, with no intention of trying to fight his way out. Buller decided to take Lt. Gen. Sir Francis Clery’s 2nd Division and, with himself in command, undertake the relief of Ladysmith and the clearing of all Boers from Natal. Clery’s 2nd Division began disembarking at Durban on November 12.

        The leading brigade of the 2nd Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry Hildyard, reached Willow Grange, 10 miles south of Estcourt, where Joubert’s force had concentrated. Hildyard immediately attacked. He inflicted few casualties on the Boers, but Joubert, who had been injured when thrown from a horse, decided to withdraw and set up defenses on the Tugela at Colenso. The Boers withdrew, taking with them 2,000 horses and cattle. The young Louis Botha took Joubert’s place as commandant-general.

        Attempting a River Crossing

        Buller arrived in Natal to find that Botha and his Boers were occupying positions astride the demolished rail bridge over the Tugela at Colenso. He established himself at Frere, 10 miles south of the river, with 19,000 men in four infantry brigades, two regiments of cavalry, and some locally raised mounted troops. From Frere, he attempted reconnaissance of the area to Colenso, but fast-riding, sharp-shooting Boer patrols frustrated all such attempts. Lacking information on Colenso’s defenses and the numbers of Boers manning them, Buller decided on a wide flanking move to the west. He would cross the Tugela at Potgieter’s Drift, 15 miles upstream of Colenso, and come in behind the Colenso defenses close to Ladysmith. Buller informed White of his plan by heliograph on December 11.

        Buller’s immediate problem was how to get across the river. Only three drifts were known to be fordable at the time: Old Wagon Drift half a mile upstream of the demolished railway bridge at Colenso and just downstream of the iron road bridge that was still intact Bridle Drift four miles upstream and Robinson’s Drift, another three miles upstream. All three were stoutly defended, as were Colenso and the hills behind it.

        Buller’s plan of attack was for his cavalry and mounted infantry to cover the flanks of the attacking infantry with those on the right flank to try to occupy Hlangwane Hill south of Colenso. Hildyard’s 2nd Brigade was to attack at Wagon Drift while Maj. Gen. Fitzroy Hart’s 5th Brigade attacked at Bridle Drift. The other two brigades, the 4th and 6th, would be held in reserve. The attacks would open up with a bombardment by a dozen 15-pounders, four naval 12-pounders, and two naval 4.7-inch cannons, all commanded by Colonel Charles Long.

        The 2nd and 5th Brigades advanced at dawn on December 15, but Long, anxious to get his guns into action as far forward as possible, went ahead of Hildyard’s 2nd Brigade and sited two batteries east of Colenso station, only 1,000 yards from Boer positions north of the river. The six naval guns came in behind him. On the left, Hart marched his brigade in close order toward Bridle Drift. But Hart was using an inaccurate map and that fact as well as a misunderstanding by his African guide and interpreter caused him to direct the brigade into a loop made by the river and a spruit, or stream, where the brigade came under Boer artillery and rifle fire.

        Buller saw all this from his headquarters on Naval Gun Hill, two miles south of Colenso, and sent gallopers to tell Hart to extricate himself. Buller could also see that Long’s guns were under intense Boer fire and that Hildyard’s brigade had not even started its approach to Colenso. Then the guns ceased firing, the crews killed or taking cover in a nearby gully. Buller rode out to check on his remaining guns and to see Hildyard. Even if Hildyard got across the river without artillery support, he would be in a precarious position because of Hart’s failure to cross the river upstream and turn the Boer flank. Buller ordered the action aborted and as many guns and crews as possible withdrawn.

        “A Serious Reverse”

        Buller then rode to a large donga behind the gun positions while Hildyard led two battalions into Colenso looking for guns and any British troops still there. Buller was hit in the side and badly bruised by a bullet as he asked some troops to go forward to help with the gun rescue. Some complied, including three of his personal staff—Captains H.N. Schofield and Walter Congreve and Lieutenant Frederick Roberts, son of Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts. Schofield managed to bring two guns back, but Congreve and Roberts were wounded while trying to recover the other guns. Roberts died later in the day. All three officers were awarded the Victoria Cross. (Congreve and Roberts were two of only three pairs of fathers and sons who were awarded the VC. Roberts’s father was awarded it in the Indian Mutiny in 1858, and Congreve’s son was awarded it in France in 1916.)

