Two of the field guns which had been taken three months before at Colenso fought on the Boer side at the Battle of Driefontein, which though but a passing incident in the war, has been favoured by the German critics with their cordial approval. “Driefontein was fought substantially on the principles evolved by the experiences of the campaign of 1870-1871.” Kelly-Kenny’s wilful and successful “use of deep formations, limited front, and of a wasting fire to obtain ascendancy before crushing the enemy with a simultaneous charge” is considered to uphold the correctness of the German theory of attack, which thirty years of new conditions of warfare have not modified.
Next day the advance on Bloemfontein was resumed, and French’s column was merged in the centre column under Lord Roberts. The column under Tucker was marching on the Free State capital by way of Petrusburg, twenty miles to the south, as there was a possibility that some of the commandos in retreat from beyond the Orange might be approaching. De Wet did his best to organize a final stand N.W. of the city, but it was soon evident that Lord Roberts’ movements could not be checked, and President Steyn fled to Kroonstad.
The cavalry was pushed on, and on the afternoon of March 12 the railway was cut at Ferreira’s Siding, a few miles south of Bloemfontein. Some resistance was offered at a ridge commanding the approach to the capital, but the defenders withdrew during the night. Soon after midnight, a small party of pioneers, under Hunter-Weston of the Royal Engineers, started to circle eastwards round the city, and having with much difficulty in the darkness found the railway on the north side, destroyed a culvert on the line and thereby entrapped a considerable amount of rolling stock.
Next morning Lord Roberts came to the line, and at midday the municipality and leading citizens of Bloemfontein waited on him at Ferreira’s Siding, and tendered the submission of the city. It was a notable episode in the military history of Great Britain, and there was a touch of a vanished mediaevalism in the ceremony.
The march from Ramdam to Bloemfontein restored the British Army in the eyes of the nation. It was no longer a machine which constantly broke down whenever stress was laid upon it, but was working quietly and on the whole successfully. It had acquired confidence in itself, and the infantry especially had done well during the month’s advance. Notwithstanding long marches, which in the end were equally fatiguing whether made by day or by night, on restricted rations in a trying climate, the proportion of men who fell out was small.
The cavalry did not greatly distinguish itself. Two brilliant exploits, the rush from Klip Drift to Kimberley, and the heading off of Cronje at Vendutie Drift, practically exhausted it. Its reconnaissance work during the advance was poorly executed, and after each fight came the same report, that the horses were unable to pursue the retiring burghers. Overloading, indifferent march discipline and horsemastership, night marches without previously watering and feeding the horses, reduced Lord Roberts’ mounted troops to but a fraction of their nominal strength; and raised a question whether French, whose military capacity was undeniable, might not be more usefully employed in infantry operations.