        Further attempts to rescue guns led to more casualties, and Buller called off the effort. During the afternoon, Hart’s battered brigade was extricated from the loop. British casualties in the action at Colenso were 143 killed, 755 wounded, and 240 missing, mostly captured. It was by no means a disaster but, as Buller described it in a cable to the War Office in London, it was “a serious reverse.” In another cable to the secretary of state for war, the Marquis of Lansdowne, Buller said: “My failure today raises a serious question. I do not think I am now strong enough to relieve White. Colenso is a fortress that, if not taken in a rush, could only be taken by a siege. My view is that I ought to let Ladysmith go, and occupy good positions for the defense of South Natal.”

        Lord Roberts Takes Command

        Lansdowne, in collusion with other politicians, persuaded Prime Minister Lord Robert Salisbury to appoint Roberts commander of all British forces in South Africa, with Buller to remain in Natal as his subordinate and Maj. Gen. Lord Horatio Kitchener as Roberts’s chief of staff. By appointing popular heroes Roberts and Kitchener, the Salisbury administration hoped to escape most of the criticism caused by the failures at Colenso and the battles of Magersfontein and Stormberg that same week, which quickly become known across Great Britain as “Black Week.”

        Roberts’s plan of campaign was to abandon attempts to relieve Kimberley and Mafeking and approach Ladysmith by a turning movement. Roberts assumed that Buller, having been reinforced with Lt. Gen. Sir Charles Warren’s 5th Division, would hold an “entrenched camp” at Chievely and use the rest of his force to turn the enemy position on the Tugela. If that succeeded, Roberts reasoned, “I imagine it would be desirable to evacuate Ladysmith and hold the line of the Tugela.”

        The Boers Continue the Offensive

        After the Boer victories of Black Week, President Kruger urged his commanders to take the offensive and attack the isolated British garrisons at Mafeking, Kimberley, and Ladysmith, with the first blow falling on Ladysmith. Ladysmith had been under siege for six weeks, with White seemingly content to sit and do nothing until he was relieved. For the troops and civilians inside the garrison, the monotony was broken only by sporadic Boer gunfire. Some officers tried to persuade White to take the offensive. He agreed only to mount limited raids on Boer guns threatening the town. In the early hours of December 8, 600 men of the Imperial Light Horse and Natal Carbineers attacked a Boer Long Tom and a 4.5-inch howitzer on Gun Hill, two miles east of the defenses, and blew up both guns. Three days later, an attack by men of the 2nd Rifle Brigade on a howitzer to the northwest of the defenses was less successful the gun was blown up, but the raiding party lost nine killed and 52 wounded before fighting its way back to Ladysmith.

        Muller Collection – General P.A. Cronje

        The Boer guns continued their destruction, and daytime temperatures soared to between 100 and 105 degrees, making life miserable for the British defenders. Illness and fevers, particularly enteric fever, reduced the forces capable of manning the defenses. Buller’s failure at Colenso was a severe blow to morale in the town.

        After a relatively quiet Christmas at Ladysmith, some 2,000 Boers, on the night of January 5, 1900, attacked the southeast corner and eastern end of the 150-foot steep hill called Platrand, and by dawn they had driven the British from the crest of the hill. Rawlinson and Maj. Gen. Sir Archibald Hunter organized a counterattack and stabilized the position, but suffered heavy casualties every time they tried to drive the Boers from the crest of the hill. The next day, the Boers attacked the naval gun emplacement but were driven off. The British attacked Platrand again and reached the crest, but the Boers fought on until darkness fell and then disappeared into the night. British casualties in the action were 17 officers and 152 soldiers killed, and 28 and 221 wounded. Boer casualties were unknown but more than 50 bodies were found on the battlefield.

        Roberts agreed to a proposal by Buller that he again try to relieve Ladysmith. He planned to have Maj. Gen. Neville Lyttelton’s 4th Brigade distract Botha by a feint attack at Potgieter’s Drift on the Tugela, while Warren, with 10,600 infantry, 2,200 mounted troops, and 36 guns, would cross the river seven miles higher up at Trikhardt’s Drift and capture the hills beyond. Then Buller, with 7,200 infantry, 400 mounted troops, and 22 guns, would attack the hills beyond Potgieter’s, which were believed to be more strongly defended. Once they were through the hills, only 15 miles of open plain, with no easily defended obstacles, lay between them and Ladysmith.

        The Battle of Spion Kop

        There was nothing wrong with Buller’s plan the flaw was in giving the principal part to the newly arrived Warren. Warren took two days to move the five miles to Trikhardt’s Drift, two more days to cross the river, and two more days to launch his first attack, on January 20, against the Rangeworthy Hills, which were his main objective. Warren’s orders included breaking the Boer line west of a 1,500-foot-high, flat-topped hill named Spion Kop (Lookout Hill).

        British maps of the area were rudimentary, and no one really knew what shape the hill actually was or what lay immediately beyond it. Warren dithered over the problem and decided that he would attack Spion Kop itself. If the kop was taken and held and heavy guns were installed on it, the Boers would be driven back to the plain. Buller agreed that Warren should attack the hill as soon as the attack succeeded, Buller would push his own force forward from Potgieter’s.

        On the night of January 23, Maj. Gen. E.R.P. Woodgate led an assault group of his 11th Lancashire Brigade up a steep spur to the top of the kop and drove off the Boer picket. The troops then dug in as best they could on the sloping, stony plateau they thought, in the dark and mist, was the crest of the hill. As far as they could tell they were masters of the mountain. Woodgate sent one of his officers back to brief Warren and Buller and ask for naval guns and more of his brigade to be sent up.

        When the sun came up next morning and the mist began to clear at about 8 am, the Lancashires found that Spion Kop was not as they had supposed. The small triangle of the summit, about an acre in extent, was overlooked by two knolls. As soon as there was enough light, Boer defenders unleashed almost point-blank rifle fire at the British troops. Boer artillery soon found the range and pom-pom and heavier shells began to explode among the Lancashires in the long, shallow, crescent-shaped trench they had dug in the dark. They had taken the mountain, but they were now trapped upon it.

        The morning wore on with some 2,000 soldiers packed within a perimeter about a quarter mile around. As the sun rose higher and hotter, the soldiers, without water or food, suffered badly. The Boers, too, were suffering from lack of water and food and were becoming increasingly demoralized. Their attack on the kop, at heavy cost, had only half succeeded, and the large groups of Boer horsemen on the plain below were refusing to join in the battle. Hopelessness began to take hold of the Boers on the kop, and after midday some began abandoning the positions they had seized with such heroism a short time before. Confusion and demoralization set in among the survivors on both sides the atmosphere was described by an English war correspondent as “that acre of massacre, that complete shambles.” That night the British withdrew under cover of darkness, leaving behind 243 bodies piled three-deep in the grisly trenches.

        Buller’s Push to Relieve Ladysmith

        Buller, anxious to restore his tarnished reputation, decided to try again to break through to Ladysmith. Having tried to break through the Boers on the right and center of their position, he decided now to break through on their left, at Vaal Krantz. On February 5, following a feint attack that did not deceive the Boers, Buller’s main force began crossing the Tugela at the exact point where the Boers expected them. Then, when the brigade leading the attack had crossed the Tugela, Buller inexplicably halted the attack, leaving the brigade across the river to attack by itself. When the brigade reached the crest of Vaal Krantz, Buller ordered Lyttelton, their commander, to withdraw. Lyttelton ignored the order at first, but, realizing the attack was failing, he withdrew the next day and returned to Chieveley. The brigade had taken 400 casualties.

        In Ladysmith, morale had sunk even lower, if that was possible. The siege had now lasted for 100 days. Medical arrangements were bad—some 563 soldiers had died of sickness, 393 from typhoid. By January 30, White’s hopes of using his cavalry had vanished, and the horses were eaten by the starving garrison. Meanwhile, Buller had come to the conclusion that his next attack must use different tactics. Instead of throwing in all his forces to gain a swift victory, he would try a gradual and more methodical advance, each step supported by the largest possible number of guns. The terrain northeast of Colenso lent itself to this method, being dominated by a series of hills leading up to the southern bank of the Tugela.

        Buller’s next attack began on February 12 with the temporary occupation of Hussar Hill, four miles east of Colenso. From this hill, Buller could view the Boer positions on the series of hills running northwest for three miles to the river. These would provide the stepping-stones that would lead Buller to a position from which he could tackle the formidable gorge through which the railway ran on the north bank of the river to Ladysmith.

        Colonel Lord Dundonald’s brigade occupied Hussar Hill on February 14. The next day, the 6th Fusilier Brigade took Green Hill, and three days later the Boers abandoned all their positions south and east of the Tugela. Colenso was reoccupied. From the summit of Monte Cristo Hill, Buller could see the outskirts of Ladysmith lying below. Inspired, he ordered a pontoon bridge across the river north of Colenso, below Hlangwane. While it was being built, he ordered Lt. Col. Alec Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry across the river to occupy Fort Wylie. When the pontoon bridge was completed on the 21st, Buller sent the 11th Lancashire Brigade across it to take the two hills on the far side.

        On the 23rd, Hart’s 5th Irish Brigade passed behind Wynne’s Hill to attack the hill to its right. To get to the hill, he led his three battalions—the Inniskillings, Connaught Rangers, and Dublin Fusiliers—along a narrow gorge and across a railway bridge. There they came under heavy Boer fire and Hart, impatient and headstrong, ordered his battalions into the attack, one after the other, up a steep, rocky hillside in heavy rain. It was a near disaster. Hart suffered 500 casualties, the majority in the Inniskillings, which lost 72 percent of its officers, including the CO, and 27 percent of its men. Two reinforcing battalions from the Durham Light Infantry and Rifle Brigade stabilized the situation by digging in on the lower slopes. They were unable to help the wounded Irish left on the summit.

        A Change of Plans

        The next day, February 25, was a Sunday, and Buller arranged a six-hour truce to recover the wounded and bury the dead. He now made a significant change to his plan. He would relocate the pontoon bridge farther downstream, below Hart’s Hill, and send the 5th Division across it to attack the three hills astride the railway as it led away from the river toward Ladysmith. The attacks would be heavily supported by artillery. Confident his plan would succeed, Buller on December 26 signaled White: “I hope to be with you tomorrow night.”

        G.S. Prefer : “All the best efforts did not avail, we had lost the battle—hopelessly lost—we had to retire. The enemy were masters of the bloody battlefield and we had to flee.

        The next morning the 6th Brigade attacked Pieter’s Hill and cleared it of Boers by the afternoon. The 5th Brigade attacked Railway Hill and cleared it as well, and the 4th Brigade drove the Boers off Hart’s Hill. Early the next day, British forces crossed the Tugela and, meeting only little resistance, pushed on across the plain. In Ladysmith that morning, the 118th day of the siege, people saw a long column of Boers trekking away to the northwest. At 1 pm, White received a message from Buller: “I beat the enemy thoroughly yesterday and am sending my cavalry to ascertain where they have gone to. I believe the enemy to be in full retreat.”

        The Boers were indeed in full retreat. G.S. Preller, a Boer artillery officer, wrote: “All the best efforts did not avail, we had lost the battle—hopelessly lost—we had to retire. The enemy were masters of the bloody battlefield and we had to flee. God, how I have prayed never to see this. All was lost here. Back for home.” The cavalry moved ahead, breaking into a gallop as they neared Ladysmith. They galloped past the hospital and on across the Klip River. At 6 pm, two squadrons of cavalry, one of the Imperial Light Horse and one of the Natal Carbineers, rode into Ladysmith amid scenes of emotion and jubilation. They stopped opposite the jail, where White and his staff were waiting. White, stooped over and looking 10 years older, was a pathetic figure. “Thank God we kept the flag flying,” he told the assembled crowd, adding in a faltering voice, “It cut me to the heart to reduce your rations as I did. I promise you, though, that I’ll never do it again.”

        “One of the Most Mournful Pageants”

        Three days later Buller, unaware of the tension between relievers and relieved, reluctantly led a ceremonial march through the town. White’s force did not conceal their resentment at the slowness of the relief, and Buller’s force in turn resented how fit the garrison looked and how little it had done to help itself. The bitterness was apparent on both sides. Lt. Col. G.H. Sim called it “one of the most mournful pageants that could have been devised by idiotic generals.” Years later, General Warren “could not bear to think of it, the march of 20,000 healthy men triumphant and victorious, through the ranks of the weary and emaciated garrison, who were expected to cheer us and who actually tried to do so—it was an ordeal for me and many others.”

        For his part, White was embarrassed and insulted after hosting Buller at a celebratory luncheon. Buller joked ungraciously that there seemed to be a lot of food, which White had been hoarding for just such a special occasion. One of White’s staff recalled later: “Buller himself arrived and made himself as unpleasant as he could. We had saved up a few stores and used up everything giving him a good lunch. The ungrateful ruffian now goes about saying the Ladysmith garrison lived like fighting cocks and that stories of hardships are all nonsense.”

        On that less than collegial note, the relief of Ladysmith ended. White was refused another command in southern Africa and was invalided home. Astonishingly, he eventually became a field marshal and governor of Chelsea Hospital. Buller, nicknamed “Sir Reverse” for his South African misadventures, remained despite all his reverses the most beloved British general of the war. Although his soldiers often laughed at him and nicknamed him the “Tugela Ferryman” because he had led them back and forth across that river so often, they never let him down. Returning to England, he resumed his command at Aldershot, but a year later he was dismissed from the army after a public argument with Roberts over whether or not he had ordered White to surrender Ladysmith. Buller remained a popular national figure until his death in 1908, hot-tempered, bibulous, and jolly to the last. In his hometown of Exeter, admirers erected a statue to him it said simply: “He saved Natal.”

        A walk up Talana hill

        The opening engagement of the Anglo-Boer war was fought in this small town in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. It was a small but important battle that showed the British army how dangerous it was to scorn their enemy.

        Join me for a walk up Talana hill as I get some exercise and move in the footsteps of the British infantry.

        If you love military history and visiting far-flung battlefields then don&rsquot forget to subscribe. You can also give me a follow on my other social media accounts - Twitter:

        On the R26, 6km east of Clocolan in the Eastern Free State lies Prynnsberg Estate, the undoubted “jewel of the Free State”. Prynnsberg Manor was built between 1881 and 1884 by Charles Newberry (1841–1922) who immigrated to South Africa in 1864 as a carpenter. He and his older brother, John, built houses in Kimberley &hellip Continue reading PRYNNSBERG – JEWEL OF THE FREE STATE &rarr

        The location of General Redvers Buller’s (1839-1908) headquarters in the battle of Colenso on 15 December 1899 during the South African War (1899-1902) is today the Clouston Field of Remembrance. The graves and memorials of British soldiers who died during the battle have been relocated to this peaceful site just off the R103 near Colenso. &hellip Continue reading CLOUSTON – HE COULD HAVE SAVE THOUSANDS &rarr

        Deaths [ edit | edit source ]

        January–June [ edit | edit source ]

          – William A. Hammond, American military physician, neurologist, and 11th Surgeon General of the United States Army (1862–1864) (b. 1828) – S. M. I. Henry, American evangelist (b. 1839) – John Ruskin, English writer, artist, and social critic (b. 1819) – Francis, Duke of Teck (b. 1837) – John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, Scottish nobleman, boxer (b. 1844) – Sir William Wilson Hunter, Scottish historian, civil servant and academic administrator (b. 1840) – Clinton L. Merriam, American politician (b. 1824) – William Butterfield, British architect (b. 1814)
            , German piano maker (b. 1826) , German inventor, automotive pioneer (b. 1834)
            , French mathematician (b. 1822) , Ottoman military leader (b. 1832)
            , West African empire-builder (b. 1830) , American critic and writer (b. 1828)
            , English explorer, writer (b. 1862) 𖏷] , American labor leader (b. 1849)

          July–December [ edit | edit source ]

            – Henry Barnard, American educationalist (b. 1811) – Henry D. Cogswell, American philanthropist (b. 1820) – Gregorio Grassi, Italian Franciscan friar, Roman Catholic martyr and saint (b. 1833) – Nicolae Crețulescu, 2-time Prime Minister of Romania (b. 1812) – King Umberto I of Italy (assassinated) (b. 1844) – Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, second son of Queen Victoria (b. 1844) – Rafael Molina Sanchez, Spanish bullfighter (b. 1841) – Étienne Lenoir, Belgian engineer (b. 1822) – Esther Tuttle Pritchard, American missionary (b. 1840) – Wilhelm Liebknecht, German Social Democratic politician (b. 1826) – József Szlávy, 6th Prime Minister of Hungary (b. 1818) – Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen, Lord Chief Justice of England (b. 1832) – Wilhelm Steinitz, Austrian-born chess player, first undisputed World Champion (b. 1836) – Vladimir Solovyov, Russian philosopher and poet (b. 1853) – José Maria de Eça de Queirós, Portuguese writer (b. 1845) – Kuroda Kiyotaka, Japanese politician, 2nd Prime Minister of Japan (b. 1840) – Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, writer (b. 1844) – Arthur Sewall, American politician, industrialist (b. 1835) – Belle Archer, American actress (b. 1859)
              , American philanthropist, university founder (b. 1816) , Spanish revolutionary (b. 1831)